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Steady Slow Slide Downhill

4128th Strategic Wing’s Intelligence Division, Amarillo AFB, Texas, circa 1961. That’s me, at far right. At center, front row, Division Commander Col. Raymond Bolton.

The unpleasantness with Col. Bolton came shortly after Carla, Maj. Leon Hensel's daughter, asked me escort her to her 17th birthday party at the Officer's Club. How I got socially involved with her and her father (at his insistence, by the way) is a long story that toward the end became quite disturbing.

But anyway, as Carla and I walked into the club we passed a round white linen-covered table at which sat Col. Bolton and a woman I presumed was his wife. Bolton appeared startled when he recognized me. I nodded, quietly said "Colonel," and Carla and I continued on to the party.

The following Monday at Intelligence Division they told me Col. Bolton wanted to see me immediately, so I entered his office.

He glared at me. "Stand at attention, Airman."

I immediately did so.

"What were you doing at the Officer's Club on Saturday?"

He said the words quietly, but it was clear he was furious and seemed to be having trouble restraining himself.

When I explained I was a guest of Major Hensel's daughter, it made him even more angry. "Guest? You can't be a guest because you are enlisted. Don't you know that?"

"The Major told me it was OK," I said, " because he was going to be on TDY that day and he wanted Carla to have an escort."

"Listen to me carefully, Airman. I don't give a goddamn what the Major told you, you committed a serious breach of protocol. Now if I ever see you at the club again, I'll have you up on charges for disobeying an officer's lawful order. Do you understand that?"

"Yes, sir. I do."

"Now get the hell out of here."

As for how I got involved with the Hensels, one afternoon the Major came to my scoring room and said he had a serious--no, profound--disagreement with the scores I had given to one of his navigation legs and bomb run. But half an hour later he grinned, vigorously shook my hand and congratulated me, because, he said, I had just conclusively proved to him that the scores were correct.

He then suggested that one of these days I should come over to the house for drinks, or even for dinner. I just nodded casually, thinking he couldn't have been serious about it, given that it would be a violation of the UCMJ regulation forbidding officer/enlisted fraternization.

A week or two later he stopped me in the hallway and said, "Hells bells, John! When are you going to come over and break bread with us?"

I stood mute. I didn't know what to say.

"Okay," he said, "let's nail this down. Are you free this Saturday?"

"I suppose so."

"It's settled then. Be there at 1900 hours."

From that seemingly pleasant event, it was a steady slow slide downhill.

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I knew that officers moved in different circles than the regular enlisted but I hadn't realized there was a rule against socializing between the officers and enlisted ranks. What's the reasoning behind that rule?

The anti-fraternization rules most generally are meant to prohibit sexual relationships between officers and enlisted. At the heart of this type of rule is the military's concept of "unit cohesion." Clear lines of authority must be maintained, so that orders given will be instantly obeyed. Sex, of course, complicates or inhibits lines of authority, hence it's prohibited.

Now, in my case fraternizing with the Major and his family didn't get me into any big trouble largely because HE was the one who initiated it.

Another thing is that the Air Force was and still is the least strict of all the uniformed services. If I had been in the Marine Corps, well, I would have gotten tossed into the brig and put on bread and water!

oh ok. I knew there wasn't supposed to be sex between officers and enlisted but I hadn't known it was from a more generalized rule about not doing anything social between the different ranks.

heh...I have one friend who thought about joining the Air Force, was appalled by how lax and cushy things seemed, and joined the Marines instead. :)

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