Air Force Days, Part 3: Tech School

November 30, 2015 by  

keeslerI frankly don’t remember a lot about Tech School at Keesler AFB. It all happened so fast. I got there in early June, 1973, just in time for the oppressive Gulf Coast summer to come along. I was on what was known as “B” shift, with classes running from 12:00 Noon to 6:00 PM. We marched across the flightline in formation, including passing in review in front of a reviewing stand, where the base commander or one of his minions watched us doing our best “eyes left” as we passed in front of the stand. One of the key things about marching in formation was that it was supposed to be fairly loud. The student leaders (the ones who had various color braided ropes attached to one sleeve) while calling out cadence, also called out “more heel beat.” That command meant we were to jam out heels into the soft asphalt that, with the hot Mississippi sun, was getting softer all the time. Seems like much of the time, the heel beat was more of a heel squish.

The basic electronics classes were challenging. We had to pass tests to move to the next block of instruction. The fast-burners were able to self-pace, or learn at their own pace. I, however, needed more structured instruction. Some of the instructors were downright wildly funny.


The instructors had some rather colorful mnemonics to help remember things that needed to be remembered, such as resistor color codes. Now, please remember, this was 1973, and there were few women in these service schools, and colorful and offensive language was the norm. Anyhow, resistors, an electronic device that is used to “resist” electricity, used color bands that told the technician what the value, in ohms, of the resistor was.

0 – Black (bad)
1 – Blue (boys)
2 – Red (rape)
3 – Orange (our)
4 – Yellow (young)
5 – Green (girls)
6 – Brown (but)
7 – Violet (Violet)
8 – Gray (gives)
9 – White (willingly)

There were also tolerance bands of 5% or 10% (I think), which were noted by stripes of gold or silver.

Yes, that’s what “Today’s Air Force” taught in technical school as a memory tool. Get over it. It was 1973. They don’t do that anymore.

Additionally, many of our instructors were not necessarily experts in their field. This was made quite clear when students would ask for a more detailed explanation of a concept, and the response was “FM.” When pressed, they explained that FM meant “Fucking Magic.” Always good for a chuckle or guffaw.


A few weeks into my schooling, I met up with one of my high school buddies, Jeff Topol, who joined the Air Force around the same time I did, although I think it was more at his stepmother’s insistence after hearing that I joined, than an overwhelming desire to serve his country. Anyhow, Jeff was driving back to Fort Lauderdale for the weekend, to pick up a few things, so I figured that would be an ideal time to head home, grab my car, and bring it back. Four of us crammed (and I do mean crammed) into his Ford Capri sport coupe. We arrived in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday morning, and I was dropped off at home. I loaded up my trusty Plymouth, and after a short nap, was on the road by 2 or 3 in the afternoon (Biloxi was about 700 miles from Fort Lauderdale). One thing I hadn’t counted on was the poor shape my plucky Valiant was in. It had sat idle for over six months while I was in basic training and recovering from my surgery. The biggest problem was that the radiator was clogged with rust, and after only 50-100 miles, it began overheating.

It continued to do so all the way to Biloxi. I’d drive for 25-50 miles, Stop, let it cool down for 30 minutes, and go at it again for awhile. I stopped at around 2AM at a rest stop and slept until 5 or 6 and pressed on. I called ahead to my squadron when I realized I would not be able to make the morning formation (roll call and the march to class). I did manage to get there around 12:30. I ran up to my room, changed into my fatigues, and raced across the flight line to class. Boy, was I beat. Fortunately I didn’t get into trouble for being late, which the military generally takes a very dim view of. The next morning, I dropped the car off at a radiator shop, where they performed their special radiator magic, and that problem never happened again.

It was great having my car with me, as I could spend Saturdays in nearby New Orleans and other locales. Bourbon Street was fun, as was visiting the local high-end stereo stores, and discovering great record stores all along the Gulf Coast.

After three or four months of “BED” (Basic Electronics Development), it was time to start the “SETS” (Radio Sets) part of the training, which was self-paced. It was at this time that I also moved to “A” shift (6:00 AM to 12:00 Noon). I soon realized that if I played my cards right, I could finish up school on the last day of school before it closed for Christmas break.

I worked my tail off, running through the training on ancient, obsolete pieces of equipment like the AN/KWT-6, the AN/R-390, AN/GRT-3, AN/GRR-7, AN/GRC-27, and a whole bunch more. I don’t know how much I really learned, but I did finish in record time.

The day before I took my last test and graduated, I went to downtown Biloxi and had my car fitted with a trailer hitch, and rented a small U-Haul trailer. I had received my assignment a few weeks before, and it was the 1942nd Communications Squadron at Homestead AFB, Florida, about 65 miles from my parents’ house!

I loaded up the car (I had come into some stock when I turned 18, and cashed it in to buy some killer hi-fi gear; additionally, being the pack rat I am, I had already accumulated a bunch of stuff that I could not fit inside the car). The drive back was relatively uneventful, other than the bitter cold. I only discovered then that the previous owner, discovering the car’s heater core was leaking, put a bypass hose on the engine block so that nothing went into the heater. I put on a few layers of coats and sweaters, and began taking them off as I got further south.