Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Alert Two-step

As a B-52 crewdog, about a third of my life was spent on Alert. That meant we worked, played, ate and slept right next to our heavily loaded, heavily armed BUFF's. And because we were working for SAC, the Strategic Air Command, we knew that there would be very little time during our seven days of alert that we weren't being trained, tested, and prodded. In other words they had us prisoner; why not screw with us! For instance we knew that at least once during each tour we would be subject to the rude sound of the klaxon. When the horn blew we were supposed to get to our airplane as quickly as possible, start the engines, decode a message from headquarters, and do exactly what it said. And we were timed to make sure we were ready to go to war immediately. So one bright and sunny day on alert at a base on the west coast (that doesn't exist anymore) we heard the call of the klaxon, jumped into our truck and blasted out to the ramp to our own special bomber. As the pilot popped the cartridges that fired the engines, the Nav and I copied down the coded message from command post. It usually decoded to a message that told us to just start engines and equipment and report ready to go or do all that and taxi to the runway to show how fast we could lean that much farther forward. We decoded, agreed, and told the pilot it was a taxi exercise. We moved out of our parking stub heading for the runway when the whole crew heard me and the Nav say, "Oh, shit!" We had both discovered our error. It wasn't a taxi exercise. We were supposed to stay put. The pilot just about lost it. Results from each exercise were reported to the head of SAC almost the minute they happened. We were about to become famous. The only thing we could do was get back to our parking place as soon as possible. But moving a big-assed bomber full of fuel and weapons is no easy thing. Finally the pilot team decided that going down the runway and back the taxiway would get us home in the shortest amount of time. We got clearance on the runway and hit the power for a high speed taxi. But we forgot to tell command post what we were doing. Two full colonels, a major and three captains almost had heart attacks when they thought a bomber loaded with major crowd-pleasers was about to launch. Once again we had blown it. We belatedly told everyone what we were doing, hopefully preventing any further heart attacks and silently headed back to the alert pad. "Man, are we going to be deep in the barrel when we get back," the pilot said. "Yeah," said the gunner. "But I don't think we're going to be on the bottom." "Why's that, guns? Who's going to be in deeper shit than us?" "Oh, probably those guys behind us." The pilot and copilot almost wrenched their necks to check and confirm that someone else had followed our mistaken lead. Yep. There they were. The good old number one elite Standardization and Evaluation crew. They hadn't even bothered to copy and decode the message. They just followed us out. And when everyone in charge was through yelling at them they barely had breath enough left for us. I guess two wrongs don't make a right...but it sure worked for us!