The Folded Flag – Part 8

The seventh fold, straight to the right, is a tribute to our Armed Forces: all of them.


There is an understood, semi-friendly (and semi-not) rivalry that goes on among the different branches of the military. Particularly tense is the relationship between the Air Force and the Navy. This probably dates back to the fact that the Navy put up a huge fight when the Air Force was trying to become its own branch. No matter that that was over half a century ago: I guess we don’t know how to let things go. It’s not that we’re enemies; more like we’re hostile friends. Luckily, our training at the Naval base only lasted one day. Most of the rivalry presents itself in the form of verbal banter, jibes that once in a while hit a little below the belt, but for the most part are harmless. Still, it is never comfortable to be at a disadvantage, and when we had our day of Navy Underwater Egress training, the Navy boys had the upper hand: we were on their turf. Nothing happened. We made it through the day with very little contact with them at all. We heard some “pansy” remarks muttered as we walked by, but most of us kept our cool pretty well. Pepper found the whole thing amusing.

The next time we met the Sailor boys, we were on neutral ground. Our class was in Washington for Air Force Basic Survival School. Halfway through, they gave us a weekend. This wasn’t enough time to go home, but we did get to get off base, and dress in our civvies for a change. Our poker group decided to hang out together: you think we would get enough of each other, but who else did we know in Washington? We found a hotel an hour or so from base, booked a couple of rooms and headed out for a night on the town. We kept it pretty tame at first, though I knew the other guys were planning on hitting the clubs later. Pepper and I had plans for a movie, but we all started out with dinner at a diner/pool hall. We were sitting around a table, dealing out cards for a game of poker when Pepper walked up with three Navy guys in tow.

“Look what I found,” he said with a jerk of his thumb back towards the men. “These guys are from the Naval Base in Everett. They have the weekend off too, and just happened to wind up here, just like us.”

“What are you doing with those sailors, Pepper?” Kirt Frost, one of our guys, asked. He seemed a little miffed, but that was typical for the guys when it came to Pepper.

“Chill, Snowman,” Pepper said, smiling at his own wit. Frost’s name had lent itself easily to his handle, and Pepper loved making puns like this. “I thought we could challenge our sea-faring friends to a little poker tournament. They are quite willing.” While the guys muttered and threw glances to one another, I considered Pepper. He was the most loyal man I had ever known, and one thing he was loyal to was his country. We had gotten into a discussion before over the rivalry between the different branches.

“Does it really matter,” he had asked me, “whether we march, fly, or sail to the defense of our country? I mean, we’re all on the same side. We’re all fighting for the same thing. We’re all US Armed Forces. Why should it matter what color our uniforms are?”

He didn’t see the Navy as rivals…at least not in any matter that was truly important. However, he was also loyal to his friends, and as I caught his eye, he winked at me, then casually began twirling his glasses. I smiled slowly as I realized his intention.

“Boys,” I addressed the rest of the crew, without dropping my gaze from Pepper’s. “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t take these gentlemen’s money. Have a seat, Sailors. Let’s get started.” My cocky attitude was enough to boost our men’s confidence, and rile the Navy a little. The boys didn’t know Pepper’s plan, but I did. No one could ever accuse Pepper of cheating, but he certainly knew how to make sure he won. For the next few hours, Pepper’s famous stories flew around the table, and they charmed the Navy boys just like they always had us. But since we were all working together now, Air Force against Navy, Pepper made sure to make it easier on us by only telling stories we had all heard before. His stories usually required interaction from the audience, so the Navys got so wrapped up in what he was saying, that they totally lost their concentration.

The Navy boys paid for our movie that night, including the popcorn and cokes. As we walked out of the pool hall, I dropped my arm around Pepper’s shoulder and gave it a rough squeeze.

“God bless the US Armed Forces,” I said. “But especially the Air Force.”

– S.D. Bullard


~ by sdbullard on April 24, 2012.

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