The Places My Combat Boots Have Seen

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A natural choice of footwear for me is my last remaining pair of Air Force issued combat boots. I have had many pair of combat boots over the years, starting back in 1988. I don’t remember them all, but there are a few that stand out in my mind because of what I was doing when I was wearing them. Currently I have only one pair left out of my collection as I have had to retire so many before it. My very first pair of issued combat boots were in United States Air Force BMT (Basic Military Training). I recall the thoughts of how uncomfortable they felt on my feet since I was in the habits of wearing my cowboy boots which were worn, haggered, stunk like shit, but were the most comfortable boots (shoes) I have ever worn. My new pair of boots were rigid, stiff, and lace up. I can’t remember how to tie my boot at first, I had to watch other new airmen as they laced and tied their boots, as I haven’t had to tie a shoe in a long time, in fact I couldn’t really remember a specific time when I tied a shoe last. I was at a loss. I was going to get kicked out on my first day because I couldn’t tie a shoe, I guess that is what I get for wearing boots for as long as I could remember. I went from owning 2 pair of shoes, cowboy boots & flip flops, to a single pair of combat boots. I better learn fast I thought, I better learn fast. I knew I was excited, this was my first day as a soldier.

After successfully completing BMT and Technical school in Denver Colorado it was noticed that my boots did not fair so well, it was time to get a new pair. Of course, I was told to wait until I got to my first base, Misawa AB Japan, where I was told I would be issued another pair as part of my in-processing. When I got to Japan I was impressed, they don’t mess around when it comes to boots, I was issued 4 pair, two summer weight and two winter weight (insulated) pair, also, I was issued my first pair of mukluks since it was winter in full force in Japan just days after Christmas. Everyone knows that if your feet are cold, your whole body is cold. I wish I would have known that before I got to Japan. How in the hell am I supposed to know how to deal with snow, I’m from Houston in southeast Texas. In late 1990 I was given orders to go to Turkey in support of what will become to be known world-wide as Desert Storm. Time to let go of the snow and the black combat boots, it was time to get introduced to desert styles. The military has a boot to fit most functions, most terrains, and most weather. This was a long 6 months for me, it was the first time I had to remind myself to do the right thing whether anyone is looking or not. I watched people lose focus, make mistakes, and basically ruin their career, I didn’t want to be that guy. I was also involved in the Liberation of Kuwait where I got to see for the very first time in person, up close and personal, the destruction that was causes. Most people think war is a physical element of destruction because we can see physical damages. I saw things beyond that, I walked over the remains of what appeared to be a family caught by surprise as a bomb that was dropped exploded just outside their house. Walking across them was an accident and when I realized what it was I had stepped on I was a bit shocked, it hurt me to see them. Our team leader explained to me that they were not “my” problem and we must move on since we were in the process of locating an area to set up shop. After that day I never wore those boots again.

Soon enough I returned to Japan to finish out the remainder of my tour. After a few years I left Japan and headed to Iceland. Unfortunately I was only in Iceland a matter of a few weeks as I was diverted to be stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. I already had some experience living in the desert so the transition to a zero humidity environment wasn’t that hard on my system.  From New Mexico I would truly see the world beyond what I knew. I visited many places for many reasons doing my assigned job. Leaving became easier over the years, it was the coming home that was hard to do. In mid summer 1995 I was sent to Osan AB Korea to assist in the inspection of some specific munitions components which had been in long term storage. It was time to determine if they were still serviceable and if so prep them for shipment to a variety of bases world-wide. 18 months later I rotated back to the world to be reunited with my family in New Mexico. Things were not good at home, but that is another story, in fact I think I have written about it here once or twice.

In late 1998 I was in Las Vegas Nevada for the 3rd or 4th time for training and I was given orders to go an undisclosed area for the initial drive of what will become known as Operation Desert Fox. My views had really changed about the United States’ role in the world and it really impacted how I performed, I turned off the emotion, I turned off the feelings, and I just did my job. This would be the first deployment I did not get issued fresh boots, probably because of the timeline, who knows. However, when I got back there was a shiny new pair waiting for me. Well, they weren’t shiny yet, but they would be in no time. Eventhough I had a grunt job, I worked in and out of warehouses, a variety of shops, drove a variety of equipment, and walked everywhere as well, two things were always important, a persons attitude and a persons appearance. The first thing a person notices, unfortunately, is a dirty pair of boots, we always were cleaning our boots, making sure they were taken care of and shined with a reflection that rivaled most mirrors. I eventually left the Air Force, I was medically retired due to previous injuries which happened while active duty. I had no idea what being label a disabled veteran meant. I had no idea how I was going to function in the outside world. I was divorced by this time, a single parent to my daughter who didn’t know what civilian life was all about and I had all but forgot. Luckily my dad was there to catch me, offered me and my daughter a place to call home, and gave me a job working with him in his concrete contractor business. Not knowing any better, on my first day of work, I laced up a pair of my steel toed combat boots. Eventually I traded them in for a pair of work boots, finally no laces!

I always fall back to the combat boot as a boot to wear when I know my feet will be in an unruly environment. After the Air Force, my combat boots continued to see service protecting my feet from the elements and my daily life. I have one pair that has been bitten by two different snakes and has seen more blood of animals killed in the hunt than most shoes should ever have to endure. These boots are my “go to” boots. Over this past weekend I was getting dressed to go weed-eat the perimeter of my fence-line. When overgrown like was, it is a fairly dangerous place for feet because one doesn’t know what is in the tall grass. As I laced up my boots Sunday morning I found myself remembering what I wrote about here today. Interesting how a single pair of boots can trigger memories both good and bad. I wore them without incident, I don’t bother cleaning them anymore, I just knock off the big clumps, and then hang them back on the hook, ready for the next time they will serve me well.

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Land Of The Rising Sun

I think that pretty much everyone knows that Japan is known as The Land Of The Rising Sun. There are even the lucky ones who have been given the gift of living there or visiting there sometime in the course of their lives. Which is the case for me, I lived there in the early 90s, and thru my blog over the years I have tried to give my view of how it was to be an American in the United States Air Force living abroad in northern Japan. There were many aspects to living in Japan, from living there, working there, exploring there, learning the lifestyle, learning the culture, learning the language, trying new food, and finding new ways to drink a variety of the alcohols local to Japan. But, before I get into being in Japan I must back track a little bit to my time I spent at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver Colorado since that was the true start to my start in exploring drinking heavily with people I barely knew. Drinking wasn’t new to me, it wasn’t something I had just discovered, it was however, a gift to be one of a handful of people who were 21 and could purchase alcohol and consume it legally. I can’t speak for everyone in the Air Force and how it is individually for other carreerfields, but I can say a large part of the AMMO culture was drinking, and drinking allot. I learned this fact fast at Lowry as the Airman’s Club was always dominated by all the AMMO troops looking to party. It also became real obvious that my new adventure in the Air Force and being a part of the AMMO community meant that if I couldn’t drink my weight in alcohol on a daily basis then I better begin practicing. I was good, but not as good as I was to become in a short period of time. While at Lowry there were three types of AMMO troops who drank, we had the veteran drinkers, the wanna be veteran drinkers, and those who didn’t drink but liked the atmosphere so they became part of the crowd. This particular airman’s club was segregated from the actual NCO club, not because of the rank or social status, but because in the NCO club actual alcohol could be purchased, whereas in the airman’s side of the club the only thing offered were soft drinks, water, and of course 2% beer. If you don’t know what that it just look it up and come back. So, I did my time going to technical school here and worked on my drinking skills since it really seemed to be a secret side of the curriculum as I found out. In the end I learned about all the munitions systems, the ways of how the practical use of munitions play out in peacetime and wartime, and I drank as much as I could get away with.
Soon enough I got my assignment and orders to become stationed at Misawa AB Japan. It was my first choice out of 12 on a wish list so I was quite the happy airman. After a good part of my in-processing to my new base was complete it was time to go to work at my assigned shop, meet everyone, and jump into work feet first. It just happened to be a Thursday which meant it was darts tournament night downtown at a local hole in the wall bar. I had no choice but to go. The new FNG (Fucking New Guy) is supposed to have arrived in country with two skills beyond working with munitions, those were playing darts and drinking heavily. Luckily for me I am skilled at both. I was a bit shocked that this was such a tight club, meaning that wives and girlfriends are forbidden. This was a incredibly hard sell to my wife (now my ex-wife) since she would rather I be at home watching the one channel on the television that was broadcast in English. She didn’t want to do anything or go anywhere unless I was with her. So, it was rough the first time telling her she was going to be my designated driver due to the plans we had. We were borrowing a car since we had not had the time to purchase one yet, those were plans we had for the coming Saturday. She agreed, not happy, but she agreed. I don’t remember what time we got there but I do remember at midnight she came thru the door looking for me which by that time I was so drunk I almost didn’t recognize her, yea, that drunk. To keep the peace at home I went with her. The drive was very cold and silent to say the least. The following day at work I was harassed to the point that it made me pretty angry because I did not want the reputation that my wife ran everything I did. Granted, 3/4 of these guys were not married so they lacked the understanding of marriage and having a wife. Now it is time to get off work and I was informed that Friday nights were dart tournament nights at the NCO club on base. Of course I will be there. I drove home and informed my wife of the plans and even tho she was not happy she agreed. This time I told her I would like to be picked up at 2am since this is when the club closed and I would be waiting outside for her. After a long evening of drinking and making my way up the ranks in darts it was time to go, or so I thought. Apparently there is a standing “after the club closes” party down town at the club we were at the night before. I kindly declined. My wife shows up, I get in and we head home. The only thing I can think of is that she needs some new friends, well, she needs friends since she hasn’t made any at all yet.
First thing Saturday morning we get up to go car shopping. When we opened the door we saw that everything had been blanketed with about 18″ of snow. This was going to make the day interesting. We were out for a few hours and finally found a car we both could settle on. Only one problem, it was a stick (standard) and she didn’t know how to drive a stick or in the snow or where we lived once you get off the main roads. See, we did not buy a new car, it was a few years old which is how they were sold up there. It was cheap in my opinion since it was a 1986 Honda Accord for $1500.00 and it had pretty low kilometers on it since all the driving is pretty local. After getting done she followed me to the person I had borrowed the car from so we could drop it off. It was on base so we also got our sticker for the window for access onto the base. After dropping the car we decided it was going to be time for her first driving instruction. We found a very large and very vacant parking lot and I began with the fundamentals of driving a vehicle with a manual transmission. There was allot to cover since we lived in a hilly part of the country and allot of snow falls here. Let this be the lesson that proves that necessity drives a person’s desire to learn. For the rest of the day and most of Sunday we were driving different places so she could get a good feel for driving the stick shift as well as driving with studded snow tires. She got the hang of it fast and I was very proud of her. To celebrate we decided to go out to eat and immerse ourselves into the foods of Japan. She wasn’t impressed to say the least. However, it was good that she fancied some of the alcoholic drink concoctions they had to offer. We had a long talk over dinner about adjusting to our new lifestyle, mine as being in the Air Force and her as being the Air Force wife. She is having a hard time adjusting since this is the first time she has been out of the state of Texas for any reason, much less now she is living in Japan which is so far from everything she has ever known. After a few more drinks and snacks we decided it was time to go as it was getting late. When we got home, I parked the car in the carport, and we walked up to the front door where she noticed a note taped to it. it read, “Where are you? You are supposed to be at Chief Master Sergeant Franklin’s farewell and retirement party. You need to get there as soon as you get home, it is very important”. I explained that he was the Chief for the Bomb Dump and was retiring next week. They had mentioned it at work but I knew I had plans with my wife so I actually blew it off. I opened the door, we went inside, and as I was changing I told her I would only be gone for a few hours just to show face. She agreed, saying this one she understands. So I left and drove to the retirement party. As you can guess, there was a fair amount of drinking happening. Pretty much everyone there was trashed already except for the water drinkers, the Chief included since he didn’t drink alcohol. Since it was late I had only a few drinks and spent the last hour I was there drinking water as well knowing I had to drive home. Speaking of which, my wife was actually happy to see me since I wasn’t drunk off my ass this time and didn’t wreak of booze.
Within the next couple of weeks the wives of those I worked with who had wives began descending upon my house and cultivating a friendship with my wife. I was happy to see it since she looked and acted as if she was having a better time living here now. In fact, one lived right next door to us and she is who my wife ended spending allot of time with over the years. As I worked with her husband we often carpooled so one of them always had a car. That became important once both of our daughters were born. I found out some time down the road that she was given a crash course in how to be an AMMO wife and stay sane. She was told of what to expect and that she can be on board or she might as well just go home back to Texas. Over the course of the next 4 1/2 years I lived my life around drinking with the guys from work at least 4 nights of the week. It was a damn good thing drinking was so cheap because I wasn’t making to terribly much as far as cash. Also, we grilled out allot with friends from work, mostly the single guys since it was nice for them to eat a home cooked meal at least once a week. Plus, to help out, they could always be depended on bring the alcohol and sometimes even meat to grill. I was stationed  in Japan for almost 5 years and I can only really remember clearly about 1 1/2 years of it. The only reason I remember that much is because it was the time in late 1990 that my daughter was born as well as when I broke my leg in seven places, to include my knee. So, with all the trips to Tokyo (Yokota AB) for surgeries, follow ups, and so forth I wasn’t drinking or going out so much. But, as I began to be able to walk without crutches I did explore the night life of Tokyo quite a bit when I was there. I didn’t drink a great deal, but I did drink, since I was alone and I wanted to be cautious since I had nobody to help me if I ever needed it. Basically, Japan is where I cut my teeth while learning how to drink with the big boys. This would only be the prelude I am afraid, it will continue to grow as a very bad habit I developed over the coming years. I’m not complaining since I had fun all the way, but it would be nice to remember the other things I did in Japan while sober just a little bit better. Soon, I will do more posts about my drinking life in the Air Force from the different places I visited or traveled to for one reason or another. This story has just begun and has a while to go until it is over. So, I leave it here, hope you enjoyed.