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PostHeaderIcon Military Etiquette!

The first time the Air Force sent me on temporary duty by myself, I experienced probably the most embarrassing moment in my life, which I tell here in hopes that other butter bars out there won’t make the same mistake.

I was traveling from Wright-Patterson AFB, OH to Vandenberg AFB, CA one Spring, and the flight scheduled me for a two-hour layover in the St. Louis, MO 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, a real-life 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 well.

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 with 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 then.

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 marvelling 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 newspaper to reveal *my* Oreos!

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