Time Capsule: A Chiefing to Remember

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For many veterans, summer brings with it memories of desert deployment. There’s something about a 130-degree heat that sears itself into the mind’s permanent storage, right alongside cherished recollections of swapouts that always seemed to fall before July 4th if you were heading out and after that weekend if you were heading home. 

As a crusty retiree with zero combat relevance, one of my favorite summer pastimes these days is to revisit deployed memories, starting with the funniest ones. Leafing through old emails from a squadron deployment in 2011, I stumbled across the excerpt below, which is both humorous and illustrative.

“Chiefing” became a subject of controversy and unfortunate relevance for deployed airmen in the years after the invasion of Iraq. For the uninitiated, Chiefing refers the pejorative nickname given the sequence of events when one airman — typically an E-9 (or someone enabled, encouraged, or emboldened by an E-9) — publicly and aggressively corrects another airman on a matter of utter insignificance such as a minor uniform infraction. When you’re halted on your way into the dining facility and publicly castigated about your sock length or hat angle, you’ve been Chiefed.

Chiefings are typically public, petty, and timed to catch victims when they are at give-a-damn low tide … like during a late-night walk to the bathroom, a midday poolside resiliency session, or while grabbing chow at the tail end of a 20-hour flying day.

During the decade of the oughts, Chiefing became a cottage industry. Entire regulations sprung up to enable it. Deployed billets were created to effectuate it. Meetings were held daily to discuss it, carried out on the condition of total freedom from dissent or critical thought.

On a serious note, Chiefing came to represent the worst of America’s Air Force. Its laser focus on the trivial in an environment created to achieve the significant evinced a breathtaking lack of focus — one that senior officers failed to correct in a major failure implicating an entire generation of generals.

Supervision and control became indistinguishable as concepts, with Chiefing a primary tactic employed to fuse the two together. As the practice careened toward its own grotesquely inane form of purity, it drove a wedge between NCOs and officers. On one side was an insistence that all standards should be considered equally important and urgent, even if the pace of rule creation had long ago outstripped the capacity of airmen to keep up, much less genuinely care. On the other side was a Robin Olds-inspired combat sensibility that was looking for a bureaucracy to resent and push against. It found that object in the seemingly bottomless bench of Chiefs and lackeys who roamed deployed bases on the prowl for elective tedium, an unduly pliant command element drinking from their cupped hands for want of enough confidence in its own sense of the force to keep lunacy at standoff. 

As I reviewed this amusing rendition, extracted from an unattributed email that virally made the rounds in command circles four years ago today, the sense of disappointment came rushing back. In this capsule, we glimpse an officer who has lost respect for enlisted airmen, and an enlisted airman whose actions afford that loss. Both are wrong for different reasons, and the whole team is injured in the transaction. It’s a sad example of a macro phenomenon that continues to grip Big Blue four years later.

As the enlisted force prepares to embrace a new evaluation and promotion system, senior officers, including the Chief of Staff, are almost totally silent, speaking only when their own public relations apparatus pulls the correct string. Field commanders are not being trusted to communicate or implement the new system, instead forced to yield the floor to a hand-picked team of traveling salesmen chosen by the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force.

It’s clear to any reasonable observer that we have allowed the service to disintegrate, with two separate forces living parallel but separate lives that only intersect when obliged. This is no good. Airpower won’t thrive, and nor will America’s air service, without officers and NCOs working together to lead and manage teams to victory.

But even if you’re not in the mood to process all that serious thought, this works as nothing more than an entertaining slice of deployed life. Enjoy … and keep your crocs handy … the country will never let you rest for long.

Anonymous war story follows.

It’s time for the latest and greatest tale from the land of the permanent sun. Gird your loins, stock up on Valtrex and Gatorade & get your piddle packs ready, because this one is a doozy!

First off, allow me to preface all of this with an observation that may be obvious to some. Apparently, as one rises in the enlisted ranks, life becomes less and less about the kicking of ass, taking of names, and chewing of bubble gum. In fact, the closer one gets to the exalted rank of Chief, the more one’s day revolves around completely losing your shit over relatively minor (and sometimes non-existent) uniform infractions. Believe me when I say that Chiefs “losing their shit” is an understatement. We’re talking completely bugfuck, batshit,”I’m-going-to-punch-you-in-the-face-till-you-stop-breathing-and-then-wear-your-face-like-a-mask-while-i-do-my-little-kooky-dance-if-you-don’t-zip-your-pocket-shut” crazy. The troops here are more afraid of being ‘Chiefed’ than they are of the insurgents lobbing a rocket into the crapper.

I forwarded the email to some of y’all documenting the latest in the 36-2903 jihad; the wearing of 550 cord bracelets. Apparently, these are considered uber verboten due to them not being ‘conservative’ (conservative defined as gold or silver). Fun side note, an army field manual actually describes 550 cord bracelets thusly: “A paracord bracelet provides an easy way to carry a large amount of cord for an emergency, whether in combat, as an outdoor survival tool, or merely when a piece of equipment needs securing.”

To date, people all around The Iraq have been at the receiving end of holy righteous fury for such treasonous infractions as:

– PT shirt not tucked in

– PT shirt too sweaty

– Socks too short

– Socks too long

– Socks wrong color

– Mustache too wide

– Mustache too long

– Mustache too scraggly

– Mustache too mustache-y outside of the month of March

– Riding a bike on the sidewalk

– Wearing a two-piece bathing suit at the pool

– Wearing a feminine bathing suit at the pool

– Listening to music at the pool

– Listening to music outside

And the holy grail of all infractions:

– Not wearing your reflective belt

I could rant for a few more days about this, but it’s really just background info. The newest big thing to come down from the senior NCO staff meetings, which I can only imagine look like a council of Sith Lords plotting the destruction of innocent worlds, is the implementation of mandatory 5-minute ‘combat showers’. It is into this world that I now take you.

So there I was, no shit, enjoying my warmish Iraqi shower. I had just finished shampooing my mustache and was contemplating the wisdom of my recent Crocs purchase. You see Crocs, though phenomenally ridiculous & a mere molecule away from the Jellies of the 1980s, actually make excellent combat shower shoes. They are rather soft, so you don’t crack your heels on the rocks. They are waterproof & drain well, which is good for obvious reasons. Finally, the sole is quite thick, which is essential when considering the living petri dish of athlete’s foot & so-called “desert jellyfish” that live on the floors of the showers. As I stood there, attempting to avoid the ever-present vinyl embrace of the shower curtain, I couldn’t help but notice that it was moving toward me even more than usual. I nary had time to ponder the strangeness of this when to my surprise, a pale, befreckled hand appeared and began its epic quest toward my ROZ. (Restricted Operating Zone for you non-military types).

Now you have to understand that these shower stalls are quite confining, and remind me in many ways of the tiny cell I lived in, with only a bag over my head for clothing and a Folgers can for company, in between beatings and forced labor at SERE school. So naturally, when I saw this little paw coming through my lower rathole door, I freaked right the fuck out.

Combine this with a tale I had recently heard about one of the hadjis on base that the girls had all nicknamed “Grab & Go”. This nickname is clever for several reasons. First, in AF terms, a touch & go is when you do a practice landing and take right back off immediately afterwards. Grab & Go is the name of the 24-hour dining facility on base where you can run in, grab food quickly, then bounce. The ladies had named this enterprising young TCN “Grab & Go” because of his endearing habit of blitzing into the women’s showers, throwing back curtains, and rapidly groping as much lady flesh as he could before bolting out the door. Now, I had heard this fine specimen of chivalry had been arrested, but having just sat through my briefing on the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I had quickly considered the possibility that a copycat Grab & Go of the “not-funny-haha, funny-queer” persuasion was on the loose & on the hunt for junks to manhandle.

Naturally assuming that I was about to be the star of my own little Crying Game, I did the only thing I could think of. I lashed out with a wicked judo chop toward an area I assumed the offending Limnadians face would be. I was pleasantly surprised when my curtain-covered-fist-of-justice made contact with something solid. The soul on the receiving end of that pimp-slap was not quite so pleased. In fact, the sound he made can only be described as a mixture of heart-stopping shock, noticeable surprise, and significant pain, all muffled by the aforementioned curtain-covered-fist-of-justice that was by now somewhere between his lips and his tonsils. I wish I could accurately convey that sound to all of you, but the best I can do is to say that it sort of sounded like:


The next few seconds witnessed me quickly shut off the water, tear open the shower curtain that so recently had been the Robin to my pervert-stomping Batman, reach for my towel and wrap it quickly around my waist like a Spartan toga and give this [specimen] my very best impersonation of an “I-just-read-the-short-tour-credit-letter-and-I’m-going-to-punch-babies” face. So it is with the image of me towering over this little fat dude in AF PTs, looking and feeling like a slightly less ripped King Leonidas in 300 (THIS IS. MY SHOWER!!), that I “politely” asked him what the fuck he was doing.

His response was to inform me that I was in violation of the 5-minute combat shower rule, which he had taken upon himself to enforce by attempting to turn off the water in my shower (an act I took to be a grievous airspace violation) and he was going to report me for assault. My response to all of this would have brought tears to your eyes, peace to the world, and an end to world hunger. I unfortunately cannot remember exactly what I said to this wannabe Chief, so this is just a tribute (with approximately 69 fewer instances of the word “fuck”):

“Good sir, I shant think you shall reporteth me for assault, for I was merely defending myself, and as an American fighting man, thou can only expecteth me to support and defend mine giblets from all enemies, foreign & domestic. Furthermore, one could argue, friend, that you were attempting to sexually assaulteth me, and mine fragile psyche may never recover from such a violation. Also, thou seem to have championed a cause that is trivial at best, and unwinnable at worst. To put “saved 69,000 gallons of Iraqi water by infringing on sovereign penile territory” on thine performance report would not only bring shame upon thee and thine household for generations to come, but would likely giveth unwashed hippies worldwide yet another reason to defile the noble intentions of the conflict we find ourselves in. A conflict, that need I remindeth you, thou hast chosen to fight by groping genitalia instead of doing something that even remotely contributes to the war effort.

Lasty, and I assure thee that I cannot emphasize this point enough; I AM A MOTHERFUCKING PILOT AND I WILL SHOWER FOR AS LONG AS I DAMN WELL PLEASE! Thou however, are quite clearly a cowardly shoe clerk with a split lip, a pregnant belly and nothing better to do than harass the executors of the mission that thou doth ‘support’. So if you would do me the kindness of getting the prompt fuck out of mine face before I wedgeth my oh-so-comfortable and practical Crocs down your throat & up thy [backside] till they doth meet in the middle!”

So it was at the end of this exchange that Sergeant Sausage of the Shower Patrol scurried away to find another cause to champion. I trust it will likely be one where he sits in his cubicle for 6-7 hours a day, 4 days a week, with every Thursday off for “training”, spending most of his time complaining about aircrew whilst insisting to all who will hear that he too is a WARRIOR and without his ‘ceaseless’ efforts, this mission would fail.

I meanwhile, got back in the shower and stood there under the running water for a solid 20 minutes. I even shampooed my mustache again. 

Just because I could.

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