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*22 February 2002 - A Major Pain*
Something rather odd happened to me the other day. I received a
message on my answering machine from an Air Force officer that said
that he was interested in reaching me to speak about the possibility
of having me pursue a commission and act as an officer in the
Air Force. The guy was calling from Air Education Training Command
(AETC) HQ at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama.

Now, I'm sure some of you have been pestered by military recruiters in
the past. The thing about recruiters, though, is that they go after
people in order to get them to enlist as grunts in the military. They
don't actively seek out people for officer positions because the
qualifications to become a military officer are much steeper than
those for the enlistees. Also, even if a military recruiter DOES call
you, it's a sergeant at the local recruiting office for your area, not
some captain based out of another state.

So why was this guy calling me?

Curiousity got the better of me, and I called him back the next day.
It turns out that my prior military record was flagged to come under
review after a certain time period had passed, and this guy was
assigned to handle it. You see, at one time I was on my way towards
becoming a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force. I had received one
whopper of an Air Force ROTC college scholarship straight out of high
school, and I figured that going to college for free wasn't going to
suck. Plus, I was guaranteed a job as a military officer when I
finished college. Not too bad a deal, right?

Right. Sure it was. That's why I dropped my scholarship two years
into the four year program. I think I spent more time shining my
shoes than sleeping for those two years.

Anyway, I dropped the ROTC program, eventually paid back all the
scholarship money, and all was well. When I reported to the ROTC
detachment at college in my sophomore year and said that I wanted out,
they wanted a formal statement from me saying exactly why I wanted to
leave. What I said was:

"I want to concentrate on my studies. ROTC takes too much time, and
it's impacting my education. I'd prefer to pursue a commission once
I have completed my bachelors degree."

... what I really meant was ...

"I'm tired of making banners out of bedsheets, I'm tired of having to
bark 'HOO-RAH!' at the top of my lungs whenever some idiot says the
words 'Air Force', and I'm tired of doing hundreds of push-ups while
someone stands next to me yelling encouraging things along the lines
of 'You're a DISGRACE, cadet!!'."

Yeah, that's what I really meant. But I have a feeling that since I
was about to go into debt to these folks for roughly 2 years worth of
college tuition, it was best not to push the issue.

The combination of my rather open-ended statement and my spectacular
test scores on the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) marked me
as a prime target for an officer commissioning program, so they
tagged my file. With the US military ramping up a lot more these
days, I guess the Air Force wanted to make sure they have all the
officers handy that they'll need. And they must be have a big need
for officers... I figure that breaking a scholarship contract with the
government would place me a spot or two behind the candidates without
legs when it came to any sort of offer for a military commission.

I assured the officer that I had no further interest in pursuing a
commission with the Air Force. He gave me a bit of a recruiting
pitch, but let's face it... going through more abuse and getting paid
a whopping $27K a year as a 2nd lieutenant wasn't high on my list of
fun stuff to do. The guy wouldn't let up, and he continued to dig
through my file and tell me why I was perfectly suited for a life in
the military.

"Mr. Henderson, you have a spectacular service record. The only thing
I can see on your record that has any kind of negative connotation
is... *typetypetype*... something about a rifle and the Daytona
Beach police?"

Uh oh. I forgot about that little incident. They actually wrote that
down in my record? It must have been a slow day at my detachment and
someone felt the urge to file a report on it. Well, it HAD involved
the local police, and it HAD involved an ROTC cadet, so the training
detachment probably was required to record the incident in my file.
Still, if something like that was going to stop the military from
trying to recruit me again, I guess it wasn't quite so bad after all.

I heard him tap a few keyboard keys as he quickly went through the
report in front of him. He was quiet for a little bit before he
asked, "did they really send out three squad cars for that?"

"Well, the police are a little over-zealous down there," I replied.
No kidding they were over-zealous... I used to cause at least one
major explosion a week in that neighborhood, so the cops were always
on edge when it came to any reports of disturbance in the area. The
police probably thought they had a terrorist in town.

I could almost hear the marbles rolling around inside this guy's
head. He apparently had only just now spotted that blemish on my
record while he was on the phone with me, and now it appeared that he
was trying to gracefully back out of the conversation.

"I see. Well, I'm sorry to have taken your time. I can tell that you
aren't interested in a position as a military officer, and I can
respect that. Have a good day, Andrew." And with that, he hung up.
Not so graceful, but at least he left quickly.

What's the scoop on the incident with the rifle, you ask? Good

A good question indeed.

Next Military Update: Rifles, and the women that love them.

*24 February 2002 - Rifles, And The Women That Love Them*
Back when I was in college, I was in Air Force ROTC. I was one of the
many college students that enrolled in the ROTC program in the fall of
1995. For those not that familiar with the program, ROTC is an
interesting idea. Basically, no branch of the United States armed
forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or the reserves of any of the
four) will make you an officer unless you have a college degree. It
doesn't much matter what your degree is in, since the military will
stick you in a position where you show the most promise. Being a
military officer comes with a lot of responsibility, but a pitiful
paycheck. So pitiful, in fact, that the military often has a hard
time finding people to become officers. So, if you're sharp enough
and have good grades in high school, the military offers to pay for
your college tuition in exchange for you becoming an officer upon
graduation from college.

Of course, it's not like you just go through college as a normal
student and then just get handed a uniform when you get handed your
diploma. There is a lot of training involved during your college
years. On paper, the training you receive are in the form of
"military science" classes. These classes are really very simple, and
aren't anything to worry about. If you do bad in these classes, it's
probably better for all involved if you quit trying to become a
military officer. I'm not too comfortable with having someone
in charge of ballistic weapons when he or she can't even remember if
you're supposed to salute with your left hand or your right hand.

The classes that you take are a lot like a typical science class like
biology or physics. You take a standard classroom-based class for a
few credits, and then you take this nightmare lab class that usually
is worth a single credit. The lab takes roughly 90% of your total
ROTC effort, and it thoroughly sucks. In a nutshell, the "leadership
lab" is where you wear a uniform, get yelled at, run until you throw
up, do push-ups until the feeling in your arms are a fond memory, get
yelled at, sing idiotic songs while marching all over the campus,
salute a whole hell of a lot, and get yelled at. People who grew up
on a diet of movies such as "Full Metal Jacket", "The Guns of
Navarone", and "Top Gun" seem to think this lab is a whole lotta fun.

I didn't think it was that much fun. Mostly because I was too busy
being one of those guys that were throwing up in the bushes.

One of the goals of this whole lab thing was to teach a potential
officer how to be both a follower and a leader. This meant that each
week, a handful of cadets were selected to fill leadership roles for
the duration of the week. Don't confuse "leadership roles" with
"authority", because they are hardly the same. All that it meant was
that you were no longer the dirt of the military, but rather the upper
layer of mud that was directly stepped upon. You wanted to avoid
these roles as much as possible, because they not only involved
yelling at your friends (who would simply beat your ass later when it
was their turn to be in charge) but also involved you being yelled at
by upperclassmen. It broke down to becoming a speed-bump for verbal

For a bunch of cadets with half a brain amongst them, you could turn
this whole system to your advantage. One of the positions, flight
adjutant, was probably the worst job you could get, but also offered
the most opportunity. The adjutant became, for the duration of his
duties, the slave of the flight commander. The flight commander was
the cadet officer in charge of training all the lowerclassman peons,
so he basically foisted all of the paperwork on the flight
adjutant/victim of the week. But, being in charge of all the
paperwork had it's advantages. At least, it did when *I* was flight

"Cadet, what's the speed of sound?" the flight commander would ask a
cadet standing at attention in formation.

"Uh.... sir, I do not know, but will find out!" the cadet would

"I figured as much. Henderson, that's a demerit for Cadet Johnson!"
the flight command barked at me.

"Yes sir!" I shouted as I proficiently whipped out my clip board
and marked down a demerit for Cadet Nick Jameson, who was always
hanging out over at my apartment. That'll teach Nick not to leave
dirty dishes in my sink.

Anyway, you could go through all this abuse and get through the
program, get your commission, and get stuck wherever the military saw
it fit to stick you. Or, you could do some extracurricular activities
in ROTC, get recognized as one of the better cadets, and get your pick
of where you wanted to do once you received your commission. Doing
extracurricular activities also had a bonus that made you stand out
and get recognized as someone sharp when you were out there in
formation with a hundred other cadets.

The thing that made you stand out were ribbons. Hard to get, but an
amazing indicator of military l33t-ness, those rectangular colored
bars that get pinned to your uniform marked out the winners from the
losers. The more you had, generally speaking, the more gung-ho you
were about the whole military thing. I spent the entirety of my ROTC
career scheming up ways to get more ribbons on my uniform.

By the end of my freshman year of college and my first year of ROTC, I
had a whopping 4 ribbons on my uniform and a cord on my left
shoulder. That was a pretty darn good haul for a freshman. But, the
ribbons I had gotten were mostly the "I put in a few extra hours to
get this one" ribbons. It was going to start getting hard to add any
more ribbons without putting in some heavy-duty extra effort. But I
figured, why the hell not? Even if I lost all the ribbons when I
became an officer, having them in the first place would enable me to
have a better opportunity of picking exactly where I'd be stationed
and what I'd be doing.

So, I joined the rifle and drill team of the 157th Air Force
ROTC Training Wing of the Air Education Training Command. In
retrospect, that wasn't the best idea I've ever had.

Ever see the military folks in parades or at sporting events that spin
and throw rifles? Or perhaps a military colorguard? That's what the
rifle and drill team does. It looks cool, and it IS cool if you
happen to be good at spinning and throwing rifles. For me, on the
other hand, it was pure torture. I SUCKED at it. No one would dare
volunteer to be my partner for practicing rifle throwing because no
one, including me, could say for sure what direction that rifle was
going to go once it left my hand.

On the bright side, I imagine most of my former rifle throw partners
could put in an application for a purple heart ribbon. I clocked one
poor guy in the head on two different occasions, and I was a one man
army when it came to smashing shoulders, jamming fingers, and knocking
the wind out of my partners. I was so dangerous, in fact, that I was
loaned out to the colorguard as a guard so that the rifle team could
heal a little while I was busy standing next to an American flag and
looking grim while holding a rifle.

My amazing level of ineptitude in the area of thrown firearms was
quite noteable. That's what makes this next bit so shocking.

About two weeks into the semester, I had just finished my first week
of acting as a rifleman with the team colorguard. The three cadet
officers that were in charge of the rifle team called me out of
formation and said that they wanted to talk to me. I figured that
they were going to have a heart-to-heart with me along the lines of
"please do us all a favor and quit before you kill someone." What
they told me, however, was quite the opposite:

"Henderson, we've got another rifleman coming in... a late starter...
and we need you to work with her and get her up to speed," the team
commander said to me while giving me a wary eye. "Quite frankly, you
suck at handling a rifle, Henderson. I've seen monkeys that have more
coordination than you. But you're the only one on the team with GPA
to spare, and we think that the extra practice could really help you
out. Besides, I know you've got what it takes to work on something
until you get it right. If you didn't, you wouldn't be wearing that
Arnold Air Society ribbon on your uniform."

Aw, God damn it. The ribbons strike back.

The executive officer for the rifle team peered at me and said, "Now
all of this helping that you're going to be doing is going to be
outside of practice, OK? We want you to concentrate on your
colorguard duties while you're here. We'll work on showing her the
basics here in practice. You'll just help her fine tune them." I
translated this to mean something along the lines of, "We'd rather not
be responsible for when you accidentally throw a rifle directly into
this poor girl's face, but she's gotta learn how to dodge stuff
sooner or later."

The chief training officer smirked at me and said, "She was watching a
few previous practices and told me that she wanted to join." He
paused for a second before adding, "... and she specifically requested
that you help bring her up to speed."

"Err... requested me, sir?" I asked in disbelief. Why the hell would
this girl request me? If she was watching previous practices, then
she should already be full aware that anyone not wearing body armor
was taking a real chance in practicing with me. If she was here to
pick up guys, she was going about it the wrong way. There were about
12 guys to every girl on campus, so all she'd really have to do is
wear a skirt. Wearing a skirt is much safer than having bolt-action
rifles winged at your neck.

The commander shrugged before he added, "I don't ask questions. I
suggested that she work with Cook." He jerked his thumb towards the
parking lot where cadet Ben Cook was throwing a spinning rifle about
20 feet up in the air and then catching it behind his back. These
days, Ben is an Air Force officer, and he's currently in flight
training and has been assigned to be an F-15 pilot.

Ben, besides being a great guy and fellow computer science student,
also had a lot of ribbons.

"She agreed to work with Cook, but she also wants to work with you as
well. In fact, here's our woman now," the executive officer said as
he pointed out of the practice area and back towards the quad of the
college. I looked off to where the XO was pointing and saw a girl
moving across the campus quad at a jogging pace. I couldn't make out
too many details of her, but I could tell that she was just a little
bit of a thing... probably only about five feet tall.

Within a minute she was right up next to us, presenting a salute to
the rifle team commander. The commander introduced her as a miss
Myriam Velez. She turned to me, smiled, and said, "My friends call me
by my middle name, Neri. You can call me that."

The chief training officer snarled at Velez and yelled, "He'll call
you 'Velez'. When you're out here, your first name is 'Cadet', got
it??" She jumped back a step, scowled at the training officer, and
snapped back at him with an emphatic "Yes Sir!". The executive
officer shook his head, and the commander peered at me for a second
before instructing me to take five minutes to talk to this young lady
in order to swap contact information, and then I was to get my butt
back to the practice area.

I held out my arm towards the edge of the practice field, looked at
Velez, and asked, "Shall we?" A smile popped onto her face and she
said, "You're the guy holding the rifle. After you, sir." With that,
Miss Velez and I jogged over to the edge of the practice area and
began talking.

Little did I know what mischief and mayhem were about to enter my life
by meeting Neri Velez. Within the next few weeks, I was going to be
in a bar fight, spotlighted and surrounded at gunpoint by the police,
and lots of other nastiness... all because of this girl.

Hey, at least she was really cute.

Next Military Update: Trouble comes in small packages.

When this .plan was written: 2002-02-25 04:46:59
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