50 years ago!!!! Took the first of many oaths, joining the United States Air Force, at the exalted rank of basic cadet. 5 July 1971. The start of an exciting and fulfilling career. Only a couple weeks earlier, I was in college at the wonderful Claremont Men’s College, having a pretty good time playing two sports, pitching in the NAIA regional baseball tournament in Oregon, and painfully trying to figure out that there was a considerably more intense effort required in academics at the college level.
So, unlike the big family turnouts for new cadets in the modern age, most of us were shipped off on a plane, with a small bag, one pair of low-quarter black shoes, and shaggy hair, heading to a place most of us had never seen with our own eyes, in a state we’d never been to, to an adventure most of us had no clue about.
I traveled with a couple of other appointees from Southern California, all Rep. Charles Wiggins nominees. Left LAX for Colorado Springs, then to the Rodeway Inn, where there were many other equally glassy eyed youngsters with small bags, one pair of low-quarter black shoes, and shaggy hair. We traveled on the 4th of July—somewhat fitting, it seemed. That night, we SoCal kids decided we ought to go to the nicest restaurant in town, somewhere on Academy Blvd, for a “last supper” of sorts. Then, back to the hotel for a good night sleep (not!).
When we got up, we headed by taxi to the Trailways Bus Depot in C-Springs, to catch an Academy bus up to the cadet area. It was a memorable trip. The sky was crystal clear, bright blue. The mountains were beautiful. The Academy is not really in sight the whole way up, but at some point we saw the Cadet Chapel’s 17 spires, and they grew in magnitude as the bus made its way up the long roads, heading west on the 17,000 acres of the Academy, toward our fate which would begin at the famed, Bring Me Men ramp.
Because of a short summer vacation for a couple weeks, courtesy of the US Marine Corps the summer before my senior year in high school, I expected there would be screaming people on the bus or when we got off the bus, having us do pushups and stand at attention or running in place for hours. But, upon arrival, there were some really nice cadets wearing Service Bravo—light blue short-sleeve shirts and wheel caps—helping us get our stuff and get to a place where we formed up at the base of the ramp. No yelling, no pushups, just a friendly welcome to our new home and school. How nice!
I had my suspicions, but not enough knowledge to know what to expect. It was enough suspicion to make me very nervous—for good reasons it turns out.
But, we were sorted out, given some kind of a nametag around our necks I think, and then taken by some other nice upperclassmen to our basic cadet training squadrons in Vandenberg Hall, the quarter mile long, six story dorm. In some places, you could look about 500 feet in either direction down the hall and see nothing but exactly the same alcoves with two cadet rooms in each. Every floor, every stairwell, every hallway, every alcove, and every room identical. This would prove to be problematic, to put it mildly, in the days ahead. But, nevertheless, we had great tour guides at this point and for the next couple of fun-filled, happy days.
I went to my room, met my roommate (Mark Birch from Minnesota—a hockey player). We were assigned to 37th flight in I-Squadron (Invaders—“All the way to the top!”). Over the next six weeks I met several guys I would become life-long friends with, still to this day. And, many others who left at some point for unknown reasons and no fanfare.
From that point, things were a blur (and blurrier now after 50 years). But, my memory plays snapshots of picking up gear, getting measured for more gear, haircuts, shots, a few meetings, and loosely marching around the cadet area in a carefree, friendly way. Life was good, though tense.
Oddly enough, the days of the week are the same this year, 2021, as they were in 1971. The 4th of July was on a Sunday, and July 5th was on a Monday. Why is that important? I just remember that Wednesday of that first week was when life changed forever for 1408 of us who showed up on Monday. But, that is a topic for another story. For now, generally fond memories of our start in the Air Force, on the 5th of July 1971—50 years ago. (5 July 2021)