Due to a combination of factors, my initial assignment overseas in 1964 was to an airborne unit, even though I lacked a number of training prerequisites. It did make life challenging for a while, but eventually I was able to overcome all the obstacles.
Besides the lack of training, there were other issues to deal with. To begin, I discovered that the unit had no authorization for one more Korean linguist. My immediate supervisor lobbied to remove an old non-productive guy from the list in order to make room for me. Despite his age, he had not made rank and he was total deadwood anyway. Finally, he was reclassified and there was a slot for me but then –
A shade under six feet tall, I weighed only 133 pounds, and according to the medical charts, I was underweight. The doctors admitted that I was healthy in all respects and said that it was likely that my body mass had not caught up with a recent growth spurt. Heck, I could easily clean and jerk more than a hundred pounds, a feat some flying guys I knew couldn’t do.
Next, I had to get waivers from the Air Force allowing me to become a crewmember despite not having all of the necessary training. The Air Force did not want to waste my assignment, so I did get a waiver for SERE training: a course in Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape for those flying in potentially hostile areas.
However, since there was a Water Survival facility in Japan, I had to attend that course. Located just outside Numazu, Japan, the small class size and a small staff made for a small chow hall – but it had an outstanding head cook. I learned over the years in the military that small chow halls always made for great grub. I ate very well – and probably gained a bit of weight during my time there.
What is more, because there was an Altitude Chamber (think hypobaric training) on Okinawa, only a short flight away, I had to attend training there on how to deal with in-flight emergencies at altitudes where there isn’t much oxygen – or warmth. And wouldn’t you know, the transit quarters where I stayed was very close to the chow hall. It was a large facility but the food was better than expected. Maybe I gained some weight there, too.
But I think the real reason I got up to minimum weight was beer. The doctor that performed my initial flying physical advised me to drink a lot of beer to gain weight. Well, okay! But every silver lining has a cloud. Even though I claim that I had been given an official prescription to consume alcohol, the unsympathetic Air Force would not pay for my “medicine.” Beer was on me. Somehow, I managed and my weight increased to the point (140 pounds, if I recall correctly) that I passed my physical. Now I was cleared to fly.
Not quite four months after arriving on station, I got my first flight as a crewmember on December 7 – an inauspicious day to be sure, but it started a glorious career of flying for a total of 500 missions!