In September 1984 I PCS'd back to Athens from the HQ in San Antonio. It was quite a busy time at the unit then as the Lebanese Civil War was still going strong in the East Med and Libya was being its usual troublesome self in the Cent Med. Two momentous events occurred that month also. Myself and 11 other Arab and Hebe TSgts were selected for promotion to MSgt, and the 16th had an IG inspection. One, when coupled with the 6 SSgts selected for promotion to TSgt, was an occasion for celebration while the other was an unmitigated disaster..
The IG inspection ended with a MARGINAL rating. The unit was lucky it wasnít an UNSATISFACTORY. It was almost inevitable. Nothing was being documented. The missions were being flown in a more than satisfactory manner and the ops were qualified or being trained well in their upgrade training, but almost none of it was documented. Oh training letters were being filled out for the trainees, but the content in them was next to useless and about all they could be used for was to document that a trainee had participated on such and such a flight with such and such a trainer. Standeval paperwork was backed up so far out of sight that it seemed it would never get caught up. The whole thing was a big mess.
Even though most of us new promotees had nothing much to do with it, for the most part having just returned to the unit, it still hit us pretty hard. Nobody wants to be part of a marginal unit, and since we had such an affinity with the 16th, we certainly were chagrined since it was "our" unit. We resolved to correct the situation at the first opportunity. One of the first things the Ops Officer (Chancel T. French?) did was assign new Flight Commanders on Bravo and Charlie crews. Maggot Powell was the existing Flight Commander on Able crew and he kept his position, but newly designated MSgts Dwight Carpenter and I were picked to head up Charlie and Bravo crews respectively.
Following the shame of the IG inspection, we were all pretty resolved to do our best and try to get things straightened out. One of the first things was ensuring that the trainees got the necessary training and more importantly, documenting that training. Due to several factors, Bravo and Charlie crews had some serious shredout problems. On Bravo, I was loaded with gunner ragheads and Carp had a goodly amount of tacop ragheads. Conversely, we were extremely short of both qualified and trainee personnel in what the other had plenty of. Well, Carp and I got together to try and figure out what we could do about it.
I was having a bit of trouble with one of the gunners on my crew, Baron Brock. Now those of you who know Baron are aware that he is one crackerjack linguist. He just had a little trouble following tasking. It seemed like anytime we had major combat activity going on he would be involved in the minutiae of translating something about a battle 18-24 hours old. In fact, he would be so involved in it that he would ignore the current situation. Naturally, I didn't like this at all and tried everything I could think of including a Letter of Counseling to get his attention and change his bad habit.
Well, Carp's gunner shortage was so severe that he didn't have a qualified lead op. At least I wasn't that bad with my tacop shortage, having a qualified lead op, but my poor lead was the only one qualified. There were a couple of guys that were getting pretty close to upgrading at least to being qualified on the backup, so it wasn't as dire for me as it was for Carp.
I don't know if Carp is the one who thought the whole thing up or not, but I do know that the first time I heard of Amn Jimenez was from him. He informed me that there was this kid currently in DOT that was burning the tacop training program up. He was slated to be assigned to Charlie crew. Carp's proposition to me was to make a swap: Baron Brock (Cat IV raghead gunner) to Charlie crew and he would fix it with the DO and DOT that I would get the promising new tacop trainee, Amn Jimenez.
Well, naturally since he was proposing swapping a fully qualified operator for a trainee, I couldn't just agree immediately. I made the usual noises, but after brief reflection decided that maybe I wasn't being screwed after all. I mean here was an opportunity to get rid of one of my problems (and to top it off, it's not like I was dumping my problem on somebody else, Carp actually wanted Baron very much), and if this kid in DOT was anywhere near as good as I was being told then a lot of my worries would be over. I agreed to the swap and taking our respective crew schedules into account Baron was transferred to Charlie crew at a time that was most advantageous to him.
Within the week, the deal was completed as the paperwork arrived from DOT indicating that Amn Jose Jimenez had completed the tacop training course in a relatively short period and with near perfect test scores (earning him three days off from the DO). I reviewed the paperwork, was duly impressed with Amn Jimenez's performance in DOT and noted that his paperwork was filled out perfectly (should have been my first clue as I'm sure you'll remember that we got the MARGINAL for not doing paperwork). I remember remarking to my Army assistant (there was a small INSCOM det in Athens at that time) SFC Steve Clayton that it looked like DOT had finally pulled it's head out and if they had been doing half as much all along then we wouldn't be jumping through the hoops we were to ensure that the training was being accomplished and documented. Being a new MSgt and Flight Commander, I then went ahead with all the things that a good flight commander was supposed to do. I assigned TSgt Lenny Burk as his supervisor and briefed Lenny not only on the kid's performance in DOT but also what I expected from Lenny as a supervisor. I told Lenny that whatever work schedule he came up with for Amn Jimenez was fine with me, but his training was vitally important and that I didn't want anything screwing up on this kid so make sure he gets the training he needs and that it gets documented. I also told him that no matter which shift he put Amn Jimenez on, I wanted to meet him at the first opportunity. I added him to the crew work schedule board and the DURMR input and trusted that my warning to Lenny had been sufficient.
Perhaps I should digress just a bit before continuing and explain how flight operations were working at that time. There were 3 flights, each composed of approximately 40 persons, working a schedule of 6 swings/mids, 3 off, 6 days, and 3 off. The flight on duty for swings was tasked with providing manning to cover the mid shift and it was left totally up to the discretion of the flight commander on how many people he wanted to put on mids. There never seemed to be a shortage of volunteers to work the mids for whatever reason, so I was disposed to let those who wanted work them.
Of the 40 people on flight, they were divided among 5 language/technical specialties and flight hierarchy consisted of a MSgt as flight commander and then a TSgt or senior SSgt as the "lead" for each of the five specialties. This status as "lead" was totally separate from being a qualified "lead op" on the aircraft. They were the reporting official for those under them. I tried as much as possible to set it up that I was the reporting official for the 5 "leads" and then they were the reporting officials for the personnel in their specialties. Occasionally that worked, but in the case of Amn Jimenez, I had to assign the "lead" Hebe gunner, TSgt Lenny Burk, as his reporting official so that the APR load was fairly spread out.
If you were a qualified operator/trainer or AMS/AA you could expect to fly 6 days in a row when your flight was working the day shift. When your flight was on swings, part of the flight (generally determined by the "lead") was working mids. Therefore, it was not unusual for a flight commander to not see one of his people for periods in excess of 2 weeks.
As I'm sure you'll recall, due to his exceptional performance in DOT, Amn Jimenez had been rewarded with 3 days off. Having done everything that I thought a good flight commander needed to do when a new troop was assigned and aware of his time off, I was not too concerned about not seeing him initially but did warn Lenny that I wanted to see him at the earliest opportunity. Well, with the normal press of flying and the hubbub surrounding normal flight operations, a day and most of a swing cycle each passed before I realized that I still had not seen Amn Jimenez yet.
Being the conscientious flight commander that I was, I hunted down Lenny Burk and demanded to know why I had not seen Amn Jimenez yet. He swore that the young airman had been at work. What he replied with was sheer genius: Hispanic-American Week was coming up and the First Shirt needed someone for base detail. Who better than Amn Jimenez? Well, I couldn't argue with either the assignment or the logic there now could I? I did walk away mumbling under my breath about the GD First Shirt interfering with my training requirements and what gave him the right to just pull one of my troops without at least running it by me first. And then promptly forgot about it.
Well, several more day and swing cycles went by. As I said, the Lebanese Civil War was going hot and heavy and we were also playing around out in the Central Med desensitizing the Libyans to our presence as much as possible, so I was spending a lot of time in the air (which was just fine with me). I still hadn't met Amn Jimenez, and with my busy flight schedule (I was being called off swings to fly missions primarily in the Cent Med-thanks a bunch Gene) I quite simply forgot about him for 2 or 3 months.
Meanwhile, the guys on flight were being really great I thought. Paperwork was getting taken care off promptly, including my own paperwork such as the DURMR input, and things couldn't have been going along any better I thought. I mean, who could ask for a bunch of better guys to work for them? They were taking care of each and every single little detail that I was supposed to be worrying about and they were doing it in an exemplary manner. Even training letters were getting filled out correctly and completely and the unqualified guys seemed to be progressing well toward upgrading. Including Amn Jimenez.
It had now been in excess of 3 months since he had been assigned to my flight and I had yet to see the guy. In fact, the only screw up the guys made was to not take care of the paperwork on one swing when I was bored and let me get at the training letters before they had a chance to pull the ones on Amn Jimenez. Well, I was reviewing the training letters when I came upon Amn Jimenez' latest one which stated that his training was progressing satisfactorily and he was progressing rapidly toward checking out as a Backup Tac op. Although the overall assessment pleased me, it did serve to remind me that I still had seen neither hide nor hair of him. This incensed me. I had given Lenny Burk specific instructions that I wanted to see him at the first opportunity, and now here we were, the kid is supposedly just about ready for checkout and I have no idea who he is.
I immediately think: "Lenny did this to me. I don't know why, but the SOB wants to sabotage me. Well, he's not gonna get away with it." I immediately called Lenny to my desk and gave him what for, I mean he basically had disobeyed an order. Didn't he realize how embarrassing it was to me to have a man on flight for 3 months and I had never seen him? Where the hell was this kid? I want to see him and I want to see him now, and by the way Lenny this isn't gonna look good on your APR.
Lenny stammered and sputtered a bit but finally did manage to get out that Amn Jimenez was supposed to be working that shift but he didn't know where he was. If Lenny thought this would have a calming effect on me he was sadly mistaken. I launched into a tirade to end all tirades about how ineffective he was as well as extremely disloyal and so on and so forth. I finally told him to get his ass to the First Shirt and either go drag the offending airman in to work his shift or find out what had happened to him. So off Lenny went to speak to the First Shirt.
Again, I must digress slightly and point out that I was recently returned to the unit from the HQ in San Antonio. I enjoyed regaling the guys about HQ stories and about how life was in San Antonio. In fact, one of my favorite stories was about a news report that came on one of the TV channels just before I left in which the San Antonio Police had arrested an 87 year old grandmother following a shootout in a bar on the South side of the city. While trying to figure out what had happened, they did ask her why she was shooting. Her simple reply: "Well, everyone else was." I thought that story was just hilarious and demonstrated a lifestyle that was well worth leaving behind. I never realized just how well some of the guys were listening to it.
Back to Lenny Burk. He did indeed go to the First Shirt and pointed out that I was pretty upset over Amn Jimenez. I have to admit that except for not ever seeing the guy, everything else about him checked out. He was making his appointments on base, he was progressing well through training. No disciplinary problems. Everybody I talked to thought he was a really sharp troop, intelligent and very likable. The only problem was with me: I still hadn't seen him and I was ultimately responsible for him.
Well, Lenny returned from the First Shirt and told me that poor Jimenez' mother had been shot in a bar shootout and he had to go back to San Antonio on emergency leave. It was all rather sudden and the First Shirt had not yet had a chance to inform Lenny or myself, and he apologized for not getting the word to us sooner. He should be back in 30 days.
I felt like a heel. Here I had been, reaming poor Lenny out and thinking some pretty bad thoughts along the lines of non-judicial punishment about the otherwise pristine Amn Jimenez and look at what really happened! The guy's poor mother got shot. I apologized profusely to Lenny and vowed to not be so short tempered, but please, when Amn Jose Jimenez gets back from emergency leave then bring him by so I could finally meet this wonder kid. Lenny agreed and all settled down again as the routine of flight operations resumed.
Youíd think that after all of this that I would have placed special emphasis on Jimenezí return date from emergency leave. Well I did. That lasted about 3 days. Like I said, I was really busy flying a lot and the guys were taking care of all my ground paperwork for me. Heaven only knows how long it would have gone on if not for a rare day shift that I was not flying about 3-4 months later when I again got bored and started to look for something appropriate for a flight commander to do. Oh look at this, weíre at the end of a month and the crew work schedule board needs to be updated to reflect the coming month. I immediately started updating it and was happily filling in peopleís work schedules when finally I got to Amn Jimenez. And it hit me: nobody goes on emergency leave for 3-4 months. WTFO?
At this point, the possibility of rational thought or action on my part was long gone. I immediately screamed for Lenny Burk and Steve Clayton. Since they didnít know the source of my extreme vocal displeasure, they hustled over and asked me what was wrong. Through the incoherent screaming driven by my ire and frustration, I finally managed to convey to them that I wanted to know if either of them knew the whereabouts and disposition of Amn Jimenez because nobody went on emergency leave that lasted as long as he had been gone and unless one of them knew something about him then I was going to have the little SOB court-martialed! And for their sakes theyíd better not know anything because if they did then they didnít bother to keep me, their immediate supervisor, informed and I would hate to be in their shoes if that had happened.
Well, both Steve and Lenny had been caught by surprise by my discovery and thus could not come up with anything plausible on the spot. At this point, still furious but coherent, I told them of my plan to have the little deserter court martialed and that I was on my way to the First Shirt to make it happen. With that I stormed out of the operations building muttering dire threats of extreme military justice. Steve and Lenny, realizing that the situation would be pretty tense, deemed it advisable to call the command section and warn them that I was on my way and that I was pretty upset about Amn Jimenez not being at work.
The orderly room was in a separate building across the street from operations. It was a two story concrete building, much like you see at air bases throughout Europe, with a 4-5 foot balcony extending out from the second floor. The first floor held the orderly room for the Army detachment and the Raiders Recovery Room (or Triple R) which was the squadron lounge. The commanderís office and orderly room occupied the entire second floor.
Well, I stormed across the street and fumed all the way there. Revenge would be sweet and I would deeply enjoy watching young Amn Jimenez receiving appropriate punishment for his desertion. I climbed the steps and walked into the orderly room, took a deep breath, and demanded to see the First Sergeant. He commanderís secretary, Mary, informed me without looking up from her typing that he was not there. It was only then that I looked around and noticed that she was the only person there. Well, I was simply too mad to just sit there and stew so I started telling her about my travails and the anticipated justice awaiting Amn Jimenez.
Of course, I didnít realize that the entire orderly room staff including the commander had been tipped off by my trusted assistants that I was on my way and I was pretty irate about the whole situation. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, all of the military members of the orderly room staff, including the commander and First Shirt, bailed out the commanderís window to the ledge and left poor Mary behind to face me. She calmly listened to my ranting while continuing her typing, and after a minute or two when I paused to take a breath she simply said "He doesnít exist" quietly and without looking up from her typing. At first it didnít sink in. But she finally pointed out the connection with Bill Dana and it hit me: I had been duped for well over 6 months.
Itís hard to describe the emotions one experiences when you realize that you have been the butt of the baseís best joke for that long. I was outraged, shamed, vengeful and yet amused all at the same time (I mean you might as well laugh at yourself when youíve been had that well). Still the first coherent thought that went through my head and out my mouth was: "Why those dirty, low down, SOBs that work for me! Iíll personally strangle each and every single one of them!" With that I headed back across the street to Ops. Mary had the sense to realize that I wasnít on the firmest emotional ground at that time and so she demonstrated some very good common sense and called Steve and Lenny and warned them that I was on my way, the gig had been explained to me, and I wasnít very happy. She then went into the commanderís office and stuck her head out his window and proceeded to chew his and the entire orderly roomís butts for letting it go on as long as it did. Well, of course they werenít listening to her, they were too busy laughing at me as I am now screaming my dire threats against my entire flight as I make my way back to Ops. I remember hearing them laughing as I crossed the street and noticing that the commander and First Shirt were in danger of laughing so hard that they could fall off the ledge. I was so mad, I almost wished it would happen.
After receiving Maryís call, Steve and Lenny consulted very briefly and decided that it might not be a good idea to be around when I got back. The orderly room was too close for them to depart the building by the ECP, so they figured the best way to get themselves and the rest of the crew out was through the emergency exit doors. They rounded the crew up and departed by those doors. Well, the doors were alarmed and the alarm went off not only in the ECP, but also at the base SP desk sergeantís location and the fire station. As I went into Ops through the ECP, my crew was bailing out through the emergency doors without regard to the alarms. Within seconds, the SPís emergency reaction force as well as the base fire department responded.
I of course entered the flight operations area only to find it deserted and all I could hear was the exit alarm going off. I walked on through and exited the same doors and now found myself the center of attention. Not only was my crew out there, the entire Ops building had been evacuated due to the alarm and the orderly room staff had wandered over to see where the saga would lead. Armed SPs were leveling their weapons at me and the fire department was getting ready to start pumping vast quantities of water. My humiliation was now complete. All I could think of to say was "You bastards!" By now the commander had tipped everybody off on what was happening, and when I uttered my eloquent epithet the whole group started laughing. At that point, even I started laughing. Like I said earlier, at a moment like this all you can do is either cry or laugh at yourself.
Things calmed down pretty quick and everybody went back to work. I was left to fume for the rest of the day and when it was finally over, I knew that I would have to face the music from my buddies in the Triple R. Back across the street I went after work and stopped in the Triple R to try and get a cold one and let everybody have their fun. As word spread that Soppy had finally had to be clued in about Jimenez, the Triple R was packed with people waiting to have some more fun at my expense. I walked through the door and about 25 Bill Dana-wannabes all shouted "My name Jose Jimenez" in that stupid accent. It cost me a round.
At moments like that about all you can do is just sit there and take it as everybody rubs your nose in it. Well, it went on a while and everybody was having a great time and Stu Skeen was talking to me about the effort behind hiding the truth from me for so long. He later told me that the most memorable moment for him was when I looked up at him with bleary, beery, and teary eyes and said in a heartbroken voice "But Stu, I was going to have the SOB court-martialed!"
And thatís the sad saga of Amn Jose Jimenez. Hope everybody enjoys it. I really would have enjoyed it if it had happened to somebody else, but I still have to shake my head and laugh at myself and my gullibility from time to time. I suppose I could be philosophical about the whole incident and just write it off to helping the squadron cope during a difficult period, but if I ever thought I could get away with it what a great gag to pull on somebody else.