Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Virtual Alert

My good Blogger friend Alicia published a post about her brothers being in the Marine Corps and having rifles.

Blogger, Titere con Bonete, My Stupid Little Brothers

Being a veteran (USAF) I touched an M-16 not quite as often as a crescent wrench or soldering iron, but yeah I shot an M-16.  So I felt the need to comment, which turned rather lengthy and I figured what hell I am going to publish it at my blog too.

A real M-16
Image Credit: Wikipedia, "M16A1 brimob" by User:Dragunova - Personal photo.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

I was in the Air Force and of course we are bigger on airplanes than rifles. So while I didn't have a rifle, I did have about 100 F-4 Phantoms that I worked on.  

My contact with rifles was somewhat laughable. Once a year I had to qualify with a M-16 (on the grounds of what now is Victorville Federal Penitentiary), so I touched an M-16 all of four times in my service career.  

At my base in California, I was on the alert roster which I qualified for by principally being not married. We were the forward tactical warriors (well that might be a tad strong term for an airplane repairman) who could at a moment's notice run out to the flight line with our tool boxes and duffle bags ready to go and board a C-130 and fly to any trouble spot in the world, commandeer a hunk of straight highway, and convert it into a operational tactical fighter base within 72 hours. Wow! I would have liked to see that happen. Well that was the theory anyhow. From a practical stand point it meant that once a year always on a Saturday morning, the siren would go off on the base at 0500 and we would muster to the pre-arranged rallying areas on the flight line. Here we would be issued an "M-16" and assigned a C-130 tail number that we were to fly out on. 
A Virtual M-16

The weapon was sort of a virtual M-16, actually it was a piece of oak tag with a number and a string on it, and you dare not lose it. If you lost this piece of paper, it was the equivalent of losing your weapon and you would be punished for it. Yet curiously we were not allowed to tie the tag on to our uniform (the equivalent of carrying an actual rifle with a should strap). That would be cheating and a violation of the uniform. So you folded the paper M-16 and put it in your fatigue shirt's pocket...which thoughtfully had a button specifically designed to help you retain your virtual M-16. When ordered "airman present your weapon for inspection" you unbuttoned your shirt pocket and gave the inquiring zebra the piece of paper. But also don't forget and let the bastard walk off with it. That would get you in trouble too. As valuable as this training is, it seemed to me that the Air Force could have afforded to buy some Daisy air rifles and just made sure they didn't give us any BBs. We would have shot our eyes out. 

So we would then commence waiting for the C-130s to land. The base logistic folks would drive all the equipment for fixing the aircraft out to the loading locations with fork trucks. Each 130 would carry so much equipment and so many troops. So we would wait and wait and wait and then wait some more. At some point a bagged lunch was provided, we were not allowed to leave. Then suddenly a zebra with a bull horn would call out a tail number. All the guys with that tail number would march out with their tool box and duffle bags (and of course their M-16) to the aircraft which would be sitting next to the equipment that it was supposed to take. 

A Real C-130  (perhaps a bit newer)
Image Credit:  Wikipedia

The aircraft were difficult to see, because they were virtual too. We had no idea that they had landed and were being refueled and loaded while we were waiting. So you would march out to a bunch of palleted equipment and check in with the crew chief of the C-130. He was real but an actor. Crew chiefs tend to be sergeants or staff sergeants (3 or 4 stripes) these guys were zebras and super zebras (6 to 8 stripes) chosen for their prickliness--yes the things on cactus and whatever else comes to mind. You had to check in with them, show your dog tags--military ID, open your tool box (it better have tools in it) and they would kick your duffle bag and it better be heavy and not filled with fluffed up newspapers. You also had to present your M-16 for inspection. They being super zebras would also take an opportunity to check your uniform, haircut, beard, shoe shine, and general espirit de corps (of which I thoroughly lacked--excuse me while I gag on the chicken shit...not to mention that the base laundry didn't always get the crease through the star on the chevrons on your sleeve--sometimes missing the chevrons altogether which would elicit a comment from the zebra which I parried back by showing the laundry ticket safety pinned to the inside of my shirt. That put them in a bit of a quandary, the base laundry employed moonlighting NCOs and we peasants were encouraged to use it. A lot guys didn't want to spend the money and the laundry was a bit heavy on the starch. I hated ironing, to me it was a bargain, and I loved when one of these many striped idiots commented on my creases and I could flash the laundry tag at them.)  

The sleeve crease was supposed to
split the star. 

Then we would mill around for an hour or so, then get ordered back to the rallying points. After all the virtual C-130s were loaded and crewed by the make believe crew chiefs, the virtual planes would all virtually take off to the wild blue yonder. Then around 1300 to 1500 hours the siren would sound again, just a short blast this time. We would check in again at our rallying point, surrender our weapons, and leave. The zebras would all head over to the NCO club and make up for lost time--nobody got drunk on the night before an alert, and life went on. It was a boring long day, ah but we demonstrated we were ready.  

Fleet Of Tactical Air Command virtual C-130s transporting
 the valorous 35th TAC Fighter Wing on Alert 1972.
Image Credit: Wikipedia

Theoretically, no one was supposed to know about the alerts. They were supposed to be a surprise. It could be real, you could theoretically be flying out. The entire base knew about it at least a day in advance. Your shop chief got you clued in that you will have your ass on the flight line at 0500 in the morning and you will not be a source of embarrassment to him...(be sober, shaved, have your dog tags and ID, have real tools in your tool box and real clothes in your duffle bag, and don't lose your weapon).


  1. Thank you for posting the link to my blog! That's pretty great of you. That is quite a story. I really enjoyed it, especially the virtual M-16 and the virtual C-130's. As I commented on my blog that must have been quite a sight to see all those virtual airplanes taking off into the wild blue yonder! Did you at least try to imagine it?

    I imagine you at that age kind of like James Dean, only in the military. A roguish, moody bad-ass!

    And even though you and my brother never actually saw any action during your time in the military you were ready and you would have done what you could to serve your country and for that Sir, I thank you!

    1. The silence from all those virtual C-130s was deafening. You get can get feel for what a thrill it was by looking at the last photo.

      It has not been often that I have been compared to James Dean. Roguish? Perhaps. Moody? Without a question. Bad-ass? Hmmm, that generally requires some physical attributes that I was not born with. Full disclosure James was far better looking than I am, but I believe I appreciate the ladies more than James.