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Supply Officer, Sir?

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  • Supply Officer, Sir?

    Supply Officer, Sir?

    (2971 total words in this text)
    (248 Reads)

    "But Colonel, sir," I wanted to plead to my squadron commander. "Regulations clearly state that B-52 flight crew members are not allowed to hold additional duty assignments. They are supposed to concentrate on aircrew duties alone."
    I never said that, of course. I quietly accepted my commanding officer's (C.O.) edict and his explanation that he had to have somebody take over the Supply Officer's job immediately. And I was the lieutenant he'd chosen. That was that and there was no practical way out of it.

    "Yes, sir," I dutifully acknowledged, and was greatly relieved to hear him add, "You will continue you primary duty as a crewman. Just as soon as I can get a trained supply officer here, you will be replaced."

    Next morning, after our 7:30 AM daily roll call briefing, I headed over to the warehouse section of the base to find out what my new additional duty was all about. In my two years as an enlisted man and three as an officer, I had escaped nearly all contact with the dreaded supply unit. My luck had run out.

    In the mid-50's the Strategic Air Command, like other Air Force outfits, included supply units at the squadron level. Our B-52 squadron had its own aircraft maintenance group, its own barracks for enlisted folks and it's own supply section serving every activity. Supply, called logistics services in modern times, furnished all the equipment, tools, flight gear and every imaginable item needed to support the unit's mission.

    There were millions of dollars worth of stuff to be managed, counted, issued and accounted for in squadron supply. And I was now the guy who had not only the administrative responsibility for all of it, I was financially responsible for it. If things turned up missing and could not be properly accounted for, I was on the hook to make good on the costs. It was a daunting assignment, especially for an untrained, inexperienced and unwilling first lieutenant. I even had visions of going to Leavenworth Prison for missing goods I knew I couldn't cover on my meager pay.

    I walked into the huge warehouse and headed toward the small office complex at one end of the vintage wooden edifice. Railroad tracks and an array of loading docks bordered the east side of the building. Inside that cavernous structure were row after row of ten-foot tall shelves, each filled with equipment and government-issue items of every description. Boxes, crates, pallets and other containers held several millions of dollars worth of stuff. Some of it I didn't even recognize, but soon I would be responsible for it.

    There were expensive flight line aircraft support carts, hydraulic "mules", electrical power generators, high pressure air systems, two-story tall wheeled access stands, trucks, cranes and specialized electronic test devices. All of the flight gear issued to crews, from helmets to parachutes, and from wrist watches to survival kits were piled in marked bins. There was even toilet paper and boxes of "mickey mouse" watches and barter trinkets. I'll explain these later.

    Thousands of different items were there to be managed. And this was my new job, in addition to my primary duty of maintaining proficiency as a B-52 aircrewman. I felt that the weight of the world was bearing down upon my reluctant shoulders. "How in the world was I to manage all of this, and stay out of trouble in the process?"

    I pushed open the office door and walked in. A long wooden counter stood between me and the four gray metal desks on the other side. Down at the end of the counter was a doorway with a small stenciled sign saying, "Supply Officer". The office was dark and the door ajar.

    >From behind the closest desk a big burly red-haired sergeant looked up. "Attention!" he shouted as he stood up and turned toward me. From behind another desk a young two-striper jumped up and stood stiffly, awaiting the next order.

    "At ease, Sergeant," I hastened to declare while returning his salute. "I'm told by Colonel Krill to check in here. It seems as though this is my new assignment. Are you Sergeant Bailey?"

    "Yes, sir," Bailey responded. "Welcome aboard, sir. The C.O. told me this morning that you'd be coming around today." I reached over the counter and shook "Red" Bailey's hand. He had a firm grip and I felt that he was testing me. I returned the grip in kind. A broad smile spread across his face.

    "Sir, this is Airman Fletcher, and back there in the corner is Sergeant Simcoe. Airman Smith is over at the motor pool with one of our trucks. You'll meet him later." I nodded at the two and urged them to stand at ease. Bailey stepped to the end of the counter and invited me into the Supply Officer's office. I

    tentatively crossed that threshold, wishing and hoping with all of my soul that this was not an irreversible process.

    Step by step I knew I was getting deeper and deeper in trouble. "Would the colonel get a real supply officer?" I wondered silently, "And soon?"

    I moved over behind the desk, sat down and began to look about the room as Sergeant Bailey turned on the lights. A large bookcase full of regulations stood in the corner. "Sir, those are the supply regs," Bailey explained. "The blue binders are Air Force regulations, the green ones are SAC regs and the black ones are base and squadron level. But you don't need to worry about them. I'm sure I can teach you all you need to know." I heard him but wasn't quite sure what to make of that last remark.

    "Okay, Sergeant. I'm sure that I'll need that help. Supply is not what I know best." I tried to both smile in friendly acknowledgment of his encouragement and still look confident. But confident was not what I felt. I felt overwhelmed.

    "Sir, I was told of your assignment and your background. Be assured that we will get along just fine. I heard that you were an enlisted man before getting your commission and navigator wings."

    I nodded in understanding and felt puzzled that Bailey knew my background, for I was new to the squadron and hadn't told anyone of my background before becoming a B-52 flight crewman. As a G.I. I had been a drill instructor and an air traffic control tower operator before getting into the Aviation Cadet program. And before coming to the brand new B-52's I served as a navigation and bombing instructor in Texas.

    "Bailey's really checked me out," I thought, while trying to decide if that was good or bad. Then Bailey startled me by asking, "Who's going to really run this place, sir? You, or me?" I was taken aback and clearly amazed at the question and obvious challenge.

    "Well, Sergeant", I slowly and deliberately began to respond in a measured way. "I'm going to depend upon your expertise. If you're willing to teach me I am sure we can operate this supply section together. I clearly must depend upon you."

    Bailey was testing me. He wanted to know if I was one of those know-it-all lieutenants, or could he work with me. He obviously had little use or respect for junior officers, especially the pompous and officious kind who asserted their lofty status above enlisted folks. Quickly I could tell that my response was acceptable to him.

    "Don't worry, Lieutenant. We'll take care of you," Bailey responded. "Would you care to take a tour of our facility now? Tomorrow we have to start the inventory and accounts audit before you sign for everything."

    With that assurance, I nodded in agreement and we left my new office for a walking tour of the warehouse. Then we got into a pickup truck and drove over to the flightline to see all of the stuff that the maintenance troops had. All of their gear and equipment was assigned to the supply section too. Our last stop was in the barracks area, where a small supply room held the linens, bedding and miscellaneous materials issued to the enlisted men living there. The enormity of the squadron supply inventory began to hit me. "Boy, that's a lot of stuff, I thought."

    On the way back to the supply section we stopped by the Base Exchange cafeteria for a quick cup of coffee. As we sipped that dark brew of classic G.I. coffee, Bailey asked, "Will you be ready to start the formal inventory inspection tomorrow, sir?" I paused and dolefully admitted that tomorrow as good as any time. It was not something I looked forward to starting.

    Taking a physical inventory of all the things assigned to the squadron was a real education. And it was a week-long chore. Yet the hard part turned out to be correlating what we were responsible for with the issue receipts signed by individuals and sub-units. For all items not physically within the warehouse, there needed to be a signed receipt on file. Otherwise the current or former supply officer was on the hook for missing items. In this case there was no one. My predecessor had been killed in an automobile accident and couldn't be held accountable.

    I was fortunate not to be "on the hook" yet. Not until I was satisfied with the inventory and the record-keeping would I sign for the huge supply account and assume responsibility. There were some minor discrepancies, a few low-value missing items. I duly reported those to the Base level supply officer. He did not seem at all concerned and quickly made a simple pen and ink change to our squadron accounts. That done, I agreed to sign for the inventory.

    Even though I knew with confidence that everything we were supposed to have was indeed there, I felt like I was signing my life away when it became associated with my name. I was now the sole responsible individual. It was a tremendous burden that I felt gravely.

    As things turned out over the course of the next year, I was

    indeed glad to have "Red" Bailey on and at my side. My flying duties kept me out of the supply section about half of the time and I had to depend him to keep things running properly. And they did indeed.

    Earlier in this story I mentioned "Mickey Mouse" watches and trinkets. No kidding. We really did have huge cartons filled with those things. They were items included in aircrew survival kits, those emergency equipment packs that were carried when bailouts over enemy or remote places became necessary. In theory, at least, these items could be use by downed crewmen to barter with local people for aid, food or other needs. The watches and other cheap, shiny trinkets were considered to be a form of currency. They were left-overs from earlier B-36 days, before the squadron converted to B-52's.

    One day the Base Supply Office send down a notice that we were to turn in our cartons of those barter items. Headquarters had decided they were no longer necessary and must be cleared from squadron accounts. Sergeant Bailey informed me that he had taken care of that task when I came by the office. Two small boxes of trinkets and watches were on the counter, ready to be taken to Base Supply.

    "What happened to the rest of them," I inquired. "Didn't we have about 400 pounds of the stuff?"

    I knew full well from my recent inventory that there was much more than what was in those two boxes.

    "Yes, sir," Bailey replied. "But this will satisfy Base Supply and solve another problem for the C.O.. All the headquarters folks want is a token turn-in to clear their books. The remainder we will keep for the squadron Christmas party. The kids will each get a handful from Santa Claus and everybody's happy." Bailey grinned widely. "Here let me show you."

    Sergeant Bailey reached into one of the cartons we would keep and pulled up a handfull of trinkets and watches. "Look at this one," he said, while holding one of the watches. "It really runs."

    "Yeah," I observed. "But did you notice that it's running backwards." I held it over for him to see, and sure enough it really did run backwards. "Some barter goods," I proclaimed.

    Things went very smoothly during the year that I was acting Supply Officer. In fact there was one incident that permitted us to make sure we had no shortages when the annual inventory inspection came up. That was the unfortunate crash of one of our B-52's.

    Late one afternoon a B-52 from our squadron crashed shortly after take-off. A tragic mechanical failure caused the plane to inexplicably go nose-high and stall. The craft then pitched nose down and slammed into a wheat field off the end of the runway, killing all but the tail gunner.

    How could such a tragedy benefit the supply account? That's one of the quirks of the supply system. Any and all equipment lost in such a calamity could, under the rules of the time, be totally written off the books and erased from the squadron's accounts. A savvy supply sergeant, such as Bailey, knew how to take full advantage of the situation.

    He quickly prepared the necessary paperwork to get Base Supply to eliminate from our accounts all of the gear and equipment that the crew of six and three passengers might have been carrying. I say might advisedly, because there was no way to prove or disprove the claim. If we said that each man carried two watches, four briefcases or even six pairs of boots, it was hard to verify.

    Bailey was able to take advantage of the crash to put right any possible shortages or inventory discrepancies. And under the tragic circumstances, the universally felt grief throughout the base, no one at Base Supply questioned the write-offs.

    I recalled an incident I'd heard about years earlier at Keesler AFB, Mississippi when I was a young enlistee stationed there. A left-over WWII B-17 bomber crashed in the Gulf of Mexico. It had been a converted plane used as the General's private transport. When it went down the supply folks were rumored to have claimed that it even had a blacksmith's anvil aboard. That incident enable the records to be purged, taking some supply officer off the hook for an anvil that was missing.

    When my year in the supply job was about complete, seemingly an eternity before a real and qualified supply officer could relieve me, the good news finally came. A graduate of the Air Force supply officer's school was being assigned to our squadron. He would take me off the hook and allow me to fully concentrate on my flying duties. I was elated.

    I was called into the C.O.'s office one afternoon to receive the good news, and to meet the young pilot who came to the base fresh out of supply school. He was a first lieutenant, like me, but not assigned to flying duties. He would become the full-time squadron supply officer.

    That very afternoon I escorted him to the supply section and introduced him to Sergeant Bailey and the rest of the staff. I couldn't stay with him long, for I was scheduled for a flight that evening and had to get ready. As soon as the introductions were over, I excused myself and said I would get together with him the next day. In the meantime I would leave him in the care of Bailey.

    With a lighter feel to my walk, and even a temptation to jump and click my heels, I walked into the supply section the next day. Bailey had already started the wheels in motion to begin again the inventory process, the steps needed to transfer the accounts from my name to the newly assigned supply officer.

    Within three days the process was completed and I was fully relieved of the responsibility. To celebrate, as it were, the lieutenant and I decided to stop by the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. He also wanted to chat with me about the sergeant and the troops he'd now be working with. In my exuberance I even rashly declared that I would buy the coffee. "Would you care for a donut too? I'm buying, " I magnanimously offered.

    "Did Sergeant Bailey ask you, when you first got assigned to this supply job, who was going to run the supply section, you or him?" the lieutenant began. But before I could answer, he continued, "Well I set him straight right away, reminding him that I was an officer and I would be in charge."

    There was no need for me to comment. That self-important, officious and pompous lieutenant would soon discover that alienating Bailey and the crew in the supply section was not the smart thing to do. The lieutenant had never been an enlisted man, never learned that sergeants are the key to a well-managed organization, and never learned that such alienation would cause future grief for him. Somewhere along the line to his commissioning and graduation certificate as a qualified supply officer, he had missed the point.

    Some months later, when Strategic Air Command changed the supply concept from each lower unit, like ours, having its own supply accounts to one where base-wide consolidation and centralization of accounts became the norm, that lieutenant discovered the hard way that treating enlisted and non-commissioned officers (sergeants) poorly was a dumb thing to do.

    In the course of converting and consolidating accounts, a new inventory revealed that there were now serious discrepancies and shortages in the squadron's supply account. The lieutenant was in trouble and faced the likely problem of having to pay for the missing items.

    I don't know if he actually had to pay for all those shortages, but I did learn that he received a low performance rating. That led to his failure to get promoted to captain and eventual separation from the service. Too bad.

    Written by: Philip A. Rowe, Jr.

  • #2
    Good story (article?) Col. and all too true.
    Your look more lost than a bastard child on fathers day.


    • #3
      I feel better knowing that if I was the replacement LT, that I would not have made the same mistake. I would pretty much would have responded the same way that author of the story did: "You and me Sarge, we're in this thing together, and you are the experienced one and I want to learn".

      Good story Colonel, very enjoyable read.
      Supporting or defending Donald Trump is such an unforgivable moral failing that it calls every bit of your judgement and character into question. Nothing about you should be trusted if you can look at this man and find redeemable value


      • #4
        The new LT was a walking disaster waiting to happen. Not only did not take the Sgt's advice but he refused it from his peer. I doubt he would take advice, as opposed to orders, from the Col as well.

        However, there are some lines in the story that told of another story.

        "Yes, sir," Bailey responded. "Welcome aboard, sir. The C.O. told me this morning that you'd be coming around today." I reached over the counter and shook "Red" Bailey's hand. He had a firm grip and I felt that he was testing me. I returned the grip in kind. A broad smile spread across his face.
        The Col and the Sgt was talking.


        • #5
          I read that one at
          Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

          Abusing Yellow is meant to be a labor of love, not something you sell to the highest bidder.


          • #6
            nice read