Thursday, May 31, 2007

"T" Model

Let’s talk about my plane today. The mighty KC-130 has been around for almost fifty years or so and they are still pumping the latest version, the “J” model, out of the Lockheed plant in Georgia. Rumor has it that the reserves will start getting the “J” model in the next few years so that we can be compatible with our active duty folks, less of a parts nightmare when we deploy to the gulf. Right now we fly the "T" model in the reserves, a great plane but getting a bit worn out.

The old planes that I flew in the fleet in the early nineties were the “F” and “R” models, which were built, in the early sixties and early eighties. Believe it or not I liked them better than our newer planes in a couple of ways. One reason I liked them better was because they had a “Pisser”. When you had to go to the bathroom you tapped your partner on the arm, gave him the hand sign that you were going to the back and if you were nice, you asked if he wanted a cup of coffee so he would have to go next. Then you sat on the flight deck platform, hopped off into the cargo bay and worked your way back to the ramp of the plane. There you opened a little green covered swing door, dropped the floor plate and stepped up to the urinal drain. All that was required of you was to lift up the small lid to the drain and suction would begin. As you evacuated your bladder the urine would vaporize out of the tail of the plane in to the atmosphere.

Once you were done you reached up and took a handful of water from the emergency water supply (they looked like large coffee pots and were stored along the sides) to wash your hands. This was a great system in my mind because you were able to stretch your legs for a minute and the pee was gone. Now days they have these two big stainless steel vats up front at the bulkhead behind the cockpit. Someone decided when the new planes were built that the urine vapor caused too much corrosion so it should be self-contained. So, you stare at the wall with twenty guys (and sometimes girls) trying not to look at you. What they didn’t count on was volume. See, if you have over twenty guys flying for eight hours or more, you fill up these vats pretty fast. It then becomes a big rush to collect all the plastic bottles out of the trash for waste container duty…

We haven’t even touched on how you drop a flight suit for the ole number two. Maybe, another day, I will share this story though. I always carry a hammock on the long trips and string it up over the ramp area. When it’s my break from flying (three or more pilots) I go back, jump in my sleeping bag, put my eyeshade on and crash. One day when I went back to take a pee and my sleep break I saw this jet guy we were hauling to Norway asleep in my bag, in my hammock with my eyeshade cover on, drooling. I thought that was kind of ballsy to just use my stuff and not ask so I took a small handful of water from the emergency tank and flicked it at his head a couple of feet away. As the water hit his face and woke him up he looked for the source of those drops. Turning his head, he saw me standing on the platform next to the urinal; my flight suit unzipped and “Mr. Johnson” shaking in his direction. Have you ever seen someone try to get out of a small hammock fast? They become very unbalanced and sort of get dumped out. That’s what happened to our F-18 pilot as he fell a few feet to the hard metal ramp. Of course he thought I had sprayed him, but when I showed him that he was hit with water not pee he calmed down a bit. I told him to find another spot for this one was mine.

See, now that we don’t have that pisser anymore, you can’t play those good old fun and games like you use to. Oh well, I’ll have to think of some more.
Semper Fi,

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

I just want to say thanks for all that you have done for the US and her service men/women. As I sit and watch “Patton” on AMC, I am reminded that we can win all wars with the right attitude.
Semper Fi,

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Last Leg home

Aubrey was her name

The last leg home on this month-long journey was punctuated with slight bumps as we slowly plowed across the tops of the clouds. The sound of Bread played into my headset as I sat at the Radio Operator’s table thinking of this past month. There are many people out there who know my feelings right now. As a single guy back in my early days in the Corps, I lived for the road trip. Always keeping my suitcase packed in the trunk of my car with all the proper gear for a flight that could encompass the cold of Iceland or the warm beaches of Rota, Spain.
Now as a forty-something man, home is truly where the heart is. I married a beautiful woman whose heart far exceeds the bounds of normal love. The past ten years have flown by with a trip every three days to cities all over our great country. It wasn’t until I came back into the Marine Corps and took a trip over to Iraq, seven thousand miles away, that I realized what the most important thing in life is--being home, watching the kids run around, or the gentle hugs of my wife as she walks by.
We all take these trips for our job. Make the sacrifices, miss birthdays or holidays. It’s a lucky thing that my spouse understands this. I grew up with my father taking off on a Mediterranean cruises lasting six months at a time. That was just the way it worked in the Bell household as a kid. He is fortunate to be married to a very strong, independent woman as well who kept the home fires burning while he was gone.
I guess that the heart grows fonder with distance and I’m sure these feelings have been shared by men and women for thousands of years who took to the sea, military life, or sell medical supplies around the world. It’s a common thread amongst people in our profession. The only regret I have is not being able to share these experiences with “Tee,” my wife, on a daily basis. My words can’t express the feelings of joy as you do something you love like flying 250 miles an hour, five hundred feet above the surface of the earth, cresting mountain ridges and coasting back into the valley below. Gliding between giant cumulus clouds as they billow into the sky, boiling forth like some erupting volcano of cotton. Also, the good feeling of the final few feet as the plane settles down on the pavement of the runway with hardly any noticeable contact.
The unbearable moments are when you hear your child’s voice over the phone asking when you’ll be home; watching a family play the park together in some far off city. Those sights and sounds make the journey harder still. That is when I would hang up my wings just to return home that instant. I realize that you only have a few years with them before they move on. One day, as they read my words, I hope they understand what pulls a father away from his home.
We would all give up everything we own, just to be home once again. To all of you out there who share these feelings, do you not agree that the last leg home is always the hardest? The anticipation of what awaits you. It’s a bittersweet feeling knowing that this won’t be the last trip in your lifetime. I just wonder if I will ever lose my yearning to take off to the skies and if I do, will I miss it?
Semper Fi,

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Dark Days Ahead

Until today, I believed that we were winning the war and that it was in fact winnable, but I came across official correspondence today that offers irrefutable proof this is no longer the case. The situation here is obviously untenable -some might say hopeless, as evidenced by the desperate measures that have been taken at the highest levels in Washington - measures I never believe our leadership would ever enact, at least not in my lifetime. This situation has been brewing for some time now and it involves officers at the highest levels, including elected officials and even the Commander in Chief. They were able to keep the incident secret up until now but it is only a matter of time until the press gets a hold of it. It will be impossible for me to deny that I actively participated in what transpired. When the time comes, I will accept responsibility for my actions. I am confident, however, that nothing will happen to me for several months. Numerous lawyers from more than one Service component have examined the situation and there is nothing any of them can do to change it. It's a very simple matter of law. I must admit that I never thought I would ever be put in this position. In so many ways it seems like a dream. Please do not let this incident cause you to lose faith in the leadership of this country. You must understand that the chain of command did what they could given the information they had. Please do not blame President Bush or anyone in the Marine Corps. If you must blame anyone, blame me. And blame this damned war. I am convinced that none of this would have happened had it not been for this damned war. So far the situation has gone as high as Rumsfeld and although he did not address me personally, I received word from one of his subordinates who stated in a very terse message: ".the following named officers on the Reserve status list of the Marine Corps have been selected for promotion to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel."
My name is on that list...
Semper Fi,
Thanks to my good friend Tom, for this great piece

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Trixx are for kids

Hey guys,
Just wanted to say hi from Korat Thailand! This det has been fun but the best part is hijacking a Thai internet signal and chatting with my wife and folks via MSN messenger. I was finally able to get the mic and video phone to work this morning and talked to Mom and Dad for about an 1/2 hour. That was great! Wanted to chat with Teresa but she was in bed already. After I talk to her last night, right before she went to work (we are 12 hours ahead of Texas), we were attacked by swarms of bugs. The building I was in was infested with these dime sized termite looking winged bugs. There were thousands on every window and we had to shut the lights off to keep them from attacking. So here we were in the dark, with the only light coming from my computer screen and hundreds of bugs in the room flying into the side of your head. Well, when I walked home, it was a mile and half stroll, in the pitch black night. As I walked along, (in the dark cause my flashlight is busted) I kept hearing a crunching sound underfoot. A car finally came along and when the headlights played out in front of me, the entire road was moving. I mean it was flowing. There were creepy crawly things, millipedes, giant beetles, frogs and these termite bugs. I just walked as fast as I could and tried not to think of the bugs I turned into road pizza.

Yesterday and the day before we flew low levels over Thailand in the Herc at 500 feet. It was a rush to pass over these rice paddies and small towns. The farmers would all look up and wave at us. The cattle would get spooked and run, those farmers didn't wave at us, I think they gave us another international type of Hello. The Aerial Drop platoon had made two pallets of water that weighed about 1,500 pounds each. We dropped them over the LZ on each pass at the end of our low level. The dummies parked their trucks about ten yards from the drop zone, so on the second pass we slide over on our track and dropped them almost on top of their cars. You could see them running as this bundle of water came out of the back of our plane at 1,000 feet and landed only yards from where they were standing around, smoking cigarettes next to these small Thai pickup trucks. We caught some flak over that but they really couldn't complain because they were parked right next to the drop zone being lazy so they didn’t have to walk far in the heat.

Then as we were zooming off, we notice one of these giant Buddha's on a hill to our right. "hey, let's get some shots of that" so we did a nice wing over in the Herc and came back along the ridge where this hundred foot gold Buddha was looking over the peaceful rice lands.

We started to head back when the Thai's announced that thunderstorms had over taken the airfield. Since it was a giant isolated cell, we were ok 20 miles north of the airport and just flew around the country side over our low level route at 500 feet. If we saw something of interest, we'd turn and check it out. The funny thing that sticks out in my mind, as we cruised up the valley with ridges on either side of us was the trees. There in the middle of a plowed field would stand one lone tree that must have been over 150 to 200 feet tall. It would have this ball of leaves right on the top and that was it. Almost like they trimmed it all the way to the top. Why it would be in the middle of their plowed fields was the top question we had.

We got into the field before the second thunderstorm hit and a wall of rain turned the whole base to a giant puddle. The Marines spend a lot of time in the Canteen where they make our meals. The Thai food is awesome here, the chairs padded, and mild AC relieves the hot temp outside, so it's our hangout. Don't ask for an American Omelet though, better to just ask for scrambled eggs and bacon. They will wash our clothes once a day here, up to 9 pieces max.

We had a mixer with the Thai Officers a couple of nights ago. Here is a shot of me and "Trixx" who fly's the F-16. It cracked us up, because all the Thai-jet guys have these goofy call-signs that they think are tough and hard sounding. Some that stick out in my mind were "CaveMan" "DeathMaster" “DieHard” but the best I thought was "Delay" because they said he was slow in the jet (thinking wise) They didn’t know what Taco Bell was so they must think mine was plenty dumb. I could see them now, “Why didn’t he just go by KFC if he wants to be named after a fast food joint.”

Trixx said that XXX was already taken when he got to the Squadron, so he was Tri-XX, He wondered why I laughed so hard, and I told him that in the States, Trixx's were for kids. He didn't like it that I was comparing his tough call-sign to a kids cereal and not the Van Diesel movie by the name of XXX. Ha!!! I liked him though. Oh yeah, I put my apt up for sale and have had a couple of offers. The picture of a dirt road was where we dumped out the bundles. If you follow it up, on the right side is an orange A that is sideways, and the left are their cars I was telling you about that we almost smashed.

I wish that I was there. Its fun hanging out with the guys again but Home is where my heart is.
Semper Fi,

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A nut for a nut

Well Gang,
I’m finally over in Khorat Thailand after a long 40 hour flight over the water. I was lucky enough to meet up with Gunny John and his awesome wife the second night I was in Okinawa Japan. We had dinner at one of those little places where you sit down and cook your own meat over this little fire pit. It's all you can eat for about nineteen dollars, really not bad for Japanese prices. I know he talked about it on his blog, but you really build a great friendship writing and it’s not often that you actually get to meet the face at the other end of the computer. So now I figure it’s my mission in life to fly around the world and say hi to all our blogger Brothers and Sisters in arms!!

I have been asked what it is like to fly over the Pacific, for forty hours. I mean, what do you do up in the cockpit all that time. Well, as we stare out the window at the countless white caps, we play little thought games over the ICS (intercom) to pass the time. Mind you, there are sometimes over ten people on this group line and the answers come so fast that you might now know who said what. I’ll pass on an actual conversation that we had from Japan to Thailand during the eight hours. The funny thing is this might go strong for about an hour and then die out only to be brought back to life a little later.
The guy I’m flying with was in the left seat this leg, he clicks his interphone and fires the first shot.
“If you could throw anyone out of the back of the Herk, who would you toss?”
From the line comes the following exchange, all different people, so I couldn’t even tell you who they were.
“The first person I’d toss is Rosie, that fat pig”
“Screw that, Hillary would have to be first, then maybe tie a line to Rosie and take her second”
“I have to ask, can we do a group dump or would we have to come down and land to pick up each person? I only ask because we might exceed the monthly allotted flight time for the Herk and be forced to ask Congress for more money.”
“That’s a good question, how about a group dump and we set up a pay-for-view deal to offset the cost and try to recoup some of the money the Gov’t spends to let us fly?”
“Oh that would be rocking, put a little helmet cam showing their face as we toss them out the back and watch them put little holes in the desert.”
“How about starting on the West coast and working our way to DC? That way we can take all those know it all Hollywood idiots and give them a free ride.”
“Yeah, I’m up for that. Send that chick, oh what’s her name? Married to that chicken shit…Tim Robbins, … oh it’s Susan Sarandon, I’d toss them first.”
“No way, Sean Penn would be on my list first. He’s a traitor!”
“God, you guys are forgetting Jane Fonda. I know you aren’t Fonda of Hanoi Jane.”
“Hey boss, I don’t think we’d have enough room back here for all the Asswipes in Hollywood.”
“I know, but we could make a damn fine start.”
“Well I still say that we toss Rosie first, but we should strap her in a car and then put a camera mounted on the dash so you can watch her ride all the way down. I know the average American would pay big money for that…I mean that’s real entertainment if you ask me.”
“Must see TV”
“I’d cancel my check to green peace for that.”
“I’d give my left nut”
“A nut for Rosie? That would be an over kill. I’d just give up smoking.”
“I wouldn’t even give up my worst enemy’s nut for that pig.”
“Well, can I tie a line from her to your nut? That is if you were willing to give up one.”
“You guys are sick….”

This banter will go on forever. That is just a sample of what you might hear over the intercom system on a long trip with a bunch of Marines. The language is a bit more graphic, I had to tone it down, but you get the idea.

I hope that you all have a great day; I’ll send more updates from Thailand as the week goes on.
Semper Fi,