Quick Witted Dorm Guard

Chapter Five

Who Just Volunteered

One dark, windy, dreery and overall gloomy rainy day immediately following breakfast we quickly fell into formation. Our training instructor, TSgt Thompson had plans of marching us around the limits of the base, working on our drill. Shortly into our progression a staff car approached and informed TSgt Thompson that all outside base activities had been halted by the Base Commander. Shortly afterwards it turned into my lucky day or should I say my very unfortunate day. Unbeknownst to me was quickly approaching my dorm guard detail during this huge rainstorm in beautiful San Antonio, Texas.

Immediately receiving this news TSgt Thompson turned the flight around heading back to our barricks. Once there we were dismissed and told to report to our barricks and await further instructions. Thinking the afternoon would be mine to relax and enjoy I laid back in my bunk. Just as I began to start writing a letter to my girlfriend, Darlene Lawrence. Our sister flight training instructor burst into the barricks. The dormitory was immediately called to attention, meaning all soldiers report to the day room on the double.

I hurriedly gathered my writing paper, pens and picture of Darlene and slid them under my pillow. I then stormed towards the day room attempting to be in proper formation. The day room was a large 20′ x 40′ empty room, with one empty chair at the head of the room. We were required to be in proper formation, lined up at attention awaiting the command, “At ease”.

SSgt Blakely was nothing like TSgt Thompson, he meant real business, always serious and never smiled. He was a short fellow that thrived on entering your personal space. His results were done by shear intimidation and believe me it totally worked. The difference between my two training instructor’s was like night and day, a good cop bad cop persona.

Unfortunately, I failed to be in the day room in formation at the appropriate time. As I whirled in and attempted to fall in he immediately approached barking, “You know who I am, boy?” Then he snapped, “You too good for me?” Angrily he said, “Why were you late for my formation, do you hear me boy, can you understand, are you deaf, dammit boy are you even awake?” I blurted back, “Sir, yes sir”. Boldly he asked, “Sir yes sir to what airman?”

Immediately without hesitation he ordered, “Everyone but you airman Walters at ease”. He then returned to the front of the room and sat in the chair. I stood firmly at attention as he began talking and passing out our mail. As he read the names, his eye’s seemed glued to me, Jones, Wilson, Smith and more. When he finished he remarked, “I guess we have our first volunteer for the day, anyone want to take a stab on who that might be?”

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Quick Witted Dorm Guard

Chapter Four

Details

Along with the daily routine of physical training, drill and studying customs and courtesies. Each soldier was given extra work details to occupy your time. Free time or down time created laziness and bad habits would set in. Some of the details were fairly simple like chow runner.

The chow runner would leave the flight at formation and high step it into the chow hall (cafeteria). Upon entering the chow hall the runner would survey the available open tables and lines. Determining if his squadron could enter the facility and begin selecting and eating their meal.

Sounds easy enough but if the runner errored in judgment once we entered as a flight. A thirty minute clock started, to select, be seated and eat. Additionally your tray needed returned and you must be back outside, in formation. Do not be late! Failure to accomplish any and all of this meant disaster to the entire flight. Not to mention, some may not have even had a chance to eat.

Another such detail passed out daily was dormitory guard. Dorm guards were required during the evening hours which started immediately after retreat was played. Retreat signaled the end of the normal day, securing the flag and paying respect. Dorm guards would work throughout the night and continue until reveille the next morning.

Each guard worked a constant two hour shift. The responsibilities included dormitory securities and general safety measures. No unwanted or unauthorized guests were permitted during your two hour watch. Safety measures included monitoring each bay of beds, bathroom and day room for smoke or fires. Each hour a quick walk through of the barrick bays was performed checking the wall recepticles for heat.

At the end of each shift a form was filled out and results were taken to the Bay Orderly Room upon completion. Failure to perform these instructions meant severe punishment which usually resulted in additional dorm guard details.

Quick Witted Dorm Guard

Chapter Three

Teamwork

Along with the constant badgering and brow beating for discipline came teamwork. Teamwork was best described as all 40 soldier’s being in perfect unison as if each heartbeat was performed exactly at the same second. Again, if one individual fell out of line or below standards the entire flight paid the price.

Routinely as members of the unit we’d pull together, if someone needed help we’d assist. Getting and keeping each soldier up to speed on drill, physical training and dress code benefitted the entire unit. If TSgt Thompson was happy we also were happy and believe me that’s what we preferred.

Unfortunately, assisting an individual was frowned on if you were doing the act for that person. An example was under dress and appearance. Our uniforms needed to be ironed, starched and completely free of any and all wrinkles. Pants needed pressed with a crease on each leg, straight and perfectly centered.

Combat boots had to be shined like you were looking into a mirror. A neat soldier was a good soldier. For teamwork to excel each soldier had to feel as if they were a intricate piece of the puzzle and part of the operation. Trying to mesh together 40 individuals from different walks of life presented a huge challenge.

By the end of the eight week period nothing short of a well oiled cohesive solid unit was accepted. Failure to reach that dubious distinction could highly alter your existence in the armed forces. TSgt Thompson wasn’t about to be labeled a failure and you my friend had best not be the reason.

What I have been doing is posting a daily chapter until the story is complete. Roughly a week later I compile the story removing the chapters and you can read the entire story.

If anyone wishes to add someone or remove yourself from the group instant message me and I can take care of that.

Thanks

Quick Witted Dorm Guard

Chapter Two

Yes Sir

My training instructor for the next glorious eight week period was TSgt Thompson. He was a southern boy, smooth talker and extremely meticulous. He expected the exact same behavior from each soldier under his command. Failure to detect the urgency and importance of his commands would be highly inexcusable. When he spoke with his candid demeanor he demanded your utmost attention. Never was TSgt Thompson ever to repeat any command or order.

Being on the edge of your seat, staying on the top of your game and remaining razor sharp your priority. Failure to meet these demands would usually end with extra details that would impact the entire squadron. If you failed the entire flight failed and you better not disappoint 40 guys on a daily basis.

Daily these characteristics were pounded into your skull brainwashing you to react first and think second. When given such commands the appropriate response better be, “Sir, yes Sir!” His failure to not hear this response would set off a fuse in his brain. Like Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. and Sgt Carter instantaneously the bark got louder and the bite more severe. TSgt Thompson’s direct quote was, “Say it loud, and say it proud boys”.

Quick Witted Dorm Guard

Chapter One

Change of Pace

Dad’s wrath was extremely mild compared to the strict code of conduct now placed upon me. No more would heart felt one-on-one conversations seem so trivial. The new order of business meant paying precise attention to the details. Failure to comply and perform as expected would bring on grave consequences. Extra duties would usually mean buffing floors, using a toothbrush to clean toilets or any other meaningless task.

Discipline became the number one motivational training characteristic. My new father, mother and keeper would now be drill instructor TSgt Thompson. My new home away from home for the next eight weeks would now be the 3702BMTS (Basic Military Training School) fourth floor bed four.

Enlisting in the United States Air Force in August 1983 for a four year commitment my new reality. On 18 August 83, I arrived at my new home by bus one cool breezy fall evening. Stepping off the greyhound bus in San Antonio, Texas at Lackland AFB, nearly 8 p.m..

Accompanying me were almost 35 other new recruits from all spectrums of the United States. As we descended the stairs we were immediately instructed to grab our bags and form a line. Not a straight line but get into four rows of 10 people and do it quickly with no discussion at all.

The one ordering the commands was SSgt Bradley. SSgt Bradley was a dark complected broad shouldered muscular specimen. Sharply dressed with a neatly starched uniform, clean shaven and shiny combat boots. He barked commands like a vendor selling beer, pop or peanuts at a sporting event.

“Grab your bags, set them down, pick them up, set them down, pick them up, put them down on your right side”. We seemed to play this game over and over for around thirty minutes. Each time someone picked up his bag and either threw it down or set down on the wrong side, we started again.

Many moans and whines were starting to develop from within the ranks. SSgt Bradley then ordered, “Alright boys pick them up and follow me!”

Derby Down (entire story)

Thud the wooden doll pins plunged downward catapulting the sculptured vehicles forward. Sitting declining on a 26 degree angled slotted wooden track these weighted vessels rolled away. As they built up momentum and more speed within seconds the entire 35 foot race was over. If you blinked or sneezed missing the race became a great possibility. Winners keep advancing while losers were sent packing. All your efforts and time designing your wooden speed roadster dashed.

Westchester Southern Baptist Church on 19th Street in Chesterton, Indiana would be hosting the annual pinewood derby races. The event was sanctioned by the Northwest Indiana Southern Baptist Association and 24 February, 1973 the race would commence.

Each contestant would be given a blank pine block of wood and would design and sculpture there own vessel. Each of the entrants received a just alike 7 inch by 1 3/4 inch piece of pine. The kit also included 4 black plastic wheels and 4 shiny bright silver nails used for the axles.

Contemplating exactly which design and style of car to carve into our blank block of pine was a true challenge. I therefore carefully studied some of my drawings of numerous race cars. Ideas popped into my thoughts like popping corn over an open fire. Of course no cutting, sanding or drilling was to be done without dad’s supervision.

Dinner couldn’t get here fast enough each night in order to go downstairs and work on our roadsters. My exact designs were to duplicate an Indy 500 type vessel, sleek and hopefully quick. Ron on the other hand had a more direct approach, just whip out whatever comes up. Not much planning or designing just something fast and easy.

Finishing dinner we pushed our chairs back away from the table and bolted quickly to our design laboratory. As I revealed my intentions dad pondered carefully over the design. Looking astutely over my drawings we discussed the final outcome. The design showed the car almost perfectly rounded with a curved front and rear.

Trying to round the car and design it exactly like the Indy car presented a real challenge. Once your car was completed it could only weigh 5 ounces. Anything over that weight disqualified your vessel. No second chances!

Dad decided to give it a try and we started cutting and sanding like to busy beavers to a piece of wood. The process was slow and painfully meticulous. After some discussion dad insisted that we only round the top halve, front and rear. This would leave the bottom square to place the nails inside the slotted axle slits. It’s look resembled a silver bullet.

Working on the cars day after day became an after dinner evening event. Dinners went faster and seat time at the dinning room table shorter. Excitement about the pending race had totally consumed my every waking moment. As a nine year old boy, this became the biggest event of my young early childhood.

After the long week wound down my sleek car was nearly complete. Some final finishing touches with sand paper were still required. Also, dad needed to drill some holes to place some weight in the car. With no weight the cars wouldn’t move down the track nearly as fast. I had found some firetruck red paint and began spreading a fresh shiny coat onto the entire car.

In the meantime dad had purchased the required materials necessary to make a mock race track of our own. With 2 x 2’s and 1/4 inch concrete backer board dad soon assembled his version of the derby track. His version was 10 inches wide with 2 inch concrete backer board strips adhered to the edges and one down the center. Creating two side by side testing lanes. The sloped section was roughly seven feet long which had a transitional section connecting to the straight away. The overall length was roughly 32 feet. The raised section sat approximately five feet high with legs attached to the sides.

I’m not sure if the dimensions were exact to the real race track but the results were perfect for testing. Dad said, “If you want to do something right, you must put in the required time “. Insisting the track would aid us immensely in gaining the required knowledge in order to have the best car possible.

Now with the cars complete and the test track all setup, daily we’d test our carved vessels. Ron and I decided one afternoon immediately after arriving home from school to proceed directly to the basement. Trial run after trial run was accomplished.

Although the trial runs seemed harmless. Dad said, “We’d practically ran the wheels off the cars”. They were loose, dry and in need of much attention. My particular version of the derby car was much faster than Ron’s. That afternoon during one of our trial runs the unthinkable thing happened.

After loading both cars into the starting block position, I released the starting pins. The cars zipped forward downward and increased in momentum. Unfortunately, Ron caught his car but allowed mine to crash into the basement concrete block wall. Parts and pieces went flying everywhere with one axle and wheel snapped. Completely detached from the vessel.

As I whirled over to gather up the pieces, Ron bolted away quickly exiting the basement. Now with the race only days away, I had no car to enter. All the hard work and meticulous design ruined. No more red comet to have for race day. Was it an act that Ron did on purpose? I definitely felt he allowed it to happen.

As race day approached I now had to design and complete a new derby car. No longer would a meticulous touch be adhered too. Speed and something more practical became the order of the day. No trial runs were going to be available either because dad was installing the wheels just hours before the race event.

Pulling into the church parking lot and entering the sanctuary the place was packed. The normal Sunday morning pews were against the wall or out in the hallways. The track ran from the doorway forward towards the alter. The track was twice the size as dad’s allowing four cars to race side by side against each other.

Unlike earlier I found out that the race was actually a double eliminating event. First the judges weighed each entrants car. Cars exceeding the maximum of five ounces had one more attempt to make the proper weight. Once that process was completed each contestant was placed into a pool based on age and given a number. This represented your car and your order and position into the race day event.

One by one each racer is called to the starting block, it’s time to shine and hopefully win. When Ron finally gets called he hurriedly gets to the starting line. As luck would have it as he places his car on the outside lane it slips off the edge. Crashing to the hard tile concrete floor his car is broken abruptly into two separate pieces. Race over!

I remember feeling how unfortunate especially on the day of the race. But wondered if this was karma for what I thought he’d done to my car. Upset and highly disappointed he plopped down into a pew crossed his arms and got teary-eyed.

I couldn’t worry about him any longer I would be next and had to be ready for my chance. I remember thinking if I could get lucky and win maybe that would help. Eventually I got my call and as I gently placed my car in the starting block. It was time for my car to slam downward and fly like the wind.

Race after race and challenge after challenge my brown beauty kept coming out the winner.

(This is a replica of my second designed car.)

With the final race approaching dad enhanced the car by spraying graphite on the wheels. This greatly improved the performance and aided in increasing the speed. Finally the field was set and down to the remaining four cars to determine the ultimate winner.

45 years later I still remember that Huge smile on my face when I WON that race! More importantly I cherished the time spent together with dad and Ron. We had fun and learned about hard work, dedication, disappointment, believing in yourself and sportsmanship. In this short couple of week process I’m pretty sure that the reason for the annual event was exactly that. Fun and sportsmanship and time spent together. Thanks dad, I will Never forget!

(Sorry for such a crummy picture, I guess 45 year old newspaper article’s don’t hold up)

 

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