Military Service, Random Musings, Veteran, Well being

Memories: Part 3 – The wide-open plains

March 5, 2022

Part 3 – The wide-open plains

After the hurried process of leaving Denver, I was then on my way to Rantoul, Illinois and assigned to the now decommissioned training school called Chanute AFB. I was going into the Weather career field. At that time, I had no idea what that even meant. I was excited because it was near Chicago, and I had always wanted to visit there. I never got a chance and still have not seen Chicago. That was my third flight on a plane.

Once again, I was off to another shaky start upon arriving at my new duty base. I did not know which shuttle van to get on at the airport. A person approached me then just started loading up my luggage and away we went. I arrived at my new dormitory and the taxi driver expected to be paid. I had less than twenty dollars on me and a student leader paid for the cab. I was supposed to take the no cost base shuttle but was pointed to the wrong waiting area by a worker at the airport.

I got to my new room and changed into my civilian clothes. I was going to go look around the base before settling in. After, I arrived back at the dormitory, my roommate was perplexed why I was in civilian clothes. I was unsure of what she meant. I went off to take a shower then head off to sleep.

It was a Friday evening when I arrived, and the students were off base for the weekend. My roommate and her friend left to go bowling on base. I spent that first weekend in the dayroom watching movies or television with others. Then I wandered some more around the base.

That early Monday morning is when I found out why so many people had questioned me over that weekend.

A student leader assigned to my bay started yelling at me when I left my room to go to the shared restroom at the end of the hallway. She kept asking “What are you doing and why are you wearing those clothes?” I had on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and flip flops.

She pulled out a packet of forms and told me to sign one, I was being written up. I laughed and asked her if she was joking? No, she was not.

I was told to change into my uniform and then marched to the Charge of Quarters area. I stood there at attention outside of the door to wait for the student advisor. I felt so embarrassed, people were walking by, pointing, and whispering. I had no idea what was going on.

The student advisor had me stand at attention in front of his desk while he looked over my paperwork. Then he began to chuckle and told me to stand at ease.

He asked, “Airman Johnson, when did you begin basic training and graduate?” I told him May 5th and graduated July 13th. He realized that the reason the student leader got upset was because I did not know that I was in Phase 2 of technical training.

When I began Air Force technical training, we went through distinct phases. Each phase allowed us a little bit more freedom each time. This was to acclimate us out of the basic training mode of thinking and into active duty.

Phase 1 was strict. There was a curfew, wear of military uniforms always, marching in groups to and from school or while on base, and restricted to the base. We could not go to the recreational areas on base.

Phase 2 was military uniforms during class time, marching only to and from school, PT uniforms after duty hours, and still restricted to base but we could go to the recreational areas.

Phase 3 was military uniform while in school, marching only to and from school, civilian clothes allowed after duty hours, we could go off base but still had a curfew on the weekends.

Then Phase 4 was the final one after being in the military for 6 months or more. Phase 4 was uniforms while on duty, civilian clothes after duty hours, no curfews, no restrictions, and no marching to school.

I had just begun phase four when I left Lowry, AFB and thought it would be the same upon arriving at Chanute, AFB. I was never told by the student leaders that I met upon arrival that I was in Phase 2. There I was, walking all over the place, doing whatever I wanted. No wonder so many people thought I was weird.

The resident advisor tore up the form the student leader had me sign. Told me that I would only be in Phase 2 for two weeks then go back to Phase 4 because I had already earned it. The student leader got so upset and mad at me.

The student leader then put me on her hit list every day after that. Anytime they needed someone to do what they called “Buff and Shine” or “Weeds and Seeds,” she put me on it. The duties were mowing the grass, pulling weeds, and picking up trash. Sweeping, mopping, and then buffing the floors around the building.

I spent time doing overnight Charge of Quarters duty over that first few weeks. My orders were incorrect when I arrived, and my class start date was three weeks later. I got to know the student leaders well and the new friends that I made would come by and hang out with me.

Pereda and Petersen – Chanute 1991
Corthell and Big Al Urbina – Chanute 1991

Everything was okay until that last week of CQ duty. The airman I was working with thought that we were becoming a couple. He tried to assault me when I was doing laundry that morning after my shift.

That night before, his friend was hanging around and asking questions about me. Then the airman on duty pulled out a camera from his bag and started taking pictures of everything, including me. It made me uncomfortable, and I told him to stop. He did and then his friend took the camera with him.

I was finishing up my laundry when he came into the laundry room. He started talking about sending the pictures to his mom, so she could see his new girlfriend. Then he grabbed me, tried to kiss me, and put my hand on the front of his uniform pants. I got scared and had an instant knee jerk reaction. I punched him in the face then pushed him down. He got so angry, stood up, and took a step forward towards me but then another airman walked in to do laundry. He left. I grabbed my things and quickly went back to my room.

I did not know what to do and did not report him. That evening there was a different person on duty with me. He said he had traded shifts with the other airman. I only saw the other airman a couple of times afterwards, his school date started, and he was on overnights from that point forward. I never talked to him again.

Then about a month later, I started dating the dorm chief after meeting him at a party. He was the person in charge of the student leaders, like the overall boss. He immediately had my name removed from the yellow rope who did not like me. I was put under another new female student leader for any issues or questions.

Technically, phase four students were untouchable, we just had to show up to class every day until graduation, and we were not normally assigned additional duties. I just kept doing them to try and make peace between us.

I had to tell him about what happened on the CQ duty. The airman in question was saying nasty things about me and the dorm chief had overheard it. They were in the same technical training program. The airman did not know I was dating the dorm chief. He had the student leader he was assigned to, talk to him, and they got back the pictures that he had taken of me and the negatives. I did not have any more problems with that airman or his friends after that.

The student leader I had the run in with just ignored me. Then she started taking it out on my roommate who was still not into Phase 4 yet. My roommate complained to the student advisor about her treatment, and he left it to the student leader council made up of red ropes and the chief to decide what to do. The student leader in question had other complaints filed against her as well.

The student leaders were called “Ropes” because of the braided ropes they wore on the uniform epaulets. It was a leadership duty. To become a student leader, they had to be at the top of their class, no write ups, or failed inspections, and passing physical fitness requirements. There were three colors, green (team leaders), yellow (supervisors), red (managers), and then the dorm chief (Boss). There was no additional duty pay or incentives by being a student leader, it was more of an honor to be chosen.

I talked to my new student leader friends about the situation with my roommate. I told them that I thought the yellow rope was trying to assert her leadership role. It did not seem like she understood the difference between “leading” versus “bullying” people.

They came to an agreement and bumped her back down to green to retrain her. They did not take her leadership responsibility away. She eventually got her yellow rope back just before I graduated. Then she made red rope the day I was flying out. She never talked to me one on one and the animosity between us was never resolved. I thought about her often after that and had hoped she continued pushing forward toward her goals. I had found out she was a single mom just trying to support herself and her baby. She was tough and I admired her for that.

Once I started the training, time just flew by. They kept us busy every day and the material we learned was challenging. I was training to be a weather observer.

The weather observer position at that time consisted of performing a short observation of the states of sky (cloud formations), wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity, radar observation, and any other anomalies that were occurring such as fog, smoke, rain, thunder, or lightning.

These observations were documented and then disseminated worldwide. I always thought that was cool. My work is on a form somewhere and under the National Archives, forever. I had a few observations put out that had other observers from other countries calling me to ask questions about them.

The part I like the most was plotting maps. When I started at as an observer, there were no computer programs or simulations. All map plotting and analysis was done by hand. The observers were an integral part of that. The information we created the maps from was like reading a sort of code. We had to decipher it and plot the information on these huge maps.

The weather school hosted all military branches. We had Marines, Navy, and Army students in our classes. We all just became this one huge group of friends and spent time together after classes studying and, on the weekends, hanging out.

Howard, Gammon, Pelletier, and me – Chanute 1991
Dyer and me – Chanute 1991
Corthell – Chanute 1991

The relationship between myself and the dorm chief was going well. He was older than me, at that time I was still only 19 years old, and he was about 25 years old. He introduced me to Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and AC/DC. 

Werner – Chanute 1991

My friends were older than me. I was normally the youngest one when we would go out dancing or drinking on the weekends. They liked me because I was a no-nonsense person and did not like drama. I had a temper though and had to watch my drinking because sometimes I would get angry or into fights.

The place we went to on the weekends were filled with college students who did not like the military personnel being there. There was always someone trying to challenge others into fighting. We tried to just stay to our groups and had parties at a local hotel if we were not out dancing.

I made it through the technical school and graduated. I found out where my next duty assignment was and prepared to go. The relationship ended the day I left, we both knew that it was not serious, plus I was still young and not ready for a long-distance relationship.

Darling, Venuti, Tucillo “Chili”, and me – Chanute 1991 – Graduation day!

Again, it was time for me to say goodbye to another group of friends and my second ever relationship.

I was now heading off to the east coast and another new adventure.

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Have a great week!

Peace, love, happiness, and good vibes, always!

Suzanne