What I did during the Vietnam Conflict Part II

by Alden Cole on April 17, 2014 · 0 comments

6GarmentsWPfour fashion drawings done while in the Air Force, early-1968, each 13″ x 8″ • collection of the artist

1966: I arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in the early afternoon of August 8th. It felt like 110 degrees in the shade. We were told it was a ‘dry’ heat, and that it shouldn’t feel nearly as bad as the summers many of us were familiar with in the Northeast. BS! Dry heat or not, I was sweatin’ like a hog. I was not alone. We newly-arrived recruits were first divided up into platoons, then assigned to barracks, our new home for the next three months. Second stop, the barber; We all got shorn. I received the first buzzcut I’d been subjected to since I was five; I was loosing those identifying flaxen locks I had grown attached to, since letting my crewcut grow out sophomore year at RISD, in the wake of the Beatles and the ‘British Invasion.’ A buzzcut is a great equalizer, an integral part of the Military Industrial Complex’s way of downsizing an overdeveloped youthful sense of ‘me’ and transforming it into the larger communal sense of ‘We’ which is necessary to such an enterprise. It changed our lives. Next we were issued the clothes we would be wearing for the next four years: casual and dress uniforms, both summer and winter versions; a big blue winter coat, a pair of black combat boots, a pair of black dress shoes, and a duffle bag to carry them in. We were relieved of our civilian clothes which were put safely away out of reach awaiting the end of training, or our first leave. Next morning we raw recruits for officer training were herded into our first orientation. I was electrified by what the young second lieutenant had to say; his words virtually resound still in my mind: “Hey you guys, if any of you aren’t really into this, you know, you have no intention of being a career officer and you just want to put in your time and get out of the service and get on with your life, we have an option for you. You can drop out of Officer Training; you’ll revert to being just an Airman and you’ll have to go through their more rigorous basic training, but you’ll cut your active time in half, from four years down to two years. Think about it, and consider this: are you aware that IF we send you to a technical school for further training, we have the right to extend your active service time for an additional year or even two, making a possible total of six years active all together. Remember, when you signed up you signed on for a total of six years, expecting that you’d be spending four years in active service with the remaining two years in inactive reserves. As you’ve just learned, that’s not necessarily so. So I repeat the option: drop out of Officer Training (or the same applies if you flunk out) and cut your active commitment in half; down to two years active duty from the day you signed up, rather than four, five, or possibly six years active time from your date of commissioning.”

I was stunned by his words and seduced by the possibilities. The chances of my getting either a one or two year extension were excellent, as I was preassigned to Missile Technical Training, a school of unknown duration. This new information proved soul-stirring. I knew I was not career material. I just wanted to do my service time, get an Honorable Discharge, and move to New York City so I could get on with my life. However it took 3 weeks of vacillating indecision before I finally wrote a formal letter of resignation from the training, thus reverting to being ‘just another Airman’ instead of an ‘Officer Candidate.’

To be continued…

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