In a recent conversation with an ex-GI, he used a phrase that set us laughing and remembering other experiences common to those who served in the armed forces. I informed him that the experience he referenced was presented in my third book, I Wish You Had Been There.
I also promised to share it again with you.
One skill that every noncommissioned officer in the armed forces develops is the ability to — steal. Regardless of the quantity of resources allocated for a particular mission or function, it is almost guaranteed that the supply will be exhausted before the assignment is completed. Noncommissioned officers, (NCO), have, therefore, devised a military-wide system for obtaining needed supplies, outside the supply channels. It is called “Midnight Requisitioning,” a nice euphemism for – stealing; sort of like — robbing Peter to pay Paul. Almost any present or former service member understands the rules for ‘temporarily borrowing’ from one source what is needed to get the job done.
While serving as a Ward Master at Lackland Air Force Base hospital during the 1950s, my midnight requisitioning skills were honed with the help of three subordinates. Each month, every Ward Master was required to account for the assigned inventory of towels, wash cloths, pillowcases, and sheets. Each month my count was short, until I figured out the cause.
If we took to the linen exchange 120 dirty sheets, 60 bath towels, 40 hand towels, and 20 washcloths, the supply sergeant issued clean replacements in tied bundles, each bundle supposedly containing ten items. Sometimes the bundles contained only 8 or 9 items. There was no time to count each bundle before leaving the supply warehouse and arguing with the supply sergeant was worse than accepting the deficits. Over the period of a month these ‘nickel and dime’ shortages could be significant. My subordinates told me they would handle the problem in a manner that would leave me blameless if their efforts were detected. Of course, I cautioned them to “do the right thing.”
This was their plan: Sometime between 0100 and 0200 hours, one of my guys visited another ward and engaged that night corpsman in conversation and a smoke outside the front door in the open air. Simultaneously, another of my guys entered the back door and went straight to the linen closet and improved our inventory. They were so efficient as to require a gurney to transport their booty, which the third man wheeled along the road behind the wards.
Within the next week, I often got calls from other ward masters, who inquired if I had any surplus linen, and then offered me various incentives and favors in exchange for a few sheets, hand towels, and pillow cases.
After almost a year my troops voluntarily disclosed their technique. Until then, I didn’t ask; they didn’t tell.
Not many years later I was no longer a medical supervisor, but NCO in charge of a team travelling on assignments throughout Europe. One night we flew from Scotland to a base in Germany aboard a slow moving, but reliable C-47, nicknamed the “gooney bird.” We arrived around 0200 hours, tired, hungry, and after the dining hall had closed. Our quarters were a house, temporarily vacant, ordinarily used for military families. There were ample cooking utensils, but we needed something to cook, so we went searching for food. Our target was the hospital, where there is always something to eat, and as a former ward master, I knew where to find it. On our way, we spotted the truck that supplied food to all the dining halls. Two persons were assigned to distract the driver, while the rest of us entered the well-stocked vehicle to ‘requisition’ eggs, bacon, milk, sausage, butter, coffee, sugar, salt, and pepper. Just as we exited our impromptu commissary, the high beams of an approaching car illuminated our caper. The driver was a brigadier general. He had just piloted a plane from England and was also looking for food. This commander knew precisely what we were doing, because any officer who never benefited from a NCO’s midnight requisitioned stash most likely did not advance beyond the grade of second lieutenant. He asked, “Sergeant, do you know where a man might get something to eat at this time of day?” My straightforward answer: “Well sir, we’re taking care of that right now, and you’re welcome to join us for breakfast.” Just then, somebody remembered that we had forgotten to get bread. The general then offered, “Let me get it, if I’m going to enjoy the fruits of this midnight requisition I might as well participate.” After he exited the truck with enough bread to feed the multitude, he followed us home and joined us in a card game of hearts, as we all ate breakfast.
Good memories are treasures that we horde for ourselves.
Sometimes they are the only currency that can buy peace of mind.
They give us safe passage to where we were once content.
Good memories are not exhausted by time.
Master Sergeant James Edward Alexander retired from the United States Air Force in 1971.
Today, James Edward Alexander, Esq., lives and writes in Bluffton, SC.
To order your copy of my latest book,
WE, go to www.jeatrilogy.com