When the Vietnam war ended, my father retired from the Strategic Air Command after over twenty years of service. A new lieutenant had tendered him a less than stellar enlisted performance report, so he said “to hell with it” and called it quits in August of 1973. He pondered keeping the family in Hawthrone, Nevada and working on slot machines at the El Capitan, but Colorado was calling. My German mother had an identical twin sister that lived in Denver. Ultimately, the family would move to Longmont, Colorado and purchase a little rambler on a horse acre in Boulder County. The rambler would cost $28,500. Now the little 1500 square foot rambler is worth $400,000
For me, at 13 years old, moving to Colorado was a new adventure. My mother, on the other hand, would cry from Hawthorne to Austin as we made our way across Nevada on highway 50. The family had lived in Babbitt, Nevada or on the Hawthorne Naval Ammunition depot since 1963. My sister and I had attended school with the same 15 to 20 children from Kindergarten through 7th and 9th grade. She and I were a known quantity and had nothing to prove to anyone. We belonged and we left friends, teachers, and familiarity behind. We were leaving the foothills of the Wassuk mountains, Walker lake, and the immense beauty of western Nevada and the Sierras. We would trade a small town and miles and miles of open range for the Eastern slope of the Rockies and copious less freedom. Vast tracts of desert and mountains that were open to dirt bikes and horses would be replaced with a few places to ride. The freedom culture of Mineral county, Nevada would be replaced with the suburbs of Denver and a whole new way of doing business and viewing the world..
For years, my mother would buy us clothes at the Fallon Naval Air Station PX or Montgomery Wards in Reno or Penneys in Fallon. No one in the Mineral school system cared if one wore generic label jeans and BX tennis shoes. If one wore PF flyers, one was simply a stud that could run faster and jump higher. In the Longmont, Colorado school system, students adhered to a completely different fashion agenda. It soon became very clear that the school culture of Colorado was much more regimented than Nevada. Boulder county was home to a large IBM complex. The high paying jobs created somewhat of a class structure in Longmont. There were those with small ramblers with 3 bedrooms and one bathroom, and then there were those that built massive 4000 SQF estates. Longmont was a conglomeration of several different stereotypes as well.
So, there was the” well to do IBM brats” that made up the corps of the high school social elite and jock gentry class. In the 1970s, time, there were very few orthodontists in Longmont, hence, the bulk of the jock boys and girls used the same dentist and similar teeth arrangements. Many of the IBM brats would all get braces at the same time. They would all get their retainers at the approximate same time. They all wore similar clothing as not to be different. They considered themselves the top layer of Longmont High Shool strata and anyone that did not meet their standards were weird and unworthy. Of course many would do well in school and head off to CU or CSU bringing their perceptions and social constructs with them. They would fit snugly within the smug and stuck up sororities and fraternities.
Then there were the cowboys and farmers. For the most part, they accepted everyone. Unlike the city jocks, they actually knew how to work and be productive beyond sports and sitting on the hallway radiator next to the commons area. These youngsters would inherit their parent’s farm and proudly continue the journey as self-made hardworking farmers.
Longmont also has a Hispanic population that has lived in Colorado since before the Mexcian American war. Most of the families raised well mannered and positive children that did well in school. In the 1970s, there were only a few Hispanics that caused trouble. Most of the trouble was caused by other factions.
Every micro-culture has the smart kids, skinny kids and kids that climb on rocks. I would transition from jock wannabee to freak status. A freak that could negotiate the champagne powder of the colorado Rockies on entry level skis like a champ. Skiing was a unifying theme in Colorado. We must not forget the Band. We must not forget the Denver Broncos either.
I became a Bronco fan in 1973. At the Naval Ammunition Depot in Hawthorne, Nevada, I was a Cowboy fan. Doug Brown had a huge RCA and was a Cowboy fan. We would watch Staubach, Tarkington and Bradshaw go at it. The Landry offense was a thing of beauty to behold.
The relatively classless school age society of Babbitt and Hawthorne, Nevada was replaced by the expansive social envelope of Boulder County, Colorado. The single class of 15 to 20 7th graders was replaced by a huge school with multiple classes and hundreds of students. The simple dress code of the Nevada desert community would become Levi 501 jeans, converse tennis shoes, earth shoes, and baseball shirts from the local Sports center store. In the winter, it was Levi 501s, hiking boots and down filled jackets. Of course, my parents who had to watch every penny insisted on generic label jeans from the Lowry Air Force Base BX or grotesque shoes from the Payless shoe store. In 1973 I refused to get LBJ crewcuts from my dad. That year, when we went to shop at the BX and commissary at Lowry AFB, I had it styled…
When I started 8th grade at Longs Peak Junior High School in Longmont, I was the short little kid from Nevada that wore weird clothes. In Mineral County, Nevada I had learned to fight and stand up for myself from numerous run-ins with the Lopez family. At the Longs Peak Junior High School, I was the smallest boy in the school and became an immediate target for being picked on. The daily bus ride to school and waiting for class to start was brutal. If I was not being harassed on the bus, I was being pushed around before the bell would ring. It would happen again and again and again to and from school. Some bullies would wait for me to get off the bus at school and then immediately strat to push me around and hit me. Then again, this would only go on for a little while before I went ballistic.
Many larger boys thought they could intimidate me. I did not see it that way. I was a nasty little kid from Nevada, and I was not afraid to fight. I would tell my dad about the harassment and he would finally tell me to cold cock anyone who abused me. The equation was quite simple. When the big kids would pick on me, I would attack them, grab them around the waist and tip them over. Then I would ground and pound while screaming at the top of my lungs. It was best to take them on when everybody was around so the fight would be broken up by the teachers before the tables turned. Then the social media of the day would get around that I did not take the shit and I was then left alone. I mean, when a 5 foot 9 big boy gets his ass beat by an 85 pound 4 foot 6 tall snotty nose Nevada kid, the word gets around. In school, if one is picked on, one simply has to fight back and gain respect. At Columbine, the outcasts brought automatic weapons and bombs.
Academically, I was way behind when it came to writing. I could hold my own on rudimentary math and reading, but it soon became clear that the Nevada school system was a grade or two behind as it related to grammar and sentence structure. This reality was exacerbated for me when Longs Peak experimented with LTUs or Learning Training Units. Instead of face time with a teacher, one had to fill out LTU packets. At home, my German mother could not understand or even write 9th grade English, and my dad did not have the patience or propensity for tutoring, so I was on my own. In the classroom environment, I constantly needed help with grammar. The other students took notice and thought I was stupid , so, I withdrew and fell farther behind. In 10th grade, I would take a full load and end up with a 3.7 GPA. However, by 11th grade, I became alienated from the social regime of Longmont high school and fell from grace.My dad wanted me to go to the Air Force Academy, but the combination of social alienation and smoking weed helped plummet my grades to embarrassing levels. I would graduate, but my grades precluded me from going to college. In August of 1978, I would enlist in the Air Force.
I am certain that had the family stayed in Nevada, I would have done better in school. The Mineral County school district had some of the most dedicated teachers and they had me dialed in. I was a successful work in progress, and the small class sizes were extremely beneficial. Mineral County had a very anti-drug culture and cared about the kids. I do not think I could have gotten away with the things I did in Colorado. But then again, Colorado exposed me to things and opportunity that were not available in Nevada at the time. I found mentors that helped me find my way. The auto shop would give me something to do and an avenue for vocational success later on down the line. An obsession with VW bugs would allow me to gain viable employment as a mechanic. It would also allow me to pay for tuition at Louisiana tech and Colorado State University.
I believe children benefit greatly from small town school systems and small class sizes.
Every school system is a microculture that is repeated across the nation. Each student becomes a symbol of society as a whole. There is the smart girl, athletic boy, nerd, fat kid, ugly girl, bad boy, rich kid, poor kid, and so on. I was the little big mouth bad kid with ADHD in Nevada. That was my job. I would assume this role throughout my life. I lost interest in learning when I hit 16 years old. I would join the military and have to confront all the negative and dysfunctional adolescent behaviors I had adopted over the years. Marijuana had stunted my mental growth and the behavior of the child was artificially extended. I had never grown up. In the Strategic Air Command, it was either sink or swim. The Vietnam era Air Force alcoholics with zero interaction or positive management skills did not have time to bottle feed a kid from Colorado. One was no longer a brat that was coddled and sheltered. Those days were gone. Now one looked forward to pushing maintenance stands through 2 feet of snow at 45 below zero. Now one looked forward to heavy B-52 tow bars , engine cowling, and rolling up double fuel pit carts. The bedroom in the familiar brick rambler was replaced by a 14-foot lead painted cell with the windows painted shut. After a winter storm, the snow would be half way up the window. A VW bug in the parking lot would be completely covered up and indistinguishable.
The barracks became a haven in the face of 12-hour shifts on the flight line and working for cigarette smoking alcoholic Vietnam veterans that treated the enlisted like shit. Of course, there were those that rose to the occasion and were successful under the harshest of circumstance, but I was immediately relegated to the bottom of the pecking order and the Air Force shit list. Later, I would be inducted into the Air Force shit list hall of fame. Some simply said “fuck it” and would not show up for work until they were discharged. I had a roommate that stayed in the barracks until they kicked him out. He did not think $300 a month clear was worth living in a barracks cell and being tortured by socially incompetent Air Force NCO lifer maggots.
The Strategic Air Command in the 1970s still retained a heinous level of racism. A Black Airman was treated with contempt, especially first-termers. With a combination of Strategic Air Command institutionalized racism and the scorn of the Southern redneck to contend with, many Black Airman endured a tremendous amount of stress and bullshit.
My first term in the military felt like being a caged animal. The daily stress of working the SAC flight line and dealing with NCOs that ruled by intimidation became a real drag.
In reality, I did not have the emotional quotient, discipline, and resolve in order to compete at a consistent level. I was, however, a very competent mechanic and could be counted on to learn and perform every aspect of the job with expertise. Just like in high school, I shunned social competition, but I did the job and never missed a day of work. Over the 4 year period, I was only late a few times for work and did everything that was asked of me.
In SAC, there were the NCOs that were considered lifer maggots and then there were the Airman who grew their hair out of regs and did copious bong hits on the 3rd floor of the barracks. All we were interested in on a Friday or Saturday night was drinking beer, smoking the doobie, and chasing college girls. In order to deal with the shitty life of a SAC Airman at KI Sawyer AFB, we listened to Rock and Roll and got stoned in the barracks. We would use super hold to keep the hair off the ears. The saying of the day was FTA or “Fuck the Air Force.” Vietnam was only 5 years distant, and Airmen never wore their uniforms to the airport or in public. We were baby killers and treated with contempt by the media and public. We were also extremely underpaid and made less than a private sector part-time job at Walmart in the 80s. Today folks in the military make more money than the private sector and go to extraordinary lengths to maintain affiliation. Today the volunteer military is much more dedicated than the drafted military of the past.
The long hair of the 1970s has been replaced with the “Bureaucratic submissive buzzcut.” “Don’t ask don’t tell” has been replaced by sodomy in the barracks and same-sex Marines french kissing “with tongue” at the Base chapel. The tiny little first term military allowance and driving old beater cars have been replaced by big checks, luxury apartments, and new BMWs. Chasing women at bars have been replaced by surfing porn on the internet or playing video games.
It only takes a generation for society to forget the heinous reality of war. Society can easily forget the war and be manipulated into proudly doing the bidding of special interest and the military industrial complex. Today, as always, truth is the first casualty of war. Americans are now expected to go proudly and dedicatedly to war even if the war is simply a means for special interest to make money. Today the federal government class and special interest control this country and elections are simply scripted theater. Globalization has gutted America’s economy. People are left with service based economy wages while the Government class and military make more money than the private sector. In order to hold onto status and a solid wage, many that work for the government and DOD are turning into Kent State wannabees. We know this when police officers and federal employees execute unarmed nonviolent people or burn children alive like Waco.
The big picture developed from WWII and Vietnam was forgotten which allowed special interest to run our foreign policy and turn remote countries into training fields where they can and shoot off all the bullets. Today’s Pokemon go zombies can be talked into anything and the Woodstock generation stands idly by in hopes that their dismal 401ks do not collapse. The once proud war Woodstock protester is more worried about the rising cost of Obamacare than perpetual war. This has allowed the Federal government class to engage in decades of war without the pesky backlash from we the people.