The Commander’s Trophy, which was awarded to the top graduate of every UPT class, was known as the ‘Salad Bowl.’ It’s a coveted award that is supposed to be awarded on ‘objective’ criteria, but on occasion, the grading can become ‘subjective.’ And this can easily translate to ‘political.’ Winning the Salad Bowl in UPT can give an officer a significant career boost.
In November 1976 I was the Flight Commander for “O” Flight in the 25 FTS (Flying Training Squadron). We had a kid, Bill F., known as ‘Billy Bad,’ who was our nomination for the Commander”s Trophy. Bill was the second ranking officer of his class section. He was up against a guy from the other section, in “K” Flight, who was the senior ranking officer (SRO) of his class.
At a meeting with our squadron commander it was decided that the kid from “K” Flight would be our squadron nominee. I didn’t feel Billy Bad got a “fair shot;” he had a fatal strike against him.
One day while flying solo Billy Bad found himself, through ‘no fault’ of his own, low on fuel. These things happen. At any rate, on short final, he was directed to go around by the RSU controller because of some damn thing or another. I can’t remember the exact circumstance, but I do remember it was somewhat inconsequential, and Billy Bad landed.
We were always told that the RSU controller’s commands were not to be disobeyed, for any reason. Once he landed that day, in violation of the RSU controller’s command to go around, I had no choice in the matter, but to “unsat” him – fail him for the mission. That done, I felt the matter closed. Then it surfaced again in the discussion for our squadron nominee for the Commander’s Trophy.
I felt this was somewhat of a “cheap shot,” raised by the “K” Flight Commander. His guy was a good guy, and probably deserved the trophy; but I thought Billy Bad was better. I called Bill’s T-37 Flight Commander and asked him who their nominee was. It was Bill. Then I called the Class Commander for their class, Dale M. and asked the same question. He indicated they were still debating it. This gave me an “in.”
I pleaded my case for Billy Bad, giving Dale the background on Bill’s one unsat. Dale and I had been classmates at PIT and I had a great deal of respect for him. He supported my argument, and told me he would do what he could…
At the DO’s, (Director of Operation’s) meeting – the meeting to determine the recipient of the Commander’s Trophy – the discussion began with the T-37 squadron commander, followed by the student squadron commander. They both supported Billy Bad. Then it was our squadron commander’s turn. He nominated Billy Bad! Just shocked the hell out of the “K” Flight Commander!
And that’s how Billy Bad won the Salad Bowl.
On the way back to the squadron, the “K” Flight commander asked our squadron commander why the change of heart. He replied something like, “Mike, when the handwriting’s on the wall, you have to learn to read it.” And that was that. I just walked along, quietly savoring the whole experience… Billy Bad was a good guy.