Monday, September 15, 2014

Revisiting Germany

Now that Skunk Week is over, we return you to your regularly scheduled blog postings.

So, There I was……* Fresh out of two years of “ARRRMEEE Training Sir”  and looking every bit like Bill Murray.

Sorry, I must have watched that film once a month while at Leavenworth, just to keep my head on tight.  Even used the saying in one of my “teach my staff group about the AF” presentations, when asked why things were done a certain way.  The guys in the staff group howled,  the instructor, not so much.  Anyhow, I digress.  I graduate and am a certified (certifiable?) Jedi Knight.  As such, I’m about to embark on that pinnacle assignment that every fighter pilot dreams about…Staff Officer.  Yes,  no more pulling G’s, no more 4 v X furballs, no more of those boring dart missions.  Nope, now I get to build PowerPoint presentations!  Wahoo!
However, there is a silver lining to the Staff Officer Billet I’ve been assigned.  It’s at Camp Smith Hawaii.

My office was in the oval in the bottom center.  Current pictures no longer show that part of the building.
  From my cockpit desk, my view extends from Barbers Point to the West all the way to Diamond Head.  The only person with a better view wears 4 stars.  How did a lowly Lt Col Select get this view, you may ask?  Well, we were starting a new function at CINCPAC and space is tight/non-existent.   However, there are Offices over the old dispensary that are empty.  Course they’re also condemned.  Rolling a four drawer safe down the passageway (Navy 4 Star as Commander therefore, passageway NOT hallway.  Joint doncha’ know), we lose a dolly, safe and nearly a Yeoman  as the dolly and safe crash through the termite riddled floor.  We quickly learned to step lightly and tended to move along the sides of the passageway rather than the middle.  But, the good news is not many people came to visit, therefore, not many people knew about the view.

In seriousness, the job is a pretty good one.  Starting out in the assignment, I’m just one of the workers, but over the course of the first year or so, eventually become the Division Chief.  On a Joint Headquarters, that is usually reserved for junior O-6s and senior O-5s, usually O-6 selects.  Our job is to form and train a cadre of staff that on very short notice can deploy to some specified commands in the CINCPAC Area of Responsibility and augment that staff with the capabilities needed to become a Joint Task Force.  Hadn’t been there more than a couple of months when we got alerted to go to Bangladesh to assist in recovery from a Tropical Cyclone (Hurricane/Typhoon in the Indian Ocean).  This was a year or so after Sea Angel.  Things progressed far enough that I got a Gamma Globulin shot in the Butt as I was going up the steps in the C-5.  Thankfully we got a stand down order before takeoff.  Sitting on that golfball for an extended flight would not have been fun.  Nor would the recovery operation.

Something that was frequently stated at CINCPAC headquarters was a phrase “Tyranny of Distance”.  We got very familiar with the reality of that statement as two of our staffs that we augmented were 7th Fleet, aboard USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) and 3MEF on Okinawa, both 10+ hours flying time from Hickam.
Blue Ridge and some Volcano
Commons.Wikimedia.com



 In addition to the augmenting of the Staff, we would also participate in the initial mission planning stages of the contingency at Camp Smith and then deploy bringing a better understanding of “Commander’s intent” with us to the JTF command.  But with a 10 hour interval between departure from Hickam and arrival at the JTF, the situation would almost always have changed.  So keeping up to speed while deploying was important.

Now, while this next paragraph can be accomplished by the average 12 year old with a smartphone in 2014, back in the early 90s, this was next to impossible.  We managed to hook up to the special satellite receiver door for a C-141 and transmit and receive Data over the link.  It had been used for years as a voice transmitter, but not data.  We were able to set up a laptop inside the cargo hold, and receive updated orders from CINCPAC, a huge advantage at the time.  So much so, that I was requested to travel with our Marine 2 star J-3 (Director of Operations) to the Worldwide J-3 Conference in Oberammergau Germany.  And, now for …The Rest of the Story.

I tried to get a representation picture of the locations of Oberammergau and Honolulu from Google Earth, but couldn't.  Suffice it to say, they’re on opposite sides of the world.  So to avoid complications caused by travel delays and minimize jet lag, we decide to leave so as to arrive a day early for the conference.  Unlike previous trips to Germany, travel was uneventful.  Traveling with a Marine Major General has its perks I guess.  We arrive in Munich, the General, a Navy Captain and myself.  Pick up our rental car.  A big honking BMW, I mean this thing is huge!  While at Hertz, I grab a brochure which has a small 4 inch square map of Germany on it, Autobahns and some major roads on it.  The Captain wants to drive as he’s “never driven on the Autobahn”.  As one might suspect, the General gets his choice of seats and selects the front passenger seat.  I am in the back seat, navigating. 

We arrive, safely and expeditiously at Oberammergau and check in to our hotel.  It’s late afternoon and the General tells everyone to meet in the lobby at 1730 about an hour and a half.  I’m tired, but have figured out, that for me, the best way to shift into a new time zone is to exercise, eat lightly, drink not at all and go to bed as close to normal bed time in that time zone as possible.  I go for a run.  Come back in, get cleaned up and am downstairs with 15 minutes to spare.  Right on time, the General arrives.  We head into the restaurant, order dinner and he turns to me and says “Well Juvat, what are we going to do tomorrow?”  Hey, nobody said anything about Tour Guide in my orders, but being the quick on my feet thinker that I am, I remember the map of Germany  had icons for Castles on it and that the General is a big Olympic fan.  So I say, “General, your choice, we can tour the Olympic Village at Munich, or we can tour some local Castles”.    I’m praying for Munich, because I’d seen the signs for the Olympic Village as we left the city.  Naturally, therefore, “Castles”.

After Dinner, I make my way to the front desk and ask if they have any local maps.  No Joy! I am stuck with my 4 inch map of Germany.  The next day dawns and we’re off.  Seating arrangement is the same as the day before and I’ve got my trusty map.  The Captain has the hammer down, but thankfully the first Castle is only about 10 miles away and only one road change.  We arrive at Linderhof Castle with no problems. 
Linderhof Castle
By Softeis (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
The General and the Captain are off on a tour, and I’m in the Gift Shop looking for a map.  No Joy! 

Next stop on this magical mystery tour is Neuschwanstein Castle, a bit further than the previous leg and will involve a few more road changes. 
Neuschwanstein Castle
"Neuschwanstein castle" by Jeff Wilcox - http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffwilcox/95436233/. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neuschwanstein_castle.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Neuschwanstein_castle.jpg


And we’re off!  The Captain is in heaven and we’re flying through forests and mountains it’s a jolly ride.  I’m starting to get concerned as I haven’t seen the turnoff I’m looking for.  Finally, we come up on a building on the right side of the road, looks kinda like a old time gas station with a guy standing out front in what looks like an old time gas station uniform.  He waves as we drive by.  A hundred meters of so further on, there’s another gas station with a guy outside in a different gas station uniform.  He waves us by.    I still don’t see the turnoff and after about 5 minutes, we come up on a village.  I swallow my pride and tell them I have to stop and ask directions.  The General says fine, he needs to cash a traveler’s check and needs film for his camera.  We enter the village and see the old time Kodak shop with the roll of film sign on it right next door to a bank.  The General asks me to get the film while he cashes the check.  

I walk into the store and find the film, walk up to the cashier, hand her the film and she says “80”.  Holy smokes!  That’s $50 or so.  But the General wants film.  I pull some 20 Mark notes out of my wallet and count out 20,40,60, 80.  She goes “No, no, 80 Pfennig!”  The light clicks on!  Juvat is not only not in Kansas anymore, he’s not in Germany either.  But having listened to my Father about never leaving home while overseas without your passport, mine is in my back pocket.  So I laugh, ask the lady where we are, she pulls out a large map of southern Germany and Austria, points to the Austrian village we’re in and then shows me the route to Neuschwanstein Castle.  I thank her profusely, ask if she has a copy of the map for sale and if she will take Marks.  She does and counts out the change adding to my son’s collection of foreign currency.  I walk outside just as the General is coming out of the bank.  I say, “Guess what General?”  He answers, “We’re not in Germany, and my passport is at the Hotel!”.  Doomed!

“Well, Juvat, what’s the plan now?”  Thinking quickly I pull out the map and say “General, we’re taking this route back to Germany and when we cross the border, if they stop us, you’re going to fix them with your best Marine Infantry 2 Star stare, show them your ID card and DARE them to stop us.”  He pauses,  then says “That’ll work.”  Get back into the Car and we’re off.  Praying pretty hard that we get a similar treatment at the border, but no such luck.  We leave Austria with no problem and are in no man’s land looking at the German Border Crew.  This crew is checking papers.  As we approach, I pull out my passport as does the Captain.  The General says “Put those away.  If I’m using my ID, so are You!”  We pull up, the Border Officer is on the passenger side.  The General rolls down the window,and shows his ID.  The Border Officer starts to say something and the General hits him with his Marine Infantry 2 star stare and frankly even in the back seat I’m chilled.  The officer gulps and waves him through.  The Captain accelerates away and we’re off. 


Neuschwanstein Castle was especially beautiful that afternoon. The turnoff I’d been looking for?  That was the border.  It was just a line on my map with no further information.

20 comments:

  1. Great story Juvat.

    The only thing that confused me at first was that you mentioned that Skunk Week was over. Then I see that the post is about staff officers. Yup, confused I was.

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    1. Ahhhhh! Skunks ---Staff Officers. Got it. Took a bit of Rum to clarify! Yes, being a Staff Officer is NOT the dream of Fighter Pilots, Nightmare maybe! Got a future story for you, but got to keep the language down to a mere PG-13 level. That will be difficult.

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  2. Thanks for the Stripes laugh. The best part of the movie...

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    1. Thanks, I still use the phrase frequently. It just seems to fit.

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  3. That makes me want to go to Germany.

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    1. It is a beautiful part of the country. And a beautiful part of Europe. I was standing in a line at a shop in Oberammergau and looking at the stuff on the wall. Clippings, pictures etc. My eyes are drawn to a news clipping in a frame. In German, of Course, but my eyes are drawn to a name, Mine, My Dad's and my Great Grandfathers (my son's also). My Grandfather had just passed, but on returning home, asked my dad about that. He said the his Grandfather had emigrated from that area of Germany around the 1900s. I need to go back and explore some.

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  4. I wish that I could say that it takes a very special type of staff officer to drive into a foreign country without noticing but based on history, it only takes Air Force and Marine staff officers to do such a thing. The Army does it all the time but it's never the staff, it's idiot privates driving across international frontiers into a warzone being all oblivious. I do recall one time though that the Commanding Officer of the Admin Support Unit in Bahrain, while maintaining his flight pay, piloted a C12 with navy staff officers aboard towards a conference in the UAE, landed on a little Saudi Island instead of Thumrit. He felt justified because, "hey, sandy airstrips all look the same." :) OTOH, he wasn't staff.

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    1. But remember, it was a NAVY Captain driving. If we'd had an Army Officer along, it would have been a perfect Joint Operation.

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  5. Great post... it's good to be joint, innit?

    So, there I was... chasing that Jedi Knight link, where I read this:

    The school educates the future leaders of the U.S. Armed Forces, its Allies, and the Interagency at the graduate level to be agile and adaptive leaders who think critically at the strategic and operational levels to solve complex ambiguous problems.

    O! My aching a$$, what a collection of corporate buzzwords (about which: an Interagency WHAT?). I think I'm gonna go back to bed now. Mebbe the world will right itself by the time I wake up again.

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    1. I hear you. It was a very enjoyable school though. Did notice at the bottom of that article that my roomie for our field trips did a bit better than I did. His last name is Brooks.

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    2. I forgot to mention yesterday that my SN1 is a fellow Jedi Knight, what with him attending and graduating from Leavenworth's CGSC.

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    3. Cool! Did he get the steel blue light saber or the matte black one?

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  6. That we had vast staffs of people who worked in condemned buildings with staff dumb enough to push 1000 pound safes down the alleyways of the second and third decks of condemned buildings, who were EAGER as all Hell to form JTFs to "help" us out at NAVCENT with little things like waging actual war....that was irritating. Fortunately my office was at 1NCD West and semi-new/well built, only had two floors, had an unobstructed view of nothing but the GIS and the condemned building and did little or nothing to affect warfare in any way shape or form. We just went there to write the warplans. :)

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  7. Two days off the troop ship, 1964, another E-2 and I were sent to Obergammerau from Hanau by train, on our own, for a school. Not a word of Deutsch between us. We had a hazy idea we needed to get to Munich. Somehow got on a train to Prague, but the conductors got us off before the border. We finally arrived in a bright yellow Deutsch Post bus, with no idea where we had been. Alcohol was involved. Beautiful area, and a lot of fun if you stayed away from the Special Forces at Bad Toltz.

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    1. It is stunningly beautiful for sure.

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  8. ROTF... NOBODY is willing to go against a Marine much less a 2-star Marine... :-)

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    1. So that's what happened to NASA and all our dreams of manned space flight?
      sarc/ Bolden.

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    2. It was truly spectacular! My son, at the time of this story was about 10, 8 years later decides he wants to go to Texas A&M and go through ROTC and the Corps. They have a "night with the Corps" event for Seniors and he decides to attend. Comes back all fired up about something called a "First Sergeant" and the Commandant. Later on, I get a letter from the Commandant, thanking me for my Son's interest etc. etc. Signature....My J-3! Son goes to A&M, says he got to see the General's infantry stare up close and personal, thought it was terrifying. I said, "I know, Son, I know!"

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)