Military stories from past to present, both wars.

The Skipper

November 4th, 2007 Posted in The SandGram v1.0

I have to say that out of all of my jobs in the Marine Corps, I look back at my time with MWSS 274 as the Air Ops OIC in Cherry Point as my favorite one hands down. I was an old hand at VMGR 252 and a boot Captain which made me ripe for a FAP billet. The Fleet Assistant Program is when the base or units in your Wing need extra bodies to fill certain Officer and Enlisted billets. Basically it can mean not flying for a year or so while you go play with the Grunts down at Camp Lejeune most of the time.

Reporting to Sunshine, our XO after lunch, he informs the three most senior copilots that there are two FAC (forward air controllers) jobs down at Camp Lejeune and one FAP job on base at Cherry Point with MWSS 274. We all knew that Zeke, the Assistant S-3 Officer, never flew and he hated his job there. Nobody wanted to replace him and we all hoped that the job would just go away. My two buddies jumped on the FAC jobs like a hobo on a ham sandwich before I had a chance to say boo. We all walked out and shook hands to say goodbye. They would be gone from Cherry Point for 15 months or so and I was only going to be away for a year. You would think that my option was the best, but you have to understand the pain a pilot feels when you are chained to a desk while your buds all flew to Rota Spain, Germany, England, Iceland and all the cool places in the world. They like to rub salt in your wounds at the O’Club about it too. At least if you were gone on a ship, you don’t have to see the planes flying over head taunting you.

I checked out of my Squadron, put on my green dress Alpha’s to go report in for my new job. I stuck my head into the Adjutants office, a young second Lieutenant and asked if the boss was around. Nodding, he made a phone call and announced my presence. The C.O. was a LtCol and proud of his school that was located in some small town in Maryland called Annapolis, you could tell by all the blue and gold stuff on the wall.

He proceeded to tell me that while the KC130 pilot normally fills the S-3a job there at HQ, he was short an Officer to fill the Air Ops OIC position that is a Captain/Major’s job because the ECMO from VMAQ 2 (backseater guy in the jammer sqd) was stuck on the boat and two months late returning. So I would take that job and he would get the S-3a when he returned. I thanked the CO for the chance to work for him and excused myself to check out my new diggs.

The Air Ops was located right down the street from my Squadron and next to our simulator building. It was a large brick warehouse that housed all the stuff you needed to outfit an airfield during wartime in some far off country. I had seventy Marines under my charge, a salty Warrant Officer and a slew of Staff NCO’s. For the first time in my career as a Marine I really felt like an Officer. Over at the Sqd, you worked with older senior enlisted Marines for the most part and here I had the whole range of guys from brand new out of boot camp,to ready to retire to one SSgt who was on the ROAD program (retired on active duty) which all made for some interesting times.

That week, I snapped in and toured all of my “Assets” which ranged from guys at the PMO-military police, EOD-bomb guys, ATC-air traffic control, gas trucks etc. They set up a demo in the field located next to my warehouse and filled these big rubber bladders with gas to show me what my boys did and how they did it. The Gunny from my gas section escorted Gene my Warrant Officer and I over to this big 18 wheeler for the brief on gas. I walked up to introduce myself to PFC Geddy who was from West Virginia. Now Geddy had that sort of Pig Pen look about him, not that he was really dirty, but you could say he had a layer of dust on him, smudges of oil and grime on his face giving him a weathered darker complexion that made his really blue eyes stand out.

“OK Geddy, lets pretend that my KC-130 pulls up and you are going to give him some gas, how do you do this operation?”
Geddy gets very excited and turns around pointing to a set of valves on the side of the truck. “Weeeeell Siiiiir,” in a long slow Hillbilly accent “If I’s want to pass some gas to you, well I open the H valve here then turn on the L valve and You should be getting gas lickety split Sirrrrrrrrr.”

I’m looking at him impressed that he knew the names of the valves inside his truck. They made us memorize all the valves in the wing of the KC 130 too (like it would make a difference in flight) looking over his shoulder, I notice that the valves letters are stenciled on top of the piping, so I tap him on the arm so that he turned around. “OK Geddy, without looking, what happens if your sphincter valve is clogged, how do you bypass that so you can let your gas out?”

Geddy’s eyes sort of bulged out of their sockets and then proceeded to blink in a rapid motion. Sweat starts to glisten on the side of his head and he lowers his eyes and sways from foot to foot. I wink at the Gunny and Gene who are trying not to laugh. Geddy looks back up to me and says in a panicked look “Siiirr the SPINKTER valve?” I nod yes, he pauses for a second and then says “Sir, this Marine doesn’t know the answer but I will find out.”
I thank him for a great demo and walk off to the next piece of equipment set up. As we walking away, I can hear the Gunny chewing old Geddy “What do you mean you don’t how to bypass the Sphincter valve Geddy??? Take this truck back to the barn and pull out the manual for it. Don’t come out of the office till you find the Captains answer.”
Poor kid was in that office for the rest of the day trying to find that bypass valve so that he could fart.

They held inspections every morning and I loved this part the most. I would go around and ask current event questions each day, stuff that I had read in USA TODAY that morning over my cup of coffee. Simple stuff, “Who is the President of Russia?” What country just had a coup? How many feet in a mile? All sorts of off the wall stuff. It became a big game for the guys. I had two Marines cut out current articles from my paper in the morning and post them on the wall next to the bathroom. Then they would post the sports over the urinal. They figured out that I would ask questions relating to what was posted on the wall.

That first week was a blast and on Friday I dropped the bomb on them. After chow, I told the MasterSgt to have the guys and gals form up in the PT field at 1500 (three O’clock for you Air Force readers) for a nice six mile run. You could hear the bitching and moaning all the way into my office about the new Skipper making them run at 1500 on Friday (this guy was suppose to be laid back, he was a pilot for Christ sakes). We formed up and took off for our run down the side road to a nice wooded area about a mile from the warehouse. There was my Warrant Officer with my pickup truck parked in the shade of a tree. In the bed of my truck was a keg of beer and a ton of cups. I told the Marines to grab a brew and form a school circle around the truck.

“Ok Marines, here is the deal just so you know what I’m all about. I believe in work hard, play hard, but there are also things that we need to do to run smoothly. First of all, when you go out in town, you will have a designated driver. I kid you not about this. Draw straws, hook up with a Mormon, do whatever it takes to have one sober driver in your group. If that person screws up and drinks, then you take a cab home to the base. If you have spent all of your money down at “Honey’s” the local strip joint, then you will call the Gunny, then the MasterSgt or the Warrant Officer and finally me for a pick up. I would rather drive down fr
om New Bern to the Beach to pickup my drunk Marines then to grab your sorry drunk butt out of jail. It’s all about taking care of one another. We might have you waxing our cars during lunch hour for the ride, but that is a small price to pay for being alive and not in jail. I’m not worried about the beer here because I plan on sweating it out of you on the way back to the hooch. If you have any problems, bring them up the chain of command. I’m all about hearing first hand about a problem rather then getting a call from my boss the Col about it later. Accountability is another biggie. Always let someone know where you are going over the weekend and give them a recall number in case we have to get a hold of you. We are Marines and if we have to fly out for some action somewhere, I’d hate for you to be U.A. and miss all the fun. Finally, I believe in taking care of my guys. You take care of me and I take of you. Don’t break my rules about drinking and we’ll have a great time this year. That’s all, enjoy the beer.” We smoked and joked about being a pilot then headed back to the barn after a couple of beers.

I never had a problem during my time there. Every Monday morning at the CO’s brief, we would go around the table and my peers would have to explain how a couple of their boys were in jail for drinking or fighting. They would ask me and I answered, “Nothing to pass Sir.” I would love to attribute this to my outstanding leadership, but really it was a case of being lucky and I would rather be lucky then good anyday…
More to come on this job later.
Semper Fi,