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Copyright 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

On Not Going to Cardiff

What, you’re not going to InterHash?

We were going, but a year ago we realized that unless we went straight to Cardiff and then straight home, it would be far too expensive a trip. To do the things we wanted to do, which included a tour of Scotland and a visit to Donna’s family in northern Italy, well . . . an $8,000 vacation isn’t in our five-year plan, comrades.

It’s easy to decide you’re not going when InterHash is still a year away. Now we’re on the eve of InterHash. It seems like all our friends are going. It’s all anyone’s talking about on the hash list. And we’re getting e-mail like this: “Hey, Booger, where are you and Pick’n’Flick staying in Cardiff? Are you taking the train to Edinburgh afterward, or flying to Europe? Let’s for sure get together and have a beer!”

Donna and I have been to two InterHashes (Rotorua and Hobart). We know what we’re missing, and it’s painful. It’s painful to not be going, and it’s painful telling our friends we’re not going. It’s painful in a way I remember all too well.

I joined the United States Air Force and went to pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma during the last year of our air campaign in Vietnam. The ground war was over, but the USAF was still flying combat missions up north, and my entire class was scheduled to enter the Vietnam training pipeline as soon as we earned our wings. The glamour assignment then, as now, was a fighter; we all had our hearts set on fast-movin’ jets.

Then, half-way through training, Nixon ended the air war. It was clear that fighter assignments would be scarce for the next few years, but some of us thought we still had a chance.

In USAF pilot training, assignments are handed out just before a dining out ceremony held at the officers’ club on graduation night. Before the formal dinner, newly-minted pilots are called into a room, one by one, to receive follow-on assignments from the wing commander. By that evening we knew our class would get only a few fighter assignments, but I was fourth in my class and still had a good shot at one. All I could think about was learning to fly the F-4, or, failing that, the A-7.

But you don’t know what you’re going to get until the colonel tells you what you got. We were summoned alphabetically: by the time they got to Woodford most of my classmates had their assignments: three friends were going to fighters; several more to C-130s; the rest were going to strategic airlifters, bombers, and tankers.

Then they called my name. I gave Donna a kiss and started down the corridor toward The Room, my friends and classmates looking on, my heart in my mouth. And then I was there, standing at attention in front of the wing commander, and I saluted, and he gave me my assignment. And what he said was this: “Lieutenant Woodford, I’m pleased to inform you that you have been assigned to Air Training Command as a T-37 instructor pilot at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma.”

Oh. My. God. I had my wings but I wasn’t leaving the nest. Apart from a couple of USAF survivor schools and a three-month instructor pilot checkout in San Antonio, I wasn’t going anywhere. My friends and classmates were going off to fly real mission aircraft; I was staying in baby jets. As my classmates spread their wings and flew off to see the world, I was condemned to another three years in Enid, Oklahoma.

I couldn’t show it but I was devastated, crushed. Even a tanker assignment would have seemed like heaven, and if the colonel had said, after I saluted and about-faced to leave the room, “Unless, Lieutenant, you’d like a tanker assignment instead,” I would have turned right back around and said “Hell, YES!”

But the colonel didn’t say that, and as I walked back down the corridor, my classmates - who, somehow, had already been told - started whistling (the T-37 is informally called the Tweet, from the piercing whistle it makes at idle). Donna, standing at the far end of the corridor with the other wives, didn’t understand the significance of the whistling, but as soon as she saw the look on my face, her face began to fall, too. When I told her the news she burst into tears and I had to take her home.

And that, my friends, approximates the pain I feel over missing InterHash. You all have a good time, damn you, and when you get back, I hope you don’t rub it in. Too much.

On On,
Flying Booger

p.s. Sometimes things turn out for the best. That T-37 assignment kept me in the cockpit and flying at a time when the USAF was RIFFing pilots and navs left and right. After I got into it I realized I loved training new pilots in the Tweet, and three short years later there was a brand new fighter in the air, the F-15 Eagle, and I was one of the very first Air Training Command instructor pilots to get an F-15 assignment, which I flew for the rest of my USAF career. But somehow, I don’t think missing Cardiff is going to result in my getting the hashing world’s equivalent of an F-15 assignment!

© 2004 – 2007, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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