Seeing a pair of Saudi officers in the mess hall at Pensacola Naval Air Station was a mere curiosity in 1986. My squadron had sent me there to attend something called Naval Aircrewman Candidate School. The Naval Officer Candidate School across the street from us, not long before portrayed in the film An Officer and a Gentleman, was our model. For them it was their boot camp, Officer Training School (OTS) with an aviation focus. Candidates wearing comic chrome helmets were continually harried by Marine Drill instructors, all of senior enlisted rank.
For us it was bootcamp-lite. Very light. Up early for physical training and classes and usually done and at liberty by three or so in the afternoon. The course was dominated by water survival training. You did things like swim a mile in a flight suit, tread water for ten minutes in same (not as easy as it sounds), and of course the legendary “Dilbert Dunker”, a simulated water crash wherein you had to escape blindfolded from a great big barrel dropped in the water and turned upside down.
A couple of days camping hungry at Elgin Air Force base constituted survival training. The land there was spare woods of small thin trees, strafed by the sound of OV-10 Warhogs and occasionally the sinister drone of “Puff the Magic Dragon”, a C-130 mounted with a 25mm gatling gun.
Pensacola was pleasant, especially compared to the giant scrub patch that is Camp Pendelton.
Spanish moss draped the trees and the architecture was colonial. Overhead you might see the bases’ Blue Angels flying team practicing. We chased girls at night and talked about it in the day, without shame. Political correctness wasn’t here yet.
9/11 was years away.