Having been retired from the Army for more than 13 years, I'm often asked if I miss it, and my answer is no. I don't miss getting up at 4:30 a.m. or those wonderful field rations. But, there is something about C-Ration coffee in a canteen cup with wood ashes floating on top that beats any coffee found in the civilian world -- only a field soldier would know what I'm talking about.
One thing I truly miss is the camaraderie I had with my brothers in arms. It doesn't really exist in the civilian world, with the exception of law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders.
But, thanks to some individuals and units at Moody Air Force Base, I've been able to experience some of that camaraderie again. The pararescuemen from the 38th Rescue Squadron have invited me to their Christmas party for the past two years and have made me feel welcome.
Recently during a Heritage Friday, I was invited to a "Roll Call" hosted by the 49th and 435th Fighter Training Squadrons with the 479th Flying Training Group. I was presented with a Velcro name tag from the 435th Black Eagles with command pilot wings, which I truly cherish. Normally the individual squadrons hold their own roll call, but about every six months, the two squadrons join for the event.
A few things take place on Friday. Each squadron wears a squadron heritage patch on the right shoulder, and the pilots wear their previous unit patch, normally related to F-15, F-16 or A-10 aircraft. Each pilot also wears a special name tag with his or her call sign. During roll call, the pilots answer only to their call signs. A sample of some of these call signs are Lupus, Rubble, Sparky, Bulldog, Mr. Ed, Goober, Chain Saw, Bones, Girth and Cylon, and the list goes on. Each squadron has individuals tell embarrassing stories about their fellow pilots, whose call signs are put on a board for nomination for a special squadron "pink" call sign. All pilots are fair game, and rank doesn't exist.
The special call signs for the 49th and 435th are "Queen" and "Jenny" respectively, and those selected go by that call sign for about a month and wear the tag on Fridays. By the way, Goober received the Queen call sign and Lupus received Jenny. I won't divulge their real names, and they were kind of set up. I have to admit, I applauded and yelled louder when their names came up for voting -- sorry, SIRS! However, it was a first that two squadron commanders received these call signs.
Heritage Friday also gives the new generation a chance to hear stories from those who served before. Lt. Col. Richard Sturtevant retired from the Air Force in 1976 and was invited by the 435th to tell a few war stories for the instructor pilots and especially for the student pilots going through Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals. He was wearing the same party suit, complete with embroidered command pilot wings, name and Thai banner that he wore when he was assigned as flight leader with the 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Ubon, Thailand from 1970-71.
Sturtevant flew an amazing 202 combat missions in the F-4D Phantom and survived. There were no smart bombs in those days -- pilots had to rely on their instincts.
Roll call traces its roots to the Royal Air Force, which fought so bravely over England during the Battle of Briton. After each mission, a roll call was held for accountability, and later toasts were made to honor those pilots who died in battle. Among the British RAF were American volunteers who adopted it. Now it's part of the U.S. Air Force's tradition.
Rip Prine is a reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times.
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