From the first day of Boot Camp or Officer Candidate School, whichever path you select, the Marine Corps will insist that you learn the art of ‘precision’ and ‘attention to detail’ in all aspects of your life.
Precision finds its way on the rifle range, artillery line, close order drill, and your uniform, right down to a random speck of lint. You will be strongly gigged by your superiors and peers alike if you are not perfect.
You must be precise or you might be scrutinized in the most humiliating manner. Precision will carry with you the rest of your life. It will transition into a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. I don’t leave the house unless I have a roll of duct tape as a way to de-lint myself before reporting for work. As a Captain with American Airlines, it was paramount that I made a good first impression. Trust and confidence is a big deal among the flying public.
On one particular morning I drove to the Washington Reagan Airport Employee parking lot. Marine Corps training immediately kicked in as I pulled out my roll of duct tape, wound the tape sticky side out around my hand, and commenced to pat myself down to remove the slightest minutia of foreign debris. During my pat down, I was caught a bit off guard as I noticed the employee bus making its usual round.
I hastily ripped the tape off my hand and threw its remains into the back seat. I grabbed my overnight bag, and scrambled for my hat in the back seat as the employee bus drove ever closer toward me. I quickly made my way onto the bus. Looking up into the sky, I knew it was going to be a good day… clear skies, light winds, and I was looking good.
I departed the bus, noticing passengers looking my way. I was flattered because I knew it was me they were looking at. As I continued through the masses, I noticed two small children hug their mother as I made my way by them. I beamed with confidence.
As I made my way toward American Operations, a TSA worker approached me and said, “Sir, excuse me but there seems to be a problem with your hat and I must inspect it.”
I was taken back by her advances. I mean, not minutes earlier, I was perfect in my appearance. I removed my hat and saw that a large soft ball sized ball of duct tape had perched and was stuck directly to the center of my hat.
I had walked past hundreds of passengers, employees, and, yes, pilots, looking like a clown in a blue polyester suit. I didn’t follow my Marine training. I didn’t inspect my hat before boarding the bus. I failed in Precision and Attention to Detail and I was scrutinized by the public in the most humiliating, though now hilarious, manner. I prayed no Marines saw me!
Jim 'Hondo' Haldeman served 22 years in the USMC as an Artillery Officer, Fighter Pilot, and Commander of Civil Military Operations in Fallujah. He retired as a 737 Captain with American Airlines. Jim enjoys playing the piano and is member of Hope Masonic Lodge in Rhode Island, having been elected for 5 years in a row as the Worshipful Master. Printed with Jim's permission.