Friday, December 17, 2021

Insight: A lucky flip of the coin

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

A lucky coin flip significantly changed my outlook on life way back in 1983 and it’s a story worth relating more than 38 years later.

That summer I was one of two staff sergeants working in the Public Affairs Office at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona and we were both summoned one morning for a meeting with the major, who led the office. In the meeting, he said that a request had been made for a staff sergeant to be sent on temporary duty to a training camp near Teguicigalpa, Honduras for six weeks.

Because conditions at the camp were primitive and it was situated directly in the jungle, the major wanted to see if one of us would volunteer instead of him having to assign it to one of us. Neither of us wanted to go, but ultimately the other staff sergeant agreed to a coin flip to settle the issue with the provision that the next temporary duty assignment would go to the winner. I won the flip and wished him the best of luck in Honduras.

Six weeks later, he returned to the office and was not at all happy. He had to sleep on a wooden cot in a tent for the entire trip, and those assigned to the camp were subjected to having to boil their laundry in a fire-heated vat to get it clean. Abundant mosquitos ate them alive but worst of all, my colleague said that he felt awful on the return trip and was having to take malaria pills for fear he might have contracted that illness.

A few weeks later in October, I was summoned to the major’s office and informed that I would be leaving the very next day for my temporary duty assignment, but he had no details of where I would be going. As I was packing for the trip that night, I was reminded of something my father had once told me years prior.

He said that I should never be afraid of new adventures and to be open to whatever comes my way in life.

“Every day is an opportunity,” my father had told me. “Embrace it because you never know what may happen that day.”

At the time I thought his advice was something a father would typically say to his son and gave it little credence, forgetting about it until that situation came up.

But when I received my temporary duty orders the next morning, I finally understood what my father had meant in that conversation.

I learned that I was being sent to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada for six weeks to edit the daily newsletter for the U.S. Air Force’s annual air-to-ground weapons competition. I was going to stay in the barracks at Nellis free of charge and was given a base car to drive around to the flightline to interview pilots and ground crews about their work preparing for the events and the competition.

I spent each morning gathering information to write three or four stories for that day’s edition and taking photographs of aircrews, munitions, and aircraft participating in the competition. Each afternoon I would design and edit the newsletter and was usually done by 3 p.m.

The remainder of the day was mine and I determined quickly that the numerous buffets and inexpensive food offered by the casinos in Las Vegas were vastly better than what was served in the dining hall on base. I wasn’t much of a gambler, but I did play some casino slot machines and sat in for a few hands of blackjack at Caesar’s Palace.

While I was in Las Vegas, the World Series was being played at the same time, and I found it interesting how the sports books and gamblers at the casinos would bet on almost every detail of the games, right down to which team would commit the first error to how many total wild pitches would be thrown that day.

A few years later, I was working for a newspaper in New Mexico as a reporter when the editor asked another reporter and myself who wanted to do a phone interview that afternoon with an actor promoting a movie. She wouldn’t disclose who the actor was, which made us both somewhat apprehensive about volunteering for the job.

The other reporter was in the middle of a writing project for an upcoming Sunday edition but agreed to a coin flip for this assignment. I won the flip and told myself that no matter who the actor was, I would embrace the job and thought about how lucky my previous coin flip was.

It happened that the actor was Lou Diamond Phillips, and he was promoting the film “Young Guns” which was filmed in and around New Mexico. Despite suffering a broken leg during filming, Phillips was enthusiastic about the movie and I was able to obtain a great interview and write an article about the upcoming production.

To this day I’m never intimidated by the outcome of coin flips and try to embrace each day because I truly don’t know what may happen. <

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