Story time returns…down time…part one…
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.