In the summer of 1967, I was given my one shot at leadership ashore while at the US Naval Academy. As a Midshipman Second Class, I was a squad leader in a cohort of other 2/c midshipmen (rising college juniors, for those needing a conversion) going through summer training. At the Naval Academy, the summers before our Third Class and First Class years were devoted to afloat training, the 3/c filling enlisted billets on ships and the 1/c trying junior officer roles. This summer, we were learning “everything else”. We went to Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut, to Primary Flight Training (“Pri-Fly”) in Pensacola, Florida, and to amphibious warfare training at Camp Pendleton, Virginia. Each of those could be a sea story in itself, but I will tell about Pri-Fly this week.
Each squad had seven men in it. A third of the class at a time would put about 300-350 midshipmen into the three-week Pri-Fly pipeline at a time. The first week was classroom instruction and survival drills like the Dilbert Dunker, which is an aircraft canopy on rails by a swimming pool. They strap you in, and then it rides into the pool, flipping upside down and taking you three or four meters underwater. The idea is the unstrap yourself and swim down out of the cockpit and back up to the surface. For most of us, it was more fun than any amusement park ride we had ever seen.
The schedule for the rest of the time in Pensacola included flying every day. One week in the T-34 (a small turboprop Cessna with a military paint job) and one week in the T-28 (a big, heavy aircraft dating back to the Korean War and used in Vietnam). The difference between the two resembled a week on a motor scooter followed by a week driving a Rolls Royce with a serious alignment problem, because the precession from its powerful piston engine made the T-28 pull very hard to the side all the time.
For everyone except my squad, things went according to plan. However, there were not an even number of squads for the number of seats and planes available. Someone switched our training weeks. We went where we were told, spending one week in the T-28 (a serious baptism of fire), followed by a week in the T-34 (a big letdown from the power of the week before).
The flight instructors made a point of trying get their charges sick, if not during normal takeoff and landing, certainly during acrobatics. The T-28 was an easy machine to get sick in, and most of my squad used their doggy bags that week. I found out that my resistance to seasickness applied to other kinds of motion sickness, although a couple of acrobatic maneuvers came close.
On the first day up in the T-34, my instructor sitting behind me was surprised to see that I could fly the aircraft already, and quite well. He was stunned that I had learned to fly the big T-28 the week before. The second day, he let me take off and land, and took his hands off the controls for the lesson. We wandered around and chatted. The next day, he let me climb to a stall and recover, so I knew the limits of the aircraft.
“Could we do some acrobatics?” I asked. “This really is a cute little plane.”
“Sure, kid. The stick is all yours.”
I did a couple of S-loops, and a Cuban roll. No comment from the back. Instrument panel normal. I ran a set backwards.
Suddenly the stick went hard in my hand.
“I got it!” came a weak voice over the intercom. The flight instructor flew us back down as the odor from his doggy bag permeated the cockpit.
Back on the ground, I found that the rest of my squad of T-28 veterans had enjoyed similar results. We collected our passing grades as the end of the week, and proceeded to Camp Pendleton to go play Marines and SEALs for another three weeks.
Trip update: Last weekend, I was stuck on the horns of a dilemma, between the Immigration Office telling me that the Italian Tax Agency needed to fix my Tax ID No. (TIN), and the Tax Agency insisting that they needed an affidavit from the American Consulate in Naples to do that. I did some online research, and determined that going to Naples might be a waste of time.
Monday afternoon, I finally got through to the Consulate, and they confirmed what I suspected. The Consulate cannot issue affidavits for use on Italian Territory. They only issue documents to be used in the United States. However, Italy has an interesting law concerning personal data (dati anagrafici). Anyone with dati anagrafici in an Italian town can self-certify their personal data with an appropriate affidavit. This has cut thousands of kilometers of red tape from the simplest procedure, like paying a water bill, to the most complex, like moving from one Regione to another. This autocertificazione seemed to be the kind of document that the Tax Agency needed, and I had an ID card from Formia. I downloaded a form from a law firm in Milan and used it to prepare a cover document for the photocopies of my many passports, ID cards, driver’s license, birth certificate, etc. If I could not get the bureaucrats to read the obvious (see the comma and the period indicating that “,Jr.” is NOT part of my surname), I could drop the pile on a desk and destroy something, perhaps with collateral damage.
Wednesday morning, I rode to the Tax Agency with my paper weapon load. The lady at the reception counter had now seen me three times, and remembered me like an old friend. She seemed appropriately impressed by the affidavit, but, more important, it caused her not to give me a ticket to wait for another clerk in one of the ten service windows. Instead, she called the dottore down from the second floor. The senior bureaucrat sat down with me and pointed out that the affidavit only applied to native Italians. However, I achieved my objective. We had a nice conversation, one veteran paper-pusher to another. In 15 minutes, he had my TIN linked to the provisional TINs issued by the police and I was out the door with the certification I needed.
The staff at the Immigration Office (across the street from the Tax Agency) immediately pulled me into the office ahead of the line of refugees in the hall, and ran me through the fingerprinting and background checks, even into their own lunch hour. At 1320, I was walking back to my bicycle with my Sojourner’s Permit in process for renewal. When the physical card comes in, they will hold it until I get back, even in late autumn.
All told, the process took six weeks to get to this point, and I am leaving three weeks late on Intercontinental 2016. But I am pleased. The suitcase went to Canada on Thursday. I washed all the linens, bedclothes and towels on Friday, and finished scrubbing the floors and putting away everything. The apartment looks completely empty. I left with just the bike lock on my key ring and less than 20 kg on my bike rack.
I am in Rome for a couple of days, getting into my travel mode, visiting friends and refilling my water bottles with the good stuff. I will use the train to make up the lost weeks getting to France. From here on, I should be in a different place every week.
Next week, we will look at how different issues require different handling depending on where you are from and where you are going (visas, accounts overseas, credit card and ATM charges, carrying cash, websites for expats, etc.). Please send in your requests or questions to help me focus the discussion. And, as always, your comments and feedback are welcome.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,