Friday, June 15, 2018

Bond of Brothers

As I read Sarge's post last week about the D-Day Landing, and the video from the most excellent TV series Band of Brothers, it inspired me to write about a similar connection I had while serving in Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5 or CAG-5) in Japan.   Not to take anything away from our own little "Band of Bloggers" here at the Chant, but we don't have the same opportunity for acquiring interesting sea stories as actually serving at sea. 

CAG-5 flew off the USS Independence (CV-62), and I was with VS-21, flying in the right and right rear seat of the S-3B Viking, conducting Anti-Submarine Warfare for the Battlegroup.  While I was  very close to my squadron-mates, and still am today, CAG-5 was also a very close-knit unit; we Brothers-in-Arms, who lived, ate, slept, flew, and played together for three years.  I lived about three kilometers from Atsugi Naval Air Facility, which was about a 30 minute drive, but at sea, my commute was less than 1000 feet, so they were close neighbors as well.



Indy had an all male crew, which allowed for some different experiences than what sailors are getting today.  And it led to some interesting incidents.  Men could be men, which is a very subjective statement on my part I realize, but there was familiarity without the need to keep behaviors and speech in check.  This is something  which we rightly do when in mixed company, but there, our language was probably a little more crude and direct, we told dirty jokes without the desire or need to be politically correct, and it wasn't uncommon to have a small stack of Playboys or other reading material in a stateroom.   Some Chanters may bristle at these facts, but they didn't make us any less effective as war-fighters.  Nor did it turn us into men who objectify women or develop unrealistic expectations of them in society. 


During that tour, I tallied up two years and 11 days of sea duty, which is a lot of time away from home.  While that meant a lot of flight time, it also meant for us married guys, a lot of separation from our wives.  Some of those marriages didn't survive.  There was CB, whose wife not only left him during one underway period, but she sold every belonging, even his clothes.  And when I say every belonging, that even included his car which was parked on base, leaving him unable to get back to their apartment.  However, it turned out that she had also terminated their lease so he didn't really have a place to go anyway.  Of course she also raided their bank accounts, leaving him broke as can be.  However, the most egregious offense, one for which forgiveness is difficult, if not impossible, is the fact that she put down their three dogs before moving back to the states.

There was also the guy in my squadron whose wife wasn't at the hangar with all the other wives, after a 5 month deployment to the Arabian Gulf for Operation Southern Watch.  She too had pulled up stakes and moved back to Florida.  This wasn't a huge shock at first because during our underway periods, she would return to Florida to work as a pharmacist.  When he called her shortly after the fly-in, she not only asked for a divorce, she wanted to get it done ASAP because in 30 days or so, she was marrying another pilot IN THE SAME AIR WING. And a squadron-mate of Lex.  Turns out she had been carrying on at least an emotional affair with him since she and my friend had been dating while he was in flight school in Kingsville Texas.  It continued while the two guys were both going through their respective Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) training at Cecil Field near Jacksonville FL.  Unfortunately for my friend, both happened to also get sent out to Japan.  One might say those two new lovebirds were destined to be together, but I later saw the offender at Lex's funeral and they were now divorced.  So much for wedded bliss and destiny.

Being a ship built long before aviation equality was considered, Indy actually had a urinal on the back side of the island.  Aviators and flight deck crew could quickly relieve themselves without needing to return below decks.  Air crew wear a lot of survival equipment, including a harness for strapping into the ejection seat, a survival vest, and for the Fighter and Attack guys, a G-Suit.  It's all rather heavy and tight, which can reduce how well you feel stuff down there.  That led to one humorous incident after one guy in the air wing forgot to zip up.  He was walking down the flight deck towards his jet with a certain appendage hanging out, leading to his new call-sign, Silver.  As in Long-John(son) Silver.

CVW-5, sans VA-115 and VF-21

For my first year out there, CAG-5 had F-14 Tomcats, A-6 Intruders, and SH-3 Sea King helos, (among other birds) which were later replaced by more F-18s, and SH-60F helos.  Our air wing was so close that a loss of an aircraft, or more specifically, the loss of the aircrew, was felt by all.  It hit home, and it hit hard.  During my time there we had two Class-A Mishaps.  A Class-A is a loss of or damage to an aircraft totaling over $1M, or the loss of life.

VA-115 Eagles, loaded for Bear.

We had both during this mishap where we lost Hambone and Chowda out of VA-115.  They were on a low-level flight, jinking back and forth along a winding river, but they didn't jink back.  We also had a helo doing planeguard fly into the water one night, ejecting both pilots through the windscreen.  Both lived, but the senior one turned in his wings.  The two rescue swimmers in the back, probably, or at least hopefully, died  on impact.  I later worked with the co-pilot when he commanded the helicopter wing, so he had recovered well.


We also had a minor mishap when an SH-3 landed hard and pranged the tail wheel.  While it could have been fixed, we were losing those aircraft anyway, and none of them were going to be flown back to the states.  So leadership decided to just push the old bird overboard. 



It wasn't just the time working and flying at sea, but the port visits and detachments as well.  My squadron conducted some of our annual ASW training from Barbers Point, which meant a couple weeks in Hawaii, with an annual luau to cap it off.  Hong Kong was visited a couple times a year, Pattaya Beach Thailand was visited twice during my tour, as was Manila, all of which meant time together in town and in the Admin*.  More opportunity to enforce friendships.  In Singapore (2 visits), most of the air wing reserved them in the same hotel, which made for an an entire tower of camaraderie.  One opportunistic JO made up flyers which he gave to the ladies in a few bars, insuring that we were the envy of the air wing. 

CBW-5** Hangar on Iwo
Our detachments were yet another opportunity for CAG-5 to bond.  For noise abatement around Atsugi, we conducted all our FCLPs (Field Carrier Landing Practice) on Iwo Jima.  I though it was a strange, but nice gesture on the part of the Japanese Government to build us an exact replica of each squadron hangar back in Atsugi.  I guess nobody told them that an air wing detachment doesn't need all that space, but I digress.  Iwo was a really interesting place with plenty of WWII era caves to explore, and a particular mountain (Suribachi) to scale.  From the 60s through the 90s, the US Coast Guard maintained a LORAN navigation transmitter on the island.  While it had been closed just prior to my arrival in Japan, the Coasties had left a huge trove of VHS tapes which helped us pass the time after flight ops had secured.  There was also great food and drink.  Either due to available supply or temperance reasons, each person on det was "limited" to a 6-pack of beer per day.  With all the folks who couldn't or wouldn't drink their daily ration, there was never really a limitation.  If you had completed your FCLP requirements early or weren't on the next day's flight schedule, movies and beer were the night's entertainment.  That detachment was twice a year and always something we looked forward to.

Mount Suribachi                                                                      Pinterest
For me, working, flying, and drinking together, and doing so much of it, really made that time in my life memorable, and gave me a bunch of life long friends.  I can't really compare it to the guys who actually fought and died together in Easy Company, but the bond is no less meaningful.

* Admin: When a carrier pulls into a foreign port, the crew gets liberty.  If the boat will be in port for more than a couple of days, the squadrons officers plunk down cash for a crash pad/party spot. A J.O. or two is given the responsibility to reserve that place and keep it well stocked.  an apartment or hotel room for the in-port period. A most useful custom.
**CBW-5 is what the sign on the hangar stated.  Trying saying it with a Japanese accent.

26 comments:

  1. "...loaded for Bear"

    Hmph. Don't think I don't notice these egregious insults. What did I ever do to deserve such aggression?

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    1. It does seem to be bear season, doesn't it?

      :O

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    2. Although maybe I should be flattered that that's considered appropriate bear-killing weaponry, as opposed to wet noodles or harsh language.

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    3. Yeah, bears don't go down easy, you've got that going for you.

      ;)

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    4. Except Florida bears. Seems they have a weird fungus going amongst themselves that is causing them to lose their hair. So now we have a small population of bare bears barely surviving in the barren woods. What a burden to bear. Totally grizzly to look at.

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    5. You owe me a new monitor Beans.

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    6. The truly unbearable thing is it's all true... There really are nude bears from some weird fungus wandering around in Florida. And not just in South Florida on the boardwalks...

      And, what, you don't wrap your monitor with Saran Wrap for your protection? All sorts of filthy things lurk on the web, ready to infect you.

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    7. Oh, and I forgot to ask if you used Bruin-y brand paper towels to clean your monitor.

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    8. I can't bear these bad puns any longer. How about "bringing the whole can of whoopass?"

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    9. The problem isn't Beans being punny, it is you thinking you can work on the computer, on our comments, drinking any kind of fluid!! Duh!! You should know us better than that by now...

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    10. So, Suz, what you're saying is that OldAFSarge can't do the blogging version of walking and chewing gum at the same time? Hmmmm. Explains a lot.

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  2. A great post Tuna. We look back on the way things were and the people we knew and it gets pretty nostalgic at times.

    And a little dusty too.

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  3. Tuna: I may have seen you at Lex's funeral; did you get one of the challenge coins that Mary was passing out?

    Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. Unfortunately, I did not. I couldn't bear to ask for one either.

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  4. Damn, but that makes me wish my eyes hadn't crapped out in high school. I might've still wangled my way in to being a RIO or BNO, or at least an NFO on P-3, but at the time, it was "pilot or nothing". The shortsightedness of youth. Sigh. Let's just say I had severe trust issues putting my life into a pilot's hands. I even thought about Army or Marine helicopters, but again, while I might've been a gunner on a Cobra or Apache, there was no way I was going to be a pilot. So I went to college half-heartedly, flunked out, and eventually thought about enlisting in the military. I settled on the USAF instead, as the joke goes. As I wasn't in a MOB unit, or deployable, all I experienced was major bases, and they were disgustingly cushy according to one sailor we kept entertained at Clark as he was on his way home on a Red Cross-verified family emergency. He cursed the Navy up one side and down the other as he saw how we lived, the chow hall more than the private and semi-private dorm rooms we lived in (officially -- quite a few lived in off-base opulence on a sergeant's pay). We had no mercy on him at the time. ;-)

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    1. I had o such desires, being nearsighted long before I thought about the Navy. Since I had bad eyes, my Airedale CPO father hoped would keep me out of the cockpit (he saw too many men not come back). I guess he didn't know was an NFO was! I was lucky to get the job considering my Calc and Physics grades in college!

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  5. Those bird farms had luxurious accommodations compared to what was available on the old Gearing Class cans.
    Today’s Navy woulda had to scrap those puppies even if they hadn’t aged out.
    I’m sure I could look up how long my sea duty was.
    All I know for sure is that it would’ve been much longer had I re-enlisted.
    Some of the guys in my division we’re in their fifth and sixth years and that was before Vietnam expanded.

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    1. Unlike the ship's company guys, we only collected sea pay (and sea time) when we were actually underway.

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  6. Very interesting look into a little known life. I always understood (I think) why aviators tended to be either very rough players or very introspective people. Living on the edge will do things to people, and they have to have some relief. Can't imagine how things are in the new PC-Navy.

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    1. We're not all that rough and I never felt like I was living on the edge. At least for that first tour- never afraid, thought I was invulnerable. Mishaps only happened to other guys. After kids though, and flying with nugget JO pilots, that changed quick. Bought another life insurance policy I did.

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  7. Fascinating story, and thank you all for your service.

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  8. Tuna,
    Seems our Ven diagrams crossed paths in prior years, I also participated in Cobra Gold 95, at the JTF Headquarters in Chon Buri. Small World.

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  9. That was a big exercise back then so the world wasn't all that small! Kadena and Kunsan were frequent stops too so there were possibly more crossed diagrams.

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  10. Thank you for your time spent protecting us, far from home, Tuna.

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