I won’t tell too many stories about the Air Force Academy. I didn’t like it there and I wasn’t there for myself, so without the internal motivation, I was not going to be successful. I went from being a Cadet in the class of ’85 to a Private in the Marines. However, it was from the Academy that I made the decision to enter the Marine Corps which led to a sound and successful 20 year career.
Although it wasn’t about pride, it was about getting over. One night, my roommates and I took two of our white t-shirts and we drew a big lightning bolt across the chest with a black marker and then wrote Mach 1 on it. This was our squadron and we sought a bit of a break from the unwanted attention of the upperclassmen. The three of us, Rick, Mitch, and I dressed in our green fatigues and once the duty officer was making his rounds, we stole away. It was surprisingly easy to exit the building, seemingly unseen and head into the shadows. It was midnight. Taps sounded two hours ago.
We were on the sixth floor of one of the residency halls and the terrazzo, the main parade deck that was even with the fourth floor. We made it down the steps and approached the terrazzo from the dark recesses of pillars and overhangs. The open area in between where we were and where we needed to go, was lit by streetlamp style lighting – not too bright, but our movements would be easily seen. Then again, it was 1981 and I don’t believe they had security cameras covering the area.
We needed to get to the War Memorial and the garden on the Terrazzo, where at the end waited our ultimate goal – the life size busts of Orville and Wilbur Wright. Our plan was to put Mach 1 t-shirts on Orville and Wilbur so that the morning march to the chow hall for breakfast would greet all with some team spirit.
We raced across the open area like three idiots, stopping at the black marble of the war memorial. We waited for a minute or so, to make sure that no one had seen us and was coming. All of a sudden, with the excitement and the cold of the mountain evening air, Rick and I both realized that we had to pee and this caused us some distress. We then conducted a bounding overwatch from tree to tree until we reached the other end of the garden path, closest to Mitchell Hall, the dining facility. We reached up and much to our dismay, we discovered that the busts were not life-sized at all. Our medium t-shirts to fit our 150-lb frames weren’t going on. We were not to be denied and we stretched our Fruit of the Looms to the shattering point and brought them over the bronze heads of Orville and Wilbur.
Once the fabric was stretched, our logo and Mach 1 were not so clear, fading from the black of tight cloth, to a gray. It would have to do. Our work this evening was done.
We made it back to the dormitory without issue, but when we tried to get back to our room, we were intercepted by an upperclassman. He looked like he wanted to challenge us, but changed his mind, preferring not to know where we had been. With our covers blown, we marched smartly down the side of the hallway to our room and recovered for the night.
The next morning, when we marched to breakfast, an upperclassman was taking off the t-shirts without fanfare. We asked our third classman what was up with t-shirt at breakfast. He hadn’t even noticed. How could the future leader of our military not be a morning person? I’ll never understand that, along with many other mysteries of life.
In the mornings, in the dining facility called Mitchell Hall, Fourth Classmen (freshman in the outside world), would yell motivational things. Once I realized that I had had about enough of Academy life, I took the opportunity to stand up for my squadron, Mach 1. During a lull one morning, I stood on my chair and bellowed, “I love it here! I love it here! I am a sexual deviant!” From the diaphragm and all, as they teach. It echoed off the inside walls and the last notes resonated in silence. Then the cat calls began and our table monitor, an unsuspecting Cadet Third Class who did not like mornings, crawled under the table to hide from his friends. I suffered no hardship due to this, thank goodness, and my rebellion against the USAFA way was almost complete.
When I decided to leave the Academy, it was liberating. Not to the staff, though. I had to meet with a number of different people up the chain of command. I met with one of our senior administrators, some Lieutenant Colonel. He told me that my leadership scores were the highest he’d ever seen. But then again, I groomed myself for eight years in preparation for the perfect application to the Academy. Maybe I would be a good leader, but not in the Air Force. He refused to sign my release.
So I stopped going to class. Two weeks later, they were far more amenable to signing my release. They bought me a plane ticket home and put me in a cab. The homecoming was not so pleasant. My girlfriend was gone. My car was sold. My mom told me that my dad had a heart attack because of all the stress I put on him. Dad refuted that, saying it was just indigestion. I caused my family a great deal of grief. I failed them.
But I didn’t fail myself. Maybe for the first time in my life I did something that was best for me.
The next day, I borrowed a car and drove myself to the Marine recruiter. I walked in and told them to sign me up. The first question was if I had a criminal record. They couldn’t believe that someone would enlist in January, without something being wrong with the candidate. But there wasn’t, no matter how much they tried to find something. They were quite pleased in the end. Later, I learned how the quota system worked for Marine Corps recruiting. I just gave them a number that they didn’t have to work for. That was a big win for the home team. I was the only one not playing a game. I just wrote a blank check with my life. I enlisted in the Marine Corps in combat arms – tanks.
Or so I thought.