Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gomer Pyle... errrr Pat Bergin U.S.A.F!

 A1c Johnnie Mansfield
As the days, then weeks passed at Lackland AFB we began to come together as a unit.  In the Air Force a “flight” is roughly equivalent to a squad in the Army, about 50 guys or one barracks full.  We trained together, ate together, slept and showered in the same general area.  Every morning at 5 one of our T.I.s, Mansfield or Howard would get us up and start our day.  We'd march to the chow hall, then stand in line waiting to get in.


Translation:  “Parade Rest.”  That's a position one assumes when waiting in formation.  We did a lot of Parade Resting.

After breakfast we'd head over to the drill pad for close order drill.  By this time the “HUUUUT-TAUOOO-THRAAAAAYAH-FOUYAH” stuff had given way to a quiet “Hut... Hut... Hut” with the emphasis only on the first “Hut.”  Somehow, we'd learned to march in the same direction at the same time. 

After drill came my my all time favorite, the PT field!  Yeah sure, and I'm Rex The Wonder Horse too!  Our PT instructor was a the most muscular guy I'd ever seen, he made Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Arnold Stang!  He stood atop a huge platform, and counted while we did push ups.  He made a grunting sound something like this..


If I were to attempt to describe it, it would be akin to the mating cry of a bull seal.  We'd do our push ups while he barked away.  If someone should get tired and drop off he'd continue on with one hand while pointing at the guilty party with the other and continuing to bark


The guy did push ups with ONE HAND!!!  How is that possible?

I recall one guy, a really skinny kid.  His father was an Air Force Tech Sergent, and the poor guy just couldn't keep up.  He was way under weight, and had no strength in his arms.  He passed out on the PT field, and they took him away.  We later learned that he'd washed out.

The psychology in basic utilized the “good cop, bad, cop” approach.  Sgt Howard was the “good cop,”  he was soft spoken with a quiet demeanor.  Mansfield, on the other hand was the “bad cop,” constantly screaming and demanding.  To tell the truth though, after a couple of weeks even Mansfield seemed to mellow out a bit.  By this time when he'd yell “TEN-HUT” all 50 boots would click in unison.  When we marched the sound of 50 Brogans hitting the pavement were as one.  We'd become a cohesive unit, and I was beginning to like this soldier stuff.  The loneliness disappeared once we began serious training, I was just too busy to feel lonely.

Air Force basic lasted 8 weeks total, 5 of them at Lackland.  There were classes in military customs and courtesy, weapons training, UCMJ and others.  I aced them all, and was feeling pretty good about the whole thing, so by the time graduation arrived I was ready and eager to get on to my tech school.  I'd been assigned to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois where I'd finish the remaining 3 weeks of basic, then attend 9 months of training as a Missile Systems Technician on the AGM-28B “Hound Dog” missile.

Just before we left Lackland we were granted “Base Liberty” which meant we could dump the fatigues, don our class B uniforms and check the place out a bit, unencumbered by some T.I. screaming in our ears.  I wandered around, then stumbled on a roller rink.  I got some skates and took a turn around the floor.  Suddenly I saw someone I recognized, the kid who'd washed out was sitting at a table wearing his civilian clothes.  I went over to talk to him, he was staying in the transient barracks waiting for his discharge paperwork to go through.  He told me how saddened he'd been to wash out, and how disappointed his dad would have been.  Then he told me...

“I talked to Mansfield you know?”

“Really?  What did he say?”

“He was really nice.  He told me that he knew I'd done my best, and that that's all they could expect from me.  That it wasn't my fault I washed out, and that I should try to gain some weight and try again.  That he'd be proud to have me back”

“No kidding, really?”

“Yeah, he also called my dad and explained the whole thing.  He's really a good guy you know”

Yup, I know.

Years later I got in touch with Johnnie Mansfield.  We exchanged e-mails and he got a kick out of my recollections of basic training.  He told me how being a T.I. Was a demanding job that he was glad to get out of, and that he'd lost all his flight graduation pictures in a move one time and did I have access to any of them?  He wanted to hang them on his wall.

After 30 years, he wanted to hang pictures of the Airmen he'd trained on his wall

I got your number Johnnie Mansfield; you're a good guy and you know what?  I'm proud to have had you as an instructor.

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