From Freshman to Flight Commander
Chapter 2 - "Casual Status"
(From the November 15, 2004 BIA Newsletter)

By Coach Bob Drew (64-67)

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 officer:

       "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!

© 2005, The Berlin Island Association

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