Sunday, August 7, 2011

Weeds and Seeds

A typical U.S.A.F. SAGE building
Hear Pat read this entry 

 I reported to the base Civil Engineering squadron the following Monday for detail.  I was surprised to find that only a select few of my fellow detailees were wearing stripes, the rest had dark outlines where their stripes used to be.  They seemed a surly bunch and kept to themselves, not wishing any social interaction with the rest of us.

Do you think this should have tipped me off?

It seems that the vast majority of the group were serving time in the brig for various infractions... serious infractions.  These guys were assigned this detail because it constituted HARD LABOR according to Air Force guidelines.  That's right, they had been convicted and sentenced to hard labor, and guess who was about to “hard labor” right along with them!  First I was shocked, then I was livid.  “Just plant some flowers and take a 2 hour lunch” huh?

The head NCO of Civil Engineering came storming out of the office.  “I want to see every one of you humpin' on a shovel, you will not be dismissed until every tool and every vehicle shines like new!”  It went on and on. Those of us with stripes were astounded.  We'd been put in with a bunch of jailbirds, and were about to go out on a friggin' Cool Hand Luke style chain gang with some Civil Engineering clown watching over our every move.

On Minot AFB there's a huge, concrete building that used to house the old SAGE system, an early air defense command and control system network.  When SAGE was deactivated they renamed it PRIDE which was an acronym for “Professional Results In daily Effort.”  I supposed that I was expected to proudly “hump on a shovel!”  A truck arrived and we all climbed in.  Once we arrived at the building we were let out by the brand spanking new sign that they'd installed.  The 810 Aerospace Division, and 5th Bomb Wing insignias had been freshly painted on it.  It was sure a pretty sign!

Yes sir a really, pretty sign.

Soon several 5 ton dump trucks showed up loaded to the brim with fresh dirt.  We were to climb in the trucks, shovel the dirt all around the pretty sign, spread it all out neatly and plant grass... all of this before lunch, or there would be no lunch.  We jumped in and started shoveling.  It was hot, dirty and difficult, but we managed to get it all done by lunch time.  My fellow non-offenders and I stumbled over to the BX cafeteria while the jail birds had sandwiches delivered at the work site.  I grabbed a burger, took a look around the BX and lo and behold, there in the garden section, I spotted something that caught my attention.  They had racks of seed packets for housing area residents who planted their own little gardens.  I don't know why, but virtually all that was left were packets of pumpkins and beans.  Maybe housing area residents didn't care much for Halloween.  At any rate I bought up every packet I could find.

Heh, heh, heh...

As soon as I returned from lunch I surreptitiously started dumping the seed packs all around the sign.  I was careful not to allow myself to be noticed, those jailbirds would've snitched in a heartbeat if they thought it'd get them a little favor with “The Man.”   Soon we were whisked away and taken back to the squadron where we began to clean the tools and trucks.  I actually got to go home early that day which was great because I seriously needed a shower, I looked like the “Swamp Monster” and smelled like him too.

Then, a wonderful thing happened.   It turns out that my squadron commander had no clue that I was going to be placed on what amounted to hard labor.  When he found out he went ballistic and called the base commander.  “These guys are in critical career fields, they are not supposed to be used for this purpose.  I was told this was to be a simple, flower planting detail, not some chain gang.”  The base commander raised holy hell with the Civil Engineering commander, and when I arrived the next day a subdued and... dare I say... friendly Master Sgt greeted us.  Out of earshot from the jailbirds he told us “You guys are to drive the trucks to the various sites and supervise. Just keep an eye on those guys and bring them back here at lunch OK?”

So I was to drive a truck, and stay in the cab... an AIR CONDITIONED cab... while the jailbirds did their thing.   SWEET!  Later I'd get licenses for everything from a 5 ton dump to a front end loader to a power roller.  Ever see a 5 ton dump do a wheelie?   Put the bed up, drop it in “granny gear” and pop the clutch!  I figured that one out.

Oh, and about the seeds.  A few days later some green started to appear around the pretty sign.  All the Colonels and all the Majors and all the Captains and Master Sergeants looked it over and were pleased.  Then, a few weeks later the green started to sprout little buds.  All Colonels and all the the Majors and all the Captains and Master Sergeants looked it over and were pleased again... “ahhh, flowers!”   Then about a month later the vines began to crawl up the pretty sign, and there were pumpkins and beans all around the base of it.  All the Colonels and all the Majors and all the Captains and Master Sergeants looked it over and were NOT pleased!

Heh, heh, heh...