HOW TO BE MARRIED TO A MARINE FIGHTER PILOT--A Marine Corps pilot's wife: F-4s, F/A-18s and aviators from my perspective.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Aviator Brief VI: By Any Other Name

Some pilots have more than one call sign--the one they have in the training command and later, the one they earn. One particular squadron CO probably had one he used all through his early years as a pilot, but that name changed forever after his first squadron AOM, All Officer’s Meeting.

Picture the officers, pilots and RIOs, sitting in the ready room, eager to hear the words from their new CO. A lot of data could be surmised from the brief the CO gave straight out of the chocks. Would his words indicate he was a good stick, a stick-in-the-mud, or both? Would he operate a flying club--where his favorite guys got the majority of the hops--or would he be interested in keeping everybody up to speed, newbies and buddies alike? Would he be a micro-manager or a laissez faire, hands-off kind of leader? Would he be a screamer or silent and deadly when crossed?

So there they were, lounging in ready room chairs ratcheted to a reclining position, sitting in decommissioned ejection seats, perched on window ledges, with their morning cup of joe, or a cigarette, or both--and the new CO stalked in.

His speech went something like this: “Good morning, a--holes. Welcome to my f--ing squadron. You may not know much about me, but if you’re f--ing pussies about my f--ing language, you can shove it up your a---, and walk right out the g--damn door right now. I don’t give a flying sh--t about your f--ing sensibilities and I won’t be watching how I f--ing talk around you.”

Except Col. Profane had filled in all the blanks, the air was blue, he went on for much longer, and the faces in the room reddened from laughter or were transfixed by the level of skill required to incorporate that many body parts, bodily functions and irreverent verbs into one speech. Generally, a CO is expected to demonstrate a higher standard of behavior than a lowly lieutenant. In this case, the Colonel performed past all expectations. A lot can be forgiven a good stick or a great RIO. Excellence as an aviator in any arena is lauded.
History doesn’t tell if any walked out of the ready room that day, but if they did, their call sign would forever be the equivalent of ‘Pussy’.

Until I went to college I had never said a swear word--not even the most mildest forms. My mother would swear in German: “Gott in Himmell” and “Scheiss” when she was very upset. My mother was Scot-Irish, so go figure where she got that vocabulary from.

In college, the ability to swear represented a freedom from the old rules of our parents. Oh, we thought we were so grown up to be able to use body parts and scatological references to express anger, joy or frustration. Remember this was only shortly after bra burnings had regularly occurred. My first friend at college, and roommate my sophomore year, was adept at using all the formerly forbidden words.

Marrying a Marine, however, was a revelation. Marines didn’t swear to make themselves look cool and free. They swore because Marines swear. Perhaps the drill instructors are particularly able to inculcate all Marine virtues of toughness--and that requires singe-proof ear fuzz.

I’ve become bilingual. Teaching school required a cleanliness of language even beyond normal societal expectations. I taught my sixth graders to say “buttocks” when referring to the rear portion of a person. Doesn’t it sound more refined? However, when I wrote my memoir about life in Marine Corps I returned to the language of my rebellious youth and my husband at work with the flyboys.

One last thought--if we had to actually eat our words, I think we’d pick tastier ones to chew on.

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