Military Stories 6 -- Pranks and other Hijinx

Nobody ever worked very hard in my part of the military, so as a result anyone who was even marginally capable of carrying out their duties had time to kill.  Since 'an idle mind is the devil's workshop',  this situation lead to a high incidence of pranksterism. Here are a few more notable examples.


Toward the end of my military career I was on temporary duty as a clerk.  Another degenerate and I plus a couple of more or less normal people ran the squadron administrative offices for a maintenance squadron.   Each day's duty  for all of us would have made a moderately long day's work for me.  Next door through a thin wall was the squadron first sergeant's office. He had an only slightly smaller staff.  There were officers and NCOs (sergeants, like the first sergeant) assigned to these offices, but we air-men and exiting sergeants  who did the actual work seldom saw them.  The NCO in our office put in a morning appearance and then hit out for the NCO's club ASAP.  This first sergeant was always lurking about and, like first sergeants everywhere part of his duty was to enforce the dress code.  This guy was near retirement and had a major cigarette habit.   And a serious coughing problem.  If he got too excited  he would go over into an uncontrollable coughing fit and face get all red and stuff.  So behind his back, we got to calling him Sgt. Choke.  He knew it and it made him mad.  Mad enough to choke.  Now, the phone numbers around the base were pretty systematic and since our room was right next to the first sergeant's office in physical location, function, and phone number assignment, we often got their calls by mistake.  So this one day after paying us a little visit to make sure were there Sgt. Choke had retired to his office.  Our phone rang and the other malcontent picked it up. I only heard his side of the conversation: "such and such squadron orderly room, Sgt - - - speaking, . . . . Oh no sir, you want the first sergeant's office.  That's extension 2614,  just ask for Sergeant Choke."  "Who was that ?," I asked, grinning.  "Some Colonel or other,"  he said, holding one finger in the air for quiet.   Through the wall we heard the phone next door ring a few times and stop, then this massive coughing fit, rasping, gasping for air.  I expected to hear his heels kicking the floor. 


This business of the dress code was sort of interesting.  The main function of this base was to transition people in and out of fighter and bomber squadrons involved in Viet Nam.  The guys coming back had seen actual war, were near the end of their enlistment, and didn't care much for dress codes.  Except for a few of these displaced colonels. This place had more colonels than a chicken farm.  Apparently this is what you get to be if you reenlist until retirement as an officer but are not good enough to get to be a general.  Most of them at this base were pilots or otherwise involved in flying operations, and most of them were pretty laid back just like the enlisted people, but there are always a few who enjoy expressing their authority and if there isn't any other opportunity then it will do to hassle somebody about a haircut or uniform.  So one time I had this ingrown toenail cut out and I couldn't wear regular uniform shoes.  I had to wear a shoe with the toe cut out.  So I requested and was issued a medical waiver saying I was authorized, nay ordered, to wear sneakers for a month.  So I got the biggest, whitest pair of cheap high top sneakers in town and cut the toe out.  Then I walked.  All over the base whenever I had nothing else to do.  In a land where everyone wears black shoes, the man in white high top sneakers sticks out like a sore thumb.  So eventually the sneakers would attract the attention of one of these code enforcers with nothing better to do.  "Air-man report to me here!"  These guys always want you to run over to where they are instead of walking over in your general direction. And the sneaks stand out so usually I was a good distance away . So I did the slow race that I practiced up for in basic training. (I did have sore foot after all.)   With any luck by the time I shuffled into their presence they were already steaming pretty good from the slowness.  "Air-man what are those on your feet ?"  Time to play dumb.  Dumb and slow.  "You mean the shoes, sir ?"  Let them tell me about how the Air Force wears black shoes, etc.  A very few enlightened ones would notice the cut out toe hole and deduce that this was a medical case, but that was the rare exception.  Usually they would rant and I would get dumber up to the point where I lost interest or they were ready to actually write me name and unit down on a piece of paper (that always leads to trouble).  Then I would dig out and unwrinkle the medical waiver.  Most seemed actually disappointed that they couldn't do something unpleasant to me at that point.


There were also a couple of new guys in the orderly room who had just joined up to avoid being drafted into the army.  Smart fellows for doing that.  If you don't qualify for much else and can read, more or less, you get to be a clerk.  You learn by OJT -- on the job training, instead of a regular tech school.  So one of these fellows was not really sharp and he had been having a lot of trouble with learning to type.  To advance very far in the clerkin'. business you need to be able to type.   The bulk of our work consisted of filling out forms and reports, typing orders and requisitions, and such.  Since this was before the days of computers all this was in multiple part carbon copies.  And mistakes were a major pain -- you have to unroll the paper, erase all of the copies, then roll the paper back to just the right spot and type again.  Which is one of the reasons six of us and an NCO were assigned to do what one really skilled person could have done.  So one day I decided to have  a little fun.  I got this other fellow's typer and pried the tops off a few of the infrequently used letters and swapped them around.  Then I went to lunch, so I missed the fun, but I understand it was big fun.  He would type along until he hit one of those keys.  "Oops a mistake",  roll out and erase, typing carefully now "S#$% mistake again", roll out and erase now letter by letter, "What the F^&^ is this ?!"  "Hey, there's something wrong with this typewriter. It types the wrong letter. "  "Nah, you're just hitting the wrong keys, take your time."  typing again, etc. etc.  Until finally they had to find another typewriter and put the two of them side by side before discovering the mischief.


There is a kind of combination lock that was ubiquitous in the Air Force at that time.  It had four little number wheels on the bottom to dial in the combination, and when it is opened with the correct combination you can then change the combination to a new one.  Base security and operational readiness were severely impaired one weekend when it dawned on the band of pranksters that most locks on the entire base were coded to the extension number of the phone inside that room.  Made it ever so much easier to remember those pesky combinations, I guess.   So we spent all weekend going around with a base phone directory changing combinations on every lock we could find and open.  To random numbers.  Come Monday morning, the Russians could have been coming to drop the Big One and all we would have been able to do would be stand around with our thumb up our ass  (one of my favorite military expressions, and so appropriate) while someone went off to find a set of bolt cutters.  Our orderly room had the only set of bolt cutters that I knew about and they were already signed out, but others must have existed.  Along about noon we were back to business more or less as normal except I suppose some folks were half heartedly searching for evidence of the perpetrators' identities.  The fools put on new locks and made sure to set them all to the 'right' combination.  (From the phone book.)  Soon after that I was discharged.  Good thing too, if I had still been around the temptation to do the very same thing again on the weekend before a 'surprise' operational readiness inspection would have certainly been overwhelming.   We always knew about these surprise inspections in advance and usually had to work on a Saturday before to get the place spiffed up in preparation.  These ORIs apparently had a lot to do with people like the base and squadron commanders' ability to move up from colonel to one of those rare general slots.  At least they always seemed to fuss and stew around for a few weeks or more after one went poorly.