USAF assignments are not random

Published 1:23 pm Monday, June 10, 2024

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By Bonnie Bartel Latino


“Hey, Bon. Got my orders! No more training bases!” Tom’s tanned face beamed as he entered our Biloxi, Miss. apartment untying his blue military necktie. “What?” Even I heard the surprise in my voice. “We’re going to Maine, right?” I knew he asked for his first communications assignment to be to Loring Air Force Base. “Now I understand,” he said, laughter dancing in his chocolate eyes, “what the Air Force does with our so-called ‘Dream Sheets.’ Question marks must have lurked in my eyes because his laughter had that same ironic tone as when he had walked in the door.

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“Patience, woman.” He took my hand and headed for the beige living room sofa near the windows. “Wait, let me get our lunch. I’ve made the Bartel sisters’ infamous pimento cheese sandwiches and chilled a bottle of Mateaus Rose in the freezer. Be right back.” I took the five steps to our small kitchen in the alcove off the dining room. I removed the inexpensive Portuguese wine from the freezer and grabbed the corkscrew from its drawer. Balancing two empty wine glasses between my right-hand knuckles, I took the wine and corkscrew in my left to the coffee table. “Be right back. You want chips?” He nodded no. In minutes I returned with pretty pink napkins and pre-cut, no-crust sandwiches on two salad plates, all served on a crystal tray, a wedding gift from Atmore. “Now!” I said as I plopped beside Tom. “Tell me what you meant about the Air Force and the ‘Dream Sheets’?”

Tom opened the wine and filled both glasses. “I’m not sure anyone in our class got their first base of choice. Several, if not most, got the opposite of what they requested like I did. For instance, to game the system when we want to go to California, I’ll ask for Maine.” Not fully comprehending, I asked, “Can the Air Force do that?”

That produced a laughter fit. “Sure!” He took a sip of wine to clear his throat. “The Air Force can do anything it wants. “What I meant was, I asked for Maine, and they gave me, TA DA, California.” Tom’s top lip did that Elvis half-smile thing he does that drives women wild. I grabbed Tom’s face and kissed his cleft chin. Then we smirked and gloated together. “But how, Tom? Assignments seem like Roulette!”

“No. The personnel center in San Antonio matches officers to their particular skills. If that matches up with your ‘Dream Sheet,” and if, and this is a big if, they have an opening in the c communications unit at the base you want, you’ll go there. All my stars must’ve aligned.”

“Or maybe it’s fickle fate, but who are they to play God with people’s careers?” I was hot.

“Hold on, it’s not like that.” Tom further explained the personnel center has communications’ officers who have worked several years in their field. They make assignments for fellow comm. officers, who are less experienced and of lower rank. Just like experienced pilots make pilots’ assignments; experienced engineers make engineers’ …”

“Ah, now I get it. As long as it’s not random, but you still haven’t said where in California we’re going.” I clapped my hands in anticipation.                                                                                                                    Tom explained our new base was March  near Riverside. He was assigned to the 33

rdCommunications Squadron. He also said it was “a pretty plum assignment” because the base also served as Headquarters for 15th Air Force, a Strategic Air Command Base. I knew not what it all meant, but I could hardly contain myself as I told him I had been to Southern California! In1963, Mama and Daddy took me on the train from New Orleans.

My sister Aimee’s Marine Corps husband, and helicopter pilot, who we called Dee, was stationed in Santa Ana at the Marine Corps Air Facility, where all west coast helicopter units were stationed. Since the USMC facility was about 30 miles SW of Riverside, I had seen many of the places I knew Tom would love as much as I had as a teenager.

Although Aimee was pregnant with their first child, she took us everywhere. Dee had to work, but he came home every night. We went to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to see Yul Bryner live in “The King and I.” The theatre, colorful costumes, Asian music, even the far-out street-people on Hollywood Boulevard made it a fabulous, new universe. We also went to the Farmer’s Market filled with fruits and veggies as exotic-looking as the shoppers who came to mid-town Los Angeles to buy them.

“Did you go to Disneyland?”

“Of course! Oh, Tom, I cannot wait to play tour guide!” As my voice rose several octaves, Lamb Chop barked at my exuberance. “Calm down! We’re taking you, too.” I turned back to Tom. “Aimee was pregnant with their first child, but she took us to Catalina Island. The night before, she had made strawberries with whipped cream. In retrospect, she decided the cream was bad and had made two of us sick. Aimee and I threw up all over that island. Mama said we were doing it on purpose. Later, she guilted us into going on the glass bottom boat with her and Daddy. Aimee and I prayed we didn’t ‘upchuck,’ as Mama called it, all over the glass window on the ocean.”

As we had before we left Texas for Mississippi, Tom and I packed our suitcases. The moving company, which the Air Force had contracted, packed everything else we owned, except Lamb Chop, of course, and the movers took it all away, hopefully to California.

Graduation from Keesler’s Communications-Electronics School felt like an after-thought.