Many linguists in my unit were frequently deployed to Southeast Asia in support of the Vietnam War. For some unknown reason, our missions were initially based out of Don Muang Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, and the crews were billeted at the Crown Hotel.
That was the case until one idiot decided that the hotel swimming pool needed to be colored with a packet of sea-marker dye, a survival kit item used to help locate downed airmen at sea. As a result, our crews were declared persona non grata. After that, the crews were based out of Ubon, in up-country Thailand, certainly not as luxurious – or as much fun – as Bangkok.
About that time in 1966, the Air Force realized that it was going to have a serious shortage of linguists if it did not improve it reenlistment rates. When an airman reenlisted at that time, he did so for four years and received a reenlistment bonus equal to the number of years for which he reenlisted times his then monthly base pay.
I was finally promoted to E-4 (rank was SLOW in those days), and my first four-year term was going to expire a few months. During mandatory reenlistment counseling, I was informed that I should reenlist a few months early to take advantage of a brand-new Air Force program, the VRB – Variable Reenlistment Bonus – a bonus multiplier of 3 for linguists, before the program ran out of funds.
Base pay for an E-4 with not quite four years of service was the princely sum of $288 per month in 1966. A normal bonus for me would have been a paltry $1,152. With that VRB multiplier of three, my total bonus would become $3,456 – before taxes that would take a huge bite.
Shortly after I reenlisted, the Air Force decided that a VRB of 3 was not getting the job done, so the VRB became a multiplier of 4. That was too late for me and since I had reenlisted and I was – shall we say, “greatly upset”? I complained about having been coerced into reenlisting earlier than necessary, knowing full well that nothing could be done. Well, there was indeed something that could be done.
I was afforded a trip to Thailand in order to fly a couple of combat missions, thus making all my income for that month totally tax free. Wow! But then I realized I would not be staying at the fabled Crown Hotel because our combat missions were then flying out of Ubon. Bummer!
Ha! I found a way around that, too. I took a regular Air Force transport flight to Bangkok, where I decided that I had done enough traveling for the day. I spent the night in the Crown Hotel and in the morning had that beer and pineapple breakfast I wrote about earlier before going on to Ubon.
Although Ubon base accommodations were primitive compared to Bangkok, prices for Thai goodies were much cheaper – but even that has a story. Local merchants had three prices for the touristy stuff. One was for visiting Asians, one for Australians (a bit more expensive), and one for Americans (the highest price). Still, it was cheaper than Bangkok, so I loaded up on everything.
When I considered that my hefty bonus was tax-free and the trip itself was on Uncle Sam’s dime and time, I realized that I had nothing to complain about. I had made out like a bandit despite not getting that VRB4.