Typical Small-Minded Thinking and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Get Kansas National Guard Member Kicked Out of the Military

Amy Brian During Active Duty       (Photo-CJOnline)

Amy Brian During Active Duty (Photo-CJOnline)

This morning when I read about the Kansas National Guard discharging one of its members for being gay based on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, I was once again launched into the “push-pull” relationship that I have had for a long tim2  with my home state, Kansas, and some of its people. (Though I have lived in Texas for many years and probably will continue to do so, I never have considered myself a Texan, nor do I care to.)

Kansas always tugs at me because it holds so many things that are dear to me: my family, for sure; old schoolmates, with whom close friendships are easily rekindled after many years without contact; a rich history, which started prior to but was molded by the Civil War; and, not least of all, the land itself, where in late spring, section after section of waving green wheat can be seen from a passenger seat of an airliner coming in for a landing, a sight that cannot be fully appreciated down on the ground.

Kansas is the kind of place where a neighbor roto-tills your garden plot out of sheer goodness because he knows that, otherwise, you’d be doing all that digging by hand with a garden fork. Kansas is the kind of place where the cashier at the magazine counter in the Wichita Airport chats with you and asks you if you’re looking for anything else, not to push sales, but just because she’s truly interested. It’s small and generally has a slower pace of life, so people have time to be kind and helpful.

Some of the actions and beliefs push me away, though, because this slower pace of life leads to a great deal of “small-thinking”. People with too much time on their hands and no respect for personal boundaries break into your house, not to steal anything, but just out of curiosity of knowing what kind of stuff you have and what kinds of magazines you might be reading, or drive by the capital city’s only gay bar to try to figure out whose cars are parked outside and what they might do with that information.

Therefore, it’s no surprise to hear that someone “had it in for” Amy Brian, a member of the Kansas National Guard, who had served honorably in Iraq. A co-worker at her civilian job reported her to the Kansas Adjutant General for kissing a woman at Wal-Mart. Subsequently, she lost her regular job, was kicked out of the guard because of the DODT policy, and lost all of her benefits from having served her country in the military. Read the Topeka Capitol-Journal’s article by Jan Biles; it’s well worth it. If you read the comments attached to the article, you’ll get an idea about this “smallness” (both the positive and the negative) to which I have been referring. You can also read Amy’s own comment on the thread under “ProudTBMe” at 6:45 AM, Feb. 9th.

Along with all the advantages that Kansas has of being a place where life is slower and people are kind, there’s another side, a side that includes Amy’s co-worker and other small-minded people, who not only want to “get in your business”, but want to control “your business”.

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VW Bug–College Life: The Selective Service and Student Teaching (Chapter Five in the VW Bug Chronicles)

draft-lotterySometime during my junior year in college (69-70), many of us guys sat nervously around the radio, waiting to hear what our draft number would be. I’m not sure how the Selective Service had determined the order of eligible young men to be called up for military service prior to that time, but at the end of the 60s, a lottery system was put into place, and the order a date of birth was pulled from the jar determined how high or how low a guy’s chances of being called up would be. Therefore, if you had a low lottery number (under a 100 at least), your chances of being drafted were very high. If your number was larger, say in the 300s, your chances of not being drafted would much better.

There were other factors involved also. Each county had its own draft board, which received a quota for the number of young men that it was required to send (probably based on the population of the county), and a guy’s lottery number within that smaller county pool might also determine whether he would be called up or not.

I don’t recall anyone in my group of friends or even others on the Fort Hays campus that were very “gung ho” about going, but if someone had a low number, he was surely resigned to his fate of either being drafted or enlisting. There were a few anti-war protests and counter-protests on campus; however, in reality, there were more students who chose to be onlookers, rather than participants for either side.

By this time, the Vietnam War had been going on with U.S. involvement for more than seven years. Everyone had seen a lot of the fighting and other images of the war on TV. (Here we are forty-some years later, and what we can see is that there was a lot more openness in what was shown of the war then, than is shown of what is happening in Iraq in this war. Every day the names of the soldiers who were killed and where they were from could be found in the newspaper. (These days unless it’s some local soldier who has been killed, the rest of the country has no idea whose life has been sacrificed. And everyone–both those for and those against the war– knew there was a sacrifice in fighting a war–something the Bush government has always seemed to want to hide from the American people.) Many of us had brothers who had already gone off to the military, and, very likely, to Vietnam. If not brothers, at least, we new of other relatives or local guys who had been called to service.

So, for a those of us guys there at Fort Hays and other schools across the country, getting our draft number in those days was part of college life, and, of course, the lower the number, the more heavily it probably weighed on one’s mind.

Even before the lottery, the draft system was something involved in our lives, because if you were in college, you had to get a deferment from your local draft board. When you turned 18, you had to sign up with the draft board, and if you weren’t in school, you were eligible to be called up. That meant college guys had to have a deferment, in order not to be drafted, but it also meant that you had to maintain passing grades and be taking a full college course load. The deferment was only temporary, though. When you graduated, you could be called up right away. Consequently, while you were still in school, what was going to happen to you afterwards, especially in respect to going into the military, was never far from your mind.

My number was 156. It was neither a good number nor a bad number. It wasn’t low enough so that the certainty of being taken was there. On the other hand, it wasn’t high enough that it was likely that I would not go. It was a middle number–a sort of “in limbo” number.

College life went on, though, that year or so, with the usual studies, parties, and vacations back home. Mixed into that life, some guys looked for alternative means, if not to avoid the draft altogether, but, perhaps to delay the inevitable. Some decided that getting married and starting a family–earlier than they might otherwise have come to that decision–was their way to hold off Uncle Sam (Think Dick Cheney). A few went into grad school in order to get an extended deferment (Think Dick Cheney again). There were others who chose to commit to the National Guard or the Reserves (Think GWB) because in those days very few guard or reserve units were called to go to Vietnam. However, in those days with so many wanting to go that route, these more local units had limit restrictions on the number of men they could take; consequently, in a lot of cases, a guy had to “know somebody” in order to get into the guards or reserves. (One thing that really irks me about the Iraq War: If the country really had been ready AND WILLING to go to war there, they should have re-instated the draft in order to have the manpower to complete that task successfully and fully maintain the military’s strength all around the world.)

At some point during my senior year, I got orders to go for my pre-induction physical. I had to go to Kansas City by bus, stay overnight, and was given my physical, lined up with hundreds of other guys, at the induction center which was in KC back then. The Selective Service made you take this physical early so that there would be no doubt about your health situation before they actually drafted you.

My final semester of college was my teaching block semester, so I spent part of it doing my student teaching at Great Bend High School. For the six weeks that I did my student teaching, I rented a basement apartment in a little old bungalow near the high school. Some people drove the approximately 50-mile drive each way from Hays every day, but I had opted not to do that. However, I drove my purple VW back to Hays to spend time catching up with my roommates every weekend, and even sometimes during the week when I had meetings or a big basketball game to watch on campus.

I had two cooperating teachers (the real teachers of the class), and for some reason, the one I worked with most, felt threatened by me. I don’t really know why. He was pretty well known among the teaching circles in that subject and had won different honors, and I was just this kid, having just turned 21, but looked even younger. Maybe that was the problem: that I wasn’t much older than most of my students. I learned a lot during that time, for the practical experience was real, and what we had studied in our “block” courses hadn’t really prepared us for the reality of the classroom. On my last day of student teaching, one class of my seniors gave me a going away present–a mini keg of beer–in class nonetheless. My cooperating teacher was just about beside himself–irate is probably more like it, but he didn’t do anything, maybe because it had happened on his watch. Or perhaps in those days, it wasn’t such a big deal. I can’t imagine anything like that happening these days, but, heck, these days they bring guns to school.

I was a bit worried about how that might affect my student teaching report because I still had to return to campus for a few weeks to finish up my courses and get my final student teaching evaluation. Despite my nervousness, the evaluations from my cooperating teachers were good, and there was no mention of the mini keg.

After Hurricane Ike: Getting Back To a Routine, But Thinking About Blizzards and “Bierochs” (Recipe Included)

This week really felt good–getting back to a normal schedule, after being at loose ends without electricity and not working. I feel so fortunate to have pretty much everything back to normal, when there are so many who don’t, from those still without electricity here around town, to those down on the coast and other places inland, who lost so much–homes, jobs, and, in some cases, even loved ones.

A Clean Fridge

A Clean Fridge

It’s actually nice to start with a clean, fresh refrigerator. I threw everything out the next day after Hurricane Ike came through, knowing that even though the fridge was still cool, the electricity probably wasn’t going to come back on soon enough to save anything, and, in fact, it didn’t.

Somehow restocking the fridge and just going through being without utilities for a few days got me to thinking about the blizzards that we used to have on the farm when I was a kid. If there was an ice storm, or the winds were strong enough and snapped a pole, then there’d be no electricity. And the electric crews couldn’t get out to repair the lines until the snow plows opened up the drifted roads.

The worst storm I remember was when I was in maybe second or third grade. The drifts in front of the house were lots taller than Dad, and some of the drifts on the roads covered them completely, so it was hard to know where the roads and ditches were or where the stone post and barbed wire fences were alongside them. That year, the National Guard flew out in helicopters or airplanes and tried to throw hay bales down for the herds of cattle that were stranded out in the snow. Apparently, they missed their target somewhere between our place and town, because they ended up tossing some of the bales down onto some power lines, and made getting the electricity back on much more of a problem. It took two weeks to get electricity back and for the snow plow to come make a way for us to get out.

During the time the lights were out, the biggest problem on our farm was getting water because there was an electric pump on the well. There was a tank in the well, but even if there was electricity, sometimes the pipe from the well to the house would freeze up. If it didn’t freeze, we’d try to make the water from the tank stretch, just using it for drinking. For washing, we’d go out and get snow to melt or go to the creek, break the ice on top, and bring it back, then strain it with the milk strainer to get it clean enough to use.

A lot different than these “modern” days, when a hurricane comes through during the hot months, keeping food and cooking it was never really a big problem when the electricity went off during a blizzard. Things from the fridge that needed to stay cold could go out in the wash house, where they would stay really cold or even frozen. Also Mom always kept cupboards stocked with the basics like flour and lard, and there was milk and cream from the couple of milk cows that we usually had, which needed to be milked blizzard or no blizzard. We also used propane for the cook stove and heating, so we always kept warm and ate well. Out back, we had “the cave”, which held the jars of canned vegetables and fruits and a bin filled with potatoes. (The cave is another story altogether.)

Mom cooked a lot on cold days because it warmed up the kitchen, which helped keep the entire house warmer. It seems like we always had a lot of soups on those cold winter days. Because we had chickens, we had homemade noodle soup and from our own meat, vegetable beef soup, and, well, chili too. Mom made the best angel food cakes, and I usually got a chocolate angel food cake for my birthday. (You’re thinking I’m changing the subject, but I’m not.) The angel food cake Mom made took a dozen egg whites, so then the yolks were left over–Just what is needed to make homemade noodles. Mom would roll them out on the linoleum-topped kitchen table into big round circles, and then hang them over the backs of the chairs to dry a bit. Then she’d lay all of them one on top of the other, roll them up, and slice them into thin, curly strips, spreading them out on the table to dry some more. That’s when we’d try to sneak a few of the fresh, uncooked noodles without her seeing us. Well, I did that; being the youngest, I know I did. And I got away with it most of the time.

We had our own meat from the cows we raised. Dad would get somebody to take one of the younger ones that had been born the spring before into Klema’s in Wilson, where it would be butchered. Klema’s also had a locker plant, which rented lockers where you could keep the meat that had been butchered frozen. I’d go back in there with Dad when we went to get groceries; it was so cold that they had extra coats hanging on some hooks that you could wear while you were inside the locker part. Dad had his own key for our locker, which he opened and got the meat that we wanted for that week. There was no cellophane or styrofoam on those packages of meat; everything was wrapped in white butcher paper, taped closed, and stamped with whatever cut of meat was in the package: Pike’s Peak roast, round steak, hamburger, and the like.

From our own ground beef, one of the best cold weather dishes that Mom made was bierochs (pronounced beer-rocks). (Actually, now that I’m writing this I’m thinking that I’m going to make some when the first really cool weekend arrives here in Houston. But who knows when that will be?) Not many people are familiar with beirochs unless they’ve got some German-Russian in their heritage. And I don’t mean German or Russian, I mean German-Russian. In the area of Kansas where I grew up there were lots of people whose heritage is German-Russian. I don’t know the history of it all because our family was not of that descent, but apparently, for reasons of not wanting to be in one military or another military, at some point, large numbers of these people immigrated from Germany to somewhere near the Volga River in Russia, and then in the late 1800s and very early 1900s, many of them or perhaps their descendants immigrated to the US, especially to parts of central and western Kansas.

And one of the best things they brought with them was bierocks. It was one of those dishes that many people in my little town of Dorrance made (and still make), and my mom was one of them. I guess she may have learned how from an aunt. We didn’t have bierochs too often at home because they’re one of those delicious dishes that take time to make. Basically, they are a meat and cabbage filled bun. The filling is the easy part, and it doesn’t take exact measurements. How much of the few ingredients you use depends on how many bierochs you want to make.

In a big skillet, you need to brown up some ground beef (a pound or two) and some onion, just like you might do if you were making spaghetti sauce. Then drain off any grease that cooks out. Then add at least a half of head of shredded cabbage. Again, you might want more cabbage if you’ve used more ground meat. (My mom used to complain that some other women were cheap and didn’t use enough, or maybe any meat.) Salt and pepper well because the cabbage, especially, will absorb the seasonings. (I’ve lived in Texas so many years that sometimes I also add about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper.) Put a lid on the meat and cabbage mixture and let the cabbage cook down some. The cabbage can stay a tad on the not-so-cooked side because this filling will cook a bit more when baking the bierochs themselves. When cooked, let the mixture cool down some before filling the dough. I’ve seen some recipes that add ketchup and mustard and a few other ingredients, but ground beef, cabbage, a little onion, and salt and pepper is “the Dorrance way”.

To make bierochs quickly, some people like to roll out dinner rolls from the dairy case to use for the outside. I’ve tried that, but the results are just “OK”. You really need a good recipe for homemade rolls, or “buns” as we’ve always called them, for the bread covering of the bierochs, if you’re going to make “real” bierochs. As I said before, the filling is the easy part, so if you’re going to make homemade dough, you have start it first. And if you’re going to have bierochs for supper, you might want to get the dough started in the morning, depending on how fast your dough rises. Making bierochs really is not difficult, but because there are several steps, it does take time.

Here is my mom’s “bun” recipe, but I’ve also used one that included a mashed boiled potato and the potato water. Both are good.

1/4 cup warm water, 1 package yeast, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 3 tablespoons shortening, 2 beaten eggs, 2 cups boiling water, and 7 cups flour

Dissolve yeast in the 1/4 cup of water. (Add a teaspoon of sugar to make the yeast rise.) Put sugar, salt, and shortening in a large glass or crock bowl. Add 2 cups of boiling water, and let cool. Add beaten eggs, yeast, and four cups of the flour. Beat well (with an electric mixer). Then add the rest of the flour and stir in gradually. Let rise until doubled.

For bierochs, take a portion of the dough and roll it out on a flour-covered surface until it is about 1/4 (or less) inch thick. Cut the dough into pieces about six inches square. You’ll probably need to roll each piece again as it tends to pull back together once you cut it. Using a spoon, heap about 1/4 cup of the filling into the center of the square of dough. Then fold the corners in so that all 4 corners meet; pinch all of the seams tightly closed. Then place the bierock in a greased baking pan, seam side down. Continue making the individual bierocks and arranging them in rows in the baking pan. The bierocks do not need to touch in the pan because they need to rise one more time before baking. Place a tea towel over the entire pan (or pans depending how many you have made) and let rise until they look like soft pillows. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the bierochs until they are golden brown on top. (If you have made more dough than filling, you can make the rest of the dough into “buns”. With your hands greased, roll the dough into balls a bit larger than a silver dollar, place them in a greases baking pan, let rise, and then bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.)

Some people like to make much bigger bierochs, maybe because they think they can make them faster, but I like them about the size of a hamburger bun (only square). Plan for two or three per person. These are great with a nice salad or vegetables alongside. Some people (including me) like to dip bierochs in a little ketchup; however, some people are purists and like them plain. They are great right out of the oven, but they can also be kept in the refrigerator and heated up in the microwave. They also freeze well if they are kept in a very tight plastic bag or container.

Still today, after eating foods from all over the world, if someone asks me what my favorite is, I’ll still say the same thing that I would have said when I was about 10 years old: bierochs.

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If you liked this article, you might like Hamburger Gravy, Puddin’ Meat, Coffee Milk and Hopalong Cassidy, and Sex in a Pan.

My Time in the 6916th Security Squadron at Athenai Air Base

RC-135 and 6916th Sec.Sq. Crew--Circa 1975After graduating from Fort Hays State College (now University) back in 1971, I went into the Air Force. I spent almost 11 months, starting in September of 1973, in Washington, D.C. at the Defense Language Institute (Anacostia Annex) studying Arabic and Middle Eastern culture. I also had a lot of other special training before I went to Athens, Greece, where I was stationed at Athenai Air Base for a little more than two years. I still hold those days in my heart as being probably the most interesting and intriguing of my life. I saw the tanks parked down the street near Astir Beach, when the American-backed dictator Papadopolous was thrown out by the generals in the coup. I remember even then a terrorist attack at the main terminal of Athens (Hellinikon) Airport, which was just across the runways that were shared with coming to and leaving from our base. I remember how the Turks invaded Cypress, and the U.S. did nothing and the Greeks would spit when we walked down the street and our cars got fire-bombed in the neighborhood where a lot of us lived.

Athenai Air Base (1973)--taken from atop one of the barracks towards the flight line with the sun setting behind some of the Aegean Islands and a U.S. Navy ship (maybe one of the carriers) on the right

Athenai Air Base (1973)–taken from atop one of the barracks towards the flight line with the sun setting behind some of the Aegean Islands and a U.S. Navy ship (maybe one of the carriers) on the right

I also remember the scent of the orange and lemon trees that grew close to my apartment on Metaxa Street in Glyfada and the strange movie theater a couple of blocks away, where in the summer you watched the first half of a movie inside, and then after intermission, everyone went up on the rooftop, and you could watch the second half of the movie shown on a white-washed wall and sit and enjoy the refreshing Mediterranean air. Likewise, I remember a time during my last few months in Greece and the Air Force, when I took several days of leave, hitched my backpack and pup tent over my shoulders, took the ferry to Mykonos for the nude beaches of Paradise, Hell, and even the notorious Super Hell, which I finally trekked over the hills to one day, only to find a nearly deserted beach and a little taverna. I opened the door to that little non-descript place, which sat there on the almost desolate beach and entered a gay bar for the first time in my life. It was probably something that I had been hoping in the back of my mind to find, but when it happened, I was so scared, that all I could do was order a beer, take a swig, put the bottle back on the counter, and head out the door.

This picture shows one of the planes I flew on, an RC-135. Our missions over the Mediterranean Sea could sometimes last 8 or 9 hours, and that didn’t count the pre- and post-briefings on base. During the first year, I was at Athenai AFB, we flew on the RC-130B’s (tail numbers 524, 531, 532, and 535 were used, according to my flight records, which I still have). They were big, lumbering 4-prop planes, which are still used a lot for transport and other duties these days. On my 16th flight, we had to abort because 3 of the 4 engines had stopped, but those old planes are “go-ers”; we made it back to base with that one remaining engine still purring. In June of 1974, SAC (Strategic Air Command out of Offut AF Base at Omaha, NE) started flying us in the RC-135’s (tail numbers 131, 132, 139, and 842, during my time at Athenai AB) . My last flight on the 130 was on June 8th and my first on the 135 was the 16th. (There’s a great site dedicated to the RC-135’s here, with photos and a lot more.)

We had a 6-day-on/3-day-off work schedule. The six days of work could be grueling because the days flying were long, and sometimes I flew two or three days in a row, even though the idea was to fly one day and work on the ground the next during the cycle. The three days off were great–time to catch up on sleep, take advantage of the beach, or soak up the Greek life and sights. My first flight was on the 2nd of September, 1973, just for the ride (as I remember it now) with my trainer; however, working at my own position came soon enough–and often enough. I’m lacking a couple of months of flight records in my folder, as from what I see now they were processed in Germany–but based on the records I received when I got out and calculating for the missing months, I flew on approximately 150 flights between that September and the 31st of July, 1975, when I got out of the Air Force, right there in Athens. However, even with all that time spent flying, I never really overcame my fear of flying at high altitudes, especially over water. I had always told myself if the plane were to go down, I would be going down with it. Even with the special training we had had at Homestead AFB in Florida, practicing all the bail-out procedures , jumping out high over the Mediterranean Sea was not something I could have imagined myself doing.

(Updated and edited the above and added the photo below, July 13, 2015) Sometimes an inadvertent discovery can bring back some of the memories and perhaps a bit of history.  I took hundreds, maybe even into the thousands of photos developed into slides during my time in Greece, including many of trips outside of Greece.  I still have some of them, but due to a stupid choice “back in the day,” the majority are gone.  So it was a delight to find one lone box of slides among some of my nieces possessions.  Actually, at one time might have been just a box of discarded slides, not worth keeping with those more likely to be looked at.  But now some 40 years later, the mix of slides inside took me down a trip down memory lane.  Though some were out of focus, and others of poor color, they took me back to a trip to northern Greece, a month spent in Great Britain, including the Lake District and Edinburg, Scotland, Christmas displays in Piraeus, my Siamese cat of French lineage that made the flight back with me to the U.S. and that later was adopted in a friendly takeover by my mom and dad.  Among these odds and ends of images was this nice one of the base.  That blue bus takes me back to all those god-awful early, pre-flight briefings and the ride down to plane on flight line.

This shows the main road that went from the main gate down to the flight line.  The larger building on the right is the base movie theater.  I think this may have been taken from near the tennis courts, but I'm not sure of that or what the other buildings were.

This shows the main road that went from the main gate down to the flight line. The larger building on the right is the base movie theater. I think this may have been taken from near the tennis courts, but I’m not sure of that or what the other buildings were.