Down Time

As the world turns, flying schedules change. We were scheduled to go to Jordan. That was scrapped as we had a plane broken in Aviano and the Africa mission had yet to return. They decided in the meantime that we would go to Qandahar, or Kandahar for the westerners, but the F'ups up the chain of command didn't think that an H model C-130 could color in the lines so they scrubbed us. Then they put us on a one day KOO (pronounced coo) mission, which is a Kosovo run. At least it would be tax free for the month.

With all of these changes we decided to continue our holiday and went to Heidleberg. What another wonderful day! We went up the hill to the castle and roamed around. It was a good thing there was a steep climb and lots of walking because we had to sweat out the beer from Thursty Nellie's the night before; we went downtown to watch team USA get it's ass kicked by Ghana.

After a fine workout and lots of looking around, we found the wine cellar in the castle. They have a huge wooden cask in there that held 220,000 liters of vino and has a dance floor on top. Man what an aircrew party that would be!!!! It's pretty impressive that they built the thing in the 16th century and it stands today despite being in a cool, dank cellar. Of course it leaked so they discontinued using it after only 20 years or something like that; it was never full either because they filled it from the local vineyards on the surrounding hills. I think it's cool that the vineyards that filled that cask are still surrounding the castle and that the grapes that are growing today are from the same vines.

After our workout we found a nice little restuarant in the main square and we had a nice meal. I never tire of eating pork schnitzel and french fries with gravy, washed down with a....bottle of wasser, no gas? Yeah, I wussed out because I had one too many KilKenny's the previous evening:) While we dined, we got to enjoy Germany versus England and watch the German fans go nuts.

Man when Germany won I was excited for the fans!!! They were ecstatic and blowing their horns. Lots of flags and face paint. The streets filled with cars full of fans waving German flags. I'm probably in the minority, but I was happy for the German people. They work hard not to display  any form of nationalism. I don't know how long they should not fly their flags or show their pride. I hope no one forgets the atrocities of World War II, but a lot of the people celebrating that night should not be punished for the sins of their fathers. Anyway it was great. I kind of hope they win the cup.

After that, it's been back to boredom and running. As I write, we are scheduled for a Afghanistan run after all. The idiots at the top did the math and realized that H2's get the job done!! I am looking forward to flying any mission just to do something.

In the meantime enjoy the pictures I have posted and take care of yourselves.


Airman gripes about underutilization

The title of this post would be the title of an article if I was interviewed about my deployment. I know I called out the American people yesterday about their whining, but I am about to whine. I'm not whining about missing my family; or about my pay, quality of accomodations and meals. I would like to whine about not getting to do my job as much, and as efficiently, as possible.

A real idiot once said, "you don't go to war with the army you want. You go to war with the army you have." REALLY? When you pick the fight (Iraq)? Okay. Well when you do task the Air Force you have to go to the war you are fighting, you should ask them to come lean, mean and ready to fight.

Am I implying we are not ready, or able, to bring the fight to the enemy? Nope. I'm complaining because of the compliment we came on our deployment with. We have one more crew than we have aircraft. That is so we swap out and we can keep all of our aircraft in the fight. I think that is a beautiful idea because it allows us to not be over tasked and grounded because we exceed the 30/60/90 day maximum number of flying hours. I will bitch about the "duty" crewmembers.

We brought along the equivalent of another entire crew to oversee things like scheduling, tactics, duty crew to load and preflight aircraft for the next days mission. You absolutely need a scheduler to schedule missions and keep an eye on crew rest and how many flying hours we have. You need a tactician to plan missions so that the routing doesn't fly you right over the last f'ing position of the enemy; the tactics officer also handles diplomatic clearances which take up to a month for some countries.

My issue is that these duty individuals are treated like another crew to fly missions. Bullshit!!!! I signed on for a hard crew. I came to fly. These guys signed up to sit in the office. The only justification for flying them is currency requirements. They don't need to fly more than once a month to do that. The crew position I have the most problems with is the loadmaster section followed by flight engineers. Why would I attack the enlisted? I am not attacking the individuals, who happen to be enlisted, I'm attacking the concept.

We have landed after a long mission and our loadmasters are downloading the airplane while the duty loads are in there blabbing their mouths and drinking a latte. Their job is to download that fracking aircraft and seeing the passengers off!!! Our job as duty crew is to make sure that the airplane is loaded and ready to go so the crew flying her can jump in and go asap. All crews could have rotated people in on their off days to answer phones, preflight and load the planes and help with the offloading once someone landed. We don't need additional crewmembers to sit around and complain that they never get any time off. REALLY?? What the F do you have to do when we're in Africa or the middle east for eleven days at a time? We are on hard schedules so you don't even have to be in. We're not in when there is no crew to launch.

The other day we were duty crew and a crew went to Kosovo on an out and  back. They actually came  back early and didn't let anyone know via the computer we carry on board to stay in touch. They didn't phone back. So, the crew is 30 minutes out and they can't raise anyone the phones. The commander calls people on our crew and tells them to get in there. By the time they show up everything is taken care of and one of the duty loads mouths off and says, "it's about time you guys decided to show up."  He got a royal ass reaming from one of the crew who basically told him to have a nice hot cup of shut the F up!!!

We could be lean and mean and take care of ourselves. That's how other deployments have gone. I think that command has gone off it's rocker. The other big issue is the size of our crew.

A Herk flies in combat. Two pilots, a nav, flight engineer (that'd be yours truly), and two loads. Well the powers that be at the numbered Air Force's that dictate our missions wanted four maintainers on our missions and when we go into civilian fields with iffy security they want four Ravens. Ravens are security police specially trained to protect the crew and aircraft at all costs.

So we can't take the six pallets we're built for we can only take five because we have an additional eight people with us. Yesterday morning ATOC came down to load the airplane for that day's mission and got in an arguement with the mission loadmaster. The supervisor informed him that there were six pallets to go and if one was bumped the mission would be scrubbed. I couldn't believe what the loadmaster told him.  "Cancel the mission!" REALLY? These are pallets going to the war zone. They are probably much needed given that lots of hazardous material was on them. And this guy is going to say no way?

Did the extra loads we brought fix the situation? Nope. An experienced loadmaster off my crew who was pulling duty load got with the supervisor and said, "wait a minute lets see what we can do." He learned stuff about the Herk that he didn't know and he's been doing it 25 years. In the end he made it work and that involved bumping some of our maintenance people.

Our commander made the final decision and wanted two crew chiefs on the plane to refuel at enroute stops. He took off the engine troop. For the first time in over 150 hours, this particular aircraft broke in Italy for an engine problem. In my opinion it should have been one crew chief and one specialist. For this aircraft an engine troop would have been a good choice as there are four motors on a Herk and all four of this Herks motors have issues!!!!! He wanted to leave the crew chiefs on to refuel. I can do that with one of the loadmasters. I don't need a crewchief to pump gas. It makes my life way easier, but I didn't hit the EASY button when I signed on the dotted line.

On the Africa mission one maintainer brought a huge three foot tall peice of luggage and had to do laundry after eight days. I brought a Kelty backpack and had enough clothes for 13 days and never had to wear anything twice. It was ridiculous traveling to and from base in Djibouti. We had a mountain of luggage and most of it was the maintainers and our  Ravens. Pack for war gentlemen. Everyone knows the Air Force is generallly Gucci, but don't show our fellow services it's true. I was so embarrassed because the soldiers running base security probably packed one bag for a six to eight month rotation and the Paris Hilton's on our crew had luggage big enough to house five or six Djiboutians and only had enough clothes for eight days!!!! What a bunch of divas!!!!

The Ravens are diva extraordinaires. They slept every leg, the entire way and ate everything in sight. We had four on board and only two had to spend the night on board one time. At Comores we had a national attempt to get on the aircraft and it was the interpreter with the spec ops guy that stopped him by yelling at him. Then one of the Ravens comes over and guards the door. ARE you SHITTING me? That's why you see us unarmed in the pictures. Our 9's are locked in the gunbox because we have the fire breathing Ravens!!!!! The consensus amongst the crew is we should arm up and leave these boys home. Or at least two of them. But the generals swear by them. Wow!!! If Patton were alive today he'd kick some of these generals in their private areas and call them a bunch of $%^&*#!!!!

Seriously, when you fly in the combat zone everyday, you have body armor, your packin' heat. There is no protection except what you bring. You go down and it's all up to you. It would be the scene from Pearl Harbor where they crashed in China and had to defend themselves. I could see a movie in the future. It would have a scene where a 130 went down and the crew was defending the aircraft and a Raven would climb out of the wreckage looking half asleep with a chocolate brownie from an MRE in his mouth.

I just want to do my job the best that I can and get home safely to my wife. If I'm working more, the time passes more quickly. I know I should just shut up and appreciate what I've got. Who complains about not being beat up and overworked. Those who live to serve. Where are you when I need you Patton?



One town that saw more than it's share of the war was Bastogne. It was at the center of the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's last major attempt to stop the push toward Berlin by allied troops who had invaded Normandy that summer. The battle started on December 16th, 1944. It would end just over a month later with both sides losing an unimaginable number of men. The Germans lost decisively, but managed to fight on for a while longer.The Battle of the Bulge helped to accelerate the end of the war. It was the last major German offensive, for the rest of the war the Germans were on the defensive.

 Most people know it was cold, but I know that only those who served there will ever know how cold it was. Bitter cold by all accounts and one of the worst winters on record for snowfall. Many of the soldiers were called to the front so quickly they had no proper clothing, very little ammunition, and even fewer rations. I think that I'll trust those who served. One of the soldiers who served in Easy Company, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, said in an interview that on winter nights when he looks outside he tells his wife,"I'm glad I'm not in Bastogne." It was amazing that they lasted a month in that frozen hell and that they were able to repulse the Germans. As I mentioned earlier 81000 Americans were killed, wounded, or missing.

Today, Bastogne is a lively little town. It's center is filled with lot's of little pubs, restuarants and shops. The day we were there it was Armed Forces Appreciation Day. Only one American Colonel was present, no doubt due to our preoccupation with another war. Mostly it was Belgian soldiers and former soldiers. Lots of people hiked in a march from the memorial to the town center. I mean LOTS of people!! Mostly middle aged people. In thinking about it know it is disappointing that there weren't any youth present. Oh, they were present. We saw many young men and women hanging out at a local club when we sat down for dinner. To be fair they may be inundated with the history and signifigance. Perhaps they are too young to care. That would be to bad. They will be the ones to carry on the memory of what happened.

The people of Bastogne have done a lot to memorialize the American troops who freed them. There is a Sherman tank placed prominently on the edge of the town square, alongside a bust of General Anthony McAuliffe, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, the unit that held Bastogne. When asked by the German general to surrender he wrote the following:

To the German Commander:


That is his exact reply. Merry F'in Christmas Jerry!!!!

So, his bust is placed prominently in the town. Along the roads there are markers painted red, white, and  blue with the word Liberty on them. There are two museums. One in the town not far from the center and one adjacent to the memorial. Both do a great job of telling the story of Bastogne. You would never know around town that it had been at the center of a maelstrom during the winter of 44-45. You would think it odd that throughout town there are turrets of many Sherman tanks and stores carrying memorabilia of the 101st.

The memorial is absolutely stunning!!!! Stunning is  not adequate to describe it. It is a five point star that points in all the directions of the major army units and engagements. Along it's top are the names of all the American States during World War II, and on the sides are listed all major American military units engaged during the Battle of the Bulge. Inside on the walls there are nine panels detailing the battle and they tell an amazing story of courage, bravery, and resolve. Outside of the memorial is a crypt dedicated to the major religions with a beautiful mosaic.

There is a stone at the center of the memorial in Latin that reads:





Translated it means: The Belgian people remember their American liberators – 4th July 1946
There are literally hundreds of memorials dotting the countryside. We found one at a castle in Vianden. We took a road across from the castle. On a scenic overlook above it was a tribute to an engineering battalion that defended what was left of the town surrounding the castle.
What I took away from my visit is that there are at least two entire nations that feel a special bond for America and its people, and that hold a special love and admiration for what our soldiers did for them. They acknowledge a debt that can never be repaid, one that is not required to be repaid because it is not theirs to do so. But they try anyway and we owe them our thanks as well for the manner in which they remember what our loved ones did. I just wish more Americans could/would visit and realize the wonderful reputation that we earned means more than our wealth and prosperity. You can buy any worldly good made by man, but it would be worth nothing compared to the honor and respect our ancestors earned over a half a century ago. We owe it to that generation to hold on to that honor and not tarnish it's luster by being foolhardy when it comes to how we behave with the world today.

German Cemetary in Luxembourg

My previous post was about the American cemetary in Luxembourg and this post will detail how vastly different the German cemetary is compared to any of the allied cemetaries.

You notice one giant difference immediately. It's lack of structure and facade. It is located two kilometers from the American cemetary down a small two lane road that follows along the perimeter of the American cemetary. Regular sized white road signs with black lettering point the way, but there is no flag on the sign, only black crosses. When you finally arrive, the parking lot is a quarter of the size of the American cemetary's lot. It is a beautiful little spot. Most of the parking lot is shaded by trees and there is a small crushed gravel path a couple of hundred yards long that leads you to the entrance.

The entrance is nothing more than a small stone building with an open doorway that leads you into a small porch in front of the cemetary. There is a small room that explains the cemetary, with a very rudimentary map and a listing of the dead and their location on the cemetary grounds.

As you walk onto the grounds you notice immediately the upkeep is nowhere near the level of the other cemetaries. The grass is not like a golf course; it is green, but it does  not appear to be cut regularly because it was longer than most cemetaries I've seen. There are ant hills in several areas and a couple of moles or gopher holes were evident too. There was bird crap on several of the bronze name plaques and the crosses were looking weathered even though they are not more than 65 years old.

The most startling difference is the lack of any identification of who is buried in the cemetary. Had I dropped you off and no sign existed, you wouldn't be able to tell it's a German cemetary unless you could identify German names. There is no flag anywhere on the grounds save for a blue flag of the German war graves commission, which oversees German cemetaries in 100 countries. There is no grave of any of the thousands of graves with an iron cross, or rank, just the names and dates of death. The dead are buried three and four to a grave and the cemetary has one monument. It is a large stone cross upon a pedestal at the back of the cemetary. No writing on the stone cross whatsoever. On the pedestal there is a memorial to the war dead who fell during the Battle of the Bulge; they call it the Winter Campaign. There are just stark black bronze plaques to mark these men's passing. There are very few flowers and no sculptures. No maps. No prayers chiseled in stone. The crosses are dark and small.

There is a good reason for the lack of care and accoutraments. These men fought on the loosing side. The people of Luxembourg lived under the Reich's oppressive hand for five long years; it is evident that the German flag will not fly on Luxembourg soil as an official symbol. These men are literally exiled in death to be eternally punished for crimes against humanity.

I am not saying they don't deserve to be buried this way. At some point in many of their lives they had a choice to make. Many people knew soon after Hitler took Germany to war that it was folly. Many Germans were aware of the existence of the concentration and work camps, no matter well hidden they were; a captured German map on display at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. shows the thousands of locations around Germany that these camps were established at. There were also the mass executions of Jews and I'm sure that many of the SS troops told friends and  relatives of their deeds. Many nations put up with Germany taking their wealth and resources and treating them like slaves. Whether you chose to believe it or not, the rest of the world knows. These soldiers aren't on the side of good, or right. They fell on the side of evil and they will be remembered for it.

In spite of this, as a matter of reconciliation, and perhaps the recognition that some had no choice and others should be forgiven, this cemetary remains on Luxembourg soil. It is obvious that it gets very few visitors. It is not well maintained and it offers no thanks for faithful service and courage under fire. I have no doubt many of those soldiers showed extreme courage while in the course of following orders. I am sure that some showed compassion to the civilians they came in contact with and mercy toward the allies they fought. I think it is a shame that they will be remembered as villians and that they will rest in eternity with little care or honor. I sincerely feel bad for their families, especially the future generations that have had to bear their burden of shame. But if I was in a position to change it all, I would bury them in the same nondescript cemetary, with very little pomp and circumstance and no trappings of any kind. I would not even put a sign on the trail explaining what was there. The sign at the entrance to the parking lot would say it all: Cemetary for German war dead.

US Military Cemetary Luxembourg

****WARNING: This post contains the opinions of a RAVING PATRIOT****

Yesterday I had the honor, and privilege, to visit the American cemetary in Luxembourg. This post will detail a lot about the visit as well as some personal observations, which to some may not be agreeable.

We made a decision on Tuesday that we wanted to get the hell out of Dodge for at least a day and see something as we have been here, everywhere else as well, over a month and have yet to trek outside the environs of Ramstein. Many of us, including myself, have been here hundreds of times in our careers and we've seen a lot of the places we've been, but no matter how many times you see some places you find yourself drawn to return. The military cemetaries are without a doubt some of those places.

 I want to get off my chest something that hit me the moment I saw the rows of white granite crosses. Many Americans complain excessively about everything most days of their lives. I have seen the avarice, arrogance, pettiness, selfishness, of other nations I have visited, but to be fair I don't live there for a significant length of time so I may be witnessing behavior peculiar to that location or at that point in time. As for my observations of Americans I believe these observations to be dead on accurate and will stand by them under any circumstances.

As I stated, Americans are a bunch of whiners. Take your pick. Their taxed too much, they don't have enough time off, they should be getting paid more, their possessions should be bigger and better than everyone else's. Their kids are smarter and should be protected over other's children, they stick their noses in everyone's business, but get upset when someone inquires into their own misguided behavior. To these Americans I say, "Shut the FUCK UP!!!!!" Sure all humans complain about the human condition. We all have our own needs according to Maslow and we do our damndest to fullfill those needs. Often we do it forsaking other's needs and rights. I could say so much more, but it wouldn't dignify the details I am about to tell you. Suffice to say if you are an American who lives, as most do, a comfortable life replete with technological devices, cozy shelter, more food than you really should be eating and lots of time to pursue happiness, STOP and think about those who made it possible and what life would be like without their sacrifice.

It is emotional for me to think of all the young Americans who gave their lives to stop Tyranny. Look it up in the dictionary if your unsure whether it applies to World War I and II. Hitler was a despot. By the time he took his own life he had killed 10 million people alone for their beliefs and ethnicities not to mention all of the other collateral victims. Had the Allies not banded together to stop the Axis powers we would live in a different world today. One I am sure even the most ignorant among us would quickly recognize as a terrible world to live in. I want to be clear before I continue. America is not the only allied nation to experience tragic loss on an enormous scale. All of the allied nations paid a terrible price for freedom; it is evident by the over 17 cemetaries in Europe that contain the war dead of all allied nations. My wife is Canadian and she once asked me, "Really, what did Canada ever do?" My answer is they lost more soldiers per capita than any other allied nation engaged in World War II. I am not promoting the suffering of any one nation over another, I just don't want Americans to keep thinking we could have whipped Adolf Hitler and the largest, most advanced military machine the world had ever seen to that point, ALONE.

The cemetary at Luxembourg was set aside by the very grateful nation of Luxembourg and it is both haunting and extraordinarily beautiful. I will let the pictures I have posted on Picasa speak to that and I will tell you something about the cemetary. It was established during the campaign for the Ardennes in December of 1944. Many of you may have heard of the Battle of the Bulge; it was Hitler's last big attempt to stop the Normandy invaders from reaching the fatherland. over 81,000 Americans were either killed, wounded, or missing in action as a result of the battle which took place from December 16th to January 25th. That's right. A little over one month of brutal combat!!! 5076 Americans are buried here, their passing marked by stark white granite crosses.

Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, New Jersey, Oklahoma, New York, California..........18 years of age...19, 22, some about to turn 20. 440th bomber group; Easy Company,506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Battalion (Band of Brothers, Currahea!!!). 4th Infantry Division. Infantrymen, flight engineers, tank drivers, cooks, supply clerks, medics. Husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, sisters. They all lie here in solitude, together for eternity as witnesses to the greatest cause humanity had ever seen. Many came willingly and gave selflessly.

Two among them won the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a United States servicemember for selfless acts of heroism. I will tell you of their selfless acts of bravery.

Day G. Turner, US infantryman. He fought off a German offensive while holed up in a house with his squad. He repulsed numerous attacks with his own weapons until he ran out of ammo and then used German weapons. At times the fighting was so intense as German soldier breached the house. He fought them room to room, hand to hand, and repulsed them for several hours. In the end the Germans surrendered not knowing that his squad only had three healthy members left (the other nine were either dead or severely wounded). He was killed one month later and never knew that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor.

William D. McGee, US combat medic. McGee's unit was engaged in heavy fighting when several members of his platoon entered a minefield. With complete disregard to his personal safety (which is always a prerequisite for the MOH) he entered the minefield twice carrying out the wounded to safety. On his third trip he stepped on a mine and was unable to get out because of the severity of the wounds. Knowing that it meant certain death, he admonished members of his platoon not to enter the minefield to save him because he knew it would mean that others would be wounded and killed. I get choked up thinking about the kind of love for your teammates, and the inner strength and courage you must have to consign yourself to certain death. Remember my post on heroes? These two are perfect examples. Both displayed a willingness to give of themselves so completely so that others would live. I just wish the thousands of troops who exhibited this behavior all got this medal, but the world is cruel. Besides non of the MOH recipients ever did it for the medal, it was truly a selfless act.

What makes this cemetary special, as does all of the allied cemetaries on foreign soil, is that it has been given to America in perpetuity, without cost whatsover, by the people of Luxembourg. It is maintained by the American Battlefields and Monuments Commission. The head of the cemetary gave us a personal tour and told us that the people of Luxembourg give a great deal of time, money, and manpower to keep this cemetary immaculate. He said they do so out of a feeling of gratitude to the American nation and to the loved ones of these 5076 souls who gave their lives to liberate Luxembourg. Those who come do so out of love and admiration and a deep feeling of thanks. Lest you think that this is overexaggerated, you should come and visit. The people of Luxembourg will welcome you with open arms and they showed me respect knowing that I was an American servicemember even though I did not liberate them. It feels a little uncomfortable, like I am an imposter, but they are so gracious and they know that if it ever came to something like that again, we would once again answer the call. It makes me feel good and embarrassed at the same time. We have squandered our good name, and good fortunes, recently, but no matter because they love us just the same.

As proof of this gratitude I will tell you about the burial of the most famous American General of World War II, and undoubtedly of all American Generals, General George S. Patton, Commander, 3rd Army, European Theater. He fought Rommel in North Africa, liberated Rome, and fought in Normandy. He broke through the German lines at the Bulge and beat back the famed crack Panzer Grenadiers in the Ardennes liberating Belgium. He was killed in an automobile accident on December 21, 1945. It was his wish that he be buried among his men. General Dwight D. Eisenhower granted this wish and he was buried, literally, between two of his men with the same plain cross. What happened next is crazy. So many people from Luxembourg and Belgium came to visit his gravesite that it got out of hand. They were trampling the cemetary. The Duchess of Luxembourg decided that he would be reinterred in the Cathedral in Luxembourg city. Knowing Patton would have had a fit, they eventually agreed that he would be buried at the head of his troops in his own spot overlooking the cemetary. He rests their today.

I have several posts to make today about my trip to Bastogne as well as my journey to the German military cemetary located less than two miles east of the American cemetary, but that itself is a whole blog post of observations. I leave you with this quote from a dedication by Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander at Saint Paul's Cathedral in London. This quote is engraved on the stone walk, just ahead of Patton's grave.








How time flies, pun intended

I was discussingis this deployment with members of the other Youngstown crews and I was lamenting about the lack of flying since we've been here. But during the discussion I realized that our crew will have flown 90 hours in the month of June alone (we have one more mission this month). The max in a 30 day period is 110 so we actually have flown a ton of hours!!! It illustrates the differences in perception when you fly different aircraft that fly at different airspeeds.

Not all planes fly the same types of airspeed either. The C-5, KC-10, C-17, and other turbojet aircraft (including your commercial ones such as the 737) all fly using Mach numbers, which is the ratio of the object traveling through the air divided by the speed of sound. On a standard atmospheric day of 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Farenheit) and sea level pressure, the speed of sound is roughly 761 mph. A C-5 routinely cruises at Mach .77 or .79 (the Air Force prescribes .74 to .77, but unless they are going to install a tracker that transmits the speed, crews are gonna go peddle to the meddle). So a 5 flies around 585 mph on average.

 In the Herk world we fly cruise profiles using TAS (true airspeed). True airspeed takes into account air density and compares it to sea level density and computes a number. All fuel planning takes into account true airspeed because you need this speed to determine how winds will affect your fuel burn. The Herk flies around low level utilizing indicated airspeed, which is what it says it is: the speed detected by the pitot tubes and read off the gauge. The C-5's use something called calibrated airspeed, which is actually a computed airspeed based on indicated, but then corrected for compression errors as it flows into the pitot tube. The C-5 has spanky central air data computers that utilize this speed for things like autopilot, augmentation (power assist for the flight controls so you can account for the air pressure on the flight control surfaces based on airspeed), and navigation.

You can convert all of  these speeds into another, but we don't. Herks cruise at roughly 290-310 true and that is what all of our performance numbers are based on. We don't even think in terms of Mach as we fly at much lower altitudes. C-5's use TAS to determine groundspeed, which requires TAS to calculate how wind direction and airspeed relate to the actual speed of the aircraft in reference to the ground.

A side story about groundspeed before I relate how different flying the Herk is than a C-5. I was once flying a Cessna 172 between San Angelo and Del Rio, Texas. By jet it's a 20 minute flight and about 157 miles By Cessna it's about an hour and a half. I had been flying for ten minutes or so when I noticed a yellow pickup to my right driving on highway 277 below me. Not thinking anything I kept flying along and hit a little turbulence, which almost rolled me over on my back. I called up center and asked if there was any forecast turbulence at my altitude since the dumbass at the flight service station didn't mention any when I went in and got my weather brief and filed my flight plan. Houston replies that there is moderate turbulence from 4,000 to 20,000. Wow!!! I'm at 6 and I'm about to get completely fracked and end up on some crash report. So I terminate flight following and tell the controller that I'm going down to 3000. I get down there and I'm being bumped by the roiled air coming off the desert rocks below me, but it was much more comfortable. It killed my groundspeed though. Instead of doing a 100 mph over the ground with an airspeed of 100 mph indicated, I was now doing 54 mph with an airspeed of 104 mph. The yellow truck was beating me to Del Rio!!! Talk about humiliating. I actually thought about landing on a dirt road and hitching a ride!!!!

The Herk flies lower than jets. We are routinely at 18-20,000 feet. A C-5 is routinely at 29-35,000 feet. BIG difference!!! Up there you catch the jet stream and if your headed to Europe in the winter flying over the top you can make it from Delaware to Germany in 4.5 hours. Never in a Herk will that happen unless it's a sci fi movie. Many a night flying over the Atlantic on the NATS (North Atlantic Tracks), or airways that all aircraft flying to Europe follow, I have routinely seen groundspeeds in excess of 600 knots!!!!!!!!!!! Craziness!!!!!!!!!!! You get to the gulf or Europe in no time. If your headed toward the gulf your screwed coming back.

In a Herk, we see grounspeeds of 300 knots. I just realized I mentioned the knot, or nautical mile, and haven't defined it. We don't use mph flying big guys, we refer to the standard nautical mile. A knot equals 1.151 statute miles thus a knot is a faster unit of measure of speed. Often our groundspeed is lower than 300 because we're getting beat up by the winds at the lower flight levels. Many times we're getting hit with a headwind, which reduces our groundspeed. Rarely do you get a good tailwind, which speeds up your ground track.

How does this all fit with my opening paragraph? When your groundspeed is substantially lower at lower altitudes, it takes you longer to get where your going. If your out on a C-5 mission for two weeks with min ground times between flights and maximum crew duty days, you can fly 90 hours in those two weeks and be gounded because you will most certainly go over your maximum flying hours in a 30/60/90 day period because of how trips are scheduled in strat airlift. In a Herk you can build up hours like crazy, but our days are shorter so you can't fly as far. Your still flying 90 hours, but you do it with shorter legs and a lot more of them in the same period of time. A lot of times it takes you two and three days to get somewhere. Into the gulf it takes three days via Herk, one via C-5. In the Herk you crew rest in St. Johns, Newfoundland,  Prestwick, Scotland and Souda Bay, Crete. There are other routes 130 units take to position/deposition into and out of the war zone, but this one is pretty popular.

I've only flown 13 days for June and I have 75 hours. I have been off the other 17 days or so for the month, or will be since the month isn't over, so it feels like we're not flying. Also the longest day I've had was 16 hours, which I've only had three of those so it's not hard flying. In the strat airlift world your days are routinely 20 hours or more long, with several 26 hour days on missions. Our max day length with our current crew compliment is 16 waiverable, by US, to 18. It takes 11 hours to get from Ramstein, GE to Djibouti and you can't do it all in one leg because of gas requirements. You fly an occasionally long leg, lots of short legs and days with multiple hops that add up to more hours because you take longer to get there. I hope that we average 90 hours a month as that would make the time pass, but I wish we were flying more days out of the month with shorter legs. Not going to happen because going into the middle east on a Herk from Europe = a sore ass from sitting in the seat for long hours droning over the sandbox!!!!

There is another drawback to flying at lower altitudes as well. I have never flown in so much icing in my entire flying career. In the C-5 you don't have anti-icing capabilities except on the engines so when you encounter ice you climb or descend your way out of it. In the Herk you have anti-ice on the wings, tail, and engines so you just fly through it. It's a little disconcerting to watch ice build up on the wiper blades until it's so thick you could add Kool Aid for a slushy!!!!!! If your flying in ice in the summertime, that must mean your flying through a line of afternoon thundershowers. No getting above them so we have to penetrate them quite often. That's where our low power, color radar earns kudos!!!!!!! We just pick our way through the giant clouds. Sometimes the clouds look really ominous, but the returns indicate that the rain velocity is very slow and so we can fly right through it. I have posted a few thunderstorm pics on Picasa and I will be taking more. I hope all of you can see the Picasa album. If not comment on the blog and I'll fix it.

Tomorrow we're going to the cemetary and Belgium. I'll take plenty of pics for you.


Turkey Trot

Saturday morning we left Ramstein bound for Turkey. This was the first non "war" mission we've flown this deployment. It was a standard channel mission for USEUCOM (United States European Command) and it has garnered the nickname Turkey Trot over the years. It used to be a fun mission when I was  C-5's, but I don't really enjoy them anymore because the Turks are difficult to deal with.

The first leg of the mission took us to Sigonella, Sicily a naval air station situated near the town of Catania on the island of Sicily. I've flown in and out of this base many times in my career, but this was the first time in a Herk. What a difference!! In the C-5 they usually parked you almost up to the cargo building, which meant when you left you had to do a push back tow just like the airlines do when your backing out of the gate. Which meant they had to have a tug big enough to push us and a tow bar with extra shear pins because they didn't exactly know what they were doing. If they cranked the wheel to hard and over extended the nose gear you'd be stuck there. Or they'd get going and do something odd and if you stopped the aircraft with the brakes they'd shear the pin on the tow bar. To be fair it only happened to me once, but it was still a pain in the ass. Also, taking off heavy out of Sig you usually did a 62.5 degree flap setting with all the bleed air turned off to extract as much power from the C-5s turbofan engines as you could muster. In a Herk they could park you up against the building with your nose touching it and it wouldn't matter. Upspeed all four engines and throw the props into reverse and back out of there like your backing out of your driveway for a Sunday drive. As for getting out of there fully loaded in a Herk it's no sweat because the runway is long enough. There's a difference between a fully loaded Herk at 155,000 lbs and a mostly loaded C-5 at about 635,000 lbs (I think that's what I took off out of there with last time, but don't quote me).

Getting loaded there is fun because the loadmasters deal with the Italians at ATOC and the Italians even drive the K-loader and do the loading. Which was eventful because they told Shawn, our senior loadmaster, that they had a pallet 45" tall that could go on the ramp. Shawn said, "if it's 45" that should be no problem!" Then out of nowhere the K-loader shows up with a P-3 Orion propeller assembly on it! 45" it was not; not unless I shrunk several inches in heighth! The Italians were unfazed. They knew what they were bringing out, but they wanted us to give it a go. That was an interesting lesson I learned that it fit! Shawn put it on and closed the ramp while we watched the clearance on the propeller blades and hoped for the best!!

That actually wasn't the most eventful thing to take place at Sig on that Saturday morning. Yours truly was starving and since the talking heads (Air Mobility Directorate AMD) wanted us to leave on time we had two hours to wait. So we went to Big Al's pizzeria on base. After a 15 minute walk with the sun beating down on us, we arrived in the air conditioning and I could smell the heavenly aroma of authentic Italian pizza!!!!!! So I get in line immediately and order a large tomato and cheese pizza (alla Margherita) and proceed to salivate patiently. My ticket number was 65. We waited and each number was called. 62, 63, 64......69...Say What? The nav gets up and gets his very large pizza and sits down and proceeds to eat. I didn't know it, but he ordered the same thing I did only 5 minutes later.

I went up to the counter because I saw no more delicious pie coming out of the oven and inquired about the good ole' number 65, which comes before 69. They couldn't figure it out. Big Al sent his gal out to inspect the nav's pizza. When he saw her coming he realized he had my pizza, but was wondering what her intentions were. I'm watching her approach him and I see her opening his pizza box and I thought, "what the hell, she's going to snatch his pizza and give me a pie minus two slices?" Then Big Al calls her back and he starts making one, but by this time we have to go. So I ask for my muola back and she just keeps apologizing. Finally she was able to understand what I wanted and gave me my money back. Then I ordered a half a chicken and fries 'cause it was quick. While I waited the nav offered me a slice and when I tasted it I knew instantly how badly I'd been screwed. No chicken was going to make up for the loss of that delicious pie!!!! Sure enough, I busted out the greasy chicken on climbout and the fries were like rubber!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Damn it Al hire some competent people because your daughter's an idiot!!!

Off to Incirlik AB, Turkey after my pizza debacle! We took off again and with our precious, important cargo of household goods aviated toward Turkey. The cargo wasn't anything important, unless your the family who is waiting on these goods to start your life at your new station. I know as a kid experiencing this, having a few familiar items such as books and toys made the move a little easier so I'll live knowing some family got their pots and pans upon their arrival at Incirlik. The flight was uneventful. The controllers route you off your filed flight plan and threaten you if you don't make contact with them right away. That is truly uneventful when your flying in Greek and Turkish airspace.

We arrived in the evening and I was stunned by what I saw on approach. A quiet little air base with nothing going on. I can't express to you what it was like five years ago. It was a hub of activity for Iraq and Afghanistan. They had a tent city, fighters populated one side of the base flying missions 24/7. Billeting was hit and miss; sometimes you got your own room and sometimes they stacked you together. This time there were no fighters and very little airlift assets on the field. In spite of this they managed to park us as far away from the hub as possible so support sucked and you had to pack a lunch for the bus ride to billeting.

I would have taken pictures of the base, but getting caught would have allowed me to personally live the movie Midnight Express about the guy who lands in a Turkish prison. The Turks are the ultimate bureaucrats!!! They are very strict about everything. The air base is actually Turkish and no American flags are visible anywhere. I don't have a problem with that it's their country, but I have a serious problem with how they treat us given we also provide a presence that warns others not to frack with them.

With their bureaucratic nature in mind, we went into the terminal and processed through their passport police. You must have an original set of orders identifying you as a NATO member with authorization to transit Turkey. That, a military id card, and a set of crew orders gets you a stamp on your NATO orders allowing you into Turkey. Lose it and all hell will break loose!!! What's funny is they have now allowed you to enter their country, but that really only means you can go to billeting and maybe the chow hall. If you want to go downtown you need to pass bureaucratic hurdle #2: getting a pass. That involves going to pass and id and if your lucky the Turks behind the desk will grant you a pass after they run you through the grinder for a while. The maintenance guy who met our plane told us that it's been taking almost two hours sometimes for crews to get a pass to go offbase. Imagine, Turkey losing out on lots of income due to a pissing match. Oh well. It's their country and they have the right to lose as much money as they want. If your Turkish and want to spend your money in America come on in.

The crew went to the bowling alley for a snack and some cold beers. Me and Shawn stayed in our flightsuits because if we changed it would have been lights out (It was already 11:30 at night). After a Heiniken and some onion rings I called it a night. One thing about being on the road is that you have a difficult time eating healthy. Since you eat when you can you get pizza, wings, whatever is available, wherever it's available. I must say those onion rings were tasty after a 12 hour day!!!

After a six and a half hour flight the next day we arrived back home to a cold and rainy Germany. I took advantage of a lull in the weather and ran six miles on my favorite woody path. Then it was movie night with crew #3 (crew #2 is doing the duty in Djibouti). That is the part I like the most. The camaradirie of the group. We're all seperated from our loved ones going through similar experiences and we have a lot of fun when we're off duty (unless we're getting punched in the mouth).

I hope all of you have gotten the link to my pictures. Unfortunately I have to caption them in Picasa, which I had already done in my pictures folders so maybe I will do that this week. Anyhow I will post them in their own folders by trip now so you have an idea of where they are.

Hopefully tomorrow will bring a trip to the American and German cemeteries at Luxemborg!!!!!!


Things always happen when I'm not around

We're back home from Africa and I am slowely getting filled in on the happenings while we were gone. One very big story is that one of our officers got punched out by an aeromed for saying something crude. Of course the aeromed is enlisted so he's in a world of hurt while the bigmouth just has to deal with a chipped tooth and hurt pride. Man would I have paid to see that!!!

They actually have a reg that specifies conduct unbecoming an officer so if this individual did make some kind of comment while he was drunk that would apply. I know that he did because our commander sent out an email that said the aeromed's actions were completely out of the box and that "crude" comments should not be made and we should conduct ourselves accordingly. WTF?!!!!!!!!? Are you shittin' me? The officer should be in trouble as well, but it's cover your ass and frack the enlisted people.

To add insult to all the enlisted, the commander mentioned in the email that he thought about putting a curfew on the use of the pavillion. We've been here one month and the individual who got punched has a tendency to act like a donkey when he drinks. So we should all suffer? In my career I have been put in two situations where officers were fighting for their careers after doing something stupid. As per an earlier post, most who serve, even in war zones, are not heroes. It's not an automatic thing. A true hero sets a selfless example for others to follow. I wouldn't follow this guy to the shitter!!!!

Speaking of fracked up things, it's amazing how our own government fleeces their own. I went into JR Rockers, which is the enlisted club on base, to get dinner and saw a few of the guys. I decided to have a beer and ordered a KilKelleys. Shazaam!!!!! Seven smackers for a beer at the enlisted club!!!! You can go downtown to Thursty Nellies and get a better Irish beer, on tap, for half that. It's ridiculous. There are no deals for the military. Today I paid 7.58 for a Subway sandwich. I know we're overseas, but they don't ship the lettuce or chicken from stateside.

I am having great difficulty swallowing a lot of what I am seeing in the service. Poor leadership, at my level as well as higher, services fleecing the servicemember. A clinic that I wouldn't trust to lance a boil, a chow hall that overcharges. Units taking missions from us even though we're on the taxpayers dime; I have a lot of time off so it has an upside.

It isn't all bad. I get the chance to go to some neat places and see a lot of things that most people will never see. I've had some of the best training ever. I also am making per diem that I won't be able to spend if I eat normally so it's like extra income (hardwood floors anyone?). I can't complain about not flying too much as I have logged 90 hours in one month and I don't see that diminishing!

I know I didn't finish blogging my trip, but all that was left to tell was another safari run to that little airfield and the trip home. Neither was eventful. I was better prepared going into the 2900 foot field and everywhere else were all vanilla operations. As for the trip home, we crew rested in Souda Bay, Crete and had a lovely Greek meal washed down with a cold Mythos beer.

I'm on another mission tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes.


Raid on Entebbe

June 11

Today was a short day only 11 hours or so. We flew to Dira Dawa, Ethiopia first to drop off cargo. Let me clarify what the cargo is, as much as I can, so that your not constantly wondering. I don't know, specifically, what any of it is unless it is hazardous cargo because then it requires a declaration with it specifying the amount and type of hazardous (e.g. 1.4, small arms ammunition, 1500 lbs) and we have to load it at another location on the airfield. If I don't see that I still have an idea because we are met at the plane by the user.

That rarely happened in the C-5 community. You'd land at a big airport and drop off dozens of pallets of cargo that would go into a holding facility to be distributed by C-130's to smaller airfields. If an Army unit is out in the hills of the Hindu Kush at a remote fire base and they need ammo and food they request it via radio. The powers that be request a 130 to pick some up and bring it out. The cargo has already made it's way from, say Ramstein, to Bagram air base Afghanistan. We then get tasked to take it and air drop it close by so that they can resupply, in battle if necessary.

These missions are different because they aren't that pressing, but the user at Dira Dawa needed his stuff. Which leads me back to my original explanation attempt. I have an idea of what kind of cargo it is by the user. If it is the Navy SeaBees construction battalion I know they are building an outpost and need construction materials and survival stuff (food, water, ammo). In today's case it was a grizzled senior non commissioned officer (what you'd call an Army Master Seargant) with a Combat Infantry Badge (you have to be in an infantry career field and served in combat to earn it) and a set of jump wings.

 I  cannot  state what the mission is as I am a member of the United States Armed Forces sworn to protect my country, her interests, and our allies and as such I cannot speak on behalf of my country concerning our foreign policy. How'd you like my disclaimer? I feel like a large corporation or a midnight infomercial!!!! If I wasn't in the military and I was a betting man I'd say perhaps  a combat oriented mission. Given that it's northern Ethiopia, on the horn of Africa, adjacent to the Red Sea and shipping lanes.............Maersk Alabama or something like that. Or maybe it's an assistance visit; an attempt by our government to train our Ethiopian military counterparts.

At any rate it's a remote assignment in the highlands of a desert in north central Ethiopia. We landed in the morning so it wasn't hot, but it was definitely a desert. I was struck that the surrounding countryside looked very familiar. Growing up dad would put on these slide shows for friends and family so I got to see a lot of pictures of my birthplace!!! Often it looked hot, dry, dusty, and generally inhospitable. Very few trees and not a lot of infrastructure. My dad has fond memories of Ethiopia and he describes the Ethis that he interacted with mostly as warm and friendly. I found that to be the case at Addis, but at Dira Dawa I think the heat and dust made these Ethiopians grumpy!!

It is a military field and they take security more seriously than we do I think. Perhaps because they've been at war for so long. No pictures were taken because I didn't want to be fodder for the morning talk shows and evening chat fests!!! There were signs that it was a military airfield (Russian helicopters and French fighter planes), but other than the Ethiopian customs guy (in civilian clothes) I saw no military personnel other than ours. A crew that had been down there a week prior was telling us that they had a guy get a mail package and it was coffee. He opened it in front of them and the customs guy was standing behind him. He realized his mistake (no coffee allowed to be brought into Ethiopia by any means, especially by Americans) and grabbed an orange Fanta and the customs guy was happy....Do you wanta, wanta, FANTA!!! We have found that orange Fanta is the icebreaker with many workers at these locations. It is amazing that no matter where you come from, or what your life experiences are, we all have some small treasure that makes us go gaga! Triple chocolate Galaxy ice cream bar anyone?

After a very brief visit at Dira Dawa it was time to head to Entebbe, Uganda. The flight from Dira to Entebbe was a short three and a half hours, but what a difference that made. Dira Dawa was hot and dusty. Entebbe was cool and tropical. It sits on the northern shores of Lake Victoria, the largest and highest lake on the African continent; It should be noted that Lake Victoria is the second largest fresh water lake in the World!! It's so green there, and the lake is so large, you feel like your somewhere in the Carribean! Of course as soon as you land and try and taxi around the airport you instantly remember you are in Africa and that you aren't going to get clear and concise instructions to do anything unless they feel you aren't doing what they want. Case in point. We were taxiing and we had a follow me vehicle in front of us going about ten miles an hour.  We are going to give plenty of clearance between us and the vehicle, especially in Africa, in case the idiot decides to stop on a dime. An Entebbe controller comes on the radio and says, "Lion 156, expedite your taxi!" Really? Really? What are you #$%^!@ stupid?!!!? We following your people. Man do these people need to get their shit together!

The cool thing was we taxied past the old control tower and old passenger terminal. You are probably aware that in 1976 a group of Palestinians hijacked an Air France jet and landed in Entebbe. They held all the Jewish passengers hostage and the Isrealies went in there and tore them a new asshole. Of course, there was a lot of gunfire and today the passenger terminal still stands as a reminder complete with very large bullet holes. I have lots of pictures:)

To keep it short and sweet: 1) parked us short of where we needed to be, 2) only one person could operate the forklift and drive the automated loader, 3) the Navy commander, SIR, had his head up his ass, but more on that later, 4) the airport liason had no control over the refuel guy. Other than that it was a nice visit!

They had one of those cool loaders with the spinning wheels, but the cargo was on a 1970's flat bed truck that had seen better days (it probably saw the raid in 76). They had to transfer the cargo from there to the automated loader via forklift. One guy doing it all. When they took our cargo off and put it on the truck they bent the frame big time. I felt sorry for them because it was the only truck these Ugandans had. I'm absolutely certain they got a newer vehicle from the Navy (perhaps a 1977 model).

The Navy commander said two things that instantly marked him as stupid. He told  us to taxi further down the taxiway and get out of there that way, then minutes later he demanded to know why we hadn't started engines. Go back to your ship sailor, we are doing you a favor dropping off and picking up your cargo. Don't dictate the manner in which we provide the service. We start engines when we have permission from the controller not the idiot in the flightsuit who looks as if he's eaten all the UN humanitarian aid!!! We would have loved to start engines and taxiied forward, but the controller didn't get back to us right away and then they towed a UN humanitarian C-130 opposite us on the same taxiway. It's a one way street. Lucky for us we just put the propellers in reverse and back the hell out of danger!!!!!!

When we climbed the hill and parked at the main terminal, our fuel truck arrived on cue. However, he demanded our credit card to which we replied we had already made arrangements for payment. He just shrugged and drove off!! We sat there for ten minutes wondering how the hell we were going to find this liason to tell her what happened when she appeared. She left angry, but we didn't get our fuel until the fuel truck driver was damn good and ready. I agree with a woman I saw on CNN who said that Africa as a continent has had too much interference when it comes to humanitarian aid. She said that Africans didn't need a handout. I couldn't agree more lady.

We had made a late takeoff out of Djibouti courtesy of the Navy's inability to run an operation and had made up time at Dira Dawa and Entebbe, but now with the fuel debacle we were behind again and would remain so for the day. Oh well. At least the chow hall would be waiting and then a nice feather bed at the hotel so who can really complain?

On the way back we hit evening thunderstorms. Man were they intense, yet beautiful!!!!! Luckily we have a really good color radar that paints precipitation returns. The faster the rain is falling within the cloud the greater the doppler effect and the higher the intensity of returns. Blue means: Get the @#$% out of there now, and green means a gentle cleansing of the aircraft will commence! We had a lot of blue returns and we must stay 20 nautical miles from the large clouds lest they reach out and bite us!! After a little deviation and a great job by the navigator keeping us clear of Ethiopian restriced military airspace, we made it safely to the D!!! Another successful mission completed by the A team!!

Tommorow is Safari Day.

The pictures will be up sometime this week. I hope you enjoy them. As for what I put with the post I only get five. You'll see that the first one shows us eating breakfast. The military always gets screwed when it comes to a hot meal and this was the first hot breakfast in a week and we fly everyday on one meal a day. Breakfast.


What's up my Ethiopian Brothers!!

June 10

After staying the night in Tanzania, we flew northward to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to drop off the last of our cargo. It was an amazing experience for me. I was born in Ethiopia and had not been there since I was an infant.

We landed in the afternoon and what I saw was a bustling airport with all the modernities you see at other airports. All I knew of Ethiopia was famine and war. What I saw that day was a modern airport terminal and a nice looking skyline just off the airport grounds. The area surrounding Addis was green with nice plots of land and a few trees. My pictures don't do it justice because my camera doesn't have a blue filter and it was a little hazy.

No graft or corruption; at least not outwardly. The flight plan was filed quickly, the ground crew parked us efficiently and provided us with a power cart. The offloading was done easily with a very modern power forklift. The kind that has the power rollers that can spin the cargo pallets around. It was hard to believe this country was still in turmoil. Usually it's painfully obvious that a country is having difficulty, but for Ethiopia, at least in Addis, it was business as usual.

I would have loved to spent more time so I could go in the terminal. I have met many Ethiopians in my travels and they are warm and friendly and have told me much about my birthplace. I wish I could travel there personally, but the State Department says that'd be taking my life in my own hands.

After a short ground stop, it was back home to Djibouti's heat and sand!!! On the way home we flew within 10 miles of Mt. Kilamanjaro! Man that is one of the highlights of my life. I have flown over it in a C-5, but seeing it at eye level was exciting; the pictures do not do it justice.
We landed in the afternoon for the first time this trip. Man was it hot! 40 degrees, which isn't as hot as Iraq or Afghanistan, but the humidity due to the Gulf of Aden makes it unbearable. In order to make our next day's length shorter the pilots filed flight plans and got weather early while the rest of us went to the chow hall. I've fallen in love with a triple chocolate ice cream bar called the Galaxy!!! Man does it make playing in the sand worth it. Then back to our ridiculous hotel after driving through extreme poverty and despair. This time they put me in an upgraded room with wireless internet. I have a walk in shower, but the internet is slower than a turtle!!! Hence these posts all stacking up until I get enough bandwidth to post them.
I have finally gotten my pictures in order and will be posting them on Picasa so stay tuned. Now for the continuation of my trip.

June 9th

On Tuesday we flew to the island nation of Comores off the coast of Kenya just northwest of Madagascar. I would have never guessed that we were operating on that tiny island. It's a beautiful island. The nation, however, is not so hospitable. The island of Dr. Moreau.

Taxiing was an experience. There was only one place to go and the controller instructed us to park in front of the tower. He didn't tell us exactly how and there was no follow me vehicle to direct us and no one to marshal us in. The aircraft commander just decided to whip around and shutdown right where we were. Of course the tower said nothing.

That's when the goat rope began. We had one pallet of "stuff" for the personnel on the island and no forklift to offload it. The Senior Chief in charge had a group of islanders pull up in a beat up truck and we all offloaded it by hand. Then the air "service" people came out and grabbed our copilot whom we refer to as "G money" 'cause he carries a large sum of cash gangsta' style!! The next trip we're going to get him some bling!

Man are the people of Comores good at graft and corruption. 200 dollars, American of course, for navigation (absolutely no radar services available). 400 dollars for parking; I can't imagine what they would have charged if someone actually HAD parked us. 300 dollars for customs even though they never even got a general declaration and we weren't the owners of the cargo. After G Money paid the bill they came back out and said that three of the hundred dollar bills had "suspect" serial numbers and that he'd have to exchange them. Once he pulled out the bank roll they realized that they had forgotten to include something in the bill and charged more money. I can't really blame them. Their economy isn't strong and if our government wants their assistance in the war on terror then it has to be willing to pay. It's just a reminder that our perspective differs greatly from those of other nations and we just have to roll with it. I was suprised they actually didn't stick it to us more. 2000 dollars versus the 10 grand it costs for us to land in Prestwick, Scotland. I'd say that Comores was much cheaper. Wouldn't you? Don't think I've gone "UN" soft though. I'm firmly of the opinion that these people can suck it when it comes to calling us imperialists. I'm not in disagreement, but who would you rather have on your island: A few "good" men or a bunch of Somali pirate rabble f'in your little nation up? Yeah, I thought Somali pirates were good for business as well, but I've been wrong before.

Then off for a night in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; ranslated it means "the House of Peace". It is the economic powerhouse of Tanzania and of the eastern half of Africa. And of all the places we'd been so far, it appeared the most modern and prosperous. Of course the airport was fracked up as usual. Same taxi experience. Actually, this one was better. The controller told us to taxi to parking via taxiway Victor. So we're cruising down a crossing runway looking for a V and we see T, then U, then W....WTF?!!!? Finding out that the alphabet is lacking in this former British colony, we turn into the ramp area adjacent to the tower and look at the satellite imagery to see where we were supposed to park. It turns out we needed to be on the opposite side of some buildings in front of us, but on the airfield diagram there was no taxiway depicted that would get us where we needed to be.

We requested to back taxi, or backtrack as the Africans like to call it, on the active runway to the end and found a taxiway that led to where everyone was waiting. We were greeted by the "users" and once again were informed that no capabilities existed to offload us in the manner to which we're accustomed. So off we went downloading the pallets by hand, which was actually easy. What's so cool about downloading everything by hand is you get to see some of the equipment they have. Night vision goggles...check...scuba gear (spanky military kind)....check.....soccer balls.....WHAT? Of course what they were hoping for most didn't get on the pallet: Beds. Man the guy in charge was one unhappy camper. In C-130's it's more of a crew airplane. We help the loadmasters push pallets, configure the airplane, and offload pallets by hand if need be. Of course no one helps the engineer, but I'm okay with that.

The ride to the hotel was crazy. We went through every red light and there were tons of them!!! It seemed that everyone did it and traffic still managed to get where it was going. Dar es Salaam seemed to be like every other city of a former colony. Lots of colonial throwbacks mixed with modern business ties. Here we saw signs that the economy is robust: Mercedes dealerships, a shopping mall, well dressed pedestrians etc.. It wasn't all roses though. Lots of people riding in crazy little vans. People walking in and out of traffic selling really guady stuff (Brittany Spears memorabilia). Shacks lined some of the streets.

The hotel was absolutely fabulous. If it's good enough for Brangelina (they actually stayed there) then it's good enough for the US military!!! I went straight to my room and took a shower under my big shower head and then proceeded to enjoy the view of the pool and ocean outside my window:) Then it was off to a sumptuous dinner of lamb kebabs washed down with a coke light. What was really great was I could finally Skype the wife with some success. Not everyone was so lucky. Some of the crew got stuck outside away from the hotel in another building. It smelled, had public access and one guy opened his window blinds only to find he was staring into a book store a foot away!!! All ended well as the hotel manager moved them to the main building. I wonder if ole' Brangelina new that the "other" half was staying in a considerably lower standard just across the way.

Next post: Ethiopia, the land of my birth.


A Day Off

Sorry these posts are belated. It seems that even in the only nice hotel in the "D" internet can be a challenge.

June 8th:

Today I went out to the plane with the maintainers. In my 17 years of flying I have never gone out to the airplane during crew rest unless I needed something badly. I just decided to go in and preflight the bird after "the crewchiefs completed their work. It had an added bonus. I went into the NEX (Navy Exchange) and bought a new camera. It made me physically ill to spend the money, but it can take movies and so I'll be able to provide you with pictures and perhaps a video or two.

Seeing Djibouti in the daylight was even more frightening. I've never seen so much trash everywhere!! People just wandering around aimlessly with nothing to do. In all the years I've come here and even stayed, I've never been off the base. I had no knowledge of how bad it was out here. One of the crewchiefs remarked that there isn't a place like that anywhere in America. They move at their pace and it is on a whole different time scale. The workers on the base have it so much better than their families and friends outside the compound. Within minutes your driving through layers of security that if passengers had to go through them at the airport they'd quit flying all together. Then your in a world of the military at war. Lots of activity and noise. It's dusty, somewhat dirty, but tidy. You can get cold bottled water at every major building and no one salutes(it's a pain in the rear).

I can't believe the amount of trash everywhere!!!! It looks like a landfill. Everytime we drive to the base before a mission we see people sleeping on cardboard by the side of the road. Hundreds and hundreds of people. Some sleep with their camels if they are lucky to have one.

Maintainers are hardworking. They've been helping me keep my Herk flying strong. I have a number three engine leaking hydraulic fluid from the prop (if it all goes out we're shutting her down inflight), I've got a number one engine with a magnetic plug on the gearbox indicating metal shavings, and a number two engine not putting out full torque (it still makes takeoff power). As you can see I have my pick of which engine we may be shutting down. I just hope like hell it's not during a maximum effort takeoff out of Manda Bay. That runway is only 2988 feet long and we routinely go in there and come out at 128000 lbs or so. Hot day, sluggish engines in the humidity. Recipe for a simulator scenario!!!!!! If we crash there we'll be in the trees!!

But my maintainers are doing it right and keeping an eye on everything. I went in with them to give her a look over as well and prep and seal her so that we could just load and go in the morning. Tomorrow it's more airlift and a night elsewhere and then we return again for a couple of days.


Second day of HOA. Today was the first real day of flying (not that the 11 hours we flew to get down here wasn't). We got up in the early hours, well before dawn, to get out to the airfield. Of course getting out to the plane is a $%^&*#@ chore!!! We get a bus ride out there and the shitty ass contractor only wants to give us one ride. Yet they'll hold the bus for us while we hit the Bob Hope Galley (that's the name of the chow hall), ATOC (Air Terminal Operations Center) and billeting. Why not drop us off to be of more use to someone else? Rhetorical!!! Smaller government in action. If you want to make money low bid a contract for transportation and then show up with a small shitty van that seats five children never mind any baggage. Then tell the government you'll provide them with transportation when you see fit. I'm in the wrong business.

We get out o the plane and go into ops mode, but the power cart won't start and the battery is dying. I start the APU (auxillary power unit) before we're dead in the water and then one of our crewchiefs gets the power cart started. Really? Then we're waiting on fuel and when it arrives we're trying to replicate the BP experiment by trying to suck the gas out of a hose the size of fire hose at a rate that makes a snail look like Danica Patrick in a formula one race. The load plan is dicked up right from the get go; we had 13 people hanging on to pallets during takeoff. It's completely unsafe. If we had done a no shit max effort takeoff where we pitch off the runway at a sharp angle to get above the treeline before the end of the runway, someone could have been launched airborne and in all likelihood would have been killed.

As for the dicked up load plan the local "authority" informed us that the two pallets of needed shit would be bumped if we couldn't take the total cargo weight. Djibouti has a long runway and it was cool enough at dawn that weight wasn't an issue. It all had to do with the center of gravity. In the end we took our three grateful passengers and their much needed cargo even though we had to double block from the military ramp to the civilian side because we can't load explosives or other hazardous cargo on the mil ramp. I know. How do you fight a war without explosives?

Off to Nairobi, Kenya to handle diplomatic stuff then  to a tiny strip in the middle of nowhere. Again, the military in it's infinite wisdom has granted us a waiver to operate on a field during wartime that is less than we really need. Yet they don't provide us with a waiver that would allow us a no shit max effort takeoff out of the same airfield. Go figure. It's a war...it's the diet coke of war, just one calorie, not war enough!!!!! That was the most stressful point in today's mission. I definitely earned my money.

We were only on the ground 25 minutes, which included taxiing back to the little ramp via the runway and backing into position so a forklift could remove our wares. I had to compute a max effort takeoff adjusted for a safety speed which guarantees that we will have controllability should we take the plane airborne if we run out of runway. Well the pilot said we could do a no shit max effort thereby removing that safety net. If something were to go wrong the performance manual basically says find a place to crash cause it's gonna happen. Luckily someone brought it up that I was correct. According to the data we had NO room for error. All of this took place in five minutes while I'm running the charts and all eyes are on me. Finally the takeoff was briefed and we moved onto the runway. I turned the bleed air off so there'd be no draw on the engines and we pushed the power up to the maximum possible temperature allowed, barreled down the runway and lifted off. Had we had to go off the end of the runway it would have been messy.

We saw a ton of giraffes and a few buffalo as we flew over the countryside. It was the heat of the day so no lions or tigers, but it was still awesome! On the way home I hooked up the Sat phone again and called my parents and wife at 19000 feet over Ethiopia. My wife was impressed, but I think my parents are business as usual now that they've gotten used to how it sounds. I also flew my flag in flight and will print up a certificate when I get back to my room in Germany.

Back home to a much needed rest. The day was only 16 hours long, but it seemed longer right at the very end. And yes, we ended back up at the chow hall and ate a big meal. I once again shoved every pocket of my flight suit with Cocoa Krispies and milk, but added a ton of water and a Coke lite for good measure. Everybody else hit the ice cream bar and got their sundaes on!!!!!! Imagine a restuarant that's buffet style 24/7 where you finish eating and can then grab additional food to go. Cereals of every flavor, candy bars, pop tarts, fruit, milk, juice, tons of water in the upright coolers. It's like walking in to the convienence store and grabbing something and just walking out without paying. Don't worry mom their feeding me well. It's what we live for. If you stay somewhere long enough you start getting a yearning for a particular night. Maybe it's steak night, or in the case of one of our security detail one of the guys  was bragging about the cheddar fries. Man he wasn't kidding. TGIFriday's look downright healthy compared to the Navy's version of how to eat a heart attack!!!

I'm back in my room and taking a rest. Unfortunately for the next two weeks I'll have no pictures of this little adventure unless some of the other crew are kind enough to email me some. My camera met with an untimely demise:( Have no fear, I'll give it my best attempt to describe in detail the events of my trip.


Who You Callin Djibouti??

 Yesterday was a long day by C-130 standards. At exactly 16 hours after reporting to the squadron to start our day, we shut the engines down at Djibouti. By regulations our Flight Duty Period (FDP) can only be 16 hours, waiverable to 18 for mission accomplishment. 16 hours....SWEET!!! In the C-5, KC-10, C-17 community 16 hours is lunch time boys!! If I flew a C-5 here, which I have several times, I'd still have 10 hours to go in my FDP!

A C-130 cannot make the entire trip at one time. We don't have the "legs" to get here, meaning we can't carry enough fuel with the cargo load we had coming from Europe. So we stop on the beautiful Isle of Crete. It really is spectacular. Crete is usually the last beautiful thing that C-130 crews see going into the desert and it's the first sign that your on your way home:) Sometimes you crew rest and sometimes you don't. It was just nice to finally have the sunshine and some heat!!! The Navy kindly gassed us and everyone went into the little shoppette and got a gyro. Me being the faithful engineer who watches over my sweet machine, I stayed out to make sure she'd be ready to go because we had no time to spare in our duty day.

That's when a funny thing happened....Someone took a crap on my deployment. One of our Tactics Officers came back out to the plane and was proceeding to make himself comfortable in the cockpit (he flew the first leg so the next one belonged to our actual copilot) when he saw what was in my shopping bag......Flags! That.s right, five of the finest Old Glories you've ever laid your eyes on (not really, but it's all the store had). Why would someone buy five US flags?

Everyday we get up and do what we do there are a group of our loved ones, friends, neighbors, and organizations in our communities that make it all possible for us to do it with a clear mind. They look after our families needs, they lend help where our spouses/significant others need it and often show us a respect and gratitude when they see us in our uniforms (it really is humbling). We can't possibly say thank you enough for taking care of our families. Also, groups, like the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter in Meadville, Pennsylvania (I love those guys), take care of veterans when no one else will. So for them, we fly flags during our combat missions and then present them with the flag and a certificate signed by the crew that this flag flew on aircraft tail # such and such in support of Operation Enduring Freedom Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (I know it's a mouthful).

It's always the same. There's a guy who wants to tell you what you already know. He's an officer so he thinks he's privy to info that you aren't. I've been in 23 years and I've flown for 16. I've seen a lot of things go wrong and know what it takes to get where we're going. But I have to listen to people like this tell me stuff or tell me I'm wrong (remind me later to tell you how "wrong" I was) and I want to rip their heads off....not figuratively speaking...really!! So, he's sitting on the bunk going, "really, your going to fly a flag for these missions?" He acted like there was no reason to fly them or present them to people because you only do that in the Stan or Iraq. We're supporting the troops here on the Horn. There are undisputed terrorist states bordering us on all sides . Without divulging classified info C -130's have been attacked and we could be shot down. If those were ingredients for a mixed drink, I'd name the drink the Combat Zone!!! What a frickin' idiot. There's always one guy who didn't get the memo and shows up to the party in a costume (in this case a donkey).

It didn't take long for someone to soothe my ruffled feathers. As the sun was setting over the endless desert and we glided over the Red Sea at 19,000 feet, the "Nav" pulls out the Satellite phone. One word: Awesome!! Once he connected the 50000 cables (seriously people they couldn't have fracked it up any worse) we were off. It's funny because you always see a guy holding a single phone in the movies... Obviously he wasn't dumb enough to fall for this contract suppliers product. It was a goat rope to get started, but once we figured out how to dial...prank calls anyone?

Unfortunately I could not reach my sweet Bee, she must have been running around the office with her hair on fire (she's pretty busy these days supporting me:). So why not try the parents? I dial their number and it rings. Dad picks it up and we're shouting at each other "can you hear me?" It seems that the noise of the aircraft makes us faint to the party on the other line. So, he says, "I can't hear you you'll have to call back." NOOOOOOO!!!! My dad hangs up on me 7000 miles away. WTF?!? So dial him back and we finally can hear each other somewhat (I was still hard to hear for him) and I start a conversation with familiarities between a father and son when he says, "I'm sorry, but who is this?" He laughed when I told him it was me because he thought I was someone from a government agency giving him a telemarketing call because the caller ID read US Government Hawaii. My mom got a kick out of being called from a plane; I'm glad I could make her day (Love you MOM:)

Finally, we arrived in Djibouti. On the approach our Tactics guy calls the air operations center and they inform us we have to park on the civie side, shutdown and offload our ammo. Now I know the Navy has some fracked up policies, but there had to have been a reason. But Tactics Man tells them we're carrying the owner of the ammo further so can we just leave it on. I said the Navy probably wants to store it elsewhere and he just looks at me like the adoring father whose five year old told him not to take a left....down a one way street. Well,  we park and shutdown and they want us to start up, taxi across to the civie side, shutdown, offload, startup and taxi back to the military side of the house. Frack me can the day get any longer? I knew this would happen. Then someone came to their senses seeing that we shutdown and a crew was there to offload us they just removed the ammo and we ended the day. The funny thing was Tactics Man said, "well our flight duty period just ended anyway so we can't!" Well, if the HMFIC(Head Mother Fracker in Charge), which would be a rear admiral, doesn't want explosives on his ramp, you damn well will move them. That's where that two hour waiver for mission accomplishment comes in. Oh well, I've dealt with this before. I can retire anytime I want:)

I was uncomfortable with the idea of not staying on the base; after all there are really bad people around here. Not all bad, but it's so poor that they'll do anything to survive (wouldn't you?). On base you have your hut, the gym.....the chow hall.. Yeah Baby!!! None of us who have been here before had ever stayed off so we were wondering what the hell to expect: Opulence. Not that it's saying much, we're staying in the most exquisite hotel in the entire country. It actually is sickening. You have to drive through rough streets where there are rough people high on Khot (an opiate I believe). Packs of wild dogs everywhere; we saw a pack of 20 or so!!! Poverty that would make a shanty town under a New York city bridge look like a gated community.

We did grab a bite at the chow hall last night. Nothing like midnight chow!!!!! I walked in and promptly shoveled two chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, ravioli, and rice in a to go box. Then grabbed two sodas, two low fat milk, two cups of Cocoa Crispies and shoved all of those items in every pocket of my flight suit. Eat like there's no tomorrow because you might not eat tomorrow, but tomorrow will come. I took enough stuff to sustain myself in the room for the 24 hours I'd be in here. I am not getting the shits!!!! That is miserable because you still have to do your job. Ever try and use the bathroom while flying low-level in turbulence? I haven't either, but I've heard the stories. I'm scared straight:) When I show back up at O' dark-thirty tomorrow, I'm going for more Coca Crispies!!!

Time to go to sleep. It's in the early afternoon, suns up and it's over a hundred, but we start early tomorrow.