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Cadet - 17. Cadet First Class • II

Ritch did not need an excuse, but the big bruiser’s shifting eyes, smirk, and tight sport shirt provided plenty of opportunity for abuse.

“What the hell you looking at, Basic?” Asked in a normal tone, the question still made the noob try to stand straighter. Ritch glanced at the lanyard around the man’s neck to get his name. Jerome Baker.

“Nothing, sir.”

Ritch’s volume rose slightly. “What part of your instructions did you not understand, Basic?” He spoke a tad louder again. “Eyes front and center unless an officer’s talking to you! And wipe that smile off your face!” The last comment was shouted, making the blond shiver.

“YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY?”

“NO, SIR!” The guy’s voice broke between no and sir.

“You know what I think? I think you’ll wash out before BCT’s over. I’ve seen your type before. Probably a jock, good looking, built… Showing off your body by wearing tight clothes. Must have had boys and girls dying to climb you. But I know the bigger they are, the faster they fail.”

The smirk returned to Baker’s face. “Only girls. I’m not gay.”

Of course the guy would defend his heterosexuality first. Ritch had heard the protestations more than once. Why did these assholes have to announce they were straight whenever he mentioned gay relatives, gay friends, or gay people in general?

“DID I ASK A QUESTION?” The shout made Baker shake and a couple of nearby cadets smirk. “And what kind of response’s that? Did you also forget what the proper ones are?” Ritch took a step back, his posture screaming his disdain for the basic. “You think you’re above other basics? You’re too good for the rest of us?”

“Ummm, no, sir.”

“DARN RIGHT YOU’RE NOT! You better adjust your attitude, or you won’t make it past the weekend. YOU UNDERSTAND ME, BASIC?”

“Yes, sir!”

Hands behind his back, Ritch walked away from a trembling Baker. Tilting his head at Boxworth to take over the abuse, he slowly strolled down the line of basics, making sure none of the cadre overstepped. The smile he tried to hide was due to the realization he was acting as a third-grade bully or a tin pot military dictator. He could see how someone could get carried away by the power rush. To him, it was a job, and he was going to perform to the best of his abilities.

He grinned thinking about Baker and his perfectly styled blond hair. It would be no more by the end of the day.

 

With close to a thousand new souls to indoctrinate, broken down into manageable groups, cadre instructors shared responsibility for specific classes or seminars. One individual could not handle all sessions on a specific subject due to time constraints. Each basic had to take every course offered, which meant multiple instructors had to teach the same subject several times.

Ritch had delegated the diversity seminar he led the previous year. Instead, he was one of the upperclassmen teaching one on respect and obedience.

“Good morning.” Ritch strolled through the seated basics, reached the front of the room, and turned to face his pupils. “My name’s Richard Peterson. I’m a Cadet Lieutenant Colonel, and I’m Squadron Commander for the Dirty Dozen.” He found the multitude of expressions fascinating.

“What that means is, I’m your superior, and all of you are required to obey my orders. Even if you’re not a member of my squadron.” Ritch scanned the cadets and grinned. “Let’s introduce ourselves.” He pointed at the man who had been his initial victim on I-Day. “Baker! You start.”

“Me, sir?” The man looked in every direction, apparently hoping there was someone else who shared his last name.

Ritch knew there was not; he had read through the class roster already. “Yeah, you. Is that a problem, Basic?” He knew he was being a jerk but couldn’t resist.

“N… No, sir.” Although Baker sat up a bit straighter, he was visibly nervous. “I… My name’s Jerome Baker, and I’m from South Dakota. Keystone, to be precise. It’s a small town in the Black Hills. I was recruited to play football for the Falcons.” The man glanced downward, took a breath, and returned his eyes to Ritch. “That’s about it, sir.”

“It’s good to see you paying attention, Basic.” Ritch pointed at the woman sitting next to Baker. “You’re next.”

Ritch roamed through the room, said a few words to the officer in the back, and returned to the front after everyone had introduced themselves. “Very well. Let’s turn our attention to the topic of this seminar: obeying orders. This will be a discussion. I’ll start it, but I expect everyone to participate.

“Let me begin by recounting an incident that took place last year at the first boxing team practice. One of the members, a C3C, made derogatory remarks about a gay cadet.” Ritch noticed a few surprised expressions. “Yes, there are gay and lesbian cadets amongst us, and if you haven’t been a part of it yet, you’ll be a participant in a diversity seminar soon enough.

“Said C3C was ordered by a fellow team member, a superior, to stand down. The officer explained it was against Air Force policies to discriminate in any way and his comments were unacceptable. When the C3C ignored the order, it was repeated in a more forceful matter.” Ritch paused for a moment. “To make a long story short, the disrespectful cadet continued to refuse orders and eventually struck his superior.”

There were several gasps and quite a few head shakes. “Because the C3C was a foreign student, he was not court martialed, but he was dismissed from the Academy. For all we know, he’s now serving time in a jail in his home country.” Ritch knew if any of them were curious enough to ask boxing team members, they would find out Vurdem’s name and his home country. He was careful not to identify the man, though.

“Let’s start with you, Baker.” Ritch knew he was picking on the guy, but he had a feeling Baker would not shy away from participating. He was starting to like the man. “What are your thoughts?”

Using his experience as a template, Ritch guided the discussion until the alarm in his watch alerted him his time was over. “Let’s take a ten-minute break to stretch our legs and use the restrooms.”

While the basics were out of the room, Major Wood joined Ritch. “Good job, Peterson. You were direct and clear instead of stuffy. And you were engaging enough the basics paid attention. The way you presented your arguments was impressive. You should consider joining JAG.”

Ritch shook his head faster than should have been possible. “Thank you for the praise, sir, but I don’t think so. I want to be a pilot. I want to fly.”

“The two aren’t incompatible. Think about it.” Their conversation ended when the basics reentered the room.

“Take your seats. If any of you have questions, feel free to find me later.” Ritch assumed the papers the older man flipped through after stepping aside were his notes for the seminar. “Allow me to introduce the officer standing to my left.” As if controlled by an unseen power, every head turned. “Major Robert Wood is a member of the Academy’s Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.” Ritch paused while the man waved at the basics. “In case any of you have no idea what that means, he’s a lawyer.

“On I-Day, we all swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. An important part of that responsibility is following orders from our superiors so we may achieve the mission objectives. Major Wood will discuss what that commitment signifies and the difference between legal and illegal orders.” Ritch looked to the side, nodded at Wood, and went to stand in the back.

Major Wood’s presentation was half of the seminar. When he was finished, Ritch reclaimed his position in front of the basics. “Our time’s up. Let me remind you JAG’s not exclusively a prosecutorial office. Their lawyers provide legal services and representation to all members of the military.”

Ritch glanced at the JAG representative. “Thank you, Major Wood. Basics, dismissed.”

 

 

On May 7, 1949, the United States Congress named five-star general, HenryHapArnold, the first general of the Air Force. Hap was short for happy. It was therefore fitting the student center at the Air Force Academy had been named Arnold Hall and the cadet lounge within it, Hap’s Place.

“Let’s go, Peterson. I’m buying the first round.” Joel Boxworth, Ritch’s roommate, pushed him out of their room; half a dozen cadets waited for them in the hallway.

When Ritch’s brother, CJ, celebrated his twenty-first birthday, he did so by hosting a dinner for twenty-one people at Club 21 in New York City. In contrast, Ritch’s commemoration of the landmark event was to be a less pompous event.

“Bro, this weekend’s gonna be epic!” Edrice King, Ritch’s friend and fellow C1C, had organized the first part of the celebration.

“Right… you all better not embarrass me, okay? And I’m not getting drunk. No way do I want to crawl back to my room.” The Wing, Ritch’s group of friends, had insisted they go out for bar food and drinks at Hap’s Place. The lounge was open to first and second classer over twenty-one, so it was the first time Ritch stepped inside.

“Buck! We brought you fresh meat.” Will Bender, Ritch’s previous roommate, shoved him towards the bar.

Buck Lymer was the civilian bartender dispensing cocktails that early Friday evening. His shaved head balanced a luxurious beard reaching the bottom of his neck, where it collided with his open shirt collar and abundant chest hair. The ribbed henley stretched across his torso made Ritch certain the guy was a musclehead.

“Another one? This the last one to turn legal in your posse?” The barkeep unnecessarily wiped the gleaming wood surface in front of the new arrivals.

“Nah, there’s one more who’ll turn twenty-one next month.” The referenced cadet was Simon Bremen, the only C2C in their group. “I’m Ritch.”

“What up, big guy?” Mitch Simmons, the football player from Texas, bumped fists with Buck. “Better be careful. I think Joel’s in heat and still wanting you.”

Buck laughed. Joel punched his fellow cadet. “You’re a dick, Simmons.” Joel had previously commented on what a DILF the bartender was. Ritch had already figured out his roommate had a thing for older men. Particularly, if they had salt and pepper hair. “Ritch’s my roommate and our squadron commander, big daddy. I’m buying his first drink.”

“Big daddy, eh? You realize that’s what my kids call me?” Buck turned his attention to Ritch. “Happy birthday, Commander. My boy Joel can pay for your second cocktail. First one’s on me. What can I get you?”

“Thank you! You have Johnnie Blue?” Ritch, under the tutelage of his father and brother, had acquired an appreciation for fine whisky. Johnnie Walker Blue Label was the go-to choice of Brett and CJ.

Buck laughed again. “I’m not sure where you think you are, Commander. Look around. This place caters to cadets, not officers.”

“Okay, first, drop the commander bullshit. I’m Ritch. Second, what type of wine do you have?”

“Wine? What the fuck, bro?” Edrice draped an arm over Ritch’s shoulders and addressed the bartender. “My boy here’s used to the finer things in life, Buck. His bro-law owns a winery in Australia. I’ve tasted some of them, and they’re incredible. But, unlike the rest of us, Ritch won’t drink the stuff that comes in boxes.”

Buck nearly closed an eye when he raised the corresponding eyebrow. “Johnnie Blue and fancy foreign wines? How about a nice, cold, American long-neck, birthday boy?”

Ritch liked Buck and hoped the bartender would be around next time he dropped in. Hap’s Place was a refuge. His cronies were regulars, and Ritch planned to join them often.

The ceaseless harassment came to a screeching halt when the group adjourned to the pool table. Having grown up with one in the basement, playing against competitive family and friends, Ritch could hold his own. He did more than that by winning all but one of the games he played.

A few hours after arriving, not drunk but not entirely sober, the cadets returned to their dorms. Ritch suspected a headache would show up the next day, so he downed a bottle of water and a couple of ibuprofen before crashing. Twenty-first birthday celebration part two awaited him after Saturday morning inspection.

 

Colorado Springs was home to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy. Ritch, prodded and accompanied by Will Bender, had visited it at least once a year since arriving at the Academy. He had also been to one of the smaller rodeo competitions held at the Norris Penrose Event Center. However, he had yet to attend the big one. The Pike’s Peak or Bust Rodeo, held yearly in July, was the largest of them all.

Starting in 1946, proceeds from the event had benefited service members and their families in the Pikes Peak Region. With the Air Force Academy, NORAD, NORTHCOM, Space Command elements, one fort, two air bases, and countless veterans in the area, military personnel were a fixture in Colorado Springs.

The Saturday matinee event was held in honor of the Academy. Organizers provided a number of free passes for cadets, and the Academy held a drawing amongst First Classers for them. Wanting the entire Wing to attend, but reluctant to push his weight around to rig the lottery, Ritch purchased tickets for the unlucky ones.

“Gentlemen, welcome to my world.” Bender spread his arms wide to encompass the milieu. He pointed in the direction of a concession stand. “Beer first.”

“This is all new to us east coasters, Cowboy.” Edrice draped an arm over Ritch and Fred. “You lead, we’ll follow.”

Mitch pointed at Ritch’s cowboy boots. “Speak for yourself, Tail Rider. I think our fearless leader’s ready to ride.”

“Oh, shit. I hadn’t noticed those. So, boss, you gonna get in on the action?”

“Sure, I’ll be riding a bull later on.” Ritch shook his head and shoved Edrice. “Move it, Cowpoke. Stop holding the line up.”

The salute and “Sir, yes, sir” earned Edrice a second push.

“Everyone okay with Coors Light?” Will, unnecessarily, counted heads with a finger. “You won’t be on until near the end, Peterson. Bareback riding’s one of the last events.”

“I think I’ll like the bareback riding best.” The throwaway comment by Boxworth was ignored by everyone except Ritch.

“Jesus, Joel! Is sex all you think about?” Ritch knew it was uppermost in his own mind often enough.

“I fucking love you, man.” Joel offered Ritch a fist. “You’re the most enlightened straight boy I’ve ever met.”

Mitch slapped his forehead. “Shit! I just got what he meant. You’re one sick pup, Boxworth.”

“Get with the program, Simmons.” Joel gave the big football player a smirk. “And don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.”

Will passed out beers as the attendant filled the cups. “You know what they say, Simmons: Save a horse, ride a cowboy.”

“Well hell, I’m the closest thing to a cowboy here except for you.” The smile he aimed at Joel was pure evil. “Wanna go for a ride?” Simmons seemed comfortable enough in his masculinity, he now and then dropped a zinger about Joel and him going at it.

Beers in hand, the cadets made it inside the arena and found seats. Conversation flowed easily between the group and those sitting around them. When the barrel racing preliminariesfinals for all events would take place during the evening sessionwere over, they all stood to applaud the competitors.

Their celebration was interrupted by the public address announcer. “Richard Peterson please come to the booth. Would Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Richard Peterson please come to the announcer’s booth?”

“What the fuck, bro? How they know you?” Fred’s surprised expression was shared by the others.

Ritch shook his head. “No idea, Rodriguez. No idea at all. How do I get there?”

An older man sitting behind them pointed the way. Ritch climbed over his friends, walked along the railing separating attendees and performers, and climbed the steps to the booth at the end of the arena. He knocked on the open door’s frame. “Excuse me. I’m Ritch Peterson.”

The announcer did not look away from the sand where a new event was about to start. He pointed a thumb towards the corner. “He wants to talk to you.”

Large yet not obese, the indicated man apparently did not miss many meals. He did not look old, but gray streaked his chin cup beard. He held a phone with one hand to his ear and with the other one he raised a finger asking Ritch to wait. When done, he stuck the phone in a shirt pocket and withdrew the fattest cigar Ritch had ever seen. It was nearly wrist thick and almost as long as his forearm. That was an exaggeration, but it was big.

“You Peterson?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You got big balls, son, asking me to let you use the premises for free.” He held the stogie in one hand and a torch lighter in the other. “You mind if I smoke?”

Recognition flashed through Ritch’s mind. This was TJ Howard, the rodeo’s president. “No, sir. I grew up surrounded by cigar smokers.” Ritch smiled remembering how quickly they came out whenever the entire clan gathered.

“Good. Walk with me.” He tapped the announcer on the shoulder. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

The man took his time applying the flame to the end while rotating the stogie. They exited the arena, and he pointed towards an empty picnic table. “Let’s sit for a spell. You sent me an email I never replied to.”

“I did, sir. I figured you were busy and planned to follow up after this weekend.”

“What happens if I say no?”

Ritch shrugged. “It would be your loss, sir. I’d locate an alternate venue, and they would benefit from the publicity. I feel that would be a lot of community goodwill for you to pass up.”

Barely visible through the cigar’s bluish haze, a smile crept on the man’s face. “Pretty sure of yourself, young fellow. Borderline cocky.”

“Respectfully, I don’t think so, sir. I have a mission, and I plan on completing it. With or without your involvement.”

TJ removed the cigar from his lips and guffawed. “Yep. Cocky. But I happen to like that.” He motioned at one of the rodeo’s staff members walking by. “Buddy, can you get us two beers? Just tell them they’re for me.” Grinning, he returned his attention to Ritch. “Advantages of being the boss.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I was intrigued by your proposal. Did you draft it on your own?”

“Yes, sir. I had my parents and my brother read it over before I sent it to you, but they only had a couple of minor comments.”

“I have to say it was very well put together. The reason you haven’t heard from me is I was doing a little digging on you.” The man grinned at Ritch’s surprise. “I talked to someone at the Academy, your parents, your brother, and the Executive Director of the organization. I even sent your friend an email.” TJ paused to thank the staff member who delivered the beers and gulped a third of the cup before replacing the cigar in his mouth. “I was impressed. You lined up your ducks before approaching me. Well done.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“The answer’s yes. You said sometime after October. How does Veterans Day sound? It falls on a Saturday this year.”

“I think that would work, sir. I’ll have to check the football schedule and call my friend, but I think it’s a good idea.” Ritch thought November 11 was a great choice. He would make it work.

“Great! I’m sure we’ll be talking plenty, but the Norris Penrose Event Center is yours that day.”

The two chatted a bit longer but had to stop when Mr. Howard was paged. “We’ll talk next week, Ritch. I’ll need a few days to wrap the weekend up. Get the ball rolling. Our organization’s on board. Whatever you need.”

“Thank you, sir.”

While shaking hands with the man, Ritch spied The Wing in line for beers. “Yo!” Everyone in hearing range turned, and Ritch felt stupid. Head down, he jogged over to his friends. As soon as he was within reach, someone grabbed his arm and pulled him into the middle of the group.

“Okay, spill. What was that all about? Move one spot, guys.” Joel faced forward and instructed the others on when to advance. It turned into a living, traveling, cadet circle.

“TJ Howard wanted to talk to me.” Ritch drained the remainder of his beer.

“I swear I’m going to kill you, Peterson.” Joel sounded impatient, and Ritch chuckled. “I said, spill!”

“Yes, sir!”

The group rolled their eyes in unison.

“Tell you what. Let’s get our brews and find an empty table. I’ll tell you all about it, but I don’t want anyone else to hear yet. Then I want to go back inside and enjoy the competition.” Ritch was ready to enlist The Wing to help his project take off.

 

In 2020, during Basic Cadet Training, Ritch had fired an M-16 for the first time in his life. He was certain it would not be repeated often. There was not much use for an assault rifle inside an airplane.

He had also trained in the use of the GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon, a modified M4 carbine, designed to fit in a pilot’s standard survival kit. Intended for all combat-coded ejection aircraft, it was the Air Force’s attempt to provide additional firepower in case a pilot had to bail behind enemy lines.

His weapon of choice, however, was the Sig Sauer M18 MHS. It was carried by fighter pilots, holstered on their survival vest, with a round chambered and the safety off. The modular, striker-fired pistols could be outfitted with suppressors and accommodated standard and extended-capacity magazines. There was also a rail for mounting accessories such as weapon lights and scopes.

Ritch had spent time on the firing range practicing on his own in addition to annual recertification visits. He valued his Air Force Small Arms Expert Ribbon. Although his responsibilities were primarily during the classroom portion of BCT, thanks to his proficiency, he had been detailed to assist basics with the firearm.

“One more time, Baker.” Jerome Baker was much humbler than upon arrival. The cockiness had been shouted and marched out of him. Ritch was pleased with the basic’s new attitude. He was also impressed with Baker’s ease with the weapon. This would be the last time he asked the man to break the modular gun down and reassemble it. Without a blindfold.

When the younger man raised his hands to signal completion, Ritch was impressed. “Good job, Baker. Couldn’t have done it better myself.”

The kid beamed. “Thank you, sir.”

“I may have been wrong about you, Baker.” Ritch smirked. “You might just make it through BCT after all.” And maybe find himself with a few friends amongst the cadre.

 

Most of Ritch’s free time before the new semester started, once his BCT responsibilities had been dealt with, was spent volunteering at Heroes Haven – Colorado Springs. The Academy had enthusiastically endorsed his efforts on behalf of the organization, granting unlimited passes for him and The Wing, to help with construction of the tiny houses for homeless veterans.

His proposal to make the incipient community a project for the Dirty Dozen, the squadron he commanded, was also approved. He delegated scheduling and transportation of squadron members to Joel. Ritch’s roommate would coordinate passes and decide who showed up at the construction site and when.

Much to his chagrin, Ritch spent more time in planning than wielding a hammer. He hated meetings. He swore the day he got stuck behind a desk full time, he would resign his commission.

Copyright © 2021 Carlos Hazday; All Rights Reserved.
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My thanks to Mann Ramblings, Parker Owens, and WolfM for their assistance. The story is better that it would have been without their assistance.

Story Discussion Topic

Welcome to the discussion thread for CJ’s series. All things CJ are fair game, I simply ask you be respectful of others. I will actively participate in the discussion. Ask questions, speculate about what’s coming, or bitch about what happened. We’re now open for business!    

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Chapter Comments



7 hours ago, dughlas said:

I'm speculating because he wants to start a branch of Heros Haven it's a fund-raiser and awareness event. With the choice of venue I'm imagining a Habitat for Humanity style event with cadets building tiny houses to be later transported to the permanent site. I'll be interested to see how far off I am in hitting the mark.

Oh, how could I have missed mentioning a showing of the documentary and a visit from Brad.

You got some of it right. Luckily, we'll find the details out next week.

There's a forum thread discussing the use of flashbacks and most of the authors offering an opinion seem to dislike them. I laughed since I use them frequently. Next chapter starts with a flashback to a couple of conversations Ritch had about Heroes Haven during his previous two trips home. :P

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3 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

Now I’m itching to know what Ritch has up his sleeve. I really enjoyed this chapter, and anticipate his participation in the rodeo events. 

I so wanted to have Ritch ride a bull but never seemed to find the right spot. I've done it a couple of times (mechanical of course) but it's been at bars after a couple of cocktails. Ritch's been too young until now to get in a bar. I don't think anyone would let him ride a real one unless it was a geriatric one.

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3 hours ago, mikedup said:

Awesome and inspiring chapter, I agree a flying lawyer it could be an awesome option he could become an humanitarian lawyer

I think Ritch's interest in flying's the deciding factor. Three more years in school might interfere. And we do know he's still in the Air Force at the beginning of 2041.

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2 hours ago, chris191070 said:

Great chapter. Ritch is growing up and his leadership skills are beginning to show.

I can't believe he's now 21.

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3 hours ago, Daddydavek said:

So Jerome Baker appears ready to join the ongoing cast being assembled by Carlos....er...I meant Ritchie a.k.a. Romeo!

Interesting chapter.  It has me wondering about the plan for Veteran's Day!

Another long(er) chapter please!

Seeing as someone celebrates a birthday next Friday perhaps we'll get a present ... a longer chapter.

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Ritch can finally drink in public. :)  This is a great chapter all around. Going to a rodeo is just icing on the birthday cake. After going through the shouting of I-Day, it's got to be a joy for some of the cadets to pass it on to the newest round. It happens in every service and it does serve a purpose.

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It is always a pleasure to read another chapter in the Abello universe! I am enjoying watching Ritch grow into a responsible adult and leader. Since I was never in the military, I have learned a lot about a world I know little about. Thanks. 

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Great chapter. Especially his conversation with the head of the rodeo, very cool.

LMAO  at "He swore the day he got stuck behind a desk full time, he would resign his commission." (Ritch crashes and burns that vow in 2041.)

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