Or maybe not. Maybe I made it all up, even if the statue of limitations is long past. In any case, here we go. I think OldNFO should be sitting here to hear this one.
Man, I hadn't thought about this one in years. This is no sh*t, I was there.
We were deployed to a base in Japan. Twelve F-4J Phantoms, a couple of dozen pilots and RIOs, a couple of hundred enlisted. The planes were 20 years old. They took a lot of maintenance to keep them flying and parts were sometime in short supply. In this case it was generators. The planes had two engines, each engine had a generator. NATOPS, the rules that governed Naval Aviation, mandated that F4s had to have two working generators to take off. Because two is one and one is none, doncha know?
There were no spare generators in the Far East. None. Zilch, zip, nada. If a plane had a generator failure, it sat on the flightline or in the hanger and waited.
This was double plus ungood to the officers, especially the Aircraft Maintenance Officer (AMO), Executive Officer (XO), and Commanding Officer (CO). This being peacetime, more or less, if you ignored the Cold War, officers weren't being rated by combat effectiveness and how much stuff they blew up. They were being rated by things like hours flown, safety, and aircraft readiness. There was no check box for unavailable parts, if a plane was down, it was a negative hit on efficiency.
As in all things, the effluent flows downhill. A down airplane was ungood for everyone. And yet, there she sat, down, waiting for the supply system to bring us generators from across the ocean.
And one day while the generator shortage persisted, above a carrier off the coast of Japan, a pair of F4s were circling and could not land. The decks were fouled for reasons unknown to me, but fuel was still being consumed. Our runways being near enough, the Navy F4s were diverted and landed without incident.
F4s won't self start. They need high volume air to spin the turbines and external electrical hookups until the generators are running. We had these things. The Navy birds were parked on our flightline to sit overnight. We agreed to launch them the next morning.
And now we get to the meat of our little tale. Because there the Navy planes sat, with no more security than what we provided. NATOPS rules provide for paperwork, lots of paperwork and aircraft inspections, and signoffs any time panels are opened. Touching the aircraft of another Squadron simply wasn't done. But still, some Marines unknown went out in cover of darkness and removed one of the good generators from one of the Navy F4s and replaced it with one of bad generators we had waiting. Our plane up. Their plane down.
This could be justified, in it's own way, by saying that the plane wasn't going to fly anywhere. It would get started and then shut down for a bad generator and sit on our flightline until a new crop of generators could be harvested and shipped. The first part of which is exactly what happened. The Navy crews strapped in, everything followed, and then they shut back down for a generator failure.
The pilot climbed back down and walked over to Maintenance Control, walked past everyone into the AMO's office and said, "You took that generator." The AMO, not having arrived on site yesterday, had to have known, his squadron's availability having gone from 91.6% to 100% that morning. But the game must be played, "What generator?"
The game of "What generator?" played out several times, bouncing from location to location up the ranks structure, far above the ranks of the Sergeants and Corporals that may or may not have been involved the possibly fictitious unauthorized appropriation of an F4 generator. Where finally it came to rest with the command structure on the carrier. Things have taken a bad turn when a Navy Rear Admiral is discussing aircraft parts with a Marine Colonel (Base CO) and a Marine Lt. Colonel (Squadron Commander).
A day goes by, and a couple of Navy personnel show up for a face to face. A Commander and a Chief, if memory serves. And in that extended game of "What generator?", the Chief had the trump card. Because shortly into that discussion, some time before honor and manhood was brought into question, the Chief quietly said, "Sir, I'm guessing that the Marines don't track the serial numbers on generators."
And so the full sadness of all that had gone before was complete. Because the Chief had it true. We did not track serial numbers on generators. They had them, but since they weren't a classified part, those fields on the VIDS/MAF were blank. It had not occurred to anyone that that the Navy was more thorough.
And now, to see all the cards, "Either we get our generator back, or the Admiral calls NIS." Making it time to roll over and bare your throat. The Navy flew in their own techs. A cart with a working generator and the appropriate serial number appeared. They fixed their plane, launched their plane, and left without a goodbye.
Another call from the Navy Squadron Commander came in for the Marine Squadron Commander. The names and ranks of the Marines involved in the initial pilfering, the charges files, this dispositions of those charges, and perhaps pictures of their heads on spikes along the runway would make it all better.
In a short time, the Master Sergeant in charge of Power Plants found himself standing in front of the CO to be held to account and tell what he knew. He was known as a good guy, with almost two decades of experience, always willing to go out on the line and turn wrenches, to teach. A Marine who stood up for his men. He knew that this time, they hadn't thought it through, but they were trying to do what seemed right, and they were going to take a pretty hard hit when they had meant no real harm.
He said what I wish I would say if ever faced with such a situation, "I did it, Sir. By myself. I came in and went out there and swapped those generators. No else knew about until after it was done. I still think it was the right thing to do. I'm a Staff NCO and I request a Courts Martial."
I don't know what would have happened if the actual guys had been identified, but that Master Sergeant jammed a wrench in the gears of military justice. A Courts Martial, with Navy Officers brought in from the carrier to give testimony? The CO and the AMO being questioned by the defense about how much they knew and when? No, no, no. All of this started to look worse and worse the more it got considered.
I don't know what was said, or by whom, or at what level, but it simply went away. Like a puddle of rain on the flightline when the sun came out at Cubi Point, it just dried up and vanished. Leaving a (possibly mythical) Master Sergeant a hero with all the guys in the Squadron. Someone who put his career and stripes on the table to protect his Marines.
No one was there for all of it. What I offer you here is the story as I pieced it together, as it was retold to me, and as best as I can remember it.
Generators showed back up the following month. Parts shortages continued to plague us, and we tried a different means to keep some spares around, but that's another story for another day.