February 18, 2004

Air Force Blue (part 5)

Spoiler Alert – This includes the story of how I wound up on my back, being read my rights, with a police dog standing on my chest (#45 on my Cornucopia of Ted list).

After collectively graduating from our police "tech school" training, we were presented with our dark blue berets and given our orders for assignment. In the Air Force, you keep a form on file commonly referred to as your "dream sheet" which lists the top ten places you'd like to be assigned. Theoretically, when it comes time to send you to your next assignment, they start with your first choice and see if there’s an opening there for your specialty and rank, and if not they go to your second choice, and so on.

The main thing about my dream sheet was that California didn’t appear on it at all. I didn’t want to go back home, I wanted to see some of the world – well, some of the US anyway. I wasn’t ready for overseas yet.

I can guarantee you one thing though - Minot, North Dakota was not even remotely on my list of places to go. Maybe you’ve heard the standard joke: “Why not, Minot? Freezin’s the reason.” Uh huh, exactly.

Now the Air Force does something kinda cool at this point. In this room of brand new and entirely interchangeable newbies, you can trade assignments with someone instantly. Just find some sucker one else willing to do it, and it happens. Of course, nobody is going to trade for Minot, because the only people who want to go have already put it on their dream sheet, and you can bet that those people get their wish.

So I’m standing there with my orders, wondering where Minot is (and for that matter, where exactly is North Dakota?), when another guy comes up looking to trade. See, his girlfriend is going to Minot, and he’s going to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and he wanted to know if I would trade orders with him? Sure, what the heck. North Dakota is North Dakota. This turned out to be a huge decision, since I met my wife in Grand Forks, and the guy I traded with broke up with his girlfriend within a month.

Before traveling to the Great White North, I went home for leave, my first Christmas as a military man.

December 26th, 1977. Nice day in northern California, temperature in the 50’s, chilly enough to need a heavy windbreaker. At the airport Mom cried, Dad was proud, and Ted is off to live his life. I don’t remember much of the flight, but as we were descending into Grand Forks that night, the pilot mentioned that the ride was bumpy because of the blizzard just kicking up, and that we were lucky we hadn’t been diverted. I found out later that we were the last plane to land for almost three days.

In those days, Grand Forks International Airport earned it’s name from the thrice-weekly flights to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Hey, it was ‘International’, how small could it be? As the plane stopped, the stewardess stood at the front of the plane and told everyone that once the door was opened, we should all closely follow in single file to the terminal, because visibility was really bad and they didn’t want anyone getting lost in the blizzard. Huh? What about rolling the little accordian thingie up to the door and walking down the ramp into the terminal? Yeah, right.

We filed off, struggling with our carry-ons into the wind and blowing snow (and I’m in a windbreaker!), and my mind is running a mantra, “…what the hell did I get myself into?… what the hell did I get myself into?…”, over and over again. Out of the darkness loomed a one-story building – the terminal. We hustled inside and stood around shaking the snow out of our hair and stamping our shoes (sneakers in my case) and trying to warm up. An announcement was made that our luggage would be coming in at the baggage claim at Gate 2 (there were only two).

We all shuffled over to Gate 2, and suddenly a big garage-type door rolled up and the blizzard was inside with us. Through the blowing snow you could make out two guys frantically heaving suitcases and whatnot through the opening in the wall, trying to get done as quickly as possible. Then the door slammed down and shut and everyone started rooting through the pile to find their luggage.

“…what the hell did I get myself into?… what the hell did I get myself into?…”

Half in shock, I located my stuff (everything I owned), and dragged it over to a chair. Now I needed to find a ride to the base, but for this I was prepared. Hell, they even had a courtesy phone on the wall to call the base taxi. Five minutes later I slouched back in the chair, totally dejected and resigned to spending at least the night in the terminal. It was going to be a cold hungry stretch, because the vending machines were all empty, not that I had change anyways. Concessions? Yeah, right.

Some guy, who’s name I don’t remember but who shall always be my hero, walked up and asked if I needed a ride to the base. Seems the person he was there to pick up didn’t make it (connecting flight grounded), so if I needed a ride…

This guy went above and beyond, and I later realized he was more than a little crazy. See, Grand Forks International is located almost exactly halfway between the city of Grand Forks, and Grand Forks AFB. Ten miles in either direction on US Interstate 2. So this good Samaritan, in what was working up to be a whopper of a blizzard, gave me the grand tour of the city first (not that I could see anything at all, let alone make sense of it – I remember him showing me the college campus), before driving back twenty miles to the base.

I told him I was a cop, so he took me to the ‘cop barracks’ so I could get a room. I unloaded my stuff from his car and thanked him with all my heart (and never saw him again) and went into the barracks. It was now about 11pm.

I found the day room where a bunch of guys were playing pool and watching TV. One of them was the Dorm Chief, and when I talked to him and showed him my orders his response was “I ain’t got no room.”

At this point, Leavenworth wasn’t looking half bad. I argued with him for a few minutes, and finally one of the guys playing pool told the Chief to put me in with him, since he didn’t have a roommate. Done.

I walked up to the 3rd floor with my new roomie, dumped my crap in the corner and crawled into bed. It had been a long, bad day, and I needed some serious down time. Suicide was not considered, desertion was…

Dog-breath. In my face, panting hot like a bellows. Opening my eyes, I stayed otherwise still and looked into a mouth full of yellow teeth. The teeth were obviously attached to a dog, but why was a German Shepherd in my room? In North Dakota, I remembered. And why was the dog standing on my chest? I realized there were words being spoken:

“…if you refuse this right anything you say can and will be used against you…”

And at this point I noticed an Air Force policeman attached to the dog by a leash, and as he read me my rights, the dog stood over me, breathing into my face.

My new roomie (forever blessed as well, but I’m not giving his name here although I do remember it), called out from his rack across the room, “Any drugs you find in the room are mine, he just got here!”

Whatta pal.

The cops tore the room apart while searching it. No drugs were found. My roomie was busted for having a sugar dispenser he stole from the chow hall. Roomie was trying to get out of the Air Force, and it was not an amicable parting. The dog probably never alerted on the room door like they claimed, the cops were just hoping to get lucky and find some drugs on him. I just happened to be there, they had no idea who I was.

That was my first day in tropical Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Posted by Ted at February 18, 2004 05:28 AM
Category: Boring Stories

I don't know how anyone survived the military...

Posted by: Paul at February 18, 2004 08:15 AM

Aaah, that brings back memories! Though, it wasn't drugs dogs they were looking for, but 7.62mm ammo. I guess us many combat arms instructors weren't trusted for the actions of a pilferring few.

The only way to deal with a dog trained to be aggressive is to dominate him with an air of dismission. Pet him and ignore him at the same time - you'll confuse him into respecting you!

Dogs and ammo I understand. It's MPs that scared the shit outa me.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at February 18, 2004 11:23 PM

Nice way to start a tour of duty.

Posted by: Starhawk at February 19, 2004 12:00 AM

Great story. I love these...more about number 5, please.

Posted by: jim at February 19, 2004 12:13 AM

Ah yes, dorm sweeps. Looking for everything from ammo and contraband guns to cooking gear (not allowed in the dorm) and fireworks and drugs. IIRC, someone from the armory got busted once for having a Claymore (the mine, not a sword) in their locker.

I'll write more about my experiences with a certain dog-handler sometime. And #5. :)

Posted by: Ted at February 19, 2004 08:45 AM

Rule #2.2
You cannot be sitting on my bed. The reason isn't because I hate you or anything, Its just that I need to sleep tonight and I don't want to sleep the day through.

The group was looking for a way to confirm that two very fast high flying re-entry planes were doing an excersize at Vandenberg AFB last night. I've never been to anyplace but California, but I speak 18 languages. The cool thing about working with nuclear materials is that you get to talk about subspaces and superstrings.

This includes the story of when I was visited by extra-terrestrials when I was taken to a county jail for looking at porn on the web.

Posted by: mike at November 6, 2004 02:04 PM
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