Oreos and Rank
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 3 Feb 98 21:02:17 -0800
Subject: Oreos and Rank
Forwarded-by: Dan Hunt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
For those of you who are not militarily savvy:
1) A second lieutenant is the lowest-ranking commissioned officer in the
Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps (equal to an ensign in the Navy and
2) A second lieutenant's insignia is a gold bar; this makes "butter bar" a
nickname for a second lieutenant.
3) A brigadier general is a one-star general (in the Army, Air Force, and
Marine Corps, equal to a Rear Admiral (Lower Half) in Navy and Coast
Guard). Generals are on the opposite end of the commissioned officer
spectrum from second lieutenants.
That being said, read on:
Every second lieutenant acquires embarassing moments when he wears gold
bars; it seems to come with the job. The first time the Air Force sent me
on temporary duty by myself, I experienced probably the most embarassing
moment in my life, which I tell here in hopes that other butter bars out
there won't make the same mistake.
I was travelling from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to
Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, one spring, and the flight scheduled
me for a two-hour layover in the St. Louis, Missouri, airport. I decided
to hit the snack bar and bought a cup of coffee, a package of Oreos, and a
newspaper. After giving the cashier the nine bucks or so these items cost,
I scanned the crowded sitting area for a place to relax. The lounge was
crowded, but there appeared to be a spot across from a fellow in a military
uniform of some sort. "Great!" I thought, "another soldier. Maybe he can
tell me about life in the forces."
With my coffee on the right side of the table, my newspaper on the
left, and my Oreos in the center, I sat down before I took my first close
look at the man opposite me. He was a Marine Corps brigadier general. A
mean-looking man with no hair, an honest-to-God scar on his forehead, and
about six rows of ribbons, including the Silver Star with a cluster. To
me, the general had horns, fangs, a pitchfork, and a long, pointed tail as
I was already committed to using the table, but, not wanting to bother
the general, I meekly squeaked out "Good morning, sir" before sitting down.
I had begun the paper's crossword puzzle and was making good progress
when I heard a peculiar rustling sound, much like the crinkling of
cellophane. I looked up out of the corner of my eye to discover the general
had reached across the center of the table, opened the package of Oreos,
taken out one, and was eating it. Now, not having attended the Air Force
Academy, I was not familiar to how to deal with the finer points of military
etiquette, such as what to do when a senior member of another service calmly
rips off one of your cookies. Several responses came to mind, but none of
these seemed entirely appropriate.
I realized that the honor of the Air Force was, in a small way, at
stake here. I certainly couldn't let the general think I was a complete
weenie. Besides, at airport prices one Oreo is a significant fraction of
take-home pay for a second lieutenant. The only response I could make was
to reach across the center of the table, open the opposite end of the
package (trying not to "notice" that the other end had "mysteriously" come
open somehow), extract an Oreo, and eat it very, very thoroughly.
"There," I thought, "I've subtly shown the general that these are my
Oreos and he should go buy his own."
Marines are known for many qualities, but subtlety is not among them.
The general calmly reached out for another Oreo and ate it. (By the way,
the general was licking the middles out first before eating the cookies.)
Not having said anything the first time, of course, I couldn't bring it up
now. The only thing to do was to take another cookie for myself. We wound
up alternating through the entire package. For an instant our eyes met,
and there was palpable tension in the air, but neither of us said a word.
After I had finished the last Oreo, they announced something over the
public address system. The general got up, put his papers back into his
briefcase, picked up the now-empty wrapper, threw it away, brushed the few
crumbs neatly off the table and left. I sat there marveling at his gall
and feeling very foolish.
A few minutes later, they announced my flight. I felt a great deal
more foolish when I finished my coffee, threw the cup away, and lifted my
paper to reveal....my Oreos!
Today, two of us are running around the armed forces telling the same
story, but only one of us has the punch line. And General, if you are
reading this, get in touch with me and I will be glad to send you a case of
-- 2nd Lt. Mitchell Clapp
Randolph Air Force Base, Texas
© 1998 Peter Langston