Recently I watched Band of Brothers. One episode centered on new men entering Easy Company as replacements after D Day. The men are welcomed with less than enthusiasm and are not sure what to make of it. And I thought as a combat air vet, that is just like I experienced when I joined the 13th TFS shortly after Linebacker II. I came to my new unit qualified to fly the backseat, but that didn’t me make accepted at first. The men who joined Easy Company had to prove themselves. We who came to fighter units did also. Qualified but not accepted summed it up.
Shortly after my arrival we had a squadron party to bid goodbye to the men leaving and welcome us. This “Sawadee” – hello or goodbye in Thai – party was a unit tradition. The squadron commander got up and said, “Let’s welcome the New Guys (AKA F’ing New Guys).” And the crowd roared “Hello A..holes.” Then he said, “Let’s welcome the A..holes;” they responded “Hello New guys.” Then everybody laughed including us FNGs. We laughed but at the time I didn’t fully understand what had happened. As I think about it there really was more to this than hazing the new guys. Many of the New Guys were very cocky. In combat this meant nothing. Cocky could get you killed. We had come to the F4 with about 180 hours in training flights, this made us proficient but not adept at what we were doing.
New Guys were always crewed with more experienced men. It was a process of learning from them and growing in our abilities. We were new guys but we weren’t yet trusted. We had to prove ourselves to be accepted into this very tight brotherhood. I found this to be the case not only in a combat unit, but just about every flying unit I flew with. As time moved along, we earned our place. Some of the jocks went on the become very well respected. Some not so much.
As a backseater there were several pilots that I didn’t like to fly with. They took chances and did some things I considered fool hardy. Disregarding altitude restrictions on a bombing run, overtaking lead too fast on rejoins, and not being able to refuel, and falling off or overtaking the tanker. Those were the scary ones. Sitting two feet behind an AC that couldn’t refuel was not a good thing.
In the movie The Right Stuff, Pancho Barnes summed those men this way: “we got two categories of pilots around here. We got your prime pilots … and we got your pud-knockers… ”
One of the worst pud-knockers I ever encountered was screwing around and decided to do a barrel roll around a tanker. In the process he hit the tanker and took the top off the tail of the F4. He was lucky that it didn’t end in an explosion — a very bad outcome.
And for me the result of this was — I became the recorder at his Flying Evaluation Board.
He lost his wings and resigned his commission.
There were prime pilots, and I flew with many of them — he was not one of them.
And that in the end this is what it was all about: Trust.
When you put your life in the hands of another no matter whether it was in the air or on the ground, you had to be sure you could trust that person.
So this is what they were really saying at that long ago party: “Hello New Guys can we trust you?”