June 1982 – Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) NAS Pensacola, Florida
AOCS was grueling. If the movie ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ (O&G) had not premiered when I was in my second week of training, I’m sure I would have probably quit and gone home. Actually, I did quit (DOR – dropped on request) after my first ever boxing event. Traditional big glove sparring was all the hand-to-hand combat we were trained in, as much as I wanted to wheel a 360 round-house reverse back kick I had just perfected in Tae kwon do on the Belmont College team months before. The boxing coach sent me back in the ring after I had injured my thumb (thumbs in, when your on the offensive), and the second round had the same result (thumbs weren’t in) and I broke my right thumb, which still today makes it difficult to write.
After the trip to the infirmary to get my thumb reset and casted, I had had-it. I seriously questioned the leadership of Aviation Schools Command, and the military in general. Staff Sargent Wehnt USMC (not present at the boxing event) told me I was making a big mistake, but I insisted on quitting and he sent me off to another building to proceed out-processing. In this status, I was afforded immediate liberty. I had heard about O&G from someone, and headed to the Pensacola Mall Theater that night to see it. Halfway into the movie, I knew had made a hasty decision that I regretted.
The next day, I asked the chief drill instructor, Gunnery Sargent Goforth USMC, if I could request a meeting with the Commanding Officer of the US Navy’s Aviation Schools Command: Navy Captain Rasmussen, USN. I forgot the indignities the Chief Drill Instructor blasted at me, but if was something like “so you think you can sneak of to the movies and just drop back in?!”
Captain Robert L. (Bob) Rasmussen was a former Blue Angel and he had served the nation as a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War flying the F-8 Crusader. I crossed the street to Naval Aviation Schools Command and proceeded down the corridor to the C.O.’s chamber. After entering the “hatch” and performing the proper Navy entry protocol, the Captain asked me why I had quit, and why he should give me a second chance? His calm demur and low tone of voice, caught me off guard. He spoke to me like a concerned teacher or counselor. I forgot how long I spoke with him, or what I said exactly, but he permitted me to return to the program under the next class (30-82), behind the one I had started with (29-82). This normally does not happen, and I don’t know of any other AOC that pulled this off that summer. Was it the fact that a candidate had just drowned in water survival training a few weeks before? Was I that persuasive? Or maybe the Captain was just sympathetic to another Bob? 😉 I’ll never know.
A month later, I was almost washed-out again after I failed my jet engines class written exam. Any academic test score less than around 90% was a failure at the time. When a candidate fails a module of training, or flight check, if lucky, they will go before a review board consisting of several flight instructors. The panel of three, five, or seven officers asks a variety of oral questions on any subject that you are tasked with (military protocol, dining etiquette, chain of command, orders of a sentry, engines, meteorology, you name it). I had changed 3 or 4 answers out of around 50 from the correct answer, to what we called a “distractor” answer. A distractor answer was one that seemed to make sense, but was incorrect.
I rolled into class 31-82, my second demotion.
Ending the final phase of my now 15 weeks of training (a 12 week program), I gained new confidence actually thinking I might make it. My confidence soared as I, for the first time in training, did something better than anyone in the class: shoot a gun. I was the only one out of 30 something classmates that earned, the Navy expert firearms medal. Marine D.I.’s like sailors that can shoot! And that achievement probably saved my bacon – again. I proudly led the class back to the Battalion II building, and down to the drill instructors passageway to report in with Gunnery Sargent Campos USMC (pictured above). We shuffled into the “hatch” single-file, and approached the D.I.’s office.
“ATTENTION ON DECK!” sent each of us, backs-to-the-wall, at full attention, on both sides of the passageway (hall). Campos was ready for us. Unbeknown to me, I had left the combination lock of my personnel locker unsecured. I had closed the two doors and had the lock thru the hinge, but had forgotten to push the U-joint through. This was a favorite item for the D.I.’s to find. It always resulted in the complete desecration of anything not nailed down or locked up. Sometimes it was limited to the offending candidates equipment, usually it was the entire room of four, and frequently it precipitated an assault on the entire class residence hall. Typically the entire class paid for one individuals mistake.
“Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
You been out ridin’ fences for so long now
Oh, you’re a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you SOMEHOW”
Turning to me!…and he was wearing a walkman that looked just like…“O my God that’s mine”, I said to myself! O———SHIT!!!! My locker, I FORGOT!…
Trying not to eyeball the drill instructor, “Henderson, you really pulled a CLOSE ONE TODAY” he blasted in the typical ballistic thundering USMC Drill Instructor speak. If it was not the fact that YOU, where only NUMB-NUT that could pull a trigger and hit the side of a barn today, I would be packing it in RIGHT NOW for your unsecured GEAR”.
And I swear this is true, he then said: “I think we FINALLY found something you know HOW TO DO RIGHT”! …you can have your girl friends picture back after I get done with it…Now… GET OUT OF MY SIGHT YOU FLOCK OF TURDS”!
Years later when I watched Lee Ermey utter the same phrase at “Private Pile” in ‘Full Metal Jacket’ on the rifle range, I almost fell out of my theater seat laughing.
The last week before graduation was survival training at Eglin Air Force Base near Panama City. This three day event convinced me that going hungry was not something I ever wanted to experience again. While we were away, some administrative error was made regarding my training record. I don’t recall the paper work SNAFU, but it rolled me to my fourth class 32-82, which I graduated with. My third demotion and fourth class.