Johnson, JoAnn K.: Wheelus Air Base, Libya: 1966-1967

While teaching in the Palatine, Illinois school district, a position as a physical education teacher at Wheelus Air Base in Libya for the 1966-67 school year was offered to me. I accepted and arrived at Wheelus AB amidst a “ghibli”, a sandstorm off the desert, and my sponsors told me not to touch anything as it was terribly hot. My sponsors got me settled into the BOQ closest to the Mediterranean Sea, about 3 blocks away. It was one of several BOQs where teachers were housed.

The faculty met with Mr. Allan Peterson, our principal, who had to decide which teachers to keep on staff. The practice was to fill some positions with more than one teacher knowing some would not remain. Mr. Allan chose me over two other female P.E. teachers. The other two teachers were re-assigned to Spain and Germany.

The daily schedule included a homeroom period, 6 class periods and a lunch period. The complete teaching staff was twenty-eight teachers, two guidance counselors, two secretaries, a supervising principal and an assistant principal. The school was for grades seven through Twelve.

My facilities included a building for lockers, showers and equipment. The open desert was the main playing field, a basketball/ volleyball court and most equipment was moveable. The girls had to share with the boys so it got complicated sometimes. We were careful to lock up equipment such as bases for softball because the Libyan workers would take them home to use for sitting.

In the Fall I taught “flag football”, which I had started teaching at West High School in Green Bay, WI from 1961-1964. I had the foresight to bring the sets of flags with me as I had purchased those with my own funds. Basketball, volleyball, track & field, table tennis, and softball could be taught anytime since it was always good weather, mostly HOT. My class sizes varied, but usually between 25 & 35 was the norm. The numbers worked out pretty much for the games and teams.

There were no competitive sports for girls, but there was a 3-year-old program, labeled The INTER-SPORTS PROGRAM with other schools. We had matches with Libyan girls and the Italian girls from different schools from Tripoli, the nearest city to the air base. It was a cultural exchange type of program.

As the cheerleader sponsor. I was a chaperone when the boys’ basketball team was invited to the Mediterranean Tournament in February, 1967 in Vicenza, Italy. Unexpectedly, the team lost in the first round so we were able to arrange a tour to Venice. On our way back to Libya, we spent time in Rome sightseeing until our flight took us back to Wheelus AB.

While it was not part of the physical education program, in April, 1967 there was a competitive WHEELUS RIDING CLUB RODEO. Many high school students participated having come from home states such as Texas and Oklahoma. The bucking stock was furnished by the Libyan Ministry of Agriculture & Livestock Husbandry Sghedeida Experimental Farm.

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