22. September 2004 · Comments Off on School Busses and Scrambles and Owls, Oh My! · Categories: General

I loved the Public Affairs posting, at Mather AFB, where I went after more than four years in Japan, waiting for the man who would be my daughter’s father to catch up to me. He never did, and we broke up before she was born; I came back to the States late in 1980, thrilled no end to be away from a place where I had been deeply happy and then deeply unhappy. I moved into a grim little concrete-block bungalow in the housing area, and incredibly, a job where I worked during daylight hours! With other people! And work hours compatible with the Day-Care Center! I could interrelate with normal, well adjusted people! (And a posting which was merely a long-distance telephone call away from my parents, rather than an international call, and a mere day’s drive away, a distance of 600 miles.) It more than made up for having to walk the half-block between the PA office and the BX/Bank/Snack bar complex with your right hand permanently stapled to your right-eyebrow in salute, for Mather AFB crawled, simply crawled with 2nd Lieutenants, shoals and drifting bands and formations of them, callow youths every one, and it would take eight of them to equal my time-in-service. They were at Mather to be trained as navigators, a year-long course.

I was assigned to what they called ComRel, or Community Relations, which consisted of myself and a relatively young lieutenant, plus whatever casual labor was assigned from an available pool. The Media Relations section— a captain and a wise and wily DOD civilian dealt with the local press. Internal Relations—another lieutenant, a senior NCO and a couple of juniors, plus a DOD civilian who had been working at Mather since WWII, dedicated themselves to the production of the base newspaper, “Wing-Tips”. We were all under the command of a Major, (subsequently promoted to Lt-Colonel) who was absolutely one of the three best commanders I ever worked for, being the ATC’s go-to guy for sorting out problem detachments. He had been the Supply Squadron Commander, and would be commander of the first Family Resource Center in ATC, in spite of having absolutely no experience in supply systems, Public Affairs and in social work—but he was a genius at organizing those who were.

What the ComRel job involved for me mostly involved going down to the front gate three or four days a week and meeting a school bus. A school bus which would be full of kids, any age from pre-school, thorough high school, and even sometimes an astronomy class from UC-Davis. The Air Force trained navigators at Mather AFB, and one of the necessary facilities was a small planetarium. This planetarium was about the only one for several hundred miles in every direction, and as such was listed, along with the bases’ little museum as an “Approved Educational (and Free!) Destination for School Field Trips” in the teachers’ handbook for the greater Sacramento metro area. An hour at the planetarium, a brisk walk around the corner to the museum, and cross the street to the base picnic ground for lunch, and there was three hours of an academic day taken care of.

Other options included the maintenance hanger, the working dogs and the navigator training facility, but those had to be specially arranged with the units involved, their mission permitting, and made the tour much longer. Volunteer instructors from the Nav School had a 45 minute presentation at the Planetarium, and a very jolly Major who often amused students by demonstrating his skills on a unicycle, ran the museum.

But it would be my job to meet the students at the gate— being the very parfait gentil sergeant and representative of the Air Force— shepherd them to the various locations, take them to the picnic ground, and at last, to see them out the gate again, without loosing any of them, and hopefully without any of them hurting themselves or damaging government property. I could have used the services of a couple of well-trained sheep-herding dogs, but more usually had the assistance of a casual, drawn from the pool of 2nd Lieutenants who were either waiting for their course to begin, had graduated and were awaiting further assignment, or those who had flunked out and were sadly, facing discharge. Unless they were AF Academy grads, or had majored in something useful like engineering, the Air Force had no real use for them, otherwise.

We usually had an idea of how many students, and from which school, since the tours were booked and organized in advance, and timed out to the five-minute increment— which made establishing and keeping control from the minute the bus pulled into the Visitor Center Parking lot, and the door whooshed open for us.

One of those interesting life skills— standing up at the front of the moving bus, talking into the PA mike; the trick being to space your feet far apart and keep one elbow looped around whatever stanchion there is, behind the driver’s seat, or in front of the first seats— while I launched into my introductory lecture:
“Good Morning, welcome to Mather Air Force Base! I’m Sgt. Hayes, and this is Lieutenant_____, we’ll be escorting your tour today. I need to make a couple of things clear, first. This is a working military base… it is not your school, it is not a playground, and it is not a nursery. We are happy to show you around, and to answer your questions, but we need to make sure that everyone stays with the group. There is a lot to see and do here, but here are things which we ask you not to touch, and there are things which you may not climb up on, and there are places where you may not go. If I see anyone doing anything we have asked you not to do, first we shall speak to your teacher. If we see it happening a second time, the tour will be ended right there. Everyone clear on that? Good.”

The casual Lieutenants used to tease me about my initial lecture— comparisons were drawn to Hitler and Napoleon— but I never, ever had to call off a tour. And I never lost a kid from one of them, either.
(To be continued)

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