At the Airport/In Transit

There aren’t enough military airplanes to accommodate every general officer (except in the Air Force), so most flag officers in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps rely on commercial aircraft to get where they need to go.  There is no preferential accommodation, though.  Whether serving as a one-star general or a three-star admiral, they all ride in normal class accommodations because the Government Accounting Office prohibits the pampering of senior military officers at the public’s expense.  Other military personnel uses commercial aircraft, too … only they usually end up paying for it out of their own pockets —such as people traveling home on authorized leave.

Both situations explain how a Marine Corps brigadier general ended up spending time at a commercial airport with an Air Force second lieutenant.  Normally, flag rank officers do not much enjoy talking to lieutenants.  This isn’t so much a matter of snobbishness as it is that general officers were lieutenants once, too, a long time ago, and no one wearing stars today wants to remember how screwed up they were back then.

The brigadier general was in uniform because he was flying officially, attending important meetings.  He was sitting by himself at a small table in a crowded waiting room at an aircraft hub, waiting for a connecting flight.  He was minding his own business, reading a newspaper, drinking a cup of coffee, and munching on a few snacks.

The Air Force second lieutenant was also in uniform.  A recent graduate from the academy, he too was waiting for a connecting flight.  En route to the gate area, he stopped at a local news shop and picked a newspaper, a package of Oreo cookies, and a cup of coffee.  Carrying the purchased articles was difficult because he also had to carry his hat, his briefcase, and his raincoat.  The sooner he put all these things down on a tabletop, the better.  He rushed forward into the waiting area only to find the area packed with other travelers.  Well, except that there was this one fellow sitting alone at a table for two.  Perfect.

The lieutenant rushed over to the table (lieutenants are always rushing around) and hurriedly setting down his several hand-held articles said, “Mind if I sit here, soldier?”

The general unfolded his newspaper long enough to affix his deadliest stare upon the young lieutenant whose own eyes fixated upon the single star on the general’s collar.  Having seen all that he needed to see, and without saying a word, the general went back to reading his paper.  After a few seconds of painful silence, the lieutenant sat down in his chair and set about organizing his personal belongings, which took a few moments because in organizing his personal effects it was necessary that he stand and sit again a few more times.  The raincoat, for example, came off the top of the table and was hung neatly over the back of his chair.  He set his briefcase on the floor beside the chair.  He moved his hat to the side of the table, out of the way, and he laid his folded newspaper in front of him.

At that moment, the general again unfolded his newspaper, re-affixed his death ray stare, and reached over to help himself to an Oreo cookie.  Once the item was firmly grasped in the general’s hand, the newspaper came up again.  The only sound coming from behind the newspaper was that of an Oreo cookie being consumed.

The lieutenant was both aghast and perplexed.  Sure, rank has its privileges, he thought to himself, but there is such a thing as social grace, and here this … general fellow has helped himself to the lieutenant’s Oreo cookies.  Without asking.  Without so much as a damn “by-your-leave.”  Well, the lieutenant reasoned, those are my cookies; I paid for them, and I’ll darn sure eat them.  He then reached across the table, ruffled his fingers through the cookie container, extracted one, and began eating it.  Again, the newspaper unfolded, and the general’s stare returned once more.

Undaunted and refusing to be intimidated, general or no general, the lieutenant ate the cookie, took a few sips of coffee, and returned the general’s stare.  It wasn’t a disrespectful stare, just somewhat rebellious.  And it worked, too.  The general went back to reading his paper.  Life is full of small victories, or so the lieutenant thought.  It was exactly as his Dad told him years ago.

This sharing of cookies went on for a few more minutes until finally, in response to an announcement over the public address system, the general abruptly stood, retrieved his briefcase and hat, and walked off toward a boarding gate.  The package of Oreos, with one cookie remaining, sat on the table.

The lieutenant watched the general’s departure, shook his head, and thought to himself, “That is one very cheeky general.”  Having eaten the final cookie and with another sip of coffee, the lieutenant unfolded his newspaper.  There, inside the newspaper, the young lieutenant discovered his very own unmolested package of Oreo cookies.

Of Note:

  1. I was told this story years ago.  Whether it happened, I cannot say but it did bring a smile to my face, and I hope it does yours as well.

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Retired Marine, historian, writer.

8 thoughts on “At the Airport/In Transit”

  1. Oh my! I had a somewhat better run-in with a four star. As 1 Lt Chemical Corp type, I was on two weeks active duty at the Pentagon, had finished my 30 page study on rocket propulsion selection criteria for mission type and been complimented by the bird colonel who ran the theoretical studies branch at HQ Missile Command. Heady stuff for a mere military youngster. I headed out to meet my wife for lunch and ran into a soldier at a swinging door. He held it open, smiled and said “Come on through, young man”. Looked at his four shiny stars and squeaked “Thank you, sir”. My rubbery knees recovered in a couple od days. 🙂

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    1. During an inspection trip to Okinawa in 1978, the Commandant of the Marine Corps arrived at the headquarters building at Camp Butler in an entourage of executive sedans, all flying red flags denoting the rank of the senior officer (four stars). General Lewis H. Lewis (Medal of Honor) stepped out of his vehicle as a young Marine walked toward him on the sidewalk. Observing the hoopla, vehicles with headlights on, flags flying, an honor guard formed near the main entrance to the building, the youngster halted, came to attention, and rendered the appropriate hand salute. General Wilson walked over to the Marine, returned his salute, and said, “Good morning, Marine.”

      The lance corporal answered, “Good morning, sir!”

      The Commandant asked, “What outfit are you in?”

      The Marine answered, “Summer Service Charlie, Sir!”


  2. “Mind if I sit here, soldier?”


    Whilst realizing you were also once a lieutenant, I would have been happy not to see your reaction… Sir!

    God bless the Corps.

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    1. You picked up on it, Koji … the general was fuming because the young lieutenant referred to him as soldier. Marines aren’t soldiers. They are MARINES.

      Side note: The Chief of Naval Operations is called “CNO,” not sailor. The Chief of Staff of the U. S. Army is called “Army Chief of Staff,” not soldier. The Chief of Staff of the U. S. Air Force is called “Air Force Chief of Staff,” not airman. But the Commandant of the Marine Corps IS called “Marine.” That earned title applies to every officer and enlisted man regardless of occupation, whether infantry, aviator, or logistician. Why? Because “Marine ” not simply what we do, it’s who we are.

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