So, there I was, back in 2003. I had just completed a Joint assignment at US Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii. I write “completed”. I didn’t really complete the assignment. My assignment at US Pacific Command was in the J635 Operations and Exercise Plans Division. I know, all of you non-military types are wondering “what the heck is J635”. It’s a military designation for Communications (J6), Operations (3), and Plans (5). I was out of my element during the assignment; but, I learned a lot. Plus, I made some good friends.
Anyway, usually that would be a three-year assignment. No one was more surprised than I when our Deputy Commander (he was the guy in charge when the Commander wasn’t there) approached me about putting together a nomination package for Air Command and Staff College (ACSC). Now, getting selected to attend ACSC can be an important step toward advancement in the Air Force. If you attend and graduate, you’re pretty much guaranteed to make the rank of Lieutenant Colonel which had always been my career goal. My rank at the time was Major.
When you make the rank of Major you might also receive a designation as a “School Candidate”. That means you would compete with other candidates to attend ACSC (or a similar school of one of the other Services). Competition was each year. If you were a School Candidate when you were selected for promotion to Major and you were not selected for ACSC that year, you were automatically a School Candidate for the next two consecutive years. If you were not selected by then, you were out of luck.
Those not selected as a “School Candidate” when they received their promotion to Major still had a chance at attending the school in residence (i.e. at the actual school). If you were not selected to attend “in residence” then you were still expected to complete the coursework “by correspondence”. In other words, you got books and CDs with lectures in the mail. When ready, you had to take proctored tests.
Well, I was NOT selected as a School Candidate when I was selected for Major. 2003 was my last year of eligibility. I had already completed the course by correspondence and didn’t think I had a chance in hell of receiving a nomination to attend ACSC in residence let alone be selected to attend. After all, I was competing with every other non-candidate Air Force Major working at US Pacific Command Headquarters. “In residence” completion of ACSC is a definite career enhancer, so I did my best to put together a competitive package.
Lo and behold, a few weeks later our Deputy Commander phoned to tell me I was selected as one of two ACSC Candidates from US Pacific Command Headquarters. I was flabbergasted. He said “Well, Bill, the Admiral approved and submitted your nomination. You have your foot in the door”. I did; but, I thought things would end there.
I forgot all about it when I received a call a couple of months later from the person who I had replaced in J635. He had moved to the Pentagon. He called to ask if I was the person identified in a message about all those selected to attend ACSC that year. It always took us a long time to receive Air Force specific messages at US Pacific Command Headquarters. So, I called up some friends at Hickam Air Force Base. They read my name and Social Security number off the message identifying that year’s ACSC selectees. I called the Deputy Commander to thank him and I stepped through the door…
I was ordered to arrive at ACSC (which was at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama) a month before classes started with the other 49 students who had been Majors the longest. We were to have student positions for the school year. Most of us became “Seminar Leaders” while some were given other duties like Athletics Officer, Academics Officer, etc.
The school was divided into Seminars of 13–14 students each. Among those 13–14 students, most were Air Force Majors. Each Seminar also had one representative from each of the other US military services (i.e. Army, Navy, and Marines). To round out the Seminar, each also had at least two students from foreign militaries.
Now, “Seminar Leader” sounds like an important position. In reality, we were glorified babysitters responsible for making sure 12–13 other grown, educated, mature individuals were at the right place, at the right time, and did not sleep during lectures. Easier written than done. But, I love a challenge…
Anyway, school started and 500 of my best friends and I quickly adapted to the routine. My two foreign officers were from Spain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). During class time, we had spirited discussions on most topics. Heads only bobbed a few times during lectures. We also had sports competitions between Seminars. That involved competing against other Seminars in softball.
Now, most Americans learn to play softball or baseball at some point in their youth. That isn’t necessarily the case for folks from Spain or the UAE. Plus, during our softball games, everyone had to compete. That meant our Spaniard and UAE classmates had to play each game. Every other Seminar was in the same boat. Their foreign officers didn’t necessarily know how to play softball either. And while our teammates from the UAE and Spain weren’t very experienced catching a ball in a glove, boy could they hit! We won our first two games easily and I collected a six-pack of beer from each of the defeated Seminar Leaders.
My classwork was also going well. I was participating frequently with what I at least thought was relative information during class discussions. We also had two tests on the information covered in class readings and lectures. Now, during my first experience in an Air Force Professional Military Education course like ACSC (it was called Squadron Officers School), I ignored advice given by the school instructors as to how to answer test questions. This time, I threw out what I THOUGHT they wanted and gave them the type of answers they told me they wanted. As a result, I was the only person in my Seminar to receive an “A” grade on our first two tests.
Anyway, a couple of months into school, two of my classmates asked if I wanted to go mountain biking. I had never been mountain biking and had always wanted to try it, so I said “sure”. We made arrangements to meet the following weekend. Since I did not have a mountain bike, I had to buy one or borrow one. It turned out another of our classmates had a mountain bike I could borrow. So, I did.
When I picked up the mountain bike from my classmate, I realized I had a problem. I am 6 feet tall. He was about 5’9”. The difference in height made using the bike somewhat difficult. To accommodate my height, I was able to raise the seat up enough where it worked for me. However, I was unable to raise the handlebars a corresponding amount. Consequently, my center of gravity was a little far forward.
END OF PART ONE — Please check back for the conclusion.