There’s no doubt, of course, that we are all targets of the Socialist plot to take over the world, but this was different. While stationed at Sheppard AFB base in Texas in 1957, my best friend and I were the direct targets of a Communist plot to create an ugly training incident which would echo around the world.
Yep! Little old Air Force drill instructor, Tom Garrett, and Jim Conyers, his best friend, were the targets of a nasty Communist plot. It wasn’t much fun while it was happening, but it does makes good reading.
Jim Conyers, nicknamed Condo, and I — a pair of 2-stripe airmen who would have been called corporals in the old “brown shoe days” — were serving as tactical instructors, or TIs, the new name for drill instructors. In those days, tactical instructor duty was a career field, or Air Force specialty, just like — say — jet engine mechanic or radio operator. Some people spent their entire careers as TIs.
Condo and I were two of a kind. We were both very proud of the uniform we wore, and determined to be the best TIs we could be. So we paired up and worked together, sharing the military training of several barracks of basic trainees who had completed Phase One Basic Training at Lackland AFB, and were now finishing up Phase Two basic as they attended a tech school at Sheppard AFB.
Being a TI was a very rewarding job. We spent the vast majority of our time outside in the fresh air teaching young men what military life was all about, and showing them how to lead happy, rewarding lives in uniform. Great job! If a TI was good at his job he sent young men off to their first duty assignments with an attitude that assured their success.
Almost all our basics were in the 18- to 20-year-old range. So when a 25-year-old Irishman — red hair, blue eyes, thick Irish brogue and all — showed up amid some new basics one day he was something quite different.
Condo and I were each 25, so O’Brian was more like us than like the usual basic, and he acted like it. Unlike most trainees, who stayed within their own group unless they had a question or a problem, O’Brian was always strolling into the small office that Condo and I shared.
Annoyingly, O’Brian was inclined to be a bit of a “brown noser.” He was always trying to do something for us. Because he was a foreigner, we didn’t just chase him out of the office, as we probably should have; instead, we treated him with respect, but were careful not to allow him to get too familiar.
For example, one day Condo looked around our little office and said it was sadly in need of paint. I wasn’t really much concerned about it, but when Condo decided to go to Base Maintenance and get some paint and brushes, I went with him. Predictably, we had no sooner gotten back and started to paint the room when O’Brian showed up and wanted to help.
We turned him down with a definite no. Why? Because Condo and I both knew that it was inappropriate to use a basic trainee for any job as personal as that. If the base, or our squadron, decided that the barracks needed painting, and they assigned trainees to do some of the work, that was one thing; but TIs did not get help with personal things from basics.
Next week. The accused.