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Bits I Left Out

Bits I Left Out

 C’MON, Let’s Go to the Stag Bar

While we’re waiting patiently (or not) for Amazon.com to send you the book that you ordered, let’s take a step back in time–to a much more enjoyable place.

I don’t know how things are done now, but in the good ol’ days—‘60s to ‘90s—there was a single event that brought a demanding week of flying into perspective for fighter pilots around the globe. That event was known as ‘Happy Hour’ and it commenced at every officers club I ever visited around 5:00 o’clock on Friday afternoon. Happy Hours ranged from ‘good’ to ‘colossal’ depending on many factors: the size of the club; types of aircraft stationed at the base; age and experience of the participants—I could go on and on, but instead, I’m going to focus on the paragon of Friday night Fighter Pilot civilization—Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada—the Home of the Fighter Pilot.

Nellis has always been much more than a busy fighter base. It’s a busy crossroads that attracts that most inveterate of creatures—the common fighter jock. As the weekend approached, aircrews looking for a colorful couple days away from home would take advantage of the once-tolerant cross-country programs to conduct ‘navigation training flights’ which just happened to terminate 12 short miles north of Las Vegas—Nellis Air Force Base. Additionally, Nellis hosts a number of world class training exercises: Red Flag, an air-to-air combat exercise for pilots, and Green Flag, a ground combat joint close air support training exercise (called Air Warrior when I was running it in the ‘90s). These are two of the most focused and complex flying scenarios on the planet and they are attended periodically by different units, each and every one of which is populated by fighter pilots. Air Force, Navy, Marines……..Brits, Germans, Scandinavians, Aussies, Kiwis and the rest. They all flock to Nellis to take advantage of the superb training environment. Being fighter pilots, they have much in common and one of these commonalities is the weekly lemming-like trek to the Officer’s Club bar on Friday evening.

The main O’Club bar at Nellis was spacious, comfortable, sophisticated and, on a Friday night, totally ignored by the throngs of thirsty aviators who gathered to celebrate just about anything. These legions strolled right past the long elegant bar and across the highly polished dance floor to a much smaller dimly-lit area hidden away in the far corner of the larger room. This forerunner to the man cave was known simply as the Stag Bar. I’d like to give you a proper description, but neither I, nor I suspect anyone else ever ventured into this den of iniquity during the day or when it was lit up. Nevertheless, on Friday night, the Stag Bar was Mecca.

Through the gloom, you could see it was decorated in ‘early Great War’: sandbags stacked here and there; parachute canopies suspended from the ceiling, mix ‘n match furniture of various shades and vintages scattered around a much smaller dance floor which fronted a small bar which was modest, but very well stocked. No one seemed to care about the lack of aesthetics.

Friday Happy Hour heralded the arrival of dozens of aviators, virtually all of whom wore the distinctive flying suit (or bag). These would not be clean and pressed—indeed, they will have been worn all day, flown in and, at best only a day or two since being washed. In summer, with flight line temperatures soaring over 110 degrees a Stag Bar reveler needed great skill to position himself upwind of his companions.

NO ONE wore a hat—indeed, a small sign hung next to a large brass bell over the bar: ‘He who enters covered here; will buy the bar a round of cheer’. For the unwitting Lieutenant or careless senior officer, ignoring this notice could prove to be a very expensive blunder. Once Happy Hour got rolling, there were masses of thirsty aviators cramming the place and all were keen of eye—identifying an offending hat far across the room and defying the laws of gravity to reach and ring the brass bell before the wrongdoer could recover. At that point, righteous authority, peer pressure or sheer ridicule was employed to separate the offender from his hard earned cash and replenish dozens of empty glasses.

There was a juke box in the Stag Bar, but once the evening was in full swing, it proved utterly useless as drowning out the surrounding cacophony was a non-starter. Much of the din was self-generated. Well-oiled fighter pilots are renowned for their singing-not the quality but the volume. Musical selections are irreverent and far from polite. Google ‘Sally in the Alley,’ ‘Mary Ann Burns, the Queen of all the Acrobats’, or ‘My Name is Sammy Small (F*** ’em all’)for a representative sample. There were multiple layers of fighter pilots bellied up to the bar and aside from enjoying the reduced-price drinks, a number of extracurricular events were taking place. Liars’ Dice and similar games of chance flourished—some reaching astronomical stakes. Management was relatively free from Political Correctness and there were a number of diversions in place. At the lower end of the spectrum were harmless amusements that, in today’s Air Force would undoubtedly result in dire consequences: For example, the bartender would conceal the contents of popular bottles—Scotch, Bourbon, Rum, Gin, and Vodka by wrapping the bottle in tinfoil. As long as there was ‘liquor in the jar’ when he poured the drink was on the house but he who ordered the last measure had to replace the bottle and it started all over again.

At the other end of the ‘naughty’ spectrum was everyone’s favorite: The Friday Night Strippers. If you can imagine it, these young ladies were provided, legally, by club management. They were well paid (and well tipped) conducted their performances with varying levels of gusto, and when they were done, departed to huge demonstrations of appreciation. Over time, the forces of ‘woke,’ political correctness and the might of the Officers’ Wives’ Club relegated this relatively harmless activity to oblivion along with the games of chance and probably an awful lot of the enjoying of reduced price drinks.

As the name implies, the Stag Bar was there for the guys. There was no formal prohibition for the ladies and indeed, my wife Elaine accompanied me into the den of iniquity once or twice. She was as close to ‘one of the boys’ as a lady could be; didn’t turn her nose up at the shenanigans she witnessed (not even the Strippers) but despite her best efforts, I’m afraid she only achieved a ‘tolerated’ status—and even that was an important sign of acceptance.

In the good ol’ days, the Stag Bar was our refuge and our stronghold. It was dark, noisy, crowded, and malodorous, but it was ours and we loved it dearly with all its obvious flaws. It’s been a long time since I spent a Friday evening in an Officers’ Club and I hope some of the spirit and camaraderie we found in that murky, dingy little watering hole has survived the onslaught of ‘progress.’

Cheers and check 6

2.The Lieutenants Protection Association

If you’re as old as I am, you were never a member of the LPA because it didn’t exist as such in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. A number of readers have mentioned the LPA, hoping it has been included in my book. Unfortunately, it hasn’t because it was never within my scope of experience, but I’ve done a bit of research and, by way of apology, I’ve added the discussion to my Blog. The LPA thrives today and you’ll find the organization fascinating. Read all about it here:

The Lieutenants’ Protection Association—LPA!

When I first joined the fighter community as a 2nd Lieutenant or ‘Butter Bar’, over 50 years ago we (the Lieutenants or L/Ts) were firmly established at rock bottom in the squadron pecking order. We shouldered each and every mundane squadron task—stocking the squadron bar and snack bar, making coffee for those senior to us (just about everyone, as it stood) and in general, serving as dogsbodies within the organization. Low level grousing and grumbling were always present, but the tradition stood firm and we accepted it—individually, not as a cohesive group.

All was not vassalage and servitude. As I’ve noted in the book, Lieutenants are like sophisticated puppies, intelligent, eager to learn and relatively compliant. Additionally, we got away with murder: All but the most serious transgressions were dismissed with a resigned wave of the hand and the pronouncement “He’s just a Lieutenant.” This blanket ‘get out of jail free card’ was valid for about three years, terminating abruptly with promotion to Captain (at which time we were assumed to have instantaneously developed judgement, experience, and a certain level of intellect). Never again would we be able to get off the hook simply by looking sideways at a single gold or silver bar on our shoulder.

As best I can understand it, the LPA evolved over a period of some years. Downtrodden Lieutenants capitalized on the old ‘strength in numbers’ theory and, although still required to pay their dues as they progressed, began to do so in a loosely organized fashion, sharing the burdens and building on their social standing as a group. The LPA caught on, particularly in fighter units and mutual benefit began to flourish for the L/Ts and the squadron.

In recent years, the LPA has morphed into the better aspects of a trade union: camaraderie among the members; working towards a common goal: social recognition from above; and an improved lifestyle maintained by a team ethos. All without the downsides of a typical union: Jimmy Hoffa style corruption, hostile relations with management (squadron leadership) and the threat of industrial action (in a fighter squadron? Are you kidding?).

Indeed the LPA has, in most cases, endeared itself to leadership. They’re a powerful force in getting things done properly and assuming that leadership is rational, supportive, realistic and reasonably responsive to the spirit of the young fighter pilot, they will move heaven and earth to support the ‘Old Man. Win/Win.

Lieutenants continue to stock the snack bars, bring in the beer, and nurture the squadron mascots—T-Bolt the 356 FS Pig, Barney, the 78th FS rock python, and the 13th FS black panther Eldridge to name just a few. Some of these have been transferred to local zoos for various reasons, but I’m pretty sure some are still around.

On the social side, as you might expect, the LPA is the driving force in keeping the squadron hopping—from no-notice, middle-of-the-night, graded hospitality checks on senior squadron leadership to that intangible spark a group of 20-something year olds administers to an organization. I suspect their efforts in this respect are far more challenging than in my day thanks to an era of ‘woke,’ political correctness and erratic leadership. Nevertheless, from what I hear, they’re maintaining the old traditions commendably.

Thanks go out to Lt.Col. (Retired) Marc “Mongo” Frith for filling in the cavernous gaps in my LPA knowledge. Mongo was present as a participant in the initial stages of the LPA and observed its development up until his retirement as the 75th Fighter Squadron Commander at Pope AFB, North Carolina. As such he lived the early years of ‘organization’ and later became the benefactor of the value added to an organization by the LPA.

Regrettably, I never really experienced the LPA. It did not exist when I was eligible for membership and because LPA is strictly a squadron phenomenon, I was toiling above that level when the organization matured. I’m truly sorry I missed it.

Respect to the LPA

 

3. Fighter Pilot Credentials—Nametags and Tactical Callsigns (25 July 2020)

Nametags

  1. Military uniforms nearly always come with a nametag. On formal uniforms, these typically depict only the wearer’s last name, but aviators have special privilege: they can wear tags with the full name displayed. I’ve attached my last one above for a brief discussion. The basic wings are awarded on successful completion of pilot training. Seven years and a minimum of 2000 flight hours later, a star is added, denoting a Senior Pilot. Finally, 15 years after earning the wings, with a total of at least 3000 hours, our aviator is awarded the final embellishment. This is technically a wreath, but for those in the know, it is always referred to as ‘The toilet seat,’ bringing with it the rating of Command Pilot.

Name tags are normally attached to the flight suit with Velcro and are easily removed and replaced. This comes in handy when the gallant aviator departs his home base temporarily for other pastures and wishes anonymity. Name tags employed in this manner are referred to as Cross Country or Friday night tags and most either border on the unprintable or are rather ingenious in their derivation, using a play on words to make a subtle (or not) statement.

I belong to a number of fighter pilot social media groups and occasionally, I’ll solicit the thoughts of my Brothers-in-arms for inspiration. Here are a few responses I received when I asked for Cross country nametags (you may want to ponder some of these):

  • Max Power or Max Thrust
  • Peter Gozinya
  • The McGroin Brothers—Pat and Grab
  • Buster Hyman
  • Haywood Jablome
  • Jack Mahogoff
  • I don’t want to forget the ladies here. A female F-16 pilot used an acronym on her nametag: “SHOCK”. Stringy Hair Ovulating Commie Killer

 

Tactical Callsigns

 

Unless you are among the very few, you’ve probably seen ‘Top Gun.’ You’ll recall Tom Cruise’s character sporting the nickname ‘Maverick,’ his ill-fated back seater, Anthony Edwards was ‘Goose’ and my personal favorite was Val Kilmer’s ‘Iceman.’ These intrepid monikers were obviously selected for macho value (Well, Goose not so much–tailored to the character, I suspect) but in the real world, they would probably not have been nearly so complimentary

While the Cross Country tags discussed previously were more or less left to the imagination of the wearer, Tactical Callsigns (or nicknames), were bestowed on pilots by colleagues based on idiosyncrasies, deeds, and blunders. They normally didn’t appear on name tags, but hung around the neck of the recipient, much like an albatross. Many were endured throughout careers, because they were simply unforgettable and only an even greater gaffe would supersede. I’ll give you a few examples, again harvested from my memory and a ‘fishing’ expedition on social media groups:

  • When I was at a German Detachment, hosting pilots who rotated in and out periodically, we normally had a farewell bash for a pilot on his last deployment. This often involved alcohol and the Germans had a favorite sendoff cocktail called the afterburner. This was set aflame and tossed directly down the throat of the beneficiary. On one occasion, an intrepid A-10 pilot sampling the afterburner experienced a brief moment of hesitation and the conflagration missed his mouth and ignited his whole face. Quick thinking colleagues extinguished him with pitchers of beer, but I still relish every opportunity to call him ‘Torch.’
  • I’m told of a kid who took off heavyweight and at high elevation. He put the gear up too early, settled back onto the runway (unbeknownst to him), scraped up the jet, took off again, and continued to fly a long combat mission. They named him Skippy
  • In Korea a few years back, while taxiing back from a mission, a young pilot stopped his jet and declared to the tower that there were cats crossing the taxi way so he had to stop, backing up a whole line of jets…From that day forward, he was known as SPADE:” Saw Pussy And Declared Emergency”…

The popularity of Tactical Callsigns seems to date back to the ‘80s, courtesy of the Royal Canadian Air Force. I spent virtually all of my career sporting an accurate, but lackluster nametag like the one above with only my name in evidence. Indeed, I was on my very last assignment, as a Colonel, when I finally ‘earned’ a Tactical callsign. It would be cowardly of me not to ‘fess up after all these years, so here goes:

I was Commander of Air Warrior, a flying training organization at Nellis AFB, Nevada. We specialized in Close Air Support training of aircrews from all over the world and had earned a stellar reputation. One of the drawbacks of such a reputation involves regular visits from VIPs who want to see what you’re up to. It was such a visit that resulted in my ‘christening.’

4 Star General Mike Loh, Commander of all Tactical Air Forces in the US had decided to drop by and we reacted in the usual way, scurrying around making sure the grass was edged, urinals spit shined and desks were cleared. Everything looked great and about 15 minutes prior to the General’s scheduled arrival, I decided it would be a good time for my semiannual boot shine. This involved blending the polish into the leather with a cigarette lighter and this step was well underway while I chatted with a few of my troops, who were waiting for the General with me. Somehow, I became distracted and ignited the polishing cloth which erupted in moderately thick smoke. Our reaction brings the old adage to mind: “when in danger or in doubt; run in circles, scream and shout.”

Three fighter pilots: Yours truly, Harry Edwards my F-16 expert, and Andy (Cassius) Kleya my A-10 specialist, looked frantically around for an extinguisher or at least something wet and plentiful to apply to the conflagration. The situation looked bleak (and the General was headed up the walk) when my First assignment seeing eye

2nd Lieutenant Executive Officer Marc (Monty) Sicard made us all look a little silly when he upended a trash can on the ‘inferno,’ extinguishing it instantly and saving the day.

26 years later, Lieutenant Monty’s now Brigadier General Monty, Assistant Adjutant General–Air and Commander of the Arkansas Air National Guard. I Love it when that happens.

General Loh’s visit went without a hitch (although I caught him sniffing the air, trying to locate the source of a singeing odor) and from that day forward, thanks to Andy Kleya, I’ve been known in certain circles as ‘Smokey.’ I’ve got to admit, I kind of like it.

Carrier Landings (15 July 2020)

First out of the box is another of the many extracurricular recreations that kept us all from being dull boys. In the book, I’ve discussed Dead Bug, Crud, and Sockey, but inexplicably left out carrier landings. All of these activities were normally carried out in an Officers’ Club bar, but occasionally spilled over into off-base commercial establishments where we were normally ejected for taking part.

A bit of background for carrier landings. The Phantom was originally built for the Navy which employed them to operate from aircraft carriers. Consequently, the Phantom was equipped with a tail hook–600 lbs. of pig iron lashed to the underside of the aircraft below the tail. Before landing, the hook was lowered and, on touchdown, ideally it would grab one of a number of cables strung across the ship’s deck, bringing 20 tons of Phantom to an abrupt halt (lest it slid off the end of the deck—not a pleasant outcome).

The Friday night happy hour pastime that replicated this operational necessity was about as close to a carrier as we Air Force fighter pilots were going to get, so we approached it with great enthusiasm (often generated by copious quantities of beer). The sequence of events went something like this:

  1. Fighter pilots gathered in the club (or better yet, a now-forbidden den of iniquity once known as the Stag Bar–this wonderful sanctuary has now been relegated to history through the combined efforts of the Officers’ Wives’ Clubs and a politically correct leadership. R.I.P.).
  2. Beer was consumed, war stories and other lies were told and, as the evening moved on, inhibitions disappeared, testosterone levels rose dramatically, and normally docile individuals became aggressive and intrepid. The stage was set.
  3. A long , low table was located (or fashioned from shorter tables pushed together) and this structure was then referred to as ‘The Deck.’
  4. The Deck was ‘foamed’ with lavish quantities of beer, both the approach corridor to the deck and the departure end were cleared of potentially lethal furnishings for reasons which will shortly become clear.
  5. At this point, there were options: the Deck could either be completely clear of obstacles or participants could string a series of rolled up towels, discarded flight suits, etc across the deck, replicating carrier’s cables.
  6. The event commenced: Each pilot accelerated to full tilt down the approach corridor, culminating in a head first dive onto the deck. Depending on the Deck configuration, the pilot would either hook the approach end table top immediately with his toes or, if there were cables available, snag one of these, again with the toes. Use of hands was never permitted.
  7. Failure to hook table top or cable, as on an actual carrier, resulted in sliding off the departure end at a great rate, head first.

Most of these events were ‘safeguarded’ by crash and smash crews, who were ready with pitchers of beer to extinguish post-crash fires, etc. Broken bones, facial contusions and so forth were generally ignored until the end of the adventure.

There’s more to come on the ‘Bits I Left Out’ Blog. Please come back often and thanks in advance for your support.

19 Responses to Bits I Left Out

  1. Best one of these I participated in was at RAF Coltishall (sp) when the 493 TFS was hosted by Lightning 2T squadron. Long story short, we were in the dinning room and at the end of the table was a large cabinet with the Wings silver beautifully displayed. A great backstop. The beautifully polished table (seemed 20 feet long) was a great sliding platform once properly greased with fine British ale. The next morning I ate breakfast on that table and it was immaculate. Don’t know when, don’t know how. Great hosting. They cheated. Why did I get up for breakfast?

    • Hey, Birdstrike

      Thanks for popping up. Yes, I agree with you–I won’t say the RAF did it any better or more enthusiastically than we did, but whether you’re talking about carrier landings, piano burning, or chandelier swinging, they aways seemed to approach it with just a bit more finesse. Long live the Special Relationship!

  2. RAF dinings-in were always superlative. Jousting with lighted brooms on tricycles, circumnavigating the hall without touching the floor, racing by tipping over couches a la Gene Kelly/Donald O’Conner/Debbie Reynolds. We had to hide our Squadron Commander from the Brits on one occasion when he retired (what they considered) too early from the festivities – THEIR “old man” was still there.

    Great stories. I can send you one about piano races between SCANG A-7 unit and RAF Harrier drivers, but it’s a bit long for comments. Or you can tell your version…

    • Hi Galen

      Yeah, the Brits always did it up right. I remember one at Wattisham that culminated in swinging Tarzan-like from a huge (and apparently very expensive) chandelier.

      Do you recall who was the Sq/CC you had to sequester?

      I’d like to hear about the piano races. Great stuff! Keep ’em coming!

  3. Steve, do you remember the perfect juxtaposition between “Afterburners (modified)” and “Carrier Landings?”
    Incirlik O-Club – Friday night, some of us, some trash haulers, and some nurses. The aircrews decided to have a carrier landing contest on the bar. It was going OK until someone dragged a landing gear through the bar glasses. The former SAC manager of the club decided that was time to call the Air Police. While the armed troops waited outside a very black sergeant came in to talk to the drunks. That was when Mike Barber decided it was time to get a mouthful of lighter fluid and his Bic and blow an afterburner to the ceiling over the sergeant. We all got to walk out and go home through a gauntlet of M-16s at port arms.

  4. Hi John

    I don’t recall the preliminaries, but I’ll never forget the flamethrower. Was that the same deployment we capped off with a WWW III-level fire extinguisher battle in the ‘Q’? It was Tom Rowney’s debut as acting ‘Ops O’

  5. Just wanted to make sure you included Bat Hanging as one of the many O’Club antics from a time before PC. Some clubs better suited than others, of course. The bar at March AFB was good in that it had lots of pipes and other engineering items near the low ceiling. No idea why a bunch of F-15 guys were TDY to March, but some serious Bat Hanging was accomplished.

    • Hi Tony

      Thanks for commenting. Bat hanging is indeed a featured pastime in the book. I described the Ubon version, where it was a nearly nightly feature. Because of the 24 hour nature of the war, night flyers often hooked toes over the brass rail that ran the length of the bar to welcome the ‘morning crew’ on their way in to brief. God, I do miss the action!

  6. While stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, I used to hang out in the bar of a The Ramada Inn on Miracle Mile to see one of my favorite folk music entertainers. Lufthansa did flight training out at Tucson International and billeted at the same Ramada Inn. Whenever they graduated a new flight crew, the newbies had to do Afterburners. Pretty impressive in a dark bar. One of them did the same thing as described in your story, missed his mouth and a very large German slapped his face until the flames went out. I walked over to them one night and asked what was in the double shot glass that they were lighting up. The head guy said “Oh, you want one”? My answer was, “No, I just want to know what’s in it”. Next thing I knew, there were three shot glasses on the bar. Two of the Germans downed theirs and then I was standing there with a flaming shot glass in my hands. I thought, what the hell and downed the thing in one gulp, leaving just enough in the bottom still burning. Couldn’t talk for about three hours but did get it down.

  7. Steve,

    Never heard of the LPA in the 78th, where I was one. But my next squadron was In England AFB as an initial cadre of the Hogs in an A-7 unit. I think squadrons transitioning to a new jet had a core of experienced guys, and about one half of the squadron newly minted LT fighter pilots. So there was strength in numbers. The LPA was born.

    • Hi John
      That seems to be the consensus, but believe it or not, I had one reply from an old friend who says they had an LPA chapter in Vietnam (F-100s) in the early ’70s.

      I think that was truly an isolated case.

      Good to hear from you!

      Steve

  8. Steve;
    From the blog, you book will be a great read! Did you mention fighter sweeps as part of the Stag Bar section? Best sweep I know of was led by Robin Olds at Bentwaters after a Dining In. Will never forget the young Lieutenants and their “Deer in the headlights” faces when the General and his wingmen yelled “Sweep” at the top of their lungs and rushed down the bar.

    • No, Paul–that’s another one for the’Bits I left Out Blog. So many adventures, so little time!! Thanks for your comment.

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