I was a Flight Chief as a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force.
It was 1983 at Laughlin AFB, Texas. I was working in Whiskey Flight in the T-38 Branch when Chief Melton called me to his office. When I got there, my neighbor and friend Alan Jones was already there. The Chief got right down to business.
“This base has been base has been homesteaded with controlled five-year tour since I can remember. AFMPC has caught up with us and PCS’d all my Master Sergeants except three. Two will be the Branch Chiefs and one will stay in Delta flight and retire. I’ve got to come up with eight Flight Chiefs, three in the T-37’s and five in the T-38’s. All my Technical Sergeants will be Flight Chiefs and I’m two short. That’s why I called you two to see me. You’re the best Staff Sergeants I’ve got. I know this sucks on ice, but I want you to be Flight Chiefs. I will help you as much as possible and my door will always be open to you. Will you volunteer for this?”
Al and I looked at each other. We both said “Yes” at the same time. Al got Yankee Flight and I got Whiskery Flight.
Let me back track a little and tell you how I got there. I was working Aero-Repair on F-4’s at Kunsan AB, Korea. I met my replacement on the way out. To make it even weirder, I was replacing at Laughlin AFB, Texas. Specifically, Whiskey Flight. He said I’d love it. “Whiskey is where they put everyone on appellant leave, awaiting court martial or under investigation. You’ll LOVE IT!”
With that info under my hat, I reported for my first day. I grabbed a chair and sat next to the Flight Chief desk. It was literally a crew chief shack, about 20 by 40 feet. The airmen were at the other end and were playing grab ass and horsing around and smoking.
Seven o’clock came and went with no roll call, no Flight Chief. When I asked the room where he was I was told he was “Always fucking late”. Through the window, I could see the other flights forming up shoulder to shoulder for the morning FOD walk to the taxiway and back. A morning ritual that has every little rock and screw picked up before it can damage a jet engine. When they got to the far end, I started looking for someone in our flight.
I spotted a Senior Airman, three stripes. When he turned I saw his name.
“What are we supposed to be doing?”
“I guess we should be doing the FOD walk.”
“Well why don’t you take the guys out and do the FOD walk?”
It was suddenly quiet. Everyone looking at me. Then more than a few starts to come at me and they weren’t going to talk. Michelson was in the middle.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “Does anyone know this guy?”
I pointed at the roster board and said, “I’m Staff Sergeant Chamberlain, incoming personnel.” The crowd was visibly unimpressed. “Wait a minute”, Michelson repeated. “We should do the FOD walk because he might be a Narc.”
They at the far end when our Flight Chief showed up.
“Where in the fuck is everybody?”
“They’re out doing the FOD walk.”
“Who made them do that?”
“Who the fuck are you?” Pointing to the roster I said, “Staff Sergeant Chamberlain, incoming personnel.” He said, “Congratulations. Comeback at 1600, you’re the Swing Shift Supervisor.”
*Later I found out that “Airman” Michelson was really 1st Lt Michealson, OSI.
NOW I WAS THE FLIGHT CHIEF
The first thing I did was to hold Roll Call outside. In ranks, three lines please. The second thing was to improve appearance. It was AFR 35-10 back then. Anyone refusing my suggestions got a trip to the orderly room to chat with the First Sergeant.
Every shack had a U.S. Flag on it. Like the ones you have at home. The convention was to have someone grab it and stick it up. That ended immediately. At the close of roll call, everyone does an about face and salutes as the “someone” picked stuck the flag up. At first the other flights stood, stared and laughed. Then I noticed Yankee Flight forming up and soon every flight was doing this. If we were busy, the flag detail was increased to two. One to stick it up and one to salute. Sometimes they took the initiative, and both would salute.
After a couple of months, we started winning Flight of the Month. Three times in a row. When we cleared all of our delayed discrepancies over the Christmas/New Years break, Chief Melton came down to see what the fuck I was doing.
Most of the airman couldn’t get a security clearance to get assigned overseas or to a “fightin’ unit”. During the break, I went to the Student Squadron and checked out a projector and all the strike films they had. I then gave them a choice. They could be outside doing bullshit things like trimming grass or wiping down airplanes or they could be in a nice warm flight shack watching movies.
Here are some examples of the movies. Turn off the sound because ours didn’t have sound.
The movie ticket was an AFTO Form 349 that documented the repair of a delayed discrepancy. With the old part that was replaced. By New Years, guys who were off would throw on a uniform and come down to work to watch the films.
Chief Melton just shook his head, said “Brilliant” and left.
We had legendary Flight parties too. One epic party lasted four day of the Memorial Day weekend and was held at three different locations. It started in my quarters. There were five parties going on. Smokers in the front yard. Wives in the living room. The Drinkers in the kitchen where a full bar was set up and the rowdies in the backyard. It went from there to the Lake, then Royce’s house and wound up at the dorms. Just in time to put uniforms on and go to work. About eight people were being reassigned and leaving the flight. Including “Butt Plug” who was going to Hahn to be a Lucky Puppy.
Civilians and non-Air Force types can click here for the translations of the Air Force Slang used in this post.