Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

The Adventure After That

Posted on: March 31, 2011

The beginning of my career could not have been more exciting.  I was off in a far place, doing what I’d prepared for since early childhood; I was doing a radio show, doing on-camera television news, directing TV news and programming a TV station.  Throw in the weekly snow machine ride on the frozen Yukon River and the occasional über-privileged visit to top-secret operations of this kind or that, and I had the stuff of gripping stories for the telling.

My adventure at Galena Air Force Base, Alaska, would be hard to beat, and I guess I arrived at Hill AFB, Utah, just a little full of myself.

Where Galena had the most basic Gates “Yard Board” for its radio console, and a black-and-white transmitter, two B&W cameras and two 16mm projectors for TV equipment, Detachment 8 at Hill was quite the fancy deal, indeed.  This television production facility had a darkened master control room with four comfortably-stuffed key position chairs and the very latest programmable switcher with myriad special effects, 3/4″, 1/2″ and 1″ tape record & playback units, three turret-lens color studio cameras on hydraulic pedestals, a cyc-strip, chroma-key screen, music library and innumerable other goodies.  I didn’t know how any of this stuff worked, but I knew I was in hog-heaven and couldn’t wait to touch it all.

Det.8 also had brass: Lieutenants, Captains and Majors all of whom were seasoned television production professionals.  To that were added a half-dozen civilians with resumes as long as their arms.  And to do the dirty work, there were a couple dozen Non-Commissioned Officers like me who got to yank cables around, set up dusty lights, build sets and do sundry other chores.

That kind of work didn’t much appeal to me…I’d done it all before.  I wanted to get into the sexy stuff: the script-writing, the camera work, the control room work, the remote work.

Senior Master Sergeant Mark Morris was in charge of the NCO’s.  He was every bit the stereotype of the brick-built, starched-shirt, not-a-hair-out-of-place, veins bleeding Air Force blue, authoritative, commanding figure.  SMSgt. Morris yanked me into his office at about the 30-day point in my tenure at Det.8.

Senior Master Sergeant Mark Morris:  “Marx, you’ve got an attitude problem…”

Airman First Class Fred Marx:  “I do not.”

SMSgt. Morris:  “…and I mean to break you of it.”

A1C Marx:  “You don’t have to do that.  Just watch; a month from now, you’ll be singing a new song.”

SMSgt. Morris:  (now red-faced)  “Okay.  But if I don’t see a marked improvement in that time, I’m gonna bust you down to slick-sleeve, and you’ll be diggin’ ditches somewhere along the flight line.”

A1C Marx:  (now huffy)  “Fine.  Watch me.”

SMSgt. Morris:  (beet-red)  “Dismissed!”

Galena Air Force Base was a tiny little outpost in the middle of nowhere.  I guess the rules were a bit relaxed there, and that’s how I’d come to believe the military was.  Hill Air Force Base, on the other hand, was a major Air Force metropolis just spittin’ distance from Salt Lake City.

Galena supported two F-4 Fighters.  Hill supported the gleaming new F-15C Eagle Fighters – lots of them – and provided support for many other major functions; among them, the production of the classic “Air Force – A Great Way Of Life” television commercials of the 1970’s and ’80’s.

These distinctions were lost on me.  What I had just done in Morris’ office was nothing short of hubris, insubordination, and idiocy of the highest order.  I was nothing short of protected by God Himself from having my legs cut off at the knees and left to die a most agonizing death.

I was true to my word, though.  With purpose and resolve, I yanked every cable, set every light, built every set, even cleaned toilets without a spoken syllable of complaint.  It was a different story between my ears, however: “Just you wait and see how bad my attitude is, Senior Master Sergeant Mark Morris.  I’ll show you.”

Thirty days later, I was summoned back to his office.

SMSgt. Morris:  “Okay, then.  You’re back on track.  Keep it up; I’ve got my eye on you.  Dismissed.”

The gall of that man!  But at least I’d learned how to do things the Air Force way.  I could build from that.

The cable-yanking, light-setting and set-building continued — but before too long, I was doing it on major projects; learning at the feet of the masters. After a while, I was placed on a team of people who operated a mobile unit (a full-size stretch van) equipped with over a million dollars worth of the finest remote television production equipment available.  Holy cats!  How did I get this lucky?

We traveled to the Tooele Army Depot deep in the Utah desert to capture bombing exercises; to Nellis AFB to chronicle training exercises at the Nevada Test & Training Range; and to Vandenberg AFB (CA) for missile launch tests.

All of the footage we shot had to be edited and produced back at home base: Det.8.  And because I had a proprietary interest in the outcome of these projects, I was given the privilege of working with a higher level of equipment and talent.

One of our many studio projects was about a huge, highly-mechanized supply operation, and I was selected to do the on-camera narration for the entire training film.  Another project was a series of short courses for entry-level 2nd Lieutenants teaching them how to be classy officers: how to eat; how to drink wine; how to dress; how to salute; how to address a superior officer.  This was a people-intensive effort and all of us NCO’s got to play the part of “Officer” here or there.  It was every non-com’s dream.

And let’s not forget the part Det.8 played in the early commissioning of and training for the new F-15C Eagles.  We shot the arrival of the very first F-15C to arrive in the USAF inventory at Hill AFB amidst a hangar full of dignitaries.  We got to crawl around these things on the ground, shooting footage of this piece of hardware which is used for that function until we had the entire beast covered.  We got to shoot footage of the fighters in flight, sun glinting from the shiny metal skin.

This was the sexy stuff.

I grew quite a bit older that year; wiser, too.  And that’s not to mention the wealth of training I’d received in the very techniques I had so desperately wanted to learn.

My new orders arrived about three months before the end: I was going back to Alaska, but to Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, this time.  It, too, was a major Base, and this one also had a major television operation, if a bit smaller than Hill’s.

Senior Master Sergeant Mark Morris called me back into his office.  “Marx, you’ve done very well…very well.  I’m going to fast-track you for promotion.”  What he meant was that, by the time I arrived in Alaska, I’d be a full-blown Sergeant; ahead of schedule; three stripes on each sleeve instead of just two, and a commensurate increase in pay.  All of this, I then understood, for just knuckling down and doing the job.

My friends at Detachment 8 threw me a party just before I left.  It was heart-felt; even tear-filled.  Relationships were built there that endured for many years.  I’m Facebook friends today with as many of these good people as I can find.

I arrived at Elmendorf better able to serve my country; and better prepared for the adventures yet ahead.

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