Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ebb and Flow

Well, what a few weeks it's been. The only way to describe it, is not a lot of work, to overload, to another break. Feast or famine. In the last few weeks, we as a squadron are doing some serious work and moving some stuff. When you step back and take a breath to look at what we've done the done the last few weeks, it's impressive. The work over here is fantastically different but the same as OIF. Supporting the guys on the ground at the far corners of Afghanistan is awesome. Several times now we have heard  how they love seeing a Herc because they know when were around they get to eat, drink, or have power that week. This is what sets OEF apart from OIF. The direct support we do for these guys is extremely rewarding. Despite the obviously unideal circumstances of war, this is what makes my job worth while. 

Although many think we have it rough, we don't. I was talking to an aircrew member today and she was explaining to me how Marines here will rotate on 3 week rotations from one place to the next every week, with the fourth being the "home base" with hot showers and food. This means they only get showers once every three weeks! Just to prove how rough it is, here is picture of me with a grill a friend brought in from Germany. Now we just need to find some meat to grill and we're having a party!

Obviously it's been a while since I've posted, that should be sign that I'm busy. This grad school thing is well on its way. Please pray for encouragement there, because I dislike school in a very unnatural way. But alas, I am trying to have faith that God will get me through, just like the last time. Good news is, I'll have a ton more free time for more reading, working out, and rest when this half time happens.

Until next time, pray for SURF!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Back in the Box

Hello friends!

Here we go again and my how have things changed. In the past year's hiatus from expounding my ramblings on the interwebs, my life in little rock is taken on new meaning. I am no longer a new kid in the squadron, have gotten waaay more involved in church outreach, just finished some serious construction on my house, started drinking the coolaid and started a masters, and now I'm back in the desert again. Although, this time it's not nearly as brown, flat, or hot. With OIF/OND complete, we have moved up to OEF.

The life of a C-130 crew dog is taking effect. In the past, C-130’s were the airframe the AF sent on long trips to random countries for a week or two at a time. Now, with the current sustained war, it has become standard for Herc guys to deploy on a yearly basis. I know guys that have more than 6 or 7 deployments. So here goes round two for me, one can help but wonder what it’ll be like in 2014 after OEF ends.

I'm not sure if I ever explained the different ways we go about getting over here, but here it goes in a nutshell. As a good crew dog, I would love to bring a plane over here, also known as taking iron over. The beauty of it, is we stop overnight 3-4 times, and at each stop the goal is to break the plane so we can stay for a few days, also delaying our arrival into the desert. This is how i got to spend time in Canada, England, and Romania last year. On the way home, we took what is called the rotator. It is an airline the government contracts to which you become super low priority to the government. Last year, I had the enjoyment of being awake for about 45 of 55 hours on our way home. Needless to say it was a terrible experience. Lucky for me, I got to experience it again this year on the way out instead of the way home. 

This year, after playing the I don't know what day I'm gonna leave game, I ended up flying commercial to New Bern, North Carolina. From New Bern we hopped on the rotator to head out here. Of note, one would expect a tiny coastal town in the south to be full of southerners, I don't think we met a single person actually from North Carolina. Everyone was a transplant, either married to a Marine from the nearby base or retired from New York/New England. It was a cool quaint little town, none the less. After a few delays from bad scheduling, we finally made our way from New Bern, to New Jersey, through Germany, to our destination, Manas International Airport in Kyrgyzstan. Once more from a few maintenance delays, we rode on a C-17 into Afghanistan. My time at Manas was actually quite nice because I was able to catch up with an old pilot training friend. Having Manas as your deployed station would not be rough, the mountain scenery was decent, weather was amazing, and they had beer!

Upon our arrival in the very early hours in morning, I was absolutely amazed at the amazing mountain scenery I get to admire for the next four months when the sun finally rose. This place is literally in a bowl of 15,000 ft peaks. After a full day's exploration and in-processing, I decided this place is waaay different from my other humble "undisclosed location in southwest Asia." It became readily apparent that there is a war going on here with the amount of people, trucks, planes, and infrastructure here. And to think almost none of it was here 11 years ago! Not long after my arrival here, the crew I came over with and myself quickly got to work, absorbing as much info as possible. I was apart of team to help ease the transfer from the national guard to active duty. The guard has been coming here forever and now it's our turn to play in the mountains. Our first week here was insane. Not much sleep was had by anybody and a few of us, myself included all got to experience the standard congestion that most get in their time here. This is one of many nuances i could delve into but I'll save myself the typing and you the reading and keep it to the highlights.

One of my favorite things about this place, along with the absolutely amazing mountain flying, is the mountain outpost type atmosphere that I like to think this place has. At most dinners, when you walk in the chow hall, they have the most eclectic music playing. To me, it feels almost as if it is a mountain lodge at a ski resort, only difference is, we all have guns, not skis. Maybe it's just my imagination. Meal time is usually a highlight for me, as I am currently working at least 12hrs a day, 7 days a week. It sounds worse than it is though. Another favorite of mine is the type of missions we are doing.

Not only are we Afghanistan's Southwest airlines, we also are doing the kind of ops we incessantly train for back home. I probably shouldn't go into detail, but airdrops happen on a regular basis and it's usually in super sweet locations. Good fun, and it feels great to be supporting those guys living out with the locals in canyon or valley next door to nowhere.

 Now, I know I said I was going to keep up this blog this time around and I figured out the glitch of why I couldn't last year. So please stay tuned as I plan to update as often as I have the energy to.

 Until next time, pray for SURF!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Building Eastern Block

The difference between Romania and the US is about as wide as the difference between staying in a 5 star hotel and a Super 8. It looks familiar but is completely different is so many aspects. Just walking around town, you can tell the people have been through a lot, from forced communism to the breaking up of the Soviet Union to getting rid of there dominant leader via hanging. It was rare to make eye contact and absolutely no one offered a friendly greeting, quite a contrast to what I’ve grown accustomed to in Little Rock. The roads were filthy with cars parked on all the sidewalks, and just a few blocks off the main road, you could see the remnants off all the Soviet construction which likely amassed 80% of the buildings.

Our hotel was a few blocks north of the center of Bucharest, and likely the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in. Five star hotels are truly in a league of their own, no matter the country. It was a sharp contrast to the building directly across the street, with it’s busted in windows and broken balconies with 1980’s era satellite dishes. All the while, there is evidence of progress. There were many upper class stores along our street along with new hotels, casinos, and restaurants. We didn’t figure this out though until the next day because we landed about 9pm and got to the hotel about 1130. That first night the hotel called ahead to a restaurant around the corner, who were kind enough to stay open late so we could eat. The food was fantastic. I had a local plate called mossakka, which is kind of like a blend between lasagna and shepard's pie.

After a decent breakfast buffet, we went walking around town to view the sites to see. The amount of history here is just as much if not more than the land we flew over the day prior. The university was a few blocks away, as well as the second largest building in the world, the People’s House. Apparently, the old president used to live there and there are many stories and rumors about what happened inside the building back in the communist days, most of which are probably not the kind you want spread. That evening we ate at a restaurant with traditional fare that is about 120 years old. Once again I tried a new Romanian meal, which was just as good as the last nights fare. Finally, on at about 3am the next morning we all left for the airport to fly to Southwest Asia.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

God Save the Crew

Now on our fifth day in England, this vacation to Mildenhall has been a lot different compared to St Johns. Each day is groundhog day. Each day, we wake up, eat, check out of the hotel, go out to the plane, sit in base ops or hang out at the plane for about 7 hours, decide we are not going to take off, check back into the hotel, eat, then hang out at the bar until midnight, rinse, recycle, reuse. Yesterday (Thursday) was the most obscure. First we actually cranked the engines, then after taxiing by the plane spotters, took off to only turn around no more than 10 minutes out because the wing anti-ice didn’t work as we were about to go into rain clouds right around the freezing temperature.

On a side note, it’s a funny thing about Europeans, particularly the Brits, they love taking photos and keeping track of planes and their tail numbers as they pass through Mildenhall. Off the approach end of the runway, there was at least a dozen people with telephoto lenses and I imagine radios, tracking and documenting our every move. These folks are not spies they are just aviation enthusiasts. After talking with my buddy from pilot training who is stationed here, I learned that these plane spotters have a special agreement with the base to be allowed to loiter in close proximity to the runway. In fact, they actually report to the base when anybody new or suspicious shows up to photograph the aircraft.

Also, last night I was able to relax with my buddy and his wife. It was a great change of pace from the base’s bar. They live in a quaint little condo in a small town off base. In the 15 minutes it took to drive to their home, I learned and saw more of England than I had the entire 3 day’s combined. Perhaps most obvious due to the amount of small cars, the roads are even smaller. American SUV’s and trucks would not fit on this tiny roads, and I love it. The roads were also much more curvy and utilized roundabouts instead of stop signs and stop lights. Much more efficient in my opinion.

Eventually, the next day we made it out of Mildenhall, our second try in as many days. The weather treated us nice in England, only lightly raining one evening, which made for pleasant temps when hanging out at the plane while it was being fixed. Our trip through the sky’s across Europe took over very similar routes our ancestors did in World War II. My AC was constantly calling out drop zones, airports, and battlefields as we made our way across Holland, Belgium, and Germany. In fact we flew almost directly over where the 101st Airborne Division was dropped on D-Day, think of the film Band of Brothers. Even as we were flying over that area of Europe, you could see it was a very different culture, just by the way the cities were arranged. Lance, my AC, described it as though the farmers live in the towns and drive the tractors out to the fields, which is why there are ton’s of small towns sprinkled all over the countryside. Towns would literally be 1 or two miles away from each other but there was a definite separation between the two.

As we made our way to eastern Germany and eventually the eastern Europe, where our destination of Romania lies, it became more and more sparsely populated. However, flying into Romania, it was overcast below us and was impossible to see what it looked like. Being my first trip to a truly foreign country I was not enjoying the fact we were gassing and going like we were instructed (fragged) to do from our controlling agency, TACC. Because it has taken us so long to get this far, TACC and our desert squadron were becoming very anxious to get us there. The desert is like a magnet, the closer you get to it, the more they want you there, even if your plane is not a passable flying machine.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Oh Canada, Oh Canada

What a last few weeks it has been. I’m sure you’ve heard about the thunderstorms and tornado’s that have swept through the south these last few weeks. I’d like to say that Little Rock was spared as it usually is, but regretfully, I can’t. The first wave of storms dropped a tornado onto LIttle Rock AFB which is about 20 minutes north of downtown Little Rock, about a 30 min northeast of my house. Although it was a smaller tornado, it hopped it’s way through the base, doing substantial damage to some of the base houses, toppling numerous large trees, flipping cars in the commissary parking lot and finally wrecking some hangers and doing damage to 3 aircraft. As the base was recovering from the tornadoes, those from my squadron were all still preparing to deploy. Many of us wanted to help clean up, but leadership did not permit us to do so, giving priority to predeployment activities. Rumor had it that all the crews taking planes over to the desert would be delayed 24 hrs, but what ended up happening was more logical. Instead of eight planes over 3 days, it was changed to two days, with four on the first day, four on the second. My crew was slated to leave on the last day, Friday, from the start, so nothing really changed for us.

Departing Little Rock was actually very uneventful. Because of my Aircraft Commander’s (AC) status as being probably the most senior C-130 pilot in the Air Force, we were on the last plane to leave Little Rock. The last plane is usually the most broke plane, this occurs because as previous planes attempt to depart and break, that plane gets rolled to the next crew, with the previous crew taking the more capable aircraft. Luckily for us, that didn’t happen and we left on time.

On our trip to St. Johns, I was riding in the back. We have two crews on our plane so we split the duties. My buddy wanted the first leg, so I get the next leg. I was sleeping or reading 90% of the way up from Little Rock to St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada. I tried to wake up in time to see New York City as we passed by, but missed it. However I did see most of Long Island. It was kind of sobering when we passed Cape Cod because that was the last of home that I will see for a few months. I felt especially sad because even from 21000 feet I could tell there was a swell on Long Island and Nantucket. The swell was evident when you could see the large rip tides pulling all the deep brown sand out to sea. I believe it was off shore winds because the storm that ripped through the south with tornados had just blew threw this area of the country.

A couple hours later we touched down in St John’s. Winter definitely lasts longer in this outpost of the Canadian Province of Newfoundland. It has rarely been greater than 35 degrees F since we’ve been here. We tried to take off the following night, but were denied before we even left the hotel because there was a fog over the airport. We have rules about the minimum cloud ceiling and visibility limits, and it was well below and getting worse than the minimums allow. Along with us, were four other crews that canceled as well. The next night we canceled again, not because of weather but because of a fuel leak which requires at least a day’s maintenance after the parts get here. The parts were being delivered to us by a C-130J from Little Rock also on it’s way to deployment. Currently, we are scheduled to leave tomorrow morning. We’ll see if that sticks.

Flyers from Little Rock love stopping here in St Johns. It really is a nice little fishing and shipping town. St Johns has a terrific history, being the furthest east city in the North American continent, which dates all the way back to the 1700’s. At one point, the US had a base here as a base for submarines and such during WW2, but prior to the war, it received the first oceanic wireless transmission from Ireland on the appropriately named Signal Hill. We made our way up Signal Hill as well as found the easternmost point on the continent at Cape Spear.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Life in Little Rock

I don't know really where to head with this journal. The paths possible are many. I feel like I've grown immensely spiritually this last year, but also felt very alone at times. I've purchased a house, that will need some work, all of which are projects I think I can manage. I'm now a mission ready pilot in the mighty C-130E/H. However, the amount of information about flying, especially tactically, I do not know is steadily growing, thus more for me to learn. There is a point in one's Air Force career that you have to start making yourself standout. Much to my chagrin, I think that point is upon me. I have become hopelessly addicted to climbing. When I left the coast, I was and still am in love with surfing, but obviously there are no ocean waves in the landlocked state of Arkansas.

So, with all these topics to choose from, it may just end up being what I feel like documenting. I am about the least narcissistic person I know, so I definitely do not do this journal looking for people to read about me constantly because honestly, if you're constantly reading about me, you need to get a more fulfilling life. Nevertheless, I do feel this is a great way to unwind or reflect on my experiences, and share what life throws my way with family and friends. For all those out there, I miss you dearly. I think about old friends all the time. I wish it was possible to time travel to old times on a whim for like a day or two, I think it would do a lot of people a lot of good to return to perhaps more humble, simple times.

So with that, I pray that God can do some good, in your life and mine.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

RTB: return to the blogger


I think I am going to start posting again. However, I want to expand the realm of my topics. I am thinking I would like to start talking about my spiritual growth as well as my military experiences. So, we'll see how this goes. Until that happens, Merry Christmas!