One can’t have a winging ceremony without having a celebration where adult beverages are served. So, after the ceremony, the twelve newly minted Naval Aviators embarked on a Naval Aviation tradition called a wetting down. It is a trip to a bar where invited guests drink on the tab of the new Naval Aviators. Toasts to their health, success and prowess as Naval officers and aviators are made and occasionally, we are over served.
There is one test that I passed in 1969 when I was designated and in 2002, when Seth officially became a Naval Aviator. Under today’s standards it would not have stood the test of political correctness. The ritual requires the newly designated Naval Aviator to drop his wings into a mug of beer and then drink it without stopping. At some point in downing the beverage, the newly minted Naval Aviator catches his wings in his teeth. To complete the test, no beer should be spilled or one has to start all over again.
As a senior officer, I was doing what one might call supervising. Some would call it officiating as one by one, the young aviators finished their beers and removed their wings from their teeth. As each one completed his assigned task, I held up my beer as a salute and sign of approval as well as a signal for the next one to do his thing. When all 12 finished, my son handed me a full mug of beer with his wings (previously mine, before I pinned them on him) in it. “Captain, sir, I did it, let’s see if you can still do it!”
By then, I already had several beers, probably too many. However, as a Naval Aviator and senior officer, one cannot turn down a fair challenge by a junior officer. After all, leadership 101 requires that a navy captain must not ask one’s subordinates to do something he is not willing or capable of doing. I took the proffered mug of beer and smiled. Successfully accomplishing the assigned mission was the only acceptable outcome.
Please note that at this time I was in my mid-fifties and hadn’t drunk a mug of beer non-stop in thirty plus years. I took a deep breath, focused on the mission and proceeded to drink. A few minutes later, the wings clanged against my teeth and I continued to drink. Somehow, I managed to finish the beer without spilling a drop.
© Marc Liebman, March 2018, all rights reserved