Thurman P. Woodfork

(Basic Training)

Thurman P. Woodfork: The Good Old Days (Basic Training)
Thurman P. Woodfork on Basic Training)
A friend was talking about his Army DI, which, as usual, reminded me of a story. This guy sounded suspiciously like Bryce G. Kinnemon, Jr. Old Bryce was a little sucker, but he made up in sheer cussedness for what he lacked in size. Back in those days, Air Force Basic Training was pretty much like the Army’s, and the instructors thought nothing of just hauling off and punching your lights out if they deemed that a necessary aid in furthering your military ”education.” Everybody dreaded the summons to the drill instructor’s room – we called them Tactical Instructors (TIs) – especially when he had two of his buddies in there with him.

My first sight of Kinnemon was at 0 Dark Thirty on the second day of Basic Training. He was standing outside the barracks as we fell out, shaking his head sorrowfully while looking at a stopwatch and murmuring, “Too slow, wa-ay too slow.” That didn’t strike me as being an especially sanguine omen since the assistant TI had just flushed us from the barracks like a covey of frightened quail. Something in the back of my head went, “Oh-oh, you really did it this time, Chuckles!” My three month sojourn with Basic Training Flight 4405, Sampson AFB, NY, had begun in earnest.

One of my little run-ins with old Bryce G. occurred during a barracks inspection when he had the Commander and 1st Sergeant in tow. As they stood sternly eyeing me, the idiot directly across from me started making faces, causing me to smile slightly. Kinnemon, vein throbbing in his forehead, immediately demanded to know what I was smirking about. I, of course, gave the standard “Nothing, Sir!” reply as I stared over his head. “Then, why are you smiling?” “I’m not smiling, Sir!” “Look me in the eye when I talk to you!”

Now, as it happens, old Bryce had a trick eye that tended to wander when he got a little wound up, and when I lowered my gaze to his, that one orb was sort of tracking off on its own. It had to be the Devil who made me do it: “Which eye, Sir?” I inquired innocently, causing both the captain and sergeant to suddenly seem to experience difficulty breathing.

Believe it or not, it turned out that Kinnemon had a sense of humor. After the inspection, instead of inviting me to his room for some extra intensive indoctrination in military courtesy, he told me to go out and find a rock about the size of both my doubled fists. I did so with some trepidation, figuring he was probably going to stone me to death with it. Instead, he told me that he wanted it worn down to a quarter inch thickness, and added something about Smart-asses and Dumb Rocks. Or, maybe it was dumb-asses and rock heads.

Anyway, every night after supper, I found myself in the latrine, scrubbing that rock across the cement floor and slowly wearing it down. After three weeks, he relented and told me to throw the rock away. I’d worn it down quite a bit, though, and developed some pretty sturdy arm muscles in the process.

Then there was the time I got caught calling cadence for another flight of trainees who marched by us as we stood at “Rest” beside the road. I didn’t see the second drill instructor down in the culvert. Now that I think of it, Kinnemon must have said “dumb-asses and rock heads.”