Monday, July 1, 2013

Ma Vie Militaire - Okinawa (Part One)

In February of 1976 I landed in Japan. At Haneda International in Tokyo to be precise. That was just one more waypoint among many on my trip from New England to the Far East. My final destination was Kadena Air Base on the island of Okinawa. What was originally an 18 month tour became a 2 and a half year odyssey. In a manner of speaking.

But when I arrived in Tokyo, the sun was just setting, the angle I saw it from the aircraft was slightly to the left of what (I assumed) was the main terminal building. Upon that building was a large sign which said "Welcome to Tokyo". Pretty spectacular, one of the times in my life I wish I had had a camera on me. But after about 20 hours in the air, I noted it and said "cool". It must have been, that scene is still fresh in my mind.

Joni Mitchell's The Hissing of Summer Lawns was popular at the time (album had been released in November of '75). This song is still a favorite - 

(Yes, that was an almost totally random musical interlude, but the song was current at the time. And it kinda fits.)
But there I was, sunset in Japan. But it was going to be a little longer before I reached Okinawa. Five or six hours longer as I recall. Finally we arrived, at Naha airport, which is a bit south of the base (IIRC). So after the usual immigration/arrival run-arounds, which always seem to involve at least one asshole, I was on an Air Force Blue Goose to the MAC Terminal at Kadena. (MAC = Military Airlift Command, they don't call it that anymore. I'm sure I knew the new name at some point. But I thought it sucked so I promptly forgot it. Hell, I'm still pissed at SAC being dismantled, reorganized and renamed! TAC was a "don't care", never belonged to that outfit. My major commands were PACAF, SAC and NATO. PACAF being, of course, Pacific Air Forces, my home of nearly 8 years.)

The Blue Goose
Mine Was Similar to This, But a Lot Cleaner

(Picture is from Danang)

I guess it made sense for the Blue Goose to drop me at the MAC terminal, for my squadron to collect me therefrom I suppose. As it turned out, my shop was "too busy" to come get me. So I cooled my heels from the late hours of the night to the wee hours of the morning. Until the Air Force Security Policeman (SP) on duty at the terminal took pity on me. I'm thinking he realized I was a newbie on his first assignment and had probably suffered similar treatment upon his arrival. Since that day I've always had a soft spot for the SPs.

MAC Terminal Kadena AB, Okinawa

He asked me which unit I was going to, "18th Avionics Maintenance Squadron". And which shop? "Weapons Control Systems." So the young buck sergeant (three stripes back then, we don't have those anymore) made a phone call, announcing the presence of myself , a brand new Airman, one each. "And would you please come collect this individual?"

An hour passes, no joy. The sergeant makes another call, this time he is not that polite. Tells the chap on the other end that he has two choices, "Come collect your airman or I will have my guys come collect you. If your airman has to spend the night in the terminal, you can spend the night in jail!"

Literally less than 15 minutes later enters Technical Sergeant (TSgt) Draper. The night-shift supervisor and the WCS Shop's general all-around asshole. It's been 37 years but I still remember that SOB. No "Welcome to the 18th, Airman Newbie", no sir, it's sit on my ass in the MAC terminal for four hours after Lord knows how many hours of traveling and then a trip in a Step Van to the barracks.

Along the way TSgt Asshole Draper pointed out the 70-plus F-4 Phantoms that we maintained and joyfully pointed out that we worked 12-hour shifts because "that's the way we did it in Thailand, during the war".

Just a few of those 70-plus F-4s
(This photo was taken at Kadena during the time frame I was there. I "borrowed" it.)

Though this is Holloman in New Mexico,
the row of Phantoms brings back memories!

"Anybody point out to you that the war is over, dip-wad?" I grumbled.

"Excuse me Airman?" inquired His Lordship.

"Nothing, I was just musing as to how many aircraft you have here," I responded.

So we arrived at the barracks. Everybody had their own room. Mine was probably the worst room in the barracks. Paint was peeling from the freaking ceiling and was kind of everywhere. The good TSgt got me a key, some linen, showed me to my room and announced, "You need to clean that refrigerator every week, Airman!" And then he stormed off. Probably had to get back to the shop and be a prick. He was good at that.

The Barracks Behind Mine
(It rained like this a lot at Kadena!)

What my ceiling looked like.
I just looked at him and after he left mumbled "Welcome to Okinawa" as I stood there, bed fixin's in hand, paint dropping around me, wondering what the Hell I had gotten myself into.

Things did get better. But that's a tale for another time.


  1. My one flight, courtesy of the gov't, was MATS (Military Air Transport Service), from Travis to Hickham.
    Arrived Hickham at 11pm was finally delivered to my ship at around 10am the next day.
    On the plus side, the AF put me up in a transit barracks for the night and fed me breakfast in the morning.

    1. Ah yes, MATS was the predecessor to MAC. Now that I think about it, I believe MAC became AMC, the Air Mobility Command. I'm guessing because the Military Airlift Command sounded too butch. My belief is that when they changed SAC to STRATCOM and TAC to whatever it became they had to change MAC. We had SAC, TAC and MAC, changed two names why not change all three. Probably kepy 1500 staffers in the Pentagon busy for at least 3 years!

  2. In February of 1976 I landed in Japan.

    I was stationed just down the road a piece at Yokota, but I was in the midst of a four-month TDY to Chiang Mai at that very moment. It's entirely possible we MAY have seen each other in the ensuing year... but highly improbable... as I transited Okinawa a couple o' times in route to other garden spots on the Pacific Rim. We always seemed to spend a few hours in the MAC terminal... on one occasion a full day... waiting for a "connecting flight," and I use the term VERY loosely.

    I dunno about you, but my buds and I used to go down to the MAC terminal at Yokota for coffee about twice a day, mainly coz (a) it was a short walk from our shop on the flight line (don't ask why an E&I outfit had a shop on the flight line, but we DID) and (b) the scenery was pretty good in the terminal. It might could have been different at Kadena. So: possible, ne?

    1. The MAC terminal at Kadena was popular for many of the reasons you state.

      They had good burgers too as I recall.

      I did the NCO Leadership School thang at Yokota, I think that was in 1980. Damn but that was a long time ago.

    2. I think that was in 1980.

      I was LONG gone from Yokota, bein' in Ol' Blighty in mid-1980 after assignments to NoDak (ptui!) and North Bend, OR (Yays!).

    3. I never did get an assignment to the UK. Did spend a nice week in London with the WSO though.

  3. Great story. I dunno why but it always makes me smile when I read about other peoples aggravations ( your 'dipwad, a$$hole Tech. Sgt...waiting forever to be picked up..etc etc).... I'll never be confused for Mother Teresa.


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

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