Sunday, April 12, 2020

U.S. Air Force, 1979-1982

A long time ago.  Seems like VERY long.

Anyway, I had graduated from the West Yellowstone High School and I knew I wanted to be in Law Enforcement.  My real dream was to be a Gallatin County Deputy Sheriff and be stationed as the resident Deputy in West Yellowstone.  

But, I was 19 and impatient.  I wanted to start meeting my goals NOW!  What to do?  I was a dispatcher for the West Yellowstone Police Department so I was kind of "in the group" but...not quite.

One of the WYPD Officers had recently gotten out of the USAF where he had been a Security Policeman.  He influenced me to make a decision which had the most profound effect on my life of any decision before or since.  I enlisted in the United States Air Force.

At the time, 1978/79, the AF was contracting guaranteed jobs.  So, I didn't enlist and hope for police.  I was able to enlist to be a Law Enforcement Specialist.  The recruiter went to great lengths to get me to enlist as a Security Specialist instead.  Still Security Police but a much different job description.  I knew I wanted Law Enforcement and, with a big sigh of resignation, he signed me up.

Actually, I had to lose a significant amount of weight before the AF would even take me.  I was ready to sign up in January but it took me a couple of months of dieting and running to get down to where they would even let me do it.  Story of my life.

Also, I remember, very clearly, the day Mom drove me to the bus station.  As we drove past the restaurant she still worked at and I had worked at for many years, I turned and looked at her and said: "At least I'll never have to work in a cafe again!"  Never say "never" folks.  It's too big a word.

This was one of the most influential periods of my life and many of the lessons I learned in the Air Force are still habits today.  Little things, like how I fold my clothes, and big things like how I walk and how I treat people.  

Most notably, to me, are the friends I still have after all these years.  Friends who are still closer to me than family, even though we haven't actually seen each other in 30+ years.  Facebook has brought us into more frequent contact but any of the ones I'm thinking of can call me or I them and we talk as if we had been next door neighbors for all these years.  The best and closest friendships ever are those between veterans who served together.

My first assignment was at a NATO station in Izmir, Turkey for fifteen months.  No base, just Town Patrol and one Weapons Storage Area we had to guard.  Mostly, Town Patrol in the city of Izmir.  A great assignment with experiences and memories I will treasure forever.

Then I went to the most ideal AF Base I could imagine, for someone like myself who was lazer focused on Law Enforcement and being a "Cop" on the streets of America.  Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado.  It was GREAT!  We had no Security mission there at all, the base was "open" with one of the main thoroughfares of the Denver Metro area as the main
street of the base.  Four lanes of city traffic.  The gates didn't even have physical barriers.  Just a "gate shack" in the median of 6th Avenue.

In many ways, we were just a suburb of Denver and our nightly activities reflected that; with DUIs, assaults, rapes, robberies, traffic accidents, traffic enforcement...everything Denver or Aurora PDs were dealing with on either side of us, we got a share of.  Not quite as much as the civilian cities because, after all, our primary "citizens" WERE military.  But I got my first real taste of Law Enforcement at Lowry.

I am very sorry that I took no pictures at Lowry.  All the things we did, all the memories I have and no mementos of any of it.  Lowry was my "Glory Days" and it's all just in my head and my heart.  Nothing to focus these old eyes on.  Very bad mistake.

But, the extreme mistake was taking my discharge from the U.S. A.F. in December, 1982.  Within a couple of years, I realized that I had made a HUGE error!  I had gotten out of the AF because I was 22 and knew everything.  I KNEW the Air Force wasn't doing Law Enforcement right and I wanted to get into civilian LE where things would be "better".  Guess what.  It wasn't really any different and there were many things about the Air Force that I missed.  But, the Air Force didn't take prior service.  End of story.  Although I argued with the recruiter and even went to my Congressman about it, nothing changed.  As far as the Air Force was concerned, I had made my choice and now I could live with it.  Even though I was a Deputy Sheriff (not in Gallatin County, but still...) and still in the same career field.  "All you've gotta do is give me uniforms and car keys and I can go to work!"  

When I finally gave up and left the AF recruiters office, the Army recruiter met me in the hall.  If I would enlist in the Army as an MP, he could give me a rally good package.  But, part of that package was Basic Training.  Apparently (understandably) the Air Force basic was too wimpy for the Army so I'd have to do theirs.  I turned him down for a couple of reasons.  First, the Basic Training thing.  Been there, done that, don't wanna again.  The other was that, although I always thought the AF wasn't really serious about Law Enforcement, what I had seen of Army MP situations was even worse.  I always felt kind of sorry for the MPs I knew; green cars with a bubble light, as an afterthought, on the top, 45s in flap holsters, fatigues as the uniform of the day.  I contrasted that with our more police-like uniforms, nice police cars, .38s in more modern holsters...just the outward appearance gave me the impression that I was happier in Blues.  

Later, I learned that after 12 months service in the Army I could have applied for a "cross service" back to the Air Force again.  A back door.  Whoops.  Apparently, I didn't know any more at 26 than I had at 22!

I was able to meet my goals, though, mostly because of the Air Force.  I was a Deputy Sheriff in Montana and then in Oregon.  I had a good, successful Law Enforcement career and those memories too are what sustain me today.  

But I dream and day-dream, almost every day, of those very few short years.  Slightly less than four years, actually, as my Mom was sick and I got out a little early.  

In the top of my closet is an old beret, with an Air Training Command pin.  In a drawer is the Air Force Security Police qualification badge I was issued.  I didn't manage to keep my actual badge.  I turned it in, as required.  On my wall I still display the "Peacekeeper of the Month" award I got while in Turkey in...1980?

Once in a while, I'll drive over to Spokane where one of my old partners lives.  We were at Lowry 

together and made a great team.  We'll sit in his living room and tell old "war stories" until far into the night about incidents we were part of, friends we made, arrests we made...pretty much, we're telling each other stories of events and places we shared.  

Now I'm old and fat and the idea of rappelling off of a building or out of a helicopter makes my head hurt.  I don't even like to climb up and change a light bulb!  If I had to run across the street, my fat belly and floppy tits would probably beat me to death.  Two minutes on the heavy bag reduces me to a sweaty, panting mess.  Slow and steady is my gait today.

The good news is that the memories get to stay with me forever.

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