Another busy week here writing away like someone who should get paid like a rock star, but unfortunately none of it is for profit. It is for others but it all serves the greater good. I finally finished the next veteran interview for my local newspaper. It should be printed this Friday but as my editor always says, she controls the printing date not me. When it becomes public, I will give you a link. This week’s victim is Dave Weddington. Dave was a Flight Engineer in my former guard unit, he also lives around the corner from me so it was easy to get him to sit down. He served thirty years and his article is about twice as long as the previous article about Bert Clendenin. Dave’s article was tough to write because I am so close to the story, most of them I knew and some I lived with him. Also, it is tough to summarize a long career in just a few words. I know you will enjoy it when it is published.
I am tempted to write about Malaysia 17 that was shot down last week over in the Ukraine. However, our good friend Karlene Pettit did a fantastic article about the event and after reading it, I am sorry to say that there is very little I could add. So head over to her place if this is something that interests you. http://karlenepetitt.blogspot.com/2014/07/mh17-shot-down.html
A couple weeks ago our good friend Abby Jones asked if I would write something about why I blog for a series she is doing over at her site. I said yes before I read what some of the other writers had to say. Suddenly, I had that vary familiar feeling inadequacy, but it was too late to back out. It should be published on Tuesday. I want to thank her for the opportunity to speak to her audience. Sometime I the future I am going to open up the home station to her. I hesitate because once y’all see how a real writer can craft a sentence then there will be a mass exodus. I might follow you all out the door too. Ha ha. Here is her site. http://gentleandquiet.com/
Since I don’t have much to say this week, I will leave you with this short video clip. I don’t normally link you over to YouTube because there is so much garbage and most of it takes too much time to watch. But this is different, I got this from Steve W. who is a retired Captain from my airline. When he was flying, he had too much time on his hands. He would send me all kinds of things, all the time, at all hours of the day and night. But now that he is retired, I guess he has too much going on because I rarely get anything from him anymore. He was a great Captain and one of the few guys that I totally trusted to help flatten out the hump in the Roanoke Va. Runway.
If you are squeamish, don’t watch the last three seconds of the clip. If your real squeamish, let your kids watch it first and they will tell you when it is okay to look. This is the body of the e-mail that Steve sent to me and sets up the clip perfectly.
Another Wingsuit Flyer Meets His Maker – YouTub
It’s crazy what these daredevils will try!
Until next time, keep on rockin.
I am sorry that I have been remiss in posting new stories. I promise I think about it every day and I promise by the end of the day I am still thinking about it. The summer is just flying along but I can’t seem to find enough time to get a good story knocked out. You should view the lack of articles kind of like a bad Christmas present. It is the thought that counts.
But like I said a few weeks ago, I am still cranking out the stories. The story I wrote for the Putnam Herald-Dispatch is one of my personal favorites because of the topic. It appeared in the newspaper on Friday and if you have the time please read it. It focuses on a young man named Bert Clendenin. Bert is a 93 year young Marine that served in the South Pacific during World War II. If his experience doesn’t make you appreciate all of the food in your house, then you have never been hungry. If you read the article and decide that it wasn’t worth your time, I will buy you a BBQ at the local joint here in town. Travel expenses are on your dime.
I also wrote an essay on Bowe Bergdahl. It appeared over at our good buddy Josh’s site, The Magill Review. I would be honored if you had the time to digest my analysis of the situation. Here are the links.
Unfortunately, the schedule is booked solid for the foreseeable future. I have two more veteran interviews completed and am in the process of editing it. The second one needs to be written. I am scheduling three more veterans for their interviews in the upcoming weeks. Our good friend Abby asked for a guest post on the topic of blogging. That article is complete and I think she will publish it on Monday and our good friend Karlene asked for a short essay on urgency in aviation for a book that she is writing. She will have to wait for a few days. And I am getting some great feedback on the book. I want to thank my wife (Donetta), Koji, Big Joe, and Abby for taking the time to compile their thoughts and for being brave enough to tell me the truth. The good news is that so far no one has told me to burn it, give up the hope of being the next Rob Akers and to go back to watching TV.
I am going to take that as a victory. I would like to say more but I got things to do. Until next time, keep on rockin.
Short and quick post today, this past weekend was my twelfth wedding anniversary. To celebrate the achievement, we left the kids at the house and went to Niagara Falls for a couple of days. I’m sure many of you are surprised that we left the kids, but don’t be concerned. The dogs were watching the kids and the cats were watching the dogs. I guess it all went well because when we returned, everyone had survived.
For those of you who have never been to Niagara Falls, I would highly encourage you to go. It is simply amazing watching the amount of water fly past and down to the river below. Quick facts about the area for your general knowledge on the off chance you are appearing on Jeopardy soon. Niagara is the Native American word for thundering river. In the past 9,000 years the falls have recessed at the rate of six feet a year for a total of seven miles. In the late 1800s Nikola Tesla began his work with transferring electricity over a distance. Using the falls as a power source, his experiments were successful and he generated enough power to transmit it twenty five miles to Buffalo.
In the 1960s, the US and Canada began a joint project to divert the water flow and engineered four tunnels to divert between 50-75% of the water of the Niagara River. Thanks to this diversion the recession rate of the falls has dropped dramatically to ten inches a year. Of course there are so many stories of people making their way down the falls in a barrel or walking over it on a tight rope. The way most of those stories is in death. In total six people have survived the journey and two people have survived it twice. I think if I were that lucky, I would play the lottery.
Unfortunately, my time is limited this week. I am trying to write out two interviews of veterans. I did those interviews last week and they both turned out wonderfully. But I am on a time crunch since the first interview is scheduled to be published this Friday and I need to have the next one ready very soon. I will leave you with a link to the first essay about the importance of the Independence Day that I did for the Putnam Herald Dispatch and ran on the 4th. I hope you enjoy it and as the future interviews are published, I will link you to them here. The first interview was with Bert Clendenin, a WWII vet who enlisted following Pearl Harbor. His story is amazing and the lessons he learned are simple. “Never pass up chow.”
Until next time, keep on rockin.
Hanging out at the beach this week, fortunately I survived the first two days without getting scorched. I did forget to put sunscreen on my knees, they are red. Today, my wife made sure that I was covered and everything worked out well. Sun screen is amazing but the odds are that I will look like a stripped lobster by the end of the week.
Friday night, the family drove halfway to the beach and stayed at a hotel in Greensboro, NC. The shower in the hotel had a liquid soap dispenser. I am all for saving the environment but I despise liquid soap. Not because it doesn’t work great, but because it takes me back to Iraq. Before I left in March 03, my wife gave me a bag to hold all my shower supplies. The black bag was a freebie from Lancôme or some other cosmetic maker. I’m sure I looked great making the walk of shame 147 steps one way to the shower tent with my make-up bag full of liquid soap, shaving kit, towel, shower shoes, clean clothes, and toothbrush. No one ever teased me about it, so I can only assume they couldn’t tell the difference between a Lancôme bag and an Este Lauder bag.
Walking into the shower tent was much like walking into a Turkish Bath house. Not that I have been in a Turkish Bath house, but I would assume that it is like the shower tent. The first 20 or so feet of the shower tent were lined with cots on the outer wall. Some guys sat on the cot to get dressed but I never did. I just couldn’t get excited about sitting where some other naked guy had been sitting. You can call me superstitious, but I have always thought it was bad luck to sit on another guy’s butt print.
After the dressing area, the next 40 feet of tent were shower stalls. The center lane of the tent was rubber lined and it was always best to find an empty stall before you had to pass another naked guy who was walking out. There was not really a protocol for passing a guy in the lane. My technique was to shower at an off peak time so it hopefully wouldn’t happen. Some guys liked to find a place in the back of the tent, I was a first available stall kind of guy. It just felt a little creepier the farther back in the tent I went. Actually, it was fine and safe but it was just my preconceived issues that I brought with me from the world.
The shower stalls were wide open and there was no sense of privacy. Actually, I preferred that because I felt a little more confident that everything was on the up and up, so to speak. The rule was a two minute shower or more commonly called a combat shower. The base had about 5,000 people and there wasn’t enough potable water for everyone to get a long shower. I am sure my kids would not be happy if I imposed those rules on them today, truth be known I do like my long showers so no combat showers in the Akers’ household. The other problem with the showers in Iraq was that the water was almost always frigid. It never was in the holding tank long enough to warm up, and it was quite the shock to the system when it hit the skin.
The shower procedure was simple and efficient. Turn on the water and get wet. Turn it off and lather up. Turn on the water and rinse off. Then the walk of towel covered nakedness back to the dressing area. I did my best, to get dressed without getting the muddy water on my clean clothes. Not that it mattered because there was 147 steps in the dusty dirt back to the tent.
Several times since then, my wife has tried to get me to go back to liquid soap. Every time, I have thrown a fit like a 2 year old until she buys me some bar soap. I just can’t make myself go back to liquid and I see no reason to try again and now you all know the reason behind my issue with liquid soap.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
I walked out of the hospital in Germany without out a plan, with no idea of where I was and with a small green duffel bag over my shoulder. Somehow, I was able to get a ride to the local train station. My wife and I were talking about this particular story the other day and I confessed that I don’t remember how I got to the train station. It was probably a base taxi but I may have walked. I just don’t remember how but I did find the train station. Once there, I do remember changing in the train station out of my brown flight suit and into jeans and a short sleeved shirt feeling very under dressed. When we left it was late September and now in Germany over Thanksgiving it was cold.
The only jacket that I had was my brown Gore-Tex jacket that was great at blocking the wind and rain but it was horrible at keeping me warm. I found a train schedule and figured out which track would lead me to the Frankfurt International Airport. I love Germany because the transportation system is so efficient. The country is connected by train, and there is no reason to have a car. A short walk to the village train station and you can go anywhere. By the time the train pulled into the airport station, it was way past dark. I made the long walk out of the airport to look for a taxi. They were everywhere but the sign in American English pointed to the US side of the airport. I assumed that if there were signs and a walking path that it couldn’t be that far. I was wrong as it was halfway around the Atlanta sized airport to the US gate. It was a long hike in the cold, dark, misting rain.
Finally, I walked up to the gate. I am sure the guards thought I was a zombie and back in the day zombies were not cool. My bandage had fallen off, the open wound was oozing blood and other juices, and I was shivering, wet and hungry. Looking back, I’m surprised that the guard didn’t send me to the hospital. It was past midnight and the base taxis had stopped running for the night. The guard gave me a base map and pointed me in the right direction to find the billeting office. I roamed the quiet, sleeping streets until I found the Inn. They put me in transient housing, which was fine because it was relatively close. The room they gave me had eight bunk beds and fortunately they were all empty. I walked down the hall to the bathroom, so I could shower and re-bandage my face before I crashed hard.
The next day, I walked over to the C-17 Squadron in uniform. I spoke to one of their schedulers and asked about catching a ride down range. He gave me the weirdest look and asked what I considered down range. I told him that I didn’t care, Baghdad to Oman was fine. Just anywhere that I could catch a C-130 back to Salem; he had to ask why and I told him the Cliff Notes version of my sad story. The first flight back was a 2 AM show for Balad which is a US base about thirty-five miles north of Baghdad smack square in the Sunni Triangle. I said I would take it and he left a note for the crew.
I went to the All Ranks Club for breakfast/lunch/dinner. By this point, I was starving and I had a big hamburger and fries. To my surprise, it was Thanksgiving and there was a football game on the big screen TV. Detroit was playing Green Bay and won a close game. I watched about half of the Dallas game but Miami was smoking them so I left.
Before I left, Sleepy hinted that when I came back from Germany that I shouldn’t forget the boys. I got the message loud and clear. Don’t come home empty handed, so I went to the shoppette and bought six liter bottles of sun tea. Then I went next door to the Class-Six store and bought the equivalent amount of whiskey and went back to the bunk house. Fortunately, all the beds were empty and poured myself a large glass of tea and put the rest down the drain of the sink that was in the room. I did have to wonder how many guys had used the sink as a toilet in the middle of the night. I can’t answer that question but I do know one guy who transferred six liters of soon to be illegal alcohol into six unapproved containers and wrapped up by one stolen Air Force towel.
Loaded with enough contraband to find myself into a heap of trouble I went to catch my flight. I went into the flight planning room to meet the crew and to my surprise they were making their first flight into Balad. The Aircraft Commander was a Lieutenant Colonel Squadron Commander and the Co-Pilot was just a Lieutenant. They asked if I have been there before and I said yes. They asked if I have been there on night vision goggles and again I said yes. I showed them everything I knew, which wasn’t much and out we went. The flight was scheduled to leave at 6 AM and arrive around midnight because of the flight time and time zone changes. Midnight was one of the worse times to show up because that was prime time for missile shots. The way we figured it, the Insurgents would work during the day for the Coalition and then go home to the family for dinner. After the kids were in bed, Dad would go back out to fire a couple of missiles for the Insurgents to get a little extra pay and to be sure he was on both sides depending on how things turned out. In retrospect, that was a good idea.
I stayed in the back of the massive airplane to watch my bag because I know how Loadmasters like to snoop. Twenty clock hours later I was back in the sandbox.
Kicking myself for getting back so quickly, I ate a MRE in the passenger holding area of Balad waiting for a C-130 to come in. Finally one showed up and I was happy to see that it was from St. Joseph Missouri. The Missouri Guard had been with us since day one of Tabuk. The airplane sat with the engines running under the supervision of a Loadmaster standing twenty feet off the nose of the airplane. He waved before he gave me a questioning look. I just smiled and pointed to the door asking if I could go on board. He replied with a thumb up and I climbed in. I knew the pilot in passing and I quickly summarized my situation. He gave me permission to ride along but this was their first stop of the day. I said they could put me to work as they needed and he told me to crawl into the bunk and go to sleep. I must have looked rough. I put my bags in the back and again went to sleep.
Taxiing into Salem twelve hours later, I got the attention of the Loadmaster. I asked him if he liked tea. He shrugged and I handed him a bottle of tea. A few days later, I saw that crew in the chow hall. They all thanked me for the gift.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
It has been a busy and very long week of work on this side of the computer. I left the house on Memorial Day and besides a quick 48 hours at the house, I am still not home. But the good news is that vacation is right around the corner and my family is with me so all is well. I am in the mood for a good old fashioned war story so gather around kids and hold on.
Our last war story left us in late October 2003. My crew had just moved from Masriah Island to Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait. Living in trailers for the first time in the war, life was good. We had real beds and a much more private living experience because we shared a room with two or three guys. But the confined space was bad, especially when Dave and Kyle tossed chickens into the room because there was nowhere to escape the attack. You can read it here. http://robakers.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/dave-and-kylethe-chicken-fuers/
An earlier story was centered on a Flight Doc and his overreaction to Harry’s fight with the folding chair. The Doc wanted to fly along to see if Harry was psychologically stable enough to do his job in a time of war until we had a serious in flight incident that abruptly closed the Doc’s investigation. You can read it here. http://robakers.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/watch-out-for-the-doc/
The second in the series is here. http://robakers.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/watch-out-for-the-doc-part-ii/
Now that you are up to speed, here is a little flashback. We returned from Iraq in September for our 35 days at home, one of my wife’s personal agendas was for me to see a Dermatologist about a small bump that had started to grow on my left cheek next to my nose. It had only been there for a year and I was too busy to get it looked at. So she took me to a skin doctor and he did a biopsy. Fortunately, the results came back clear with good margins. But he said that if there was anything like that again to have it checked out. He made me promise not to ignore it like I did with the first one. That is probably good advice for all of us to follow and as luck would have it another one did appear in almost the same spot just a couple of months later. I’m not a doctor and I don’t know how or why things like that happen but I can be taught. So true to my word, I went to see the Flight Doc in Kuwait about this new bump. I should have kept my mouth shut but I wanted this one to be documented in my medical records so away I went full of confidence that this Doc would do the right thing.
It was late in the afternoon when I went to the Doc’s office. He looked and looked at different angles and using different types of lights, mirrors and magnifying glasses. I don’t think he knew what he was looking at but I do think he was having fun because someone had something that wasn’t a cough. After a very long time he said that I was going to Germany to see a specialist. I didn’t want to go to Germany because that is where the really sick and injured guys went. All I wanted the growth to be documented in my records and I promised to get it biopsied when I got back by my personal doctor. Maybe it was payback for making him think we were going to have to bail out of an airplane. Maybe it was Karma coming back on me for trying to scare him. Either way he placed me into a DNIF status which stands for Duties Not Including Flying Basically, I was grounded until the issue was medically cleared. The Doc called Sleepy, my Commander and told him that I was to be on the first airplane to Germany to get checked out.
The first flight was a medical rotation that left the next morning at 4 AM, Wednesday the day before Thanksgiving. Sleepy drove me to Kuwait City where I got onto a waiting Aeromed C-17 flight with guys who had been shot, blown up by an IED, or otherwise critically wounded in battle. I felt like a real horse’s backside having to claim a seat because of an oversized pimple that won’t go away no matter how much you try to pop it.
There is no just walking onto a medical flight. It was just like going to the doctor’s office. You have to check in, you have to see the nurse to get all your vitals, you have to see someone else to assess your illness, you have to see a doctor and then you get assigned a seat or a gurney. I apologized to every person I spoke with but they all said that it is better to get it looked at. I think there were saying that just to make me feel better about impersonating an injured person. I am also sure that they thought I was faking it to get out of work. I was able to talk the doctor into giving me a seat as opposed to lying next to some poor dude missing both arms and both legs with IVs attached to his neck.
We landed at Ramstine Air Base in Germany. I had been there several times but never as an ambulatory patient. I was the last one off the airplane and one of the few who was healthy enough to do the drill again. Check in, get your vitals, talk to a nurse, talk to a doctor, it was all starting to run together. But I don’t have anything negative to say about how I was treated. In fact, in spite of my lack of wounds I was still someone who was going to get first class service. All of the appointments were already scheduled and I was given a personal guide through the hospital. It was nice to have someone to literally hold my hand and be an advocate through the process. I went directly from the airfield triage to the Dermatologist’s office. Within an hour from landing, I was laying back in a chair in a needle in my face to numb the area to be biopsied. After he finished, the Doc said I was good and they took me to another office to begin the transfer back to the States.
Once I realized what they wanted to do, I objected. I didn’t want to go back to the States. I wanted to get back to Kuwait and finish the rotation. Sleepy promised me that I would be heading right back so I only packed a small duffel bag with some civilian clothes and a shaving kit. The folks in the travel office told me that no one goes back to Iraq. I asked a couple more questions before I realized this was a one way trip. Before they started the paperwork, I asked if I could get off DNIF status. They said sure and sent me to a Flight Doctor. He looked at everything and signed some paperwork returning me to flight status. He asked why I was there and shook his head with disgust when I told him.
I went back to the travel office and asked them if I was free to leave the hospital and make my own way back to Iraq. They said no. I asked if I was a prisoner under confinement and they said no, so I asked for my release from their care. Amazingly enough they gave me a piece of paper to sign and I walked out the front door of the hospital missing a pound of flesh and a new respect for the care of the wounded.
Next week, it is European Vacation story time. Until then, keep on rockin.