The Ostrich Takes Flight

Lane USAFThe Ostrich, who will remain nameless, and I were in basic training together at Lackland AFB way back in December 1968 through January 1969, and sixteen weeks of weather observing school at Chanute AFB following basic.

Ostrich was given that moniker by our TI (Training Instructor – a non-commissioned officer wearing a Smokey-the-Bear hat and has god-like status if you are a new airman going through Air Force basic training). Ostrich was tall and gangly and marched with his head kind of crained out away from his body. I guess the TI thought he looked like an ostrich.

For those unfamiliar with the institution, basic training involved getting up real early with a lot of whistle blowing, yelling and name calling, mostly on the part of the TIs, and of course, a lot of running, jumping, push-ups, and sweating, mostly on the part of the trainees. The objective was to turn raw civilians averse to authority (remember, the late ‘60s were the Age of Aquarius) into obedient, well-trained Airmen. Sometimes they got the desired results, sometimes not so much.

Ostrich was a rather strange fellow. Every military unit, especially basic training units, has at least one klutz. That was Ostrich for us. He was actually very smart, because he did get through weather observing school, a career field reserved for men and women who scored high on their AFQT (Air Force Qualification Test).

He may have been smart, but he struggled with the fundamental concept of the difference between his right foot and his left foot. The TIs had a saying for folks like that, which is not repeatable on this blog. Let’s just say it involved monkeys and footballs and leave the rest to your imagination. (Don’t dwell on it. It never made much sense to me, either.)

When marching, Ostrich was almost always out of step with the rest of the formation. The TI called the cadence, “Lef’, rait, lef’, rait!” But Ostrich be going rait, lef’, rait, lef’! This was a problem for me, because I marched in first squad directly behind Ostrich. My rait would be stepping on his rait heel, and my lef’ be stepping on his lef’ heel. We were supposed to have this all down by the first week of basic, but four weeks in, and Ostrich was still frequently out of step.

To get back in step, they taught us to simply skip a step, like skipping down the street, second nature for most of us. One day we were marching to a training class, and the flight be going lef’, rait, lef’, rait, but Ostrich be going rait, lef’, rait, lef’ again, and I be stepping on his heels, and Ostrich be skipping to get in step and still ends up out of step. The formation is looking all sharp and military except for the second guy in first squad (Ostrich) who is bobbing and skipping along like a seven-year old girl on the way to a birthday party.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the TI coming up from behind the formation and homing right in on Ostrich, and he wasn’t looking very happy! I’m thinking someone is gonna die!

Ostrich never saw it coming. The TI snuck up behind him and got about an inch from his left ear, and yelled loud enough to wake the dead, “OSTRICH! GET IN STEP!”

The Ostrich went airborne!

He launched straight up about three feet in the air with his feet pumping like he was peddling a bicycle in low gear going up a steep incline. I’m talking blurry feet! WAY blurry feet! He must have skipped about a dozen steps while airborne, but he did come down in step with the formation. I don’t recall him ever being out of step again.

I have one picture of Ostrich but can’t find it. He was holding a mop in front of his face, anyway. Camera shy. So, you got a pic of me instead.

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Filed under Growing Up, War Stories

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