In 1992 an aimless young man decided to serve his country and joined the Air National Guard. To complete his training, he was sent to venerable Chanute Air Force Base in the flats of Illinois to learn how to turn wrenches on jet engines. It was a place brimming with history, a place he soon grew to love.
Soon thereafter, Chanute closed its doors forever, becoming a modern ruin in the years that followed, taking the young man's heart with it.
This humorous, witty and occasionally ribald memoir details the experience of one of the last Airmen to pass through the hallowed gates of Chanute Air Force Base, and how the experience haunts him to this very day.
Ren Garcia is a Science Fiction/Fantasy author and Texas native who grew up in western Ohio. He has been writing since before he could write, often scribbling alien lingo on any available wall or floor with assorted crayons. He attended The Ohio State University and majored in English Literature. Ren has been an avid lover of anything surreal since childhood, he also has a passion for caving, urban archeology and architecture. His highly imaginative "League of Elder" book series is published by Loconeal Publishing
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Chapter: The Razor Incident (WARNING--Harsh Language Ahead)
After getting some initial feedback for my little military epic, 10 Weeks at Chanute, it appears people really want to know more about the crazy ‘razor incident’ I briefly mention in Chapter 4 that happened to me at Basic Training—the part where I had to write sentences discussing my incompetence as an Airman, or else. That was a pretty big to-do, actually.
"What happened, what happened?" people ask.
I have, literally, tons of humorous anecdotes from my time in the service, and, for the sake of brevity and flow, I had to leave most of them out so that the story wouldn’t stall. Most of these assorted tales take a fair amount of time to set-up to properly describe, and I didn’t want to bog down the flow of the narrative in pointless minutia, so I left them out which is sad because most of these little side stories are truly funny. They’re tales good for an old-fashioned Bull Session at the bars, at cocktail parties or church socials. Armed with stories like these you’re sure to be a big hit.
But, the Razor Incident seems to have piqued a good measure of interest, so I decided to throw it in here at the back of the book as sort of an ‘optional’ bit of reading.
Ok, you want to know, so I’ll tell you.
The Razor Incident…
Aside from the deadly Chow Hall, a very perilous task at Basic Training is having to perform Dorm Guard duty. Most everybody has to do it at some point during the tour, and you just have to pray that it doesn’t get you in mounds of trouble—because it certainly can.
Essentially, the Dorm Guard does just that—guards the door to the dormitory. For three hours you had to stand there in a little cubbyhole by the door wearing your hat and a web belt, and monitor all those wishing to enter the dorm and all those wishing to exit the dorm. The Dorm Guard was the only person allowed to touch the handle to the door—all others were forbidden to touch it. If somebody outside pounded
on the door, you had to peer through the narrow window, see who it was, and check a sheet with a list of names to see if that person was authorized to enter or not. If they were on the list, then you could open the door. If it was a female, you had to shout "LADY ENTERING THE DORM!"
If the person was not on the list, then you were not supposed to let them in, no matter who it was.
Being the Dorm Guard was mighty dangerous, as the MTI’s loved to screw with them. They would intentionally send TI’s not on the authorized list to the door to see if they could prod the poor, stressed-out Dorm Guard into letting them in. They would pound on the door, stand there, scream at the Dorm Guard, threaten them, the whole nine yards, hoping to stress them into opening the door.
And, if the Dorm Guard yielded to the pressure, that was it—they would get recycled. Washed back. Almost immediately.
Yeah, it sucked.
Obviously, being the Dorm Guard was something you didn’t want to do. A brother Airmen would get assigned the duty of scheduling the Dorm Guard rotations, and therefore, that was a guy you wanted to be friends with so you could get the more plum Dorm Guard assignments, like, say, in the middle of the night when the TI’s were less-likely to come to the door. But, no matter what time of day or night, trouble could always find you if you were stuck standing there by the cubby hole.
So, it was 9:00pm, time for lights out at glorious Lackland Air Force Base. 9:00pm sounds pretty early in the evening, and it is, but, after a long day of marching and getting yelled at, you were usually pretty tired. With no napping allowed during the day, even a night owl like me was always ready hit the sack at 9:00pm.
But, the unthinkable had happened and I was on the rotation to be Dorm Guard, a shift lasting three hours—which always seemed like an eternity. So, instead of getting into my skivvies for sleep, I had to put on my hat, grab a flashlight
and my BMTS Training Manual and take over for the previous guy. Me and the Dorm Guard I was relieving would then have to walk the bays, checking for any items that would be potentially unsafe or be considered CONTRABAND.
Contraband was easy to classify: Contraband was:
In walking the dorm, we didn’t find any contraband, obviously; just a dorm full of guys getting ready for bed. We had a Sister Flight in the dorm behind ours and they liked to pass us notes under the common door in the day room. Some of the guys were flopped on their racks, all grins, busy penning or reading love letters to their girlfriends on the other side—girls they’d never actually seen, other than as passing shadows drifting through the bottom of the door and as alluring half-heard giggles. We made the would-be Casanovas wrap it up and hit the sack, which they did.
As we finished the walk through, I spied an innocuous electric razor plugged into a wall outlet, a red light blinking as it charged.
An electric razor plugged into the wall? Big deal, right?
Everything’s big deal at Basic.
We weren’t allowed to have facial hair at all at Basic, not even the Five-O-Clock shadow. You had to be totally clean-shaven at all times.
"Garcia, you fuckin’ butcher, what is that shit all over your face?" the TI’s would ask all the time.
So, we were shaving constantly, every spare moment we had, mostly with cheap disposable razors bought a hard march away at the BX. Aside from shining our boots, shaving our faces took up most of our time. As such, our faces were scraped raw, so much so many of us were afflicted with
Pseudofolliculitis Barbae, the dreaded ‘shaving disease’, our faces, usually around the chin area, covered with tiny pimple-like bumps that hurt like living hell. Through the scuttlebutt, I had heard one Airman in our dorm had brought an electric razor with him to Basic, which wasn’t against regulations, but was a tangible focus for the TI’s to hate on should they see it. They wanted us disfiguring our faces with the cheap disposable stuff.
And there it was, the razor happily blinking on the wall, plugged in, charging up. I figured the razor probably shouldn’t be there, but didn’t say anything—I figured the owner would hide it in his locker before lights out anyway.
I took the web belt, put my hat on and assumed the position in the cubby hole, seeing the ominous sign hung over it reading in lurid red letters: STAY ALERT! I clearly remember hallucinating one dark night, the letters on the sign transforming before my eyes to read: STAY THE FUCK ALERT!!
Everything went dark in the bays and I was alone there at the door. I opened my training manual to read, but, before long, the dreaded Lackland Lounge kicked off, and it soon got too loud—and too creepy—to read. The Lackland Lounge was what we called the ghost-like din of Airmen talking in their sleep. People under stress tend to talk a lot in their sleep, and that was proved almost every bloody night at Basic. It often got really, really noisy, and went on in an odd, graveyard symmetry where the seemingly choreographed cacophony of grunts, moans, shouts, chants, anguished cries, half-uttered mumbles, and other demonic noises made lights out a rather raucous and panic-filled situation.
And the Lounge wasn’t all I had to endure. Outside, I could hear a commotion in the dorm across the hallway. My heart sunk. I knew a TI was in there lighting those unfortunate bastards up, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before the TI finished with them and migrated across the hall to our dorm to have at us. I was in for a hard time. I got my pad of paper and pencil ready to take down whatever the TI commanded.
It was inevitable.
Sure enough, a few minutes later came a soul-shat
tering BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! from our door. The TI was there, ready to mess with us hard. I could see the shadow of his head through the blinds.
I pulled the blind aside—it was Staff Sergeant Eagan, our junior TI. Sergeant Eagan was a decent guy from Mississippi, but he could raise his fair share of Hell when he wanted to, and right now he wanted to.
He didn’t look happy.
I followed procedures. I put my finger on the window over his nose, then I put my other finger over his name on the Authorized Personnel sheet. I then opened the door and Sergeant Eagan thundered in.
He made a beeline into the bays. Seconds later I heard the usual CLUNK! of beds being lifted and dropped hard to the floor—the dreaded ‘Lackland Wake Up Call’. Eagan was rousting guys out of their racks at a furious pace.
Oh crap, I was in for it now. "Proceeding!" I replied. I grabbed my pad and paper and scurried into the bay.
Sergeant Eagan was standing there, his flashlight beam poised at the wall.
"What the fuck is that, Dorm Guard?"
Centered in his flashlight was the electric razor, still plugged into the wall, still blinking merrily. It had taken him all of three minutes to find it.
"Sir, Airman Garcia reports as ordered! Sir, it’s an electric razor, sir!" I replied.
"I can see that, godammit!" He then proceeded to berate me about the dangers of electrical devices left plugged into wall outlets. "There could be a fuckin’ fire. Everybody could die, you stupid, trainee sumbitch!"
I foolishly then replied that the razor was fully UL rated, lab-tested, customer approved, and would not create a fire situation due to its design. Sergeant Eagan wasn’t impressed. He then proceeded to uncover this whole ‘razor conspiracy’ and punish all players involved—me included. He soon discovered that the offending razor was owned by Airman DePierre, a wise apple from North Carolina, a guy
who liked to crack jokes and pranks but always got caught and dogged up for them. Sergeant Eagan had DePierre up against the wall like a felon.
Sergeant Eagan then wanted to know who the previous Dorm Guard was so he could light him up too.
It was Airman Mallory, a little guy from New Mexico who, for whatever reason, the TI’s couldn’t stand. I knew when Mallory got involved, I was saved.
Mallory popped out of his bunk without wearing shoes, which was against regulations—you always had to have something on your feet when walking around. Sergeant Eagan was enraged and tried to stomp on his feet. Mallory had to dive out the way and take refuge in his rack to avoid getting stomped on.
Sergeant Eagan turned to me, shining his flashlight in my face. "Get your ass back to your station. I’ll deal with you later, you dumb fuck!"
Thankfully, I did an about face and returned to my Dorm Guard cubbyhole.
Standing there by the door, I listened to Sergeant Eagan holding court in the bays, yelling at the top of his lungs, picking up bunks and dropping them, the beam of his flashlight waving around in the dark like a Sith light saber cutting off Jedi heads.
Two guys appeared in the corridor. It was DePierre and Mallory, followed by Sergeant Eagan. He placed the offending electric razor down in the center of the corridor. "Now, I want you two dumb asses to guard this fucking razor at the position of attention all fucking night long. This is Mission A #1 critical, got it?"
"Sir yes sir!" they replied.
"Fuckin’ A! You better give thanks your fellow trainees aren’t a pack of thieves! Do you two sumbitches understand me?
"Sir yes sir!"
He pointed at me. "See that trainee over there? He might not be too bright, and he might not give a Fuck! about your personal safety, but at least he’s no thief."
"Sir yes sir!"
There was a pensive silence, then, Sergeant Eagan turned to deal with me.
He marched up.
"Ok, Mr. Not-So-Smart-Airman. I want you to write 100 times: ‘I swear I will not allow my incompetence as an Airman to endanger the lives of my fellow trainees ever again.’ You will have these sentences accomplished by sun up, or your insufficient ass is going backwards, do you understand me, sir?"
"Sir yes sir!"
With that, he turned and went back into the bays to raise more Hell. I got out a fresh sheet of paper and started writing. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see DePierre and Mallory standing in their underwear at the position of attention with the razor on the floor between them like a giant, contoured dog turd.
A couple of guys, dragging blankets and pillows, emerged from the bay and marched into the latrine; from my position I couldn’t tell who they were. Sergeant Eagan followed them. "You two Porky Pigs with the shitty footlockers and skid-marked drawers can get your shut-eye in the fuckin’ shitter from now on, do you two understand me? Get your disgusting asses in there!"
They vanished into the latrine. Then Eagan turned to DePierre and Mallory. "Razor still there, you piss-poor Airmen?"
"Sir yes sir!"
"Razor not going anywhere, is it, you two IQ-Negative trainees?"
"Sir no sir!"
He then handed the both of them a disposable razor and made them start dry shaving. "Here. Shave. Keep shaving. Don’t stop!" DePierre and Mallory started shaving, I could see them both moving their hands about their faces in back and forth motions as if they were fanning themselves.
Then, he came at me again. I just stood there writing my sentences. He got so close, his nose was pressed up against my ear, snorting searing hot dragon breath into the
side of my face with serial killer rapidity. I roasted in his hot nose breath.
I knew the best thing to do in a situation like this would be to maintain my military bearing and ignore the Sergeant. I just kept on writing, staring at my paper, saying nothing. If he audibly addressed me, then I would respond with the proper military greeting, but, until he did that, I would continue ignoring him.
It worked!! He eventually went away, leaving me to write sentences like a school boy wearing a DUNCE hat.
"Keep shaving, you fucks!" he yelled at DePierre and Mallory. He opened the door to the latrine. "You two Porky Pigs all tucked in?"
"Sir yes sir!" I heard in tandem from the latrine.
"Good! Nighty night!"
Soon, he allowed DePierre and Mallory to return to their bunks. He departed, and I finished my eventful Dorm Guard shift without further incident.
In the morning, as I dressed, I heard Sergeant Eagan cry out "GARCIA!" Sighing, I went to the office to find out what he wanted. There he was, morning fresh, holding a steaming cup of coffee.
"Airman, the penmanship in your sentences is completely unacceptable bullshit, do you understand me, sir? You will re-accomplish these sentences, only you will turn in 200 legible sentences instead of 100, right?"
"Sir yes sir!"
So, I redid my sentences, turned them back in, only this time with better penmanship. The incident was forgotten and I made it the rest of the way pretty much without a hitch. I still remember DePierre and Mallory standing there in their shorts, guarding the electric razor and dry-shaving their foolish faces, making swishing motions with their hands as they shaved.
Just goes to show you: Everything’s a big deal at Basic Training
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