It is time for another trip down memory lane, better known as story time. For the benefit of all of our new friends a little catch-up on why this series exists. Long before I was a father, writer and generally domesticated, I served in the West Virginia Air National Guard as a C-130 pilot. In 2003, we were activated for Iraq and for the next four years the squadron was in a constant state of deployment, with each of the approximately 120 men and women doing their part by being “Over There.” I separated from the Air Guard in late 2007 after we all had been deactivated and started on a new path of trying to be a better husband and father. Part of that new path was a new venture into becoming a writer. In 2010, my wife asked me to write down my experiences in Iraq and later in Afghanistan so that my kids would know who their dad was before they were born. For a lot of reasons, I hesitated to document these stories but in 2013 on the ten year anniversary of the first deployment, this series was born.
Since the first story, I am honored to know that several of my former squadron mates use my words to tell their families about what we did back then. While I take a small degree of satisfaction from knowing that my friends are able to relate to these events, these stories are solely mine. Even though we generally all had the same experiences, there are so many variables in our collective experience that are uniquely our own. These stories are based solely on my memories of that time and if there are any inaccuracies or misstatements the errors are mine alone. When I write about the men and women who were deployed with me, I refer to them by either their first name or by their nickname. While I am the central figure in these stories, I am not trying to portray myself as anything other than human.
Balad Air Base is located about 35 miles to the north of Baghdad and rests squarely in the center of the area known as the Sunni Triangle. A pair of two mile long runways formed a “V” shape with the bottom of the “V” towards the south. One of the runways was for fixed wing aircraft and the other to the west was for Army helicopters. I wrote a story about hauling a mobile Navigational Aid to the field a few months earlier. For some reason, Balad and I didn’t get along very well.
This particular story occurred on the rotation between February and April 2004. Carlos P was the co-pilot, Bobby I. was the Navigator, Rich L. was the Flight Engineer and Mark C. was the loadmaster. For some reason, I want the think that this happened towards the end of the deployment but honestly I have no idea when it happened. This time of the Iraq war was a very dangerous period for all of us. The insurgency was in full swing and in just a few short weeks, the country was going to explode in violence starting in Fallujah in very early April 04. I remember it was a tiring time for me personally and it was getting tougher and tougher to get motivated to continue to fly into and out of these places.
A typical day would normally see a sunrise, a sunset and another sunrise. We were still flying twenty hour days but we were getting a full day off afterwards. That was better than having twelve hours to recover before the next take-off but it still wasn’t enough to overcome the fatigue. When we were not eating or sleeping, everyone tried to find an outlet that provided an escape from what we were doing. Lots of guys played video games, others watched movies and others read books. I kind of bounced around aimlessly between all of the groups. I played college football and Tiger Wood’s golf on Gummy Bear’s PlayStation or I would join Mikey O. and Russ P. watching a movie and I read several books. The two that I remember were the Di Vinci Code and the Angels and Demons. They were okay, but that was the first time that I thought that I could write a book. I figured out Angels and Demons fairly quickly and I decided that if Dan Brown could write that dribble and make all the money from it, why couldn’t I?
So there we were in Balad, it was well into the middle of the night past 2 AM. We were on our last stop for the day, so all we had to do was get the airplane back to Ali Al Salem, Air Base Kuwait in one piece. We off-loaded the cargo and were about to taxi out to the runway. Sometimes we shut down the engines just to give ourselves a break from the constant noise. Other times we left the engines running and transferred the cargo on and off as needed. On this night, I remember that we stayed in our seats and left the engines running. Bobby called the Command Post to tell them we were leaving. Normally that simply cleared us to depart but when they called back and ordered us to stay on the ramp, I vaguely remember him asking a couple of times to confirm the statement.
Bobby relayed the information to the rest of the crew and we all wondered why. Watching the clock tick very slowly with the engines running and no further explanation, I asked Bobby to call in to tell them we were leaving. Once again, they told us to hold position on the ramp. We were all tired and irritable and I was probably not as patient as I normally would have been. I got on the radio and asked the Command Post why we couldn’t leave. They told us that they were coordinating for an emergency medivac and they were going to re-task us for it.
There are very few things more important than a medivac flight and when we heard that, we all sat up in our seats. In the back, Mark asked for permission to take his headset off and start to re-configure the back of the airplane for patients. I cleared him off and told him that I would ring a bell when we were ready for him to be back with us. I looked at Rich and we discussed our fuel state. Carlos and I were already wearing Night Vision Goggles and the airplane was prepped for a NVG landing. Literally, we took about twenty seconds to brief what we need to brief and then we just sat, waiting for more information.
A few minutes passed and I got on the radio again asking for an update on the medivac. The Command Post radio operator told us the patient was in Baghdad and that would be where we would be heading. Bobby confirmed that he had the destination and put it into the aircraft navigation systems. Without anything to do, I looked at the fuel panel, did some basic fuel calculations and mentally flight planned what we would do. We had been to these places so many times in the previous year that we all knew them by heart. Baghdad was to the South and even though we would be overflying a large percentage of the Iraqi population, it was night and no one would expect us to fly over at 300 knots and 75 feet. I figured by the time they saw us, they wouldn’t have time to get off a shot with anything more than small arms fire. Random and unpredictable would be the tactic of the flight. When Bobby announced that we needed a little over an hour to get to Baghdad, I literally spun around in my seat. I swung around so fast that is probably where I tweaked my back for the first time.
“Yes, there is a no fly zone so we can’t do anything but fly around it.” Bobby stated.
I pointed out the window. “Baghdad is thirty-five miles that way. It should take seven minutes, gear up to gear down.”
“The no fly zone is from the surface to 15,000 feet and it extends in all directions except for the corridor to approach from the southeast.” Bobby explained.
I was really becoming irate at this point. “Bobby, it is thirty-five miles. Just a couple months ago we climbed up to a hundred feet and went direct. If we go all the way around, we will need to gas up at Baghdad. It takes ten minutes, we have NVGs and there is a dude that has been blown up. We are not going to fly all the way around Baghdad just because some map tells us too.”
Bobby matched my intensity and responded with the same level of defiance and irritation. He emphatically said that we needed to go around to the approved approach corridor. Back home, Bobby was the Squadron Commander and my boss. But on the crew, I was in charge. It was my decision and I knew that I could do what I wanted but there would be consequences when we landed and the mission was over. I looked at Rick and he shrugged. Bobby was technically and legally right.
We all sat in silence listening to the engines drone. I knew it was going to be one of those decisions that would define my career. Go the long way and that guy might die or go direct and Bobby would do everything in his power to end my flying career. I also knew that there were medivacs where every second was precious and there were medivacs where the wounded guy might have a big zit on his face like I had a couple of months earlier. All he was doing was getting a ride to Germany.
Sitting in the silence, my mind ran through all the possibilities. I finally decided that if it was some dude that had been blown up and minutes did matter, then I couldn’t have lived with myself for spending an hour in flight and another 30 minutes on the ground to re-fuel just to honor what some tactics officer a thousand miles away decided was the best was to plan a flight. I knew that I could make the call and go on my own authority but until we picked up the wounded man, I was legally in violation of a no fly zone. After the man was on board, I could declare a medical emergency and break any flight rule necessary to get him the medical attention he needed. I tried to think of a reason to preemptively declare an emergency, but there wasn’t a good reason to do that. Until that guy was on board, we were just a flight doing a mission.
This clock slowly ticked and we waited. I decided that when we told to take-off I was going to do whatever it took to get to Kuwait as fast as possible. I also knew that it might be the end of my flying career but honestly it probably would have been okay. What troubled me was that Bobby and I were friends and I knew that when I told him to sit down and shut up that it would be the end of that friendship. I also knew that any future promotion would sit on his desk unsigned; I would get the worst jobs and generally get the short end of the stick with no mercy as long as he was in charge.
Before we left for Iraq in 2003, a couple of us were talking about what we might expect and somehow we discussed medals and other worthless things they give you for playing in a shooting war. Someone joked that I would probably get a Commendation Medal and a Letter of Reprimand for the same mission. I played it off like I was a Boy Scout who followed the rules, but the friend that said it knew me too well. Now when I found myself contemplating the decision, I really didn’t care about my military career any longer because I knew that all the crap that we got for being over there didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that everyone made it home alive. My job was to take care of the wounded solider and I had to trust that he would do whatever it took to help us if the roles were reversed.
The minutes slowly passed and we made repetitive calls to the Command Post requesting permission to be re-tasked to fly to Baghdad just to get into position. I even told the Command Post operator that we needed an hour to get there and they could call us in the air if they needed us. That was a total lie but I was anxious to get going. However, every request we made was denied. We all sat in silence and waited. I never told anyone what we were going to do. My plan was to tell them after we were tasked for the mission and to make sure they knew that it wasn’t a request but an order. I was going to say that I didn’t care if they agreed with me or not, but that I couldn’t do this on my own. I needed their help to complete the mission and get that guy to safety. Once we were in Kuwait, I would turn myself in for breaking the rules and I would take the blame. If they were questioned about it further then I would be upset if they did anything other than tell the Commanders that I acted on my own.
Finally, we were called by Command Post informing us that we were no longer needed and we could go direct to Kuwait. Apparently there was another airplane in Baghdad doing the medivac and we were just backing it up. In some ways I was relieved but in others I was disappointed because I was mentally psyched up to do something important. Bobby changed the flight plan in the navigation system and we went home without incident.
Every day, Richie and I would talk about the previous mission at the next meal. I remember sitting down with him at breakfast and we both just ate our food. Neither one of us brought up the incident; he never asked me what I was going to do and I never asked him what he thought we should have done. To this day, I have never discussed it with anyone who was there and I don’t think I ever shared this story with my wife. The only witness to my thoughts that night is God. With him as my witness, I promise that there was no way that I was going to fly a 300 mile circle around Baghdad when the direct route was 35 miles.
As we flew back to Kuwait, we were about five minutes behind the actual medivac flight. We listened to them on the radios as they approached Kuwait City. I thought about calling the other airplane to find out what the injuries were but in the end I decided that it didn’t matter. All that mattered was he was going to a hospital.
Last weekend, I was reading some other sites and found a fellow Iraqi Veteran online. I am enclosing the link. Rob Mitchell is a veteran of Iraq and a police officer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you want a real and honest perspective of how someone got PTSD and how they deal with it on a daily level. Then this is the place for you. There are no soft, warm, fuzzy places on Mr. Mitchell’s site so it isn’t for the faint of heart. The most recent story that he wrote was about a roadside IED that claimed the life of his platoon leader and injured several men. His event happened just a few months before the story that I just wrote about. Over the years, I wondered if I had made the right decision to ignore the rules but after reading about his experience, I am convinced that I was making the best decision with the information that I had.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
Our good friend Casey over at https://caseyalexanderblog.wordpress.com, left a comment about the previous article. Casey writes about her journey raising two adopted children. She replied to my request that you guys to throw me some cash or otherwise you get what you get. Basically she said that I found any cash in my pocket that I could keep it and consider it from her. If I found pocket lint then I should use that as a writing prompt. For the record I have never met Casey in person so she must be psychic because she knew there wasn’t anything in my pockets. Maybe she used her deductive powers to know that it is the end of the month and my allowance must have run out. Maybe she can see the future or maybe she sees dead people, I don’t know but since she challenged me and she laid on a sob story about her daughter being in the hospital for some tests. Hope this brings a smile to her and a laugh to the rest of us.
A guy goes into a Irish Pub and orders three beers at exactly 5 PM. He pays for the drink and leaves, the next day he returns and repeats the process again. A few days after the guy has been coming in and having his three beers, the bartender asks him what he is doing.
“I have three identical twin brothers; one is back in the home country of Ireland. The other is climbing mountains in New Zealand. Our father made us promise that no matter where we were in the world, we would stop what we were doing and have a beer for each of us at exactly 5 PM.”
The guy keeps coming into the bar for months following the same procedure. He orders three beers at exactly 5 PM, offering a toast before drinking them, paying the bill and leaving.
One day he comes in and tells the bartender to only make two beers. The bartender is confused but he does as requested. The man silently drinks the two beers, offers a toast, says a silent prayer, pays the bill and leaves.
The next day he comes in and orders two beers. He drinks them and says a prayer and starts to pay.
The bartender says. “My friend, the drinks are on the house today.”
“Every day you come in have your three beers and leave. Now you are only ordering two. In memory of your loss, I want to buy the beer for you.”
“Which brother passed away?”
“No one died.”
“Why two beers and not three?”
“Because I gave up beer for Lent.”
If you would like to accept Casey’s challenge, feel free and post it in the comments. 300 word limit.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
I know I have been strangely silent online lately and yes you all have earned the right for an explanation. I started writing sometime in 2008, I don’t know what month so for ease of calculations let’s use January 1st. Since then I have written an entire novel or about 250,000 words and re-written it two more times for a total of 750,000 words. I have written 193 separate posts on the blog with each post averaging about 1,000 words for another total of 193,000 words. I have done twelve veteran interviews, each of them about 5,000 words and another 50,000 words for other things. That is a conservative estimate of over a million words written in ninety months averaging just over 11,000 words a month.
I guess I fell off the writing wagon and took a month off, sue me! Ha ha. I am not quitting, I just took a month off without pay. I promise you this; if anyone wants to throw some money my way and support my writing then you have my attention. Until then, you are stuck with my perceptions of what I discovered in the last month as a new visitor to the world.
The NBA playoff games haven’t been that great this year. I am hopeful that Golden State verses Cleveland will be worth watching.
Is every American Pickers show a re-run? How can it be that I have seen every episode when I haven’t been a regular viewer? It is perplexing to me.
I should have drafted my son for my fantasy baseball team. If I had then I would somewhere north of last place again.
Never, ever volunteer to be the President of your Home Owners Association. It doesn’t pay very well and all you do is make someone unhappy.
My daughter is growing up very fast.
So here I am back at the work of crafting words. Good luck to us all.
I have run across a couple of new blogs that I must recommend to you.
Wilson Agaba was born in Uganda but now lives in the United States. He is a wonderful example of a man who promotes love, faith, hope and integrity in everything he does. If you want to find a place that is welcoming, encouraging and promises inclusion for all, then you could do much worse than Wilson’s site.
It is Memorial Day and it is day to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I found the site of a lady who writes anonymously about her journey as the wife of a Marine. She is as open and honest as anyone I have ever read online. She exposes all the details of her life, warts and all. I admire her courage as a Mom and wife and her willingness to tell the world who she is. One particular post documents her husband’s job as a CACO (Casualty Assistance Calls Officer) and his experience of notifying the next of kin following the death of a Marine. There is nothing fun or lighthearted about this particular post but it illustrates what a Marine will do to protect and defend the family of a fallen Marine.
I will do what I can over the summer as far as keeping up with regular posts but I make no promises. Yes, I know I owe you some story time too. Get in line or send me a check, your choice. Ha ha.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
Been out of sorts for the last few weeks but I have good reason. Other than working and saving up money, I planned a spring break vacation for the family. I am pleased to report than one snag; it all came together like a good plan should.
On Good Friday, the family flew out of Charleston to Las Vegas. I was working the week prior so I met up with them en-route and flew the last leg from Houston to Vegas on the same airplane. But I had to face the first of two moral dilemmas of the trip. According to the travel contract with my company, I had a first class ticket on the flight while my wife and kids were sitting in the steerage class with the rest of the slugs. I did the right thing and sat in first class. I figured that if she wanted a first class life then she should have married someone who could afford it.
After landing we spent Easter weekend in Vegas. Nothing says “I Love Jesus” like hanging out in Vegas. Mostly we let the kids swim in the pool but we did take in a magic/comedy show and a buffet. The Nathan Burton show is fantastic and yes it is family friendly. The pre-show was also great. Armando Vera is a slight of hand artist and his card tricks are amazing. My daughter was invited to be a part of the show and somehow, we don’t know how, he made the small fuzzy ball in her hand turn into three fuzzy balls. Her expression was of shock and awe when she opened her hand and there were three balls there. I thought I was videotaping it on my cell phone, but once again the phone is smarter than I am and it never turned itself on so I missed all of it. But the memories will remain forever.
On Monday, we left Vegas to the Grand Canyon.
The additional bonus of the trip was that my parents met us there and we got to spend the rest of the trip with them. The kids more excited to see them as they were to that big hole in the ground. By the way, it is a big hole. It is breath taking and no picture I have ever seen can translate how extraordinary it really is. The rim of Grand Canyon sits at about 6,500 feet above sea level and it was a very moderate 50 degrees. But the winds were howling at least 20 knots making it very uncomfortable to be out for too long especially when you are not dressed appropriately and we were not.
On Tuesday we took the long route around the south rim of the canyon to Flagstaff. That was an amazing ride with every twist and turn offering another incredible view of the canyon. We made it down to Sedona where we hit our only hiccup of the trip. The resort that I used for rooms in Sedona did not book us for three nights there. They had us only for two. Long story short, we arrived in Sedona but didn’t have a place to stay. To say that I was less than pleased would be an understatement but we found a great little hotel in the downtown area that was perfectly situated to act as a life boat for six people for the night. It looked like the Bates Motel on the outside but the inn keeper was great and she kept a clean place to stay.
With the crisis averted, on Wednesday we moved to the resort on the outskirts of town. That afternoon we went out to Cottonwood for general purpose sightseeing and then Jerome for lunch and had a great time seeing the haunted mining town that literally sits on the side of a mountain.
Thursday we rented an ATV and explored the Indian mounds and got up close and personal with several of the mountains.
Friday morning, I got up and went to the Sedona Airport which is where the locals go to take in the amazing views of the Sedona Valley. Later that morning we said goodbye to my parents and went back to Vegas. On the way back, we took in a tour of Hoover Dam. That is an amazing piece of engineering.
Very early Saturday morning, I kissed my wife and kids goodbye and climbed into my first class seat on the flight to Chicago while my family was packed like rats in a cage sitting with the common people. Life is good. If anyone is thinking about a trip out west and you want the details of what we liked and what we would change, hit me up on e-mail or text.
I am going to try to be more regular with the articles in the coming week and hopefully will get back to storytime. Until then, keep on rockin.
I know I was absent last week but I had a long week. One of the missions of our Church is to do mission work and instead of going all over the world, they have made the strategic decision to focus and go deep into the countries of Moldova, Kenya and Haiti. Before my wife and I were married, she expressed a desire to go on a mission trip at some point in her life. Because life was so hectic in our early married life she couldn’t find the time to go, then kid number one came along and was followed by dash two and she fell into the life of the American mom. Several months ago, a couple of folks at our Church were organizing a medical mission trip to Haiti. I asked her why she shouldn’t go, she said no because the time wasn’t right. Then the trip was pushed back from last fall to the spring. Again, I asked her why she shouldn’t go and some things have changed in our lives so now there was no reason to say no.
The team of almost 20 doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and a minister left early Saturday March 21st for Port Au Prince, Haiti. They stayed in country for just under four hours of a full week and returned home safely very late Friday night. I bet you are thinking the next several hundred words will be about the people of Haiti. How they find the bright side of life while living in absolute poverty. Or maybe you think you will read about the numerous obstacles that the medical team had to work around while seeing almost 500 very sick people in four days. Maybe you want to hear about the woman who had to be pushed to the clinic in a rusty wheel barrel because of complications from a botched surgery and how the doctors worked on her while she was still in the wheel barrel because it was better than putting her on the dirt floor. Or maybe you want to about the smiling school children always ran up to their bus to greet them as the pulled into the location every morning. You might think that I am going to tell you the amazing story of how a man from South Carolina was moved to start an orphanage in Haiti before the earthquake in 2010 and how his Haiti counterpart died in the earthquake. Maybe you think the story gets better when that man flew into the Dominican Republic just hours after the earthquake and made a red cross out of duct tape and put it on a commandeered truck so he could cross the border into Haiti smuggling supplies in and out while searching for his Haitian friend and how all those events were the beginnings of a orphanage called Alex’s House. If you were thinking that I was going to tell you about the mass graves scattered all over the city that hold tens of thousands of bodies with no record of where the dead were laid to rest, or how the medical team had to make sure the shower was cleared of scorpions before they turned it on. You would be wrong on all accounts.
This article isn’t about what my wife and the rest of her team members did under some conditions that made Tabuk look like it was a five star resort. I might get around to interviewing her at some point, but today this is all about me and how I struggled to keep my two kids alive during the week. Quite honestly, by Sunday night I thought being Mr. Baby Mama was pretty easy. Saturday was good, I took the kids and two friends to the movies and then to the local Mexican restaurant. We got home by the early evening, they took a bath and fell asleep in our bed (we call it the big bed) while I watched all of the college basketball games. No worries. Sunday morning we got up and even made it to church early. I knew that people would be watching and I wanted to impress. That afternoon my daughter went to volleyball practice with a neighbor while my son and I threw a baseball in the yard, that night they got their bath and slept in the big bed again while I watched more basketball. I went to bed thinking this Baby Mama gig was easy money.
Monday, we got up and made it to school on time. What could possibly go wrong? Well my son had an English test that we didn’t study for because I had forgotten to look at his folder. Opps, but I figured one bad grade in the 2nd grade wouldn’t be on his permeant record and keep him out of Harvard. Monday night, we went over to a friend’s house for dinner. The reason we were there was to get the breaks on my wife’s van fixed so I watched my friend change the breaks while his wife and daughter cooked dinner and played with my kids. All is well again except that we didn’t get home until well past eight. After the bath and bed, there wasn’t time or energy for homework. Strike two.
Tuesday was more of the same, falling more behind and off the highly disciplined schedule my wife hold the kids too. Mr. Baby Mama had a new schedule, anarchy. Strike three, four, five and six. We are having coco puffs for dinner, not doing any homework and sleeping in the big bed. My son was all in on the new schedule but my daughter spent some time working on her science project for school. I had to yell at her to get her to be a slacker like me. I am starting to wonder who this girl is, she can’t have my DNA.
Wednesday morning my daughter was wrapping her hand up to her elbow with an ace bandage, I asked her what was wrong and she said her hand was hurting. I had forgotten that the night prior she burned the palm of her hand with a glue gun that she was using to do a school project. I asked her if she put ice on her hand last night, she said no. The ice was too cold so she put her hand in the freezer for a minute. I’m was suddenly frightened when I thought about the blisters, boils and scar tissue that had formed over night on her formerly perfect hands. I went upstairs looking for aloe to put on her hand. Of course I can’t find it. Desperate, I sent out a flash text to other Baby Mamas asking what would substitute for aloe. The only replies were from the Baby Daddies making fun of me for letting my ten year old daughter play with a glue gun.
I imagined how this conversation with my wife is going to go.
“We had a minor accident with a glue gun, don’t worry your daughter is going to live and will probably have the use of her hand in the future…”
“How bad is the burn?”
“Well I don’t really know because I didn’t take the time to look at it. I was watching WWE with my son and it was a great match by the way. Triple H clocked Randy Orton with a chair in the head. I told her to ice it down. It isn’t my fault.” That isn’t quite the conversation I envisioned when the wife left Saturday morning.
Twenty minutes later, I come back downstairs to find the ice I gave her was lying on the counter making a mess of the previous night’s homework sheets that were still undone. She was laying on the couch watching TV. “Why isn’t the ice on your hand?”
“Because it is too cold.”
Finally, I looked at her hand and guess what. There was no mark at all on the hand. Not a blister, no scar and not even a tiny red mark. I even got my reading glasses and the magnifying glasses out to make sure. We were late for school because of my mini-pseudo crisis. My son’s teacher was very gracious and didn’t give us a tardy but she did get a laugh out of my lateness. She tried to make it better. Three days and only one late arrival. I laughed because I graduated from college with a 66% average, I am right on track.
That night was laundry night so I attacked it with my usual reckless attitude. I decided early in the week that the kids should re-wear their clothes (just like I do) to cut down on the amount of laundry. Before you people start thinking I am a dummy. I put all the colored clothes in first so they would be on the bottom of the washer. Then the whites went on top. I know you’re thinking everything will turn pink, but honestly have you ever seen water run up a wall? No, the theory of gravity is still in effect even if my wife is 2,000 miles away. But there was still room in the washer, so I put my wife’s wedding dress in the washer too. She wanted it dry cleaned while she was gone. I thought that it had to get wet first before I hung it up to dry after it was clean. It is a tied dye wedding dress now; actually it is kind of cool.
Thursday, we had a line of thunderstorms roll through and the power went out about noon. By the time, the kids came home from school it was still out. We tried to do homework but who needs to be smart if the world is going to end? Seriously, as far as I knew, it was the zombie apocalypse and it we were in survival mode. I taught them how to make clothing from the microfiber leather on the couch. We fashioned spears from tree limbs and started a fire in the living room. Lucky for the cat that the power came back on because “fluffy” was going to be dinner. My daughter was protesting the fact that we were going to eat the cat because there were still left over pizza, break sticks and wings because they talked me into it as their after school snack. Eventually the power did come back on and then they got to learn how to sew leather back onto the couch.
Friday, the book fair was being held at the school. Being a Baby Mama, I was enlisted to help. They put me in charge of the case register, probably because last year I was in charge of cookies and I ate half of them before the fair started. My plan was to skim a little off the top, Goodfellas style to supplement our income. But the lady in charge is really smart and she assigned another cashier to keep an eye on me. After it was over, the kids and I went home for a couple of hours until about ten. Then we were out the door to collect my wife from the airport. She walked into the house well after midnight and saw the chaos from the week, she said that it looked better than Haiti. Another mission accomplished.
I don’t think you will get an article next week. It is spring break for the kids so we will be out of pocket for a while. I will tell you all about it in two weeks. Until then, keep on rockin.
Picking back up on the story I started last week. Again a reminder to everyone that these memories are mine and mine alone, I only speak for me and I reserve the right to misremember important details from something that happened in 2004. I know there are others who read these words and lived through the same event. If they have some correcting information, I will pass it on to you. Several new folks have stopped in since the last story and I feel like I need to state that the point of these articles is to document a time in my life before my kids were born. These stories are for them when they are old enough to understand. Until then, these stories belong to us.
It took just a couple days of living in our new trailer until things started to change. Our Pittsburg friends were pleased as punch to have the best trailer in the AOR (Area of Responsibility) and they walked just a little too tall over having the use of a dedicated wireless internet router all to themselves. If they had said nothing, then all would have been forgotten. But since they did nothing to get the router installed it and they openly bragging about it then it probably wasn’t fair that they got to enjoy the benefits from its use no matter if they were in charge or not. But that was just how they were, even from day one. For the record, I was either sleeping in my bunk or out on a mission when most of this happened so I have no firsthand knowledge of this entire event. There the lawyers are satisfied.
Here is a link to a story of when we first met the guys from Pittsburg. https://robakers.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/back-to-the-front/
Sometime late in the night, a couple of fellows snuck over to the Pittsburg trailer and disconnected the router from its storage location and walked away with it. When the Pittsburg guys woke up the next morning, they were greeted with that annoying gray screen telling you that there are no connections available. They put in a work order with the Communication shop and when the Comm guys came out to repair the router, the Pittsburg guys found out the truth. No internet connection was authorized for that trailer, there was no record of it ever being installed and the Communications shop would not install another router. The internet gig was over for the Pittsburg guys. If that was the end of the story, then justice would have prevailed and it would not be much of a story. But there was the little problem of missing router, it was Air Force property. And you can’t steal from Uncle Sam, especially when he knows something is missing.
I don’t know why, but leading the list of suspects was the West Virginia Air National Guard. There were five or six other units there but somehow we looked guilt-ridden or maybe we just enjoyed their plight too much. A couple of days after the router disappeared we got a surprise inspection from the Communication shop guys. They were “just checking to see how we liked our new trailer.” I was there that day sitting in the lounge talking. Anytime an unfamiliar person wearing a uniform comes into your trailer, you know they are not a part of the welcome wagon. We were polite and answered all of their questions with very vaguely general answers like “I don’t know or it was here when we moved in.” But when they wanted to go into individual rooms we said no. We said that the guys were in crew rest and they couldn’t be disturbed. If you do they get another eight hours of rest and the flights are delayed. We told them to contact Sleepy but until then they were only welcome inspect the public areas.
They left and we called Sleepy. Sleepy lived in the Commander’s trailer and said he would do what he could to take care of us but we were on our own. That night when everyone got back, we had a meeting and we made sure the trailer was clear of contraband. Everyone agreed that we had a good cover story but we needed to make sure that we kept our doors closed and no one should have unauthorized access to the rooms. Other guys were going to use their contacts to make sure we had advanced warning of upcoming inspections. One of those guys was Gerry E. Gerry is a big boy who spent several years in the Army as a helicopter pilot before transferring to us. To imply that Gerry never met a law that he broke would be a lie. Gerry always obeyed the Law of Gravity but man made laws were all optional. Gerry is a professional scammer and he was willing to use anyone or anything necessary to get what he wanted. Being Gerry, he knew that the best people to be friends with were the cops, specifically the OSI, Office of Special Investigation. The OSI is much like NCIS or CSI you might see on television; but they are just cops who don’t wear an official uniform but you could always spot them in their khaki pants and a dark blue shirt. Over my time, I met a few of them and I thought they all were a bunch of tools. But Gerry made a friend of a female OSI agent and their mutually beneficial relationship did give us an inside person to watch our back. In retrospect, I really think this is when Gerry popped up on their radar, but that is another story.
Two of the advantages a Guard unit has over the Active Duty forces is we have a wealth of corporate knowledge and our relationships last for careers, not for three years. On that rotation, we had six crews and each crew was packed with a years and years of experience. On my crew, I had the least amount of life and military experience. Carlos, my co-pilot graduated from Cornell University and spoke four languages fluently. He served thirteen years in the Marine Corp as a helicopter pilot and Instructor pilot in for the Navy before he got out and joined us. Bobby was the Squadron Commander and was also an airline pilot for a commuter airline. Rich was the Flight Engineer and was an Evaluator. He had a college degree and his brother was a Colonel in the Army. Mark was also an evaluator and a college graduate. Between the five of us there was at least eighty years of service in the military, over 30,000 hours spent in flight and five college graduates. The other crews were assembled in a very similar manner. We had experts in tactics, training, safety, plans, and all of the other career fields of the military and civilian life.
The next morning we had another surprise inspection this time from the base Safety Officer. Technically, she was a Master Sergeant and not an Officer but who am I to quibble with her qualifications. She gathered all of us together in the lounge and proceeded to tell us that she knows that we took that router and that while they couldn’t prove it. She was there to make sure that we didn’t break any other rules. She identified a couple safety violations and not so subtly told us she would be watching. She was right, we did have some really big safety violations like cable cords crisscrossing the floor that were tripping hazards. She went on for several minutes before she excused herself. One of our guys named Yogi walked out with her and tried to smooth over the ruffled feathers. He came back in a short while later and told us that we were in trouble.
Every organization that has existed for over a couple of years has a tradition that is unique to itself. One of the West Virginian traditions is the frequent plastering of graffiti. Before I joined the squadron, there was a Load Master that everyone called Paw Paw. He retired about the time I joined and while I know him, I doubt he could pick me out of a line-up with a picture. For years, the initials PPLF were written on every bathroom stall, wall, bumper and airplane that was crossed by someone from the squadron. From Australia to Greenland, PPLF was everywhere. According to legend, on one rotation in South America the local security forces found PPLF written on the crew door of an active duty C-130. The alarms went off and in the Command Post, they were scrambling to figure out which South American terrorist organization had infiltrated the field and placed their logo on the airplane. A young admin guy was showing up to work during the crisis and when someone told him what happened, he said. “Paw Paw likes em fat.” The crisis was soon resolved.
So Yogi tried to befriend the irritable Master Sergeant as she left. It took me about five years before I learned Yogi’s birth name and I still have no idea of how he came to be Yogi but it fit him perfectly. As a young troop in the first Gulf War Yogi weighed in at 150 pounds soaking wet. Over the years, his stick arms and wimpy legs somehow were able to support the vast majority of his rising weight. By the time I met him in the later 1990s, he looked like he was about to give birth to twins. By 2004, he was “Octomom” pregnant. His blond curly hair, round face, round glasses and award winning smile matched his outgoing, friendly personality. After Paw Paw retired, the squadron needed a new graffiti and Yogi was awarded the honor of the new initials. YAGB (Yogi’s got a buddy) was scribbled on every wall, vehicle, bathroom and Irish pub around the world. The rule was when you saw Yogi talking to someone new, you had to commemorate the event by scribbling YGAB on the nearest suitable surface. This was the first time, I saw anyone able to walk away from his charm and personality.
Because this wasn’t our first rodeo, we took a very proactive approach to what we thought might be coming. Our safety guys started looking for issues in the trailer and we fixed them, that night. We taped down the hundreds of feet of cable cords that connected all of the gaming systems. We spent the night cleaning the public areas of the trailer from stem to stern then we went to work on our own rooms. Of course all of the work was enhanced by multiple trips out to the laundry trailer. The next morning, our efforts paid off as the fire department showed up for another surprise inspection. They had nothing for us but the message had been sent, we were at war with the safety lady. We got our revenge though, someone printed off a hundred safety forms that we used to document unsafe conditions in our work and living areas. We walked the entire base looking for items that were potentially unsafe. It wasn’t hard to find things either, shards of rebar jetting out of the ground, significant holes next to the sidewalks or other pedestrian areas, literally bomb damaged hangers in the vicinity of the maintenance troops and so many more. Each documented report would require the local safety officer to investigate and resolve every one of the complaints. Potentially years of ongoing paper work were required by Air Force regulations to resolve each issue. I think a deal was struck; stop messing with us and we will not submit any complaints. All I know is that the harassment stopped very quick.
But there is still the issue of the missing wireless router. The first thing was a base wide e-mail that there would be no consequences if the router was returned. Then more threats of legal action, courts martial and even jail time if the person was caught with the router, but still it didn’t surface. Finally there was an e-mail stating that the router was found in the luggage of someone when they rotated home. I was talking to someone one afternoon about this e-mail and the person just started laughing. He was confident that it wasn’t found because he knew where the router really was. About a year later, this person told me that the router was found in exactly the same spot he left it. In a secluded stairwell mixed in with the trash that Pittsburg left behind. I guess we did have something to do with it after all.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
I know that promises can only take someone so far in life but at some point they have to actually get their butt off the couch and make it happen. There are so many tempting things to write/rant about; Republicans writing letters, Hillary deleting all her e-mails, President Obama not having any knowledge about either action, Fraternity knuckleheads and their “offensive” songs, NFL free agency, fantasy baseball and March Madness. But I am not going to tackle any of those topics. It is way past time to tell a story.
I was going to tell about an emergency medivac flight out of Balad but this one is dedicated to a couple young men who just returned from being over there. Ryan and Luke are brothers and both mechanics on the C-130 in the West Virginia Air Guard. I saw both of them very briefly last Sunday at Church. When I say briefly, it was a quick handshake and bro hug with Luke and a couple words with Ryan during the music worship time. It lasted until both our wives gently reminded us that we should be focused on something else at that moment. I guess it proves that we both are works in progress which is why God created women.
One thing Ryan said was that they hardly flew at all during this rotation, maybe once a week. He said that everyone was going stir crazy because there is only so much you can do with your time on a two month long rotation. Luke was over there for four months so he must have been doubly bored. It made me think of the best rotation as far as not being bored while off duty. It just happened to be the rotation I have been writing about, February through April 2004. Carlos P was my co-pilot, Bobby I was the Navigator, Rich L was the Flight Engineer and Mark C was the Loadmaster. When we left Charleston in February we were told that there was a planned reduction of forces in the works. We left with a three airplane (six crew) package with an additional five or so tactics and scheduling guys and a couple Commanders. Since this was eleven years ago, I don’t remember all the people who went and I reserve the right to be wrong about the pilots and their crews but I think Russ P, Paul G, Morgan F, Billy G, Scotty L, and I were the Aircraft Commanders. Sleepy was the Mission Commander. Mikey O was there too, he was flying with Russ even though both of them were Instructor Pilots. Morgan, Billy, Mikey and I were all full time technicians together and we ran in a very tight circle always keeping each other out of trouble with the senior leadership and doing our best not to dream too much about when we could go to the airlines and live the dream. Today, Billy and I are both at FedEx, Morgan is at Southwest and Mikey is a Delta bubba and all four of us are out of the guard. President Bush would call that a Mission accomplished.
The second stop on the flight over was Crete, a nice little island off the coast of Greece. I highly encourage who is there to go find the fantastic Italian restaurant overlooking the harbor. I don’t remember the name; it might have been Olive Garden or something like that. Mikey and I left the hotel and went to the restaurant. Mikey is a professional eater and he knows everything about anything that concerns food. I don’t remember what everyone else was going to do but it had something to do with a bar. Anyway, as we made our way down the cobble stone streets we picked up a couple of maintenance guys and our little couple’s night out turned into a gathering. Mikey is the piped piper of food and by the time we got to the restaurant we had about ten guys in tow. We sat at the table and Mikey ordered for all of us, yes he ordered in Italian. He is a man of many talents. One appetizer after another came out, followed by a few crafts of red wine, the main course and shots of ouzo on the house. Almost four hours later we got the bill, it was like seventeen million drachmas. Mikey and I split the bill and the enlisted guys were singing our praises. About a year ago, my wife and I ran into one of those guys at the store. He told his wife that I was the guy that bought his dinner in Crete and he thanked me profusely. I was too embarrassed to tell him that because of the exchange rate, it was something like twenty five dollars.
After we left the restaurant, we went down to the bar district and found the rest of the guys. That rotation had its share of professional drinkers and when we found them they were in rare form. I guess that is what happens when you fly half way around the world, don’t eat and drink too much. It all went bad when Russ decided to hang off a wooden plank above the door. Russ started swinging on it like it was the parallel bars and he pulled it out of the beam. He fell straight on his back still holding the plank. Looking like a drunken cockroach, his legs were up in a stirrup position and he was giggling. It was really funny until the bar owner started cussing him in Greek. I was tired and ready for bed so I volunteered to take him back to the hotel. That was a good decision.
When we arrived at Ali Al Salem, in Kuwait we were scattered in several different trailers and we began the rotation seeing each other only in passing at the chow hall or operations. It was set up to be a very boring rotation. I think Youngstown Reserve unit was in charge of the entire operation but they were rotating out after a week or two and the Pittsburg Reserve unit took over (I might have that reversed). If you ever find yourself in prison, one of the things you will learn is that the correctional officers keep gang members separated from each other and they never put the entire gang into the same wing. It is much easier to keep the peace when the inmates don’t really know each other. But the Pittsburg guys never went to correctional officer school. They wanted to live in the same trailer with all their other Pittsburg buddies. But that would require a total reshuffle of all the aircrews and it is a real pain to pack everything up and move, even if it is just across the same base. Not only that but it can affect the flight schedule because people are packing and unpacking during their rest period. It is a big deal.
When Sleepy told us about the reshuffle, we were not totally ecstatic but no one was opposed to the move. The trailer that Pittsburg wanted to move into just happened to be the one that was set up with a wireless router. No other trailer had an internet connection and since they were in charge it was natural that they wanted the best trailer possible. I am not going to name names, but I know how the wireless router magically appeared at the trailer soon after we arrived at Salem. Since this was not our first rodeo, we knew that there are certain things that everyone wanted. One of those things was in direct violation of GENERAL ORDER NUMBER ONE, I know that really sounds ominous but all that means is no alcohol in the AOR (Area of Responsibility). Since everyone wants alcohol and there isn’t any to be found, then what would you think would be in everyone’s baggage? That’s right, two changes of clothes and a liquor store. One of our more industrious guys went over to the communications shop after we arrived and traded a bottle of something for a work order to install a wireless router. It was on the down low and none of the guys in the trailer knew why they were so lucky.
The Pittsburg leadership made the decision to re-assign rooms to everyone and we all moved. Now the nice thing was that we all got to live together for the first time. The new “Charlie West” trailer quickly de-evolved into an animal house style atmosphere, minus the women and the toga parties. Every crew had someone who loved to play video games and HALO was the game of choice. It only took a trip back to the comm shop to trade a bottle of something for about ten thousand miles of patch cords so that the guys could connect their X-Boxes and play HALO 24/7. The PlayStation guys did something similar for Tiger Woods golf and football tournaments. The guys who didn’t play games watched movies from a single DVD player wired to play on multiple television sets. There was a great room in the center of the trailer where some guys would sit and talk or maybe even read. The rule was if you were sleep, you closed your door. Otherwise, your door was open and your space was a public space. Several times, I would walk down to Billy’s room to find that he was out flying but there were five guys in his room sitting on his bunk, easting chips and playing X-Box. It was a true community in all aspects.
The only thing we were missing from the trailer was a washing machine and dryer. Behind our living trailer was a trailer set up for laundry. One of the great dangers of knowingly violating GENERAL ORDER NUMBER ONE is that there is a chance that you will get caught. Getting caught is a bad thing so someone had the idea of hiding all the liquor in the ceiling of the laundry trailer. So all of the prohibited material went there and when someone wanted to freshen up their soft drink, they went to do laundry. As you can imagine, one can only make so much dirty laundry in a 24 hour period so the drinkers were more than willing to wash other guy’s clothes just for the excuse to go to the laundry trailer. Being a non-drinker all I had to offer to the community was my dirty clothes. Every day I came back from flying, I found my clothes fresh, clean and folded on my bed. Best maid service ever.
The next article I will tell you what happened when the wireless router in the Pittsburg trailer mysteriously disappeared. Until then Keep on rockin.