When the sergeant told our new commander that his driver could not participate in an upcoming field maneuver because she was pregnant, the enraged commander demanded to know just how pregnant she was.
The sergeant’s reply: “Completely, sir.”
When the sergeant told our new commander that his driver could not participate in an upcoming field maneuver because she was pregnant, the enraged commander demanded to know just how pregnant she was.
The sergeant’s reply: “Completely, sir.”
The average age of people living in our military retirement community is 85. Recently, a neighbor turned 100, and a big birthday party was thrown. Even his son turned up.
“How old are you?” a tenant asked.
“I’m 81 years old,” he answered.
The tenant shook her head. “They sure grow up fast, don’t they?”
Thomas Clements, Catonsville, Maryland
“Next time I send a damn fool, I go myself.”
—Sgt. Louis Cukela, reportedly said at the Battle of Belleau Wood during World War I
My high school assignment was to ask a veteran about World War II. Since my father had served in the Philippines during the war, I chose him. After a few basic questions, I very gingerly asked, “Did you ever kill anyone?”
Dad got quiet. Then, in a soft voice, he said, “Probably. I was the cook.”
Marian Babula, Penn Run, Pennsylvania
When I lost my rifle, the Army charged me $85. That’s why in the Navy, the captain goes down with the ship.
Comedian Dick Gregory
During basic training at Fort Leavenworth, our sergeant asked if anyone had “artistic” abilities. Having been an architectural draftsman in civilian life, I raised my hand. Then the sergeant announced that everyone would get a three-day pass … except me. I would stay behind and neatly print each soldier’s name onto his Army-issued underwear.
Steven Silver, Scarsdale, New York
The steaming jungles of Vietnam were not my husband’s first choice of places to spend his 21st birthday. However, the mood was brightened when he received a birthday cake from his sister. It was carefully encased in a Tupperware container and came with this note: “Dick, when you’re finished, can you mail back my container?”
Kathy Wilson, Chaska, Minnesota
We were inspecting several lots of grenades. While everyone was concentrating on the task at hand, I held up a spare pin and asked, “Has anyone seen my grenade?”
SMSgt. Dan Powell, from rallypoint.com
The military has a long, proud tradition of pranking recruits. Here are some favorites from rallypoint.com:
• Instructed a private in the mess hall to look for left-handed spatulas
• Sent a recruit to medical-supplies office in search of fallopian tubes
• Had a new guy conduct a “boom test” on a howitzer by yelling “Boom!” down the tube in order to “calibrate” it
• Ordered a private to bring back a five-gallon can of dehydrated water (in fact, the sergeant just wanted an empty water can)
My 90-year-old dad was giving a talk at our local library about his World War II experiences. During the question-and-answer period, he was asked, “How did you know the war was over?”
He replied, “When they stopped shooting at me.”
Lynette Combs, Norfolk, Virginia
In college, my freshman-year roommate was in ROTC and came from a long line of military men. Trask (his last name) used that heritage to lord it over me. But I had the last laugh.
One night, he returned to the dorm in his perfectly pressed uniform, his newly acquired name tag in his hand. Reluctantly, he showed it to me. In large gold letters was printed: TRASH.
Gary Severson, Nooksack, Washington
1) In World War II, a German U-boat was sunk because of a malfunctioning toilet.
2) American combat dolphins, deployed in the Persian Gulf, surrounded and captured an Iranian battleship.
3) The pen used by the military meets 16 pages of military specs.
4) At the real-life Topgun program—the one the film was based on— there is a $5 fine for any staffer who references or quotes the movie.
5) The Franco-Prussian War ended in a stalemate and had to be settled by a winner-take-all game of backgammon played by the two countries’ prime ministers.
Answers: 1-T; 2-F; 3-T; 4-T; 5-F
After my niece returned from her second tour in Iraq, I remarked how beautiful her complexion looked. “What do you use on your face to keep it so smooth?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said. “I’ve been sandblasted.”
Wanda kaltreider, Wrightsville, Pennsylvania
During orientation at Fort Sill, in Oklahoma, our first sergeant stated that if anyone lost his locker key to see him, as he kept a master key in his office. Sure enough, a few weeks later, I lost my key. I walked into the orderly’s room and asked Sarge if I could borrow his master key.
“Why, certainly, young man,” he said, as he reached under his desk and handed me a large pair of bolt cutters.
John Dannar, Pasadena, Texas
• We made a private sweep all the sunshine off the sidewalks. It took the poor guy all day. —benSavageGardenState
• Our squad leader was yelling at a soldier when he abruptly stopped and said, “I’m done yelling at you. It doesn’t work.” He stormed off and returned carrying a small potted tree. “You will carry this tree with you wherever you go. If anyone asks you why you’re carrying this tree, you will say, ‘It’s to replace the oxygen I stole from everyone else.’” —Tain01
• A recruit thought he was special because he was an Eagle Scout. The drill instructor picked up on this and took him into the woods and made him build a nest. Then he had him squat over it in order to keep his eggs warm. —V_E_R_S_E
When a soldier came to the clinic where I work for an MRI, he was put into the machine by an attractive, young technician. Sometime later, when the examination was over, he was helped out of the machine by a far older woman. The soldier remarked, “How long was I in there for?”
Joanne Korman, Bedford, Nova Scotia
Coffee tastes better if the latrines are dug downstream from an encampment.
While in Kuwait, shortly before we deployed to Iraq, a major general told our meeting that we should expect to cross “into Iraq in less than 24 hours.” He then opened the floor to questions.
A lieutenant stood up and asked, “Is that 24 hours our time or 24 hours their time?”
Jesse Kane, Iowa City, Iowa
My gunnery sergeant and I were inspecting a Marine training exercise when we spotted a second lieutenant ambling about. “Where is your foxhole, Lieutenant?” I asked.
He snapped off a salute and responded, “I don’t know, sir!” Turning to the sergeant, he asked, “Gunnery, where is my foxhole?”
“You’re standing in it, sir,” said the sergeant. “All you have to do is remove the dirt.”
Ret. Lt. Col. Joseph Como, Greenwood, South Carolina
“Halt!” shouted our drill instructor. He had noticed that, for the umpteenth time, a recruit kept going to his right on a left command. Our instructor approached the directionally challenged Marine and stomped on his left foot. “Now,” he said, “when I say ‘left,’ it’s the one that hurts.”
Wayne Schroeder, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
It was sheer brilliance. The ship’s operations officer entered the messdeck, his eyes bleary and at half-mast. He grabbed a bagel and took a seat. Unfortunately, the sun was shining through a porthole right onto his face. Rather than move, he called the bridge: “Hey,” he said, “can you shift the ship 15 degrees? Thanks.”
Students are great about sending our troops letters, and the troops love ’em. You can see why:
“Dear Soldier, If you’re having a rough day, remember the most important thing in life is to be yourself. Unless you can be Batman.”
“Dear Veterans, You rock more than AC/DC or Metallica or Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
“I am so happy you are risking your life for the USA! My grandpa Bob was in the Navy. Now he likes peanuts.”
Sometimes I think war is God’s way of teaching us geography.
Comedian Paul Rodriguez
My friend, an Air Force officer, was riding his scooter when he passed an airman who didn’t salute. My friend stopped, turned around, and glared at the airman.
“Thanks for coming back for me,” the airman said, jumping on the back of the scooter. “Airmen’s mess, sir.”
Savita Singh, Noida, India
I was working in Army security when a VIP from another base called to ask to whom he should address an important letter. Knowing my tough-to-spell last name would give him fits, I said, “Just put down Sergeant Gary, as my last name is too hard.”
The next day, I received a letter addressed to Sgt. Gary Toohard.
G. C., via mail
The Pentagon announced that its fight against ISIS will be called Operation Inherent Resolve. They came up with that name using Operation Random Thesaurus.
While on maneuvers in the Mojave Desert, our convoy got lost, forcing our lieutenant to radio for help.
“Are you near any landmarks that might help us locate you?” the base operator asked him.
“Yes,” said the lieutenant. “We are directly under the moon.”
Jesse Joe Wingo, Gaylord, Michigan
During that first roll call in the Army, I waited in dread as the sergeant got to my name: DiFeliciantonio. There was bound to be trouble, and I was right, because suddenly, he fell silent—eyebrows arched, brain overloaded. After a long pause, he thundered, “The alphabet?!”
John DiFeliciantonio, Ventnor City, New Jersey
When I spotted a Navy captain on the street, I saluted and bellowed, “LST 395,” which was the designation and number of the ship I served on during World War II.
The captain returned my salute and responded, “LMD 67.”
“What’s an LMD?” I asked.
“Large mahogany desk.”
Michael Ciavolino, Bel Air, Maryland
The only time you have too much fuel is when you’re on fire.
A military base commander called to complain that the weather-forecasting software our company created for them kept reporting unexplainable wind shifts.
“Do you know where the sensor is located?” my coworker asked.
“Of course,” he responded. “It’s where we park the helicopters.”
Angelo Giordano, Bellevue, Nebraska
My husband is infantry, and he said the most wonderful things to convince me to marry him:
• The closets could all be mine since he wears the same thing every day.
• I could have as many babies as I want because giving birth is free.
• He would never get on my nerves, because he would always be gone.
Mollie Gross (molliegross.com) is the author of Confessions of a Military Wife, published by Savas Beatie.
Humankind has a perfect record in aviation; we never left one up there.
We were an Air Force family, but our son could not grasp that fact. Anytime someone asked what his father did, he’d say, “He’s in the Army.” I told him umpteen times, “Stop telling people I’m in the Army!” It finally seemed to hit home because on the admittance form for kindergarten, under “father’s profession,” the teacher wrote, “He doesn’t know what his father does, but he’s not in the Army.”
R. Wayne Edwards, Somerville, Texas
“Never fly in the same cockpit with someone braver than you.”
“The only time you have too much fuel is when you’re on fire.”
“Weather forecasts are horoscopes with numbers.”
“Airspeed, altitude, and brains: Two are always needed to successfully complete the flight.”
I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth when my squad leader barged in. He was holding a toothbrush, which he proceeded to use to scrub underneath the rim of a toilet.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Hazing the new guy,” he said with a grin.
“You do know that he could get ill from the bacteria on the toilet.”
His reply was quick and to the point: “You didn’t.”
Jeffrey S. Carr, Jacksonville, North Carolina
It’s important that soldiers
learn from their mistakes; otherwise, they’re bound to repeat them at
inopportune moments. Here soldiers share what they’ve gleaned from
• “I was cold” is not a sufficient reason for being caught in the female barracks.
• Do not communicate with officers using only Madonna lyrics.
• Do not conduct live fire exercises at the general’s (unattended) jeep, even if it’s parked in an area clearly marked Live Fire Zone.
• Do not attempt to shave with fire.
• Do not use 27 packs of sticky notes to label everything in the barracks so the general won’t have any questions during the inspection.
I’m convinced my cockroaches have military training. I set out a roach bomb—they defused it.
—Comedian Jay London
A Military lab has developed a pizza that boasts a shelf life of three years without being frozen, and now the Week has asked its readers to name this durable dish. Here’s what they came up with:
•The Lasting Supper
•Pizza de Resistance
•Auld Lang Slice
•Grandpapa John’s Pizza
The flight attendant on our trip was handing out plastic pilot wings to some kids. As I stepped forward, she jokingly offered me one, but I passed. Pointing to the Airborne wings on my Army uniform, I explained, “The last time someone gave me wings, I had to jump out of the airplane.”
Col. David Jessop (Ret.), Rineyville, Kentucky
My husband’s cousin married a former Marine who now works for United Parcel Service. They bought their four-year-old son two stuffed bears — one in a UPS uniform and the other in Marine garb. When the boy seemed confused, his father brought out a picture of himself in full Marine dress. “See, Connor?” he explained, pointing to the photo and then to the bear. “That’s Daddy.”
Connor’s eyes went from one to the other, and then he asked in a puzzled voice, “You used to be a bear?”
Submitted by Robin Yedlock
The military may have invented the Internet, but not all government schemes have worked as well. In the ’60s, the CIA hatched a plan to implant a battery and a microphone in a cat so the furry feline could spy on unsuspecting targets. The program was halted when, after years of research and millions of dollars spent, the spy cat was run over by a cab.
We were marching to the chow hall when we spotted a pathetic- looking recruit standing at attention by a mailbox, a whole book of stamps plastered to his forehead. When our drill instructor demanded an explanation, the man bellowed, “This recruit has proved himself worthless and weak and is being mailed home to his mother!”
Mark Jones, Glendale, Arizona
When I enlisted in my teens, I took up smoking cigars to make myself look more mature.
Did it work? Well, one time, as I proudly puffed away at our NCO club, an older sergeant growled, “Hey, kid, your candy bar’s on fire.”
James Bushart, Cassville, Missouri
I was standing watch when an old, run-down freighter named Sagar Moti passed by. An officer asked if I knew what it meant.
“Ocean Pearl,” I answered.
He nodded. “It does look like it’s been fished out from the bottom of the sea.”
Sunder P. Shastry, Mumbai, India
In Top Gun, Tom Cruise’s call sign was the very apt Maverick. In real life, Air Force pilots’ handles are also often appropriate—but definitely not as cool. Like these:
Boomer: Accidentally broke sound barrier over a small town
SMAT: Small Man Always Talking
Dobber: The simplest tool in the F-16 (a switch in the cockpit)
A man walks into a barbershop and asks, “How much for a haircut?”
“Twelve dollars,” says the barber.
“And for a shave?”
“All right,” says the man, settling into the barber chair. “Shave my head.”
—Helen Russ, Medford, Oregon
The armed forces have a language all their own. Here’s our Military-to-English Dictionary:
Birth control glasses (BCGs): military-issued eyeglasses noted for their unappealing appearance.
Gone Elvis: missing in action.
Latrinegram: unfounded rumor.
Moo juice: milk.
Repeaters: beans and cabbage.
Self-loading cargo: passengers on a transport aircraft.
Stupid o’clock: ridiculously early in the morning.
Volun-told: an “optional” event that one is actually required to attend.
My father was transferred to a new Navy base when I was four, so my parents quizzed me about our address. After I recited it perfectly, the test continued.
“City?” they asked.
“Memphis,” I answered.
“ ’Tis of thee.”
Jennifer Kirksey, Freedom, California
Try to stay in the middle of the air.
Do not go near the edges of it.
The edges of the air can be recognized by the appearance of ground, buildings, sea, trees, and interstellar space.
It is much more difficult to fly there.
You’ve never been lost until you’ve been lost at Mach 3.
Paul F. Crickmore, test pilot
Headline from the Times Herald-Record (Newburgh, New York): West Point Cadets Train for Life in Iraq with Weekend in N.J.
As I headed into a liquor store, a colonel came out carrying two bags. I snapped to attention and saluted. The colonel responded in kind. The result: the soul-crunching sound of both bags crashing to the sidewalk. As liquor seeped into the gutter, he choked out, “Don’t ever salute me again!”
Chuck Munroe, Chesterfield, Missouri
Sign above the toilet in a women’s latrine at Camp Ripley in Minnesota: “If you are reading this sign while using this latrine, you are in the wrong one.”
Mike Lins, Savage, Minnesota
After leaving the Army, I applied for a hunting permit but was told I would first need to take a hunter’s safety course. “I’m a veteran, trained in handling firearms,” I said. “Why wouldn’t I get a waiver?”
The clerk replied, “Because we teach you not to shoot people.”
Fred Jarrett, Norfolk, New York
Few civilians know what a quartermaster does. So during my aircraft carrier’s Family Day, I demonstrated a procedure called semaphore—I grabbed my flags and signaled an imaginary ship. Then I asked a little girl, “Now do you know what I do?”
She said, “You’re a cheerleader.”
Combat rules soldiers should know:
• Never share a foxhole with
anyone braver than you.
• Never look important; the enemy may be low on ammo.
• Never draw fire; it irritates everyone around you.
• Never forget that your weapon is made by the lowest bidder.
When our ship stopped in the Atlantic Ocean for a “swim call,” the chief boatswain noticed how nervous I was. “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “You are never more than three miles from land.” Then he added, “Straight down.”
—Robert McPaul, Millsboro, Delaware
Our drill instructor was at the end of his rope: An airman’s ineptitude was driving him crazy. Getting in the airman’s face, he demanded, “Whoever told you to join the Air Force?!”
Snapping to attention, the airman proclaimed, “The Navy recruiter, Sir.”
—James Hetlinger, Webb City, Missouri
Visiting a new port is always exciting, and when our destroyer docked in Kiel, Germany, it was no different. In fact, one of my men was awestruck.
“Look, Chief,” he whispered excitedly. “They have Volkswagens over here too!”
During my time in the Navy, everyone was getting KP or guard duty except me. Not wanting to get in trouble, I asked the ensign why.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“That’s why. I can’t pronounce it, much less spell it.”
I didn’t enlist in the Army — I was drafted. So I wasn’t going to make life easy for anyone. During my physical, the doctor asked softly, "Can you read the letters on the wall?"
"What letters?" I answered slyly.
"Good," said the doctor. "You passed the hearing test."
There were tons of vending machines on base, and as the supply sergeant, I was responsible for all of them. So I pulled in a private and had him count the money. An hour later, he was finished.
“Good,” I said. “What’s the count?”
He replied, “I have 210 quarters, 180 dimes and 35 nickels.”
Few people know what a quartermaster does. So during my aircraft carrier’s Family Day, I demonstrated a procedure called semaphore—I grabbed my flags and signaled an imaginary boat.
When finished, I pointed to a little girl in front and asked, “Now do you know what I do?”
“Yes,” she said. “You’re a cheerleader.”
When my very pregnant niece, a sergeant in the New York Army National Guard, accidentally knocked over a glass of water, one of her soldiers volunteered to help clean it up. As he was mopping up the mess, an officer walked in.
"Private, what’s going on in here?" he asked.
To the officer’s horror, the private replied, "Sir, the sergeant’s water broke, and I’m helping her clean up."
Upon returning from a stint in Iraq, my sister insisted that the best part about being home was having real food again: "The Lunchables I had for breakfast was great!"
I’d been secretly dating for several months, and it was time to break the news to my very protective father. My mother thought he’d take it better if she explained to him that my boyfriend was a Marine who had just returned from Iraq. This pleased Dad immensely.
"A Marine? Good!" he said. "That means he can take orders."
I was in our local VA hospital when a clerk began scolding a veteran who’d lit up a cigarette in a no-smoking area. "Sir!" she barked. "When did you start smoking?"
The conversation came to a halt when he replied, "In Vietnam, right after that first bomb dropped."
After I spoke at a grade school assembly about veterans, a student asked, "Were you ever in a war?"
"Yes, two," I said. "World War II and Korea."
The girl’s follow-up question: "Which war did you like best?"
I was in Afghanistan speaking with a reporter as a soldier packed her things. The major came over and noticed some odd-looking pieces of cloth on her cot.
"What are you doing with all these eye patches?" he asked, lifting one up.
Taking it from him, she mumbled, "Um … this is my thong underwear."
Before he was deployed to Afghanistan, my brother Ken was lamenting over how many people seemed unaware of the conflict. I had to concede his point when I later mentioned to a neighbor that he was leaving for Afghanistan.
"Really?" he said. "For business or pleasure?"
My husband and I were watching Forrest Gump at the base theater. The crowd was pretty quiet throughout the film, until the scene when Forrest graduates from college and is met by an Army recruiter. That was met with a shout from behind us: "Run, Forrest, run!"
During World War II, selective service wasn’t always so selective. My nearsighted friend went before the draft board to explain just how poor his vision was. "If I lose my glasses, I won’t be able to see at all," he told them.
"Don’t you worry," replied the sergeant in charge. "When we attack, we’ll stick you in front of the battalion. You won’t miss a thing."
After visiting my son at his base, I complained to my brother-in-law: "Security there is so tight, you practically have to give up your firstborn to get in."
He replied, "You did."
As the soldier drove up to the Air Force base gate, my husband, who was on security detail at the time, had an inkling that the driver might have had a few. What gave him away? The guy thought he was at a tollbooth and handed my husband a dollar bill.
The chief and I were on our submarine trying in vain to hook up some fire hoses. The wrenches we had didn’t fit the connections, so he resorted to banging away at the hoses to make things fit. Just then an ensign walked by.
"Chief," he yelled out, "I have a book on tools you can borrow."
"Get it!" shouted the chief. "It’s got to be heavier than this wrench I’m using."
I served in a parachute regiment. During a nighttime exercise, I was seated next to a young officer. He was looking a bit pale, so I asked, "Scared, lieutenant?"
"No," he replied. "Apprehensive."
"What’s the difference?"
"That means I’m scared, but with a university education."
The day after the Haitian earthquake, I got a frantic call from my daughter in Florida. "What’s wrong?" I asked.
"Nate’s been called up by the National Guard. He’s going to Haiti," she said. Then came the tears: "I didn’t even know we were at war with Haiti!"
As a new paratrooper, I was struck by all the T-shirts on base emblazoned with the motto "Death from above!" Later I noticed a submariner with a T-shirt that declared "Death from below!"
Then, standing in line for chow one day, I was served by an Army cook. His T-shirt had a skull with a crossed fork and spoon underneath and yet another warning: "Death from within!"
My father was telling his young nephew about fighting in Vietnam.
"Are you a hero?" Jose asked.
"Nah," said Dad.
"Did you ever shoot anyone?"
"No. All I did was aim at ’em."
Pause … "Who’s Adam?"
A brother of a student of mine showed me a photo their father had sent from Iraq. In it, his dad is sitting atop a tank. On the back of the tank is this bumper sticker: "My son is an honor student at Clear Creek Elementary School."
Marines are known for storming the beaches, not for romance. I witnessed this firsthand at the base in Twentynine Palms, California. One of the enlisted men complimented the receptionist’s flowered jacket.
"It’s very pretty," he said shyly.
"Thank you," she replied coyly.
"Yeah," he went on. "It looks just like my mother’s sofa."
Like any mother, I worried when my son joined the Marines. But later on, when I asked him how things were going, he put my mind at ease.
"Let me put it this way, Mom," he said. "Living with you prepared me for boot camp."
When the Air Force deployed me overseas, my daughter’s friend asked her where I was headed.
"Guantánamo Bay," my daughter said.
"Oh, my God!" her friend shrieked. "What did he do?"
A letter I received from my son stationed in Baghdad:
Yesterday I was part of a security detail for Kid Rock, Kellie Pickler, and comedian Lewis Black. This morning, I had breakfast with the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders. War is hell.
My daughter and her husband, naval reservists, have an eight-year-old son. When one of his parochial school classmates told my daughter that Angus had said a bad word, she said, "He can’t help it. Both his parents are sailors."
An officer in my unit in Iraq was on the phone with his mom. She asked if there was anything he needed. Yes, he told her, lots of ChapStick.
There must have been something wrong with the connection. His mom sent him what she thought he asked for: 300 pairs of chopsticks.
While lopping branches off a tree in his yard, my warrant officer lacerated his leg with a chain saw, requiring a trip to the hospital and stitches. Our chief decided we should clean up the mess for him. On the office chalkboard were directions to his home, along with this clarification: "It’s the house with the limbs in the yard."
Soon after being transferred to a new duty station, my Marine husband called home one evening to tell me he would be late. "Dirty magazines were discovered in the platoon quarters," he said, "and the whole squad is being disciplined."
I launched into a tirade, arguing that Marines should not be penalized for something so trivial.
My husband interrupted. "Honey, when I said ‘dirty magazines,’ I meant the clips from their rifles hadn’t been cleaned."
I was charged by the Coast Guard to buy a house near Station Rockland in Maine to be converted into military housing. But after many delays on our part, the owners’ lawyer got antsy.
"I don’t like working with the government," the man said. "I’m not sure I’d even trust one of your checks."
"I wouldn’t worry," I replied. "Not only do we print our own checks, we also print the money to back them up."
All in the Family
When my husband was away at basic training, my four-year-old daughter and I stayed with my sister. Since my daughter already called me Mommy, she started calling her aunt Mom—the way her six-year-old cousin did.
One day, someone called. I picked up the extension and overheard the person ask my daughter if her daddy was home.
She said, “No, he’s in the Army.”
“Is your mom home?” he asked.
“Yes, but she’s asleep with Uncle Danny.
— Tonya Aleisawi
As a young officer on the USS Midway, I was enjoying shore leave in Marseille. One day, I was invited to a local club to play tennis with two young Frenchwomen and a Norwegian man, who spoke only the most rudimentary English. After the doubles match, the Norwegian and I changed back into our street clothes and waited for the women to rejoin us.
“You fly?” he said to me.
I told him I was a ship’s officer, not a naval aviator. After a pause to take in my response, he tried again.
“You fly,” he said slowly, “is open.”
— Jim E. Davis
After returning home from basic training, our friend’s son told us about some of the interesting people he’d met, including one guy nicknamed Airborne. “Do the guys call him Airborne because he wants to be a paratrooper?” his mother asked. “No, that’s not it,” said her son. “He got that name because on his first night, he fell out of the bunk.”
— Judy Reid
Justice for All
When I wear my Air Force uniform, strangers often come up to me to thank me for my service to the country.
Once I was in the parking lot of a county jail, waiting to take custody of a military inmate. A prisoner walked by, carrying a bag of garbage to the Dumpster, escorted by a corrections officer.
As he passed me, the inmate turned and—quite sincerely—said, “Thank you for my freedom!” before being taken back inside.
— Jeff Hood
Some sailors have a well-deserved reputation for concocting excuses to get out of work detail. Case in point: My husband’s fellow officer got a call from a sailor saying he was sick and there was no way he could leave the barracks.
“What’s wrong?” the lieutenant asked.
“I’m in a coma,” he responded.
— Hannah Thornton
Just after my father, who was a career Air Force NCO, passed away, all my brothers and sisters returned home to be with Mom. As we reminisced about my dad, we found ourselves floating from sorrow to laughter as we brought up fond memories of our nomadic military lifestyle. One morning we were discussing what music should be played at the funeral and several hymns were suggested. "But, Mom," my older sister said, "since Daddy was in the Air Force, shouldn’t we request the Air Force song?"
"No, dear," my mother said with a smile. "We are not playing a song with the words ‘Off we go into the wild blue yonder’ at your father’s funeral!"
Sixteen years is a long time. That’s how far the photo of my husband—looking slim and fit in his Marine Reserve uniform—goes back. Today, he’s about 100 pounds heavier, so it was understandable when my friend’s son asked who it was.
"That’s my father," my daughter told him.
Looking at my husband, then at the photo, he asked, "Your first father?"
As he reviewed pilot crash reports, my Air Force military science professor stumbled upon this understated entry: "After catastrophic engine failure, I landed long. As I had no power, the landing gear failed to deploy and no braking was available. I bounced over the stone wall at the end of the runway, struck the trailer of a truck while crossing the perimeter road, crashed through the guardrail, grazed a large pine tree, ran over a tractor parked in the adjacent field, and hit another tree. Then I lost control."
Marine Corps pilots and aircraft maintenance technicians have a special bond. So I was unfazed when a flyboy described a vexing problem.
"The radio," he said, "worked intermittently … but only sometimes."
Officer candidate school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, was tough. During an inspection, a fellow soldier received 30 demerits for a single penny found within his area. Ten demerits were for "valuables insecure," ten because the penny wasn’t shined, and ten because Abraham Lincoln needed a shave.
Distrustful of Army chefs’ culinary talents, my father quizzed the top cook at his base. How did he know when the food was ready to be served? Dad asked. "Easy," said the sergeant, glaring back.
"When it’s burning, it’s cooking. When it’s smoking, it’s done."
“Once in Virginia,” said a speaker who had received an introduction that promised more than he felt he could deliver, “I passed a small church displaying a large sign.
It read ‘Annual Strawberry Festival’ and, below in small letters, ‘On account of the Depression, prunes will be served.'”
The best advice I ever received came to me from my ensign when I was a Wave at boot camp. She told me, “To stay out of trouble, say ‘Yes, sir’ all day and ‘No, sir’ all night.”
A friend and I were hitchhiking, but no one would stop. “Maybe it’s our long hair,” I joked. With that, my friend scrawled on a piece of cardboard: “Going to the barber’s.” Within seconds we had our ride.
A male friend of mine, an engineer at an aircraft company, works for a woman supervisor. An active member of women’s lib groups, she often shows up at work wearing buttons featuring feminist slogans. One day, her latest button, “Adam was a rough draft,” proved too much for my friend. The next day, he showed up at work sporting his own button: “Eve was no prime rib.”
While I was shopping in a pharmacy, a couple of teenagers came in. They were dressed in leather, chains, and safety pins. The boy had blue and purple spiked hair and the girl’s hair was bright yellow. Suddenly the boy picked up a pair of sunglasses and tried them on. “What do you think?” he asked his girlfriend.
“Take them off!” she howled. “They make you look ridiculous.”
My brother Jim was hired by a government agency and assigned to a small office cubicle in a large area. At the end of his first day, he realized he had no idea how to get out. He wandered around, lost in the maze of cubicles and corridors. Just as panic began to set in, he came upon another employee in a cubicle. “How do you get out of here?” Jim asked.
The fellow smiled and said, “No cheese for you.”
I am five feet three inches tall and pleasingly plump. After I had a minor accident, my mother accompanied me to the emergency room. The triage nurse asked for my height and weight, and I blurted out, “Five-foot-eight and 125 pounds.”
“Sweetheart,” my mother gently chided, “this is not the Internet.”
Approaching a GI who had just arrived in South Vietnam, I asked him how long he expected to be here. "Well," he replied, "the sergeant told us we’d be here for 12 months and two Bob Hope specials or one Purple Heart, whichever comes first."
The trials and tribulations of our sons, daughters, parents, and friends in the military.
In a lecture to a group of Korean officers, Lieut. Gen. Bruce C. Clarke, at that time deputy commander of the Eighth Army in Korea, took two or three minutes to tell his favorite joke. His interpreter then quickly translated the joke, using only seven or eight words. Everyone immediately burst into hearty laughter. After the lecture General Clarke asked the interpreter how he had been able to retell such a relatively long joke so quickly.
"Well, sir," the Korean interpreter replied, "I didn’t think everyone would get the point, so I said, ‘The general has just told a joke. Everyone will please laugh.’"
The trials and tribulations of our sons, daughters, parents, and friends in the military.
During my Air Force basic training, I cracked the frames of my eyeglasses. After taping them, I applied for new frames. I didn’t get them, so I applied again at each base to which I was sent. After four years, and just before my discharge, I received nine sets of frames—all marked "Rush."
In honor of Memorial Day, the teacher I worked with read the Constitution to her third-grade class.
After reading “We the people,” she paused to ask the children what they thought that meant.
One boy raised his hand and asked, “Is that like ‘We da bomb?’ ”
Pointing to a pan of chicken wings and legs disguised in the classic mess-hall manner, a young airman asked the mess sergeant, "What’s for chow?"
"Air Force chicken," replied the sergeant. "You want wings or landing gear?"
After being at sea in the Persian Gulf for 90 straight days, I went to the squadron command master chief to complain. "Chief, I joined the Navy to see the world," I said, "but for the past three months all I’ve seen is water."
"Lieutenant," he replied, "three-quarters of the earth is covered with water, and the Navy has been showing you that. If you wanted to see the other quarter, you should have joined the Army."
Having helped prepare the annual budget for my unit of the Seventh Army Special Troops in Heidelberg, Germany, I took the report to the office of the adjutant, who signs all official papers. The adjutant was not in, but his assistant, a young lieutenant, was.
He gasped as I handed him the huge sheaf of charts, figures and explanations. "What am I supposed to do with this?" he asked.
"You have to sign it, sir."
"Thank goodness," he said, sighing with relief. "I thought I had to read it."
On a business trip, my father approached a security checkpoint at the airport. The National Guard shift was rotating, and a guard, in full uniform, was in line in front of him. As with everybody else, the soldier was ordered to go through the metal detector. Before doing so, he handed his M-16 rifle to security personnel along with other items such as handcuffs and a flashlight. Still the alarm sounded when he walked through. Further inspection revealed a Swiss army knife inside one of his pockets.
"Sorry, sir," security said to the soldier, "but this item is prohibited." Taking the knife away, the airport worker then handed him back the M-16.
The colonel who served as inspector general in our command paid particular attention to how personnel wore their uniforms. On one occasion he spotted a junior airman with a violation. "Airman," he bellowed, "what do you do when a shirt pocket is unbuttoned?"
The startled airman replied, "Button it, sir!"
The colonel looked him in the eye and said, "Well?"
At that, the airman nervously reached over and buttoned the colonel’s shirt pocket.
When I was an infantry platoon commander, my Marines trained regularly for nighttime reconnaissance patrol. As we moved along, each of us would whisper the name of any obstacle to the person behind so that no one would be surprised and utter a cry that would disclose our position.
During one exercise, the lead man in the formation occasionally turned around and whispered to me "Log" or "Rock," which I would pass along. Suddenly there was a crash ahead of me and, from several feet down, I heard a single whispered word—"Hole."
Serving as a Marine recruiter in western North Carolina, I found a young man who met all the requirements and was ready to enlist. I explained the importance of being truthful on the application, and he began filling out his paperwork. But when he got to the question "Do you own any foreign property or have any foreign financial interests?" he looked up at me with a worried expression. "Well," he confessed, "I do own a Toyota." We enlisted him the next day.
After joining the Navy, my husband underwent a physical. During the exam, it was discovered that, due to an abnormality, he couldn’t fully extend his arms above his head. Perplexed, the doctor conferred with another doctor.
"Let him pass," suggested the second doctor. "I don’t see any problems unless he has to surrender."
Notice seen on the bulletin board of a Florida air base: "The following enlisted men will pick up their Good Conduct medals in the supply room this afternoon. Failure to comply with this order will result in disciplinary action."
Spotted on T-shirts for sale in the Ponce de Leon Coast Guard Exchange:
"Support Your Local Coast Guard…Get Lost."
To mail a big package of cookies to my two Air Force sons, both of whom were serving in Saudi Arabia, I was required to attach a label describing the contents. I carefully marked the box "Cookies" and sent it off, but after a month my sons said they had yet to receive my package.
Suspicious, I baked another batch, only this time I labeled the contents "Health Food." Within a week my sons reported they had received the goodies.
Safety is job one in the Air Force. Overstating the obvious is job two, as I discovered when crawling into my military-issue sleeping bag. The label read: "In case of an emergency, unzip and exit through the top."
While standing watch in the Coast Guard station in Juneau, Alaska, I got a call from the Navy in the nearby city of Adak. They had lost contact with one of their planes, and they needed the Coast Guard to send an aircraft to go find it. I asked the man where the Navy aircraft had last been spotted so we would know where to search.
"I can’t tell you," the Navy man said. "That’s classified."
My brother and I arrived at boot camp together. On the first morning, our unit was dragged out of bed by our drill sergeant and made to assemble outside. "My name’s Sergeant Jackson," he snarled. "Is there anyone here who thinks he can whip me?"
My six-foot-three, 280-pound brother raised his hand and said, "Yes, sir, I do."
Our sergeant grabbed him by the arm and led him out in front of the group. "Men," he said, "this is my new assistant. Now, is there anyone here who thinks he can whip both of us?"
One of my jobs in the Army is to give service members and their families tours of the demilitarized zone in South Korea. Before taking people to a lookout point to view North Korea, we warn visitors to watch their heads climbing the stairs, as there is a low overhang. The tour guide, first to the top, gets to see how many people have not heeded his advice.
On one tour I watched almost an entire unit hit their heads one after another as they came up the stairs. Curious, I asked their commander what unit they were from.
"Military intelligence," he replied.
When my husband visited our son, Michael, at boot camp, he found him marching smartly with his unit. Michael’s father proudly approached the soldiers and began to snap photo after photo. Embarrassed and worried about getting into trouble, Michael looked straight ahead and didn’t change his expression.
Suddenly his drill sergeant barked, "Comito, give me 25 push-ups. And the next time your daddy wants your picture, you smile!"
My wife, Dolores, never quite got the hang of the 24-hour military clock. One day she called the orderly room and asked to speak with me. The person who answered told her to call me at the extension in the band rehearsal hall. "He can be reached at 4700, ma’am," the soldier advised.
With a sigh of exasperation, my wife responded, "And just what time is that?"
A Navy dentist’s license plate:
Going over our weekly training schedule one morning at our small Army garrison, we noticed that our annual trip to the rifle range had been canceled for the second time, but that our semi–annual physical-fitness test was still on as planned. "Does it bother anyone else," one soldier asked, "that the Army doesn’t seem concerned with how well we can shoot, yet is extremely interested in how fast we can run?"
During basic training, our drill sergeant asked for a show of hands of all Jewish personnel. Six of us tentatively raised our hands. Much to our relief, we were given the day off for Rosh Hashanah.
A few days later in anticipation of Yom Kippur, the drill sergeant again asked for all Jewish personnel to ID themselves. This time, every soldier raised his hand. "Only the personnel who were Jewish last week can be Jewish this week," declared the sergeant.
The topic of the day at Army Airborne School was what you should do if your parachute malfunctions. We had just gotten to the part about reserve parachutes when another student raised his hand.
"If the main parachute malfunctions," he asked, "how long do we have to deploy the reserve?"
Looking the trooper square in the face, the instructor replied, "The rest of your life."
"I feel sorry for this soldier," joked my husband as he handed me a flier he’d found in our mailbox. It read:
Black and white
Answers to Nate
Belongs to a soldier