Down time…part II
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.