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Senior Correspondent

Isn’t it curious that a bit of trivia can become an anchor that hangs around your neck forever? It happened to me.

Years ago the Air Force sent me to Stanford University to get a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. I had never cared much for statistics and the mathematical laws of probability, but nevertheless I chose to take a three-unit course called “Statistical Quality Control” (SQC) simply because of my admiration for the professor. I found the class somewhat interesting and sent the textbook to a friend at Wright Field, the nerve center of all Air Force research and development. That was a Big Mistake!

I had been anticipating orders to a flight testing assignment I would have liked very much. But at that time the Air Force production people were striving hard to get huge improvements in aircraft quality and reliability. So when Wright Field heard that I was getting an MS in quality control, an immediate change in my orders occurred – to production control.

The first assignment for this “new guy on the block” was to explain to the tough old colonel and his team what “SQC” was all about. I was cautioned that my audience was composed of a team of “experts” who would prefer a golf game to a young captain’s lecture, and that I should “spice it up” and avoid getting too technical.

I tried hard by showing how probability influenced the results of a dice roll or a hand of cards, and especially how probability governed the quality of beer bottling. The colonel thanked me and said that I did a good job of keeping everyone awake.

As time marched on the colonel and I met on several occasions, and I always discovered he was senior to me. Once I met him at the bar in Wiesbaden’s Hotel Swartzerbach. By then a major general (two stars) and the vice commander of NATO forces, to my chagrin he introduced me as his favorite expert on dice and beer. Later, when he was a four-star general, he asked, “Now that you’re a colonel, have you stopped playing with dice and beer bottles?”

What an undeserved reputation I had, all the while my buddies were known by such monikers as “ace,” “killer” or “gung ho.”

This article originally appeared in Roadrunner Extra!, the resident newsletter of Beatitudes Campus.

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