Saturday, September 15th, 2001

Here’s a funny thing: To fly the military charter flight into Misawa from the States, you actually fly PAST Misawa to Tokyo, land there and wait several hours in the terminal – well, of course you do! – and when you take of again, you head south to Okinawa, where once again you wait several hours in a passenger terminal before you finally get back on the plane and head north to Misawa, where you land some six or seven hours after you flew over it in the first place.

Needless to say, security was tight. Armed Air Force Security Police boarded the plane when we landed at Yokota AB in Tokyo, and a rep from the pax terminal gave us a thorough briefing before we were allowed to leave the plane. Yokota was HOT! The humidity must’ve been near 100%, and the pax terminal wasn’t air conditioned. I peeled off the long-sleeved shirt, fleece and coat I’d been wearing on the plane and sat panting as sweat puddled around me, knowing that I would turn into a popsicle as soon as I got back on the plane and the sweat froze to my skin.

We landed at Iwakune, a Marine air station in southern Japan. Once again, armed guards boarded the plane and a pax terminal rep briefed us, and WOW! Were they wrapped up tight! He told us not to leave the plane without our IDs and boarding passes. If we did, we would not be allowed into the terminal and we would not be allowed to re-board the plane. I guess we’d just have to stand there on the tarmac for the rest of our lives. He advised us to take only what bags and baggage we absolutely needed, because it would all be opened and everything inside would be searched. He reminded us not to leave our IDs and boarding passes. He cautioned us to go directly from the plane to the terminal and not to sneak off for a smoke or to look for a toilet, because the armed guards would jack us up. He reminded us not to leave our IDs and boarding passes. He noted that the bathrooms were to the left inside the pax terminal, past the snack bar. Lots of ears pricked up at the mention of a snack bar, as we hadn’t been fed since we left Alaska. He then added that the snack bar was closed. He reminded us not to leave our IDs and boarding passes. He said that after we’d checked into the pax terminal we could ask to go outside to smoke, but otherwise we were to remain in the terminal building. He reminded us not to leave our IDs and boarding passes. When it was time to re-board the plane, we would be called up in order and we would not be allowed onto the airplane unless we could produce our IDs and boarding passes. As we filed off the plane, he reminded each of us to check that we had our IDs and boarding passes. “There’s always one that forgets, isn’t there?” I remarked on the way out. B smacked me in the back of the head. “You dope! Tempt fate like that and it’s going to be YOU!”

We touched down on Misawa in the rain; the weather was cool. As the plane taxied to the terminal, I saw a small gathering of people standing by the fence, swinging an American flag and waving at the plane, and I thought it must be nice to be the lucky guy who gets that kind of welcome back.

This time, the boarding party was not only armed guards and the pax terminal guy, but the base commander, a one-star general, Chip Utterback, and his Command Chief, the dad-like Chuck Clymer. Utterback said they’d heard just five hours ago that we were inbound – that would’ve been about the time we landed in Yokota – and a bunch of social club members got together to bake cookies and cakes for us, scooped up a carload of cold beverages, and put together an impromptu welcome for us. That was the crowd I saw waving at us in the rain. He welcomed us to the station, and we got off the plane. Waiting just inside the terminal was the commander of every group and squadron on base, as many colonels as I’ve ever seen in one place, and they shook hands with each of us as we filed in. I met my new commander, Col. Mitzell, who stopped to say hello to B and the boys.

It was pouring down rain most of that evening, but Barb was so excited to be back on Misawa Air Base that she just had to have a look around, so we broke out a couple umbrellas and wandered a short walk from the hotel. It was almost as hard for her to keep her bearings as it was for me; there’d been so much new construction on base that she recognized almost nothing. We poked our heads into the community center and the gym to see what they were like before we went back to the hotel. Bedtime was very early that night, and we even managed to sleep in until six or seven.

Arrival | 9:14 pm CDT
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career | Tags: , ,
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