November 20, 2003

Air Force Blue (part 3)

Part 1 here and part 2 here.

Camp Bullis was an interesting environment all right. It was more Army than Air Force, with luxurious 12-man tents and eating C-rations and hot meals served in your mess kit instead of on plates. Not to mention the community latrine, where you and twenty of your closest friends could all perform your morning sit down together, sans stalls or walls or any semblance of privacy. It was like Boy Scout camp, except we got yelled at a lot and got to play with lots of neat things that went boom and ka-pow!

We were there to learn Air Base Ground Defense, which was cool because the Air Force believes that the best defense is a good offense. Most people don't realize that the Air Force Security Police (SP's) were collectively one of the most effective and efficient units in Vietnam. They didn't get that by sitting inside the perimeter fence and waiting for the bad guys, the SP's went out and found the bad guys first. We were being taught the agressive techniques that were learned by hard experience in southeast asia. We learned to set up ambushes of various types, long-range patrol, map reading and basic artillery spotting. The ways of camouflage, cover and concealment, and search techniques for areas, buildings, and persons. We learned how to shoot well with a variety of weapons in a variety of positions and situations - both right and left handed. Combined with plenty of classroom time on theory and tactics, it was pretty intense.

Among the most vivid memories I have of Camp Bullis is the morning ritual of attaching the blank suppressors. This was before the neat little laser-tag type simulators, where if you get 'hit' you beep (the link goes to a nifty page describing the system and other simulation aids). Back in the late 70's we used a little red metal box that screwed over your M16 flash suppressor, and 'judges' pointed out who was dead or alive during firefights.

The agressors (instructors) never seemed to die, and those bastards had ground burst simulators (on the link, scroll down to see figure 5-5, right above the M-80's which seem puny in comparison). The M115A2 was thrown around to simulate grenades and mortar fire. The instructors would pull a cord to light the fuse and throw it, and before it exploded the simulator gave this piercing whistle. And these weren't harmless either, they packed a punch when they went off. Nothing was scarier than setting up in the perfect camouflaged position, face painted in black and greens, and during the confusion of the ambush an instructor didn't see you there and tossed one of them directly at you (they supposedly weren't trying to kill you). Your ears would be ringing for a while, and I swear the concussion would lift you off the ground a little bit - probably not, but it seemed like it.

Since it was just training, we were constantly reminded to pay attention to where we dropped. In combat, you stop and drop instantly. In training, you took a quick split-second to make sure you weren't falling onto a pile of rocks containing a snake, scorpion, or centipede. Getting bit or stung by any of these little beasties was cause for disciplinary action, on top of hurting like hell for some time.

And then of course, there were the C-rations, affectionately known as C-rats. Despite the horror stories, and I have a few of my own, they really weren't that bad. It was a little disconcerting though, opening and eating a can of apricots that had been packed the year before you were born. I've had MRE's too, and for my money, C-rats were way better. Well, except for the scrambled eggs or the 'ham and muthers' (lima beans), and the only way to deal with them was to give them to the truly disturbed individual in your unit who actually liked them. There was always one.

How many vets carried the legendary P38 (aka 'John Wayne') can opener on your keychain? I did for years, wrapped in a piece of masking tape, and still wore many a hole in pants pockets.

Chris Hall not-so-fondly remembered chukka boots in my comments. These low-cut abominations were probably the worst footwear ever designed, and very few people wore them, let alone liked them. These were the first thing everyone ditched first chance you got.

Also remembering basic, do you remember the dreaded 'herpes folliculitis' lecture and shaving waivers? We had one poor guy in basic who had the worst acne I've ever seen in my life, and every time he shaved his shirt would just become a blood-soaked mess. They finally got him a shaving waiver. Poor guy desperately wanted to be in the military too. I don't recall what happened to him, but every morning we were convinced he was going to bleed to death right there in front of the mirror.

Posted by Ted at November 20, 2003 06:50 AM
Category: Boring Stories

When were you there?
I was there in August of 82.
Yes, during the hottest month of the year!
118 degrees!
A lot of good and bad memories there.
I have tried to tell people for years what it was like there, and finding it hard to explain.
You have to have been there.

Posted by: Troy "Tit" at May 29, 2005 03:05 AM
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