We sat and stared at each other, unblinking, knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder, shifting our blank looks occasionally to see who would fold first. Who was weak. Who would think this take-off was exciting.
A Master Sergeant looked up at the ceiling and held on, white-knuckled, to her cargo belt that crossed at her chest. One by one we noticed her desperate stare and smiled. The ice was broken. Someone found the plane ride terrifying.
The webbed straps we sat on shook as the aircraft shuddered and banked steeply. There's nothing like a few officers with a sense of humor, a couple steering columns and a plane load of military personnel to show off to.
Two hours and change later we did a sharp version of the opposite and landed, the same Sergeant just as nervous as before -- if not more -- looking longingly at the ceiling and gritting her teeth. Maybe just a little bit bleary-eyed too; it's not as if dozing off in such a setting could lend itself to any relief whatsoever, regardless of how exhausted one was.
We landed, unbuckled, and sat tight.
We weren't tasked (told) with dismounting the sky-cow yet.
Someone with some kind of authority boarded the stairwell quickly and yelled confidently.
"Listen up! You're here now. There are people all lined up waiting to greet you so you need to ensure you're at a 100% as of RIGHT NOW.
You will need your Airman's manual in your right pocket, not your left.
Your gas mask needs to have it's fit test in the pocket WHERE IT GOES.
Wear your helmet and flak jacket and earplugs at ALL TIMES while on the flightline.
Do you understand? You're here now. You're ours for the next five days and you'll be representing the Wing, so GET IT TOGETHER."
There was a pause as she allowed it all to sink in for a moment before saying simply:
"Now get off my plane."
Sergeant Enlightened Loud Voice disappeared just as quickly as she appeared entirely ignoring the flurry of activity that ensued.
Everyone's pulses raced at least just a little as our training flooded back and hearts pushed against the bulletproof vests that sat on our chests like sleeping german shepards.
None of us joined for the Form 55's, DNIF paperwork or computer-based training. We joined for the money, the war, the games, and it was game time.
Check your buddy.
Does anyone not have a buddy that's standing close enough to check?
Check them too.
It had begun.
That evening as the eighty people from my unit sat around in the fourth of six briefings trying to stay awake, we were handed a small pamphlet with Volk Field's insignia emblazoned loudly across the front.
I flipped to the middle page and read for the sake of occupying my starved mind.
Barely able to contain my laughter, I surreptitiously elbow-bumped Sgt. Mitchell who sat next to me.
"Look, look at this" I whispered. "Read that!"
Snorking audibly, Chris found the humor in it the moment he saw the center day of our schedule for the week.
0400-0630 - Breakfast
0700-1800 - War
1800-1930 - Dinner