In the 67th year of my life, I know I have experienced parts of life that have been MUCH more difficult than my time at Lackland AFB. The first day, during that transition from civilian life to military life was almost…embarrassing. You were still wearing civilian clothes, civilian haircuts, civilian demeanor, when you were brought into the dining hall and you were surrounded by all the other trainees who had already made the transition into the military – uniform, haircut, demeanor – and you just wanted to start looking like them as soon as possible. Basic Training is not the place you want to stand out. In Basic, it was all about: Paying attention, respecting authority, following directions, following orders, doing the best you can and realizing that Basic had an end. No trainee in my flight was mentally or physically abused. Your job was to get through six weeks (just six weeks) of: Physical training (PT), the obstacle course, M-16 training, classroom work, marching and lots of marching, learning all about presenting the proper military bearing, KP, fire-watch, inspections and keeping your head OUT of your ass. The tone of my letters home transitioned from homesickness to hope to pride and then a high degree of pride. There came a time when our flight was marching to and from the dorms and we were VERY SHARP and we had our SHIT TOGETHER.
I tried taking up cigarettes several times. I would always get nauseous. I had bought a carton of Kools, tried smoking again, and was nauseous, once more. I gave the carton to the flight leader, a tall African-American kid, who smoked Kools. I turned 19 on March 17th. Mail call was always just before marching into the dining hall for dinner. I had received a large volume of letters and packages for my birthday. We were at parade rest (quiet, no talking) but I was laughing and talking quietly. A TI from another flight saw this and marched me into the dining hall table where all of the TIs sat. I was ordered to laugh, for about five minutes, while standing in front of my TI, Tech-Sgt Georgieff. He called me in his office after dinner asking me if I wanted to graduate from Basic with this flight. Later that evening, he complimented me on my spit-shine shoes and boots. I felt I had dodged a bullet.
Two weeks into BASIC, I was given an order for a medical (eye) appointment. During the eye exam, I took a glance at the paperwork. Written in large black letters was AIR INTELLIGENCE. Mmm, this must be part of photography school. I was promised photography school by my recruiter.
There was no graduation ceremony on March 24, 1970. BASIC was completed and all flight trainees received their first stripe and the National Defense Medal. Some received the ribbons for marksmanship on the M-16. Most were given orders for the next phase of their Air Force careers. I was going to Lowry AFB in Denver, but not for Photography School. I was assigned to the Armed Forces Air Intelligence Training Center. I was in Denver some eight hours after leaving Lackland AFB.