Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

The Midnight Skulkers

By Tim Kline

I’d like to think I was the originator of the madness that proved our team spirit when those “special” meaningful football games called us out at night. The 20th Squadron Trolls were out more often in worse weather and monster winds than any other group of adventurous doolies. It wasn't my idea. That task fell to the upper classes.

The real genius of this “spirit” activity was the Class of 1963 our immediate “trainers.” We were presented with an idea: String a banner with letters painted on sheets that stretched across the terrazzo level separating the library and Fairchild Hall.

The Bernoulli principle played a huge role in our escapades once or twice and became a signature demonstration of Colorado near night flights off the two rooftops. I wonder how we did (at least twice) pull off a BEAT ARMY/BEAT NAVY using parachute chord. Eventually we did it! Trial and error prevailed. No one died.

Here’s how it worked. Black parkas and watch caps gathered in a couple of rooms as the upper class looked the other way. Then painted letters were rolled onto the cords and tested in the hallways for spelling (you never knew). Remember Murphy’s Law. No failures would be tolerated.

At first we tried to send one or two teams across the terrazzo but usually they were caught. Going that way there were too many materials slowing us down and the white sheets showed over a stretch of open spaces. Bearing sheets and safety cables we could secure ourselves on window washers’ steel roof rails. Setting sheets flat until unfurled on the sides of buildings or across that one huge challenging space in the heights we were exposed to the winds. Best results (of course) came on a building’s flanks. Duct tape helped.

The building to building signage thing remained a distant and dangerous challenge. Only once did we fly banners across the academic complex. Other squadrons’ doolies did the Chapel with better success.

But we set the standard for trials and errors, attempts and evasion. How did we finally get upon the high places? Through the vast tunnel system under the cadet common areas and dorms. We ran a Ryan’s Express on strong legs underground. True the AOCs patrolled this subterranean steam and power grid. Sometimes a swift cadet would scout forward, point man to clear the massive lettering, cordage and human labor. All this during our sleeping hours.

Once we lost our kit when an AOC ambushed our crew. We ran and ran and ran then dashed up six flights and down dorm hallways and zipped into bed. This young officer had done well. We nearly died holding our breath as he opened and slowly closed the doors, listening, pausing—any gasp would have resulted in marching punishment tours on the next week’s schedule. We weren’t caught. Did he let us “slip” by? One wonders in retrospect.

At dawn the Wing cheered the eastern sun. Lighting up the letters so they glowed, those sunrays started Saturday’s football weekend. Of course the sheets nearly always split and shred. By noon they were ragged flags beaten in the blasting sky slicing across our home skies.

Spirit? We had it all! Other kinds of saner cheer were encouraged by the authorities, but the Midnight Skulkers were bound by comradeship and the sheer challenge of doing something no one else did so well.

What a memory! Go Trolls.
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