Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Manila Zoo Anyone?
The last American zoo I visited was Philadelphia’s. It’s huge. It must have a sampling of nearly every animal on earth in there, and after paying nearly $20 a person; I was determined to see every imprisoned creature in the place! For that kind of moolah, I felt a real need to get my money’s worth. SO, I walked every lane, looked into all the enclosures, and read every placard. I was going to see every mammal, bird and reptile in there if it KILLED ME! …And it very nearly did—my dogs were on fire after four hours, and STILL I hadn’t seen it all.
I did not have this problem in Manila. The cost was less than a dollar per adult, and just 20 cents for each of my girls. Since there were 5 adults and 2 kids, the low price was VERY important. In Philly, the same group would have cost me over a $100! Ouch!
The Zoo in Manila is tiny, and I appreciated that. With two little girls in tow, spending most of a day getting lost and tired in a huge big city zoo was not on my agenda. Just the same, my girls loved it. The animals captivated them, and I was just as enthralled watching my girls watch the animals. For me, the critters were secondary to watching my OWN little critters—my “rug rats.” I wonder what the Latin name is for “rug rats?”
Not too far from the entrance, I noticed an enclosure with a small herd of some kind of brown deer-like creature—I believe it was the Philippine Deer. Whatever they were, I walked up to the wire fence for a closer look. One of the deer, a female I think, hurried over to me and stopped next to a place in the fence where the wires were worn and pulled apart. I said hello to her, and she pushed the side of her head right up against the open spot. I cooed to her and her long ears twitched; she seemed to be waiting for some attention.
I purred sweetly to her, “Do you want me to scratch behind your ears?” I spent the next five minutes rubbing the mesmerized animal behind her ear. She seemed starved for affection, and I was just the guy to give it to her! I finally heard my wife yelling at me to get back over with the rest of them…Oops! I told my “dear deer” goodbye, and left her staring longingly after me. I know she was, because I glanced back and saw her ogling me intently. No way would that happen in an American zoo! Well, maybe in a petting zoo.
Much of the place is like that—if you want to get up close to God’s creatures, the Manila zoo lets you do it. Sometimes a little too close; the crocodilian section contains scores of alligators, crocs and turtles. You don’t want to pick up your kids so they can see better, just in case you get butter fingers and drop ‘em—up-see-daisy--instant crocodile buffet!
My girls were especially fascinated by all the monkeys, and so was I, once I got to the very end of the row of monkey pens. There, in a circular cage of vertical iron bars was a huge female orangutan. She was THE most fascinating being in the zoo. I probably think so, because she is so much like us. She sat hardly moving, Jaba-the-Hut style, along the edge of her cage next to a concrete feeding platform. Now here’s the good part—a small white and grey cat lay atop the platform, and the cat was completely at ease with her big monkey buddy.
The orangutan seemed to take great comfort in the cat’s presence. With hands twice the size of a man’s; the giant monkey tenderly stroked the sleeping feline. In response, the napping cat stretched contentedly, never opening her eyes. She completely trusted her giant companion.
We watched the sweet show, utterly absorbed at the unlikeliness of it. We were just a few feet from the cage, almost close enough to lean over the short fence and touch them. There were maybe 10 of us peering at those two mismatched pals, and we remarked to each other in hushed voices. There was a feeling of being honored to be so close to such a remarkable scene. We lingered there far longer than at any other spot, moving on only when the girls became restless.
We headed up around the bend toward the big cat corrals, and about that time the typical flood of locals swept in. As I remarked in an earlier post, folks here tend to time their visits to most anyplace so that EVERYONE arrives at once. It was no different at the zoo. Right around 10 a.m. about ten buses full of rambunctious children descended upon us. From the elevated hillside walkway, we looked back and down at the orangutan cage, but it was shielded by structures and foliage.
When the unruly kids reached the orangutan, I heard them start to scream and shout. I cringed. Sure enough, I heard the large previously passive ape start to shriek; she was obviously infuriated. The kids merely laughed and screamed louder. They were probably throwing things at her to get a reaction. I heard another angry shriek and I felt sick. I’m glad I didn’t have to actually see that ugly display, because I might have done something inappropriate. At first, I had greatly appreciated being able to get so close to her, because in most of the world’s city zoos, the animals are protected from mean or ignorant people like those unsupervised children. After I heard the angry cries from that poor beast, now I say put her behind plexiglass well out of the throwing range of kids. It was a disgrace; it made me ashamed to be human.
All the tigers and lions looked dead. My girls glanced at them and said so. They lay stretched flat on the ground and didn’t twitch an ear. To the left and down below that upper path are the ponies and horses. My girls loved them. Man, horses certainly can make a lot of dung. A man and a little boy, both wearing rubber boots up to their knees, were attempting to muck out the huge pile of horse leavings. You won’t see THAT in a zoo in the U.S.!
The last animal we observed, and with great interest, was the elephant. We lucked out and got to watch that medium sized jumbo eat its brunch. The keepers spread out an assortment of goodies over the concrete in front of its shelter—melons, carrots, bananas, apples, bunches of green grass, and heads of cabbage. It was interesting to see the pachyderm's eating technique. It was an "eat around the plate" routine, so to speak. That four legged eating machine ate all of one thing, then all of another, then all of the next, and so on.
I know people like that—they eat all their potatoes first, then all their corn, and finally the main entrée. It was amusing to see the elephant eat exactly the same way. I’m sure it went for its favorite food first, and then the next most favorite, and so on, until all that was left was the grass. Finally, even the long stemmed grass was munched down too. I assume it was a “he,” because he ate exactly like a half-starved guy, and didn’t take a break until the last morsel had disappeared from the end of its curled trunk into its nonstop-chewing mouth. That elephant was a pig!
For the most part, I like the Manila Zoo. I recommend it. Your kids will definitely love it.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
"Big Shots" in the Desert
I spent the first Gulf War helping to keep a wing of Air Force C-130 cargo planes in fully mission capable condition. If you had to be in that war, being at Abu Dhabi was THE place to be as far as I could see. Yet, we managed to be plenty miserable just the same. One of the cool things about that 7-month experience was getting to meet bigwigs and celebrities. Some of these guys are in the history books now, and I saw them up close! I kept a journal starting from day 1, all the way through my return to "The World." What follows are excerpts from that journal. See if you can tell which celebrity I liked the most.9 Sep 90, Sunday. General Norman Schwarzkopf
General Schwarzkopf showed up this afternoon. He made a fashionably late appearance as we all “breathlessly” waited for him in one of the new chow hall tents. “Mr. Sincerity,” Chief Fuson, the Little Rock AFB Senior Enlisted Adviser, was in a flight suit, a real fashion statement for him. I’ve never seen him in one before. He was “hypering out” as he delivered a seemingly endless diatribe. I think he THOUGHT he was prepping us, but instead all he actually managed to do was to browbeat us into "spiritless" submission. He and the other authorities around here were really worried we were going to screw up.
About two or three hundred of us sat on the plywood flooring of that long tunnel of a tent. Finally the “Bear” stomped in wearing desert cammies and brand new desert boots growling, “I came here to make sure you people are being properly cared for, which you OBVIOUSLY are.” We all read through the implied “you sissy Air Force pukes!”
He went on to tell us how proud of us he is, that our countrymen are proud of us that our parents and family are proud of us, and we should all be proud of ourselves. I think I left out a few other very proud people, also very proud of us. We’ve been having a lot of fun with that part of his “canned” speech. It was obvious he had given it a few times already. After the “proud” speech, he turned around and marched out.
No time for questions, although Fuson harped at us continually to be careful of what we asked to make sure we didn’t sound like we were complaining. After Fuson’s invective, I doubt if anyone would have asked any questions, even if the general HAD solicited us for some.
Of course Schwarzkopf was so disgusted with “our comforts,” and the sissy silence we kept during all the times in his speech that we were supposed to go “Huah!” that he didn’t give us the chance anyway. He acted like he couldn’t wait to get away from us, pathetically silent sadsacks that we were, thanks to Chief Fuson!
Man, are we ever led by a bunch of Mary’s! I didn’t take any pictures because Watson, our senior enlisted adviser here at Bateen Air Base, said I’d have to do it outside. Mustn’t cause discomfort to the general—that wouldn’t be prudent! And we mustn’t make a bad impression--mustn’t even breathe! "Aaarghh!"
20 Aug 90, Mon. Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney
The Secretary of Defense, Richard Cheney, and I had a conversation today. I still find it hard to believe. The bigwigs were very worried about the impression we were going to make. Careers have been destroyed and rarely enhanced during these kinds of visits, so the idea is NOT to screw up. That means no surprises and at all costs, NO embarrassments.
The first reaction to this high level visit was to make a list of all the “malcontents” among us, and then hide these possible problem-makers from view. Those folks considered acceptable were handpicked for display. We chose Tim Jones and Rodney Haynes for the CTK (tool issue area) and the maintenance hangar. Finkbeiner, Freeman, and Dress were assigned to the “specialist dispatch” tent behind the job control hooch. I ended up at the job control canopy along with Tony Ocampo.
We were all given MREs to eat or pretend to eat. All of us were required to wear web belts and canteens to give us the "GI Joe look." The normally ubiquitous plastic bottles of water were prohibited—they didn’t contribute to the desired military motif.
When Cheney’s entourage arrived in a cloud of dust, it created quite an impressive show. Three huge Mercedes sped into view and pulled up with a great mashing of brakes. A dozen security guards jumped out and scrambled into perimeter positions around the immediate area. Based on their “flowing” headgear, most of the menacing looking fellows seemed to be Arabs from the UAE, but several were Americans—the Secretary’s own secret service types. The Americans wore tan civvies topped with tan ammo vests. All of them were armed with threatening looking automatic weapons.
As soon as this flurry of activity reached it’s conclusion, one of the guards opened the door to the Secretary of States’ limo. Dick Cheney climbed out and seemed totally out of place in the dusty wartime surroundings—almost like a mirage. He wore an expensive three-piece suit, button down shirt and smelled of aromatic, high-priced cologne. We all snapped to attention as he approached.
“At ease men. Mind if I sit down and talk with you fellas for awhile?” he asked us. He sat down on a bench and asked us to gather around. In a friendly personable manner, he asked some of the guys their names and generally tried to put us at ease. He told us how important our presence and mission is here. He talked about the situation-taking place up in Kuwait and how we were going to deal with Saddam Hussein. He wanted to know what base we were from and we responded in one voice, “Little Rock, Arkansas sir.”
He asked us about our flight. That was my moment to shine—I piped out, “Sir, we spent almost 30 hours in the air over a three day period.” He asked about the route, so I described the five legs and the destination of each. I told him it felt as if I had spent my entire life aboard that plane. That seemed to amuse him.
He asked if we had everything we needed and so on. None of us said anything negative, but Tony Ocampo, a Filipino American from San Diego, jokingly asked for a swimming pool. Cheney chuckled at that. One man asked if there was any danger of Iran joining forces with Iraq, an understandable concern because Iran is just across the Persian Gulf from us. He said Iran and Iraq weren’t the best of friends after their last war.
(Later I found out from Bob Taylor that Iran had accepted their prisoners and the captured territory back from Iraq and then reneged on their end of the treaty designed by Iraq to free up all those Iraqi divisions on the Iran-Iraq border.)
He got up to leave and thanked us again for our sacrifice and said he hoped we could get things wrapped up real soon, but it looked like we would be here for a long time to come. As he departed, I said, “thank you sir, we’ll do our best!” and meant it.
19 Oct 90, Saturday. Secretary of the Air Force, Donald B. Rice
Another bigwig Secretary came to visit us today. This time it was the Secretary of the Air Force, the Honorable Mr. Rice. He arrived at just past sun down. This guy wasn’t nearly as impressive or as polished as Cheney. He even brought his attractive, blonde-haired wife along—now SHE was impressive! She looked sexy and slinky in her tight-fitting, narrow‑waisted dress. Her dress wasn’t exactly appropriate for wear in a conservative Arab country such as the UAE, although it would have been even more risky in Saudi Arabia.
We were formed up by organization in front of a lighted speaker’s platform with podium. The maintenance troops from Little Rock looked the most impressive; we all wore green cammies with no hats. Rice isn’t the greatest speaker; he drones on in a monotone, plus he said all the things all the other heavies have already said. Ho hum. Mentally we shut him off after his first couple of remarks.
The base definitely put on a show for him. Behind us, facing him was a Davis-Monthan EC-130—one of our “slick” 130s faced him to his right—and an army C-12 utility aircraft was behind us directly to his front. His stage consisted of green sandbags topped by an aluminum pallet, which formed the platform. More sand bags along the pallet’s edges gave it a “bunker” motif. Behind him were two large conexes with a camo-net stretched over the sides—the net wasn’t camouflaging anything but it added atmosphere. Three American flags hung down behind the podium from the conexes. Two menacing cops were stationed at the Secretary’s flanks—these “guards” brandished M-16s with attached grenade launchers—they looked like bookend toy soldiers.
As the Secretary tediously droned on into the evening, UAE videographers and cameramen with flash cameras wandered in front of him—they aimed their videocams at us, snapped pictures and turned their spot light on and off. It wasn’t exactly an inspiring display, but it broke up the monotony.
2 Nov 90, Friday. General Charles Horner, the “Air Boss”
Yesterday, General "Chuck" Horner, the man in charge of the allied air forces in the Gulf, came to our base. He spoke to us in the new theater tent and was he ever inspiring! By far, he was much more impressive than Cheney, Rice, and even Schwarzkopf. The man acts and speaks like a real GI’s GI. He’s the kind of man that makes you willing to put up with this crap. No canned speeches from this man; he doesn't try to present an "image," he's just a down-to-earth, REAL airman. If I was going to go into battle, I'd follow him, feeling fully condident that he would make all the right decisions.
His first remarks were directed at the guys in the back, “Come on up to the front and sit with the ass-holes.” That broke the ice. We all laughed uproariously at his self-disparaging remark.
He gave us the straight scoop—combat and combat support units will rotate at six months—that’s us. Of course, if war breaks out, we’ll be here till it’s over—that could be April or May he suspects. He thinks there will be war, and I believe him, especially when you consider that the Army is asking for 100,000 more troops and Cheney is willing to provide them.
5 Nov 90, Monday. Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns
Tommy Hearns, the champion boxer, visited us this morning. He and his entourage were on the base almost half the day. I saw him around 1030 as he pulled up to the maintenance area next to the flight line. It started a little slow, but we all warmed up to him.
Soon he was surrounded; we took lots of pictures while he signed autographs for us. Jim Zynda took a Polaroid of him signing his autograph for me as I stood next to him.
Hearns is a quietly imposing fellow—tall and lean. After signing autographs, he BS’d and joked around with us. My observation is that he seemed more comfortable talking to the blacks, BUT he made an effort to include the whites too. Some people complained he was racially biased, but I think he was just more at ease with the “brothers.”
I shook his hand and said, “Thanks for coming out to see us Tommy.” He answered, “It’s my pleasure,” and I think he meant it.
Anyway, he made the effort to come out here and see us—I respect him for that, and I’ll never forget it. I’m a fan for life—to hell with Sugar Ray Leonard!
Friday, March 24, 2006
A Dog Yarn
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with dogs ever since I was old enough to watch “Lassie” on TV. From the time I was 8 years old, I pled endlessly with my parents for a puppy. But alas, my dad was raised around farm dogs, and he considered them unsanitary and unfit for indoor life with people. If you've ever been on a farm and watched them, you'll understand just why he thought them so repugnant. I visited our family farm several times in the 60s and 70s, and I was amazed to watch the half-wild farm dogs follow closely behind young calves and small lambs, with the express purpose of gobbling up their freshly dropped dung. Yuck!
Still, I never stopped bugging my parents for a puppy. The problem is that we were a military family, always on the move, and my father argued that it just wasn’t practical to keep a dog, no matter how small. Finally, he relented; for in 1968 we moved into our very own house in San Antonio, Texas, complete with a fenced-in yard. One day, my dad brought home an adorable little dachshund puppy. We named him Buster.
I loved that little fellow, but I quickly learned that my dad had been right all along. From Buster I found out that dogs bark incessantly, and worse, they defecate and urinate where they shouldn’t, which is basically EVERYWHERE they happen to be when the urge arises. Furthermore, I learned that dogs attract ticks and fleas, they chew up shoes and garden hoses, or anything else that you would prefer they NOT destroy. And once you fall in love with them, they die. Buster was My first and last dog; I've never wanted another one. (check out Buster's story in my "Uncle Mike Memories). Oh, we had more dogs after my dad retired and we moved to Michigan, but I never considered those dogs mine. They were the family's.
But my life with dogs did not end with my beloved Buster. After my dad retired from the service, we moved to the small Michigan town of Birch Run. Not too long after our final move, I became a runner for my high school. Farms encircled our place just outside of town, and that meant I had to learn to defend myself from biting, yapping dogs as I did my training runs past the many farmsteads.
It was in Michigan that I also started my adolescent career as a paperboy, and THAT destined me to have to deal with the enmity of every dog on my extensive paper route. However, there was one particularly unruly mongrel terrier that REALLY hated me. He was small, mean, and covered with dark wiry hair, but mostly I remember his teeth.
Every afternoon as I peddled past his owner’s house, he would sprint out on stubby legs, and yelp nonstop, all while snapping at my right foot and tugging at and shredding my pant legs. During all this minor mayhem, I peddled furiously, trying to get away from my pintsized tormentor. At times, he’d get lucky and sink his nasty needle-sharp teeth into flesh. I’d kick at his tough little head, but I rarely connected satisfactorily. After two years of suffering through this daily ordeal, something happened that interrupted our mutually hateful relationship.
The fateful day started like any other, but I sensed a change in the air. Just a day earlier, my furry little adversary had managed to draw considerable blood from my leg just above my right ankle, and I was still fuming about it. I wanted revenge! As I drew near the driveway leading up to the terrier’s domicile, I really worked the peddles of my three-speed. I had a good head of steam up, as my toothy antagonist leaped from his place on his master’s porch, and began his normal charge up the gravel driveway towards where he knew I would be.
As he made his furious approach toward the street at a right angle to my own path, his frantically moving hind legs threw gravel with every step. For an animal with such short legs he could move! I stood up on my peddles, trying to squeeze even more speed from my trusty black bicycle, which was weighed down with my 115 pounds, plus another 85 pounds of papers packed tightly into two large wire saddle baskets mounted over my rear tire. Our momentous encounter was just seconds away!
I was always amazed at the dog’s timing. He instinctively knew to run not directly at me, as I strove to fly by him, but instead, as he reached the street, he would angle slightly to the right, aiming at where I was GOING to be. Then he’d subtly change course to run full tilt at my side, growling and snapping at my ankle, pant leg, or shoe, seeking to bite whatever he could. But on THIS day, things didn’t work out quite the way the diminutive devil dog had planned.
I don’t know if it was because I was going faster than usual, or if it was just my luck, but the loathsome, four-legged little son-of-his-mother tripped as he made his calculated angular right turn. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! His irritating yelping stopped abruptly when his compact little body sprawled and skidded almost directly into my path!
My heart skipped a beat in delight; and I laughed and roared at the gift the paperboy gods had just delivered to me. I had just enough time to steer my vehicle-of-vengeance directly toward the middle of the dog’s prone and struggling body. I lifted the front-end of my bike and dropped it as hard as I could onto the center of my enemy’s hateful little form. I felt and heard the satisfying results as ribs snapped and lungs collapsed. Then, my rear tire followed the track of the front one, and I sat down heavily to complete the destruction of my furry foe. I had my revenge and it was sweet! I laughed cruelly at what I thought was his untimely, yet fitting finale, but was it truly the end?
For the next month, I gloried in the peace left in the wake of that dastardly dog’s demise. But one month to the day after what I thought was his permanent absence, the son-of-a-demon caused my heart to sink and jump into my mouth, all at the same time, when his "ghost" leaped out into the street and grabbed my pant leg with all his old hateful gusto.
He had a noticeable bend in his body and he wasn’t as fast as he used to be, but he was back! Try as I might, I never got another opportunity to end my daily torment, but at least he never was as effective as he once was at chewing on my lower extremities. Thank God for small favors and death to all such dogs!
Monday, March 20, 2006
A PG Moment (PG = Puerto Galera)
I never mean for these stories to be get so long, but they always manage to get that way! Sorry about that. This tale comes from a visit my wife and I made to Puerto Galera last May. As always, when we go there, we had a great time, and during this trip, I made a really neat discovery. You can never go wrong with PG. Hotel rates and food costs are reasonable, AND the beaches and underwater life are extraordinary.So far, Puerto Galera is my favorite vacation spot in the Philippines, and I’ve been to more than a few. As far as the actual town of Puerto Galera, I’m not all that familiar with it—for me, it’s only been a stopping place where the super out-rigger boats drop us off after the hour-plus ride from Batangas City. From Puerto Galera, we immediately hire a small outrigger taxi , or bangka, to take us to our final destination of Big La Laguna Hotel. Big La Laguna is walking distance from Sabang, a tiny resort town a couple miles around the bend from PG. Okay, so much for the beginning of the background information, but of course, knowing me, there’s more!
As you can tell from the title, today’s tale is about a “PG moment;” and I’ve had many of them, for Puerto Galera is THE place for making memorable moments. Its wind-rippled sea reflects an endless array of blues and greens, depending on its interaction with the ever-changing sky. The beaches are picturesque, and so numerous that you can always find one to call your own. Sabang’s curved beachfront is a quarter mile long—quaint resort hotels line it from end-to-end, each with it’s own unique restaurant, bar and dive shop. And the best thing of all about the region are the dozens of wonderful snorkeling and dive sites, which brings us to the beginning of THIS PG moment.
My favorite snorkeling site is The Coral Gardens. It’s only about a 10 to 15-minute bangka ride from Big La Laguna and it is spectacular. Once I’m in the water, outfitted with mask, snorkel and fins, don’t expect to see me again on the beach for at least two hours. I don’t want to get too bogged down describing the breathtaking underwater scenery of The ‘Gardens, but it IS incredible to behold. I’ve been in its crystalline water for more than three hours and it felt like 30 minutes. I think heaven must be like that—so delightful that time ceases to have meaning.
On once such snorkeling venture at The Gardens, I decided to explore the shoreline where the beach gives way to lofty rock formations. I knew it was bound to make for some exciting swimming after the relative calmness of the deep water. I could see large swells ending in foamy wash as they bashed headlong into those ancient volcanic rocks. I approached them, and from my close-up underwater perspective, I saw that the shore rocks were actually quite cliff-like at 15 to 40 feet in height, counting the submerged rock face.
I hovered in the water a dozen feet from the first length of this coastal rock and for a few minutes I simply observed the new environment. I'll say this: when a person swims in tropical waters THAT is when one truly SEES! I kid you not. Most of us go through life on land without really SEEING anything. A surface person going about daily routines looks WITHOUT paying attention; BUT as soon as that oblivious landlubber plunges into beautiful, life-filled tropical waters, such as those at The Coral Gardens, THAT is when he starts seeing EVERYTHING. In fact, ALL your senses go into overload as you try to take it all in and realize that you can’t!
At The Gardens, schools of brightly colored fish pass inches away; sometimes so thick in numbers that your vision is completed occluded by them. Many of the curious ones check you out, bumping and pecking at your skin to see if you might be edible. Coral of incredible shapes, sizes, and colors; too lovely to describe with words, dot the sea floor as individuals and in extensive formations—ALL this marine beauty—jellyfish, shelled animals, all sorts of seaweed, you name it—IT MUST be seen to be believed. Smug with this knowledge, I drifted on the tossing surface. Then, kicking my fins, I approached the first segment of rock face.
The underwater geology of the diminutive sea cliffs near The Gardens is best described as a series of shallow cul-de-sacs. You would never realize this by looking at the rocky shoreline from a boat, because from the surface, the craggy shore rock seems to run straight where it picks up from the sandy beachfront. I discovered through my mask that in actuality, just a few feet beneath the surface, there are mini-canyons formed by rows of jumbled rock. These parallel lines of submerged boulders and coral run out to sea perpendicular to the shore, and form miniature canyons of some 10 to 20 yards long. Each one ends in a shallow indentation in the rock wall. I swam up into the first little ravine and noticed plant and sea life I hadn’t spotted in the deeper water. Since I had never seen these aquatic organisms before, to me, I was discovering new life forms with every turn of my head. It was exquisite.
Taking a deep breath, I headed back out of the first gulch. I jack-knifed, and kicked my fins strongly. Quickly reaching the bottom, I skimmed a foot or so above the seafloor and glided back out to sea. When I reached the end of cul-de-sac, I surfaced and forcefully blew stale air from my hungry lungs. This sent a surge of spray from my snorkel, clearing the water from it, and allowing me to suck in a fresh lungful. I turned back along my original direction of exploration, exploring each little canyon in turn, every one with its own geological characteristics. Some were deep and wide, others comparatively narrow and shallow, but no two were exactly alike. That’s The Coral Gardens, everywhere you turn there’s a multiplicity of scenery.
Believe it or not, all the above narrative is mere setup for what I saw next. Forty-five minutes after my investigation of the shore rocks began, I swam up into a very deep and wide underwater ravine. I knew instinctively that this one was nothing at all like the others—even the water was colder. I turned up into this unique ravine and stopped dead in the water. There, in front of me, was a black and ominous maw. I felt my heart go crazy and my eyes bulge in astonishment. I thought, ‘What the hell is that?’
The black abyss that I had stumbled upon was an underwater cave. I forced myself to calm down, and soon I swam slowly directly toward the ominously dark and disturbing void. I’m not sure why I was so frightened by it, but I liked the feeling. I grinned around the snorkel in my mouth thinking, “Now THIS is the kind of thing that makes life worth living!’
I could not take my eyes off that dark emptiness. Irrationally, I suspected that something dreadful was lurking in its sinister depths. Still, if one can do so wearing fins in the water, I crept forward, closer and closer toward the cave. I stopped advancing once I reached the waterline well above the cave entrance.
The indentation leading to the actual opening didn’t start until 4 or 5 feet below the surface, so that from a boat, no one would ever suspect that the cavity was there. Complicating my inspection, as I intimated above, the black opening of the cavern itself didn’t start immediately below the waterline. Like all the other mini-canyon cul-de-sacs I had just explored, the rock face here had a bulging indentation below the waterline, and at the end of this bulge, several feet back, that’s where the blackness of the cavern actually started.
The deepness of the cave prevented me from being able to see it from near the rock face while snorkeling. At the surface all I could see through my mask was rock, but as I became more comfortable with being near the cavern, I got braver. I took a breath and cautiously swam underwater toward the menacing opening. The back and forth surge of the sea made it tough to hold my position, and my buoyancy forced me up and into the rock where it started to form a roof. I tried to put my arms up and hold myself away from it, but it was very awkward. I kept bumping my head into the rough stone above me as I peered into the oblong orifice.
To spare my noggin from anymore of a beating, I went as deep as I could before angling back up towards the mouth of the cave. From 6 feet down, and the same distance from the scary entrance, I could take in some of the particulars of it. Dimensions are hard to calculate underwater, but now I could see that the maw was oval in shape, about 8 feet across, and 5 feet high; and it wasn’t vertical, but steeply canted outwards from the bottom, a bit like a door slanting toward you. It was this steep slant that gave the hole its oblong appearance. I started to drift upwards into the rock roof, so I turned and pulled with my arms and kicked hard for the safety of the outer surface and blessed air. But, for a split second, just before I had to jet, I thought I had seen something way back inside the blackness.
I held onto the vertical rock face and considered what I thought I had just seen—sunlight! As unlikely as it seemed, way in the back of the abyss, I was sure I saw a shimmering patch of light. Excited with the possibilities, I quickly refilled my lungs and dove deeper yet into the recess. I reached the bottom and kicked back up, situating myself at the very entrance of the murky opening. Putting my hands up against the stone surface above me, I gazed intently into the circle of darkness.
I was right! There, way up inside of the cave tunnel, it wasn’t completely black after all. There was light, at least two splotches of it, and it seemed to shimmer as if reflecting off surface water. That meant the cavern wasn’t completely underwater; there must be open air someplace back there. There had to be if I could see sunlight—Right?
‘Okay, now what?’ I thought. I felt an intense need to swim into the very throat of the maw and towards that light. As I said though, it’s very difficult to judge distances underwater. Those glimmering spots of light could have been 10 feet away, or more than 30 feet. I struggled with what my next move would be.
‘Oh hell. I’m going for it!’ I decided. As soon as I made the decision, I felt my pulse increase as my heart kicked up a couple notches. ‘Man oh man, I could die in there!’ I thought happily. ‘God help me, I must be sick or something,’ I told myself, but I was giddy at the idea of the danger. ‘All right, let’s do it!’ I took five or six deep hyperventilating breaths and dove deep into the outer opening, at the bottom I kicked off and headed directly into the cave’s murky mouth.
As I pushed into the murk, I realized I was entering a tunnel of sorts, and I would have to pass through it to enter the unknown depths of the cavern. I became disconcerted when I lost sight of the small puddles of light that I had been using as a visual reference. I became disoriented and started to freak out. Those little patches of sun had winked out, blocked by the crown of the tunnel. I could see nothing but blackness; I might as well have had my eyes closed. I beat back panic, and to worsen things, my head bashed painfully against the semi-smooth overhead rock. ‘No AIR yet! Where is it!’ I heard myself scream inside my head. I was only dimly aware of the pain on the top of my coconut, because I was becoming more and more concerned about drowning.
When I was a teenager, I could hold my breath and swim three submerged lengths of our 20+foot pool. I hadn’t gone a fraction of that distance into the entrance tunnel of the cave, but my adrenalized body was already craving air, while my psyche longed for light. For a split second, I thought about going back out, but then I thought, ‘NAAAHH!’ I became determined that my next breath was going to be from INSIDE the cave!
Now, it wasn’t as dramatic as all that, because I knew from my years of swimming that if I had to, I could swim a long way even when my lungs were at the bursting point. Thing is, I also knew that if I lost concentration and gave in to my breathing reflex, my dead body would end up against the roof, submerged for only-God-knows how long. So there WAS a small element of peril in the mix.
Stuck against the rock above me, I tried to push down, but I had very little leverage. I tried to continue kicking toward the direction where I knew the light was but, again, I bumped my forehead two more times. ‘To heck with this!’ I pushed mightily against the roof and swam as powerfully as I could. Suddenly, I could see dappled light ahead of me, and then, thankfully, I felt air on my hands and forearms. Carefully, I raised my head, leery of another bump to my noodle. I gasped greatfully and sucked in huge lungsful of wonderful air. What a relief!
The inside of that cave is too cool to believe. If you ever go to PG, take a look for it because it is like a movie set. It has an irregular-shaped main chamber with smaller “rooms,” or galleries, jutting off at different angles. And, it is quite roomy—about the size of a small bedroom. The light I saw from the outside was coming from two primary openings in the roof, with a couple more openings that are really little more than cracks. There is a large fallen boulder sitting directly under the largest roof hole. If I had been wearing something other than flippers, I would have tried to climb on top of it to see if I could get through the opening.
For a moment, I sat on the edge of the entrance pool and looked back from whence I swam. Yet again, I was stunned by what I saw, but this time it was a reverse feeling from before. From the sea side of the underwater tunnel entrance, I had seen a menacing black hole, but from INSIDE the cave, the hole was anything BUT menacing—it was gorgeous! From where I looked down at it, framed by the dark walls of the cave and tunnel, what once seemed a scary black mouth, now appeared as a welcoming oval of light green sea. Through that football-shaped opening, I could see the seafloor—rocks, fish, seaweed—everything! It struck me as funny that the sea looked so near from INSIDE the cavern, because it is--probably less than 15 feet. How ironic after being so excited about the possibility of risking death. Yeah right!
Most of the floor of the cave is water. There are a few dry areas of sand and loose rock, but not much. I explored the smaller narrow side rooms, but there was not much to look at. I found a fairly comfortable place to sit on a tiny sandbar almost directly under the largest skylight, and proceeded to soak up the solitude.
The sunbeam streaming in through the natural skylight highlighted a gargantuan spiderweb. I felt uneasy until I spotted the big 8-legged fellow. I relaxed when I realized it wasn’t going to bother me. Smart spider: it had woven its web in the perfect location. Any insect that carelessly falls through the hole above it gets stuck in the web and becomes instant arachnid chow; plus, any flying bug already in the cave will be attracted to the light and be caught as well. Sheer bug genius!
If you’ve ever seen the Tom Hanks movie, “Cast Away,” then you have the feel of my cave; except MY cave’s floor is water. I sat there for a long time, completely hidden from the world; not even my wife, sunning herself not 200 yards away, knew I was in there. I pretended I was Tom as I listened to the water surging in and out of the cavern. As water tends to, it found it’s way to the cave’s furthest reaches. From those shadowy recesses, the surging water made more of a slurping sucking sound; it was kind of creepy to hear.
I soaked in all the sights and sounds in that concealed chamber, but I knew I’d better get back soon. There was plenty of room to stand and walk around, but doing so with fins is difficult even in the best of circumstances. Unsure of the footing, I opted to pull myself along on my stomach back to the entrance pool through the 2-feet of water on the floor. Once back in the deep water above the cave entrance, I adjusted my mask and snorkel. Taking three sharp breaths, I dove straight down towards the beckoning light. It felt like I was birthing myself! It was so easy swimming OUT from the inside, compared to my earlier struggle coming in; but now, I knew exactly where I was and where I was going. What a difference a little light makes.
I popped back out under a big blue tropical sky, and not 50 feet away was our rented bangka boat. I yelled at the boatman and my wife, causing them to jerk their heads around in my direction. My wife was worried sick. They had lost sight of me, and for well over an hour. Amalia was convinced that I had drowned, however, the boat guy wasn’t the least bit surprised by my disappearance. Apparently, he suspected all along where I was, which puzzled me somewhat. He dropped the climbing board into the water for me, and flashed a knowing smile. Nodding towards the cavern's hidden location, he asked, “You found the cave huh?”
I shook my head in disappointment. So much for it being MY cave!
Monday, March 13, 2006
One of my blog buddies, Amadeo, roused some thoughts...still on the Hollywood vein. Basically, we agree with each other! My comments based on his follow:
You’re right my friend, movies have indeed become more profane and violent, and so have TV, video games and music. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this continuous bombardment of in-your-face-sex, foul language, deviant lifestyles, and blood is having a damaging effect on young people. They see it, copy it, and accept it as “normal.” Hollywood loves “normalizing” antisocial behavior and what easier way to do that than to reach us when we are impressionable?
Why do they glory in gorifying the quirky and deviant? ...perhaps laziness? After all, it's easier to show "over the top" and outrageous than to be subtle and cerebral. To think otherwise is to give them credit for purposely trying to subvert and pervert. So, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and just call them lazy, self-indulgent, and perverse...Actually, no I won't! What I really believe is they see it as THEIR job is to convert and pervert the rest of us! Hollywood and the cigarette industry both know that it's best to get us while we are young.
Amadeo, you give the Hollywood “lefties” WAY too much credit when you think they would ever think twice about NOT depicting events factually. All they care about is THEIR message and it will always reflect THEIR version of reality. Part of their problem, I think, is that they see the world through such a distorted and murky prism that they refuse to see anything else but what they WANT to see. Even when they KNOW the truth, they portray it differently if it doesn't match up with their objective of preaching to and depraving the masses. Until they have us ALL thinking as they do, we can continue to expect nothing but the same.
Yes! The classic movies ARE the best…. NO reverse morality, little profanity, only as much blood and violence as necessary to tell the story, AND they portrayed romance between a man and woman without being nasty and explicit. You know, THE ONLY THING I agree with "nation of Islam's Farrakhan" on is his assertion that Hollywood puts out an evil product that is destructive to our society.
Amadeo, You bring up an excellent point on the foul language that we are forced to suffer through in today's films. I blame the downfall of American vernacular on two things: 1) Hollywood films and 2) the gangster rap culture. When I was growing up I rarely heard the “F” word; even in high school I seldom heard it or explicit references to sexuality. As Hollywood and Rap normalized profanity and open sexuality (of all types) all that changed. Now, kids as young as 9 and 10 in some parts of the country speak like “gangsters” and emulate the foul language of their "heroes" as seen on HBO and on their friend’s DVD players. There is so much of Americana that I am proud of, BUT the profanization of our language makes me ashamed.
We CAN end this if we want to. Most people do not realize that Hollywood started to put out nasty out-of-control films back in the 20s and 30s. I've seen a couple of these movies, and for those times, they were shocking in their sexuality and language. Hollywood was forced to clean up it's own act when many Americans began to object to what many saw as decrepit and foul films; and to preempt government interference, Hollywood created its own standards of decency. These standards held up until the "progressive" culture of the 60's began to tear away at our moral fabric... a foul word here, a phrase, a hint of nudity, then a few frames of actual sex. Finally, they gave us no-holds-barred decrepitude and decadence.
They chipped away at our foundation stones until they breached them entirely. It happened so slowly that many of us didn't even notice. In case you still don't know this, "progressives" aka liberals, don't believe in morality...they believe in fuzzy minded moral equivalence. In other words, NOTHING is immoral, everything goes. If it feels good, it must be good. It seems that these people never outgrew their motto of "SEX, DRUGS, ROCK&ROLL!" and they resent those of us who insist on moral boundaries. It's a war, and so far, THEY are prevailing...
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
The Oscars...The Wrath of Phil!
You asked me when I was going to post something about this year’s Oscars, so here you go brother. You fell asleep during them, but I didn't even watch them, even though they were live on 4 different channels out here at once, and in 3 different languages no less.
Why didn’t I bother to watch? Well, I'm tired of the smarty-pants in Hollywood showing the world how they think Middle Americans are nothing more than a bunch of empty-headed buffoons. They did it last year with "Million Dollar Baby;" did you catch it? Check it out: they depicted the plucky female boxer character’s family from the "Red State" of Missouri as ignorant, selfish, and underhanded. To me, the irony-of-ironies is that at least two-out-of-three of those traits sound MORE like something you'd find in a Hollywood executive! This quirky version of Mid-West Americans, according to Hollywood, shows perfectly the type of "fools" who would be JUST dumb enough to vote for Bush, and TWICE at that! Naturally, they (we) MUST be evil...?
As I said, the irony is that the people I know from the hills and backwoods of Missouri would NEVER behave the way Clint Eastwood showed them in his film. It was a cheap shot and a completely unrealistic portrayal of people from that part of America. They could never have gotten away with it, EXCEPT to use those types of “uneducated,” “unthinking” and “EVIL white folk." And while Eastwood was at it, to make them epitomize the kind of oddball Americans Hollywood sees as “backwater,” he gave them all a strong hillbilly accent to boot. I easily understand why it won best picture last year, considering the attitudes of the people who do the voting. I was very disappointed that Clint chose this opportunistic avenue to get his second Oscar; I hope he doesn’t pander to the U.S.A. haters of the Motion Picture Academy similarly in his current film, “Flags of Our Fathers,” which is about the marines who fought on Iwo Jima in 1945. I would hate to lump Clint Eastwood in with the likes of George Clooney and Tim Robbins! So, don’t go there Clint!
The elitists in the film industry seem insistent on biting the hands that feed them—mine for one. Do they really believe that we will line up to watch movies that tell you and I how horrible WE are, how malevolent our country is? Fact is, not all that many people from the Red States are paying to go to see the movies that are likely to get nominated by the Academy. I know I don’t… Will I watch Syriana, or Brokeback Mountain...? Uh, not likely.... actually, make that a big FAT no! In fact, I haven’t seen a single movie that was up for one of the major awards this year. I guess they must figure there are enough paying moviegoers from the Blue States and the big cities, and that’s all they’ll need economically to keep churning out their “progressive” and "preachy" drivel—Fine by me.
But you know what? As long as the likes of Mel Gibson, Jackie Chan, Rob Schneider, and Ben Stiller keep churning out their style of fare, I’ll be just fine. Hey, All you actors out there in “LA LA Land,” do me a favor…keep your big mouths shut so I can continue to watch you act without getting turned off by your political spoutings! I don’t need to know what you think about the war in Iraq, or Hurricane Katrina to watch your movies. Actually, it’s just the opposite! I will probably choose NOT to go to the theatre or buy the DVD, IF you go out of your way to alienate me…you hear that Clooney? Put a sock in it, or risk MY WRATH! (...and others like ME!)
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Liberals in the classroom
I received an email from one of my fellow retirees today. View his email below and how I answered him. As you can see, I'm much more of a windbag than he is! Sometimes, I think Saul, who is Jewish, just likes TO GET ME GOING!
"Hello Phil and how are "we" today...watch FOX news lately?...hear about the ex-Taliban guy going to Yale college, in case you have not, get ready for this one, today they were interviewing three students about whether this guy should be allowed to attend their Ivey League college when so many regular Americans can't get in, well, there was one student that was in support of this Taliban guy being there (the other two were not), and again, guess who the student was, A FREAKEN ORTHODOX JEW!!!!!!!!!!...when is it gonna end?!?!?!?!...I need a beer... Saul B."
Hi Saul, and how is my favorite semi-conservative, retired-navy, drunken jewish-buddy today? Hey, don't take it personal EVERYTIME you see a Jewish person say or do something that seems so obviously contrary to common sense. In a word, it's called liberalism. And in this case, it just goes to show you how disjointed jewish opinion actually is in the Jewish Diaspora.
Saul, don't blame their boneheaded and misguided opinions on their religion--blame it on their liberal instruction. As I told you before, and as an example, I am a Catholic, and there are some very CONFUSING and confused Catholics out there who continue to support abortion (led by the ilks of Kennedy and Kerry). Either they are Catholic or they aren't! Do they go to confession every time they vote for these people?
In the case of certain Jews supporting the very Islamics who would sooner decapitate ALL Jews, these liberal, and apparently suicidal, "progressive" Jews are simply ignoring their painful history and disregarding current events (Sep 11, Taliban atrocities, Islamic intolerance, Hamas suicide bombers, adnauseum). It shows how effective liberal indoctrination is in our upper-level (and now high school) institutions of learning. Professors have managed to teach the sheep that the wolf is inherently good, and to trust them AND the wolf! My hat is off to the self-proclaimed "elite" of American academia who have been able to so thoroughly indoctrinate even Jews into believing it's better to go to school with the Taliban than it is to sit in a classroom with a bunch of evil conservatives. If that's not Orwellian then nothing is!
To be truthful, I think Harvard or Yale or Princeton, or any of the Ivy League schools are PERFECT for this Taliban fellow--he is going to fit right in. They say he is an "ex Taliban," but is he? I doubt it. And if he doesn't already hate the United States BEFORE going to school there, he most certainly WILL before long; although I doubt very much that he NEEDS much help in hating us--the Taliban are all about hating, just as American academics are fond of hating THEIR own country. It's a perfect match! Teaching their students to detest America is the common theme of ALL American universities; remember, Yale does NOT allow ROTC on their campus! So here's how it goes: "ROTC NO! Taliban YES!" It only makes sense to bring into their fold someone who already would LOVE to see this country destroyed--kind of like preaching to the choir, yes?
Along the same lines...How about the high school teacher in Colorado, Jay Bennish, supposedly "teaching" Geography to 16 year olds? Did you hear his recorded tirade against the US? Don't think he's an anomaly, because I'll bet you he is NOT! Its a wonder ANYONE graduates from school, high school OR college, WITHOUT hating their own country. Its really amazing, the vile and twisted nonsense this jerk spewed down the throats of his charges. The man is absolutely shameless!
And worse, are Bennish's supporters that I saw pontificate on "Hannity and Colmes" and other FOX News talk shows. These people were making excuses for "one of their own," talking about defending his 1st Amendment Rights! One pro-Bennish lawyer spoke of Bennish's promoting "dialogue" in the classroom, as if there was anything but a MONOLOGUE going on in there. Everytime the one student, an intrepid young fellow named Sean, tried to put forth a counterpoint, the crazed teacher brushed the young man's arguments aside. Bennish wasn't promoting free thinking, or provoking thought, he was haranguing his students and assuaging his own political frustrations. Hell, do you think for one second that this "fake" teacher's apologists would similarly defend the 1st Amendment Rights of other teachers who would dare teach Creationism or the "realities" of abortion in THEIR classrooms! And that isn't the point anyway! High school Geography teachers teach geography, not liberal demagoguery! Don't they?
This type of teacher uses his uncontested position of power to force his political opinions and pet peeves DOWN THE THROATS of naive children! Hell, that's like allowing NAMBLA into the classroom. Lets just teach young boys and girls that its okay to have "relationships" with adults and call it free speech! While we're at it, let's bring in drug dealers--why trod on their Free Speech Rights!? Drugs are good, right? Liberals say "it all depends!" Is this the kind of fuzzy logic we want to expose our kids to? There is a huge responibility when it comes to teaching impressionable minds, and this guy abused it. A high school teacher does NOT have 1st Amendment rights! NOT while he is teaching!
The good thing is that the Colorado schoolboard actually suspended this so-called Geography teacher... wonder of wonders! ...and I continue to carp... it's bad enough to have to put up with these opinionated blowhards in college, now high school students, who have so little information at their fingertips and in their mental toolkits anyway, how can they possibly stand up to an overbearing teacher like this guy? Most of the time, they don't, because these intellectually vulnerable kids end up being swayed and won over to "the dark side!"
I'll say one thing for the liberals, they are really doing us "moderate types" a HUGE favor by making the world so damn black-and-white. These people are so far over "there" that we, mostly middle-of-the-roaders, wind up looking like dyed-in-the-wool conservatives! I NEVER thought of myself as conservative until the the Clinton years, when I saw his party rally around that philandering, over-sexed, self-indulging rascal. If a Republican had been caught doing something so shameful and disrespectful while in office, he would have been FORCED to resign by his own party! The farther the democrats go left, by NOT reigning in their growingly strident fringe, the more of a Republican I become, and I am NOT a Republican!
Man, this thing got long. I think I'll post it in my blog...
Now, don't get me started on the Oscars!.....
Thursday, March 02, 2006
A Week in the Air Force...Hey, it's technical!
+++++++A Technician's Story+++++++
By the time I got to Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas, I had been in the Air Force for just six years. I had transferred over after doing 5 years with the Marines, where I had worked in aviation administration along with a tour in embassy security; so even though I had some rank, I wasn’t a very experienced technician when it came to my Air Force duties. And because of my relative lack of technical know-how, there were times in the USAF that I felt like a pretender.
Less than a year after arriving in Little Rock from a 4-year stint in Japan, I was sent TDY, the Air Force abbreviation for the term “temporary duty,” to Mildenhall Royal Air Base for 90 days. Even though I had only 6 years in the Air Force, as a technical sergeant, I was the highest-ranking fellow of the eight of us sent from the Instrument Autopilot Shop. My shopmates from Arkansas had much more experience on the C-130E than I did, but rank is rank, so I was in charge.
My responsibilities included scheduling my people (as well as myself) to ensure 24-hour coverage for all nine of our “birds,” as they came and went from missions all over Europe, Western Asia, The Middle East, and Africa. On top of all that, I was expected to pull my weight troubleshooting and repairing “our” avionics systems. (We were responsible for instrument indicating systems, the compasses, and the autopilot). So, I was in charge, but I was also just another “snuffy” when it came to covering my 12-hour shift. It was a lot of responsibility, but it came with the rank, and it was why I earned the “big bucks!” as we used to say sarcastically.
I made the interminable flight to England in one of our nine aircraft. During the journey, we stopped way up in northeastern Canada at a place called Goosebay Labrador. The aircraft came to a jerking stop, the crew door lowered into its alternate function as a stepway, and the lot of us, about 25 airmen of various ranks and fields, made our way stiffly off the airplane. A bitterly cold arctic night greeted us, the wind stinging our unprotected faces with specks of icy snow. One of my shopmates assigned to the ADVON team waited impatiently at the bottom of the ladder for us to clear off the aircraft so he could get to work. (ADVON stands for advanced echelon).
I stopped a moment and yelled a question to him over the racket, “Dwight, what’s broken on this bird man?” Dwight Turner, a giant of a black man, was wearing a parka and mukluks; even so, he looked miserable. I could tell all he wanted to do was to repair the plane and get back inside to a warm room. (I have an interesting story about Dwight that I’ll tell in a future installment).
“The aircrew called in a fried number 2 compass amplifier. I’ve got a replacement amp right here. Hopefully this’ll fix it,” he spoke in my ear above the loud engine noise of the power unit running not 20 feet away. I nodded, telling him that I’d see him when we all arrived in England. Dwight’s job with the ADVON team was to repair the instrument and autopilot systems on any of our aircraft that broke on the way across “the pond.” The ADVON folks then board the last aircraft and become “ordinary” workers like the rest of us when they get to the TDY location. At that point I didn’t give my broken airplane another thought, but it wouldn’t be long before that bird is ALL I contemplated!
After the group of us from Little Rock arrived at Mildenhall the next day, we spent MOST of that first day processing in. It was October 1987, the Cold War was in its last handful of years, but we trained and prepared as if the Soviets were about to attack us at any moment. We drew chemical warfare suits and attended classes on local flightline driving conditions and procedures, as well as guidelines in case war started. To make things even more interesting, Mildenhall was about to start an Operational Readiness Inspection, or ORI, and we were told we were going to have play along with them.
In short, we were going to be subjected to long arduous hours while wearing hot chemical protection suits and masks, and we weren’t the least bit happy about that! In fact, we were furious, especially when we were told that there would be NO days off for the duration of the ORI! We couldn’t believe they were taking away our liberty for 3 weeks—how dare they!
Our argument was that if Mildenhall people had found THEMSELVES TDY to Little Rock, WE wouldn’t have made THEM play in OUR exercises; and it’s true—they would have been exempted. It was a stupid argument though, because if we had thought about it, we NEEDED to be as prepared as we could in case WWIII ever DID start; after all, when it came, it was going to be right THERE in Europe. Can you blame us though? All we wanted to do was work our “3 days on—3 days off,” and spend our liberty hours exploring England and Western Europe.
It took us nearly the entire day to in-process so that we could start work and get into our work and time-off routine. We were to work out of the Mildenhall Instrument/Autopilot Shop, and it was soon apparent that the shopchief was a hardass AND fond of chicken shit. He and I immediately decided that we didn’t like each other, when during a practice alert; he reamed my guys and me for not reacting fast enough when we were supposed to “hit the dirt” when the air raid siren sounded. I guess he wanted to make sure that we understood that HE was boss. As he scolded us, I stood there with cocked head and folded arms; and as he ended his tirade I shook my head in disgust saying, “Okay boss, if you say so.”
That evening, after dinner at the chow hall, I decided to check out the enlisted club, called The Galaxy, with a couple of buddies from Arkansas. Like most overseas military clubs it was packed with people. The slot machine room was cacophonous with the sounds of handles pulling, drums spinning, machines ringing, and coins a spitting as many of them paid off. The ballroom was rocking with a live band, and the smaller lounge where we ended up, had a DJ playing dance music. The lounge was crowded, yet strangely enough, there were two empty tables near the small dance floor, so that’s where the three of us headed.
Once seated, I couldn’t help but notice a table right next to ours with two young guys sitting nonchalantly. What caught my eye was the pile of ice cubes spread out under their table and beneath their feet. It looked like someone had dumped a bag of ice under there. Then we noticed the tension in the room. ‘Oh hell, what have we got ourselves into now?’ I thought. At first, it appeared that everyone in there was looking at us, but I soon realized they were scoping out the two guys with all that “ice” under their table.
One of two young fellas got up and headed toward the door. Just as he reached it, a sturdy dark-haired man wearing a blazer intercepted him, grabbed his arm and firmly led him out of the room. I looked at the ice and saw that it wasn’t ice at all; it was actually broken glass. Now that was weird! The young hooligans had been stomping their drink glasses into shards and bits under their table. There must have been two-dozen broken glasses under there.
The guy in the blazer returned. He stood with arms crossed, looking like a cigar store Indian, just ten feet from the last of the glass-breaking idiots. I got the feeling that there had been more than just two of these dumb-asses, and we were just catching the end of the escapade. The stern-faced “Blazer man” must have lassoed them one at a time, as I saw him just do. Everyone in the bar watched to see how it was going to play out with the last guy, and now, just my luck, I had a front row seat. I realized then the reason WHY our seats were available in the first place, and now I was going to be right on top of the action, IF there was going to be any. Our drinks arrived and we settled in for the “last act.”
“Blazer guy,” a medium-sized Latin fellow, was an American airman, whom I learned later was a staff sergeant with the U.S. Air Force security police. His job as a bouncer was a sideline. After ten minutes of standing with arms folded directly in front of the youthful miscreant—who continued to sip his drink as if everything was fine and dandy—the grim-faced bouncer approached him. It was a surreal scene with disco music blaring, and all the patrons watching intently as if checking out the finale of a show.
The bouncer stopped next to the man and leant over to speak. He got out no more than a few words when the troublemaker erupted. He sprang from his chair bringing his heavy-bottomed whiskey glass down full force onto the top of the cop’s forehead. The bouncer-cop crumpled to his knees as blood ran in rivulets down his face. His attacker didn’t see the results of his assault, because he was already sprinting toward the door.
He got nowhere in his bid to escape. One observer stuck out a foot and tripped him while three other guys jumped on his back, and none to tenderly. Amazingly, the bouncer quickly recovered and took custody of the crazy kid. He put the guy in an arm lock and walked him on his toes outside to a waiting police van. I spoke to the bouncer the next night and congratulated him on the good work. I asked him what the heck he was doing back on the job already, pointing at the large Band-Aid on his forehead. “All in a days work my man!” he answered cheerfully. Stuff like that is why I used to LOVE going on temporary duty—it was NEVER a dull moment!
The next morning I took “turnover” from my nightshift guys. I was disappointed to find out that the C-12 compass was STILL out of commission on the C-130 I had flown in on. For some idiotic reason, someone decided to try to change out another amplifier. Ten minutes after they applied power, it burned up in a small cloud of black burnt-transformer-smelling smoke. I was angry and let them know it! “You realize that that is the THIRD amplifier we have toasted on that bird? What were you thinking?!”
We had a real problem. Each time we wasted an amplifier it cost the taxpayer anywhere from 10 to 20 thousand bucks. I learned later that even though aircraft components are sent back to an Air Force depot for repair, they charge the responsible unit a set price for each one, no matter what is wrong with it. Even worse for us—there were no more amplifiers on station. Supply was going to have to get us another from wherever one might be cached in the supply system—in Europe if we were lucky. I called a meeting of my night and day shift workers with the express purpose of laying down the law. “Guys, you will NOT put another amplifier into that rack, UNTIL we know what’s causing them to fry. Is that understood?” They all nodded glumly.
Here was our quandary: We simply could NOT waste any more amplifiers, which is what we did every time we installed one and applied power to it. After 10 minutes, it’s power transformer heated up and exploded in a puff of pungent smoke. In the past, when that particular transformer burned up, it was because of shorted wiring INSIDE the amplifier itself. This time, there was certainly shorted wiring SOMEWHERE, but it WASN’T in the amp. WE had to find out where. The short could be in the several hundred feet of wiring, in the score of electrical connectors, or in the half-dozen C-12 compass components, or even in the handful of associated systems that received inputs from the C-12. We needed to find out WHERE the hell the bad wiring was, and we needed to find it SOON!
The C-12 compass system, the primary navigation equipment on the C-130 at the time, works by using a magnetic azimuth detector, or MAD, located in each of the aircraft’s wingtips. The #1 MAD, for the #1 system, is mounted in the left wingtip, while the #2 is in the right. The MAD produces a mili-voltage by reacting to the earth’s magnetic lines of flux, which run north and south through the earth’s magnetic north pole. Basically, it operates on the same principle as a handheld compass, where the little needle points north. Back then, before Inertial Navigation Systems and Global Positioning Systems, if any one of the two C-12 compass systems did not operate properly, the aircraft was forbidden to fly in Europe or over water. Thus, until we could fix it, that huge C-130E cargo aircraft was grounded. The pressure was on!
Besides our “problem child,” we were responsible for all our other C-130s as well. I assigned one of my technicians to pull the five primary system components composing the #2 compass. I wanted every one of those parts checked in the shop on the C-12 bench tester, that way we could be assured that all components were working absolutely perfect. Much of troubleshooting is a process of elimination, and I wanted to eliminate ALL the obvious possibilities first. We didn’t have much choice, except to do the bench checks, since without an amplifier; we couldn’t check out the compass “boxes” on the aircraft. I was worried that we might damage the bench tester, but as long as the shopchief let us do it, then thank you very much SIR! I don’t think it occurred to him that we might destroy his tester worth easily more than 100 grand—that’s dollars!
It took us the rest of that day and the following night for my guys to pull the parts from the aircraft and check them out in the shop, one at a time, using the strictest of the bench check procedures. The idea was NOT to leave any potential problem unfound. I arrived at the shop early the next morning hoping to hear some good news, but it was not to be. Every box worked perfectly on the bench. The only possible cause now, we figured, was wiring, connectors or associated systems. As much as I didn’t want to, from that point on, I put MYSELF on the problem bird, at least for MY 12 hours of dayshift.
A “permanent party” guy, drove me out to the parking spot in the shop’s Mercedes stepvan, of all vehicles, where my “naughty airplane” awaited. On the way out, he pointed to one of the hard stands as we drove slowly by, where C-130s have been parked on that base for decades; he told me solemnly, “That’s the spot where a crazy crewchief took off in a C-130 trying to fly himself back to the States.”
I had never heard that story before, and it sounded intriguing. “Oh yeah? Is that true? It sounds like one of those modern urban legends to me,” I asked doubtfully.
“Oh yeah, it’s totally true. They say he was a sergeant, a crewchief, and he knew enough about flying to crank up the engines, taxi it off the spot to the runway and then into the air. They say he was having problems at home back in the states; he was here on a rotation just like you are. The story is he got drunk, filled up the fuel tanks, and took off before anyone could stop him.”
“No kidding? That’s unbelievable! No way man… How long ago was this supposed to have happened? How far did he get, back to the States?”
“I’m not sure when it happened, maybe 15 years ago, in the 70’s I think. I hear he got the plane over the water and the Air Force brass ordered some fighters to go up and shoot him down. They were probably afraid he would crash it into some civilians.” He shook his head, smiled, and went on. “That’s why all our birds are tied down and locked to the ground, and after he pulled that fool stunt, the Air Force prohibited all enlisted men from doing taxi checks.”
I cocked my head, “Oh man! You know, that DOES ring true dude. I always wondered why we have to use pilots to do taxi checks. I believe the navy lets their enlisted guys do those. It all makes sense now.”
My “guide” explained further; “The stand where he took off from, I swear, it’s haunted! Power units are always messing up on it; and lots of times when aircraft are parked there, their lights will flicker for no reason. Seems like strange stuff always happens on that stand. I HATE working there, especially at night.”
He dropped me off at my bird. I had a couple sodas in my knapsack to keep my energy level up, plus I carried a small avionics toolbox and a multimeter. And of course, I threw my “A” bag on the ground near the crew entrance door; it was loaded with my chemwar gear and my helmet, just in case the ORI kicked off while I was out there. A dark-complected, slender sergeant approached me from the plane, wiping his hands with a rag; I assumed he was the crewchief, and I was right. He nodded grinning, and introduced himself, “Hi. I’m Danny Medina. You the man that’s going to fix my airplane and SAVE my life?”
“Hi Danny,” I said shaking his hand. I grinned back at him asking, “What’s this about saving your life?”
“This is MY aircraft. I am assigned to it for the duration of the rotation. I’m supposed to be flying on it, and INSTEAD, I’m stuck here at “Moldyhole” until you fix the damned compass. So how ‘bout it?” (Moldyhole was our nickname for Mildenhall. We called it that because it seemed to rain there all the time).
“Okay, I get it, but how is fixing this plane going to save your life?” I laughed.
“Because I drew a couple thousand bucks advanced per diem (travel allowance) for this 90-day “rote” (rotation), and if all I do is sit here, I’m going to have to pay it all back. That’s going to suck man! I’m LOSING money even as we speak. You’ve got to help me out!” he pleaded.
We both laughed, and I told him, “Okay Danny, time to get to work. I take it you don’t mind giving me a hand? I could sure use it.”
“Man! Whatever you need me to do, just tell me. I’m your guy. Let’s fix this damn bird so I can get back to flying in it!”
First thing I did was to break out a notebook from my knapsack. With Danny for company, I went through the aircraft forms and noted any and all maintenance that might have anything at all to do with the #2 compass. I looked for clues to the problem, plus I didn’t want to repeat any work that might have already been accomplished; also I searched for any basic aircraft electrical problems that might have had some kind of negative affect. I decided that our next step was to start checking the wiring—first at the connectors, then at junction box connections, and finally, all of the wiring runs. It was a daunting task, but it needed to be done.
Danny and I used my notebook to record each wire—connector-by-connector, wirebundle-by wirebundle—that we checked out with the multimeter. Because the transformer took ten or so minutes to heat up before finally burning up, no fuses were blowing and no circuit breakers were tripping. This was a hindrance, because we had absolutely no clues to point us to a possible culprit. The one thing I was sure of was that we were dealing with a high-resistance short, meaning we had at least two wires interacting electrically that were supposed to be isolated from each other. The only way to find it was to use the ohmmeter mode on my multimeter. We were going to have to check for shorts in each run of wire, not only from point-to-point, but also to ground, and to other wires around it. The possibilities were almost endless.
Another problem with working electronics on aircraft is vibration. The four engines of the C-130 make the entire platform, and everything on it, buzz and vibrate at the very least, and in the turbulence of flight it’s much worse. So, while I checked my continuity readings I had Danny shake and move the wire-bundles as much as he could, so we could simulate as much as possible the actual conditions of flight. To say it simply—working airplanes ain’t easy!
Staff Sergeant Stewart Smart, my best technician, relieved me at the airplane that evening just after 7 p.m. I gave him my notebook, in which I had tracked all the wiring runs as we had checked them out. After all those hours of peering at tiny pin designations on the connectors and studying the schematic for the compass system, when I closed my eyes, I was seeing wiring diagrams on my eyelids. Wearily, I wished SSgt Smart good luck and told him, “Stew, please fix it. This thing is kicking my ass!”
He answered me cockily, “No problem mate. I’ll have it fixed in a jiff. Piece of cake!” Stewart was a real Englishman, with a clipped moustache to boot, serving in the US Air Force, and he had all of us “yanks” saying, “mate.” He was pretty cool—for a Limey that is! I knew if anyone could find out what was wrong with “problem child,” it would be Stew. He was definitely the sharpest Instrument troop I had, so I hoped against hope that he would take ALL the “glory” and find out what was wrong with that damned compass.
My heart sank the next morning when I walked into the shop at 6:30. Stew sat wearily in the break room sipping his coffee. “Morning Stew,” I ventured. “What did you find, anything?”
“PJ,” he started, “we checked every wire, some twice, and came up with zeros. We did find a couple wires that seemed to have high resistance readings, but I wasn’t sure if they weren’t within limits; so we checked the same wires in the number 1 system, and they read about the same. But, I do have ONE bit of good news for you mate.”
I perked up, “Oh yeah? I can USE some good news about now. Lay it on me mate.”
“Well, we had another C-12 problem last night on a different aircraft. We found it had a bad amplifier; its synchronization module is “tits up.” So! That means we have an amplifier that we can use for troubleshooting our problem bird. The amp is already broke, so we won’t be hurting anything when we burn up its transformer.” He stood up stretching and said with a groaning sigh, “Hey, it’s not great, but it’s something.”
He was right. Now we had a “sacrificial amp,” as I named it, that we could use, hopefully, to find out what had caused all those other amplifiers to fry. I prepared myself for another long day way out on the other side of the flightline, basically in the middle of nowhere, and felt an unpleasant weight on my shoulders and a heaviness in the pit of my stomach. To make things worse, the grouchy shopchief, “my buddy,” called me over saying, “Sgt Spear, can I speak to you?”
‘Oh boy, here we go!’ I thought. Sure enough, he added to my woes. First, he reminded me that it had been more than five days, and we STILL had no idea what was wrong with our airplane. He wanted to tell me that there was a lot of grumbling from the “brass” about it, and they wanted that plane flying NOW! Furthermore, he told me that he expected the exercise to start in earnest soon. That meant worrying about war condition indicators that would have us putting on chemwar suits, and at times taking cover inside the many sandbag bunkers located all around the flightline.
I clenched my teeth thinking, ‘Man that sucks! That’s ALL I need to make my day complete!’ I doubted if things could get any worse, but all I said to him out loud was, “All right, well let me get to work then.”
Danny met me at “his” aircraft and I greeted him, “Morning Danny. Hey, I’ve got good news for you.”
He brightened up, “Really? Did you guys figure it out?”
“No, but we’re going to try something different today, and hopefully, we’ll finally get this pig fixed.” I explained about the sacrificial amp and how we were going to try to use it to find out what had burned up the power transformers.
“So, here’s the plan Danny: What I want to do is to pull every related circuit breaker and fuse, and disconnect every component from not only the compass, but also from all associated systems that have any inputs at all from the #2 compass. Then carefully, using lots of forethought, I want to push in the circuit breakers and fuses, and reconnect each component, all slowly and one-by-one, until this sacrificial amp smokes. Here’s your job Danny, if you choose to accept it,” I said jokingly: “I want you to sit at the top of the ladder, so your nose is right on the sacrificial amp. That way, as soon as it goes up in smoke, you’ll be able to tell me the exact moment, and so what component or system is causing it. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah, I can do that. No sweat!” He answered cheerfully, “It sounds like a good plan. I have a good feeling about this!”
“All right, but I have to warn you, you could be up on that ladder for a LONG time, because we have to do this slowly and deliberately. We are going to have to push in about 25 breakers and fuses, one at a time, and then reinstall connectors and components in the same way. But to make it worse, we need to wait about 20 minutes after each action to make sure we don’t miss what exactly causes the amp to fry. Do you think you can handle that?”
Danny didn’t skip a beat, “Hey, let’s get to work man. Time’s a wasting and I’m losing money RIGHT now! You tell me what to do, and I’ll DO IT!”
We were about 20 minutes into getting the aircraft prepared when we heard the maintenance van insistently honking outside. “Danny, find out what’s happening!" I yelled from the flight deck. Glancing out the plane’s window, I could see it flying a yellow flag. That meant the war games hard started, so it was time to suit up and break out our helmets and gasmasks. ‘Oh well, war is hell!’ I joked to myself.
After putting on our ensembles and placing our gear nearby in the event of a higher level of mock war, such as an attack, we got back to work. It took more than an hour to map out in my notebook all the components, breakers, fuses, and connectors that we would be reinstalling and energizing. I needed to do this task in a logical order, or it would be futile. For instance, what good would it do to power up the Doppler, BEFORE I had power applied to the compass? If I actually DID have a back voltage coming in from the Doppler, I would NEVER know for sure, if the compass wasn’t even put together yet and powered up. In light of this, I had to do SOME reconnections in various orders and configurations to make sure I covered as many different possibilities as I could think of.
We were just starting to put my plan into action, when we heard the alert siren start to wail the signal for condition red—we were under attack! I yelled at Danny who was already running out of the aircraft to turn off the power unit. We pulled on our gas masks and helmets, gathered the rest of our equipment and sprinted for a bunker about 40 feet away from the nose of our aircraft. As we crouched inside the sandbag shelter we made final adjustments on our equipment, tightening up our masks, smoothing down each other’s mask hoods, and pulling our sleeves and pants down fully over our rubber gloves and booties. Five minutes later we were sweating like crazy inside our masks, even though it was relatively cool outside at 55° F. Danny cursed impatiently, “Damn it! We’re wasting time out here man!”
I shrugged resignedly and joked, “What can we do man? War is hell!”
He was right though. We wasted over an hour sitting and laying there on the grassy ground inside the shelter, while we waited for the condition to go back to yellow so we could get back to work. We peered out of the bunker when we heard the siren go to yellow, but to make sure, we waited until we saw an Air Force vehicle in the distance flying a yellow flag. “Let’s get back to work Danny,” I declared unnecessarily.
“No shit!” he said in disgust.
We went back to work with a vengeance. Unfortunately, by necessity, it was slow and tedious, and we couldn’t hurry it. I followed my plan methodically, pushing in a circuit breaker then telling Danny, seated seven feet up on the top step of his metal folding ladder, to start sniffing for smoke. After 20 minutes, I would put another component or system into play and Danny would start sniffing the amplifier again, until another 20 minutes had passed. After 10 cycles of doing this, I started to get excited. I got the feeling that today would indeed be the day we were going to finally solve this difficult mystery.
Hours went by. It was late in the afternoon, and we were down to only a few components left to reconnect and try out as part of our routine of: connect—power up—and sniff. As we came to the end of our gambit, Danny took a break to have a soda with me on the flight deck. He observed, “PJ, this thing is almost back together and it’s STILL not smoking. What do you think man?” he asked.
“If I had to guess, I’d say that maybe we fixed it by chance when we disconnected and reconnected all those electrical plugs and all those components. Sometimes it goes like that. Avionics can be baffling and mysterious dude. I think this job at times is more magic than anything else. But, who knows, we’re not done yet. You ready?” He nodded and we continued—with him on his ladder, and me on the flight deck after reconnecting another component.
It was going on 5 pm, and we had just one part left to reconnect—the #2 MAD, out in the left wingtip. I called to my collaborator, “This is the last one Danny. Cross your fingers!”
“Okay PJ!” he yawned, “Do you think this is it?”
“We checked the Flux Valve out in the shop, so I don’t see how this can possibly be the problem. Anyway, stand by; it will only take a moment to spin on the plug and push in the circuit breakers.”
“Roger that!” he answered excitedly without a trace of fatigue in his voice.
I pulled myself up through the forward hatch and onto the topside of the C-130. I walked gingerly along the spine, turned left where the wings joined the fuselage, and made my way out to the very end of the wing. I knelt and spun the connector tightly into position. I dropped back through hatch and announced to my dependable assistant, “Danny, I’m pushing in breakers. Heads up!”
“Go for it man! I’ve NEVER been more ready!”
I squashed in the #2 compass breakers one at a time with my right thumb pad. Each one made a telltale SNAP as it set into the energized position. “That’s it. They’re all in. Start sniffing!” I announced.
Seconds, then minutes passed, two minutes, then three. After 7 minutes I called out, “Anything?” He didn’t answer so intense was his concentration. I saw him hunched over the amplifier, staring at it intently. I had to maintain my position on the flight deck, so I could pull breakers immediately as soon as any smoke or flames became evident. The strain was enormous as I waited. Then, at the 9 minute mark, Danny practically screamed, “It’s smoking! That’s it man! We found the problem!”
I de-energized the compass and sat down heavily on the lower bunk in the rear of the flightdeck. As unlikely as it seemed, the #2 Magnetic Azimuth Detector, a part we also called the Flux Valve, was bad after all. ‘How could that be?’ I thought. We had checked it on the bench and it was fine. But when I thought about it, it made sense. The MAD contains hundreds of feet of tiny windings made of insulated copper wire, and these windings MUST have developed a very high resistance short. ‘It must be a malfunction that cannot be checked on the bench tester,’ I surmised to myself. It was one of those unlikely anomalies that technicians run into about once every year or two, and this one was a doozy!
I caught a ride back into the shop and asked if they had a spare Flux Valve in the shop, so that I could verify the faulty one on the plane. They didn’t, so I ordered one. It was delivered in a few minutes and I took it out to my C-130. Danny was still there, and he walked out on the spacious wing with me as I set the new MAD into its mount and tightened on the electrical plug.
“One last thing before we can be sure right?” he queried me hopefully.
“Yup, let’s go power up this baby.” Without fanfare, I pushed in the circuit breakers that applied power to the #2 compass. Danny went back out to his seat on top of the ladder and waited. After 15 minutes I knew we had nailed it. Danny and I shook hands in a quiet anticlimactic celebration.
“So what’s next,” he asked?
“It’s going to take at least another 8 hours to align, install and calibrate the new flux valve. Don’t worry man, by tomorrow morning this bird can be in the air.”
Ecstatic, he said, “Thank God! Finally! Man, what a RELIEF!
Just then, we heard a deep rumble that shook us all the way to the core of our bones. We knew immediately what it was—an SR-71 Blackbird! Bonus! We scrambled back out on top of the plane for a better vantage point. The pilot of that awesome beautiful black rumbling monster must have felt like a movie star, because virtually everyone he passed was standing, watching and waving at him. He was a great guy, because he waved back at each and every one of us.
We shook hands one more time and got our things together so we could finally get off that airplane. I still had enough time left in my shift to check out from the shop the 600-pound MC-1 Compass Calibrator Set, with all it’s myriad equipment and hundreds of feet of electrical cables, which is what my nightshift guys would be using to finish up this job.
It turned out that I had enough time to take the Calibrator Set out to the Compass Swing area and start to set up all of its extensive equipment. Stew met me out there in the gathering darkness. Uncharacteristically for him, he had a huge grin on his face, obviously happy that I had solved our compass problem. He greeted me with a hearty, “Way to go PJ! You figured it out. Good show mate! Tonight, YOU are MY hero!”
“Thanks mate,” I grinned. “I have to agree with you. At this point, I’m MY hero too! I’m outa here man. I can’t believe how tired I am!” I declared wearily.
But it was NOT to be. Before I could get away and back to the “safety” of my barracks room, the air raid siren went off sending us all to condition black. “Damn it!” I yelled in frustration as I scrambled back to my “A bag,” pulling on my gas mask and helmet.
That night, more than two hours after my shift supposedly ended, I finally got back to my room. Another day, another dollar! Just goes to show you though--that it's the tough jobs, done well, that become seared into your memory, even after almost 20 years!