It’s funny, and reassuring in a traditional way, that Thanksgiving is the one holiday that the government hasn’t fudged around. On holidays like this one, the operations floor usually goes to minimum manning, keeping just a skeleton crew. I slept in this morning by arrangement, and when I got in at about noon, Shawn Bryant, the guy who sat in my spot, went home to his family.

The place was nearly deserted when I got there. We were supposed to have a pig-in, so I was carrying a casserole, even though I figured there wouldn’t be anybody to eat it and besides, we were all going home to eat dinner that evening, anyway. Who’d want to stuff themselves at work, then go home to eat more?

Wow, did I figure that wrong. MSgt Godwin brought in a 30 lb. turkey, somebody else brought in a baked ham, and with my casserole there were about a half-dozen home-cooked items on the table. The Dawgs tore through them like they’d just been released from six months in a prison camp, leaving overturned bowls, crumbs and greasy smears behind on the table.

Our dinner at home was wonderful. Barb fixed a fairly simple dinner this time, with a big turkey, baked potatoes, rice, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. We have that last one every year for the same reason that my Mom cuts the ends off the roast: Because we’ve always done it that way. We ate by candle light and had a long, relaxed meal, knowing that we could all stay up late because none of us had to get up early in the morning.

base bus

Rode the bus to work this morning. The base runs two bus routes up to the north area and back which almost nobody uses. I don’t use it much, but when I do, I’m usually the only one on it. The drivers are usually Japanese. They must think that’s one lunatic job, driving an empty bus round and round the base all day.

[10/20/2014: The “north area” of Misawa Air Base was anything north of the runway: a housing area, a gym, a store, and just about all of the Japanese air force’s stuff. We lived in the housing area on the south side of the base which, if memory serves, was called simply “main base.” I worked in an entirely different part of the base that was off on a spit of land to the west. The only way to get to it was to drive about five miles around the end of the runway, through a forest and across a causeway. We had just one car at first, so on days when B needed the car to go somewhere, I took one of the two buses that ran circles around the base, and they were almost always empty. I’m not kidding. I was very often the only guy on a sixty-passenger bus. The white-gloved Japanese drivers spoke no English, not that that was a problem: all drivers pulled over at every bus stop and opened the door, whether somebody was waiting there or not. Most often not. They would wait a couple beats, then close the door and drive away. This made a trip to work – normally a ten-minute drive – drag out over a half-hour. I usually brought a book, or napped.]

a day off

A day off? How’d that happen?

I checked out the Base Honor Guard this morning during their weekly practice, to see what the entrance requirements were and how often they performed. Honor Guard is something I’ve always wanted to take part in, but I’m thinking this is the wrong time for it. Besides the weekly mandatory practice sessions, they sometimes perform several times a week. I’m a fast-moving target right now trying to keep up with work, supervising, PT and keeping in touch with my family. I can’t see shoehorning one more activity into my regular schedule and keeping it all balanced. Think I’ll have to put this on the back burner and get to it later, if I can get to it at all.

Then I went to PT. This is becoming bad for the tendon over my left ankle, which is swollen and painful; must have tendonitis from pounding the treadmill and cranking the stationary bike. Think I’ll spend the next two days sitting at my desk on my narrow butt, gulping aspirin.

But for the rest of the day, even though I had errands to run, I tried not to do a whole lot. I took the library books back and got the mail, but I turned that into a reason to stroll in the crisp autumn air. I did the crossword and the cryptoquip while washing the clothes. I fixed a door, but that was pretty much mindless work, which is a pleasure after the brain-crunching of writing an EPR. I made calzones for dinner. I’ll probably spend the rest of the week farting the cheese out of my system, but what the hell, sometimes you gotta satisfy your lust.

hail & farewell

Got hailed at the Dawg flight Hail & Farewell, where I sat all night NOT drinking beer. Wasn’t thinking ahead when I volunteered to be a designated driver. Like the Air Force Ball, this get-together was a bit of a disappointment for me, but this time mostly because I’m the new guy. Without any common ground, it’s hard to stay with the conversation; not for the first time in my life, I’ve thought that I may have to take up football or baseball just so I can do something other than sit there like a slack-jawed ignoramus when somebody tries to jump-start the conversation by asking me, “Did you see the game last night?” I get such a kick out of the way the game is automatically about football. If I started talking sumo or rugby, somehow I’d be the weirdo.

[11/21/14: A guy at the hail & farewell introduced himself to My Darling B, said they used to work together up on the hill. “Remember me?” he kept on asking, but no matter how many different ways he tried to remind her of where they worked and what they did, she could not get the neurons to fire so that she could recall who this guy was. He left us utterly deflated. Weirdly, this same scene would play out the other way around when B and I went to her favorite noodle shop and the owner, who she seemed to remember as a good friend, had no idea who she was.]

joys of supervising

And I was having such a good day today.

It started off with PT, which is boring but not too bad, and I had to go in to work right after that, but I went in happily because I was writing up a letter of appreciation for a troop who was doing such uncommonly good work on duty that it was a crime not to recognize him by giving him a one-day pass. I finished by visiting a few office heads to tie up some loose ends, then set off to pick up B from school. I was already light of heart, but seeing her smiling face somehow lifted me even higher.

After we came home from the commissary, I went straight into the house to answer the ringing telephone and, in an almost magical moment, that is to say a moment afflicted by a curse, my hand paused over the receiver and I said out loud to myself, “Do I really want to answer this?” But, shaking off the fear as irrational and stupid, I picked up the phone and said hello to the NCOIC of Operations, SMSgt Holland, who was looking for SrA Ball’s supervisor. Lucky me. SMSgt Holland had a few curt words to say about SrA Ball’s conduct and then left the matter for me to resolve immediately.

I supervise just three people, which means that I’m supposed to look after them personally and professionally; not just write regular evaluations, but provide them insights to military life that will lead to their appreciation of the Air Force. I’m supposed to ensure the good ones to stick to their standards, and to encourage the not-so-good ones to do better.

I have to encourage SrA Ball. This is challenging in so many ways, first and foremost because she, like many airmen new to military culture, has a tendency toward flippant familiarity bordering on insubordination, which is not a bad thing if it can be controlled and used to foster positive traits such as self-determination.

Communication is also a problem, because it’s nearly always a one-way stream of almost nothing but self-criticism, and wow, the girl can talk. Weapons experts the world over can only dream of delivering the kind of rapid fire SrA Ball routinely uses. I have to forcibly break in to every conversation I have with her to get any kind of message across, and I feel pretty rude about doing it, but unless I do, little communication takes place, if any at all.

Probably the next biggest challenge is representing her to command staff – well, to anybody above me, really. From what I can tell, she’s alienated just about everybody on site with four stripes or more. I don’t know what to do about SrA Ball except just keep listening to her stories, and keep documenting every incident she gets involved in.

[11/20/14: Somehow, I left out the best part of this day, the phone conversation I had with airman Ball immediately after the NCOIC of Ops directed me in no uncertain terms to straighten her shit out. Her infraction this time, as best as I can remember it, was a string of parking tickets she had put off paying for a leetle bit too long.

Ball was attending Airman Leadership School at the time and it must have stressed her out a bit more than usual, although almost everything stressed out airman Ball. She was in class when I called the school, so I left a message and when she called me back she was apoplectic with rage when she found out why I was calling, and I mean she was screaming into the receiver so loudly that she probably didn’t need a telephone to get her message across. If I’d stood at my open front door, I might have heard what she was saying from the other side of the base.

When she was done venting, and it took a while, I directed her to pay the parking tickets, then report to me at work that evening with a copy of the receipt in hand. I tried to keep it brief because I was speaking through clenched teeth and didn’t trust myself to say much else. If I recall correctly, she did manage to take care of the tickets the same day, and I think she even apologized to me later for blowing up on the phone. Oh, the joys of supervising.]

Dawgie chow

I may be wrong, but I think the Dawgies are starting to settle down to work.

I expected a bit more rowdiness over weekend day watches, when there wasn’t as much to do and everybody was in that weekend mood. Not much trouble at all, though, and in fact several of the ops are doing outstanding work.

After the watch, Mark Ursich told me a bunch of Dawgs were going to get together at Viking for a bite. Viking is an all-you-can-eat place, where you pick out what you want from prepared food and cook the meats back at your table on a gas grill. I tried salmon sushi (okay, so you don’t cook that), marinated lamb, some kind of beef strip, and the usual Japanese stuff I love like gyoza and miso.

I love eating at Japanese restaurants, but there was one hitch to eating at Viking. It had what I guess you’d call a traditional dining area, where you sat on the floor at short tables. I had to take off my shoes when I entered the dining area, and though the restaurant provided slippers to put on when I went to get more food, the biggest slippers they had are comically small on me. They went as far as the balls of my feet, and I had to shuffle across the floor with my toes clenched to keep them from falling off.

a night at the ball

Shawn Bryant sat CHFS for me so I could leave about eleven o’clock to get ready for the Air Force Ball, my first chance to wear my mess dress here, and B’s first chance to go get her hair done again, and goodness, did they do her do. I knew she’d be in the beauty shop so I went straight from work down to the mall (yep, we’ve got a mall) and hung around waiting for her so she wouldn’t have to walk home in the rain. When she finally came out of there, two flippin’ hours later, her hair was piled in a curly coif that took her an hour to undo. Now she’s talking about a short-haired perm, not that I blame her.

800 people showed up for the ball, and from what I could tell, it was just another night at the club, except that we dressed up for it. Well, some of us did. Some of the prom dresses that the wives wore made the night almost interesting; Barb and I spent most of the night wandering from room to room, pointing out fashion crimes and trying to decide how to describe them. Lots of tattoos on parade. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but a women who has a blue rose the size of a cantaloupe tattooed on her breast should probably rethink her decision to buy, let alone wear, a low-cut ball gown, and women with unidentifiable winged things tattooed across the backs of their necks probably shouldn’t go out.

[11/20/14: My goodness, I was an opinionated son of a bitch back then, wasn’t I? It’s like I didn’t know that people could get a tattoo if they wanted. But I wasn’t the only one in the Air Force with a stick up his butt: This year or the next, the higher-ups would enact new regulations that would prohibit airmen from displaying tattoos. They could get tattoos, but they had to be in places where they would be covered up while on duty. But that’s not why I dissed people with tattoos; it was most likely because I was an being an asshole. At Misawa, there were a lot of people from the generation that was starting to get tattooed. I was meeting them and their tattoos for the first time, and I didn’t know how to react. That’s typically when my assholishness tends to rise to the surface of my personality. Change does not come easily to me.]


I’m a certified Chief of HF Systems now. That means if anything goes wrong on the ops floor, the Mission Soup chews my ass first, which happens more often than you might think. The Soup, MSgt Godwin, is a teensy bit excitable; tends to go off like a hatful of nitroglycerine at the slightest provocation, scuttle back and forth across the ops floor, spewing expletives, until he gets it all out of his system. Giving him the chance to vent is written into my job description. When he’s not wound up, though, he’s a decent guy, and seems genuinely interested in making Dawg flight a good place to work.

[10/20/14: I’m not sure why I cut this so short. Godwin was a good guy. Gave me rides to work and back home all the time, told me stories on the way about his days as a crew member on a tanker or a cargo plane, one or the other. Tried his best to mentor me in The Ways Of The Air Force. I did not always take to his lessons, but looking back I can plainly see that I shoulda listened.]

winter brief

I’ve gone to more mandatory formations in the ten weeks or so that I’ve been here than I ever went to in the last ten years in the service. They brief us on everything here; today, we got briefed on winter: It gets really, really cold in winter. Don’t get frostbite. And we get so much snow that people have heart attacks shoveling it, so be careful not to keel over and die. Now, in our own special way of trying to scare you out of doing something stupid, here are some gruesome photos of frostbitten toes, and hands that got mangled in snow blowers. Thanks for your time.

break broken brunk

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.