Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Shhhhh, guess whose birthday is coming up!

Hi everyone!
This is Taco's Mama, and I wanted to alert you that Taco's birthday is this Friday so swamp him with greetings in the comment section! He doesn't know I'm posting this so don't be surprised to hear the hollering all the way from Texas to Virginia when he finds out what I've done (at the urging of the Church Ladies, of course!!). Let's have some fun!!

Hugs to all!
Taco's Mama

He hasn't changed much since he was four and eight years old--mischievous as usual!!!

Hey Guys,
I want to thank you all for the awesome Birthday wishes and also thanks to my Momma Taco for the nice surprise! I’ve been in the simulators battling flaming engines and thunderstorms as part of the nine month check that all airline pilots must undergo to continue to fly.

It’s funny though, I was thinking back to my tenth birthday, when we lived in Little Creek Virginia on the Naval Amphibious Base next to lake Bradford. My Dad was out to sea on the U.S.S. San Diego, a supply ship plying the Atlantic Ocean, so he missed the party where we terrorized our neighborhood for a few hours. When we had my birthday party, my uncle Bruce who flew F-14’s at the time and took after my Grandfather, six foot seven, joined us. His call sign was “Big Bird” due to his size and I was always bugging him to take me flying in his Cherokee 140 that he ended up selling to me years later. Bruce went down to his boys in the Flight Riggers shop and grabbed a bunch of stuff that they had “Surveyed” a term in the military that means it’s trash and would be chucked. So after we blew out the candles on the cake, Bruce starts pulling out all sorts of cool stuff. Mind you, we lived on a military base and played Army in the woods every chance we had so when he gave me all this survival equipment that a jet pilot would wear, I was in seventh heaven!!

The SV-2, survival vest contained a compass, the standard survival knife (very cool) a signal mirror, sea dye markers, shark repellant, and survival flares. This was going to elevate me to the top of being super cool with my friends when they saw all of this. Bruce then took me outside to demonstrate the flares. They were about the size of a soda can, a bit thinner though, and he showed me that if it was night time and you were splashing around in the ocean, you could tell which end was the night flare because of the bumps around the edge. He pulls the tab fires up these flares. Now when these things ignite up, they spew out a flame about three feet long. It lit up my backyard and probably made the neighbors wonder what the hell was going on over there…

After about four of these burned out we flipped them over to do the day portion. When he pulled the tabs on these, orange smoke started pouring out. I mean the whole backyard filled up with smoke and it began to spread out from the back side of the house to the street. By the third and fourth flare, our whole section of the neighborhood was cloaked in an orange mist that would make Steven King proud. What was neat for a ten year old, but didn’t impress the local cops or MP’s who were driving around with their search lights on looking for the source of this smoke. My Uncle ushered me back inside the house as he tossed the spent flares into the trash. Then he giggled like a school girl as he drank beer and watched the keystone cops frantically drive around outside. We never got in trouble for that one, but the following summer when I let the sea dye markers out into the ocean at the Officers beach and all the kids and their parents came out of the water stained bright red, well that was a different story.

Those are some great birthday memories which made a lasting impression in my minds eye. Thanks again for the birthday wishes you guys, you made my day! If any of you are flying from DFW to LAX the next three nights and returning at five in the morning (LA all nighter) look up front and say hello.

Semper Fi, Taco

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Turkey time, Amen

Hey Guys,
I just wanted to wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving! I have been blessed with a wonderful family and a wife who is willing to raise our children and put her dreams of nursing aside till the children are older. My parents who are there at our beck and call to help us out when they come visit and my In-laws who treat me as their own son. I can say that life is good here. I have a friend,Jim Adams, who has gone over for another tour in Iraq. I started to put his message up about how things are but I’m going to wait because he has promised to write a longer piece and be my guest writer/eyes there.

As you all sit down for dinner this Thanksgiving, please remember our troops in Harm’s way and say a prayer for them. If you are flying this vacation and on a big silver 737-800, look for me up in the cockpit, for I will be in my office the next four days. Take care and I have a couple of posts in the works for your entertainment. Until then if you are new to the Sandgram, go back and read the older posts, they might bring a smile to your face.
Semper Fi,

Friday, November 09, 2007

Happy Birthday Marines!

Hey Guys,
November tenth is the birthday of our beloved Corps. So far I have attended a ball, (minus the wife but able to take my Dad and Uncle-both Navy) and some other smaller celebrations that included hearing a speech by former CMC Hagee and a few beers hoisted up over a nice cigar with a few buddies named “Chuck the Asst. D.A.,” “Fred the Fed,” “Steve the Cop,” “Perry the Diver” and “Simon the Retired.” All have ties with the Corps and it was an awesome time as we told lies and sat in our overstuffed leather chairs smoking a ten-dollar cigar. They always say that if you have two Marines together, they will celebrate the birth of their Corps with as much gusto as former President Clinton when he found he had a new intern (or that his wife was taking a trip to NYC for the weekend). Either way, we have a good time.

It’s a hard date to forget after so many balls and pageants over the years. Funny though, the true litmus test for a person claiming to be a Marine is to ask them what is the actual day of the Marine Corps Birthday. We were having lunch for the second time at a new local Italian place in Fort Worth, and had the same waitress, a young gal named Lynn who claimed that she, too, was a Marine. The first time I talked to her, I didn’t press the issue since we were about to leave. The next time was last Sunday, after the ball. She proudly stated again that she was a Marine who got out after three years when she heard us talking about the Military. My Uncle, 6’ 5” and a former RIO in the F-14, asks across the table, “Hey when is the Marine Corps Birthday?” she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t remember that little stuff.” Now I was pretty sure that this semi-cute young thing was lying through her teeth. Not sure if she thought it would bring a better tip, I asked her, “Where did you go to boot camp?” She beamed and said, “Pendleton, of course.”

I didn’t want to bust her in front of my in-laws and family (plus we didn’t have our food yet) so I waited until I was driving home from one of the cake-cutting ceremonies in my Dress Blues and decided to stop by the restaurant. I flagged her down and asked her to come over. “Lynn, while I appreciate you wanting to be a Marine, if you are going to lie about it, first Google the Corps and find out the date of it’s inception, because EVERY Marine knows that. Second, women only attend Boot Camp in Paris Island.” You could see the shame in her eyes, and she started to explain something, but I just said goodbye and turned around to leave.

Now this Saturday, November tenth will be a different story. I am flying to San Antonio with a good buddy named Paulie, in our Government-issued KC 130T. Our mission is to pick up six young Marines who were wounded in Iraq, and fly them to a football game up here in North Texas. Ross Perot and his son are helping organize this through the Wounded Warrior group. They are going to watch the University of North Texas play the Naval Academy. I think it’s an awesome thing, and it’s one of those flights that I can’t wait to make happen. I can bet you a million dollars, that these heroes know the meaning of the tenth of November!
To all of you Marines out there, I wish you a very Happy Birthday, for you are looking good for being 232 years…
Semper Fi,

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Skipper

I have to say that out of all of my jobs in the Marine Corps, I look back at my time with MWSS 274 as the Air Ops OIC in Cherry Point as my favorite one hands down. I was an old hand at VMGR 252 and a boot Captain which made me ripe for a FAP billet. The Fleet Assistant Program is when the base or units in your Wing need extra bodies to fill certain Officer and Enlisted billets. Basically it can mean not flying for a year or so while you go play with the Grunts down at Camp Lejeune most of the time.

Reporting to Sunshine, our XO after lunch, he informs the three most senior copilots that there are two FAC (forward air controllers) jobs down at Camp Lejeune and one FAP job on base at Cherry Point with MWSS 274. We all knew that Zeke, the Assistant S-3 Officer, never flew and he hated his job there. Nobody wanted to replace him and we all hoped that the job would just go away. My two buddies jumped on the FAC jobs like a hobo on a ham sandwich before I had a chance to say boo. We all walked out and shook hands to say goodbye. They would be gone from Cherry Point for 15 months or so and I was only going to be away for a year. You would think that my option was the best, but you have to understand the pain a pilot feels when you are chained to a desk while your buds all flew to Rota Spain, Germany, England, Iceland and all the cool places in the world. They like to rub salt in your wounds at the O’Club about it too. At least if you were gone on a ship, you don’t have to see the planes flying over head taunting you.

I checked out of my Squadron, put on my green dress Alpha’s to go report in for my new job. I stuck my head into the Adjutants office, a young second Lieutenant and asked if the boss was around. Nodding, he made a phone call and announced my presence. The C.O. was a LtCol and proud of his school that was located in some small town in Maryland called Annapolis, you could tell by all the blue and gold stuff on the wall.

He proceeded to tell me that while the KC130 pilot normally fills the S-3a job there at HQ, he was short an Officer to fill the Air Ops OIC position that is a Captain/Major’s job because the ECMO from VMAQ 2 (backseater guy in the jammer sqd) was stuck on the boat and two months late returning. So I would take that job and he would get the S-3a when he returned. I thanked the CO for the chance to work for him and excused myself to check out my new diggs.

The Air Ops was located right down the street from my Squadron and next to our simulator building. It was a large brick warehouse that housed all the stuff you needed to outfit an airfield during wartime in some far off country. I had seventy Marines under my charge, a salty Warrant Officer and a slew of Staff NCO’s. For the first time in my career as a Marine I really felt like an Officer. Over at the Sqd, you worked with older senior enlisted Marines for the most part and here I had the whole range of guys from brand new out of boot camp,to ready to retire to one SSgt who was on the ROAD program (retired on active duty) which all made for some interesting times.

That week, I snapped in and toured all of my “Assets” which ranged from guys at the PMO-military police, EOD-bomb guys, ATC-air traffic control, gas trucks etc. They set up a demo in the field located next to my warehouse and filled these big rubber bladders with gas to show me what my boys did and how they did it. The Gunny from my gas section escorted Gene my Warrant Officer and I over to this big 18 wheeler for the brief on gas. I walked up to introduce myself to PFC Geddy who was from West Virginia. Now Geddy had that sort of Pig Pen look about him, not that he was really dirty, but you could say he had a layer of dust on him, smudges of oil and grime on his face giving him a weathered darker complexion that made his really blue eyes stand out.

“OK Geddy, lets pretend that my KC-130 pulls up and you are going to give him some gas, how do you do this operation?”
Geddy gets very excited and turns around pointing to a set of valves on the side of the truck. “Weeeeell Siiiiir,” in a long slow Hillbilly accent “If I’s want to pass some gas to you, well I open the H valve here then turn on the L valve and You should be getting gas lickety split Sirrrrrrrrr.”

I’m looking at him impressed that he knew the names of the valves inside his truck. They made us memorize all the valves in the wing of the KC 130 too (like it would make a difference in flight) looking over his shoulder, I notice that the valves letters are stenciled on top of the piping, so I tap him on the arm so that he turned around. “OK Geddy, without looking, what happens if your sphincter valve is clogged, how do you bypass that so you can let your gas out?”

Geddy’s eyes sort of bulged out of their sockets and then proceeded to blink in a rapid motion. Sweat starts to glisten on the side of his head and he lowers his eyes and sways from foot to foot. I wink at the Gunny and Gene who are trying not to laugh. Geddy looks back up to me and says in a panicked look “Siiirr the SPINKTER valve?” I nod yes, he pauses for a second and then says “Sir, this Marine doesn’t know the answer but I will find out.”
I thank him for a great demo and walk off to the next piece of equipment set up. As we walking away, I can hear the Gunny chewing old Geddy “What do you mean you don’t how to bypass the Sphincter valve Geddy??? Take this truck back to the barn and pull out the manual for it. Don’t come out of the office till you find the Captains answer.”
Poor kid was in that office for the rest of the day trying to find that bypass valve so that he could fart.

They held inspections every morning and I loved this part the most. I would go around and ask current event questions each day, stuff that I had read in USA TODAY that morning over my cup of coffee. Simple stuff, “Who is the President of Russia?” What country just had a coup? How many feet in a mile? All sorts of off the wall stuff. It became a big game for the guys. I had two Marines cut out current articles from my paper in the morning and post them on the wall next to the bathroom. Then they would post the sports over the urinal. They figured out that I would ask questions relating to what was posted on the wall.

That first week was a blast and on Friday I dropped the bomb on them. After chow, I told the MasterSgt to have the guys and gals form up in the PT field at 1500 (three O’clock for you Air Force readers) for a nice six mile run. You could hear the bitching and moaning all the way into my office about the new Skipper making them run at 1500 on Friday (this guy was suppose to be laid back, he was a pilot for Christ sakes). We formed up and took off for our run down the side road to a nice wooded area about a mile from the warehouse. There was my Warrant Officer with my pickup truck parked in the shade of a tree. In the bed of my truck was a keg of beer and a ton of cups. I told the Marines to grab a brew and form a school circle around the truck.

“Ok Marines, here is the deal just so you know what I’m all about. I believe in work hard, play hard, but there are also things that we need to do to run smoothly. First of all, when you go out in town, you will have a designated driver. I kid you not about this. Draw straws, hook up with a Mormon, do whatever it takes to have one sober driver in your group. If that person screws up and drinks, then you take a cab home to the base. If you have spent all of your money down at "Honey's" the local strip joint, then you will call the Gunny, then the MasterSgt or the Warrant Officer and finally me for a pick up. I would rather drive down from New Bern to the Beach to pickup my drunk Marines then to grab your sorry drunk butt out of jail. It’s all about taking care of one another. We might have you waxing our cars during lunch hour for the ride, but that is a small price to pay for being alive and not in jail. I’m not worried about the beer here because I plan on sweating it out of you on the way back to the hooch. If you have any problems, bring them up the chain of command. I’m all about hearing first hand about a problem rather then getting a call from my boss the Col about it later. Accountability is another biggie. Always let someone know where you are going over the weekend and give them a recall number in case we have to get a hold of you. We are Marines and if we have to fly out for some action somewhere, I’d hate for you to be U.A. and miss all the fun. Finally, I believe in taking care of my guys. You take care of me and I take of you. Don’t break my rules about drinking and we’ll have a great time this year. That’s all, enjoy the beer.” We smoked and joked about being a pilot then headed back to the barn after a couple of beers.

I never had a problem during my time there. Every Monday morning at the CO’s brief, we would go around the table and my peers would have to explain how a couple of their boys were in jail for drinking or fighting. They would ask me and I answered, “Nothing to pass Sir.” I would love to attribute this to my outstanding leadership, but really it was a case of being lucky and I would rather be lucky then good anyday…
More to come on this job later.
Semper Fi,