shirt

B said a funny thing to me the other night – I don’t remember it verbatim, or even how it came up, but she said something about “when I’m the first sergeant.”

“Now what is that supposed to mean?” I asked her. “You want me to be a first sergeant?”

“I didn’t say I wanted that,” she answered.

“You know I’ve thought about it, but geeze, the crud a shirt’s got to put up with …”

“There’s good stuff, too,” she pointed out. “And you could be the one who makes a difference in an airman’s career.”

We didn’t say much more about it than that, but it stuck in my mind because she brought it up; I hadn’t even thought about it for weeks, maybe months – certainly not since I took a crash-dive into the pleasures of being a supervisor over just three airmen. The one airman and the several trips I’ve made to take care of her infractions on my days off have made me think hard about whether or not the game is worth the candle. On the other hand, I have been able to do some pretty cool stuff for the other airmen – nothing super-cool yet, but stuff that made me feel as though I was accomplishing something.

I’ve thought of asking to see the shirt to talk to him about this. Trouble with putting a bug in somebody’s ear over something like this, is that once you’ve mentioned it, there’s no going back. It could happen that I’d end up being a shirt with dizzying speed. There’s also PCS to look at: Shirts go away to a training school, and some of them change station more often than they change underwear. Moves are becoming harder for me to deal with, not easier.

tendonitis

I ran two and a half miles at PT this morning and my ankle hardly hurts at all. When we started doing mando PT three times a week, I had tendonitis around my left ankle something horrible – ankle was swollen, hard to walk up the stairs, gulped aspirin to kill the pain & keep the swelling down. Four weeks later, I stretch a little before I get on the treadmill, run thirty minutes, and I’m good to go. All they require is that we do thirty minutes of aerobic activity, so they get thirty minutes from me. Not thirty-one. Working out at the gym bores my ass off. I usually spend the whole time making a mental list of all the things I’d rather be doing, and the list gets pretty long in thirty minutes.

Christmas party

My Darling B and I had a pretty good time at the Christmas party last night. The dinner was so-so, the games were kinda fun – but listen to this: While we were waiting at the bar to get some drinks, Senior Master Sergeant Gorrell stepped up, introduced himself to B, and made a little small talk. Nice of him. After he left, B and I stood around for a while, trying to figure out where to sit. A table in the front corner was wide open, nobody else sitting there, so we moved in on two good seats and sat down with our drinks. Who should come over and ask to sit down but SMSgt Gorrell? Of course we’re going to say okay. After he’d been sitting a while, Lieutenant Colonel Burns, commanding officer of my squadron, comes over to say hi to us, then asks if he could sit with us, too. Just FYI, SMSgt Gorrell works in LtCol Burns’ office. Can’t say no to the colonel. Then along comes Chief Master Sergeant Gething and his wife; the Chief works in the orderly room, although to be honest, I don’t know what his job is. They sit down just before the 1st Sergeant, SMSgt Johnson, and his wife come over. So now B and I are seated at a table with all the senior NCOs of the unit and the commander of the 301st Intel Squadron, and I’m thinking I’ll probably have to listen to shit all week about what a brown-noser I am.

bubble popped

I work with a guy, Mark Ursich, who has three small kids. The other day he was complaining to MSgt Godwin about how much time he had to spend keeping them from fighting and looking after them, and said something like, “At least you’ve got teenagers; they pretty much take care of themselves.” Godwin and I looked at each other and just about busted a gut laughing. Ursich didn’t get it. When we could draw breath again, we tried to explain that, if he thinks his teenaged kids will take care of themselves, he’s a guy who’s setting himself up for a big disappointment. About the last thing kids learn to do for themselves is wipe their butts; after that, their IQ seems to actually diminish. My oldest boy follows people around the house turning off lamps as they leave the room, on the theory that saving so little as a watt of electricity will benefit the world, but he’ll leave the front door open in the middle of winter while he takes out the trash. And just try to get a teenager to wash dishes or clothes. Might as well wait for bags of money to fall from the sky.

footnotes

If I never mentioned my job here, it’s because Iā€™m still trying to figure out what to make of it. The past couple months have been like a crash course in what supervising’s all about. They put me on a flight that’s had a lot of trouble pulling together in the past, and is still having some trouble, but there’s been a huge turnover in personnel this season. I’m not the only newbie on flight by a long shot ā€“ the Mission Soup[1] is new, one of the block controllers[2] is new, and about two-thirds of the ops[3] are new. Senior leadership has sort of handed it to us to remake Dawg flight,[4] even while we remain the butt of jokes.

I’m the only TSgt on the operations floor, so I picked up three troops to supervise right off the bat. One of them’s a hard-charging Levitow award winner,[5] one of them’s mediocre, and one is considered by just about everybody with more than five stripes to be a ‘problem child.’ I think her biggest problem has been bad supervision and a tendency to procrastinate; I know she’s smart and can do better. Trouble is, she’s determined to get out in twelve short months. I’d like to leave her with a better impression of the Air Force than she has now. The Levitow winner is a challenge equally as huge ā€“ how do I make sure he gets everything he deserves from his career? I worry about dropping the ball.

Because I’m a TSgt, the Mission Soup put me in a management slot, overseeing the HF floor.[6] I not only had a big job to take on, I had to learn just what the heck it was my own darned self, because my trainer, the previous Chief HFS, thought that the job was mostly about socializing and taking CBT courses during duty hours instead of showing me what to do.[7] I’m sure I still don’t know half the ins and outs. I’ve supervised an ops floor on a smaller scale, but that was a while ago and, as I remember (maybe my memory is going), it wasn’t anything like this. This job moves at a mile a minute; there’s never a dull moment.[8]

Where am I going with this? I really don’t know. The largest part of my job seems to be putting out fires, and that comes right after trying to plan ahead so the fires never get started in the first place (Don’t laugh. I can dream). After that, I’m just trying to take care of people, and that’s damn near impossible, too. Only a few of the supervisors are taking the job seriously; too many good airmen are falling through the cracks, so on top of trying to make sure the mission gets done, I get to try to straighten that out, too.[9]

[10/22/2014: Time for some boring details:

I worked in an office that operated round-the-clock. I call it an “office” because it was indoors. Our work unit was really many units that worked together.

1. The Mission Superintendent was called “mission soup” ā€“ that’s just how it was pronounced; it was not meant as a slam against his character. At least not that I know of. The Mission Superintendent made sure everybody did what they were supposed to do; he (or she) was a non-commissioned officer. At Misawa, the mission soup was a USAF Master Sergeant or a Navy Chief Petty Officer. There were no Army Mission Superintendents while I was there.

2. The operations floor was divided into work units called “blocks,” and a non-commissioned officer, usually a Staff Sergeant, was put in charge of each block. They were known as a block controllers.

3. The airman who worked in each block were referred to as operators, or “ops.”

4. A squadron is made up of two or more flights. Instead of being numbered, they were named A, B, C or D. I have never heard of a squadron with more than four flights. When I was in the Air Force, they were still using the old phonetic alphabet to refer to flights, so they were called Able, Baker, Charlie and Dawg.

5. John Levitow was the youngest non-commissioned officer in the USAF to be awarded the medal of honor. The Levitow Award is given to one person in each class in leadership development school.

6. “The HF floor” was four blocks working together.

7. Not exaggerating even a little bit here. My predecessor spend her time during duty hours finishing her on-line college courses and gossiping with her friends.

8. I remembered that wrong. My previous job supervising an ops floor was in Denver. Compared to Misawa, that was like supervising the demigods from Mount Olympus.

9. I think this was originally written as a letter to somebody, maybe my brother, and then expanded on when I wrote it as a blog post.

Footnotes. Really. In a blog. How pretentious.]

promotion ceremony

373rd IG held a monthly promotion ceremony this afternoon. I’ve never been to one like this before. Actually, the only promotion ceremony I’ve ever been to was one for a co-worker who pinned on major; I’ve never seen promotions for airmen and NCOs celebrated like this, which is another crying shame.

Once again, the turnout was great. I don’t know if that’s because it was “highly encouraged,” or because of genuine interest, but I was in the back with the rest of the standing-room-only crowd. Once again, the ceremony was mostly formal and quiet until the promotees rose to accept their new stripes. I say “mostly formal” because LtCol Burns was asked to make a few remarks and ended up telling stories about each of his troops, and when Chief Gething came forward to administer the NCO oath to the SSgt-selects, he livened up what some people make out to be a dull chore by ensuring the selects spoke with a purpose. After they timidly responded to “I, state your name,” the Chief turned to the crowd and asked, “Can you hear them?” “NO!” the crowd shouted back. They did better.

Then they marched to the front of the room one by one to get their stripes tacked on. This is going by the wayside in so many corners of the military because apparently many people think it’s cruel, but I noticed nobody raised an objection today. In fact, I noticed the SSgts all asked their friends and supervisors to tack on their stripes, and so far as I could tell, every NCO relished getting tacked on, even the poor girl who could barely raise her arm to salute the colonel afterwards. Several would have gotten away with just a tap when their children or their spouses tacked their stripes on, but Chief Gething and Chief Lucero called the biggest NCOs out of the audience to make sure it was done right.

I had mixed feelings about the ceremony; it was quite a morale boost, but SrA Ball was supposed to be there to get her stripe, and was not. LtCol Burns decided to withhold her stripe until he can see that she has straightened up and will fly right. I went to his office at oh-dark-thirty this morning to hear his decision, then returned at nine to be there when he told SrA Ball. It was a very formal meeting; she took it very professionally, then we went to an outer office where she struggled over an emotionally rocky meeting with the Shirt. After he left, I stayed behind to talk with her until she composed herself to leave. On the good side, she seemed genuinely remorseful, and worried that she’d disappointed the colonel. I was just a tad worried that she might cop an attitude and walk away huffy.

[11/22/14: Getting stripes “tacked on” is one of those weird military traditions that borders on abuse. If I were promoted to Staff Sergeant, anybody in my unit who outranked me could “tack on” my stripes by punching them, usually in a buddy-buddy kind of way, but in every unit there were assholes you never saw before who showed up to punch you as hard as they could. At promotion ceremonies, sometimes the two most senior enlisted people would tack on stripes; sometimes the commander would take part; and sometimes the whole damned squadron would line up to tack on stripes.

Some of the people who were promoted at the ceremony I described above asked if they could have their wives and children tack on their stripes, and the commander allowed that, but then the senior enlisted people lined up to tack them on, too, and the newly-promoted could hardly say no.

I gained quite a bit of respect for Airman Ball after the commander held back her stripe. She pulled herself together and was promoted to Staff Sergeant in the next cycle.]

in the fight

I went to the Airman Leadership School graduation in the evening, a lot more fun that the Air Force Ball, but then about anything short of a root canal would have been, so I could have phrased it better.

The 373rd IG was there in force, and it seemed like just about every one of us was very, ah, enthusiastic about being there. Colonel Mitzell later characterized us as “obnoxious, but damned proud of who we are,” and he got applause for that.

Everything was formal and quiet during the social hour and through the dinner. Then it came time to hand out the diplomas. Each time a 373rd student was called to the stage, he was met by a thunder of spoons clattering on tables; F-16s taking off from the flight line next door would have been drowned out. After they received their diplomas and walked off the stage, Col Mitzell called out in a lusty baritone, “373rd IG!” and all the guests from the group would holler back, “IN THE FIGHT!” – the colonel’s pet phrase.

This rousing display of esprit de corps completely baffled the A1Cs and SrAs I was sitting with; they hardly knew what to think. They’d obviously never seen anything like it at an Air Force function, a crying shame, if you ask me. Looks like it’s about time this unit had a combat dining-in.

commander’s call

I did my PT this morning after the mid watch, and it sucked every bit as much as I thought it would. Mid watches are at least thirteen hours for me, because senior supervisors have to stay behind to brief the commander; rank hath its privileges.

Everybody’s supposed to get flu shots today, but it would’ve required me to drive back to Security Hill on icy roads through snow flurries after I’d been awake for more than thirty hours, so I opted for the safety of my bed.

contractions

Petty Officer Franklin is an op on my crew who works eight-hour nights because she’s pregnant, so on mids she’ll mosey over to my desk at about two in the morning to tell me she’s going home for the night. Last night, though, she came over about ten-thirty.

“Sgt O, if it’s all right with you, I’m going home at midnight,” she said. “I’m feeling pretty bad.”

I asked her if she was going to the hospital, by which I meant sick call.

“No, they just send you home if the contractions are more than five minutes apart, and mine are seven, but they’re starting to hurt pretty bad.”

I said something like, “You’re having CONTRACTIONS?” and I may have broken a sweat.

It somehow turned out that Petty Officer Moran, pregnant as well, was also experiencing labor pains about seven minutes apart. All this in the middle of the first snow flurries of the season, making roads to Security Hill slippery. I could just see ambulances sliding across icy roads into the ditch, and panicky airmen (that includes me) trying to deliver babies on the operations floor with a first-aid kit and my wits.

hands on hips

MSgt Godwin came in with a big grump on tonight. SSgt Ursich is pretty good at reading his moods, and gave me the heads-up as soon as he saw Godwin. “Here he comes,” he said under his breath, “he’s got his hands on his hips and that look on his face.” Sure enough, we got chewed because nobody responded to the call for the snow removal team, and then he called us over for a powwow at his desk because nobody had submitted award write-ups on their subordinates.

To be fair to Godwin, he’s not a grump; he likes to joke and grab-ass as much as any of the airmen, and he genuinely wants to be your friend but, unless I’ve misjudged him – and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done that, would it? – he’s a sergeant of the old school who expects things to get done when he says, “do it!” His favorite phrase, in fact, is, “make that happen,” and if you don’t, he gets understandably miffed. His temper is perhaps on a hair trigger, but so far I like and respect him.

[11/22/14: Reading this again, I can see Godwin standing hands on hips, head tilted forward so he could properly scowl at us from under his eyebrows as he chewed us out in short-clipped phrases. He could do almost everything right about ass-chewing, but he wore a Charlie Chaplin moustache that only got more comical-looking as he got angrier. It kinda worked against him in that one particular situation.]