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Mike's Adventures in Field Training

Part 1 - Initial Arrival

I went through field training at Plattsburgh AFB, New York in 1990.  My parents were stationed at the base at the time, so I didn't have far to go.  However, afraid that if the staff knew that I was from the local area that I would have it extra rough, I didn't tell anyone this fact.  However, I soon found out that they were already aware of it.

Field training barracks
The field training barracks.

You have the option of going to field training by car or by air.  Since I lived nearby, I went by car.  I was told by a previous cadet that the best thing to do when driving is to get there and stay in your car until the bus from the airport arrives.  If you report in by yourself, you are left alone with the drill instructor for a long time.  However, when you arrive in a bus, the drill instructor has a whole busload of people to pick on.

Now, I had prepared for this.  I knew there would be mind games, and if I could summarize the field training experience in a single experience it's this:  it's one big no-win situation.  You are going to get chewed out for everything.  You are always wrong.  The key is in seeing how you react.  So, I knew that the drill instructor was going to try and get me; I vowed to myself to try and not find a way for him to get me.

So, I am sitting in my car in the parking lot, which was right next to the base gym (which is how I was able to sit in my car undetected), when I spotted a bus approaching and slowing down.  Convinced that this was the bus from the airport carrying the other cadets, I got out of my car and approached the bus to blend in with them.  Just then, the bus started up and drove off - it was not the shuttle from the airport, but rather the on-base shuttle dropping off airmen at the gym.  As the bus drove off, there I was alone in the parking lot with my luggage and the drill sergeant yelling at me from across the street.  I had been spotted, and it was too late to retreat.  And it was just me and the drill sergeant.

So, I roll up, drop my luggage, and report in at attention.

"Cadet Lewis, reporting as ordered, sir!"

The sergeant gets right into my face.  "Sir?  SIR!?  I AM A SERGEANT!  YOU WILL ADDRESS ME AS SERGEANT!"

I quickly reply, "Yes, sergeant!"

He walks around me.  As I am still at attention, I can only see forward.  He pops his head close beside me and quietly says, "Well, cadet, I am curious about one thing - what makes you so sure I am a 'sir'?"

I was prepared for a lot, but I was never prepared for a drill sergeant grilling me to prove his gender.  I was stumped; I had to think quickly.

Then, this woman appeared.  In field training, they have what they call "CTOs" - Cadet Training Officers.  CTOs are cadets who are in between their junior and senior years.  Having just completed field training the year before, they return to help train cadets in the next year.  These are the sneaky ones, because they have the freshest experience.  So, back to the story, a woman CTO suddenly appeared from behind me, and she and the sergeant are now both standing in front of me.

"So, cadet, how DO you know that the sergeant is a man?" the CTO asked.

Not really thinking, I blurted out - "Because he shaves, ma'am!"  Seeing his stubble, it was the only thing I could think of.

"I shave, too, Cadet.  I shave my legs!" she replied.

"But ma'am, he has facial hair!" I replied.

She walked up and got in my face; "I have facial hair too!" she fired back.  (And she did, too.)

She then walked back to the sergeant.  They were standing side by side, and I needed something.  (This whole exchange actually took about 5 seconds, but it felt like forever.)  I had no idea how I was going to get out of this, until I realized something.  Both the drill sergeant and the CTO were in the blue dress uniform.  The male shirt has pockets, but the female shirt does not.  Seeing them both side by side one another, it suddenly dawned on me.

"Sergeant, the male uniform dress shirt has pockets on it.  The female blouse does not.  Your uniform shirt has pockets, therefore you must be a man!" I responded.

The woman ran up, got in my face, and says to me through her gritted teeth: "YOU SHOULDN'T BE LOOKING THERE, CADET!"

Just before she left, I noticed that her uniform had the name "SANDERS" on it.  I would have to remember to steer clear of her.

Then, it was just me and the sergeant.  He had me pick up my bag and drop it several times, so that the clothes inside would be good and wrinkled.  Then, he had me doing lots of PT and having me quote stuff, like the Mission of the Air Force or singing all four verses of the Air Force song.  Everything he threw at me I handled, and he got more and more agitated.  I was just curious how long this would have to go on for; later, I figured out it was just me and the sergeant for about 45 minutes.

How did I finally get away?  Well the sergeant was having me do something, when all of a sudden, another cadet showed up.  Instead of reporting in at attention, he strolls up and says, "Hey, sarge, what's up?"  I swear - I couldn't believe it.  The sergeant turned bright red.  He gets in my face and quietly says, "Cadet Lewis, get the hell out of here.  I am going to have fun with this new cadet."  I replied, "Yes, sergeant!" and left as fast as I could.  I could hear the sergeant yelling well after I was safely in the barracks.

Have you seen this dork?
My mugshot taken just after meeting the drill sergeant.

I met my Field Training Officer or FTO.  This is the officer who is responsible for your training.  We were divided into flights, and each one was headed by an FTO who not only hazed you, but also did the evaluation of your performance as well.  I got to my assigned room, and started to unpack into my closet and footlocker.  She yelled for me to go to her office.

So, I got to her office.  She had me stand at attention while she reviewed all the rules.  I knew most of them already:  no sneaking out, no unauthorized food, no consumption of alcohol, blah blah blah.  She then mentioned:  "You will not be up after lights out.  You will not leave your room except to use the latrine.  You will not talk after lights out.  Violations of this could result in your dismissal."

Then, she informed me of one more rule.  "When you address me," she said, "you will sandwich all of your 'ma'ams'."  ("Sandwich" means to reply as "Ma'am, yes, ma'am!" or "Ma'am, no, ma'am!")  She then asked:  "Do you understand?"

To which I responded, "Yes, ma'am."

At which point she replied, "Obviously not."  Then she proceeded to re-read me all of the rules. 

Anyway, that first day, I met my other three roommates.  One guy showed up, and while we were at dinner, he quit - he didn't even last two hours.  It turned out to be one of the best things that happened to us.

One of the things that they do is keep you so busy, that you don't have time to talk or anything, so that first day I knew my roommates' names and a little about them, but I didn't really know who they were.  That first night at lights out, we all went to bed, laid there in silence, and quickly fell asleep.

Next: Part 2 - A late night