Maturation

 

I entered the Air Force's Officer Training School (OTS) in late 1964 after a short stint in basic training across the base on the recruit side. It was either go in immediately after college deferment ended as a basic recruit and wait for an OTS class opening, or off to the rice paddies with my low draft number.

 

My bunkmate at OTS was also from Chicago, and between us, we figured we could con our way through any officer cadet course. We pulled every stunt to get away with as much as we could, and it succeeded. The other guys in our flight envied us as we were such expert scam artists, and thus had it easier than any of the rest of these sweathogs. We had a tough-as-nails flight training officer (FTO) named Captain Johnson. But when he wasn't around, Dave and I just skated.

 

Then came the 4th week Officer Trainee Effectiveness Report (OTER). If one failed any 3 of 10 factors, you were sent to the "faculty board" for elimination consideration. I am in line waiting for my evaluation discussion with our FTO, and, as usual, just cocky as can be. It was difficult for me to even stand at Parade Rest outside his door, so laissez-faire was I.

 

And then he calls me in, I "report," and take my seat. He hands me my OTER to read; he has failed me in 7 of 10 factors; I am dumbstruck. "But why?" I ask as if I didn't know, still scamming. He replies, "Because, Mr Ehrlich, you are a bum. You have likely always BEEN a bum. You will likely always BE a bum. And it's going to give me the greatest pleasure to drop kick your ass through the OTS goalposts !!"

 

I just started crying. I mean wracking, wrenching crying. Uncontrolable crying. He gets up and leaves; I compose myself; he returns; I start crying again; and this goes on, his up and out and back, me stopping and starting again as soon as he re-enters his desk cubicle; and he finally asks, "Mr Ehrlich, When was the last time you cried?"

 

I told him... 12 years ago...when my father died, March 13,1952. I start sobbing again; the whole image of going back to Chicago a failure was just overwhelming me. At that moment, Captain Johnson slid before me a second OTER that had been pre-typed. He took the one that would have sent me sailing through the OTS uprights, scrunched it up, and threw it in the wastecan. "THIS...is your 4th week OTER, Mr Ehrlich...read it !!"

 

He only failed me in two factors, and had comments like "great potential if he can only stifle his Chicago ways." He was...giving me a chance...to be somebody other than a scam artist...to be...a man like my dad had always hoped I would become. For up to that very moment, I had never cracked a book, had wangled through high school and college, had gotten to where I was on gift of gab and general whalecrap.

 

I still have that OTER. In my last year of active duty some 22 years later, I looked up the now "Colonel" Johnson. We reminisced about that long ago day in his office. I had gone on to have a rather successful career and he knew of my achievements. He was proud of me, and I was so grateful to him for that "second chance."

 

As I approach having lived almost 30 years longer than my father was able to survive, I have seen what it takes for others to mature, and I have seen how easy it is for folks to take the line of least resistance and NEVER grow up. I know how my life took an amazing gee turn in the right direction 46 years ago this November. And I know my dad is proud of how things turned out :)

 

Saudi Arabia

 

I went there in 1979, originally as a Training Officer to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF). My role changed after General Donnelly had to get his Executive Officer out of the country, and I was selected to take his place. One of our Air Force missions was the training and upgrade of the RSAF weapon systems and particularly the F-5 Freedom Fighter aircraft.

 

 

One brutal, but typically, blisteringly hot day at Khamis Mushyat near the Yemen border, a young Saudi pilot was rolling on taxi toward the runway for launch. Of course, he had his canopy open until the last minute before takeoff due to that stifling heat. As he sat at the end of the taxiway, he closed his canopy and did his 45 on to the runway. Then it happened.

The pilot is shot through the closed canopy, and of course, falls to the ground smashed to death.

 

Arab culture is very big on face saving; one is taught this as part of cultural appreciation before being assigned to the Middle East. This was a face saving nightmare. NO WAY could that young pilot have hit his eject switch and catapulted through the rock-like canopy to his death. No, it had to be a mechanical malfunction; and Arab pilot could NEVER have made such a fatal blunder...or ANY blunder for that matter.

 

Of course, WE knew what had happened and why. The immediate on scene investigation team quickly determined what was so blatantly obvious. But nooooooo. THIS...was Saudi Arabia....THIS is where, if the oil stops flowing, you all would be pushing hand mowers to do your lawn. And so, the order goes from our government, to our Air Force, to Northrup Aviation...and every single F5 aircraft around the world was grounded for individual inspection.

 

Just exactly how massive was this? At that time, THE biggest aircraft foreign military sale was the F-5.  The US even used them in a two seat version called the T-38 Talon in our undergraduate pilot training. Thousands were produced, at least 20 countries purchased them, and every single plane had to be grounded and inspected....because one careless Saudi pilot shot himself through the cockpit of his aircraft and the Saudi's could not admit it !!

 

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