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War Stories

Coming to Wolters - 1965

Michael Banks

This article by Michael will allow you to get to know our Warrant Officers better. It is a great example of how some wonderful tough NCOs got our young pilots mentally and physically prepared for military life and for an honorable and respectful life after.

I had been a pretty good student in high school, making Honor Roll and all that stuff, but my first year in college hit me a little harder, and I found myself finishing that 2nd semester with a whopping 1.26 GPA on a 4.0 system. I was home for Christmas when those grades arrived by mail, and my Dad was the first person I talked with after I opened the letter from the University. I remember him saying “maybe you’re just not ready for the campus” and I might consider a different focus for a while.

We went for a drive to talk, and ended up at the city Postmaster’s Office where a good friend of my Dad worked. Postmaster Bob was a COL in the Army Reserve in Milwaukee and asked me if I might be interested in flying choppers. I listened as he described the WOC program for which I could enlist, and when Basic Training was finished, I had a promised slot in the program. It sounded very interesting to me.

So it was early June of 1965 when I joined thousands of other teenagers from across the mid-West who had traveled to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to spend eight weeks getting ready to begin their allotted time in service to Uncle Sam. Many of my fellow recruits were from the streets of Chicago, while others were farm and city kids from all over the Midwest.

When I enlisted, I had already been assigned a slot in the Army’s Warrant Officer Candidate School and Flight Training program. The lure of flying helicopters was enough for me to pen my name on the dotted line, so off I went.

After finishing basic training, my orders brought me to the front gates of the 1965 version of Fort Wolters, Texas. The Fort had just been recommissioned a Fort in 1963 from its previous Camp status as the helicopter program continued to grow. I didn’t own a vehicle at that time so I was delivered by a Greyhound bus that deposited me and a number of other young future candidates at the Holiday Inn in Mineral Wells, from which point an Army bus carried us to the Warrant Officer Candidate compound.

I soon found myself being directed to a small building, and was told to go through “that” door. My transporter also grabbed my arm as I got out of the jeep and said, “Good luck, buddy! You’re going to need it.”

I had no idea what awaited me, so in I opened the door and walked through. I wish I had knocked (as was the custom when entering this door) but I soon heard the unforgettable challenges of this seemingly larger-than-life presence of a man whom I would come to know as SGT Foster. This name will ring a clear and memorable bell for all men who trained to become Warrant Officers in this Army flight program during the 60’s.

I didn’t know about the required entry process to his office – I should have just found a pistol and ended it all right there. But the SGT was committed to turning this previously enjoyable part of my experience into his particular brew of “hell for the WOC“.

With more stripes on this Sergeant’s sleeve than there was room for, my coming through the entrance door to his office and not having any understanding of “the drill” was dangerous to a fresh candidate. Not having a clue to why there was a line on the floor immediately in front of SGT Foster’s desk, I was soon instructed of the where and why of that specific part of WOC life. As I came through the door for the first time I was informed of the drill. When the door opened, I was to visually locate the painted stripe on the vinyl flooring about five feet in front of SGT Foster’s desk, that line also being three standard strides from the door sill.

It was explained to me – you knocked, waited for his permission to enter, and then opened the door to SGT Foster’s office. You were to immediately glance down, quickly determine the location of the stripe and then (the really scary part for a 19 year old who was just 10 weeks from his basic training 1st haircut) the entering trooper needed to 1.) raise his visual line-of-sight to straight ahead to a point on the wall behind the SGT, no longer able to look at the stripe, 2.) take three specifically “military” strides in the direction of the SGT’s desk, and 3.) come to a “halt” with boots in the “attention” position, your boot toes no more than 1” short of the strip, never looking down. The SGT would let you know how you did with your boot placement accuracy.

If you overshot your intended boot destination, with toes extending over the stripe, you were immediately informed of your “incompetent, idiot existence” (or something similar in character building prose) and invited to reposition yourself on the other side of the door, composing yourself, checking again for military decorum (polished boots, even bloused pants, gig lines straight, hat or cap properly placed, etc.), a couple deep breathes, a quick sincere prayer, and then you knocked again and began the entire harrowing trip again until you either got it right(close enough) or the SGT acted like he was really disgusted with you and sent you away to rebuild your psyche.

I think my first run at this new practice took me five entrances before I was allowed to address the SGT with my request. When I presented my orders to him, he inspected them and informed me that I had arrived 2 days too late to begin my WOC training with the most recently-started class, so he assigned me to his small detachment for facility upkeep, building maintenance and being a general go-for from 0600 to 1600hrs five days a week.

The next WOC flight class, 66-7, didn’t start for 3 weeks, so I was given the opportunity to get to know SGT Foster like few WOC’s ever did. While I swept, mopped, cleaned the floors, washed all the windows, daily checked for polished brass hardware inside and out on that building, running for laundry, coffee, doughnuts, and, I think, cigarettes, I did get exposure to the human side of this larger-than-life personality, and discovered he actually had a very liquid sense of humor and a sincere personal mission in his service.

He never was my friend during that time before my flight training started, but it seemed that he always had an encouraging smile for me when our paths would cross over the next 4 months at Wolters. He was for sure one of the favorite memories of my WOC days. The many years he spent at his post in the WOC program certainly grew the legend that we all appreciate having been part of.

During the last few days of my time at Fort Wolters, I made several trips to SGT Foster’s office, knocked on the door, and got no entrance clearance as he was away from his desk. Those were busy times for me and I did not have the time to wait for his return, so my farewell to him unfortunately was never verbalized.

After my tour in Vietnam, I returned to Fort Wolters where I was assigned Instructor Pilot duties for the remainder of my time in service, but never again crossed paths with the grand figure of a man who had fashioned the first of many entries in my list of personal and military standards.

Wherever you may be, SGT Foster, I thank you for coloring my world with your powerful finesse around duty, courage and honor. You made a difference in my life!

CW2 Michael Banks
Centaur 38, 7/66-7/67
D/3/4 25thInfDiv


From Pat Eastes: Memories, memories. Made me think of two TAC Officers, Ronnie Griggs and "Mother" Martin, who were 1st WOC TACs. Made for some memorable days, lots of demerits, and 'taxi' time on weekends when we would have rather been chasing girls in Denton.