Biloxi Days: The Barracks Visit

I arrived at Lackland Air Force Base outside of San Antonio for Officer Training School in November of 1967. For reasons known only to my recruiter in Fresno, I was two weeks early for 90 days of instruction, after which I would emerge as a “90 day wonder," a Second Lieutenant or “brown bar" as the most junior officers were called. I had to pass the physical and academic regimen the USAF imposed on us unofficial draft dodgers, as we were sometimes assumed to be as the US Air Force was supposed to be safer than the Army, and certainly safer than the Marines.

Because I was early arriving, they had to put me somewhere for two weeks, and that somewhere was Basic Training with a new crop of non-officer enlisted recruits.

That first weekend somebody screwed up during room inspection so the TI (the Air Force called Drill Instructors Training Instructors, but they were modeled after the legendary DI's of the Marine Corps), had everyone (“collective punishment”) remove everything in the barracks that was not nailed down, re-assemble it outside in inspection order, then undergo another white glove inspection outside on the grass. The white glove go-over finished, we then dismantled it all again and put it back in the barracks where we underwent yet another white glove inspection. In the real world this would be called harassment or low intensity torture but the military mind is often not "real world."

The barracks for the new airmen was across the street from the smaller area for new airwomen, aka Women in the Air Force, aka, WAFs, which, I soon learned from some of my fellow recruits also stood for “We All Fuck.” 

One day, we were doing drill practice down the street between the airmen’s barracks and the WAF barracks when I overheard a female WAF TI lecturing her young charges for some minor transgression or other. The WAF TI pointed to the airmen’s barracks and shouted, “There’s miles and miles of dick over there and you assholes aren’t getting AN INCH of it until you SHAPE UP!”

* * *

Soon, after nine months of technical training at Chanue Air Force Base in southern Illinois, I was an [aircraft maintenance] officer and maybe even a gentleman stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Mississippi. 

It was a little after five o'clock on a Monday afternoon. I was in my Squadron Commander’s upstairs office in Hangar 5 when I heard a young woman nearly shouting at Field Maintenance’s First Sergeant Johnson in the office next door. Except for the occasional secretary and one female civilian instrument tech, we seldom saw or heard women in the maintenance or hangar area.

I shouted over, "What's going on, Sergeant Johnson?"

"We're on our way over, sir," Johnson replied.

Sergeant Johnson and an attractive young WAF appeared.

"My husband has been missing since Saturday," the WAF, nearly in tears, said. 

“It’s Airman Andy Ogden,” Sergeant Johnson added.

“Oh, is he the new kid in the AGE shop?" (Aerospace Ground Equipment maintenance), I asked.

“I think so,” Johnson agreed, “his name appeared on the roster last week.”

"We've only been married a few weeks," she said, "and we've been arguing a lot."

"Do you live on base?" I asked the WAF.

"He still lives in the barracks," she replied, "and I live in the barracks on the WAF side. We're looking for an apartment downtown." (In Biloxi.)

"Have you checked the barracks?"

"Women are not allowed in the barracks after hours," she replied.

"Okay," Sergeant Johnson said. "Let's go check."

We got in my car and drove to Keesler’s three-story cement airmen's barracks, one wing of which was reserved for aircraft maintenance people.

"Do you know what his room number is?"

"I think it's 312."

That would make it third floor. Up the steps we went to room 312. Sergeant Johnson pulled out his master key, unlocked the door, and banged it open. The spartan room was empty besides the standard military style two-mattress wire frame bunk bed, neatly made to military specs, a small metal desk and chair, and some built-in wooden closets.

We heard whispering and rustling from the next room.

Sergeant Johnson and I and the WAF proceeded to room 313.

Johnson unlocked its door and pushed on in where we were startled to see a naked young woman on the top bunk with a brown blanket pulled up to her waist; there was a naked couple partially concealed by a blanket on the lower bunk.

"What are you doing here?" Sergeant Johnson barked to the naked woman in the top bunk.

She stuck out an elbow and propped her head on her hand and, looking straight at him, proclaimed: "What do you THINK I’m doing?"

"Women are not allowed in the airmen's barracks," Johnson announced, deadpan.

Johnson then rolled his eyes, stepped into the shared bathroom between the two rooms, and spit some tobacco juice into the sink, taking a moment to think about his next move. He strode back into the room, and opened up a closet across from the bunk bed. Nothing in the first closet but clothes on hangers and shoes. Then he opened the second closet where a nude young man crouched behind some fatigues on hangers. The nude man covered his private parts with his arms.

"Who are you?" Johnson asked.

The young WAF had followed us into the room and boldly walked up behind Sergeant Johnson and looked over his shoulder into the closet and started crying, "That's my husband!" Distraught, she ran from the room.

Sergeant Johnson noted the names of the two women in the bunk off their discarded uniforms, and demanded their squadron numbers. It turned out they were training as radar and communications technicians as was Ogden’s new wife. Johnson tossed the ladies their skivvies and uniforms and ordered them to get dressed and get out.

The airman in the lower bunk and the airman in the closet hurriedly dressed. The airman in the bottom bunk was not a Field Maintenance shop tech, but a flight line mechanic from Organizational Maintenance, so we took his name and told him to leave also.

Sergeant Johnson pulled his citation book from his uniform pocket and wrote up Airman Ogden for having women in his barracks room, a minor violation. As squadron commander, I later "punished" Ogden under Article 15 of the UCMJ by giving him the extra duty of cleaning the barracks latrines under the supervision of the barracks charge of quarters (BCOQ) for four straight weekends.

I don't know what became of Mr. and Mrs. Ogden, but their marriage had gotten off to a bad start.

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