In the 90s, I worked at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina. During the summer, our squadron Commander sponsored a Friday afternoon beer bust every other week – his way of thanking us for our support.  The Commander wheeled in the keg.

Everything was right with the world, until one Friday, when someone screwed it up for the rest of us.  A young airman decided to partake and then surreptitiously leave early.  Apparently he was legally drunk and his surreptitiousness wore thin quickly when he collided with the guard shack on his way off the base.

The military guard asked the obvious:  “Where did you just come from?”

“Why, the Commander’s beer bust, of course.”

That’s when they ask you to step out of the vehicle.

That’s when they call the squadron Commander.

That’s when the fun ends.

No more beer.  And no more busts.

Prior to my time at Shaw, beginning in my 20s, I was lucky enough to be stationed in Germany for what ended up being a 12-year stay.  I worked on an American compound situated in the heart of the borough of Schierstein.

My intro to serving for the U.S. in Germany was a Commander’s policy letter prominently posted for all to read.  It was the Commander’s beer policy.  He’d changed his mind about the troops being allowed 3 beers at lunch.  You were now limited to 2.  I remember standing in the foyer of our building reading this directive and thinking to myself, “This might work out for me.”

It was early 1977.

The workplace environment was different then.

The Armed Forces Network radio played specific types of music at scheduled hours on weekdays.  I forget what they were exactly, but picture an hour of country at 2 PM, an hour of soul at 3 PM, an hour of rock at 4 PM, etc.  Everyone had a radio and it seemed like everyone had an ashtray the size of a small plate – heavy pieces of amber brown glass suitable for bludgeoning.

Picture that.  A closed environment with a couple of feet of blue smoke haze hanging from the ceiling.  Depending on the hour, the radios blasted – especially in the afternoon – multiple desk radios simultaneously tuned to AFN.  People were not afraid to adjust their volume dials upward.  Amidst our 2 beers every lunch, our blasting music, and our chain smoking, it was quite an effect.

We also had calendars.  Nude ones.  A fair amount of them.  The military is like all other groups of people – there were folks who eschewed the beer and the smoke and the music and the calendars in favor of a prominently displayed Bible on their desk.  But a lot of the rest of us had calendars. Mine was a Playboy desk calendar because, well, you know, I’m just a classy guy.

It was not unusual for the Commander to walk VIPs through on tours.  No eyes blinked at our setting.  Nobody got crazy about the music, the 2 or 3 or 4 beers at lunch, or the smoke.  Nor did they object to the calendars.

Until someone spoiled it for everyone.  Her name was Ellen.

Schierstein was joint service – Army, Air Force, and Marines working side by side.  At that time, there were very few women in the mix.  We had them, there just weren’t a lot.

Ellen stood out.  She was Army.  Young.  Long, straight, blonde hair.  Blue-eyed.  She should have been a model.  She would have been welcome in any of our calendars.

Ellen worked square in the center of a team dripping with boisterous testosterone, but she held her own.  Not only did she walk off the cover of a magazine, she was smart and funny and was good at her job.  Ellen was the whole package.  And she was unattached.  Single guys swarmed around her and married guys angled for opportunities to flirt.

One day, Ellen brought in a Playgirl calendar and hung it up.  Initially her co-workers went along.  They laughed and joked and Ellen laughed and joked about it as well.

Not too long after the Playgirl calendar went up, the Commander came through with visitors.  While he did in fact stop for a second by Ellen’s display, he never visibly choked.  Nor did he say anything about taking it down afterward.

An office cohort cracked a joke about Ellen having a male-oriented calendar that VIPs could see.  While he didn’t object to Playboy-type calendars, he didn’t think a Playgirl display was proper.  He didn’t think it fit in.

Ellen promptly took the calendar down and got a scalpel-sharp XActo knife from her desk.  She carefully traced an outline around the current-month penis and re-displayed the calendar.  Once remounted, she reached over and bent the penis out for a primitive 3-D effect.

Laughs abounded.

Until the Commander came through with another bunch of VIPs.

As in his first encounter with Ellen’s calendar, the Commander stopped.  And just like before, he did not visibly choke.  But there was definitely an urgent look in his eye.

The next day, a new Commander’s directive was placed on the bulletin board next to the 2-beer maximum lunch policy.

“No more nude calendars.”

Because they didn’t reflect professionalism.

So apparently you can be professional, you just can’t be professional in 3-D.

It took a long time to eradicate beer at lunch and smoking at our desks.  Years.

But it only took one day to fix that professionalism thing.

Thanks, Ellen.

Wherever you are, you need to run for Congress or something.