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Some parts may be missing

– Illustration by Malcolm Jones –

I’ve noted
before in these missives, I have no real experience in the Canadian Armed Forces—for which Canadians should be thankful—beyond a couple of indirect connections. 

First, for three years as part of my day job, I provided media training services to the Department of National Defence. Despite being a civilian, I trained CAF members across the military spectrum from chaplains and generals to the Snowbirds aerobatic team and the Skyhawks parachute team. It was fascinating.

Second, my father-in-law, retired major Bill Naylor, enjoyed a long career in the air force, first flying fighters and then navigating on multi-engine aircraft. His younger brother Gary also served his entire career in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Over the years, they’ve both shared some wonderful stories.

When not on duty, humour, fun, practical jokes, camaraderie and your garden-variety tomfoolery seem to play an important role in building bonds among the men and women entrusted with our national security. So I am all for the hijinks.

Let’s face it. Serving in the military brings with it danger, great responsibility, danger, stress, danger, a somewhat transient lifestyle that makes it harder to lay down roots, and did I mention the danger? So a good laugh, even at one’s own expense, helps to relieve the pressure that comes with running toward hazardous life-threatening situations—like natural disasters, NATO missions, Afghanistan or UN peacekeeping—while the rest of us would be running away.

I gave a talk in Medicine Hat, Alta., in November and met Norman Baum. He served in the RCAF around the same time as the Naylor brothers. In fact, he’d actually flown with Gary in Moose Jaw, Sask. Once we discovered that we both knew Gary Naylor, Baum told me about a prank they had once pulled on him. We’re not talking about loosening the cap from the salt shaker in the officers’ mess.

As the story goes, Baum knew that Naylor was to take a young pilot up for a flight in a CT-114 Tutor training jet one morning. By that stage in his career, Naylor had more than 2,000 hours on the trainer. There were usually about 50 Tutors arrayed in a line alongside the runway awaiting instructors and trainees each morning. Naylor was assigned a Tutor and walked out to it with the young pilot he was training.

Of course, a full inspection of the aircraft always preceded takeoff. Naylor asked his young charge to start at the back while he started at the front. Closely examining the air intake and jet exhaust areas was naturally part of the inspection. As Naylor bent down to look into the intake vent, he was surprised to see the face of his trainee staring back at him from the exhaust port. Well, “surprised” doesn’t quite do it justice. Naylor was shocked into next week. He had been assigned to a training flight in a Tutor jet that had no jet engine. That would surely have made it more difficult to reach the required takeoff velocity.

It wasn’t easy to orchestrate an engineless Tutor sitting in the line-up with 50 other functioning jets. It meant involving the ground crew and a cast of many others. I suspect half the base was watching as Naylor sauntered out to the jet and started his inspection.

Now you should know that Gary Naylor is quite a character. I’m not surprised that he was occasionally the target of a practical joke as he was the principal architect of many a prank on others. Much of his storied career as an RCAF prankster is classified and apparently will not be released to the public until 2050 for reasons of national security. But your humble humour correspondent is a relentless investigative reporter, a veritable dog with a bone. Naylor did share one story under intense interrogation. Actually, it didn’t take much persuasion. He just told me straight out when I asked.

At an undisclosed date, time and location, though he admitted it occurred on a base somewhere in Canada in the last 50 years, a young pilot was feted by his colleagues on his wedding day. Shortly before he was to get himself into his full uniform and off to the ceremony, a ball and chain was locked onto the groom’s leg—not something you’d likely see in 2018. Anyway, it seems that Naylor somehow snagged the all-important key and immediately flushed it down a toilet, thus delaying the wedding until a hacksaw could be requisitioned. Both the betrothed pilot and Naylor somehow survived the ordeal. A true story.

And so it goes. Friendship, fun and frivolity, punctuated by onerous responsibility, high-stakes situations, and sometimes, great peril. In the face of all of that, the fun and the funny help.


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