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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Aviator Brief VIII: The Officer’s Club

El Toro Marine Air Station O-Club

Any aviator worth his wings knew when to lock his pipper on the O Club, or Officer’s Club, the predicted impact point of wild and crazy pilot life: Friday afternoon, squadron day done? Tuesday evening, date life slow? On a cross-country to someplace your mother had never heard of? Go to the O-Club and find fellow aviators with whom to drink beer, roll dice, and swap stories. Happy Hour at the O-Club--a mandatory activity for all squadron aviators. The bonding benefits of alcohol were well-documented in male social organizations.

Pilots needed time away from the airplanes to debrief and detour from the stress of flying high-performance aircraft. Happy Hour started on Fridays after the squadron shut down for the weekend, sometime between 1600 and 1630--4 to 4:30 pm. Wives and girlfriends joined their drunken other halves at the club as soon as the babysitters came, typically 1800 to 1900. Single women, looking to play, filled up the barstools and walls by 2100.

In the days before a DUI would end their career, aviators without semi-sober wives at the O-Club just drove slowly on the way home and watched out for MPs, the Military Police. Or not so slowly. Donut discovered orange trees in 1976 cost $3000 to replace when he crashed into and knocked over a prime specimen on his way home from a raucous Happy Hour at the MCAS El Toro Club.

No one knew how to party better than Marine pilots--no one--and they partied best with alcohol and other aviators to compete against.

The lowest rung on the competition ladder was the FNG, the Fucking New Guy. An FNG could be a new 1st lieutenant, but usually an FNG was an Air Force puke, or a Navy pilot, or a ground Marine who hadn’t spent time with aviators. It almost didn’t even count to mess with their heads because they wanted to be one of the boys so badly they’d do anything to be accepted. Also, most of their brains were newly minted and/or not used to playing the game.

What game? Any game.
The best games to play with FNGs were games that allowed the FNG to buy all the drinks and all the meals--for everyone. FNGs were never told all the rules. In fact, they weren’t told any rules or strategy except the most basic--“In this game you roll the dice.” While playing Horse, a regular O-Club game, the object was to roll the best poker hand possible with five dice in two rolls. When the FNG chose dice to hold aside, the experienced O-Club aviator deployed the Iwakuni double-tooth-suck (open lips, put upper and lower front teeth together, and inhale briskly) to indicate the FNG had made a bad move--whether the move was bad or not--a strategy meant to cause much second-guessing and doubt. Every pilot knew, ‘He who hesitated, lost’--in any case, he who lost bought the drinks and often the meals.

The FNG was only told a rule when he broke one. “Bummer. You dropped the dice. You have to buy a round.” “Double bummer. You didn’t have the drinks by the time the game finished. You have to buy another round.” “Well, damn. You lost the game. You get to buy lunch for everybody.” At the Kingsville Training Command, that meant the FNG bought lunch for all ninety-nine other students and instructors.

Why did drinking until stupidity kicked in seem so fun and funny when I was in my twenties? Only a few never drank. We looked at them askance--it wasn't really understood if someone 'didn't handle their liquor' or chose not to join in the idiocies.

Now I agree with having a Designated Driver; I don't drink until I throw up; being drunk is not an excuse for bad behavior. However, I am so sad the camaraderie of Friday nights at the O-Club has gone the way of passenger pigeons.