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Clueless: How civilians get the Air Force all wrong

Nov. 4, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
'I know you can't talk about this stuff, but there sure are a lot of UFO sightings around the Gulf Coast, and there sure are a lot of Air Force bases, you know what I mean? ... No, no. I understand. You can't talk about it. I get it.'
'I know you can't talk about this stuff, but there sure are a lot of UFO sightings around the Gulf Coast, and there sure are a lot of Air Force bases, you know what I mean? ... No, no. I understand. You can't talk about it. I get it.' (Austin M. May)
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'Oh you're in the [armed services]? Do you know my sister/cousin/uncle?' (Austin M. May)

Since you’re in the Air Force, you automatically fly a plane, right?

That’s what some civilians think. Air Force Times asked airmen to describe some of the most off-the-wall things they hear when face to face with their civilian counterparts.

The idea that everyone in the Air Force is a pilot is the No. 1 misconception that most airmen hear.

And No. 2: “Oh you’re in the [armed services]? Do you know my sister/cousin/uncle?”

Then, there are the people who see airmen and their military counterparts as freeloaders. Comments assuming troops are “not paying taxes” or are receiving “a handout from the government” are two that get under airmen’s skin.

In a similar vein:

■“Your retirement pay is an entitlement,” Brian Zimmerman is told.

■“Don’t they pay for all your food and rent?” Colleen Long is asked.

■“You must get awesome overtime pay with all those 12-hour days,” William Peterson has heard.

■“Does the grocery store on base ever run out of free food?” JD Ramsey has been asked.

Uniform confusion

Airmen frequently have to explain their rank insignia:

■“Which one of those ribbons is your Purple Heart?” Rob Wade has been asked.

■“Does the person with all the stripes on their sleeve outrank the people with just a little pin on their shoulder?” another airman heard.

You’d think the military was just one big service based on these comments:

■“So, you’re in the Army?” many airmen are asked.

■Airmen in their dress blues hear, “There goes a Marine!”

■“Is that the kind of ship you’ll be working on?” Senior Airman Ryan Straub was asked.

■Joe Fisher recalls his father-in-law saying it must be “dangerous” to serve on an “Air Force carrier.”

Some Americans seem to think an Air Force uniform indicates an airman can provide a range of transportation services:

■Retired Reserve Maj. Veronica Kemeny was in a Starbucks in her blue shirt and blue skirt when a woman asked her what airline she worked for.

■Another airman, going on a trip in his uniform, was asked, “Are you the bus driver?”

Top-secret knowledge

If you’re in the Air Force, you must have unique ways of doing things, and you must be in on top secrets, right?

■Josh Baker said someone once asked him, “How do you change a tire on an airplane?” Just like you change one on a car — you jack up the axle and pull the tire off, Baker replied. “He did not believe me,” Baker said.

■Tech. Sgt. Stephen Cooper was at a sci-fi convention when another attendee learned he was in the Air Force, stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. “Once he found out, he looked around and whispered to me, ‘I know you can’t talk about this stuff, but there sure are a lot of UFO sightings around the Gulf Coast, and there sure are a lot of Air Force bases, you know what I mean?’” Cooper recalled. “When I immediately rolled my eyes and tried to tell him how wrong he was, he backed off, holding up his hands and saying, ‘No, no. I understand. You can’t talk about it. I get it.’”

The gender gap

Some people don’t realize how far women have come:

■“Wait, you’re in the real Air Force? Like the one in commercials?” Melissa Sparks was asked.

■“Do they give you real bullets?” or “Do they actually let women carry guns? Wow!” Elaine Bowman reports.

■“Look, mommy, there’s a girl one,” Ralph Weber said his flight-suited daughter heard.

Stuck in World War II

Sometimes, airmen have to be history teachers:

■“Are you in the Army or Army Air Corps?” an older man once asked Stephen Peterson. When Peterson said he was in the Air Force, the man responded, “I didn’t know the Air Corps left the Army. ... What year did that happen?”

■Retired Col. Stephen Katz was in an airport sometime in the 1970s wearing his uniform — he was a major at the time. “A civilian male came up to me and asked if I had served in World War II,” Katz said. “My response, which was entirely true, was that I had wanted to join up right after Pearl Harbor, but I was only 6½, and my mother would not sign the enlistment papers.”

Miscues on mission

Some statements and questions indicate civilians think the Air Force is all about war:

■“Have you killed anyone?” Gage Ryukaztro has been asked.

■“Are you issued grenades?” someone asked Mich French.

■“Well, at least we’re not at war,” is a line Krista Madden has heard.

■Staff Sgt. Boland wrote that there was a chance a few years back he was going to be deployed. “My mom called me one day to ask when I was going to be ‘deported,’” he said.

■Tech Sgt. Travis Parks was dressed in his flight suit when he was asked what his job was. He replied that he’s a flight engineer on C-130s. “How often do you jump out of it?’’ was the next question. “Hopefully never,” Parks said.

■No matter your role, some people think you can do everything. “Can you tell the pilots of those loud jets to not fly over my house anymore?” Cullen Farrar was asked.

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