The Chronicle of Little Johnny, an American Airman

American Airman

Little Johnny was an American airman. He was his country’s sentry and avenger, and also not a half bad bowler. He had other hobbies … hoverboarding, throwing random objects from overpasses, raising vacuum cleaner extensions defiantly into the sky during thunderstorms … but his primary passion — and indeed his life’s work — was strumming the contrabass balalaika in the Air Force’s prestigious Band of Iowa, which was both smaller and less consequential than the Navy SEALs, but with a bigger budget.

Johnny joined the Air Force after being home schooled by his inattentive parents, who also ran an antique telephone repair shop out of their suburban Poughkeepsie home. His father also practiced unlicensed dentistry, but left the profession after a disagreement with a peculiarly testy amalgam supplier. The incident left his father embittered and serially hostile, driving Johnny into a pattern of reclusive avoidance … wherein he turned to his beloved contrabass for therapy.

His parents had brought him to America as a child when the family immigrated from the obscure and troubled republic of Kreplachistan. There the family had once prospered, running a successful wire coat hanger factory. But business had become too competitive with the advance of plastic hangers and the overall reduction in coat wear due to global warming. They found a new life in America, and Johnny was somewhat thankful.

Even though he was an immigrant, and would therefore absorb the open contempt of his teammates and any number of presidential candidates, Johnny wanted to help defend the country that had given his family the same economic mediocrity in a better geographic setting, along with a much more interesting tax code. He couldn’t imagine a better way to contribute than to participate in mostly inconsequential ceremonial events totally disconnected from the mission but showered with constant attention from generals. The gambit paid off, and he was soon ferociously memorizing and repeating the Airman’s Creed while petting his personal copy of AFI 1-1. Oh, how he loved it so.

His career had started off extremely well. He made Technical Sergeant in a single day and was a finalist for Airman of the Year at the major command level because of his service to the community reading Choose Your Own Adventure books to the elderly at a ring of care facilities and discount buffet restaurants. His candidacy was derailed at the last minute when a records review revealed a Letter of Reprimand for vaping a full meter outside the authorized smoke pit boundary at Al Udeid during a 3-day deployment. Still, he had survived the recent drawdown because he was the service’s only contrabass balalaika performer and therefore, in the words of his O-2 unit commander, “more valuable than any pilot.”

But Johnny’s problems were only just beginning. In February of 2015, he went online to seek policy clarification about Mustache March after hearing that the Chief of Staff would not be holding a service-level contest. Johnny had pinned his hopes for a resurgent career to winning the contest by growing his signature Kreplachi handlebar. But he went afoul of the “Ask an E-9” Facebook site by twice failing to preface his question with “Not an E-9,” the contemporary equivalent of bowing to royalty before making eye contact.

The situation escalated and Johnny was permanently banned from the site after calling the Admin a “goat licker.” He argued there was “nothing inherently offensive about licking a goat,” but was informed that his privileges were nonetheless suspended because his insult “had not been properly formatted.” As a result of the incident, he received a Letter of Counseling, although no actual counseling was performed. It would not be Johnny’s last collision with the subject of professionalism.

One fateful evening during a volunteer reading session, an elderly gentleman became agitated by Johnny’s repeated mispronunciations caused by his heavy Kreplachi accent. In a rage, the man charged, bellowing “eat hickory” and swinging his cane toward Johnny’s outsized cranium. In self-defense, Johnny heaved his book at the old man, stunning him long enough for Johnny to grab the book and depart the facility.

Much to his chagrin, a knock on the door of his naugahyde-walled apartment a few hours later interrupted his enjoyment of a warm cup of courvoisier over some vintage Barry Manilow. It was the police, accompanied by Johnny’s First Sergeant, Diamond Sharp. It seemed after Johnny left the Ponderosa, the belligerent man had collapsed and promptly died. Police attributed the death to a bad clam and suspected no foul play, but needed the Choose Your Own Adventure book for their evidence file.

Johnny cooperated fully, having nothing to fear. As the police gathered the book, Diamond Sharp strolled around Johnny’s place, demonstrating leader involvement and interest in Johnny’s personal story. He was particularly taken in by a framed selfie of Johnny and his former love interest. In the photo, his former girlfriend was wearing bunny pajamas and Johnny was adorned with a special piece of flair: a red button inscribed with the words “like rabbits.” 

Sharp was unamused by the objectionable photo. He queried Johnny about it, asking him if he thought vague suggestions of bestiality and aberrant sexual conduct were “professional.” Stupefied, Johnny uttered an unintelligible collection of gibberish and stalled for time until Sharp’s attention span expired. The Shirt and police finally left, and Johnny returned to his courvoisier.

He reflected about how things had gone so wrong with his now estranged girlfriend, a coquettish haberdasher who opened his mind to the magical world of animal costumes before alienating him with a harsh critique of his admittedly embryonic songwriting. He had banished her from his life, telling her in a text that he would rather eat mason jars than be with her. She had asked for clarification … did he mean the contents of the jars or the jars themselves? And he texted her clarification, adding sardonically, “even the metal lid.” Still, he secretly pined for her return. The photo they took together at the Des Moines Jazz and Blues Festival’s “Animal Night” — the one that had chafed the unfortunate Diamond Sharp — was his only remaining token of their withered love.

The next morning, Johnny was summoned to the Lieutenant’s office, where he was presented with a signed search order for his apartment. He was under suspicion of “unprofessional behavior” in violation of AFI 1-1. The order had been signed by a drunken magistrate-qualified O-3 from the nearest MEPS station after Diamond Sharp had reported Johnny’s suspect selfie to Headquarters USAF Band Command.

The search was executed, but alas, Johnny had mailed the picture to his cousin Larry for safekeeping back in Kreplachistan. After a few more warm cups of booze and some Manilow-induced reflection, he had come to the realization that his most precious belongings were probably safer in a rickety, third-world republic with a century of continuous martial law than in his own private home in the United States.

But Johnny was still in trouble, because as Security Forces searched his chest freezer for the photo, they stumbled upon something even more damaging. After recently discovering the character Laszlow Holyfeld from the movie “Real Genius,” Johnny had secretly undertaken a campaign to make thousands of entries in the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes, and had stored copies of his entries in his freezer. The movie had also inspired him to snap a selfie while naked with a bowl of jello, but he had thankfully deleted the photo long ago.

But the sweepstakes entries were a real problem. Band Command had recently instituted Top Three Policy Rule Instruction 6.9.1.C, which forbade participation in such contests because they were considered “like a gateway drug for fantasy sports, which is like a gateway drug for lottery tickets, which are on the continuum of gambling.” Johnny was not in full compliance.

He was summarily stripped of his monthly contrabass balalaika replacement allowance, removed from the roster of the upcoming Bands Across Alberta bus tour, and offered Article 15 punishment by the local 3-star for failing to obey a direct order. His career in shambles, he applied and was approved for VSP. He collected his sizable severance check and DD-214 and immediately took to social media to firebomb the world with memes. 

Johnny would later use his veteran preference and sleep apnea driven disability rating to secure civilian employment as Manager Number 7 of Air Force Entertainment. His principal duty as one of a mere seven senior leaders in a 40-person organization was to supervise tour arrangements for “Trollops and Booze,” a traveling musical showcase that combined Stevie Wonder Polka Fusion tunes and wholesome, topically relevant messaging to provide semi-popular PG-13 entertainment, free of charge, at taxpayer expense, with an essentially unlimited budget.

Johnny was later investigated after he forced tour members to drive non-stop from New Jersey to Alaska in four days in a discount Winnebago that had been formerly used as a meth lab. Johnny had gotten a killer deal at an auction, diverting the savings to a slush fund for various body enhancement surgeries for tour members. Sadly, the Winnebago careened over a cliff in the middle of Saskatchewan when the exhausted driver diverted his attention to reading a Justin Bieber article on Buzzfeed. Fortunately, no one was injured in the Winnebago, which did unfortunately destroy a small school upon impact. The general reviewing the investigation decided that Johnny had been “innovative.” She ordered a second investigation, and Johnny was promptly promoted to Manager Number 6, a lifetime position with full legal immunity.

Leaders must always know the stories of their people. And now you know one story … the story of Little Johnny. Bear the lessons of his tale in mind as you strum your favorite instrument in 2016 … and when in doubt, ask yourself … What Would Little Johnny Do?

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