Sunday, January 13, 2013

Growing Up Air Force

Yesterday I was driving behind a large pickup truck that had Air Force stickers all over it.  It was a blue truck.  "Air Superiority blue", as my dad would call it.  I was thinking about that phrase, Air Superiority blue, and wondered if anybody besides Air Force kids actually knew what that phrase meant.  Actually, I'm not even sure I know what it means.  Is it a robin-egg blue?  I refuse to call it "Carolina" blue.  Or is it more like a midnight blue or royal blue?  Geez...I dunno.  I better refer back to my dad on that one.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my Air Force dad and my mom.

I know we're all indoctrinated with something, probably many things, as we grow up.  One of the things that was prevalent in my upbringing was GO AIR FORCE!!  My dad was in the Air Force for 30 years.  That just blows my mind because I can't imagine working for any single employer for 30 years.  I was born and raised understanding that the Air Force was the best of the military branches.  To be sure, if you grew up Army, Navy, Marines, National Guard, or Coast Guard, you were taught the same of your branch of the military.  And if you didn't grow up military at all?  Well, I'm sorry for you.  You probably lived in only one or two homes, in the same town, your whole life.  You had friends for more than two years at a time.  BORING.

Growing up Air Force, I had to be bilingual.  I spoke English AND Air Force.  Some examples...
TDY:  temporary duty.  This is when the Air Force family member is gone for 2, 3, 6+ months at a time.  "Dad is going TDY next week." Although it stunk to have my dad gone so much, the homecomings were pretty fun...

PCS:  permanent change of station.  This means PACK UP STUFF, we're moving again.  "Good news kids!  We're PCS'ing to Carlisle, Pennsylvania!"
BX:  base exchange.  A store kind of like a Walmart.  Some of everything in there, but have to have a military id to purchase anything.
Commissary: (not an abbreviation, I know) the grocery store.  Everybody who shops there gets paid on the same day of the month, which means those days are RIDICULOUSLY crowded.  When I was old enough to stay home by myself, my mom would bribe me to come to the commissary with her.  Her bribe usually involved donuts.  TO THIS DAY I think I deserve a sweet treat every time I step foot inside a grocery store.
O-dark-thirty:  This refers to the predawn hours when seemingly everything takes place in an Air Force family. Leaving on a vacation?  The family will leave at o-dark-thirty.  Movers coming to the house?  They'll be here at o-dark-thirty.
C-130:  The type of airplane my dad flew.  It's a cargo plane that looks like this:
photo courtesy of this website.

Aw...look how cute we were.  Dad in his flight suit, me with a mullet and bare midriff shirt...

Until I graduated from college, I had never lived in one city for more than 3.5 years.  I still get the itch to move about every two years or so.  My brother was so lucky, he went to a different high school all four years of his high school career.  I only went to two.  I spent 9th grade in Mascoutah, Illinois.  For 10th-12th grade, I lived in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

It was always amazing to me how local people responded to me as a military/Air Force kid.  I spent my 7th and 8th grade years in Seoul, Korea.  I had a great time and LOVED my junior high years.  The school I attended was on a military base, and it was 7th-12th grades.  As a junior higher, I was grouped in with high school students.  I had way, way more privileges (like open campus for lunch) as a 7th and 8th grader than I did as a 9th grader in nowheresville Illinois.  When I moved to Illinois from Korea, the high school I went to felt claustrophobic it was so small (maybe 500-800 students in the whole school, compared to 2,000+ at my previous school).  The majority of the students at that high school were locals, not military kids like me.  They thought I was weird because I had lived in Korea.  I thought they were weird because they'd never left their state before.  I got in trouble one day at lunch for leaving the cafeteria with a milkshake cup in my hand.  All I could think was "SERIOUSLY???  I can't be trusted to leave the cafeteria and walk to the library (the only place we were allowed to go during lunch) with a beverage in my hand??! I used to walk home every day for lunch in Korea!!"  It didn't really make sense to me.

The thing about being Air Force, though, was that whether I loved or hated where we lived, we weren't in any place for too long.  When I was having such a hard time enjoying Illinois, I knew it didn't matter because we'd move in a year or two.  Sure enough, we moved a year later to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.  I was excited to be in a big metropolitan area and attend a big high school.  "No more small town mindset!" I thought.  Oh I got my wish alright.  My high school was huge.  I was in total culture shock.  Again.  In Illinois they had things like "cow pattie bingo" on the football field after a game.  Students (not me) attended things called "tractor pulls" for fun.  In Maryland, I quickly learned what marijuana smelled like because it permeated the halls frequently at school.  Students (not me) pulled the fire alarm to get other students out of class to witness and/or participate in fights.  Gangs were very real.  I learned to survive there by laying low.

One thing I particularly enjoyed as an Air Force kid was that everywhere we moved, on base or off base, we always got to know our neighbors pretty quickly.  Usually on move-in day one or more of our neighbors would stop by and introduce themselves and see if we needed anything.  We would do the same for others.  I think part of the mentality of this behavior was "We have no idea how long we'll be here.  Better say hey to folks quickly because they might move out next week!"  I had no idea this was not "the way of the world" until I was an adult living in a non-military environment.  I have found it practically impossible to meet my neighbors.  Granted, I live in an apartment complex, not a neighborhood of houses, but still.  Each Christmas I make some baked goods and take them to the people in my building.  Hardly anyone even opens the door when I knock!  Maybe I look particularly frightening through a peep-hole, I don't know.
This is one moving day years ago. Yes, that's me.  Look how helpful I was!

Overall, I thought growing up Air Force was pretty awesome.  I got to move around and see new places.  I met lots of interesting people.  I learned how to blend in, or at least really, really try to...  I learned how to cope with change.  

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