Monday, July 20, 2015

North to Alaska

A comment from the Rev and this video from Fighter Sweep got me to thinking about Alaska as I was deciding what to post about this week,  so  blame them if you don't like it.

So,  There I was….*

Chief of the JTF Training Branch, USCINCPAC.  I’m a brand new LtCol with the second best view from an office window in the whole headquarters.  Standing there I could see Diamond Head to the East and Barber’s Point to the West.  

The reason I had that view as a lowly LtCol was viewing it meant straddling a hole in the floor (while CINCPAC was a Joint Command, it was heavily Navy, so….) Deck caused by termites.  The building was condemned, but we were using it while the main Headquarters building was being enlarged and refurbished. 

It’s January, the temperature that morning on the way to work was 51.  I had the top up on my Mazda RX-7 which was unusual, but not as unusual as passing a car with a load of Hawaiians all dressed up in Parkas.  

My son, in 3rd grade at an off base school, asked if he needed to wear one.  I said no.  He was the only one that didn’t. 

Once the sun rose, the temperature quickly climbed to a quite pleasant 72 degrees with a gentle breeze to keep the humidity in check.  In short, a delightful Hawaiian day.  

I, however, am going TDY to a planning conference for an upcoming training exercise the command is holding.  The conference and exercise will be held at Elmendorf AFB Alaska.
From the amount of snow on the ground, I'd say this photo was taken in June or July

I had been to Elmendorf once before in my career.  As I was enroute to my first operational tour in Korea, the contract 707 (yes, this was immediately after the Pterodactyls were phased out of troop transport duty) stopped there for a refueling and broke.  Spent the night in the terminal in my Class A’s, shivering like crazy.  

Not even sure it was night, just that it was dark.  And Cold!

So, I knew about Elmendorf in the winter.  Dark.  Cold.
12FS F-15 being worked on by COLD crew chiefs.
USAF Picture

The flight from Honolulu routes through Seattle and then into Anchorage. Unlike this guy , my plan is to have my warm clothing in a carry on and change into it at Seattle.

I arrive in Seattle, head to the men’s room and put on long johns, jeans, wool shirt, sweater, and my down ski jacket, then exit and head to the gate.  A very pleasant flight on Alaskan Air and we arrive at Anchorage.  

As I am monitoring the pilot’s approach and landing (from seat 24A),  I note two things.  It is dark.  And appears Cold.

Fortunately, Anchorage seems to have discovered jetways in the ensuing 15 years since my previous arrival and I am cool, but comfortable as I exit the jet and enter the terminal.  I head over to the Rental Car counter to pick up my rental, fill out the paperwork and ask if there’s a bus. 

“No, Sir, your car is right outside.” 


I put on my jacket, hat and gloves and step outside.  Several years later “Cool Runnings”, came out.  There’s a scene in the movie that flashed me back to this moment. 

I look for the Row and Spot number that my car is parked in.  Some quick calculations by my rapidly freezing brain returns the knowledge that if my car isn’t in the farthest row, it is directly across from it.  

When the Agent said “Right outside”;  he meant “Right! Outside!”

By the time I get to my car, I was the model they used for Sanka in the film.

I get in the car and get it fired up and the heat going full blast and manage to find my way to Elmendorf.  The planning conference goes off as planned (pun intended), lasting for two days.  On the third day, I’m back at the Airport and I realize that it has been Dark and Cold without any visual sighting of that astral object known as Sol. 

It’s now Mid-March, and I’m headed back to Elmendorf for the Final Planning Conference.  This time I have a traveling companion, my newly assigned Yeoman.  The Yeoman is on his first assignment out of basic training which was the first time he’d been out of Mississippi in his life.  Good kid, and hard worker.  So the third state he’d been in in his life was Hawaii and now for number 4, he’ll visit Alaska.

The first thing I notice on landing is the sun does actually shine in Alaska.  The second would be there actually is earth under the snow, not just more snow.  Oh! And there are Mountains!
Gratuitous photo of F-22 used to show picture of Mountains
USAF Photo

We stop by the Rental Counter, and fill out the paperwork and get directions to our car.  “Right outside.”  Yeah right!  

Head out of the building find the slot and parked in it is a Yugo.  I glance over at the Yeoman (he’d made the reservations).  “Sir, you said you wanted a cheap car.”  Note to self, choose words wisely. 
The only difference was ours was Orange (and Rustier!)

We get the beast fired up and head to Elmendorf.  The first day of the conference is over, and as we leave the building, I’m rewarded with a very nice sunset.  The Yeoman and I head into town to get some chow and as we’re headed back out to the base, it is almost completely dark, just a little light on the horizon.  

I’m driving (I’m a fighter pilot, I’m driving) and approaching a T intersection.  I pull to a stop and need to look for the map which has slid off the console into the back seat.  

I’m stopped and reach back for the map when the Yeoman says “Sir!  There’s something out there!”  I’m mostly horizontal fumbling around for the map so I raise my head til it’s just above the dash and look out the windshield.  I don’t see anything and say so.

The Yeoman grabs me and pulls me back into the seat and points to the top of the windshield.  “There!” he says.

I lean forward and look up.  Above me is the belly of a Moose!  I have managed to drive the Yugo (which I believe in the original Yugoslavian dialect can be translated to “POS constructed from the thinnest aluminum foil known to man”) under and between the legs of a Moose! 
This is a female.  We were under a male, don't ask me how I know.

Fighter Pilot training kicks in.  

Maintain Aircraft Control, Check!  

Analyze the situation and take proper action.  I’m under a Moose, I need to get out from under the Moose, and I don’t want to piss it off! Check!  

Land as soon as conditions permit, Check!

I slip the Yugo into reverse and gently release the clutch.  The car, miraculously without the grinding of gears which has been a common occurrence with this rental, backs out of the situation and once well clear, I do my best James Bond getaway turn and head back the way we came.  The Yeoman’s eyes were wide as pie plates when I told him it was a moose.  “You mean, like, Bullwinkle?”  Yep,  only bigger!

The exercise has begun and since our responsibility in the exercise is to build and publish the Campaign Plan, we’ve got some busy and long days at the start of the exercise.  We don’t get out much.  But after about a week or so, we’re down to 12 on 12 off.  Our shift is over and we walk out of the Ops Center.  It’s daylight outside, so we decide to go off base to get something to eat other than chow hall food.  

We get into the rental and head downtown. (The Yeoman has a better understanding now of the difference between Cheap and Inexpensive,  I just asked him to reserve a car that would not fit under a moose.)

As we arrive in Downtown Anchorage, I’m enjoying the time we’re making and the paucity of traffic.  We pull into the downtown area where the tourist maps said all the cool restaurants are.  However, all of them seem to be closed.  

I’m thinking to myself, “is this a holiday or something?”  No.

It’s bright daylight outside, why is nobody out and about?

I glance at my watch.


12 FS F-15C intercept of a Russian Bear in 2006.
On the Fighter Sweep Post linked above, the author mentions the Dirty Dozen was deactivated in 2007.
All things must pass.
USAF Photo



  1. Heh, cheap car.

    And that's what junior enlisted can be famous for, taking things too literally. But damn, a Yugo?

    1. He did what I told him to do. We both learned from it. He ended up being very good at his job. I know this because he got taken away from me and assigned to the 2 Star J-3. I was back to handling my own paperwork which was harder than it should have been because I'd gotten spoiled.

  2. Great post, chock-full of great detail.

    Yugos make me smile. That was a great time to be alive and on the pointy end.

    Your post also reminds me of the year I was responsible for the care and feeding of a Navy Commander. I'll have to write about that.

    1. Thanks, Hearing about it from the opposite perspective would be entertaining.

      It really was an AWFUL car. That incident may have been the only time that I didn't grind the gears when shifting. And rusty! Alaskan Winters were not good for that car.

    2. One of my fellow airwing corpsmen got hooked up with a real piece of work female corpsman -- possibly the first pi..., er, well, you get the picture -- a few weeks before going on deployment. Upon his return he discovered that he'd financed a Yugo for her. That was funny as hell. Even funnier was when she cashed in the plane tickets and was a no-show for the big wedding. Some lessons are harder than they have to be.

      Also have a fond memory of a Virginia Beach morning drive radio show telephone prank where the hosts called up the local Yugo dealership and tried to lease 75 new "yew-gers" for a pizza delivery business. I'm sure it wasn't as funny as I thought it was, but as my developmental age was about 14 at the time I thought it was a real howl. That would have been '86 or so.

    3. If all the lesson cost him was a Yugo and a couple of plane tickets, he learned that lesson cheap! Learning it after the wedding would have been much more expensive and not just in a financial way.
      I can see the humor in the Yugo Pizza situation.

  3. Out in the exercise area behind Eielson AFB one bright summer day doing NOE (Nap of the Earth for those unfortunate enough to not know) training. Sprint out (well, 90KIAS can be a sprint) from a small valley into the major N/S valley. Look to the right and all I see is intakes and black smoke. First thought: don't think that F-4 will pass through my cargo doors unscathed. Second thought: holy smoke! Third and last: how in the hell did we miss, I don't think he even saw me? Loved Alaska and flying there. regards, Alemaster

    1. Unfortunately, I never got to fly there. When I came up for assignment in Hawaii, I was offered a job at Elmendorf. I asked the Assignment guy what I could expect coming out of there. He said, and I quote "I don't know, no Lt Col has ever left there on Active Duty." Except for the Winter part, I can see why.

      Big Sky, Little Plane works....Most of the time.

  4. Snow on the ground, with green grass in the same photo? Must have been early May. The snow's gone by June. (Usually.)

    Yugos just rusted, in general. We don't use salt on the roads, so old cars last an amazingly long time here, barring accidents. Or collisions with moose. We get a lot of those.
    And next time you're to be here in summer, check with me: I can provide locations of restaurants that stay open all night. :)

    1. I figured you'd comment on the snow picture, so that was a little chain pulling on my part. I agree with the Yugo, and I figured y'all didn't use salt. All that would likely do is turn the roads to ice.

      I don't get around that area much anymore, but if I get up there I'll take you up on the offer. Thanks.

  5. Looking up at the underside of a moose from a Yugo. That's probably the first time in recorded history that those words have ever been written! Nice story. Thanks for the laugh.

    1. I'm just glad that I managed to thread the needle. Had I hit him with the Yugo, the Yeoman and I would have been tinfoil wrapped meat. (And I doubt Bullwinkle would have even noticed.)

  6. "0315"

    LOL. People also forget that England, (let alone Scotland) is almost right up against the Arctic Circle. Ipswitch outside of which I was stationed, although only 90nm north of London, saw the summer skies bright & shiny by 0400 and didn't really get dark until 2300 (and one could still see the ball well enough to play tennis until 2200.)

    1. Yeah, my one trip to England only involved London and I think it was March/April ish. But the Weather in London was spectacular, Clear Blue and cool. Sunrise/set didn't seem too out of the normal.

  7. Heh... I've tee'ed off at midnight in Iceland and finished the round at 0400 and STILL had plenty of light... We did something similar with a moose on the way out to Eielson once... The moose was merging into traffic and I didn't see him until he got to the front bumper of the Ford Taurus we were driving... BIG suckers!

    1. My Dad, an avid golfer, had a remote to Thule in 62. He "built" a golf course there and would go out and whack the ball around at all hours. This was back in the days before multi colored golf balls, so he finagled some bright aircraft paint from somewhere and painted them himself. I remember watching slides of it at my Grandparents when I was little. Back when that was a big thing!

  8. On our last Alaska cruise, we flew out of Anchorage at 0230 on June 8. I have a picture of Mt. McKinley taken from the airplane window at 0253 local time and it just looks a little dim. The upper parts of the mountain still had direct sunlight on them.

    1. Took an Alaskan Cruise about 5 years ago. Awesome doesn't even begin to describe it. We were on the Starboard side (That's the Right side of the ship, Sarge) on the outbound leg. My wife got up at 0300 to use the facilities and threw open the blackout curtain. I think I was within nanoseconds of being vaporized by the Solar Laser that invaded the cabin. I know it was a long time after she closed them that I regained any "night" vision. Would strongly recommend that cruise to anyone thinking about it.

  9. Once took a Yugo on trade. The customer made me go to his house and pick it up. Refused to drive it one foot more. Wretched car.
    Worked two seasons at Prudhoe Bay. The sun never set.

  10. How much did he get for the trade? I'm thinking he should have paid you, I mean you'd have to have the thing on your lot where customers might see it and wonder about the overall quality of the other cars on your lot.

    1. Showed him $300, put it on the books for $50, and let an employee I didn't like buy it for $150. He drove it for two years without getting killed. Some good plans just don't work.


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