Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ma Vie Militaire (Part VI)

It's been a while since I've done a post on my life in the military (Ma Vie Militaire for you non-French speakers) and I felt that this would be a good time to pick up that thread. Whether or not that pleases you, we shall see.

The chap in the photo is a Master Sergeant (as was I, FYI this is 
abbreviated "MSgt" in the AF) and he is performing maintenance (of some kind) on the radar of an F-4C. How do I know it's an F-4C? Well, for one thing the original photo says it's an F-4C. The other sure give-a-way that it's an F-4C (as opposed to an F-4D) is that there are no dipoles on the face of the radar dish. "What are dipoles?", you ask. On the next picture (which is the radar set of the F-4D) those eight handle-looking thingies are the dipoles. I will not bore you with the technical details of what those are for, primarily because I don't remember at the moment. It was a long time ago.

Note that I referred to them as "handle-looking". One thing that the majority of brand new airmen had to be told was...


Not that I ever had to be told that. More than once.

Now back to our MSgt. From the looks of it, he is tightening the top bolts on the radar-receiver transmitter (there were two), or he's mugging for the camera. Something that we Weapon Control System (WCS) troops liked to do. The good MSgt also appears to be either Air National Guard or perhaps in the Air Force Reserve. That proof is left to the reader. (Anyone? Buck?)

Seldom would there be a photographer around when we were actually working on the aircraft, the flight line being a rather dangerous place to be if you didn't know what you were doing. Not as dangerous as the flight deck of an aircraft carrier mind you. While we Air Force types faced some of the same hazards as our Navy brethren, no Air Force maintainer ever got blown over the side of an Air Force base. We also didn't have catapults. Our pilots had nice long runways to take off on and we were expected to stay OFF of those nice long runways. Safer for everyone that way.

Which puts me in mind of a story, or two.

On my first real-life Air Force assignment, I was flown many, many miles from home and deposited on one each Kadena Air Base, Japan (Okinawa if ye be a purist) in the middle of the night. Left to my own devices I was for quite some time. Until the most kind Air Force Security Policeman on duty in the MAC Terminal took pity on me.

Called my shop he did, asking them if they would be so kind as to come pick up their brand new airman he did. An hour later, they had not. Staff Sergeant (SSgt) KindFellow called my shop again and politely informed the Technical Sergeant (TSgt) running the mid shift that he now had two choices: come and pick up your damn airman, or explain to his commander why HE was called in the middle of the night to pick up said airman (uh, yes, that would be me, perplexed, tired and befuddled).

Forthwith, said TSgt came and collected my tired self and drove me to my barracks. There to explain to me that my refrigerator needed to be cleaned once a week. Uh? What? It's 0530 in the blankety-blank morning, I've just been flown a gazillion miles from home, dropped on this semi-tropical isle, left in the MAC Terminal for two and a half freakin' hours, finally picked up and dropped here and you want to remind me to "clean the refrigerator"? Uh, thanks Sarge! There will be more tales of that particular individual. Back then I called him "The Drapire". That story will be told in these spaces. Eventually.

Now we were talking about that amazing, never moves, never pitches,yaws and rolls runway weren't we. Ya know that long paved thing without which it ain't really an Air Force base. (Well, unless it's a missile wing. Ya can't argue with that sort of firepower, runway or no!)

Now one of the goals of Ground Safety was to ensure that aircraft in the process of landing and taking off never had to share the runway with anything other than themselves. Driving ground vehicles onto the runway during flight operations was, shall we say, "frowned upon".

So it's a bright and shiny morning on Okinawa. The sun has just peeked over the horizon and the KC-135 tankers are rolling, going up to support the day's flying missions.

The Big Guy with 4 Engines is a KC-135, the Little'un is an F-16
KC-135's Are BIG Airplanes!

Now a KC-135 launching first thing in the morning from Kadena to support flying is what?
A) Loaded to the gills with jet fuel

B) Very, very heavy
C) Uses a lot of runway
D) All of the above.

Yes, (D) is the correct answer. Now there I am, enjoying the dawn, anticipating going off shift, a bit of breakfast and then indulging myself in some serious rack-time (sleep). As I look on, to my left a KC-135 begins her take-off roll. I am loving this, jet aircraft are never boring (at least not to me).

As the big jet accelerates, the amount of runway diminishes When loaded with fuel, the big fellas tend to use most (if not all) of the available runway.

I look to my right, sensing movement. Oh look, I says to myself, a maintenance van! Hhmm, why is he headed towards the runway? (Why did the maintenance van cross the runway. To get to the other side?) Now there is a "hold short" just beside the runway on the little access road leading to said runway. Common practice, nay, the LAW, states that vehicles wishing to cross the runway WILL contact the tower and WILL NOT proceed until cleared by the tower.

Hhmm, curious. The van has not stopped at the hold short but is continuing onwards, seemingly oblivious to the world outside the van. Perhaps he thinks that the KC-135 (which is rapidly approaching and has no hope in Hell of either stopping or leaping over something on the runway) can magically slam on the brakes and try again. Or perhaps leap, unicorn-like over the errant maintenance van and fly away on pixie dust. Uh, no, no chance.

So I realize that unless that van hauls a$$, I am about 500 yards away from watching a very large, fast-moving object (loaded with fuel) collide with a small van. Now it passes through my head that I wonder if I'm far enough away to survive what appears to be the inevitable disaster and thinking, "probably not". And it's far too late to run and just where would I run too?

Ah, so this is how it ends...

Nope, the driver of the maintenance van suddenly realizes he has committed a faux pas. So he (I'm guessing) floors the accelerator and just narrowly avoids being creamed by the tanker. For its part the tanker eventually lumbers skyward, intact. Though it would not surprise me if the aircrew may have needed to change their undergarments at some point in time.

I later heard that the driver had been cleared to cross the runway by an inattentive boob in the tower. Word on the flight line was that said inattentive boob won an all-expenses paid trip to "sunny" Shemya AFB in Alaska. Uh, sort of. Shemya is in the Aleutian chain of islands. Yeah, that little dot under the "A" below. (And yes that IS Russia to the left of the little island.)

Didn't matter that there wasn't much to do there. Sergeant Inattentive-boob was now Airman Inattentive-boob, yes demoted he was and his wallet lightened a certain amount as a "reward" for almost causing a catastrophe.

Now Shemya was NOT exactly a plum assignment. Rumor has it that it was "The" worst assignment in the Air Force. Buck may have some input on that, I wouldn't. All my assignments were nice. As a matter of fact, I don't think I had any crappy assignments in my 24 years.

But that's another story for another time.


  1. Great . You have a good way of putting humor into any story, especially how you were never so stupid as to pick up the antenna by the 'handles', no sir not ever.

    1. That IS my story and I AM sticking to it.

      (In my defense I never did it a third time. Really. Least not when anyone was looking.)

  2. Oh, my. A couple o' few things. I think that MSgt is either an ART or a Guardsman but I can't make out the patch on his fatigues. Very few active duty guys were allowed to wear their hair that long although SOME of us (who shall remain nameless) gave it the ol' college try and were constantly bein' told to "GET A FREAKIN' HARELIP, SERGEANT!" Or sumthin' like that.

    As for this... "... no Air Force maintainer ever got blown over the side of an Air Force base." Au contraire. The Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) radar community has countless stories o' guys bein' blown over the side o' mountains in places in Alaska that make Shemya seem like a garden spot, by comparison. This bein' one and a place I had orders to in 1977 (my duty section would have been at the tippy top o' that mountain). Those orders were cancelled and I was sent up to the NoDak/Montana/Saskatchewan border instead. But we digress...

    Speakin' o' Shemya... note the relative position of that garden spot to the BEST assignment I ever had in the AF (i.e., see here). Not much difference where climate is concerned, but we had sumthin' at Wakkanai AS that the guys at Shemya would have killed for: bars... staffed with lovely young Nipponese bar girls... AND we could bring our wives to the party.

    Great post and sorry if I kinda-sorta hijacked the thread. But ya know how war-stories are: one begets yet another. "There I was..."

    1. Ah, I was waitin' for ya to chime in!

      According to the original photo, picture was taken in '82. No way a guy on active duty would have hair that "long", at that time. Also the F-4Cs (IIRC) were all gone from the active inventory by that date. I'd just come home from Korea and we had been in the process of shipping out our F-4Ds.

      As to getting blown over the side of an AFB, I was thinking of A/C maintainers. And was thinking far too narrowly. As to Cape Newenham, *shiver* and OMG. Least-wise it's on the mainland. So I'd take it over Shemya. But avoid both if I could. And did, to my eternal relief.

      Interesting juxtaposition of possible worst, to your best. I would do a tour at Wakkanai any time. After all it IS Japan. And your stories of the place make it sound pleasurable.

      Buck, you're welcome to "hijack" a thread here anytime. I put "hijack" in quotes because I truly think your input would only make things more interesting, if not downright better.

      And I so do love the "There I was..." stories.

      Just sayin'...

  3. I was in college with a guy who served on Shemya (and this is the second time in two days I've seen same in a post).
    His personality is such that I totally understand why he was at Shemya (I mean besides the fact that he was taught Russian by the U.S. Army).

    1. Yes, I can see why Shemya would have lots of Russian-speakers who were also US citizens (as opposed to the native variety Russian-speaker.) Them and (as I understood it) numerous ne'er-do-wells who had somehow offended the gods of the Air Force. Someone to cater to the Russian-speakers no doubt.

  4. The infamous military artist, Mike Fay, told me once that when he got orders to go to Oklahoma, he was confused - thinking they must have meant Okinawa. It was wishful thinking on his part.

    1. "The" Mike Fay as in "Michael Fay, official US Marine war artist", that Mike Fay?


      As a Marine I would be puzzled seeing "Oklahoma" versus "Okinawa" on a set of orders.

      Okinawa is crawling with Marines (on a Saturday night downtown, that would be literally "crawling with Marines" or "Marines crawling", something like that.)

      Oklahoma, not so much.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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