Saturday, November 21, 2009

Oxymoron Parts and Practical Jokes

When I was in the Air Force stationed at RAF Bentwaters in England I worked in the Supply Squadron. My job, however, was not listed as Supply Clerk. The Air Force always used rather extravagant language for job titles. A Supply Clerk was, instead, an Inventory Management Specialist. This worked out especially well for some career fields. A Water and Waste Sanitation Processing Specialist was the one who went around the base unclogging toilets, pumping out septic systems and generally aiding and simplifying the flow of poop to whatever final destination it had.

The Air Force instructors that we had in both Basic Training and Tech School always told us that the career path we chose would also prove beneficial in civilian life. It certainly did in my life and in the lives of many of my friends. However, I have always found it rather curious how many of those Water and Waste Sanitation Processing Specialists went on to such lucrative careers in Washington, D.C.

The Air Force was also a great place to hone other skills. Practical joking, for example. One of the many jobs available to an Inventory Management Specialist was to work in Demand Processing taking calls from various squadrons around the base for parts they required to perform their duties and then processing those orders via computer to various warehouses for shipment to the appropriate squadron. This included aircraft parts for the fighter squadrons, vehicle parts for the Motor Pool and even kitchen parts for the Mess Hall.

When a new airman came to the base and started working there were certain initiation rites that he would experience. One of those rites would be to make a prank call or two to the new guy with phony parts orders. Most were easy enough to pick out as gags - the large cheese pizza to the Wing Commander, for example. But there were also some very well done calls. The new guy (often called a "Jeep" for reasons I have not yet figured out) would get calls ordering rather esoteric parts. Parts such as Thread-less screws (often known as nails), Bags of steam, Gallons of Dehydrated Water, Left-handed Hammers, Shelf Stretchers, Muffler Bearings, or Piston Return Springs for the Motor Pool, Skyhooks - Low Cloud Type, Bubbles for Levels, Jars of Elbow Grease or 55 Gallon Drums of Jet Wash or Prop Wash (depending on the type of aircraft that needed it).

Probably the best call ever done at Bentwaters was taken by a fellow from Alabama on his first day of duty. "Joe" took a call and heard a panic-stricken voice on the other end yelling that F-4, tail number 640901 (parts were always ordered for a specific aircraft) was headed in with no brakes and a landing gear that would not lock down. It was Priority 1 that 1,000 feet of "Runway, Concrete, With White Median Line" be issued and delivered to the north end of the runway ASAP. "Joe" immediately took to the task but panicked when he could not find "Runway, Concrete, With White Median Line" listed in the computer. He bolted from his chair and burst into his supervisor's office. To his credit, the super went along with the gag and sent "Joe" into see the Supplies Management Officer. Captain "X" also had a great laugh and I have never seen a redder face than that sported by "Joe" that day.

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