Saturday, February 13th, 2021

35 years ago this month I went to San Antonio to start basic training in the Air Force.

One of the skills we had to master in basic was getting dressed, running downstairs and falling into formation in an impossibly short time, something like thirty seconds. At first we couldn’t do it because most of us couldn’t even tie our laces in thirty seconds, to say nothing of the rest of it. After a few days, maybe a week of practice, though, we could reliably get dressed in about ten seconds by learning tricks like speed-lacing our boots and leaving a set of fatigues, neatly folded, on the chairs by our lockers. We’d sleep in our socks and when reveille sounded, jump out of bed, pull on our pants, speed-lace our boots, and button our shirts on the way out the door.

We also knew our places in formation after only a few days. I was in the front row near the right corner, for instance, so I just went there instead of jumping in any old place. When everybody learned to do that, we didn’t have to go through the time-wasting “if you’re taller, tap” routine that sorted everyone so the formation was neatly arranged with the tallest people in the front.

One morning, though, everything was confusion. Most of us were outside with plenty of time to spare, but some people were late, leaving gaps in the formation that we automatically filled in until the missing people came straggling down the stairs. After they wormed their way into their usual spot we had to re-form. Thrown out of our routine, it took us a lot longer than thirty seconds to clean this mess up.

Word got around fast that the stragglers were late because the sleeves of their shirts had been knotted while they slept, but nobody seemed to know who did the deed. Our sergeant was furious. When we were all back upstairs he herded us into the day room and demanded that whoever knotted the shirt sleeves had better come clean or there would be hell to pay. Nobody ever fessed up to him, though, and I don’t recall that we got into any more trouble for it.

On the last night of basic training the sergeant returned our civilian clothes to us and left us alone for the night. With no supervision, we had the closest thing to a party we could’ve had without music or alcohol: we stayed up late into the night, goofing around and telling stories.

The guy assigned to the bed right next to mine was Rick Neptune. At one point, Rick and I were sitting on our beds, facing one another, and he said, “You remember that time somebody tied knots in the sleeves of some people’s sleeves?”

“Yeah?” I said.

He laughed. “That was me.”

He’d gotten away with one of the most memorable pranks of basic training, but he couldn’t leave without telling somebody. Thanks, Rick, for letting me into your confidence. I still get a chuckle out of that all these years later.

knots to you | 2:05 pm CDT
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career, story time
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