Wednesday, June 21, 2017

NATO - Part I

(Source)
In the waning years of the 20th Century, The Missus Herself thought it might be just dandy for Your Humble Scribe to request an assignment to Europe. Damn near anywhere in Europe would do, though she did specify Germany as the European country of choice. (I think one of her Korean friends had been there and recommended it.) I had no problem with asking for an assignment to Germany, realizing that the odds of that happening were roughly slim and quite probably none.

However, comma...

Far off in the land of good beer and excellent schnitzel there was an old E-6 who had been on active duty for 22 years. At that same time there were a bunch of personnel wienies in Texas going through the rosters to determine which of the Nation's finest had served past their high year of tenure (HYOT). Seems that for an E-6 the new HYOT was now 20 years. Not 21, and certainly not 22. Upon reaching one's HYOT (provided that number was 20, not 18, not 19, but 20 years) one could retire, as opposed to being unceremoniously dumped by the wayside as not fit to proceed on the path to Air Force success.

Meanwhile, Yours Truly had visited his local Consolidated Base Personnel Office - or CBPO as most referred to it -  yes, each letter pronounced by it's lonesome, no combining them into a word which some unfortunately did. I considered it beneath me to call it See-Bow, it seemed, somehow, not quite right. As an aside, a thing which drives me to distraction at work is people referring to the Evolved Seasparrow Missile - ESSM of course - as the Ess-um. No, no, no, stop that, it sounds too much like SM-2 (Ess Em Two). Say it with me now, EE, ESS, ESS, EM. Why yes, I can be a pedant at times, why do you ask?

Anyhoo, the good folks at CBPO, of which there were a couple, they're not all shoe clerks though the bulk certainly were, had advised me that though they would accept my request, I might as well reconcile myself to the idea that I would no doubt remain at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, for the remainder of my career. (At the time I had been at Offutt for four  years and had another four years to go to "make my twenty," as they say.

All my troops had a good laugh at the old sarge's quixotic ideas of an assignment to Germany, until it actually happened, not long after I asked for it. A moment of stunned silence followed my announcement that I was bald auf dem Weg nach Deutschland. Yes, all too soon I would be off to Germany, leaving my troops bereft of my shining example and fine leadership. (Yeah, they did just fine after I left, they might have missed me, a little.)

Remember the old E-6 I mentioned above, the one with 22 years on active duty? The one in Germany? Well, the personnel wienies had directed him to go to his local CBPO and immediately request retirement, his request would be expedited and he would be an Air Force retiree just as soon as Big Blue could ship Yours Truly and his tribe over to Europe. The old E-6 would train me, his replacement, and all would be hurried along muy rapido.

The Air Force, in their infinite [cough, hack, cough] wisdom decreed that I would proceed to the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, on or about the 1st of January, 1992. Yup, New Year's Day, and I would report No Later Than (NLT) the 4th of January, 1992.

Alrighty then. I received word of my assignment six months in advance. Why, oh why, must I depart these here United States during the holidays to get to Germany to replace a guy who, I later found out, didn't actually do anything? While it wasn't actually a "woe is me" situation, it was somewhat inconvenient to travel on New Year's Day.

But mother Air Force decreed it, therefore...


And yes, that was the Air Force Chief of Staff at the time, Merrill "Tony" McPeak, wearing a uniform of his own design, making that announcement in the video. (I'm kidding, but not by much...)

So early in December we packed up our stuff, some to storage, some to Germany. Into temporary quarters we went and about a week before Christmas we piled into the family auto, a '90 Jetta as I recall, and drove from cold, but dry, Omaha to cold, and snowy, Vermont.

We had a wondrous Christmas but a rather solemn New Year's Eve, though it was enlivened quite a bit by The Nuke, who insisted that there be no long faces on her birthday (which coincides with New Year's Eve) and that all would be merry or she would know the reason why not.

New Year's Day it was off to Bradley Field (er, Bradley International?) for to board a flight to JFK. Where we discovered that we would not all be sitting together. Seems that the shoe clerks out in Omaha had decided that the last minute was a good time to schedule our flight.

Remonstrations to the airline employees were in vain, there was naught they could do, the flight being fully booked, etc., etc.

Now the female members of the tribe were all together, but The Naviguesser and I were separated from them, and each other. I asked the chap next to me if he'd mind swapping with my son. He, at first, ignored me, then upon my becoming rather insistent for an answer, either yea, or nay, he sayeth "Nay! I shall keep my seat, come what may." (Okay, I might have dramatized that, a bit.)

So off to where my son was sitting, to be told by a flight attendant to please take my seat, I explained my predicament and she immediately decided to pitch in and help. Next to my son, in a middle seat, was a middle aged Jewish gentleman, I gathered from his attire that he was orthodox, or at least that's the way he appeared to me, a simple Gentile.

Yes, the chap looked rather like this gentleman, though with a much friendlier look. (Source)
I inquired as to his interest in gaining an aisle seat for the six hour flight to Brussels. He was more than willing to swap with me. His only reservation was that he had ordered a kosher meal for the flight and was concerned that he might lose his meal.

The flight attendant assured him that he would get his meal. I assured him that if I received his meal through some airline oversight then I would carry it over to him personally. Thus assured, he went to my old seat. My son, ever the clever chap, got up to let me into the just vacated middle seat.

"I don't think so sport, over you go."

With a sigh he slid to the middle and we settled in for the overnight flight to the capital of Belgium. Oh, I should have mentioned that our flight was scheduled to arrive in Brussels at 0700 local. So we would be in the air most of the night.

We got there, jet lagged and ready to hit the hay. We were met by our sponsors, Mike and his lovely wife Teresa, from Texas of course, and discovered that our hotel awaited us. Some two hours away in Geilenkirchen (of which we'll hear more in subsequent installments).

Groans issued from the progeny but nonetheless we piled into Mike and Teresa's van and headed east, towards Germany. On the way there Teresa kept admonishing the kids to stay awake in order to overcome the jet lag all the quicker. At one point The Nuke inquired as to whether or not sleeping was illegal in Europe. (She was a rather precocious child. She was nine years and two days old upon touchdown in Belgium.)

I should point out that The Naviguesser was rather engrossed in the countryside, The Missus Herself and I were engaged in conversation with our sponsors, all while The Nuke struggled valiantly to stay awake and decry the injustice of it all.

Meanwhile The WSO, having decided that the rules were to be damned so she herself slept most of the way to Germany, despite many admonitions and encouragements to stay awake. The WSO has ever been something of a scofflaw.

I wonder where she gets that?

We went to the base first where Mike took me inside and introduced me to the chaps, most of whom were German, one of whom I hit it off with almost immediately. That would be this rather tall and well-built German from "up north" in Schleswig-Holstein, near Kiel to be precise, whose given name was Torben, which he informed me means Thunder Bear in some ancient Nordic tongue.

"Just call me Benny!" he said after nearly crushing my hand with his firm handshake, though I gave as good as I got, the man had a grip. Good man though, we had fun, but that too will be covered in later episodes. (Hey, I've got over seven years of stories from Germany, some I've told, many I have not. Patience Grasshopper.)

Two things I noticed right away, first, they had a refrigerator stocked with beer in nearly every office, and second, I had an instant liking for the Germans.

Needless to say, I had a great time in Germany. But this tale is just begun. Back to the van, off to Mike and Teresa's where they fed us an incredible home cooked dinner, which incidentally was my first, though most assuredly not my last, encounter with beef Stroganoff. Now an OAFS favorite, at the time it was novel and somehow surreal (note that I had been awake for nearly 30 hours by that time).

After that fine meal, we went to our hotel where everyone, save Yours Truly, fell into a deep sleep. As for me? I discovered that Das Boot was on television, auf Deutsch, natürlich.

So there I was, in Germany. Soon ye shall be regaled with the tales of my first days on the job, a job I had to create for myself. You shall see that the guy I was to replace was essentially, a dunsel. With the assistance of a German civilian, Johannes, I created a useful position for myself. It's nice when you can define your own job. Makes the work much more enjoyable. For that I have Johannes to thank. Another good chap.

I may have told the story before of my trip to the Hürtgenwald, to take pictures for my great-uncle who had been wounded in action at that battle. When I told Johannes where I had been over the weekend, and why, he remarked that his father had been captured at that same battle.

Small world.

More to come...



36 comments:

  1. Good story, I look forward to the next installment.

    Yes....It is a long flight. You should try Honolulu to Munich some time just for the fun of it.

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    1. Once or twice I did the Bradley-JFK-Seattle-Anchorage-Tokyo-Naha run. Same for the Bradley-JFK-Seattle-Anchorage-Kimpo run. One needs an iron butt to survive. At least flying commercial you can get up and stretch.

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    2. Travis to Hickam pre-jet was no picnic and Sac to Shannon annoys the hemorrhoids, too

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    3. That route wasn't all that fun on a C-141 either. It was like flying in someone's basement.

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    4. Did that 141 have the pax seats or the regular troop seats?

      Paul L. Quandt

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    5. Actually had the pax seats, the only time I flew on a 141 where I wasn't caressed by the sheer comfort of the webbed troop seats.

      And now that I think about it, that was my very first ride on a Starlifter. It was pretty cool and awesome for the first 15 minutes or so, you know the whole "I'm actually flying on a real live Air Force aircraft." Had a few more after that, usually short hops between Kadena and Kunsan. Which was fairly rare because usually it was a 130 on that route.

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    6. Well, I never rode on a 141, only fixed them. The only USAF aircraft that I flew on ( aside from the Survival School's U-6s [ ? ] ), were KC-135s. I can believe that the 141 was not the most comfortable ride around. If they were, then flag officers would ride on them. I don't remember that ever happening.

      Paul

      Paul

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    7. Unloaded though, the suckers could climb like home sick angels!

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  2. Good story. I couldn't help myself noticing that as evidenced by the F-16s in the photo: The Air Farce has ED.

    Oh all right.

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  3. Unfortunately, my trip over was in a 130. Maybe that's why I'm half deaf now.

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    1. Ouch!

      I did a lot of flying on 130s between Kadena and Kunsan. Once round trip Kunsan to Clark. Yeah, it's loud.

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    2. Flying in 141s was not much fun either. One time our RC-135 crew was rotating back to Offutt from Mildenhall, but the bird was staying behind for the new crew. As an experiment, it was decided that instead of catching a ride back on a KC-135 (and remaining in the arms of SAC), we were placed into the clutches of MAC. No flight suits permitted, protestations that we were air crew fell on deaf ears, and we had to dig some Class A's out of the flight bags. The routing was to Charleston AFB and we could not believe how slow and cold and noisy that 141 was. After nearly ten hours to Charleston we had to go across the base to the civilian terminal to catch a commercial flight to ATL, thence to MCI, thence to OMA. That was a long journey, with little logic to it, never to be repeated. Never had much fondness for MAC.

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    3. MAC was a PITA back in the day. A whole lotta shoe clerks in that command.

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  4. Airline seats. You were traveling with children so perhaps suggesting to one of the children, maybe The WSO, that if she cries loud and long she would get a reward, then moving her temporarily next the man who wouldn't help you would have been a great example of the success of physiological warfare.

    Very good post.

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  5. Whenever I read your posts I get an appreciation of small things the USAF gave me. Such as- understanding Military Time (the real thing, not that Navy bells & stuff). Also a feel for acronyms and what they might stand for. Useful stuff- thanks Uncle Sam. :)

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    1. 'Tis also a fun skill in my current job.

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    2. I understood Navy bells only in relation to the beginning and end of watch, and even that was a vicarious situation.

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    3. Well, it was pretty much all relative right?

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    4. True.

      Er, I mean relative...

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  6. I applied for Germany many times but the fairy godmother department never saw fit to award me with that assignment. My oldest son applied for Germany while he was in basic and his first assignment was to Landstuhl and spent 5 years stationed there. When he was discharged, he remained there as he had married a German lady and other than a two year stint at Ft Monmouth New Jersey, lives there still.

    I would love to go visit but my Missus hates flying and since she also can't swim, refuses to take any flight over the ocean. Any argument I make that she would not need any swimming skills if the plane was to go down over the ocean does not seem to help! ;)

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    1. Well I guess that leaves out a cruise as well!

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    2. I'm just glad you got to go. The highlight of a good career!!
      I can't complain though. My last years were at Tyndall AFB. Being
      assigned to Air Defense Command with only 6 planes on the white
      beaches of Florida was awesome.

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    3. Yeah, that would be hard to take!

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  7. Nine years old and in charge of Belgium. You gave your kids great gifts! 😃

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  8. Thanks for the post. Eagerly awaiting the follow ons.

    Paul

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  9. Why did I never notice the NATO/OTAN thing? The fact that the acronym is backwards in several languages is clever and odd in a way that pleases me.

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    1. Glad you noticed that, I will (POCIR) cover that in a later post in the series.

      I too find it oddly pleasing. It's the symmetry that's in it, methinks.

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  10. Ah, the Hürtgenwald. The Army circa 1960s, would take some of us Combat Engineers there with mine detectors to see what we could find. Not fun!

    After my return had interesting conversations with my oldest uncle who passed through the area in 1944-45.

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    1. I'd be willing to bet that there is still a lot of unexploded ordnance out in those woods.

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