Eyes in they Sky: AWACS
My AWAC’s training was brief and intense. Most of it was classified.
As my commanding officer said, “AWAC’s is the greatest military breakthrough since the Gatling gun. There’s a reason why the Soviet’s haven’t pulled another Afghanistan, and half of that reason is AWAC’s."
"We can spot an ant on the ground from a mile up or land a missile in a window in the Kremlin from a thousand miles away. AWACS boys, are our eyes in the sky. And as long as they fly, the Soviets are going to behave themselves.”
Classes began at five a.m. and continued until 3 p.m. mornings were dominated by lab work, the afternoons by classroom work. I’d heard that Air Forces courses were the toughest in the world, and my classes confirmed it.
Tests were check-offs every Friday. You failed to make the grade only once and you were out. This was the new Air Force. Again in the words of my commanding officer an old fighter jock from the Vietnam years.
“We’re not holding anybody’s hand no more. You fuck up one time and you’re out. We got twenty people out there ready and willing to take your lace and we’d like to give ‘em the opportunity. Either put out or get out. We got a big one comin’ with the Soviets or the Communist Chinese and we’re gonna field the meanest leanest team ever. You wanna be part a that team, prove it. Not once but every day. We’re gonna work your balls off here, kiddies.”
And they did. I had no free time to write Colleen. Somehow she got my number and I got a call from her my third week.
“Brian what are they doing to you down there? I’ve been trying to reach you for three weeks and they kept insisting that you weren’t to be found. What gives?”
“Oh...they take this classified stuff real seriously.”
“We’re not supposed to talk to anyone while we’re in training. In fact I’m amazed that you got this call through. We’re in isolation and they don’t let us talk to outsiders. Be careful about what you say because this line is definitely tapped.”
That was the wrong thing to say to a person like Colleen.
“Well who do they think they are anyway? Do you mean to tell me that they think they can keep me from talking to you?”
“Colleen they not only can, they have been.”
“Then you give me your commander’s name and telephone number. I’m going to call him up and give him a piece of my mind. He’ll treat you with more respect after I’ve had a word or two with him.”
“Don’t do my any favors Colleen.”
“Brian. Don’t you worry. You just give me his number.”
“This is a long distance call. What did you call about?”
“I want to come see you soon.”
My mind reeled. There hadn’t been a day since classes began that I hadn’t thought about her but seeing her awakened my senses to full throttle. I looked at my nightstand and saw my decree book there. That would have to be buried away before she arrived.
“Colleen, I’m in classes for another six weeks and then who knows where after that. How do you plan to come see me?”
“Mary Beth and Katie Wojhasiewiez are planning a trip to Melbourne beach to deliver some of their father’s video equipment to a woman who produces a Catholic cable TV program. I thought I’d go there with them and then drop by to see you.”
“Colleen...I’m on the panhandle about 800 miles from Melbourne Beach.”
“They also plan a trip to the Keys. Is that any closer?”
“No. It’s about 600 miles further away. Florida’s a vast state.”
“Let me worry about the arrangements. What did you do, meet some beach bunny and forget about me.”
“Of course not. They keen me so busy I don’t have time to even think about meeting somebody else.”
“Good. I hope they continue to keen you that busy. Do you want to see me or not?”
“Of course I want to see you. I miss you like crazy.”
“How about three weeks then. And get a car. We’re going to Melbourne Beach. There’s a tape I want you to listen to.”
“I thought you couldn’t stand it when I listened to Holy Mother’s tapes.”
“Brian ... obviously this isn’t Holy Mother. It’s someone who goes around exposing people like Holy Mother.”
“The Wojhasieweiz’ let me hear it and I think you need to hear it too.”
“Colleen. I’ve told you a hundred times not to try to convert me.”
“I’m not trying to convert you. I just want you to listen to this tape that’s all. No deprogramming or anything like that. I’ll call when I have definite departure and arrival times. Everybody here sends their love. Are you making a good name for Philadelphia down there?”
“Yeah...I have everybody in Dixie wishing they could eat a butterscotch krimpet while drinking a strawberry “Thanks” Franks Wister soda while watching Rocky Balboa dance with the Mummers Parade.”
“I see the Air Force hasn’t taken away your sardonic wit.”
“Do you want me to tell your family anything?”
“Yeah. Tell them to take a contract out on my recruiter and to hire a lawyer to get me outta here. This is the hardest school I’ve ever attended much harder than the U of P or SAIS.
“You’ll do fine. Give everyone my love.”
“I have exclusive rights on that I thought.”
“First rights, Brian. Lots of other people have claim to it as well. This is costing. Good-bye Ace.”
I hung up the phone and reflected on how much my life had changed in the past three weeks. It was now a regimen of grueling study and even more grueling radar scone simulation air battles in which I directed pilots to targets they destroyed.
Soon I would be in the sky zooming about the world from Korea to Saudi Arabia or Oklahoma preventing Soviet or Chinese pilots from penetrating our airspace and making sure our boys got home safely after they penetrated enemy airspace. It was a big game in some ways but a dangerous game with far-reaching consequences for generations to come.
I left it up to the Masters to decide the wisdom of it all and took upon myself to perform to my daily tasks the best of my ability as the American taxpayer was paying my salary.
Three weeks later I graduated with honors. Fortunately I was able to get another week off to be with Colleen. It would set me back years in leave but why not be young and reckless while the joints still functioned?