Shortly after being sworn into active duty in the Air Force in September 1966 at the Omaha Recruitment Center, and after three short plane rides to Kansas City, Dallas and San Antonio, we were quickly bused to our "home" at Lackland Air Force Base and assigned to the 3704 Training Squadron, Flight 1984. (1984 is ironic because of George Orwell's book of the same name. After a while there, it seemed fitting.)
After a couple days of incessant yelling and other vocal encouragement that cannot be reprinted while we were trying to stay in step, stay in line and "keep our ears on top of your shoulders," we were greeted by an E-6 non-commissioned officer whose responsibility was to whip all of us into "lean, mean, fighting machines," his favorite quote.
The first day was grueling: 108 degrees, freshly shaved heads, the yelling and screaming, and soon we were soaked in sweat.
I still believe that these training instructors ate garlic and onions at every meal and never gargled.
Anyway, a technical sergeant was speaking to us about how he had taken it easy on us because it was the first day and we were used to sitting in the house watching T.V. But then he started about how someone in the flight must not have believed how tough it was. And how tough he was.
No one volunteered a word.
And he kept going, ranting about how someone must think it wasn't that bad.
Finally, I raised my hand and told him what he wanted to hear. If you had three brothers and wrestled in high school, a few push-ups, sit-ups, leg lifts and jumping jacks wasn't that bad. Being a skinny farm kid from Iowa, I'd been through much worse!
"Where you from, boy?"
"Audubon," I said.
"Well, I'm from Creston," he said, and went on to question me about the high school wrestling program there.
Then he unloaded.
"Now, tomorrow when half of you mama's babies die, you can blame this guy because he doesn't believe I'm not tough!"
That's quite a guilt trip to lay on a 19-year-old kid.
But he never backed off me, every day yelling and screaming at everyone but always getting up and close to my face. One day, while doing push-ups, he came over and sat on my shoulders—not much weight but I could feel him there. And it impressed everyone else.
He started doing it every day. And I wasn't going to admit his fakery. We were becoming his "lean, mean, fighting machines."
He hung on me like a cheap shirt all through training.
The last time I saw him was during the obstacle course, which was one of the steps in completing basic training. He had a few choice words for me. But when no one was looking, he gave me a wink!
He's the only training instructor whose name I remember. My experience with him is the one event in basic training I remember most.