New Year’s Eve, 2016

For the past few years now, I’ve been writing a New Year’s Eve blog in reflection of the past year, and how it went for me. The furthest one back that I can see is from 2012, when I was still in Tech School for my Air Force job (though on “Exodus” back home for the holidays). I feel like I did one in 2011 as well, but whatevs. That year, writing that blog, I had no idea what was to come in the next 4 years… Or maybe I did. Or maybe I should have. Oh well. That was a long time ago, and I was a different person then than I am now. Am I different person now than I was this time a year ago? I dunno. One thing is for sure, however: my situation is drastically different than it was then. I don’t know that I’ve grown—in some ways, I feel I may have regressed—but I’m happier now than I have been in a bit over 3 years.

On December 31, 2015, I was here in Oregon, too—for one more week, anyway. It was the end of the longest vacation home I had had. It sucked extremely bad when I had to leave again… The last night I was home, I went out to eat with my parents, my sister, and her family. I’d been hoping we’d walk around downtown Corvallis for a little bit too, but they wanted to go home. So we went back to my parents’ house, I sat down in the bathroom, and instead of relieving myself, I was actually trying to regain my composure. I think a few tears trickled down my cheeks before I pulled it together. Even with taking my cat to Arkansas with me, I couldn’t feel much besides miserable. We got back to my apartment, and no one wanted to be there; her, or me. She walked around the apartment, growling, and then hid under the couch for quite a while; she didn’t eat, drink, or go poddy. Eventually, she adjusted, though.

I found out soon after that that results for a psychological interview had come back, and my counselors had diagnosed me with avoidant personality disorder. They didn’t necessarily feel it was an absolute fit for me, but felt it was close enough to call it as such. This meant that they would tell my Commander, and recommend Administrative Discharge based on a personality disorder incompatible with the Air Force. This is what I had wanted. I had struggled for the prior three or so years at that base to adjust, to get along, to function in this setting without freaking out. I often felt like these efforts, and my struggles, went unappreciated by my immediate leadership and coworkers; like I was making it up, or something. I was simply not equipped with the ability to function like a robot, like they apparently expected me to (and how a lot of the Air Force expects its airmen to respond). If you tell me to behave a certain way, but then don’t behave that way yourself and/or look the other way when one of my coworkers don’t behave that way, it’s going to bother me. A lot. Furthermore, if people repeatedly do/say things they know upset me, I’m not going to indefinitely ignore it. At some point, it is going to cause a reaction in me. In short, I have to feel like I’ve received the respect I am due, and am properly appreciated for my efforts, or I am going to get really, REALLY pissed off. Perhaps that is starting to sound less like having a personality disorder and more like being a normal human being, but I digress.

For the first few months that I began the process of winding down with my time in the Air Force, a couple newly-promoted supervisors made clear they didn’t necessarily believe I was getting out, and applied pressure and stress to my situation that I didn’t need. For example, I was made to go to Vital 90 (the PT sessions for people who failed their PT test), because a policy had come down that everyone had to be with at least one other person at PT, and no one else was available to go to PT with me. I hadn’t failed any PT tests and knew I wouldn’t likely be taking another one, so this pissed me off. Eventually, when it was clear I was separating, the two backed off a bit (perhaps due to some pressure from above, who found out I hadn’t been allowed to do any out-processing yet). Those last few weeks, I only occasionally did PT, and when I did, all I did was run until I was uncomfortable, then walked for a bit, then quit. Upon leaving the military, I’ve majorly slacked off on my exercise and my gut has grown much larger, but I just can’t be arsed right now to get a regular schedule in. I hate exercising so much right now…

It was very weird, the way the last few weeks went down. I could not be given a definitive date that I was exiting, so I could not make plans with anyone back home for my return. Day after day, I waited for the Commander to look at my package, and day after day, there was no news. What delayed things more was that it was apparently required that I be given a final Employee Performance Rating, even though it meant nothing at that point. Before the Commander could sign off on the discharge paperwork, he had to sign off on that, and a million other people had EPRs, not to mention his other duties. I started freaking out and getting impatient, frequently asking my first shirt and superintendent if they’d heard anything, to the point that they told me to stop asking them, heh… Eventually, the Commander signed it, his boss approved it… and two days later, I was out. The entire time, I was told I would be getting certain health benefits for the next 6 months, but it turned out I wasn’t, so I had to hurry up and get health insurance before my Tricare was cancelled. Also, because I was only given two days’ notice for my separation, it was 3 weeks before any moving people could come get my stuff. So I just sat in my apartment in North Little Rock for 3 weeks. I barely remember it, but it was weird.

There are times when I think that if I could go back to the end of 2011, before I went in and talked to that recruiter, that I would instead just be like, “nah, I’ll just stay here and be a janitor for the rest of my life.” There was a janitorial swing shift position at a hospital I took on in 2012 that maybe would’ve become a regular gig, had I been sticking around. I maybe wouldn’t have gone through all the hardships I did these past 4 years. Then again, I wouldn’t have grown as a person, at least not as much. The trials I endured, the mistakes I made, the tears I shed, all are valuable life lessons that make me the person I am today. There are a lot of things I didn’t know about the world, or myself, until my time spent in the Air Force. I also wouldn’t have this nifty GI Bill that’s paying for my tuition at Oregon State.

There were a few places I called for work here in Oregon while still having to stick around in Arkansas; a one or two called back, but then found out I had to stay in Arkansas another couple weeks. When I got back, I went back to subbing janitorial for the school district, and also took on a summer custodial position with them. It was to include me building an excel document for the district foreman and his assistant to monitor the school custodians, but it turned out that they didn’t quite know what they wanted with that, and I didn’t know how to deliver on the little guidance I was given. I worked on that for a couple weeks and then was put with a cleaning crew the rest of the Summer. I think that may have soured my relationship with the foreman and his assistant a bit, as they probably expected more, but I did my best. Anyway though, the first night I went back to cleaning a route at a school… man, I was sore. It was the first time in 4 years that I’d done manual labor for 8 hours. It was bad. It wasn’t as bad the second night, but still, it was kinda sad.

Meanwhile, I took my first three classes on Oregon State’s Corvallis campus. This was exciting to me, as I’d always wanted to go to school there; two of my siblings graduated there, and my dad worked there for 30-some years. Taking a full load of Summer classes and also working manual labor part time… turned out to be very taxing. I was tired both physically and mentally every day, and by the end of the Summer, I was only willing to work an hour a day, and even THAT was tough. I got 3 A’s that term… and one C+. The first grade below an A- that I had gotten at OSU (I had been taking classes online since Winter 2015). It wouldn’t have been so bad, except I had shown the instructor my work and asked her a lot of questions about it, and she told me that it looked good to her. There were only 3 assignments in the entire class, and we didn’t get grades for the first assignment until more than halfway through the class. My strategy is normally to figure out what the teacher’s expectations are with the first few assignments, and then adjust accordingly. I don’t feel like I was given the tools to get better than a C in this lady’s class, and certainly not after she told me my final assignment looked good, and then gave me the worst grade yet on it. So I was pissed. She received some negative feedback for her class.

For a brief period, between August and September, I also started practicing with the local rugby team that two of my friends are members of. I paid my dues, bought a ball, mouth guards, cleats, the whole shebang. I didn’t exactly want to do it, though, to be truthful. I mean, I wanted to, but I didn’t want to. I would enjoy aspects of the practice, like running around a park with a bunch of other guys and gals who were all friendly. Plus, I’d never played a team sport before, so it was exciting to say that I had. The time factor, getting tired, and being crap because I was a beginner, however, were aspects I didn’t like. I lasted a month of practices (missing a few here and there) and played one game. It was raining, we didn’t have enough players, and I had to play the entire game. There are no time outs except for halftime, and I was already pretty fat by that point, so even though I wasn’t really going at full speed, I got super tired within like 15 minutes of play. This may be because I was involved in every scrum that happened, and that put a lot of demand on my body, helping one group of men push against another group of men. When it was over, I didn’t move for like a half hour. I inevitably decided that I had enjoyed it, but then Fall term came… (There was also a coast trip and a camping trip in there, but yeah).

Initially for Fall term, it had been my intention to sub with the school district in between whatever classes I had. This plan changed when I signed up for 5 classes, and a total of 20 credits. My advisor had told me that I would be able to graduate by the Fall of 2017 if I took 5 classes every term. When I met with her again in the Fall, however, she realized that this wasn’t exactly plausible. I’ve conferred with my other two counselors (I have one for Education, Liberal Arts, and Political Science), and decided to take a smaller load here on out. However, the 20 credits weren’t the only challenges I took on; I also got a job with the school newspaper, something I’d always wanted to do. Also, I volunteered to talk to a high school class every other Friday about college, over Skype. I am a crazy person.

I really enjoyed writing for the paper; I love writing, and I enjoyed my coworkers. However, as the term wore on… I was taking 20 credits. I wasn’t studying as much as I should’ve been, because I was spending a lot of time and effort on my news stories. It didn’t help that I was only making $10 a story, which wouldn’t even cover gas. Eventually, I came to the realization that I was probably going to get more C’s, like the one I suffered this Summer, if I kept working there. So regretfully, I quit. I kept doing the volunteer thing, however. Regardless, at first, I was super pleased with all the extra time not working on news stories gave me. And then I realized that I still needed to devote several hours a day to my studies if I was to get the grades I wanted. In the end, my efforts got me 2 A’s and 3 A-‘s. Overall, I rather liked this term; my classes were all interesting, and I reconnected with on my teachers from High School. He was exactly like I remembered him, haha; he has always been high energy, with a lot to say, and a sense of humor to deliver it with. He is a lot of fun.

So, for December… I haven’t done much. The week after finals, I was sick all week, but the week before Christmas, I don’t feel like I did much of anything. I suppose I worked on my last blog, and I did some music. I also turned 32. So old. This past week, I stayed with my brother in Beaverton, while his family visited his in laws in Arizona. We observed that we hadn’t really been in contact all Fall, because I had my crazy term. At one point, we were gonna be a band, and practiced several times. Also, I used to call him every Saturday when I was doing my laundry, back in Arkansas. I also used to go to church every Saturday, in Arkansas, and I was part of a Bible Group with some really nice people. It seems like I’ve gotten a lot lazier since I’ve been back, and not just with exercise… My motivation is drained, and I stay up all night, when I used to get up at 5:15 every day. I attempted for a short period at the start of this break to find a job and applied at several places, but then I got sick, and I kinda just let it slide. I need more money than the GI Bill will give me to exist though. Lotsa bills in life. Still car payments to be made, still vet visits, still insurance, new tires needed soon, etc. What am I doing?

My book that I wrote last year is in the process of being edited, however, so I am happy about that. There’s like one fifth of the book yet to be edited at this point. And then… I will ask a friend, who is a better artist than me, to do some cover art for me. And then… I will try to find some book review blogs to submit it to. And then… I will announce a release date. We’ll see how that goes.

So that was my 2016. The first four and a half months seem like a different year to me altogether than the final seven and a half; I was in a different world, then. I was working a job I hated, far away from the majority of the people I loved. I was financially secure, but I don’t think my sanity would’ve lasted much longer there. In spite of all the uncertainty and stress I’ve experienced since being back, I really am much happier to be home. It is some to do with the familiar scenery, but it is mostly because of the old support system I had when I lived here before has been reestablished. I love my family and friends, so much. They are all very good to me; often times much more than I deserve. God has blessed me with their presence in my life, and I am forever thankful for that.

So I gotta say, I liked 2016 quite a bit. It was much better to me than the previous two years had been, at the very least. I got to go home, I got to pursue my educational goals, and I did a few things I had always wanted to do (regardless of how long I actually spent doing those things). I know the election of a certain billionaire blowhard to the White House has gotten a lot of people down, but consider this: the alternative was no better. She just has the capacity to hide her sins better. That’s not saying much, and a lot of people now see her and her husband for what they really are, even though the establishment in her party is determined to learn nothing from this defeat…

US politics are fucked.  The US government is evil, or at the very least corrupt. Same goes for our media. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, either. If your only defense is that the other side did it too, that’s no defense at all. One thing you can count on, though: there are a lot of people who are tired of the bullshit. Say what you want about my generation, but we have a good bullshit radar, and we don’t like it. We will always question why, as much as it pisses you off; we aren’t going to mindlessly throw ourselves on a live grenade for you. In the coming decades, you will be gone or in nursing homes, and we will be in charge. It will be a different world than the one we live in now.

That world isn’t coming in 2017. Still, everyone needs to stay awake. Don’t stop questioning the answers. Don’t start accepting the bullshit. Keep fighting for the truth.

In All Honesty (USAF)

So it was totally my plan to make a blog about how shitty the attitude is towards young people in the Air Force. I was gonna go through articles about some kind of abuse or another happening in the military, take snap shots of all the negative comments about new recruits, and post them here, saying, “Young People: The Military Doesn’t Want You! Here’s why…” I did find a number of gems, such as some comments I found on a military.com article about SSgt Ellis, an MTI who was convicted of abusing trainees. She threatened to cut of a dude’s genitalia, made them do PT in the nude, and wanted to fistfight them (she also threatened trainees against talking if someone asked them how one of their wingmen got a black eye). I also found accusations that she broke an airman’s back. Here are the thoughts of these wonderful individuals:

vacoffers

That’s right! Take it from this individual with a PHD in psychology, I’m sure: PTSD only occurs when something blows up in front of you. Personality Disorders will NEVER develop from something humiliating, like being made to perform PT naked in front of your female MTI… Also, they don’t deserve basic needs, fuck them.

pinkoleft

“Pinko Left.” Because nothing says “commie sympathizer” like values that demand decent treatment of fellow human beings. … … …what does Communism have to do with this situation?! Also, again, these trainees were made to perform PT naked in front of this woman, and she also probably gave one of them a black eye and threatened them against talking about it.

wusses

Or a haven for people who are not douchebags. One of the two.

cussingsinglingoutmilennials

And there’s the kicker. The person who complains about new airmen-or “millennials”-generalizing an entire generation of individuals (and by the way, “millennials” is a generation that goes back to like ’82. People in their mid 30’s are millennials.) Everyone who’s come in since the start of the decade is a worthless, whiny, dirtbag airman, and any discussion that offers the slightest opportunity is worthy of bitching about this. “In my day, we punched people in the face, and they didn’t complain! Now we punch them in the face, and all the sudden, there’s an IG investigation! Airmen need to know their place! And no, they’re not allowed to punch me back; they’re just supposed to take it!” I’ve seen and heard this line of thought a million times when I was still in. The old way is the best way, because that’s the way we always did it. AKA the reason the Air Force is stuck in the Dark Ages.

That was the blog I was gonna write. However, the more I looked around, the more I saw something I didn’t expect; people being decent to one another. On the Air Force Subreddit, a new airman asks a question, and the people who respond treat the question respectfully and seriously. No accusations of worthlessness or whatnot. Still elsewhere, on another website, the same story about SSgt Ellis is reported, and there are people saying that she betrayed a sacred trust, that she deserved the maximum sentence, and that the airmen didn’t deserve what she put them through. This coming from NCOs, Senior NCOs, and Officers alike. I was astounded. It seems that not so long ago, any article I found that talked about an NCO acting abusively would lead to NCOs in the comment section blaming the abused airman. Something has changed.

In light of these findings, I have to be fair; I saw more positive, supportive comments than I did of dirtbag NCOs, complaining about airmen and telling them to fall in line. Perhaps my perception of reality was not entirely correct…

perhapsasshole

Well, that goes without saying.

lazypinkobastard

Well, I inserted like 4 screenshots; don’t those count as pictures?

No

Oh well, I have no shame. I reuse half my images, anyway.

Slacking

I got lazy this week, so maybe I’ll make it up next week. Maybe. We’ll see.

LRAFB

Pond

In a suburb, about a 30-minute drive from Arkansas’s state capitol, situated in a green, forested, hilly area, you will find an Air Force base. It is not among the biggest bases you will find, but it is pleasant to look at; near the back gate, you will find a couple of the base’s parks, built around a large and small lake, respectively. Residents enjoy fishing, camping, picnicking, and walking down various paths at these parks. One might sit at a bench next to a small pond off the small lake, and reflect on the animals, plants, and water that can be seen there. I often did. There is a whole lot of pleasantness that can be seen around the base, like this. Peaceful, you might consider this place. Pretty, even.

To enjoy the sights-at least with any frequency-however, you must be a member of the US Air Force. Specifically, you must be a member of the either the 314th or 19th Airlift Wings. I’m not sure what life is like for a 19th Airman; sounds like they have a lot of exercises, Group PT, etc. They also frequently deploy, being a part of the Air Mobility Command. The 19th is also the host unit of the base, and all base services are run through them; the D-Fac, the Post Office, the Gym, the Personnel Center, etc. I can’t be sure, but they seem to enjoy a great deal of comradery in that wing, and their airmen seem generally happy. I could be wrong; I was never a 19th Airman. I was 314th.

When I arrived at the base back in February of 2012, I was super nervous; all these Senior NCOs and Officers walking around! Surely, I would do something awkward, and they would devour my soul! Except… they didn’t really seem to care that I was there, surprisingly.  No, they seemed more concerned about going about their daily business than messing with me. A drastic change from BMT or Tech School. As I’ve talked about in the past, my then-girlfriend’s family picked me up out of Tech School, and drove me to the base. When I first arrived, I was supposed to be greeted by an individual called a “sponsor,” who would show me around the base and tell me about stuff. He wasn’t there. Instead, they were going to send an NCO. That NCO was sick. So they sent this other NCO, who showed me my room. I watched him walk straight through the grass outside the dorms, and I was shocked; you don’t do that! Except that you do, because only MTIs and MTLs care about that shit.

My dorm was one of the nicer ones, I suppose; I was in a suite with four rooms, and three other people. Each room had its own bathroom and furniture, and out in the common area, there were couches, comfy chairs, a kitchen area, and a tv with cable. Across the common area from me lived my first roommate from tech school, who gave me a big hug when he saw me, heh (I will always remember my introduction to him; I was being shown to our room, he saw me down the hallway, and came running at me, yelling, “STAY AWAY FROM MY ROOM!” He did not want a roommate, lol.) So the living arrangement seemed nice, but when I went back to my dorm, I didn’t really see anyone else or talk to anyone else… Especially when I got internet.

The first weekend there was a four-day weekend, the first couple of days of which my girlfriend and her family were there… and then they left. And I didn’t know what to do with myself for the next two days, because everything was so much more spread out, here; at Tech School, there was a mini mall-like place a very short walk away from the squadron, with a food court where I could buy a beer, and a Game Crazy where I could buy games. There were also more people I knew that I could interact with, if I wanted to; after I initially saw him, my former roommate made himself scarce. So I watched some DVDs on my computer. Probably also played my 3DS.

The first day of work, I was very nervous and shy, and had a bunch people be like, “ya better not be!” I awkwardly got to know some people, and kinda warmed up to them. I was still very much in my robotic state from tech school for the first few months, however. If I recall correctly. That first year… things seemed reasonably okay in that office. Most people had a sarcastic, snarky sense of humor about them, and nothing seemed like a huge deal. Some of the NCOs and Senior NCOs seemed really grumpy-snappy, but I wasn’t incredibly worried about that. I was also reasonably happy because of the ex… which I’ve gone over many times in the past. The point is that everything seemed new and bearable still. I wouldn’t find out until the next year what that office was all about.

My first bit of hostility came from our first First Shirt. Before he was our shirt, this guy was a quality assurance guy, and they were right down the hall from us, so we’d already seen quite a bit of him. He came down and chewed us out because I was apparently wearing inappropriate headgear with my blues while raising the flag (we didn’t know; we’d been allowed to wear that headgear in tech school). He informed us that at this point in his career, he’d already been thrown up against a wall, I think for less?

Shirt

As a first shirt, he was responsible for inspecting our dorm rooms. Before he inspected us, I had already been inspected by a staff sergeant, who thought my stuff looked great. With this first shirt… I was within a couple points of failing the two times he inspected me. Every first shirt that came after never marked me down for anything. I was there for the second time this shirt inspected my room; he went into every nook and cranny, made sure I could reach the top of my blinds, etc. As he put his inspection paper down on my bed, he glared into my eyes. This guy also casually, proudly told us a story once about how he got a guy kicked out, and this was his second person he got kicked out. Very impressive. At the time, I looked at him as a stern, but reasonable authority figure with a bit of a sense of humor. As time wore on, I came to think of him as a bullying asshole.

Eventually, I recognized that no one who had been there for a long time seemed happy. Everyone seemed drained of their enthusiasm for what they were doing, and had a cynical perspective of most things that were going on around them.

Morale

A senior airman had a habit of declaring, “Nope! Still don’t wanna be here!” NCOs frequently grumbled about their Senior NCO and Officer superiors, quite openly. At least they didn’t seem to mind that I was sitting right there and could hear them, anyway. In that way, I developed the idea that anyone outside of our office was a bit of a buffoon, and it was okay-or at least socially acceptable-to mock them when they weren’t around. Either that, or in our office, we were all together; us vs everyone else. Whoever they were complaining about, I bought into the idea that that person was no good, as per these coworkers of mine had been here longer and knew more than me. I was also the golden child that year, somewhat; I tested great, and I stayed out of trouble. Even that strict first shirt put me up as an example of how to be to the other airmen. I still wasn’t always happy, though; I often felt isolated, and homesick. The relationships I’d had in BMT and Tech School just weren’t there, and everyone did their own thing after work (probably had a lot to do with why I increasingly put pressure on my ex to make me happy…)

…I had thought about talking about the people I worked with individually at this point, and had even written like 4 paragraphs, each devoted to a single person, but then I realized that there were like ten or fifteen people left to go, so I’ve decided against that. To summarize, there was: an annoying little shit who was like a little brother that I never had; a strict, vindictive bitch for a supervisor; a laid back supervisor who got booted because he stopped caring; a supervisor who didn’t care-and who at times seemed barely alive-but knew how to play the game, so survived the whole three and a half years I knew him;  a ridiculously nice supervisor, who may have been too nice for his own good, but who was by far the best supervisor I had; a goofy, nerdy, nice NCO, who left early on; my 18-year-old roommate from Tech School, who had a fricken’ mouth and got away with murder at times, lol; a nice kid with a pride issue, who wasn’t good at the job and also occasionally got away with murder; a totally laid back dude, who I don’t think ever pissed me off, and who I would have debates with about “who was the man;” a nice girl, but on that was manipulative and inevitably cried wolf; a dramatic, frequently irritating girl, who pissed everyone off but who I thought was relatively nice; a dude who could be cool, but could also be pretentious, lazy, and hypocritical; a dude who could’ve been my favorite person there, if he could get over himself, accept dissention to his preconceived notions, and actually consider what the other person had to say (and lord help you if you got on his shit list); a Senior NCO who came in at the end, and reminded me of Rob Lowe’s character from Parks and Rec. That’s just the people in my own career field that I worked with during my time there. There was a closely associated career field to our own who were in the same office, but I don’t think I’ll get into them. Some of them were really cool. Some of them pissed me off. Some of them did both. So it goes.

Now, I’m not quite sure what exactly made being in that office so miserable for everyone; there were times when everyone seemed to be getting along fine, but things still felt like shit. People have told me many times that since we were Air Education and Training Command, that our culture was way different from regular air force; the term “Airman Eternally Treated as Children” often got thrown around, and kind of made sense in our context. Especially towards the end, we were a small organization, so anything that went a little bit wrong was a big deal, down to a font not being right for the slides at the morning production meeting. Wearing those abu tops was friggen’ uncomfortable, as they’d ride up into your armpits and get all sweaty, but if you got up, you DAMN WELL had better have them on-even in the ludicrously hot and humid Arkansas summer-because appearances or whatever. What might’ve made things worse was that the two airmen who had just come to the office a couple years before us had had to deal with some real anal and shitty NCOs, who didn’t put up with shit from them. So when they saw us not getting in trouble for every minor detail, they got upset. If an NCO is wanting you to take it up the ass, by god, you better take it up the ass and not say anything! And there were still some highly douchey NCOs around when I first got there…

My counselor frequently commented that we seemed to have a lot of time on our hands when I’d tell her about disputes in the office. We did. That was probably a large part of the problem as well, as we’d often be sitting there, bored to death. It was mind-numbing. But we had better make sure that we somehow looked busy! Those taxpayers don’t expect us to just sit on our butts; they expect us to find pointless busywork to do! To me, it felt like being on call, just in an office the whole time, but apparently some thought that we should’ve been constantly pouring over data and records, and innovating the way we did the job (even though no one would’ve payed attention and implemented our ideas if we did those things, anyway. I experienced that at least twice). Not to mention that right over there, the NCOs are talking about the Walking Dead or some such thing for half of the morning… but these new airmen! Ho boy! They’re the worthless, lazy ones! Still, everyone complained that, no matter how high up the chain you got, you had to play the yes man to the next person up on the chain (I even had the commander complain about this once).

So maybe the issue is that the Air Force culture is one wherein you’re not supposed to question the person with one more stripe than you, ever, because they’ve been in the Air Force longer than you have? We just automatically defer to the higher ranking person, regardless of how wrong and/or shitty whatever they’re saying is, because we can’t possibly detract from that chain of command!  Essentially, there’s no checks and balances in this system, so General Welsh can declare that the Air Force can look through your private phone for whatever reason it feels like, because airmen have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Also, a commander can order the physical removal of a civilian from a retirement ceremony the civilian was invited to, for any reason he feels like.

PrettyDarnGood

Is it archaic? Is it bullshit? Yes, yes it is, on both accounts.

A lot of questionable things happened in that office. A lot of things that, from an airman’s perspective, looked like someone was playing favorites. There was selective memory, selective perception, selective maturity, and selective hearing, by a number of our NCOs. We had an airman threatened that he better not take his complaints up the chain, because there was no point in it. We had that same airman a few years later threatened with progressive paperwork until he was kicked out of the Air Force if he “went behind the NCO’s back again.” We had an airman getting in trouble for reporting when he was threatened by another airman. We had a very nice, politician-like excuse for why all of these things had to take place (and those three things I mentioned happened to another airman). It is what it is.

I’ve talked at length about what happened to me after that first year there, in past blogs. To summarize: some people who seemed cool at first turned out to not be so cool; the office’s perception of me changed drastically from the first year, and I was seen as a troublemaker; I lost most respect for the Air Force’s traditions, customs and courtesies when I perceived that I was no longer being given the respect I thought I deserved; the menial bs and the monotony, coupled with AFPC never sending me anywhere else, caused me to become just as dead inside as everyone else seemed; a lot of road construction happened on base; a lot of issues with finance occurred; etc., etc. After that first year, very little seemed new or interesting anymore. Basically, it just seemed like a lot of bullshit.

I’d say that when one individual in our office became an NCO, I got to know him a lot better; he genuinely cared about his airmen, and tried to help us in any way that he could. I feel that, when he was around, he shielded me from a lot of bs. I can never be grateful enough to that dude. He was probably the best friend I had there. When another dude became an NCO… oh boy… He was already extremely pushy as an airman, extremely idealistic, and ready to make sure that not just he, but everyone around him acted like a perfect boy scout. As an NCO, he finally had the power he’d always wanted, and lost most tack in discussing what he wanted from us (this was the guy who texted me while I was still flying back to base, in order to tell me that I had to come in early on my first day back, with no pleasantry or asking me how I was doing or anything. First contact from him in a month.) His claim is that he “doesn’t want to baby anyone.” There’s a difference between babying someone and treating them like a robot though, dude. Dude can be a really good dude too, and he was frequently my favorite person to be around, but… he has a lot to learn about his approach towards his subordinates. That he may never learn, because it sounds like the current Section Chief is perfectly fine with this approach, regardless of his airmen being miserable. So yeah; that’s a stark contrast in supervising styles between these two.

If it sounds like I’m being highly critical, that’s because I am. If it sounds like I’m still a bit bitter about things that happened, that’s because I am. There are things in these blogs that have been coming for the last three and a half years, and I indict a shitty culture that I had to participate in. Complaints and/or concerns were never met with a reevaluation of the situation, or sole-searching; they were always met with tightening the rope around the neck. There are deep issues within that institution that aren’t going to go away any time soon, or possibly ever, because it’s a society of yes men, of people playing a game, of not taking a bullet for someone getting shot at-in fact, it’s a culture of shoving someone else in the bullet’s way, so you don’t get hit.

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Sorry to the people who are still in that I respect. I met a lot of good, honest, and generous people, and this shit isn’t their fault, but there’s also nothing they can do about it, either. To all those good, honest, generous people, I wish the best of luck, and I hope they get all the benefits and good fortune that they deserve, because they are the ones that exemplify what a member of the service is supposed to be.

Anyway, if you go to that base now, chances are that you will be going to the 19th Wing; the 314th has been almost entirely contracted out (or will be next spring, or something). Bless your lucky stars that you don’t have to work in the 314th Group Building. Bless your lucky. Ass. Stars.

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…that’s enough bitching for one day.

Going to BMT -OR- Going to Hell

On September 10th, 2012, I woke up and went for one last run around my neighborhood. I had spent the few weeks prior saying goodbye to my life in Albany, Oregon, and that run through small town suburbia was part of the goodbye; I was going to miss the fields with the horses and cows, the pleasant little houses, yards, trees, and gardens. Albany is a pleasant place to live, and in all honesty, I didn’t really want to leave. When I arrived back at the house… I was locked out. My parents had gone into town, and locked the front door. My strategy on these occasions had been to climb in through my bedroom window… but apparently my mother had discovered the unlocked window at some point, and locked it, as well.

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So, I paid a visit to my aunt and uncle down the road, until my parents came back. I sat in their dining room and watched Ultimate Spider-Man. It was an entertaining cartoon.

When my parents got back, I took a shower, and then my mom rode with me to drop my cat off at my friends’ house; my mom didn’t want the cat to stay at their house when I was gone. Leaving her with my friends was one of the two times during the process that I teared up; the other time was saying goodbye to my girlfriend via skype. She started crying, I started crying, everyone was grimacing with scrunched up, tearful faces.

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When my parents drove me down the road, I realized too late that it would be the last time for a long time that I would see the house I grew up in; I turned around in time to see it for a split second, disappearing down the road, obscured by trees. Then, we drove through Albany, then up I-5, and onto 205, to the airport and MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station). We ate at the Olive Garden that night, and I had some kinda lemonade drink. It was pleasant. Then, my parents sat with me in the lobby of the hotel I would be staying in for ten more minutes, reminiscing about the time that they dropped me off at Yellowstone to work for the Summer a few years back. After that… they left, and I was by myself.

That night, I stayed in a room with a kid who was much younger than me, but clearly of a much more ideal disposition towards being in the military; this would become a theme throughout BMT (and Tech School, and the Operational Air Force, for that matter). Seemed like a nice kid, fairly confident, unfazed by leaving everything behind. Talked about having a bunch of friends and family “crying on him” the day before, and being fairly indifferent about it. We had some low-scoring football game on the tv, until we both decided it was time to get some sleep. The next day would be a very long one, after all.

At some ungodly hour, everyone getting processed through MEPS that day got up, got breakfast, and got lectured in the lobby (another recurring theme throughout my Air Force career). Everyone got on a bus, and we all went to MEPS. There, we had to go through some physicals or another, again (all recruits go through a similar day at MEPS months before shipping off to BMT, or Basic Military Training). Then, there was paperwork, and talking to a bunch of different people. If at any point I wanted to back out of joining the Air Force, the first part of this day was my last chance to do so. I did not. Eventually, I got through all the paperwork and the talking, and I went into a nice-looking room and was sworn into the US Military by some officer or another (I forget what rank he was).

Next, some other guys and I were ushered into one of the rooms where we’d been lectured, and we were given our orders. Because I was the oldest,I was put in charge of everyone else. This was when it finally sunk in that, “…oh hell. I’m in the Air Force now. I could be in a world of trouble for losing a piece of paper, now.” After that, we were all given tickets-for the plane, and for purchasing a couple meals throughout our travels. Everybody else had their cellphones still, but I had given mine up to my parents, and instead had a few calling cards for calling back home. While everyone else was just sitting at the terminal, my as of yet undiagnosed anxiety disorder was kicking in full blast, and I began pacing all around the sitting area. At one point, I kicked something on the ground, but when I looked, I didn’t see anything down there, so I just started pacing again.

“Excuse me! Excuse me, that was my stuff!” An irritated lady informed me.

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I muttered some awkward apology as she gave me a death glare and walked away.

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This would end up being par for the course during my time at BMT, as far as luck and awkwardness went. Eventually, everyone got on the plane, and I nervously went over the notes for stuff I was supposed to have memorized by the time I got to Lackland AFB, TX (Home of BMT). A really nice lady sat next to me during this flight, and offered me encouragement as I sat there, freaking out. Towards the end of the flight, the pilot announced that us recruits were on board, and everyone clapped for us, the lady next to me making a point look right at me and smile as she clapped. It helped put me at ease, at least a little bit.

For a couple of hours, we were in the Dallas Fortworth Airport waiting for our next flight, so we got some dinner. We also met the people who were coming to BMT from other parts of the country; a tall, friendly dude walked up to greet us. We walked past him to get our dinner; no time for introductions right then, apparently. By this point in the night, I wasn’t really the leader in any sort of capacity anymore; the other guys discussed and decided what we were going to do. I didn’t really mind. However, I was still carrying around everyone else’s orders with me, so I was still nervous about that.

Eventually, we all got on another plane, for the short flight to San Antonio, TX. It was already dark by the time we arrived. As we exited the terminal, for some reason I don’t recall, I stopped to do something. Maybe it was to get a drink of water, maybe it was to use the restroom. Either way, when I got going again, the others had already checked in with the people from the base who were there to get us. This young, doofusy-looking A1C was lazily going over a list of our names as I walked up, and I thought, “this won’t be so bad.” Then he yelled at one of the guys, and the senior airman who was with him came over to yell at the guy as well, and I kinda froze up. Neither of these two asked for our orders. I don’t know if they forgot, one of the guys told them we didn’t have them before I could get there to intervene, or what. Regardless, we all got on a bus and rode for ten minutes to the base. I savored these last ten minutes before I believed “the fun” would begin…

Our first stop on base was some processing center, where we all sat down in an auditorium in front of some airmen who took a role call. I tried to give our orders to them, but they wouldn’t take them. Next, we went to some room where I guess our feet sizes and height were measured, or something. Then, we were given some lunch boxes to eat in the next 5 minutes, and told to sit quietly. The whole time, this didn’t seem too upsetting to be going through; these airmen who were processing us just seemed grumpy and rude, and only occasionally yelled at anyone. After our lunch break or whatever, we were ushered into a big room where we were once again made to sit in some chairs and listen to some kind of briefing (I have no recollection what this briefing was. Just that it was given by an angry NCO/SNCO/Officer/whatever.) Then, we were on a bus again, headed towards our new home for the next eight weeks…

I will always remember when our bus parked in front of the squadron, and four large, shadowy figures wearing campaign hats marched aggressively up to us. One of the guys on the bus uttered, “Oh, shit!” I’m sure he was saying what we were all thinking.

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One of the campaign hats walked on the bus and began listing off our names. After the first few names, he was offended by how softly people were responding and yelled at everyone. From then on, everyone was yelling “HERE!” in response to their names. Having accomplished the role call, the campaign hat then demanded that we all got off the bus and on to the drill pad in some extremely short time period; like, thirty seconds, or something.

I did my best to stand like a statue, as the four campaign hats hovered around us, barking orders and lighting up anyone who didn’t do what they wanted him to do. We played the game where the campaign hat tells you to put your bags on the ground. I was warned about this game by my recruiter, and placed my bags softly on the ground, but apparently others hadn’t been told about this. We put the bags down and picked them up again about three or four times before we got yelled at for dropping them instead of placing them on the ground. Some kind of instructions were given after this game (I don’t recall what) and then we were all rushed up into our dorm.

Once in the dorm, we were to rush to a wall locker and put our noses on it, and then the campaign hats came around and yelled at people for not standing still enough. The key to our locker was either hanging on the bed post on a chain, or in the keyhole to the wall locker, I don’t recall which. I just recall another game of putting our hands on a thing as a campaign hat yelled it out, as quickly as possible, and getting yelled at again. We were then to put the chain with the keys around our necks, and tuck them into our shirt. The keys were never to be sitting out in front of our shirts; this became another game, where other trainees would yell “key check!” and everyone would quickly feel for their keys to make sure they were where they were supposed to be. We were called into the day room, and I apparently had my keys out… one of the campaign hats stopped me and start growling about cutting my head off or something. I quickly put my keys away and moved on.

Once in the dayroom, everyone was instructed to write down our new address on a card, to send to our loved ones so that they could mail us letters and such. Then, we were all given a thirty second phone call to tell our families we arrived at BMT safely. After this, we were rushed into the “latrine” to shave our faces (I think I cut my face a bit that night) brush our teeth and get into bed. All of this needed to be done in another ridiculously short amount of time, and once we were in bed, we were told that we must sleep at attention. I laid at attention for a little bit, and then just laid normally, because the campaign hats were obviously gone. At some point, I got up to use the restroom, and the two guys on entry control duty got after me for not having my flashlight (these two were trainees in like week six or seven, most likely. I didn’t realize that at the time.)

Then… the rest of BMT happened. There are some events that I remember somewhat clearly, but mostly, it just seemed very long. Also, highly stressful. In fact, there was probably some new nervous-breakdown-enducing event each day, each moment. That first morning, we met the first MTI (military training instructor) assigned to pushing our flight. A lot of people have been traumatized by Reveille, and have some sort of ptsd reaction to hearing it when first waking up in the morning. Personally, the sound that gave me that kind of reaction was hearing this man shouting us out of bed in the morning: “GET UP! GET UP! GET UP! GET UP! GET OUTTA BED! GET OUTTA BED!” This guy was both scary, and awesome at the same time. I actually ended up really liking and respecting him by the end; he pushed me hard, but he also seemed like he cared about me and tried to help me, and that really meant something to me. Unfortunately, we were one of his last flights.

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The first few days were this MTI leading us around to different in-processing places; the clinic, clothing issue, barber shop, etc. It was during this time that I realized that, while you were a trainee in BMT, most people were gonna treat you like shit. It was part of the process and kept the stressful environment up, but sometimes it seemed ridiculous and over the top. Also during this time, we had our first experience of standing in formation… which we were in whenever we were outside. We were standing there, waiting for lunch, waiting for the barber, waiting for whatever… in formation. We didn’t look around; we looked down at our little learning materials or whatever, or drank from our canteens. Moving or looking anywhere else was a no-no.

Somehow, for our marching formations, I was chosen as a front road guard. This meant that I didn’t get as much experience marching with the rest of the group, but instead wore some reflective vest-that always got super tangled up as I hastily put it on-and stood in position to stop traffic. A clear memory of marching was our MTI telling us to turn left, and me turning right (I easily get left and right mixed up) and our MTI yelling at me, “YOUR OTHER LEFT!! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!!” I also remember that he kept forgetting me name, and calling me “Hanson” or “Henderson” instead. I wasn’t the only one whose name he would forget, and this always got a laugh out of the “flight” (the group of trainees I was with).

The first week was okay, all things considered… the second and third weeks, however, it became noticeable how much slower and worse I was at absolutely everything than everyone else. I have to pity all the guys who were my partners in making our beds, because I could NOT do it like I was supposed to. It probably had something to do with the amount of time we had to do it in, and the number of instructions the other guy would hastily try to give me (which my brain could not process fast enough. I was always very tired and/or my anxiety was always acting up.) I was also terrible at marching, folding clothes, putting clothes on, organizing stuff, physical training, etc. So, as much as I didn’t want to stand out… I kinda stood out. Not for even slightly good reasons, either. People started losing patience with me fast, and I would get yelled at quite a bit (there’s nothing quite like being screamed at by a kid ten years younger than you).

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They were also at each other’s throats constantly, though. Even the people who had started out really nice started getting really impatient and nasty with other people, really quickly. I might’ve made a comment on how this was a part of the plan, to have us constantly bickering… but I sucked at everything, so I didn’t feel I had any right to. In any case, at some point in those first few weeks, the Instructor Supervisor (our MTI’s boss) came up and talked to us… He was the most terrifying person I’ve ever met. His eyes seemed to stare into your soul, and his voice had a certain, unsettling harshness to it, no matter what he was saying.

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He told us that there was no way out of this; that getting discharged at this point would take longer than getting through BMT. Up until then, I had thought that, if you felt you couldn’t handle it anymore, you could let the MTI know, and they would start your separation process or whatever. That night, laying in bed, I felt like I was hyperventilating… I also remember drawing Todd with a crazy expression on his face in one of my letters to someone back home, saying, “Heh heh… I’m gonna die in here!”

Eventually, our second MTI showed up; he was a blue rope, which meant that his flights were generally extra disciplined. Immediately, I worried about living up to his expectations, as he demanded that we stand perfectly at attention… and then yelled at us because we weren’t standing EXTRA perfectly at attention. He showed up for about ten minutes that time, and then went away again, so I thought that maybe we wouldn’t see him again… no such luck.

Eventually, he was there in the place of our first MTI for several days in a row, demanding far more of us than our previous MTI had. I was on his shit list pretty fast… At least a couple times, I was sent into the latrine to scrub it. Also, when we were practicing our marching, every time, almost immediately, he would kick me out of the flight. At one point he stated that he would have me out of the Air Force by that night, and also instructed all the other trainees to call a few other airmen and me “dirtbags.”

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I was fairly convinced at this point that I was going to get washed back to an earlier week in training, and then get kicked out. I kept telling my parents not to buy tickets to fly out and watch me graduate, and every Sunday when I went to church, I just prayed to the Lord that I would make it another week through BMT, so that I could go back and pray again. My favorite time of the day was when we went to bed; that was the only time we really had to read or write letters, and also the only time that the insanity totally turned off for a bit. There were a few fire drills that happened in the middle of the night-one of which had me running around my bed in a circle a few times-and there were also times when we were put on entry control duty in the middle of the night… those nights sucked. There was also at least one time that I woke up, thought that we needed to get moving, and woke the guy up next to me, telling him that we had to go. After a few seconds, I realized I was wrong, but it took me several seconds more to calm him down and explain to him I was wrong.

One day, we went to the rifle range, had a couple hours of training, and then went out to shoot some targets. This was par for the course with other training we had; we had an hour of self defense training, an hour of beating each other up with sticks, an hour of going through a combat scenario, crawling through sand and hitting a dummy with our rifles, etc. We had twenty opportunities to shoot our targets. I hit mine twice. I thought for sure I would be washed back… but apparently, to pass the rifle range, you needed to fire your rifle once. You also didn’t need to hit anything.

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As we got into fifth week, and I made it through some of the training exercises without getting washed back, I started to think that maybe I’d be okay (although I still told my parents not to buy plane tickets, yet). Then, we went to Beast Week… I was pretty worried about that particular week. We put everything in our duffle bags, road on a bus to another base, picked up MOPP (Mission Oriented Protection Posture) gear, and went to our camp site. The purpose of this week was to practice drills in combat situations, such as bombs landing in the vicinity, or some sort of gas being released in the air (which is what MOPP gear is for protecting against).

There were like four or so of these different scenarios that everyone cycled through throughout a day, and then at night, everyone watched training videos, took notes, “took a shower” (due to the volume of people trying to take one in a short period of time, some of use used baby whipes instead… also, our laundry crew didn’t do our laundry at any point while we were out there. As a result, we stank and were sticky.) After showering, we did our details, and after that, we had like a half an hour at night to just chill; this was much more time than we’d normally get back at the squadron. As a result, while I kinda hated the days at Beast Week, the nights there might’ve been my favorite times at BMT. While on Entry Control duty at one point, I even saw a lizard scurry over and sit next to me for a little bit, which is one of my favorite BMT memories.

However, this was the week that I was sure that I would be washed back… and then I didn’t wash back. That last day, I was standing at attention with everyone else as our first MTI handed us our dog tags. When he got to me, he asked with a smile, “Still alive, huh?” I was like, “Yes sir!” As this was happening, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” by The Angry American was playing, and a thunderstorm was rolling through; it seemed fitting, somehow.

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When we got back to the squadron, it was the last week of training before graduation week. The biggest obstacle in my path still, I felt, was passing the physical training test. I had never been any good at push ups; before I’d gone in, I had been working on them every day, but I could still only do a max of like twenty-five, and the minimum requirement for my age group was thirty-three. At one point, during one of the pretests, I did not do the minimum number of push ups for that particular time, and I was almost washed back. I was called into the IS’s office, and he started off with his scary persona, growling at me. He then explained that I hadn’t been in trouble yet up until that point, and that they liked helping good kids who were trying hard, but struggling. Therefore, he was going to give me another chance before putting me in the flight where the out of shape people went.

The morning we did our actual pt test, our push ups came first. I was able to do exactly thirty-three (although I kinda suspect the guy counting for me might’ve given me an extra one). It was such a relief to have that out of the way. I then got my sit ups in, and ran the fastest mile and a half of my life, of like eleven minutes and fifteen seconds. From then on, I was just looking forward to getting out of there. There were a few more challenges along the way-an end of course test, the graduation march, etc.-but that pt test was by far the biggest obstacle. Unfortunately, by the time I felt safe about telling my parents to come out, it was too late, and they couldn’t get the tickets anymore.

At the coining ceremony, our second MTI had to coin us. He got to me, and was like, “Trainee Hellman…” (there was a long pause, there) “…good job.” Eventually, I would accidentally throw that airman’s coin away with an old wallet, but at that time, I clutched it pretty tightly in my hand, feeling rather proud about getting that man to tell me I did a “good job.” Also, at some point towards the middle of our time there, my flight decided that, even though I sucked at everything, they liked me, and wanted me to succeed. They cheered whenever I passed something that would’ve gotten we washed back otherwise, and when I got my certificate for passing BMT, they all cheered again. My proudest moment, though, was on the Sunday morning of Graduation Week, when I stood at the front of the congregation as one of the trainees who had just graduated. I fought back some tears as I stood there, because I hadn’t thought I would ever make it up on that stage.

And then… I got on the bus that would take me to my Tech School. On that ride, I realized that this wasn’t over; that my enlistment wasn’t just about getting through BMT. This journey was just beginning… I also never got those orders turned in, although I had tried a few more times. No one would take them. I had them for like a year before I finally brought them home and shredded them.