As I mentioned last week, while I was stationed at Sheppard AFB in Texas in 1957 someone in Washington – no doubt some pencil pusher who knew nothing about military life – got an idea for “improving” basic training; one which I have no doubt was tossed out soon after it was implemented.

What idea? The idea of replacing career DIs, young men who were active, healthy, and successful, and who had been carefully taught how to train new recruits, with broken down old NCOs who were near retirement and thought they knew everything there was to know about everything.

That change came when I was a three-striper working in basic training at Sheppard AFB, Texas, in 1957. I tell you, I was shocked when those danged old f — — ts began arriving. They knew nothing about training anyone to do anything, and most of them suffered from the lame brained illusion that yelling at basics was a good substitute for learning how to teach.

Result? All the regular DIs, were told we could transfer to any school on base, attend it, and begin a new career. I wanted off that base as fast as I could go, so I signed up for the shortest course there, the Air Passenger and Operations Course, which some of my basics had gone through; and just one month later I found myself on McGuire AFB, New Jersey, in the Terminal Squadron, which handled all passenger and cargo aircraft going to or coming from Europe.

And guess what? Twenty-seven of the men in that 175-man squadron had gone to school at my last base, and I had been their DI during their basic training.

I would call that an “interesting” situation, wouldn’t you? Why? Well, it wouldn’t be a happy situation for someone who had been one of the all mouth and no brain DIs we have all seen in movies about military life.

Fortunately, I guess, I must have been an “okay” DI because not only did each of my ex-basics that I met greet me with a friendly hello, but some of them even shook my hand and made me feel downright good in my new job in what was called Space Control, an odd name for a duty section that had nothing whatsoever to do with outer space, but just did its best to fill the space in our aircraft with passengers, cargo, meals, manifests, and fuel.

I’ll tell you what – those friendly words from my former trainees made me feel downright good; and what made me feel even better was when I was transferred to Japan a year later, arrived in another terminal squadron, found that there were 34 men in the squadron who I had put through basic training, and was not only greeted with a friendly smile by every one of them I ran across from day to day, but actually found that I now had working for me the very best basic trainee it had been my pleasure to meet, a young man named Randy Moss.

What a great thing it was to come across someone like Randy. Why? Well for one thing, there has to be a slight separation between a drill instructor and the men he trains. It’s a necessary part of any teacher-student relationship, isn’t it? And was I happy to see that more formal relationship fade away, allowing Randy and I, who had each been promoted in the meantime, to become the best of friends.

More next week.

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