Imagine you are Petty Officer Third Class in the Navy. Should you deploy to some sandy paradise, chances are your collar insignia will resemble the device on the left. These are the fearsome crows of a Navy E-4.
Take a gander at the other rank, on the right. Yes Shipmate, that is the insignia found on a full-bird colonel. An O-6. That particular photo was borrowed from an Air Force uniform website. Where our friendly Air Force brethren go to buy glow belts and rank insignias.
Now picture yourself on an Air Force flight to Al Udeid Air Base in lovely Doha, Qatar. You are minding your own business, perhaps snoozing and dreaming of Twilight (with an occasional, annoying Justin Beiber cameo) when the plane bounces gently to the ground.
The melodious voice of an Airman wafts throughout the cabin. “All O-6s, please deplane at this time. All O-6s, please deplane.”
Of course, you ignore the announcement. Remember your collar is the splitting image of the device on the left.
An Air Force Master Sergeant slyly taps you on your shoulder. You yawn and turn to him. “Sir, please follow me,” he instructs, as courteously as a caddy at the 19th hole of Leisure World’s Par 2.
You follow the Master Sergeant, because a) You are a Navy professional and you were taught to instantly pounce and execute orders b) You are still groggy from that terrible dream of Beiber and his unsat haircut c) The man is an E-7 and you are an E-4, despite the fact he is sirring you. (You take the sirs to be an Air Force thang. What little you know of “thangs” comes from a bumper sticker you saw at an Air Force base. ”It’s an Air Force thang. You wouldn’t understand.” True, you don’t much understand thangs (thangs are not your thang), but you pretend and follow the mysterious Sergeant anyway.)
It is at the point of hiking your backpack onto your back that you notice your Master Chief behind you. All Navy Master Chiefs are issued a second brain. I myself, am not a Master Chief, so I can’t prove definitively that this is true. But ask any Master Chief, he/she’ll tell you.
“This way, sir,” the Air Force Master Sergeant says to you, our hero.
By now, you have wiped Beiber from your eyes. ”You don’t have to call me sir,” you tell the Air Force bubba.
But your Master Chief is quick, wily. He smells victory and engages his special Master Chief brain. ”Ah sir,” he responds with a little nurturing pat, a Jedi encouraging his Padwan. ”They are waiting for us.”
You follow the Master Sergeant down the metal steps of the plane onto the hot tarmac of Al Udeid. Wordlessly, the Master Sergeant hands the good Master Chief the keys to a new Ford Explorer. Black. Which you and your new, best friend, the Master Chief, enjoy for the full three months of your deployment. True Story.
Note to all Air Force personnel in theater: Petty Officer Third Classes are not Colonels. Should you extend full-bird courtesies to one, he/she is not going to complain. Please study your basic rank recognition to avoid this understandable, yet embarrassing, mistake. Parting tip: if the Colonel looks to be about 23 years old, good money says he is not an O-6. (Unless his last name is Custer. And you don’t want to be around guys with that name on the battlefield anyway.)
Update I: Be sure to check out the next chapter of this adventure! Petty Officer or Colonel? Part Deux
Update II: Welcome Neptunus Lex readers! (Welcome also to Bayou Renaissance Man readers!)