Friday, July 14, 2023

Insight: As luck may have it

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I’ve never minimized the importance of luck in determining my life’s course. Unexpected events and twists of fate cannot be planned for and when things happen, we can either mope and wallow in self-pity or accept what’s presented and ride the waves.

Throughout my life, along the way I’ve experienced both good and bad sides of luck and have plenty of stories to tell. Harkening back to my days in the U.S. Air Force, I cite for you an example of what I call some of the best luck that I’ve ever experienced.

I was stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona in 1983 and was a staff sergeant working in the Public Affairs Office at the time. There were two staff sergeants assigned to our office and frequently we would split tasks and duties as they arose. One mid-summer afternoon, the officer in charge of our unit summoned both of us to his office for a meeting.

He said that the base commander had asked that our unit send one of us on a temporary duty assignment for a month overseas starting at the end of the week and he was leaving it up to us to decide who was going to go. He didn’t disclose the assignment and told us that he was doing so with the understanding that the next time a temporary duty assignment was requested from our unit, the staff sergeant who didn’t go this time would be required to go then.

We were asked to reach a decision by the end of the day and to let him know so that he could arrange for transportation to the overseas assignment for that person.

It really didn’t matter to me one way or the other, but one thing I learned early on in my military career was to never volunteer for an assignment not knowing exactly what it was. Therefore, I wasn’t quick to share my indifference with the other staff sergeant. After about 30 minutes, the other staff sergeant approached my desk and told me that he had spoken with his wife by phone, and that he was going to volunteer for this overseas assignment because his wife’s sister was getting married in the fall and a potential temporary duty at that time wouldn’t work for them.

He said he had informed the officer in charge that he would take this overseas assignment and the next one that came up would be mine. The officer agreed and then told him to pack a bag and prepare for a flight to Honduras, where he would be living for a month under field conditions sleeping on a wooden cot in a tent in the jungle there.

The other staff sergeant flew out that Friday and didn’t return for a month. When he did get back, he appeared to have lost some weight and told me about some of his experiences at the temporary assignment. The mission was to help train airmen in jungle survival. Mosquitos were everywhere and they were issued malaria pills to avoid contracting that disease. They ate canned food and had to boil water to remove parasites. And the only way to wash their clothing was to boil it in a large vat heated only by a campfire.

Several months passed and I had forgotten all about any potential new temporary duty assignments that could be pending that fall and that it was my turn to go next. One morning in late September, I was informed that a new temporary assignment was nearing, and I would need to pack a bag and pick up my airline tickets in the morning.

My orders were to fly to Las Vegas, Nevada and report for duty at Nellis Air Force Base there to produce a daily newsletter for the Air Force’s annual air-to-ground weapons meet called Gunsmoke. It drew flight and support crews from throughout the Air Force and included active duty, reserve, and Air Guard units. My workday typically consisted of arriving at the flightline to interview pilots and ground crews at 7 a.m., take a few photos and then write several stories. Finishing that, I then had to layout and design a newsletter and have it ready for production by noon. Once it was printed, I handed the newsletter out to the flight crews by 2 p.m. and I was done for the day.

Never having been to Las Vegas before, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. The food on the Las Vegas strip was plentiful and inexpensive, my room in the noncommissioned officer quarters on the base was clean and air conditioned, and the Air Force had rented a car for me to travel across the town.

One evening during the assignment, I visited Sam’s Town Casino and was able to eat dinner and watch a performance by singer Ray Charles. It was also during the World Series and my favorite baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Philadelphia Phillies to win the title while I was there.

Sometimes you never know how luck will treat you, but on this occasion, I have to say that I made out pretty well.

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