Wednesday, November 14th, 2001

First day of break between day watches, sort of. The flight’s PT-ing together now, which means that everybody on flight has to trudge over to the gym at least three times a week and sign in with the duty sergeant, go do something aerobic like play basketball or run on a treadmill, and then sign out. Most of the airmen don’t so much as try to pretend to work out; they get on a bike, for instance – if it’s broke, that’s perfect, but if it’s not, they put it on its lowest setting and pedal as slowly as they can for thirty minutes or so while they watch television. Sometimes they get off the bike after ten minutes or so and wander around as if they’re looking for something else to do. Airmen are so good at this that it should probably be considered an aerobic activity, although I rarely see many of them break a sweat. I get to be the duty sergeant next week, by the way.

There’s a definite nip in the air now, and not a friendly, bracing chill, more like a threat, really. We had our first snow of the season today. Barb says it snowed yesterday, but I didn’t see it and it didn’t stick, so I figure it doesn’t count. The world was white this morning and it came down on and off through the day, even though a lot of the stuff on the ground melted by afternoon.

break broken brunk | 5:55 pm CST
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Tuesday, November 13th, 2001

I don’t think I’ve said a word to you yet about my new diet, and this is as good a time as any.

I went to the doctor a few weeks because I get a lot of congestion in my head. The little gears turned in his witch doctor’s mind and he diagnosed me with some kind of twitching nasty that’s apparently caused by a reaction to corn and corn products. Doesn’t that just figure? So now I have to read every damn word on every ingredient label because nearly every processed food on your supermarket shelf has some kind of corn product in it. Go pick up a can of anything in your kitchen cupboard right now, and if it isn’t loaded with high fructose corn syrup, I’ll stand on my head in the center of town and sing Yankee Doodle Dandy. Ditto for dextrose, which is corn sugar. I’m used to simply buying what tastes good. Now I have to pay attention to what I’m eating. It’s almost like being a health nut.

soup to nuts | 5:51 pm CST
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On to work: I’ve spent quite a bit of my time lately talking to all the operators on the floor so I can give them an idea what’s expected of them while they’re at work, because a lot of them don’t seem to have the idea that, while they’re there, they’re supposed to do something other than gab with each other and play games. I started by briefing each of them on flight policy, which included what I thought were common-sense things, like stand when an officer talks to you, don’t read books while you’re supposed to be working, that kind of thing. The briefings were an opportunity to squawk about whatever they saw as unfair, or ask me questions about anything, but surprisingly just one of the troublemakers said anything. Everybody else took it like bad medicine and pressed on.

I went to the section where the linguists sit to ask the controller a question, or something just as routine, and as soon as I stepped into view everybody bolted up out of their seats and stood locked at the position of attention, eyes front. I just about wet myself. I’d been having a mixed day, and that light bit of ribbing was just what I needed. It was the high point of my day.

The low point of my day was having to sit in on the ass-chewing that the Mission Soup, MSgt Godwin, gave to the kid who got busted for getting drunk and breaking curfew. The kid was in deep trouble. He’d violated a general order, a very serious thing. Godwin evidently thought that the way to demonstrate that was to cuss and rail at the guy for a good long time. I thought some of the things he said were just plain mean, or said out of pure anger; it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a sergeant yell at an airman just because. I hope I don’t have to see it again soon, but I get the feeling that I’ll be privy to anything that happens to the kids on the ops floor so long as I’m Chief of HF Systems.

joys of supervising | 5:57 am CST
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Thursday, November 8th, 2001

[a letter to Mom:] Thought I’d pass along to you that I finally went through the hoard of coins you passed on to me from Grandpa Fred. It was a lot of fun, just like going through his pocket change, and I wanted to thank you. Lots of nice coins in there, by the way; about 450 pennies, some as much as ninety years old, and an interesting mix of foreign coins. The Canadian coins were especially fun.

After years of being little more than an airman sitting at a rack, I’ve suddenly become an NCO with all kinds of nasty things to do. I started this week by giving an official reprimand, a job I found very unpleasant, and I finished it tonight by chewing out some insubordinate snot-nosed loafers, not quite as unpleasant; in a way, I was actually looking forward to it. I’d gone to sleep thinking about it, woke up thinking about it, and was so used to thinking about it by then that I was more or less determined to get it over with, although it still made me a little anxious when it came to actually doing it. I’m not used to bawling out anybody except my kids, and it occurred to me the other night that these airmen act just like my kids, or any kids do when they’re caught doing something they’re not supposed to do. One of the two I got after tonight, for instance, was spending way too much time in the wrong place, and I said so to him. There was no reason whatsoever for him to listen to me. He could’ve taken me three falls out of three and could probably talk faster, too. Didn’t even try. Just mumbled something like, “I was just leaving,” and headed back to his rack. Being in charge is a very sudden turn of events for me. And it’s not all nasty; there have been some pretty cool things, too. Trying to get a sense of the balance of the experience is the part of it that makes me a little nervous, like balancing on a cliff’s edge.

dear Mom | 6:36 am CST
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Tuesday, November 6th, 2001

I don’t watch the news much these days to catch up on the Afghanistan thing; I can learn more at work, which isn’t much, but it’s better than listening to the reporters ask Rumsfeld the same stupid questions over and over. B noticed it this morning: He’s just about at the end of his patience, isn’t he? “Of course people are dying,” he says, exasperated, and then clenches his teeth to keep from adding, “We’re dropping bombs on them to kill them! What did you expect? Sheesh!” Almost every answer he gives, you can hear that unspoken sheesh! on the end of it.

And the humanitarian food packets, that was a stroke of genius. I would’ve loved to be in the situation room when the general, paging through a copy of Jane’s Defense Weekly to pass the time, thought out loud, “You know, these yellow cluster bomb canisters look just like the ration packets,” and, after a pause of about a heartbeat, the officer in charge of airdropping the rations looked up and asked, “Say what?”

Where in hell did this idea of civilized war come from? Maybe bombing Afghanistan is working, maybe it’s not, but stop because it’s Ramadan? Who even thought of suggesting that? And was he watching television on September 11th? War can never be civil, and, of all the governments on earth, the Taliban probably knows that best. Afghanistan’s been at war since God was a corporal; threats will never scare them. If we’re going to go to war with the Taliban, then it should be the most terrible, violent cataclysm we can possibly unleash; it should bring pain and destruction that would make Pol Pot look sweet and gentle.

America used to fight wars like that; we used to wipe whole cities off the face of the earth just to make a point. I flipped across a film clip of Marines taking Guadalcanal using flame-throwing tanks, and said something like, “That’s when we used to know how to go to war.” I think B was scared shitless that I had thoughts like that. I didn’t mean that we should go to war, or that we should ever even want to, but if we ever do, and especially if I have to fight a war, I think it should be more swift and terrible than anybody can imagine. Dropping bombs to establish aerial supremacy is just fine, so long as we go in on the ground and clean them out, but bombing them for weeks on end without a massive ground offensive is a serious mistake with these Taliban assholes. They’re willing to fight to the death.

desolation | 5:43 am CST
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Monday, November 5th, 2001

Stopped by the Orderly Room and asked to see the 1st Sergeant because it seemed to me that I might be spending a lot of time talking to him anyway, now that I’ve got a “problem child” to look after, but I didn’t want that to be the only time he saw me. He asked me into his office right away and we had a warm face-to-face; intel’s in his background, so he understands operators and shift work. Seems to be a very straight shooter, and genuinely loves his job.

I had about forty minutes to kill after seeing the 1st Sergeant, so I went to work. While I was sitting at a work station, a staff sergeant, servicing a rack right next to me, looked over and remarked, almost to himself but loud enough that I was obviously supposed to hear him, “Ah, a rich tech sergeant.”

“A rich tech sergeant?” I asked. “You know one of those?”

“You make more than me, right?” he shot back with a smile.

“Can’t deny that,” I answered. “Now the question is, do I get to keep it?”

“You married? Kids?” he asked. I nodded affirmatively. “Never mind, then.”

richer than he knows | 5:37 am CST
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Sunday, November 4th, 2001

Last night I was party to a minor miracle: I sat down with two other guys and we drafted an initial performance report. Enlisted Performance Reports, or EPRs, have got to be about the biggest pain in the ass the Air Force has it in its power to devise, mostly because every NCO in the chain from me up to the commander feels he just has to add his own personal touch to every draft I submit, even though it’s my name at the bottom. Even if I’ve got the most outstanding troop in the Air Force, it’s just about impossible to submit an EPR without getting it back with red ink through every other word. I think this practice began as a way for senior NCOs to pass along EPR writing techniques to junior NCOs, and when they realized how much pain it caused besides, they refined the technique to maximize the torture.

But back to the minor miracle. An initial EPR is even harder to write than a regular annual EPR. After my troop’s been on the job a year, I ought to have something to write about, but a troop right out of tech school hasn’t done anything except, well, go to school. Doesn’t fill up a lot of space on the EPR, and filling up all the space is the biggest challenge to writing an EPR, after getting it past the senior NCOs.

maximize the torture | 5:35 am CST
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Saturday, November 3rd, 2001

The Air Base Fire Department came to our neighborhood today to set fire to the house across the street. You heard me.

It was such a bizarre event – one might even say Bradburian, if one were an effete snob who used words like “effete” – that I just had to watch, even though I should’ve been trying to catch some sleep after a twelve-hour mid. Not like they gave me much choice; they parked a fire truck just outside my bedroom window, dropped a brick on the gas pedal, and left the motor running all day.

Now, try to imagine: You’re a fireman in the air base fire department, maybe a young airmen or NCO, and one day you say to your supervisor, “Sarge, you know those old buildings they’re gonna tear down? Why don’t we set fire to them and use them as a classroom to teach fire fighting techniques?” And the supervisor says, “Sounds great. Work out the details and get back to me.” And you spend the rest of the week writing up a detailed plan to burn houses down. What a great job! If only it involved using explosives, it’d be a perfect job.

Sean’s first wrestling scrimmage is going on tonight, and I’ll have to miss it so I can go off to save the free world yet again. It’s really just a practice amongst the team members, not facing another team, but he worked so hard both at practice and on bringing his grades up from an unfortunate slump that I wanted to see him in action.

General Order #3 wasn’t the same: We’re now instructed to remain indoors during curfew, instead of in our “domicile.” The Ensign interprets this to mean that we can overnight out of town, so long as we let her know where we are.

effete snob | 9:36 pm CST
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Thursday, November 1st, 2001

You should see My Darling B read Japanese! I started learning the characters before we left England and I’m still piss-poor at it, but I’m a slug and haven’t been studying. B, to my shame, taught herself one of the alphabets in a single evening! Went out and bought some cooking gunk the next day. It was even the right cooking gunk, not just gunk that looked like cooking gunk and turned out to be useful anyway.

That’s right, I said “one of the alphabets.” The Japanese have at least three, like life’s not complicated enough. When Japanese kids start to read at school, they learn the fifty-one characters of the hiragana alphabet; each character is a syllable, like “ba” or “sho.” Once they’ve got that down, they learn the fifty-one katakana characters – same syllables, different characters, but they use katakana to spell foreign words only, to keep them separate, I guess. I’m surprised the French haven’t thought of that dodge. Finally, they learn kanji, a set of about two-thousand Chinese characters; these are the classic pictograms that stand for an entire word or meaning, and they’re insanely complicated. To make reading as difficult as possible, the Japanese mix hiragana, katakana and kanji at whim, no rules, all bets are off. You’d think they’d all be psychotic from having to read like that.

I’m a big fan of the kanji myself. They’re like little puzzles to solve, sort of like when you read in your schoolbook that the letter A was a pictogram of an ox’s head, but no matter how you screwed up your eyes, you couldn’t help wondering what kind of peyote the authors were smoking that day. The trouble with kanji is that, just when I think I’m making some kind of progress towards becoming semi-literate, I find myself looking at a menu or a sign that’s written almost entirely in hiragana. A tiny little pain in my left temple, sort of like a knitting needle running through my head, distracts me at about that time, and I wonder why I kid myself that I can ever learn this.

Thank goodness B’s a little more determined than I am. She’s trying to get her brain wrapped around Japanese cooking, starting with figuring out how to make miso soup as yummy as we’ve had in the tiny little shops around here. When she’s in kitchen-experiment mode, she goes to the store and buys a bunch of stuff that looks sorta right, then comes home and plays for a while before running out to get a bunch more stuff. She was stuck on the first step, though, because – and I hate to sound like a broken record – we can’t read anything, absolutely nothing, and it doesn’t help that the food doesn’t look like food. It looks like snails and seaweed, and squeeze tubes and plastic tubs full of play-doh.

B’s also working on her degree now that she can go to school, and she can squeeze a Japanese class into her elective requirements. Bang! Two birds with one stone. So the other day, when I crawled out of bed in search of a hot cup of tea after sleeping off a mid, she very nearly dragged me down the stairs to read me the labels on the stuff she’d bought at the store. Even though my brains felt like moldy cotton gym socks, I could appreciate the magic of learning to read all over again. She reads road signs and shop names, every bit of hiragana she can find, just like a five-year-old reading Dick and Jane for the first time.

kanji boy | 9:31 pm CST
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Wednesday, October 10th, 2001

Oh, Glorious Day! We took possession of quarters 292A bright and early this morning. No more living in hotel rooms!

Maybe you think you can imagine our relief, but – no offense – I seriously doubt it. Barb, Tim & I lived in what the Air Force calls “temporary lodging,” two rooms on RAF Mildenhall, for a week and a half, and we stayed one night in a pretty cheap motel in Washington, D.C. The whole family was stuck in a shabby little room in Anchorage for three nights, and then there was the Misawa Inn, a very nice place but a tiny bit cramped with a family of four, particularly after almost a month.

Phrases you might have used to describe our temperament up to this point could have been “stir crazy,” “cabin fever,” and “go away or I’ll kill you.” Our liberation came not a moment too soon.

Weird coincidences: 292A is just about right across the street from the quarters Barb lived in when she was stationed here in 1987. She and I paged through an album of some photos she took back then, and one of the photos, taken from her front porch on a sunny day, shows the buildings that used to stand where our quarters are now. She didn’t know anybody who lived over there, and can’t think of any reason she might have snapped a photo of the spot she was going to live in fifteen years later.

[11/21/14: I was so descriptive back then. What I called “our quarters” was a two-story quadriplex in the family housing area on the south side of the base, about a five-minute walk from the front gate. The building looked new; actually, what it looked like was a bomb-proof concrete bunker, which was not far from the truth. It was made to ride out earthquakes, and I can tell you that after the bigger temblors we had, the whole building used to sway back and forth like a ship at sea. The kitchen and living area was on the ground floor, and our bedrooms were on the upper floor. Until we moved in, we were living in a one-bedroom hotel suite: B and I slept in the bedroom, one of the boys slept on the sofa bed and the other boy slept on a roll-away cot that we set up in the hallway each night before bed. This got old after just a couple nights; we were in that little room for almost a month, so “stir crazy” doesn’t even come close to describing how we were feeling before they finally let us move into our quarters.]

family housing | 5:41 am CST
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Sunday, October 7th, 2001

My first night with Dawg flight went like this: After I traded war stories with the mission supe, he took me on a short tour of the ops floor, then encouraged me to circulate and meet the ops.

I met the Chief of HF Systems, who told me the story of how Dawg flight was formed: Until sometime last summer there were only three flights, but when the ops floor began to work a 12-hour schedule they needed four flights, so Dawg was constituted. The Chief’s story was that the other flights gave up only their very worst operators for the formation of Dawg.

“We’re all a bunch of criminals,” she said. “Dawg flight only gets the very worst that comes down the pipe. Everybody here has some kind of stain on their record. Every new guy is a new problem child.”

I think this was meant to be a confidence shared in a friendly manner, but when there was a break in the conversation, the newest guy on the flight – that would’ve been me – turned to the second-newest guy and said, “I’ve got a big, warm fuzzy; how about you?”

Toward morning we all found out that the first air strikes against Afghanistan had begun. Mixed reactions from the ops floor personnel.

new Dawgs | 5:46 am CST
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Wednesday, September 26th, 2001

Yesterday, I was supposed to show up for work at one o’clock. A very young security policeman – I mean, he was about eight years old! – took me to his “office,” a closet with a computer in it, read me all the big words that mean I can’t tell you what I do, then had me sign about a dozen papers and made an ID badge for me. Once that was over, I was finally “at work,” so he lead me down the hall to another guy’s office, who asked me a couple questions about my training records, which I didn’t have, before he turned me over to another training office. That was run by another very young airman, maybe seven years old. She said it was too late in the day to start training, come back tomorrow at eight in the morning.

So today I showed up right at eight. She had me fill out a few papers, told me about important stuff like lunch break and where to get snacks from vending machines, then asked if I had any appointments. I said I had to visit the housing office, and I wanted to get ahold of the guy who was going to sell me his car. “Okay, why don’t you take the day off to do that?” she said.

Wow, I’m back in the Air Force now.

training day | 5:30 am CST
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Friday, September 21st, 2001

It’s a lot more alien than I was ready for; if you’d plopped me down in the middle of an ant colony, I wouldn’t have felt more out of place. Everything’s so tiny. The shops and houses look like ice-fishing shanties standing shoulder to shoulder and stacked atop one another. The cars are about the size of gumdrops. The chairs we sat on in the noodle shop were strangely western-looking but had deceptively short legs. The only things not shrunken are the telephones; they’re at least as big as breadboxes and colored green and red and gray.

Friday evening we taped a holiday message for Armed Forces News. You might have seen these before round about Christmas time; before they go to a commercial break, stations will play these little blips where you see a military guy with the family, they’ll say a quick “hi, folks!” and wave like goobers. We didn’t wave, but we still looked like goobers, so it’ll be pretty easy to spot us. B will be the one who looks like she’s been into the cooking sherry. You might be getting a call telling you when it’ll be on, but I’m not sure they have to do that.

Saturday we wanted to stretch our legs, get out of the room, and off the base, so we headed into town. Misawa is right out the front gate; just take a right and you’re in a main street shopping district. The culture shock is tremendous, most immediately because I can’t read anything. We took a long stroll down one side of the street, stopping for a bite to eat, then worked our way back along the other side of the street. Our first day out, the Jehovah’s Witnesses found us. I thought it was just a Japanese couple being friendly; well, I suppose it was. They chatted with us a bit before he whipped out the pamphlet and asked me to take out a subscription. I accepted his card but said I’d have to get back to him on the subscription.

more ant colony | 9:24 pm CST
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Sunday, September 16th, 2001

It rained again all day Sunday, but B wanted to see if she could find the house she used to live in, so we set off in the rain to tramp through an old housing area just a block away from the hotel. She was in familiar territory here, and zeroed in on her quarters almost right away. It was a corner apartment on a four-unit building, derelict and covered in graffiti now. All the buildings in this corner of the housing area were vacant, and I found out later that they were all scheduled for demolition in the spring.

The base chaplains held a memorial service in the base theater in the evening. The place was packed; dozens were standing in the back of the room. The service was simple; after the posting of the colors, each of the chaplains said a few words in reflection of the week’s events, we sang the now-inevitable chorus of ‘God Bless America’ while we held lit candles, and everybody filed out after a moment of silence.

It was a cathartic moment; I got a little misty, even though I’m frankly growing more than a little tired of hearing ‘God Bless America’ every day on the public address system just before retreat. Our way of life in the civilian and, somewhat more pointedly, in our military world has been changed so fundamentally, and yet the event that has sparked the change was so outrageously crazy that I can see it’ll take quite some time for me, for probably anybody, to appreciate the weight of it. I’m fairly certain I’ll never be able to get my mind to encompass it fully.

fundament | 9:20 pm CST
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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 CST
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Friday, September 14th, 2001

We decided to try to get some sleep before we left the hotel, so we bedded down about half eight and set the alarm for twelve-thirty. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but it never works, does it? Instead of feeling rested, I always end up feeling worse than if I’d just stayed awake while large men danced the flamenco on my skull.

Even though the bus picked us up at about one in the morning and delivered us to Elmendorf about ten minutes later, the rest of the night was another mind-numbing layover. We had to check our bags first. We had lots of bags, big ones, and to check them we had to drag them down sadistically long corridors before we finally got to drop them on the tarmac. Then we waited. I guess I assumed that, because the Air Force woke us up at midnight, we might be leaving shortly after that. It seems they just wanted to wake us up really early. We hung around for a while, then had a bite to eat, then watched a little television, and eventually I put my head down on a table and had a bit of a snooze, and after I woke up we STILL had to wait hours and hours. Our plane didn’t take off until seven in the morning. We nearly broke into applause.

leaving Anchorage | 6:22 am CST
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Tuesday, September 11th, 2001

I think just about everybody will remember where they were the day the World Trade Center towers were attacked by raving whackos. We were at 35,000 feet somewhere over Alaska, just two hours into a nine-hour flight to Japan when the captain announced that we were being diverted to Elmendorf Air Force Base because of a “national emergency.” At first B and I were sure that was just an unfortunate choice of words. There was a menacing typhoon off the coast of Japan just the day before; we were sure this diversion was for something as boring as that. The pilot repeated the announcement when he got wind that somebody apparently thought there was a malfunction in the aircraft. Both times he sounded as casual as pilots usually do. I think the air traffic controller hadn’t yet told him the reason for the diversion, because when he finally broke the news to us, he didn’t sound calm at all.

When he came back on the public address to tell us that terrorists had crashed two planes into the World Trade Center towers and a third into the Pentagon he did not sound calm at all. He was very obviously shaken by this information, as I think we all were. Oddly, the news was all at once easily believable and yet utterly incredible. I remember the first time I saw the video of the first tower burning and thinking it didn’t look serious at all, just a lot of smoke and a bit of fire on the upper floors; then, the second jet appeared from the right edge of the screen, lazily swooped down to the second tower, and exploded. I’d already accepted that the rest of our lives were changed, but the heavy reality of it didn’t settle onto me until that moment.

The passenger terminal at Elmendorf was a huge warehouse of a place filled with wooden benches, almost like an old-time train station. Passengers flopped on the benches while a sergeant took roll, and then, in a surprisingly short time, the pax [passenger] terminal personnel managed the Herculean task of finding rooms for hundreds of people they weren’t expecting. They packed the single airmen off to the dorms, but they had to scramble to find hotel rooms for the families, and they pulled it off even though Anchorage was crawling with other grounded passengers desperately searching for rooms.

We ended up in an Econo Lodge in a low-rent corner of Anchorage, surrounded by car dealerships and parking lots, with no idea how long we’d be there. Rumor was we’d fly out the next day, but even the military was grounded until the FAA gave the green light, and one day dragged into the next. The first day we stayed in the room; the second, we held out until early afternoon before cabin fever drove us to walk around the downtown area a bit. There’s not much to see in downtown Anchorage, but we felt better for getting out into the fresh air and stretching our legs, if nothing else. The third day we took a long walk all around downtown, stopping for lunch in a sandwich shop having a long wander up side streets to see the different downtown shops. This didn’t take long. There really isn’t much there. I was surprised that Anchorage looked much larger from the air than I thought it was; from the ground, it turned out to be the one-horse town I’d always suspected it would be.

[10/20/14: Although this blog post was dated 9/11/2001, it was obviously written long after the fact. I didn’t start blogging until maybe October or November, so I probably wrote it then.]

nine eleven | 6:15 am CST
Category: My Glorious Air Force Career | Tags: , ,
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