Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Summer Leadership School, Days 0, 1, 2, 3!

This week is the AFJROTC SLS summer camp (that's a mouthful and a half), and I volunteered to be a cadre. There are ten flights, with fourteen cadets in each one. They come from twenty or so school across six states - - Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Alabama, and Mississippi. They mix 'em all up into these flights and hand 'em over to us cadres for the week.

It started Sunday afternoon at the base theatre, where the camp commandant and one of the JROTC instructors went over the rules, the responsibilities of the cadres, and the schedule for the week. Then we headed out to meet our flights.

I was assigned to "C" (Charlie) flight, and given a gray shirt (each flight has its own color). After explaining the rules to them and practicing some drill, we took them into the bowling alley for bowling and pizza. As you know, I have a preference for using aliases as opposed to real names, so I'm going to refer to my fellow cadres by the nicknames provided by our sweet, darling cadets:

Bumblee - - the lead cadre, a captain in the reserves and a nurse.
Lt Bubbly - - the commandant's son, another reservist and a medic.
TSgt P - - I can't recall his nickname. He is forces support and usually joins us after dinner.
Sweet Trouble - - a gung-ho military cop. According to the gossip, all the girls are sweet on him.
A1C K - - I can't recall his nickname either. He's civil engineering.
Little Devil/La Diabla - - yours truly.

Now, allow me to introduce you to my cadets, who received their nicknames on Day 0 (Sunday):

Aly Pom-Pom - - drives a bright yellow 40th anniversary Corvette!!!!
Jream - - sassy little thing.
Mario - - a tomboy.
Shar - -  we call her Kardashian too, 'cause she looks like Kim Kardashian. She's a chatterbox.
Karma - - a little on the quieter side, but pair her up with Shar, and you've got the Kardashian Twins.
Ginger - - a redhead, and possibly the most mature girl of the bunch.
Smores - - so named 'cause it's sounds similar to her surname. Very quiet, but smiles a lot.
Sausage - - this is her nickname at her high school; I have no idea why. She's also very quiet, but kinda stands off to the side too. I'm gonna have to fix that.
Wisconsin Cheese - - obviously, he's from Wisconsin.
Tennis - - seems to be the most mature boy. All the girls are crushing him, too.
Brains - - a little on the nerdy side, but a good kid.
Brett Favre - - a local kid who knows all the PA guys that Fiance used to party with, haha. Also, a huge Greenbay fan; he has a tattoo on his back!
Banana Shorts - - he was wearing banana shorts when we met him! He likes to get smart with me, but all I gotta do is look at him and shuts his trap.
Mad Skillz - - probably the sharpest kid we have. He'll be our drill master for the drill competition.

I'm in love with these kids. They make me laugh, and they're such great kids. We all love the heck outta them. Sweet Trouble def has a soft spot for Brains, and I've def got one for Aly Pom-Pom and Mario. They're so happy to see us each day, and disappointed if we have to take off early.

On Monday morning, our flight almost got in trouble right off the bat because everyone was outside formed up before 5:30 AM, but only a couple from Charlie flight were out. But it wasn't their fault; as the captain (Bumblebee) understood it (this is her fifteenth year doing this; she's a former cadet herself), the cadets were not allowed out of their rooms BEFORE 5:30. So fortunately no one bothered them about it.

They did PT, and then went for breakfast. We made sure our flight sat down basic training style: stand at parade rest behind your chair until the table is filled, then the last person calls them to attention and directs them to sit. Then they went and changed, and we headed to the YMCA camp for some team building.

Our Y instructor was great, and he was especially charmed by our kids. He's been doing the team building for the JROTC for several years, and he said this was the best group yet. They never fought; they came together and worked through every problem the counselor presented to them. We did a little hiking through the woods, and we made sure they marched everywhere they went, calling jodies (marching chants). We at lunch, and while doing so Jream snuck off and stole the guidon from F flight!

Each flight has a guidon (unit flag on a stick) to match their color. There's a game they play while they're here that's kinda like capture the flag. The the dining facility on base, the PT area, the cadres, and the bus (we learned later) are safe zones: they guidons cannot be stolen. They also cannot be stolen as long as the guidon bearer has their hand on it. But if it's just resting between their arms, it's fair game. At the end of the day the guidon must be returned, but not before the losing flight does something silly (with the thief) to earn it back. (I didn't catch what they did that night; I had class).

We went and did a few more activities, and then we went canoeing. The counselors let the cadres take kayaks out. TSgt P and A1C K weren't there for the camp, but the rest of us def took advantage of the kayaks, and got soaked by splashing paddles for our efforts. Because of this, I left early so I could shower and change before class. After class, I swung by the parking lot in from of billeting just to say hello before heading home.

Tuesday was an opportunity for cadres to run errands or take a much-needed nap; I was the only one for our flight who didn't. We were there for PT and breakfast, and then their room and uniform inspections (they looked so spiffy in their blues!). But after that it was career day for them, and they were with their instructors visiting a work center on base. I went with the group that went to my reserve wing to take tours of the C-9 and C-40; I've been in the C-9, but not the C-40. The C-9 is an oooold plane. Brains and Mad Skillz were in this group. We went to the hangar, and my boss, the PA officer, was there to take photos. My wing commander came out to explain our mission, and then he handed the group over to the pilots, crew chiefs, and flight attendants to tour the aircraft.

For lunch I just sat off by myself since the flights were all jumbled up, but Brett Favre joined me, and I answered his questions about the Air Force. After lunch they changed out of their blues and the flights re-formed to march over to the Airman Leadership School; A1C K and Sweet Trouble joined us then. When I heard they would receive a briefing on mental wellness, I exclaimed in horror, "But they're too young for Powerpoint!" (Ha ha.) Then they marched over to the honor guard building across the street. The honor guard members explained their congressional mandate, and then gave a demonstration of military funeral honors for retirees.

Now, lemme backtrack to tell you how we learned the buses were safe zones. Aly Pom-Pom noticed the flag for D flight was out of the guidon bearer's hand, so she reached over and grabbed it. They guidon bearer, a girl, proceeded to tell my girl, "Give me back my guidon, or I'm gonna punch you in the face." I was LIVID when I heard about it, but I calmed down after a bit. The Delta cadres weren't around, and didn't show up again until we went to play sports after dinner. When I noticed this, I let their flight commander (a cadet) know that if they needed anything, to feel free to come to me. Their flight commander was, in my opinion, a more shining example of what a cadet should be. She thanked me several times throughout the afternoon for keeping an eye on them, and I let their cadre know that.

I told my fellow cadres, and a couple of other cadres, about what happened. So by the time I did speak to the Delta cadre, he told me in surprise, "I heard about what happened, but I didn't realize it was my flight." He had his guidon bearer come over and apologize to Aly Pom-Pom.

Poor Aly Pom-Pom rolled her ankle right before sports, and either had to lean on us to get around or catch a ride with an instructor. Our kids had a blast at sports, winning every game minus one (but we refuse to acknowledge the loss).

All day yesterday, I was wearing skinny jeans with an old pair of black combat boots, pink belt sprinkled with skulls, my big skull-and-crossbones watch, and aviators. Jream asked me with a straight face, "Are you a rockstar?"

I didn't join them for PT this morning; I got some much-needed sleep and caught a few minutes of quality time with Fiance. I went out to join them for their security forces (cops) activities later in the morning, starting at the K9 facility, where they were getting a demonstration. The cadets all laughed at the sight of a cop (in a body suit) getting chewed up. I said to my cadets, "I'm glad you guys find human suffering hilarious." Suddenly the cop who was narrating the demonstration asks, "Charlie flight, do you guys wanna see [Sweet Trouble] get [chewed up]?" Their response was a very enthusiastic, "YES SIR." He put on the body suit, and ran away from the dog, who picked up speed, leapt into the air, latched onto his arm, spun him around, and slammed him into the ground. It. Was. EPIC.

But they had done it too quickly for Bumblee to snap a photo for the kids, so they did it AGAIN. I caught it on video! (Please lower the volume and excuse my obnoxious laughter.)

From there they went to the main SF building, where they learned up weapons, checked out a police cruiser, climbed into a humvee, got a tour of the holding cells, and got a CSI lesson. Then it was lunchtime out at the base lake, where they enjoyed their delicious MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) while I choked down a crummy O'Charley's sandwich. (Haha, I got some dirty looks.)

When they were done they went out into the field for a mini obstacle course (which was strangely free of any obstacles). They put some camo-makeup on their faces, and then attacked us cadres to put the makeup on us. A cop, Sgt B, told them what they were gonna do, and then had Sweet Trouble and another cop demonstrate: they ran out halfway to Sgt B, dropped onto the ground and rolled in one direction, got back and up and ran the rest of the way to Sgt B, and rolled in the opposite direction. Then they turned around and high-crawled back: dragging oneself using elbows and knees without lifting the body off the ground. Finally they low-crawled back to Sgt B: one's face is pressed to the ground, with one hand reach forward to grab the earth and pull forward, and the other hand pushing.

But this demonstration was not enough, apparently. I found myself being singled out, along with the cadres from Alpha, Bravo, Delta, and Echo. (The other five flights were at another activity.) Suddenly we were being told that we were doing it next! He told us to go, and I thought I was gonna die. I made it through the run and high-crawl okay, but I was STRUGGLING with the low-crawl. Suddenly I look to my right and there's Wisconsin Cheese yelling, "You can do it, ma'am!" Then there's another cadet to my left, and suddenly all the cadets are there, either low-crawling with me or cheering me on. I cannot adequately describe the pride I felt for my kids at that moment.

Finally it was their turn, and anytime one of them was struggling, the rest were out there to do it with them or cheer them on. They were definitely leading by example for the other flights. Tennis was hardcore; he busted his nose on the first dive, but kept on going! (No break, fortunately.) After they all went through, Sweet Trouble did it one more time with another cop, and when he got to the low crawl all the cadets ran out to him to either crawl with him or encourage him. Aly Pom-Pom waited at the end and held her hand out to him. They all started clapping and chanting, "Sweet Trou-ble, Sweet Trou-ble!" When he finished, they went crazy. I was wicked proud of them.

Poor Aly had put a little too much strain on her ankle and was limping along with Ginger, who had injured her heel earlier in the day. But then she got sick with heat exhaustion, and while others might have teased them and called them cripples, I called them Wounded Warriors. While she stood off to the side waiting for her stomach to settle, A1C K wrangled some gossip out of her. Apparently there's competition between a couple of girls for the affections of Tennis. And this is when it came out that not only are the girls crazy about Sweet Trouble, but they all like Lt Bubbly too! Naturally I snuck off to tell Trouble, and he just shook his head and said, "Tomorrow we gotta come dressed like Brains, with our pants up to our nipples. Then they'll all think he's cool!"

I went home to shower and change, and then met back up with my flight for dinner. I went with them back to billeting, and while they were grabbing their gear for sports, Sweet Trouble and I went to grab some BK. We were in the parking lot when suddenly he exclaimed, "Did that just happen?!" I looked over to see two of our guys running back into the building with F flight's flag! They'd snagged it again! I grabbed my chicken fries and ran off to investigate, even though I was cutting it short to get to class. That's when I got grabbed by a couple of Delta flight cadets, who had a sick flight mate. Unfortunately, with Bumblebee and Lt Bubbly absent at the moment, there wasn't much I could do except direct them to give the girl's room information to Sweet Trouble. Then Aly Pom-Pom puked again, and without Bumblebee or any instructors around to give me direction, I made the call for them to stay in Ginger's room during the sports, and dashed off to class.

I quickly gave a presentation with two other guys on antisocial personality disorder, and then ran off again just in time to catch the flights as they were marching off to the sports field. I learned that Aly and Ginger were getting a ride over; if they'd stayed in my room as I'd directed, the flight and us cadres would have gotten into serious trouble, apparently. When we got the field, they took the guidons, and I had them sit on a bench while everyone else played ultimate frisbee or softball. (We won all the games, by the way.)

Ginger was given ice for both of her heels, because the good one had started to swell from putting so much weight on it, and Aly was given something to settle her stomach. Hopefully they should both be good for tomorrow; by the time we left the field, they were walking again with minimal discomfort.

When sports were done, the flights formed up, and it was time for F flight to earn their guidon back. Let me tell you about the chants, first.

There's a couple of chants these cadets holler. If a plane flies overhead (which happens frequently, this being an air base and all), someone will yell, "What's that sound?" The cadets then respond, "The sound of freedom, sir/ma'am!" If a flight is asked, "Are you motivated?", they are to respond (let's pretend a guy asked), "Sir, yes sir! Motivated, motivated, downright motivated! Ooh, ah, I wanna lead somebody! Ahhhh SIR!"

With that in mind, Brett Favre, the guidon thief, approached F flight for their humiliation. He proceeded to lead them all in a single-file line, running around all ten flights in one large cirlcle, their arms out making airplane noises. Another flight jumped the gun on us with the "What's that sound?", but Smores, our flight commander for the day, quickly faced the flight and asked, "Charlie flight, what's that sound?" Their clever response was, "The sound of losing their guidon, ma'am!" I made sure they repeated that several times, and fortunately one of F flight's cadre caught it on video for us.

They marched back to billetting, and that was where I bid them a good night before heading home to write all this. I left them at 8:50 PM; it is now 11:01. Holy crap, time for bed!

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