Girl on a Plane, Part III (Final)

Most of the literature states that it takes 66 days for new behavior to become a habit or for us to break an old habit. I think in a military environment, that timeline is shortened. It did not take long to start doing things by rote. Soon after, it almost becomes instinctual.

It only takes a few days of Basic Military Training (BMT) before one begins to make a few realizations.


Outside of the draft, most people enter the military by visiting a military recruiter. Sergeant Varner, a brother of a schoolmate, promised several things. I would get my first stripe (promotion) upon graduating from BMT. I would be allowed to choose my career field and where I would be stationed.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered none of those were true. My unit (Flight 51) was the first unit where only the top 15% received a promotion on graduation. Our career field was selected based on the aptitude tests taken before signing on the dotted line. And as far as permanent duty stations, those were assigned based on need AFTER technical school.  (We would be able to fill out a dream sheet and that would be taken into consideration.)

I selected the most popular greeting card in the Base Exchange (BX) to send home to my parents:

If you should run across my recruiter…
Do it with a tank.

Daily Life

Marching in formation was the only mode of transportation. We marched everywhere. We had classes every week. We were shown training films on the dangers of LSD and how to watch for spies who might try to get information from us. I looked up both and found similar, but not the exact films I saw.

In 1972, we also had classes on fitness, diet and grooming. I even remember a few where we were taught the ‘proper’ application of makeup. (Always use your ring finger under the eye because it is the weakest finger. Always dot, never rub.) Our classroom was downstairs from recruiter training which was loud, with lots of yelling and stomping. I would compare it to more current day high intensity sales training. We disliked all recruiters by this point.

We had surprise inspection of our dorms – often at night. We were, however, quite fortunate because a family of skunks lived under our entry steps and they often spent their evenings sitting on the steps which dissuaded our Training Instructors (TI’s) from many late night inspections.

Dressing in uniform became second nature. I can still develop a high shine on a pair of leather shoes with a little polish, a cotton ball and a little bit of water.

I became a squad leader because I had Civil Air Patrol background. As a result, I ended up in the top 15% to receive a promotion upon graduation. We also made a few friends, but they were not long lasting because most would be separated from each other as soon as tech school assignments were given. I do still remember my roommate – Sue Kilker. She was a funny individual, but like so many others, I never saw her again.

Near the end of our time at Lackland, there was an optional dance where we would see guys for the first time. I declined going because I was stricken with severe acne which I believe was a result of the heat and the salt pills. I had no self confidence during that time, but fortunately it was short-lived.

Moving On

The weekend after graduation (if I recall correctly) we were given our first off-base pass. Being in San Antonio, Texas, there were a few interesting attractions. At the time The Riverwalk had a high incidence of crime and we were warned not to go there. Being a rule follower, I chose not to take any risks. I remember going to department stores where everyone spoke Spanish. It was a new cultural experience for me. I then went to see The Alamo. I will never forget how small it was — approximately 30 feet. After seeing so many American Westerns, I was quite surprised by this.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

I remained at Lackland for approximately two weeks before receiving my orders to go to Sheppard AFB, in Wichita Falls, TX. Life after Basic Training is completely different. It becomes more like a job than intense training. I only served in the Air Force for two years. I got married on the heels of my mother’s death and at the time, women could be released from active duty if they married a civilian.

As I was in the process of acquiring a discharge I received orders to Lakenheath in Suffolk England. That may have been my only chance to visit England, but I have never looked back. I have my daughter from that marriage and she is a blessing in my life.


28 thoughts on “Girl on a Plane, Part III (Final)”

    1. It is sometimes good to look back. We have all traveled some interesting roads and sometimes the end can be bittersweet. But our children are always cherished.

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  1. I live about 50 minutes drive from Lakenheath. Unfortunately, the area is dominated both by the much-expanded airbase, and the main A11 road heading south in the direction of Cambridge and London. However, it is also very close to the picturesque Theftford Forest, and not very far from the small coastal towns of Norfolk, and the city of Bury St Edmunds. You might have enjoyed living there. The base is one of the biggest employers in that area, and many local businesses depend on it for their existence.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. This would have been about 1974, Pete. Perhaps then it might not have been so encompassing. I think it would have been a nice assignment, but that I will never know for sure.

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  2. I loved this, Maggie. I laughed out loud at the family of skunks preventing too many night inspections! And at your message to your parents about running across your recruiter with a tank. Sorry you missed out on the UK posting – but I’m sure your daughter more than compensates.

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    1. Overall it was a great experience, Mary. I would have loved to visit the UK, but you are correct, having my daughter more than compensates.

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  3. This has been a trio of very interesting life stories. Your experiences were similar but different from mine. I was stationed at Keesler AFB at the Army Detachment during the time Hurricane Camille.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this experience with us, Maggie. I often wonder if some military service wouldn’t have been good for me. It’s interesting to read a real first hand account of the early days. I also applaud you for being among the early women to serve in a more traditional sense. No doubt, your success helped pave the way for those who followed.

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    1. Thank you for reading through them all, Dan. I think military training can be good, although basic and combat training are tough. Not sure I could have handled being in a combat situation. Those men and women have my utmost respect. Their sacrifice is lifelong. You just don’t get over such experiences. Mine was a good experience and I never regretted one second of it.

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  5. Part 2 was a great continuation. I enjoy all of your stories! One of my nursing classmates joined the airforce and Lackland was her base. Also, agree about the Alamo. It was an incredible shock to me. Loved the River Walk. My first time there was in around 1988 I think.

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  6. Yes, it certainly is an icon, however having been a huge Davey Crocket fan, I was shocked at the size! Lol. Joe and I visited Orlando at least 15 years ago, driving thru San Antonio and that was my second and last visit.

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