More 511th History: Meeting a British Sergeant Major

I saw the following sketch from Monty Python, and it reminded me of a story which I will relate in a moment. But first, take a quick look at the video:

Here's the story: several years ago, (more years than I would care to admit), I was sent to a remote British outpost somewhere in Europe to work with the Royal Air Force (RAF) for a few weeks. Although I was working with the RAF, the post was actually shared between the British Army and the RAF, so I saw plenty of people from both services during my tenure there.

The work that we were doing was somewhat secretive, so there were several security checkpoints through which everyone was required to pass in order to get to the building where work was done. This usually meant a lot of time standing in front of locked gates, looking up into a camera, saying your name into an intercom, and then waiting for some disembodied security guard to push a button to let you through to the next checkpoint.

One morning I was waiting at one of the gates when a Sergeant Major from the British Army stepped up beside me, and I swear he looked just like Michael Palin in the video that I shared - complete with dress uniform cap and a riding crop tucked under his arm.

I'm not quite sure how things work in the British military, but in the U.S. Army we were taught to render the "Greeting of the Day" to our superiors, so I stifled my urge to laugh as I snapped to a more formal position, and then I exclaimed, "Good Morning, Sergeant Major!" He made no reply, and his eyes barely flickered in my direction; somehow his expression managed to register no emotion or formal acknowledgement whatsoever.

But as the two of us continued our vigil outside the locked gate, his countenance slowly began to change. It was barely perceptible, but gradually the corners of his mouth began to turn downward, while at the same time his arm began to flex and the riding crop began to bow under the mounting tension. My silent companion was like spring which was steadily wound tighter and tighter, and sooner or later I knew that spring was going to break.

Eventually the buzzer sounded and the gate opened, after which the two of us parted ways as we headed off into our separate sections of the building. In a few minutes I was regaling my RAF colleagues with the tale of my awkward experience with the Sergeant Major, and there was plenty of laughter all around. But that being said, I was quietly certain that my RAF comrades-in-arms were surreptitiously rejoicing over the fact that they were not serving in that Army Sergeant Major's chain of command.

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