A General, A Trailer, and A Cover-up Part Two
Sanchez slightly nodded and Jerit stood staring as if he was half conscious. I had gotten the answer I wanted. The trailer was hooked to the tractor which was much more comfortable to drive than any jammer. It might have appeared as though I wanted a comfortable ride back to the MMS maintenance area but it was much more than that. I had already made up mind what I was going to do next. A dazed Sanchez rode with me in the cab of the tractor and Jerit followed on the jammer. With the heavily laden trailer erratically sliding back and forth on the road behind us, we slowly made our way back to the maintenance area.
When we finally got back, I pulled the trailer into the “deadline” parking lot and placed a large red “X” onto the trailer’s maintenance record. The tech-sergeant on duty came out of the maintenance building and announced loudly, “You can’t do that.”
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My response was, “I just did!”
The heavy set tech-sergeant who had probably not performed any real maintenance work in years physically jumped up and down telling me “the Old Man” (the commander) would come down on me if I did not remove the red “X” from the form and park the trailer back on the ready-line. More than once I informed the sergeant of the dangerous consequences of using the unwieldy contraption. He stormed off cussing giving me notice that our head-butting was not the end of this confrontation. Eighteen hours later I drove the dark blue MMS bus filled with Air Force grunts from the main base to the munitions dump. A piece of paper with my name on it was lying by itself on a desktop shared by everyone. The paper was a form requesting my comments prior to receiving an Article 15. Standing nearby was the tech sergeant who managed to produce a wide smile while saying, “…Came straight from the Old Man.”
An Article 15 was used to punish a military service man or woman for disobeying an order or committing some crime. In some cases, an article 15 was used to initiate a court(s) martial. Right then I knew the top brass was about to make an example of me and show what happens to someone who does not go along with “the program.” My eyes met the tech sergeant’s eyes and I put forward a cautionary jibe, “I might not win now but sometime down the line somebody besides me is going to pay for this.”
The tech sergeant laughed with a gruff retort, “Oh… You…know somebody?”
“Yeah, I know people.”
This was the shortest answer I had at the time. I always tried to make my comments to this particular tech-sergeant a little shorter than his, but my attempts at using short words and short responses could not match his nippy grunts.
Immediately I sat down, snapped up the form, and began writing to defend my actions. My reply began with an argument against the deployment of an unapproved Department of Defense (DoD) maintenance devise which did not include approved technical manuals (or tech orders) required for its use. Next, I noted my experience in using the devise and how it had injured one of my maintenance crew who was attempting to use it. After providing more explanations of why the devise was inadequate, I emphasized our extremely dangerous working conditions where deaths had occurred and where a simple mistake could bring on catastrophic results. My final argument was that the use of the ill designed trailer was a big mistake and it should be returned to the organization that was smart enough to dump it off on an unsuspecting work crew. I added that our MMS crew quickly realized its dangerous flaws and as the sergeant on-duty it was my responsibility to place the trailer on dead-line to avoid further injuries.
Upon handing the completed form to the tech sergeant, he quickly glanced at my comments and wisecracked, “Won’t do n’ good…top man ordered trailer…”
Never, not once, did I hear this tech sergeant use a complete sentence. Most of the time he used an array of phonetically controlled grunts to agree or disagree with someone’s comments. He gave me a deep grunt before walking the form over to the branch chief’s office where our top sergeant, an E-9 branch chief, rested most of the day. By knowing what he meant by “top man” I began to think I would end up in front of the base commander’s desk, something no one wanted cast upon them. Taking a couple of deep breaths, I got up out of the chair and walked out of the small maintenance shack and began working on my next broken down bomb-lift truck. Just another 12 hour day of taking on another “Mickey Mouse” I thought to myself.
My struggle with the top man, a general and base commander, and my MMS commander, a colonel, is a hand-in-glove conflict totally immersed in UFO encounters that happened in the March – April timeframe of 1970. No general wants to admit to anyone below him that there is a possibility that he is, or was, wrong. Being a lowly buck-sergeant I knew my opposition to what he wanted was a stinging slap to his ego. For several days I heard absolutely nothing about the Article 15, and the tech sergeant avoided me whenever he could. His actions alone indicated something really good or bad was in the works. Early one morning he came up behind me where I was working under a jammer and asked me to have a meeting with him in the maintenance shack. We sat down and faced one another eye to eye again. With a blank expression covering his face he handed me the form I had completed.
He asked, “You got college?”
I answered, “No.”
Speaking about the form he added, “Somebody’s impressed…you’re safe for now…watch yourself…”
After the meeting, I expected some type of punitive duty like being sent on TDY (temporary duty) a few hundred miles to the east into the remote jungles of Vietnam to perform maintenance on field generators. Luckily for me – but hopefully a blessing sent from above, this did not occur; however, I knew the general had my name in a special place, not anywhere near his heart, and only time would reveal his intentions.
A few days later, a tractor from Utapao’s Field Maintenance Squadron (FMS) from the other side of the base towed the trailer away. Some of my fellow grunts stood up and applauded as the yellow “point of contention” rolled out of the maintenance area. Waiting for anything malicious to happen causes a natural alertness to kick into the mind’s consciousness and sub-consciousness, and this alertness had kicked in 100 percent into my mind allowing me to expect anything around the next corner. This uncomfortable feeling commenced as I saw the ugly yellow trailer disappear in the distance. Believe me, when this awkward alertness happens, you know you are really alive because food tastes better and everything seems clearer.
Within a week after the trailer was towed away another strange incident occurred. It was my day off and I left my barracks in the late morning for a shopping trip to the PX, it was actually the Base Exchange (BX) but most everyone called it a PX for the Army’s abbreviation of Post Exchange. As I started down the steps I noticed a dark blue staff car with a red flag affixed to its right bumper leaving the barrack’s parking lot. When I reached the PX after 10 minutes of walking, I noticed the same car was parked in the PX’s parking space reserved for the base commander. The car’s red flag with its solitary pallid star waved in the warm balmy breeze indicating the importance of the person being chauffeured in its rear seat. I had never seen the general’s car at the PX prior to this visit. While examining and pricing an array of Kenwood, Sansui, and Pioneer speakers, I noticed a small shadowy figure facing me, motionless and quiet. I looked up to see General Abbott scrutinizing me from head to toe. For a few seconds we starred at each other and then he abruptly walked away. Right that minute I realized he was sizing me up for some reason. A second later I realized he was still seething from what he thought was my attack on his trailer project. I watched each of his movements and I followed him around the store hoping he would say something directly to me but only heard, “Morning, young man.”
My answer was, “Good morning, general.”Shortly afterwards he walked off pushing vigorously on the glass door leading to the outside. If he made a purchase, it was for something very small because I never saw it or the bag it might have been placed in.
That was the last time I saw the general within talking distant. His desire to harm me through a distorted bureaucratic method of military maneuvers bothered me only because I believed his dark passion was ego driven. By reading my reasons (on the Article 15 response form) for not using the trailer, the general knew his threat of implementing an “Article 15” against me was not big enough to scare me and searched for a weakness or an intimidation that would throw my reality into a tailspin. Being strong in my convictions, I knew by placing the trailer in the dead-line area I had prevented many injuries and maybe some serious ones from taking place. His shadowing me at the PX was proof positive the general wanted to know who I was and what made me tick. All I wanted to know was why anyone, so uncaring, given such a high position of authority.
Those airmen assigned to Utapao knew how blessed and lucky they were to have lumpy, uncomfortable cots to sleep on every night even though very few would admit it. Asia was not home and the mess-hall food always fell short of tasting anything like home-cooked. Those GIs who lived off-base on an Asian economy did so at their own peril and were frequently inflicted with venereal diseases that ravaged a good portion of the GIs assigned to the military bases. For the majority of GIs who lived on base and allowed alcohol to numb their natural desires, there was no privacy. Six to eight GIs shared one room having only partial walls to separate one room from another. Air-conditioners only existed in “the world” (America and home) and having an industrial fan force the movement of clammy air around our sweat moistened bodies was a luxury. Sometimes we went a day or two without having working showers, but this life surpassed in everyway the lifestyle of Army and Marine grunts who patrolled the mosquito infested jungles not far from where we cursed our oasis.
Part Three of this article continues here.
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