The blistering dry heat of the Arabian afternoon hit me as I opened the maintenance shop door. I trudged across the sunbaked pavement to the KC-10 Extender refueling jets lined up on the far end of the runway.
“Airman Young!” a loud, no-nonsense New Jersey voice bellowed, cutting through the hot desert silence. It was the voice of the air base maintenance commander. He was a captain and a hard ass. I quickly made my way over to the short but imposing man and acknowledged him with a respectful “Sir.”
“Hey Young. Tech. Sgt. Bindi is being relieved of his duties maintaining aircraft. I’m putting him in the office where he can’t do any further fuckin damage. I don’t want to hear about him touching another fuckin jet for the rest of this fuckin deployment. I want you to handle the maintenance for the rest of the duration. ‘Cuz I don’t want him to fuck up another jet. Can you handle this, Young? I know I’m putting you in a fucked-up spot, but we are short-handed.”
He was putting me in a tough position. Bindi was a nice guy, and he was my supervisor. He looked out for us airmen. But the commander was correct. Tech. Sgt. Bindi often did do more harm than good to the jets. He was a good-natured guy, but he was also a liability. The aircraft that the captain and myself were standing under had been the object of Bindi’s bungling. He had been pushing a wheeled maintenance stand along the side of the aircraft and had rammed the stand against the front edge of the right wing and damaged it.
I felt bad about taking Bindi’s job, and I wasn’t stoked about having the additional duties. But I also was elated by the commander’s faith in me. So, I stammered out that I could handle the new responsibilities. He clapped me on the back, said I was a good man, and walked away toward the sand-blasted chow hall tent.
This event was very impactful for me at the time. I was a young man, not yet twenty-four, and the prospect of more responsibility excited me. I knew that the new experience would be mentally, emotionally, and physically demanding, but I accepted it eagerly, and felt proud to have been recognized by the commander as an able-bodied and competent mechanic.
Robert Young majored in American literature and culture with a minor in history and graduated from UCLA on June 16, 2019. He plans to attend graduate school after a gap year so that he can gain more work experience in his field. He served in the Air Force from 2002 to 2006 as an aircraft mechanic.