Say Hello to the New Guys

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.    

View from the back seat of tanker

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?”

About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in 13 TFS, 43 TFS, Air Force, Air Force lingo, Alaskan Air Command, American History, Band of Brothers, F-4 Phantom II, F4 emergency, F4 Phantom II, F4 PhantomII, Fighter Aircraft, Fighter pilot lingo, Fighter pilot slang, Thailand, U Dorn RTAFB, Udorn RTAFB. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Say Hello to the New Guys

  1. Ray (Pappy) Parent says:

    Thanks John. Your article brings back a lot of memories. I was a Wild Weasel EWO. We were a smaller community. That meant that you would see and fly with the same guys for years, just at different duty stations. We had our share of pud-knockers too. As an instructor and Weapons School grad it was my privilege to fly with them all. Combat sorted them out.

  2. Rob Doll says:

    Hooch, I’ve got the movie and the book, should you ever want to gaze upon them and the boys with boots on the ground.

  3. Jimbo says:

    I know the feeling, as an Instructor WSO in the RF-4 I had many of the same experiences. Often times I would be taking check rides with these new guys and older Pooh’s too. even though I wasn’t in the zone for a check.

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