July 13th, 1963
That was the day I was going to become an
adult. That was the day I was to leave childish, irresponsible,
carefree days behind. That was to be the first day like all days to
follow that I would become the committed, hard working, serious,
responsible man that my father always expected me to be.
That was the day I was to report for duty at Goodfellow Air Force
Base in San Angelo, Texas, as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States
Air Force. I actually arrived in San Angelo the day before, Friday,
but chose to spend the night in a local motel and enjoy my final day
of freedom and fun. I remember thinking, "This is it. My last day
of youth. Tomorrow I go to work and become an adult." And--I was
looking forward to it. I had been a child for 22 years. It was
time to be a grown-up!
Working adults go to work at 9:00 AM--even on Saturdays, but
hard working adults go to work at 8:00. So, 8:00 on the button
it was that I passed for the first time through the front gate of
Goodfellow Air Force Base. Shoes were shined, gig lines in order,
insignia measured and placed. A sharp Air Policeman's salute
greeted me with a welcoming: "Good Morning, Sir!" I returned both
and offered: "Lieutenant Drew reporting as ordered!" The Air
Policeman looked a bit puzzled at those words but suggested I
proceed to the Commanding Officer of the Day's Headquarters and
clearly spelled out the one turn directions. I found the building,
parked my brand new 1963 Impala, got out of the car, came to
attention as I thought a good 2nd Lieutenant should and began my
march towards the front entrance. I squared the corners, chin up
and in, entered the building, visually located the clearly apparent
office of the Officer of the Day, squared some more corners, came to
attention, clicked my heals and sharply saluted the sitting young
"SIR! Lieutenant Drew reporting as ordered, SIR!" The seated
young officer was bewildered, shook his head a couple of times,
expelled an audible smile and offered a very "casual" returned
salute. "Just arriving?" he quizzed. "Yes Sir!" "Ahh--there's no
need for you to call me "Sir." We are both 2nd Lieutenants. Well,
welcome to Goodfellow. What's your name?” "Robert Drew!" It was
at this point that I realized that I was still standing at stiff
attention--and feeling a little silly. "Bob Drew?" "Yes, Bob
Drew." And it was at this point that I realized that my shoulders
had slumped and my chin was back in place. “Do you play softball?"
I froze for a moment. I do believe that my mouth dropped open. Did
he just ask me if I play softball? I do play softball. I love to
play softball. I'm good at playing softball. I stuttered, "Sssoftball?"
"Yeah. You look like an athlete. If you like to play softball you
can play for us--the Officer's Club. We've got a good team. I'm
the Captain, Keith Pitchford. We're in second place right now.”
I had reported for my first duty in the United States Air Force
a mere one minute ago and the first thing the Air Force wanted to
know was if I could play softball. I was a bit dumb struck. Keith
(that's what he told me to call him--so I did) then proceeded to
gather information. "Where did you go to college?" "Ohio
Wesleyan." "D’ja play ball?" "Yeah." "What position?" "Third."
"We've got practice today at 4. Wanna come?" "Sure!" "Good. Now
let me give you a couple of minutes on life here at Goodfellow.
Until you get your clearance you'll be on "casual status." "Excuse
me?" "Clearance! You need a top secret crypto clearance in order
to attend school. School goes for 6 months. When you finish you'll
be assigned someplace overseas--probably a ‘remote’ site.”
"Remote?" "Yeah, "remote--meaning like remote Japan or remote
Pakistan or remote Alaska or remote Turkey---isolated, remote."
"Oh. And the "casual status?" "Oh, that means you don't have to do
anything until your clearance comes in--probably a month or so."
"Nothing? I won't have to do anything?" "Nope. Most guys waiting
for their clearance spend their time at the Officer's Club pool.
And playing softball. Ha ha." "Don't I have to inspect or march or
teach or file or assist or do anything?" "Nope. Just wait for your
clearance. That’s why they call it casual status"
Well, you all know that the military is famous for misnaming
duties and functions--but they nailed this one! Indeed they did!
"Casual status" meant exactly that---casual. And I was not on
"casual status" for one month--I was on "casual status" for nine
months!! For nine months I did not have a job. No one to report
to--no one reporting to me. No one to give me orders--no one to
give orders to. What did I do for 9 months? What would you do for
9 months? That's what I did for 9 months. I went to the pool
everyday. I played golf. I put on shows at the Officer's Club. I
had the lead in the San Angelo Civic Theater Company's production of
"Around the World in 80 Days." I was chief host of escorts for the
Miss Wool of America contest. And I took trips. Ah yes, trips. A
trip to San Antonio. A trip to Galveston. And a trip to "Cuidad
Acuna, Mexico!" Did any young man spend time at Goodfellow Air
Force Base without going to "Cuidad Acuna, Mexico?" It was almost
required. It was a rite of passage--a life expanding experience.
One could say a trip to Cuidad Acuna, Mexico, for a young man tanked
up on testosterone was a "cultural exchange"--a very intense
socially interactive experience with natives possessing a unique set
of cultural mores. So well do I remember my first trip "South of
the Border." I had heard the lurid stories of shows, sin and
senoritas and just wanted to see for myself. The trip was planned
for a Friday evening with me as the designated driver since I was
the only nondrinker in the group.
It was a quick 150 miles to the border of the Rio Grande
River. During the drive down I so anticipated my first view of what
I expected to be the majestic, expansive, flowing John Waynesque Rio
Grand River. And what did I get--a little dry rocky gulch with a
mere trickle of what looked like a recently consumed six pack of
Bud. It was only the first of my disappointments! On through
customs we went and then over a very questionable rickety wooden
bridge into Acuna, Mexico. We made a quick pass at the vendors’
souvenirs street but quickly headed for the End Zone--"Boystown."
It wasn't hard to find. Just follow your nose. Literally! The
place smelled like a sewer and there was good reason for that. It
was a sewer! Muddy streets (even though it hadn't rained for
months!), no electricity, and no plumbing--hence the mud! We
located a recommended "Night Club" and got good seating right by the
floor stage. A round of drinks was served and it was "Show Time!"
Well, the show showed what was to be showed--but my reaction was a
surprise of sadness. I just felt sorry for the "performers." What
a way to make a living. I wondered if anybody really cared about
them. We didn't stay long and I learned later that not many guys
do. The joy is in the anticipation--and very quickly thoughts rise
to going home. In fact, my most profound memory of my trip to Acuna
was on my trip home. As we crossed back over that same wooden
bridge, I noticed off to the right on the American river bank--a
large homemade hand painted sign that read, "Welcome Back to the
Good Old USA." Boy! Was I ever glad to be home! And whenever I
travel abroad and land back in America I think of that sign and how
wonderful it is to call America "home."
Comradeship is a large, important fun part of life. I made
lots of wonderful friends at Goodfellow who helped to create many
wonderful memories for me. My best friend was a guy named Jim "Jimbo"
Clapper. We were roommates for six months or so before he finished
school and was shipped out. I never had any intention of making the
Air Force my career but I always thought that perhaps he would. He
just looked good in his uniform. It befitted him. Well, it didn't
surprise me that "Jimbo" did indeed make the Air Force his career
and wound up retiring in 1995 as the Director of the Defense
Intelligence Agency and the senior uniformed intelligence officer in
the Department of Defense. And he wasn't a 2nd Lieutenant anymore.
He retired as a Lieutenant General--that's three stars!! I spoke
with him about two months ago for the first time in 40 years. For
the first fifteen seconds he was Lieutenant General Clapper, but
for the next twenty minutes he was "Jimbo."
I finally did get my clearance and managed to finish
Intelligence School. The final day of class we got our
assignments. I wondered what "remote" I would get--but I was
prepared for it. After all, I had spent nine months on "casual
status." It was pay back time—my turn to serve and suffer. When
they read "Lieutenant Robert Drew--6912th Security Squadron" I
didn't know where it was. Several of my classmates moaned and I
assumed it was the worst of the worst. I was quick to learn that it
was the best of the best! Good bye, San Angelo. In the next
newsletter . . . Hello, Berlin!