Operator

Everyone has a picture of what they believe their life will be like.  Some are so sure that they have this movie script complete with technicolor.  But that time between teenage adolescent and adulthood is a slipper slope and some find to going difficult.  to say there is often confusion in the minds of these young individuals is to issue a broad understatement.  When I was in the service my speciality was communications and I had my fingers in a lot of pies.  I dealt in a black market, but I took payment only in favors, never money.  Money is too easy to trace and I was no fool.  an article fifteen is not the same as a military court marshal conviction and ten years in Leavenworth.  Besides, favors are a lot harder to trace and easier to cover.  The service is a harsh teacher of life and successful attitudes.  Either one performs or one doesn’t and in Vietnam that difference could prove deadly.  So I traded favors.  I also formed a network of favor traders.  I mean, maybe someone wants a 45 caliber sidearm he normally wouldn’t be issued.  Well, what do you have to trade for it?  Maybe you can’t directly trade but maybe you know one or two others who can assist you in this trading business.  You know, this is how economics works, the whole present value thing reduced to what do you have to trade and what is it worth?  Bartter operates on the idea that everyone has something to trade and wants something in return.

 

Now this kid came to me because he had heard that I could arrange things.  He seemed to be a good kid, unassuming and somewhat truthful.  Well, you’d be surprised how truthful people can get when they want something and you press them hard enough.  I deal in black market favors, you know, I don’t have time for clowns and idiots nor do I want to spend ten years in Leavenworth.  And true enough, given a little time I could usually find a way to satisfy all parties.  I didn’t deal with officers for the simple reason that they couldn’t be trusted.  They were two faced sons of bitches and I did them no favors.  An officer and a gentleman my ass.  But sergeants were different.  I knew how to get around inspectors when it came to imports and exports.  You just had to have something to trade.  Back to the kid.  He was a driver in transportation, a PFC driving a two and a half ton straight truck between the big bases.  He was in a jam because, as he put it, he wanted to make sure that his girl knew he wanted to marry her when he got back.  You know how that goes, you’re gone and the girl thinks you have access to harems and somehow you are going to forget all about her.  Hey, it’s a legitimate concern and this kid wants to make sure that she is tying the yellow ribbon around his tree and not some other guy’s.  So he wants a phone call or as many as he can get, back to the states.  He didn’t know it, but he had something to sell.   The only guys who had direct line back to the states were the SAC people.  One didn’t believe that the SAC people were on any of our bases, but they were.  sure, the B-52s were out of Japan, Okinawa, and guam, but the older B-47s were SAC and the Australian Air Force.  They called them Canberra bombers but these were the older Boeing made bombers.  The question was, what did the SAC telephone operators want?  Well, maybe a few cases of beer would do the trick, so I sent the kid to enquire since he wanted the telephone calls.  Well, he came back crest fallen.  They wanted a couple of quarts of Jack Daniels.  Not that hard to come by if one knew where to look.  What did a supply sergeant for the officers club need?  He wanted to send a bunch of souvenirs back to his brother in the states.  But all shipments were to be searched for drugs and AK-47, while not exactly drugs were automatic weapons.  Okay, the MATS guys had the C-140s, what would they take to slip a couple of crates aboard their aircraft?  They flew out of Cam Ram Bay and they wanted better quarters.  Would they settle for their own clubhouse?  Yes they would.  Wow, this is getting very complicated.  Let’s see, who would build the clubhouse?  Ah. Seabees, of course.  What would they want in return?  a couple of cases of Jim Beam.  where do we get the supplies for the building.  Ah, Army Corp of Engineers.  What did they want?  They wanted a walk-in cooler and quite a number of cases of beer.  Uh, no can do.  But how about a couple of refrigerators and say twenty cases of beer?  Done deal.  You see, barter is about locating the various wants and needs so that they can be exchanged.

 

Now one of the advantages of being in communications is that quite a bit of “intelligence” moved through our hands.  I knew where to locate a couple of refrigerators that had been destined for officers clubs.  Those brass hats would never miss them, just send more next time.  Besides, it was easy to duplicate request and get extra in country.  And as I suggested to my boy in transportation, why not use that five fingered discount to supply the SAC operators?  It was easy enough to sent some messages to the right people to have him assigned to pick up goods at certain warehouses.  I mean, I was developing a license to steel here.  Eventually the favors get done because people have the ability to fudge one way or the other.  You see, it is really just a matter of keeping track of the favors owed and delivered.  As for the kid who just had to talk to his girlfriend back home, that went on for several months.  He kept that spark of romance alive while he served his time.  In the meantime he became one of my trusted transport workers.  You know, with a little bit of ingenuity one can transport a B-52 under the nose of any MP, or officer, for that matter.  The MPs are a little smarter in my book.  He was a hard worker and I do believe that we own him more favors than he collected.  But he was a gracious individual and declined more than he needed for his own use.  I mean, that is the meaning of teamwork, seeing that people feel they have a stake in the system and that the systems gives them their due.  Why generals find that so hard to understand is beyond me.  So this kid, name was Eddie, by the way.  Kind of figures it should be Eddie, you know.  He was a good guy, a stand up kind of guy.  Put one of his buddies into the program.  That is enough to renew your faith in human nature.  Yes, many of our deals came to pass and those that didn’t, no hard feelings.  But as I said, the minute you turn it into a cash operation you leave a trail and hard feelings.  So when it came my turn to rotate to the states I left my operations to a couple of gentlemen who promptly went to a cash and carry system.  Last I heard, they were doing ten years in Kansas.  Yeah, they tried to implicate me but there was only their word.  No Office of special Investigations would bother me when there was no evidence to tie me to anything.  A favor is quid pro quo, but greed knows no such bounds.  It’s your word of honor the way cash never can be.  A man’s honor determines his character, cash has no honor or character.

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Moma Told Me Not To Come

For those of us who weren’t fortunate sons, as Dan Foggerty sang, we have our various war stories. Now some are the stories about the horrors of war and others confined to the horrors of simply being in the service and at it’s mercy.  It’s all part of having been in, usually against one’s will.  How many of us have suffered at the hands of the friendly sergeants and the all too charming lieutenants.  In the three or four years that you serve you run into your share of characters.  Now for the average fellow, life is bearable.  I mean, you have your moments of degradation but you kiss and make up and life goes on until your enlistment runs out.  Then the lieutenants and sergeants try kissing your hand and foot to make you re-enlist, for the bennies, of course.  It’s always for the bennies.  Why if they had no benifits no one, even the generals would re-enlist.  You’ve got to admire that logic.  But most of us are captive civilians, if you know what I mean.  The introduction never really takes hold, we are never quite convinced that Uncle Sam’s way is the best.

 

So we fight our battles where we can.  Mostly it’s a guerilla warfare thing, hit and run, hide in the day and strike at night routine.  For those of us who have a little more intelligence that the average friend sergeant and charming lieutenant, sanity is a highly prised state of mind.  Thinking for oneself it the ultimate revenge on all the idiocy the institution of a formalized army or navy or air force can impose.  The irony is that adaptation to changing circumstances is highly prised by the  services and yet is rarely done.  But we, the dedicated trouble makers know how to adapt.  In a sense, we write the rules for those lifers to follow.  I mean, it’s really a matter of not just beating the system but using it against itself without it knowing that is exactly what is happening.  As an example, a friend of mine from a previous assignment had three months left before his enlistment ended.  He had no intentions of re-enlisting, he was going back to university to finish his degree and get a real job.  But in 1970 the Air Force decreed that all E-4s had to take the 5-level test.  that is the qualifying test one takes in one’s speciality if one wants to advance to E-5 or sergeant, non commissioned officer.  Williams didn’t want to take the test.  He had to work graveyard, since he was on an E-4 and rank has it privilege, and that meant staying up during the day to take a needless test.  Funny thing about all these smart officers, college grads to the man, is that they rarely understand what they are doing.  So the test is multiple choice.  But there are added features.  Some officer thought there should be a column “F” so that it would be marked if a question was to be eliminated from the test.  Hey, that’s a license to steal.  Mark the ones you know to be correct and then mark everything else void.  Well, surely the computer scoring these test would know which test questions were suppose to be eliminated and show that a “fraud” had been committed.  Nope, not on your tintype.  He “aced” the test with three questions marked correct.  Well the colonel was impressed and gave him a three day pass.  When he got back, having less than a month to serve, he told them how he got that perfect score.  The shit hit the fan, as it always does, and the worst they could do was not to recommend him for re-enlistment.  Do you detect a bit or irony?

 

As for myself, I pulled two great feats when I was overseas.  The first started out innocent enough.  The Squadron had crammed four men into two man rooms.  Compared to the other services, that might have been considered a luxury.  Basic training had been the standard open bay barracks and training school had been eight man to a room.  Three men to our room was tolerable and the last one in, or two, in this case had their lockers out in the hallway.  Quite inconvenient not to mention the lack of privacy we thought our due.  So as we lost one roommate I decided to replace the door tag with a new name.  I gave the man a serial number (the first four numbers determine where a man enlisted), gave him a rank, and gave him a duty station.  I really didn’t expect to fool anyone, just a little prank.  As luck would have it, I lost the other two roommates about two months later.  Hey, we hadn’t been burdened with a replacement for the fourth man, why not try it again for two more fake airmen?  So I make up two more door tags and placed them in the slots.  Well, a month went by and no new roommate.  I was enjoying my streak of luck and it was nice to have a room all to myself.  Since my shift was graveyard I had a sign to that effect on the door to forestall any inspection, not that one of the friendly sergeants wouldn’t have come in anyway, but at least if they did they came in quietly.  Now the other thing I did was to get extra sheets and blankets and kept the beds made.  Lhe lockers all had locks on them.  And nothing like a few personal affects like pictures of girlfriends.  I mean, if you want the prank to work you need to take care of the details.  You know, I got away with that charade for a little more than four months.  Then one day the first sergeant caught up with outside my door.  The poor man had been lying in wait.  He came up to the door and asked about one name.  Who is this guy and what do you know about him?  I said I work graveyard and never saw him.  Then he asked about the other two.  Well, I said, I really don’t pal around with them at all.  He then asked me a direct question.  These airmen, they don’t exist, do they?  Ah sarge, you got me.  You’ll have two new roommates this afternoon was all he said and left.  I found out that there had been quite a few queries back to the various departments searching for these people.  the name were in the file and so were the serial numbers, but nothing matched.  At least he earned his pay for a few months.

 

I worked in communications as what we termed “Titless WAF”, that’s a teletype operator.  It also encompasses telephone operator as well.  Both of these specialities, such as one could expect, were hardly cutting edge technology.  But back in 1967 and 68 digital transmission was just starting it’s infancy.  We had a couple pieces of IBM equipment, things today’s techie has never seen or touched, but were new and exciting.  I learned how to program a 407 accounting machine using the wire straps.  I worked on the graveyard shift and message traffic was a bit slow.  So I read the manual and played with the machine.  The 026 keypunch was another piece of equipment and I learned how I could automate card cutting (punching out the holes in the IBM card),  and we had the 089 sorter.  But the piece of equipment that fascinated me was the 3654 Duplex/Simplex Transmission unit.  That was the machine that one either sent digital transmissions by using IBM cards or received digital transmission by it cutting IBM cards.  After about six months I had my own little duty station all to myself.  The fact was, the sergeant who taught me rotated back to the states and I was the only one who knew how to operate the machines.  Every once in a while I got dragged in during the day or evening to take care of something important, but this was my “command”, as it were.  Here, I was king, I was “sarge” to everyone else.  That went on for some eight months.  Then one day I was called in and told I had stateside orders.  I had to hurry up and get all the red tape paperwork done and don’t bother to come back to the comm center.  I had only three days to get out of Dodge.  You can guess what happened?  There was no one to replace me and I hadn’t trained anyone.  It never occurred the the master sergeant to see that another airman knew how to operate those machines.  Well, what do you want, he had been a tail gunner in a B-28 bomber in Korea.  SNAFU, if I remember correctly.