From Babbitt to Baghdad (Part 14)

Boeing paid for only 10 days of military reservist duty per year. After that, it came out of one’s check. The reality became stifling for an Air Force Reserve Flight Engineer that flew 7 to 10 days a month. My Boeing job was like pulling teeth compared to flying on the C-141B. It wasn’t too long before I said enough is enough, quit Boeing and moved on.

The 728th was a good unit.  The ARTS or Air Reserve Technicians worked hard to bring all the new aviators up to snuff. It was not long before the 728th was a fully manned and fully functioning flying squadron. We were looked upon by the 313th and 97th Airlift Squadrons as a second class squadron. They thought that they were better than us. They liked to engage in politics. The 728th got the job done. In reality, all the ARTS that we gained from the 313th and 97th had dealt with the inept micromanaging and overzealous politics of their previous squadrons for utter decades. They shunned nonvalue-adding hypervigilance and saw the bigger picture. Working with these folks was not a stressful event. They sifted the bullshit out and made the working environment nurturing and functionally tolerable. We must respect those that do not project their mental garbage onto others.

My upgrade training to 1st Engineer was an ordeal. I may have been technically competent, but my unrefined  and obnoxious personality  and attention deficit disorders were  wholly unsuited for the flying game. It was soon clear to everyone that I did not understand the concept of self-awareness or how others perceived me. For years, I didn’t give a shit. Many of the people that  were slaves to other people’s perceptions were simply insecure dependent assholes themselves. Even in MAC, there were those that led by intimidation. They belonged to the system and you didn’t. They made you painfully aware that they could help you or destroy you. The unit was full of good people. Some just treated others with more kindness and empathy. Some were self-promoting bitches and jackasses who were miserable to be around. The amplitude of bitchiness would be modulated higher after the first day crossing the pond or a few time zones. Then the interaction would become a strained and heinous adventure in energy sucking misery.

In the aviation world, it is best to listen the majority of the time and limit extraneous gibberish.  Gibberish  and incessant drivel breeds contempt. The natural consequence is that people will engage in much  less social predation. Then, when you do have something of value to say, people will be much more open and receptive.

Several McChord Loadmasters were extremely abrasive and  dropped  “the coin” like a mutt fixated with a tennis ball or a piece of T-bone. If one did not have a coin or did not drop his or her coin in a punctual fashion, then one had to buy beers.  An aviator coin is a silver dollar sized coin with the squadron emblem on it. At McChord, the same Loadmasters would drop the coin all the time on every  single fucking trip. After awhile, I got tired of buying them beers and quite playing the game. They never bought beers themselves. Then, when one did not play the game, they would get scornful.  A few of the Loads were simply abusive assholes on every single trip. It was OK for them to be abusive at someone else’s expenses, but one could never retaliate or one was then considered hard to fly with. Sometimes the abuse started on the crew bus before even arriving at the aircraft. Other times it was at breakfast or when we were headed to the armory. The 728th only had a half dozen Loads that were hard to tolerate.

Of course, when the 728th converted to the C-17, the same asshole Loadmasters picked and chose the Engineers they wanted in the squadron. If one was on the Loadmaster shit list, then, well, one had to look elsewhere. It was the Loadmaster’s  ultimate revenge. For close to a half decade, the Loadmaster was considered the bottom of the aviator corps, or so they thought. Once the C-17 was to arrive, many LoadMasters started treating Flight Engineers like second class citizens. At Commander’s call, they would sit together as elitists. The farther down the FE pecking order one was and the more bullshit one had the pleasure to observe. Sadly, many of the biggest Loadmaster dicks in the 728th became the power structure when the C-17 showed up. I found many to be self-promoting and self-absorbed  big mouth scumbags , so I never thought too much about working for them or being put in a position of kissing their asses. I had way too much dignity and self-respect for that. Plus I had vocational skills. Most of these guys would be flipping burgers if they did not have a job as a Loadmaster.

All of my flying for a few years was done with an instructor and a student. One of the Reserve bum instructors continuously performed his brand of behavior modification on me. Anytime I said something inappropriate  overzealous or stupid, I would get my ass chewed.  At least he would praise in public and scold in private. The guy loved flying so much that he lived in a camping trailer. A Reserve flying bum might have made $1500 to $2000 a month during good times. When the flying dried at the end of a fiscal year, Reserve bums did not make much money at all and were at poverty level. There were only a few Reserve bums in the 728th, so the same guys flew on many of the missions. We carried the bulk and flew as much as Active Duty for very little compensation.

I had too many real estate goals on my plate to just fly as a Reserve bum so I got a job at a VW dealership. They did not have much work.  By 11 AM the work would be all dried up. I was also sick of working for .3 time units an oil change. At $13 and hour, .3 time units was basically $4  labor for an oil change and complete inspection of a VW. Some days, I would only make $20 for an entire morning.  The guys that were there the longest got fed the paying jobs. The new guys might get a good paying repair job once a week, Mostly, however, one could stay for the afternoon and make nothing or go home. This job lasted 3 months.  I started my own small business in order to make money, fly and buy houses.

As a 9 hour a night sleeper, I was not really cut out for international flying. Once I crossed a  half dozen time zones, I would be a different person.  It was almost like I had a time zone induced bipolar disorder. I later would become irritable, paranoid and stressed out. It did not help that either an instructor engineer or an examiner was making the trip a drag. It did not help that I had to do all the crappy legs of the trip while an instructor and student slept. It did not help that some of the crew were pathological  dicks. Few of my trips over a 16-year period were actually fun and left me full of healthy positive energy.  The chemistry of the crew made a trip fun or miserable. Sometimes everyone was laid back and had compatible demeanors. Other times, the crew might be tainted by power hungry examiners or aircraft commanders with caca leadership or interaction skills.

Some aviators could fly their asses off and never feel bad emotionally or physically. At about the 10-year mark for me, a trip to Japan or Germany would wipe me out. When I was operating my business, I would have to finish big repair jobs before going on a trip. People could not do without their vehicle while I was off somewhere 10,000 miles away. This caused stress. When I returned from a trip, I did not get 3 days off like Active Duty, I had to be elbow deep in an engine job or jack and leveling a new rental I had purchased. From 1993 until I was activated for Iraq in 2003, I ran a successful business, flew worldwide  7 to 10 days a month and purchased and remodeled houses. After 10 years, I had made 1.5 million dollars but I was burned completely out.

The worst leg of any MAC  trip was leaving Japan. Flying to Australia was also hard on one’s system. Most of the time, I would end up flying with guys that would plan their sorties ahead of time. Invariably, I would get all the long shit legs or the second half of augmented mission legs . The Reserve bums got to do all the shit legs because the Engineers that had jobs needed a check ride or something.  To make it easy on them, the Reserve bums did most of the grunt work.

Once I had my fill of “Strat flying,” I focused on doing only airdrop missions. Probably 2000 hours of my flying time was done on airdrop missions over an  8 year period. Those were the best times ever. As it was, I averaged over 300 hours a year flying. One year, I flew 400 hours. That was more than any other Engineer in the section.

When I first started flying, I had a really good attitude. After awhile, my attitude went downhill. That was my fault. Today, I would have done it differently. I would have done it better and played the game…

The 728th Flight Engineer section was a very solid group of people. There were only a few people that I did not like. I could work with them, but I preferred not to. However, for the most part, every single person in the 728th FE section was good people. I think I was the most socially inept. I take responsibility for that. From the time that I was a small child, I had a negative attitude. Alot of it had to do with a father that was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam for 6 months when I was 6 years old. A little had to do with a mother that was born and raised in Hitler’s Germany. Some of it is conditioned and learned behavior. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to grow up and be a positive person. I have to thank those that tolerated me along the way….. I really have to thank my wife and the circle of friends that helped me overcome my negative core.

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