WHERE DID SULU COME FROM - 4 April 2013
Mabel Being Put To Bed - Adak, Alaska
My aviation career has mostly been within a professional military environment that sometimes can be a bit off-tempo. What I mean is, sometimes we have grown men and women referring to each other with names our mothers may not approve. Bulldog, Shaft, Mac, Pee Wee, Slick, Trigger... the list is endless. Of course, I have my own callsign, Sulu. And, as with everyone else, there's a story. First, some background:
Not all communities use callsigns. In the USAF, callsigns are mostly isolated to the fighter communities. I have no idea where and when these traditions started, but when you are anointed with a name, there's a feeling you've finally been accepted into the community. You have made it through the wringer and you are now counted as a brother.
The story is: Sulu was not my first callsign. When I started as a military aviator I was simply Tom. Maybe someone used Tommy on occasion, but mostly I was simply Tom, just as my mother thought everyone called me. "Tom" lasted through my tour flying F-4's, mostly with Vietnam War veterans who had names like Pink, Red, Fuzzy, K12, Gnash, and so on. Me, I was simply "Tom".
That all changed when I began F-15 training. Naming folks is serious business in the F-15 community. Normally, there was a naming after everyone in the students' class solo'd the F-15. By then, all of us had had plenty of opportunity to highlight ourselves. Sometimes our buffoonery led directly to a name: Pins for forgetting to pull ejecting seat pins, Trigger for mashing on the trigger for no apparent reason, Flare for not flaring enough, or flaring too much on landing and hurting something on the jet. (Yes, that happened in my class). The opportunity for creative name association in this environment was endless.
When I was named at my F-15 training, our class was all lined up in a row, shot glasses ready to toast. The squadron's Weapons Officer walked down the row, anointed us with our name--"You are now and ever more known as Flares," for example. Then, he proceeded to tell a tale, which justified the name but had little to do with truth. Entertainment was key. The newly named fellow took his glass, toasted the bar, then was named. Me, I was named Benny, as in Benny Hill of 1980's British comedy fame. You know - the guy who would madly pedal a children's tricycle, stop, then teeter over sideways like a falling tree. I don't recall the story justifying the name. It was just my name while learning to fly the F-15.
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