I was fresh out of Military Police school and assigned to my permanent duty station at Sandia Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was a Defense Atomic Support Agency base attached to the Albuquerque airport which also served as Kirkland Air Force Base. Smack dab in the middle and located at the approach end of the main runway was a top, top secret base called Manzano Mountain. It was protected by five rounds of barbed-wire fencing with guards with automatic weapons and guard dogs walking the perimeter day and night. I never knew, nor did I ever ask but once what was inside those fences.
Kirkland Air Force base was the home of a fighter wing consisting of bright and shiny F-100 Super Sabres. The week-end warriors would come in and fly them to keep up their proficiency just in case their services were required over in Vietnam.
Well, one day, when the fly boys came to work, they found their bright and shiny F-100’s had been painted in camouflage colors to match the terrain in Vietnam. We heard them fire up, taxi out and take-off. We never saw them again. What a shock that must have been , huh?
I found out decades later that they were among the first to fly ground support missions for the troops and later, what was called Fast-FAC flights. Fast, indicating jet powered and FAC, indicating Forward Air Controller. Low level and very dangerous. Locate a target, mark the target by setting it on fire with white phosphorus rockets and then linger over the target to do BDA, Bomb Damage Assessment or TDA, Target Damage Assessment. Which ever applied. Again, low and slow to get pictures and the first hand look. The war had come to Albuquerque one pilot at a time.
Kirkland was also the re-fueling stop for the B-52’s that orbited off the west coast as one of our first strike capabilities due to the cold war being in full swing. It wasn’t enough that we were fighting a full blown war in Southeast Asia, we had to worry about the Russians and their nuclear capability interrupting our way of life in a most unpleasant manner. Ka-BOOM ala the mushroom cloud. Nasty stuff.
By-the-way, I mentioned Sandia Base was a Defense Atomic Support Agency base. Well, Sandia Corporation developed the two Atomic Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought about the end of World War II with Japan. Neat, huh? I thought you’d like that.
Okay, now back to me. Here I was nineteen years and five months old and I’m a cop. Now that’s weird because just last year, as a civilian, I was breaking the law and trying not to get caught. Nothing serious but fighting, speeding things like that not robbery or murder kind of stuff. But the fact remains, I’m a cop!?! Go figure??
Who, in there right mind, would place a loaded .45 in a teenagers hands and tell him to, “Go forth and enforce the law.” Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous in your whole life? Can you imagine your local police department going into the high school gym locker room and saying, “Okay, you, you and you. We’re going to give you two months of training, arm you with .45 cal. semi-automatic weapons and place you into squad cars to enforce the law.”
AH, YEAH!!!! A FEW.
I must admit, it all worked out pretty well. The teenagers that were armed acted like grown men when on duty and performed their duties well and with professionalism. Our contemporaries on the Albuquerque Police Department agreed. We may have been a bunch of teenagers, and, some older but not by much, but we were cops first and acted like it.
Now, when we were off duty, that was another matter. We reverted back to teenage mode rather easily but there was a difference there as well. We never completely forgot we were law enforcement which made us look at things a bit different from before. Oh, we were still just kids, of course, but we were grown up kids, if you know what I mean.
We knew some actions had consequences and, when it was our turn to be on patrol, we were the ones who had to start the process if those consequences for whom ever we pulled over or apprehended. As military cops, we could only apprehend an individual. City cops could arrest them. Semantics, eh. They all went to the pokey and they all were in hand-cuffs. What’s the diff?
I remember the first time I went on patrol by myself. I was scared to death. Not scared that something might hurt me but scared that I might screw up.
That I would do something really stupid and after my less than glorious start at the company by chasing my self while drunk in an MP vehicle (Read: “In Hot Pursuit” for details.) I was really trying not to screw up at anything.
I remember, also, just trying to get the feel of being on patrol. Trailing people to get an idea how best to gauge their speed and not be too obvious. Where to position myself at an intersection to observe drivers from all directions. Yeah, we were taught these things in our ride-alongs but you have to work out the finer points by yourself.
It was then that I realized exactly what I was doing. I had to smile to myself when I thought, “I’m doing the same thing I used to cuss out the local cops for at home.” Would you call that irony?
I drove down to the West Gate and circled around the entrance side to talk to the gate guard when he waved a sports car through that went around my squad car. The little sports car accelerated to what I believed to be well over the speed limit. I gave chase. The gate guard said something but I was already beyond hearing.
The sports car was indeed speeding so I pulled him over, asked for his license and military I.D. and proceeded to write the ticket. He was very polite, he accepted the ticket and he was on his way. I got back into the squad car, feeling rather good about the whole situation and resumed patrol.
It wasn’t too much longer, when I was on the other side of the base, that I saw that same sports car and, he was speeding again. So, like any good officer of the law, I pulled him over again and proceeded to write him another citation. The gentleman was very polite and apologetic and said it would not happen again. Once again, I handed him the ticket and we were on our way.
At the end of shift, my Enforcement Officer called me into his office and flatly stated, “Binkley, what the HELL do you think you were doing out there today?”
I was shocked. I thought I had done good. I didn’t wreck anything. I didn’t shoot anyone and I gave out two citations to boot. I just shrugged my shoulders and with the most confused look you can imagine I said, “Sir, what did I do wrong?”
He picked up the two citations, looked at them and shook his head. “Binkley, he said, did you happen to notice what that gentleman’s rank was? Did you even look at the sticker on his bumper? Because if you had, you would have noticed a blue sticker with a star in the center.”
I started to say something but he just looked away and held up his hand for me to stop talking.
He continued. “That gentleman just happens to be a Navy Admiral. And you just gave that Navy Admiral two tickets, IN THE SAME DAY!!”
I couldn’t help but cringe at that. I thought I had just bought myself a one way ticket to a combat unit for sure.
“Well, the lieutenant said, the admiral is on his way here now and he’s probably expecting and apology from you and you are going to give it to him, RIGHT?”
I said, “But Sir, I didn’t do anything wrong. He was speeding and I was right to give him the tickets.”
Just then the admiral stepped into the office, still in his civilian clothes and said, “He’s right you know? I was speeding and I did deserve the tickets so just forward them to wherever you forward them and I’ll pay them.” He looked at me, winked and said, “Keep up the good work son.” and walked out of the room.
The enforcement officer set the citations in the pile with the rest of them, shook his head once more and told me to get out. I was off the hook for that one and, oh, I never stopped that sports car again. We did wave at one another every once in a while though. Then he would slow down.
I started paying more attention to the bumper stickers after that. Green were civilians, blue were officers and red were enlisted. We had an unusually large number of officers on our base due to the very nature of our business. Atomic Research and Support, so we operated a bit differently than most bases. We were on the honor system. We were supposed to salute the first officer we saw each day and the last one before getting off duty. That is unless we were addressing said officer, in which case you always saluted. But, just passing one on the street or in a vehicle, the honor system rule applied. We had over three thousand officers from all branches of the service there. It would have been a full time job just saluting them all.
I guess I’ll sign off for now and give you all a break. There are a lot more stories to tell and a lot more time to tell them. I hope. One never knows, does one?
It was said that you don’t salute the man, you salute the uniform or the rank. I don’t think I agree with that completely. Even though you may not be military, salute someone who is (or was). They will understand and you just might get one in return.
Have a great day and a wonderful New Year!!