May 01, 2004

Military Story Time

The General's Night on the Town with the Crew
During the early 80's, a certain airborne system was deployed to Howard AFB, Panama. The presence of the system, at the time, was somewhat hush-hush, and is often the case with the military, since the use of the system was not yet determined to be a constant thing, everyone involved with it were deployed to Panama on a Temporary Duty status.

The 'front end' of the system was your garden variety C-130. The backend held a surprise - a slide in/bolt on system, operated by a highly trained group of technicians, good for all sorts of things. The technicians were from a separate organization than the 'front end', and frequently in Panama on a continually rotating basis, so they got to know the lay of the land fairly well. It also helped that most of the technicians were fluent in Spanish.

There came a time when one of the high ranking officers (a Brigadier General - 1 star) of the organization that 'owned' the technicians decided to drop in and 'see how his boys were doing'. The general was no ordinary flag officer. He was a pilot and a bit of a non-conformist - he was known to be a firm believer in the 'work hard, play hard' rule of thumb, and was quite a character. Truth be told, this tale is one of many involving this remarkable individual.

The General shows up, and is briefed on the set-up, makes the standard rounds doing the 'hi, how ya treating my boys' meet and greets with the local command structure, then has a quiet evening crew resting for the next day - when he went along on one of the sorties. During the 9 hour jaunt, the General fell in with the scurrilous bunch that was one of our crews at the time, and they regaled him with all sorts of tales about life while TDY to Panama. At the time, one of the central fixture of that life was an area known as 'Calle Jota' - J-Street. It was an enclave of bars and nightspots clustered tightly together, amply staffed with regional 'talent' (mostly from Colombia, some from Ecuador) to 'entertain' the crowds which attended festivities almost nightly.

Well, the General decides, 'I'm here to see how my guys are getting along, so I need to get the feel for the entire experience' - and is heartily invited to come along with the crew after the debrief while they go and 'unwind' from the day's mission.

Now, as with a lot of Generals, he had an aide-de-camp along with him, a Major. A particularly prim and proper Major. A non-flying, epitome of a staff weenie, asshole so tight you couldn't drive a sewing needle up it with a sledgehammer Major. He of course thought the idea of the General going out for a night on the town with 'his boys' was just the thing to bring Western Civilization crashing to its knees. But, being astute enough to know that his career hung by the good word of his boss, he decided to take the advice passed on by one of my buddies in an aside "now, the General says he wants to go out drinking with the crew, and he doesn't want some f**kwad babysitter telling him he can't or shouldn't". The Major decided he would retire to his billeting room, to catch up on some paperwork or some such.

So everyone gets cleaned up, loads up on the 'crew bus', a rental Toyota 15 passenger deal, and off they go. And a big time was had by all. The General was introduced to the cheapest rot-gut Rum produced in the Western Hemisphere, a brand named 'Carta Vieja' (Old Cart), served by the bottle with Coca=Cola setups and ice on the side. He was introduced to some of the star entertainers of the various establishments - the local glitterati. He was invited to head up and join a few of the stage performances, and accepted the offer - in the process of one of these, swapping t-shirts with the young lady. He was having a blast, and so were the guys.

But of course, all things must end, and even the bars on Calle Jota have a closing time (around 3 am), so out to the crew bus they all go. On the way to the bus, they passed a street vendor selling 'monkey meat on a stick' - some sort of animal parts roasted over a hibachi grill and sold by the stick. Probably one of the most tasty delicacies available to drunken servicemen the world over. So the General asks the guy running the stand "How much?"

The guy tells him "Cincuenta centavos" (Fifty cents)

"No, no, no...how much for the whole setup.


Eventually they agreed on a fair price (about $25 bucks), and the parade to the bus resumes - a buncha drunks with a lit barbeque set. The General sets up shop in the back of the bus, and starts cooking monkey meat sticks for everybody. The back windows are open, and they go cruising back over the Bridge of the Americas, singing, laughing, with smoke pouring out the back of the bus.

As they pull up to the front gate at Howard AFB, the SP on the gate steps out in the road and stops them. He notices the blue, one star insignia in the holder on the front bumper. He looks up and sees a bus full of drunks, with smoke billowing out the back windows. For some reason, this didn't seem quite right to the young Airman, so he motions for them to open the side door, He steps up inside the bus and loudly announces -

"Allright, which one of you fuckin assholes is the goddamned General?"

(from the dark, smoke filled back of the bus) "That would be me, son!"

"Yeah, right, lemme see your ID card, pal"

At this point most of the crew is about to piss their pants and its about all they can do to keep from busting out in howls of laughter knowing what's coming next. The general fishes out his ID card and it is ceremoniously passed forward for the young SP to inspect.

He shines his flashlight on it. The eyes widen to the size of dinner plates. He then begins to imitate a goldfish, just sort of opening and closing his mouth, no sounds coming out, and his head drops, possibly glancing at the stripes he's expecting will have to be coming off of his fatigues now...

Actually, the General follows his ID card up to the front of the bus, and invites the young Airman, who's sure he's going for a remote to Greenland at this point, outside for a chat. The General is a really great people person, and he calms the kid down, tells him that it was perfectly understandable he was suspicious of the odd sight before him, and what an excellent job he was doing keeping the base safe. Within 5 minutes, the Airman was smiling nervously, rendering several salutes as the General got back to tending to his Hibachi, and waved the bus on in for the evening.

The next morning, the General, sans hangover, woke up his aide bright and early, and they caught their flight back to the states.

Helluva guy. I don't know anyone that ever worked with or for him that wouldn't have willingly walked through hell soaked in gasoline if he let them know that that's what needed to happen.

Posted by Wind Rider on May 1, 2004 10:47 PM | TrackBack

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