Spooks

As I’ve mentioned in this blog a few times, I was on active duty in the service of Uncle Sam from 1979 to 1986. I served during one of those rare periods when NO WAR was happening, and therefore I do not get the cherished “federal hiring advantage” that means that I get special treatment if I apply for a federal job.

I don’t get it.

Speaking of things I don’t get– I’d like to describe my experience with the aspect of federal service that we all know and love.

Spying.

My first exposure to the shady world of intrigue was a fellow I’ll call “Clancy” who was, by anyone’s standards, a hell of a guy. When I arrived at Hill Air Force Base in 1980, the F-4 Phantom had just been retired from the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing. On that very day, as a matter of fact. I watched the F-4 “departure” formation fly away as a I drove up to the base.

General Creech, everybody’s favorite general, had decided that it was a waste of time to teach old dogs new tricks– so no experienced (or very few experienced) mechanics were assigned to the brand new F-16’s. It was the blind leading the blind. The highest ranking guy on my shift was an E-4. It was incredible.

Thank God for airman Clancy. He was a man’s man, a fine mechanic, a true friend and the kind of guy you want backing you up in a fight. His uniform was always just “a little” out of regs– and his smile was always just a little ironic. Here was a true mensch, even for guys who didn’t know what “mensch” was supposed to mean.

Then, one day, he vanished. Now, if you have been in the military in peacetime, people DO NOT vanish. So we went into a state of shock. What had happened? Had be been killed in a horrible auto accident? Could we visit him at the hospital?

All this speculation lasted about an hour. At the end of that time, they sat us down and explained that Airman Clancy wasn’t an airman. He was a captain the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and he was working here, under cover, on a case.

No other information was available.

Now shut up and go back to work.

A few years later, I decided that I was fed up with being a crew chief. The crew chief gets all the responsibility and none of the authority needed to do his or her job.

Screw this, I said. I’ll just cross-train into another field. Let’s see–what fields require a lot of brains? I have a lot of brains. I need to be a in a field that requires them.

So I found “Scientific Laboratory Technician.” Hell, it was the ONLY field that required any brains at all (sorry, but truth hurts). I applied for it. I figured I’d be scrubbing test tubes all day while some officer chemist chatted with me about how the more primitive enlisted types get girls.

But the more I investigate my new job, the more disturbing it looked. There was no information about it. It was a black hole. It might involve flying. That was all I could find out.

But they sure as hell wanted to know EVERYTHING about me. I mean everything.

Where to begin? I was paranoid as hell even then. The idea of the USAF investigating me– I mean REALLY investigating me– was terrifying.¬† I didn’t mind dying for my country, but I was sure they’d “see through me” and I’d end up on that island village with Patrick McGoohan or Gitmo.

I abandoned that idea and went back to wrench-twiddling.

Finally, my last encounter with “spooks” was one I’m truly embarrassed about today. I was sitting in a bar in Presque Isle Maine drinking more than I should have been, and a yuppie-looking guy sits down¬† beside me and starts asking me questions about my job.

He’s nice enough. But he’s also nosy as hell and a little confrontational. I didn’t get this guy. What did he want? Why was he questioning me so relentlessly?

I admit it. Between being half-drunk and otherwise stupid, I just didn’t, or couldn’t, imagine that this guy might be an enemy agent. Sure, he tried to use every tool in the book–shame, pride, masculinity, patriotism, a good honest competition between two manly men like us– to get me to give him information, but I just never put two and two together.

Eventually, his digging became more than I wanted to handle. The alcohol was cooking my brain. I was just about to “start something” with this guy when he vanished like a ghost. One moment he was there, the next he was gone.

Never touched his drink.

Now, I understand that I was working on the most important, and most secret Air Force project at the time (LANTIRN) and I knew that enemy governments wanted to know ALL about it, and I knew what A-Bombs did and I kinda figured that I might have information useful to bad guys… but did I figure this out at the time? Did I call the AFOSI and report this? Did I talk to the First Shirt about it?

Hell no. It never occurred to me what was going on until years later.

What a dumbass.

By the way, Happy Valentines!

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