Marines are nothing if not competitive. This explains why, after 30 years service, you can count the number of your friends on one hand. Marines also make an important distinction between acquaintances, and friends. So there is a lot of back and forth between Marine officers with different MOS specialties. There is nowhere this animosity is more pronounced than within the aviation community —an age-old spectacle between helicopter and fixed-wing pilots. To fighter pilots, helicopter pilots are “rotor heads,” suggesting individuals with limited aeronautical skill. This is not true, of course, but it does represent the best of fixed-wing creativity.
Now imagine two Marine Corps airfields located in near proximity to one another, and you get a lot of caustic commentary between fixed wing and rotor wing pilots.
Flying military aircraft is a dangerous business. If everything is working okay on your aircraft, consider yourself temporarily fortunate —and realize that something is about to break that will have a profound impact on the remainder of your day. No place is this more acute than when flying helicopters, which according to physicists, are incapable of sustained flight.
One year, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing experienced a rash of aircraft accidents. This is always a concern to everyone in the Marine Corps aviation community because in matters involving aircraft mishaps, there are no “minor incidents.” In response to this sudden upsurge of misadventures, the Commanding General called a meeting at the base theater for all air group and squadron commanding officers, all safety officers, and all of their assistants.
Lieutenant Colonel Mike Gehring was one of these squadron commanders, a man who had a reputation for fearlessness when dealing with senior officers. For most of the marathon ass chewing, Colonel Gehring sat quietly in his seat and absorbed the general’s wrath. But the general’s rage seemed unending so that after a period of time, his audience —all of whom were subordinate officers— were themselves growing angry … the general’s important message losing its effectiveness. There were audible groans and one could hear the complaining voices from the captive officers —which is never a good sign. The general finally concluded his rebuke by saying, “Now, is there anyone out there who doesn’t understand what I said, or has any questions?”
No Commanding General expects to receive any questions after such a dressing down, and as expected, silence reigned throughout the theater for several long seconds. It was then that Colonel Gehring raised his hand.
Seeing the hand go up, the general said, “State your name and your question.” Gehring stood up and said, “Lieutenant Colonel Mike Gehring, sir … I’m sick of all the preferential treatment the helicopter pilots are getting around here. I think something should be done about this.”
One could have heard a pin drop on the carpeted floor; the general and senior officers were stunned. The general finally looked down from his podium on the theater stage and demanded, “What in the hell are you talking about?”
Colonel Gehring continued, “General, you may not have noticed this, but believe me when I tell you that the rest of us have noticed it. Anywhere we go on base, every premier parking spot is reserved for helicopter pilots. I’m talking about the officer’s club, the Base Exchange, the Base Dispensary … why, even at Wing headquarters. The best, closest parking spot is always reserved for helo drivers. Enough is enough. Sir, I know you’ve seen them … they are clearly marked with a sign that reads “Handicapped.”
Total silence followed for five full seconds —and then total pandemonium. Fighter pilots cheered, helicopter pilots jeered, unflattering catcalls erupted, and the general left the stage and exited the theater.
Now try to imagine what the officer’s club was like during Friday afternoon happy hour.
Hat tip: Major P. W. Chapman, USMC (Retired), PLayboy 37