Thursday, March 26, 2015

Long, Long Ago

The Beatles wave to fans after arriving at Kennedy Airport. (UPI Photo, Photographer Unknown)
I reckon I was asleep at the wheel last year in February.

Perhaps I just wasn't in much of a reminiscing mood.

Perhaps (I have noticed this a lot lately) it's just the standard "it seems that time all runs together when one gets to a certain age." I dunno.


I was fooling around on the computer, wondering just what to post for Thursday and, as is my wont, I put on a little music in the background. Just to keep the aural circuits amused.

Quite often I turn to the lads from Liverpool for my entertainment.

I remember those days fairly well.

Dad was convinced that it was the end of civilization.

Some of my friends insisted that The Rolling Stones were, ahem, "better." I did not agree. Oh dear no, my disagreement was vociferous as times.

I guess we were rather passionate back in those days.

Well one fine day, Mom brought home the Beatles first single to hit American shores...

"03 iwantoholdyourhand" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia CC

The Olde Vermonter and I were ecstatic, The Musician was only three (or so) at the time and immersed in his own toddler world. I don't recall him expressing an opinion.

Dad grumbled about his "hard warned pay" being "blown" upon such fripperies as those "long haired ba$tards" from England. (As he put it in his colorful way. Dad was a man of strong opinions, God rest his soul.)

At any rate we listened to that record over and over.

Now that bit of vinyl, which came out in January of 1964 (I think) preceded another Earth-shattering event which took place on the 9th of February, 1964.

Now in those days we gathered as a family in the living room to watch a certain TV program on one of those big, black-and-white console TV sets.

The Ed Sullivan Show.

As it was a family ritual, Dad couldn't really turn the set off on the 9th of February, as much as he probably would have liked to.

For The Beatles were to be on the show.

I recall the excitement, my brother and I couldn't wait. Dad even kept his grumbling to a dull background mumble.

We didn't notice.

Those were "interesting" times.

The year before saw the assassination of President Kennedy, the Cuban Missile Crisis had been the year before that. Lord knows we needed something to lighten the mood (so to speak).

So while I was remembering all that, and trying to formulate it into a post perhaps worth perusing, I stumbled across something that still has (what's left of) my hair standing on end.

A recording of that night on The Ed Sullivan Show. Talk about entering the Wayback Machine! Right here. (Emphasis mine, heh.)

Watching that recording was weird in a way. John Lennon was the oldest member of the band, he was only 23 at the time the show was recorded. George Harrison, the youngest, would hit 21 later that same month.

Now John and George are gone. Paul McCartney (Sir James Paul McCartney to us commoners) and Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey Jr. as his mum named him) are all that remain.

Damn, that was 51 years ago.

Perhaps you need to be of a certain age to remember those days but it was pretty exciting. We listened to The Beatles for most of my childhood really.

From grade school up through high school, until their last album in 1970, it was all Beatles all the time, musically. (Okay, there were others. Hendrix, Cream, The Byrds etc, etc. But the main focus was the lads from Liverpool.)

Still listen to the lads, a lot some weeks.

Those were pretty good times.

Pretty good indeed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Great Mashed Potato Fiasco

Le cuisinier et le chat
Théodule Ribot
At one time I fancied that I could cook.

I had a cookbook (well, it was the property of The Missus Herself but, rather bemused by the whole thing, she allowed me to use it), I had the tools and I had a kitchen.

With all that, what could possibly go wrong? Just follow the instructions.

It was during my non-traditional undergraduate college days. Non-traditional because when I started my sophomore year in 1983, it had been 11 years since my freshman year.

Along the way I had picked up a wife, two kids and a career in the Air Force.

With that being said...*

It was our first Thanksgiving in our new apartment, in our new location. We had yet to do a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. The Missus Herself was still a neophyte at American cuisine and was nervous about tackling that meal. So, based on what I told you above, I endeavored to prepare the meal myself.

First things first, I had seen the following at my local grocery store (behind which, once removed, was our apartment building).

Pre-cooked, no bones, no carcass, no muss, no fuss. Just reheat, slice and serve.

So that would cover the turkey, the most difficult part of the feast. What to do for the rest?

Stuffing, gotta have stuffing. While at the store I checked out the Stove Top stuffing mixes. Read the box, looks easy-peasy. So I bought two boxes.

Hhmm, ah yes! Cranberry sauce! That comes in cans, I can open a can without causing serious injury to myself or others. I can do this!

But there has to be more...

Mashed potatoes. How hard can those be? I can so do this.

The first year, it came off without a hitch. The Naviguesser and The Nuke were both impressed. (Which means neither of them got sick or exhibited any ill effects from the meal.) The Missus Herself grudgingly accepted that I could, in a pinch, follow a recipe and not kill anybody produce an edible and somewhat tasty repast. (Note here that The WSO was not even a gleam in my eye as of that time.)

The next year, with the new wee thing one day to be known as The WSO now gracing the premises, but far too young to eat solid food, I did Thanksgiving again. Only this time, I got adventurous. Can you say "pumpkin bread"?

I knew you could.

Betty Crocker provided the instructions, the children provided morale support ("Mom, does Dad know what he's doing?") and with the local King Soopers providing all of the key ingredients, I actually made pumpkin bread.

Not from a mix.

Not from scratch (not having grown my own wheat and not having ground same).

But from flour and butter and sugar and nuts and raisins and, and...

It was very exciting for me. I decided there and then, that someday I would become a famous pastry chef!

I know, I know, pumpkin bread is not a pastry. More of a cake, I guess. Even though it's called "bread," it's more of a cake-like substance. Humor me, who (other than Peter Falk in Castle Keep) wants to be a baker someday?

Okay, lots of people I would guess. People like bread. Especially home made bread. Bakers know how to do that. One thing I miss about Germany is the local bakery, sure we have them around here, usually Portuguese, and Portuguese sweet bread is to die for but...

Pão doce WuCamera Photo CC

Sorry, digression, I know. But our neighbor brought us some of that on Monday. Oh my word, that stuff is AWESOME. (Sorry, I have to wipe some drool off my keyboard.)


The pumpkin bread came out really well. Most delicious and it has become a family tradition since 1984 (or 1985, I forget, it was a looooonnnnngggg time ago).

The meal was excellent. I was really full of myself and...

What's that? What other days of the year did I cook? Me?

Just Thanksgiving though I did branch out and do Christmas as well. I was a specialist. Though to be honest I did, from time to time, whip up cookies or brownies as the mood struck me. (Always from a mix mind you. Cookies and brownies are way too important to be left to the likes of my not-so-tender ministrations in the kitchen. I just know I would screw them up!)

So, it's my senior year, and I'm feeling pretty cocky going into the Thanksgiving season. It's almost like I'm on this winning streak, nothing can stop me now. I'm a kitchen master. No recipe too complex, no culinary delight beyond my capabilities.

Can you see what was about to happen?

Yup, I got over-confident. Way too cocky and (dare I say?) arrogant.

The preparation started out as it always did but that year, there was a difference.

You see, The WSO was now three. She had developed a personality which all found cute and endearing. But, she also was a bit of an attention hog (sorry honey, but there it is).

So rather than attend to my duties in the kitchen, I may have been paying far too much attention to the youngest of our clan. There may have been a burning odor coming from the stove. My carefully orchestrated and meticulously planned repast was about to be undone.

Mashed potatoes are pretty easy to make.

Peel the 'taters, wash 'em up, throw 'em in a pot o' water and bring to a medium boil. When they're tender, you drain 'em.

Then I like to mix it a bit o' milk then one smashes the hell out of mashes them. (It's easy to get carried away.)

I prefer an Irish potato masher, as opposed to a German potato masher. The cognoscenti will know why.


German Potato Masher (Public Domain)

Now I had just checked the 'taters, they were tender and ready to be mashed. So I added the milk and began to mash them, keeping them over a low heat by the way. Like I had always done.

Now somewhere in this process The WSO (of course, she will deny all knowledge of this and her siblings support her for the comedic effect of harassing Your Humble Scribe) began to make a fuss, demand something, make lots of noise or some other three-year old type behavior. I forget the exact circumstances. The trauma of that day haunts me still...

So I turned to the littlest one of the tribe to scream-at-her-to-please-be-bloody-quiet-can't-you-see-I'm-busy-in-the-freaking-kitchen-making-Thanksgiving-bloody-dinner ascertain what was troubling her, incorrigible-little-monster sweet darling thing that she was (and is).

Whilst in the midst of performing my parental duties (The Missus Herself being unavailable, she might have been doing laundry) I neglected to check the mashed potatoes.

Given enough time, even over a low heat, the moisture in those potatoes was bound to boil off, leaving nothing between the heat source and those lovely mashed potatoes but a thin skin of metal actually designed to transfer heat evenly to the contents of the pot.

Yes, Dear Reader, the 'taters were burned. Not badly mind you, just a bit of crispiness and brownish coloring to the lowest layer of the potatoes. It would have been alright had not the love of my life come into the room, smelled something amiss and immediately proclaimed...

"The mashed potatoes are burned. You burned them. How could you?
Thanksgiving is ruined. Ruined I tell you!"

There was much gnashing of teeth, wailing and rending of garments that day, I can tell you. Well, except for The Nuke, she found (and still finds) the entire incident to be très amusant.

To this day, when all could have possibly been forgotten or overlooked by now, the traditional greeting in our household, and the homes of our children, has been and (I believe) will always be...

"Hey, remember that Thanksgiving when Dad burned the mashed potatoes? Hahahahaha!"

Much to my chagrin.

Truth be told, I haven't cooked since that day.

Not one potato.

Not one breast of turkey.

Not one box of Stove Top.

The entire thing left me a broken man.

Broken I tell you.

Now my contribution to the holiday meals is limited to opening the cans of Ocean Spray and cleaning the dishes afterwards.

Damn, I could have been Emeril Lagasse.

Emeril Lagasse book signing, Ft Lewis
(US Army Photo - Spc. Leah R. Burton)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday's Trash

I'm sure you've noticed that my semi-regular bit here on the Chant - Trivia Tuesday, has been on hiatus the last few weeks.  Not that it's run it's course or anything, but I just haven't come across enough trivial material that is singularly focused to put together a decent post.

Now I'd suspect that some of you may be cheering the fact that I'm not playing Stump the Chump with my trick questions, multiple correct answers, and ones with the ever-popular answer "It depends." 

So what I bring you today, which not-so-coincidently is Tuesday, is a bunch of material that has been rattling around my head for several weeks-  the Trash per se.  Hmm, this could possibly be my new Tuesday title...  Anyhoo, I always have a bunch of trash up in my noggin, which does need to be taken out periodically, but Tuna's Total Trash Tuesday, or just Tuna's Trash, which both have an alliterative likability factor, might give a reader the idea that it's not quality material I'm posting.  /Snark/

I think I've mentioned before that I've never intentionally phoned it in. Sarge might have given you that impression by suggesting that I've slammed together a post late on a Monday night, but it's often just me writing my post in MS Word, later transferring it to a post here. However, I try to do my research throughout the week and on weekends, saving pics to my computer as I go, then combining them with the text just prior to publishing the post.  But enough about the mechanics of my blogging.

First piece of "trash" I'll dispose of here is this:  What famous person who served in the US Army Air Forces, later played the movie role of another celebrity who served in the same?


Would you believe that the music of my youth was the Big Band Sounds of the Glenn Miller Orchestra?  Well not exactly, but close.  While I'm no spring chicken, the big band era was well before my time- the late 30's and 40's, but my Dad grew up listening to that music.  And thanks to a Time-Life anthology of the Big Band Swing Era which he bought himself for Christmas one year, I also grew up listening to the swinging sounds of Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington.  I played some of that music myself, being part of my high school's swing Choir- not as a singer, but accompanying them as a drummer.

In two earlier trivia posts I quizzed you on military celebrities, but Glenn Miller (the celebrity who also served in the USAAF) was left off that list.  
In 1942, at the peak of his civilian career, Miller decided to join the war effort, forsaking an income of $15,000 to $20,000 per week in civilian life. At 38, Miller was too old to be drafted and first volunteered for the Navy but was told that they did not need his services.  Miller then wrote to Army Brigadier General Charles Young. He persuaded the United States Army to accept him so he could, in his own words, "be placed in charge of a modernized Army band". Wikipedia
The Navy didn't need his services?  There's a joke in the Navy about Changes of Command- they are either "With Band" or without.  The latter meaning you were fired.  Exploding bolts you see.  I guess during WWII we either weren't firing all that many or we just didn't take the time to schedule the band.  

But I digress.

Miller was later transferred to the USAAC and played in both the US and Europe.  His service as the leader of the AAF Band was characterized by General Doolittle as second only to a letter from home as the biggest morale builder in Europe.  Sarge can enlighten you on when the USAAC became the USAAF.  I tend to ignore those corporate name changes.

UC-64A Norseman (National Museum of the USAF) Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
On December 15th 1944, Major Miller was flying from the UK to entertain troops in Paris, but the UC-64A he was riding in was lost over the English Channel.  In the 1954 movie, The Glenn Miller Story, he was played by Colonel Jimmy Stewart, USAF Reserve, later promoting to Brigadier General.  And know you know...the rest of the story.

Actually Jimmy Stewart, the great American that he was, is a story unto itself.  A commercial-rated pilot before the war, he enlisted in the Army in March of '41, becoming the first major Hollywood personality to join the war effort.  He was commissioned into the USAAC following Pearl Harbor, but relegated to mostly recruiting duties because of his celebrity status. However, in the Summer of '42 he was appointed CO of the 703rd Bombardment Squadron, flying the B-24 Liberator.  During the war Stewart flew a total of 20 combat sorties earning two DFCs and the Croix de Guerre


Now for some general musings.

The Jury Pool                                                            UT San Diego

I recently spent a day doing my civic duty for the Superior Court of San Diego.  The Jury Summons is one of those things people dread, but I only had slight reservations about it, at least until later in my day there.  I thought the process would be interesting so I was ready to serve if needed.  While I didn't necessarily want to be chosen, I was almost hoping I would be.  My concern was mainly that I would be stuck on a long trial, but apparently those are very rare- most running only a few days to a week. Showing up at 0800, I sat in the above room while the various instructions were given to us. We were thanked for doing our civic duty and told that while the sitting and waiting might seem like a waste of time, knowing that we were there ready to sit on a jury enabled the lawyers, plaintiffs, and defendants to negotiate in good faith, and not feel they had to settle unnecessarily.

I thought I'd just be sitting in the room all day and then be sent home.  However, after about 90 minutes, my number was called as part of an initial 50 potential jurors.  Once you're selected, the painful part of the process begins.  What I noticed, first just by observation, but soon by the answers to the various questions the judge and lawyers asked, is the wide disparity of...Hmm, what's the right word...intelligence?  I realize that's judgmental and possibly a tad arrogant, but C'mon people! Use some common sense.  The questions asked of us were very repetitive, and extremely straight forward,  but some of the responses showed that some people still didn't understand what was being asked.  A standard question was "Have you ever been the victim of a crime?"  One person said that they once lost their sunglasses, but they thought that someone stole them.  Hmm, oookay.  And by the way, an ingrown toenail or a sore shoulder because you walked into a door is not a reason you should be excused from jury duty.  

I wasn't part of the first group of jurors seated, but the questioning quickly eliminated a whole slew of folks for various reasons and I moved up to the jury.  As an educated guy on the other side of middle-age, I knew I had the knowledge required to listen to the testimony and fairly determine a verdict.  Among other questions, the Prosecution asked what I did for a living and I'm guessing he was willing to have a retired Naval Officer on the jury because he had no further questions.  However, it's my opinion that in general, a Defense Attorney is afraid of an educated and intelligent juror, especially if they know their client is guilty or probably guilty.  The Defense wants to be able to appeal to the emotional side of a juror, vice their logical side, as these people can be swayed by arguments, possibly ignoring the facts.  Why else do you think we get jurors awarding multi-million dollar settlements for spilled coffee?

After questioning, I was excused by the Defense with no explanation.  I was definitely not trying to get out of it, but for this case (assault on a prisoner, by another prisoner, with a Prison Guard being the sole witness), I guess I was seen as a threat to the Defense. 

I remember hearing a comedian say that if you ever commit a crime, you don't want to be tried by a panel of people too stupid to get out of jury duty. Hmm.

Last bit of trash for today.  

Anything and everything requires passwords these days.  And because of all the breaches of security anywhere and everywhere, we're constantly being reminded to change our passwords regularly, don't use them on multiple sites, make them hard to figure out, don't write them down, and so forth.  And the complexity requirements?  They make it nearly impossible to come up with ones that are somewhat memorable.

Your password must be 12-20 characters long, contain a combination of both upper and lowercase letters, numbers 0-9, 3 characters from wingdings font, and special characters (!@#$%^&*+=), none of which may repeat, nor can be in order on the keyboard, nor can they be an actual word or anything remotely memorable, and must be changed every 2.5 hours or your account will be locked out for a week, or two, or until whenever we feel like you've groveled enough to Tech Support.

I think we ought to just say screw it and write them down anyways.  Ok, maybe using some sort of personal code that helps you know what the passwords are, but nobody else could ever figure out without waterboarding you.  It's WAY more likely that someone will break into your computer than into your desk drawer at home for that old envelope from the birthday card your Aunt Judy sent you 8 years ago.  Heck, stick it in your family bible.  No criminal will ever open that up.

Yeah, yeah- I know we should make our passwords into some sort of sentence, My1std0gwa$f@t but geez, can't we just move to a live DNA-based security system already?  Did you see the Sci-Fi movie Gattica?  In order to ensure they were authorized for entry into work, they put their finger on a scanner that took a tiny speck of blood from each person which was immediately checked against the company's DNA database.

However, the only way I know to check your blood today is through those little spring-loaded finger prickers they use when you donate at the Blood Bank.  I think they were designed during the Spanish Inquisition, because these miniature torture devices kind of hurt!

"Please place your finger on the keyboard for DNA verification of your account."  Ooh, how bad do I want to get onto Facebook today?  Nah, I'll skip it. I didn't really want to see yet another picture of my second cousin's cat anyway.

Before I forget- Spring Break is next week and we're taking the kids on vacation.  Maybe the trash will be full again after Easter.

P.S. "My first dog was fat" is definitely NOT my password, and I don't even have an Aunt Judy.  Honey, I need to log into our bank account.  Where'd I put that jury summons envelope? 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hercules and the Rangers

For his post this past Friday, Sarge went with an old favorite around these parts, The Friday Flyby tm.  IMHO, these excellent, educational and not for profit posts are too few and far between, brought on by some unpleasantness with someone who should have just minded his own business, but in only two sentences, I digress.  Said post was about the venerable C-130 Hercules.  While I have never flown a 130, I have ridden in them.
Not me.

A lot.
C-130 Cattle Class w/Troop Seats

Why, you may ask?  Well, because the aircraft is so good at what it does, that militaries around the world have bought a lot of them.  (For a full list of users, see above mentioned post, it would be cheating on my pay by the word calculation to copy the list.)  And, as we used to say when considering the F-15 vs Nork Fighters, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

So, there are lots of C-130s in the world, so what?  Well, that means there are a lot available.  Go to any large military airfield and chances are reasonable that there is a 130 parked on the ramp.  If not, check back later in the day, there’ll be one then.  Lots of availability means lots of opportunity to get a hop on short notice.  So, lots of time in the back end of a 130 AKA “the noisy basement”.

I suppose it was theoretically possible for the 130 to be configured with the USAF’s version of airline seats (I think they bought scrapped seats from airlines, ripped out the padding, and recovered the frame with smelly, dirty, stained dish towels), but I never saw that configuration.  Nope, it was always the orange webbed “troop” seats.  A mesh back with the seat having all the worst aspects of an army cot.  About 3 inches of sag where the butt goes and a support bar optimally positioned so as to cut off blood flow in the legs after a very short time.  Sleep in those seats, such as it was, was accomplished by weaving your arm into the webbing, thereby causing blood flow to be lost in it also, and resting your head against it.  Slept like a baby (for further definition, see here).

This post isn’t a gripe session about the trials and tribulations of riding in a 130.  No, this is much richer, but before I begin, I’ve got to discuss one other key part to this story.  A group I have profound respect for, both in what they do, as well as what it takes to become one.  

As readers here probably know, I flew fighters for the first 13 years of my USAF career.  After finishing my assignment at Kadena, I was assigned to Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Ft Leavenworth KS.  (Yes, the Ft Leavenworth of Prison Fame. One of the requirements of the college was to pay a visit to the prison.  Not sure whether that was for educational purposes or to serve as a warning.)
Picture of CGSC, not the prison.  This isn't as pretty as the prison, other than that they're pretty much the same.

In any case, this was my first opportunity to interact with military from “other faiths”.  My staff group was composed of about a dozen guys (there were females in attendance, but not in our group).  The other foreign officer besides myself was an artillery officer from Australia
Aussie BFG.  Go look it up!
The rest of the guys were from various specialties in the US Army.  Included in the group were two Rangers.

Now, as I understand it, “Ranger” can have a couple of meanings.  One is “Ranger Qualified”, meaning a person has successfully completed Ranger school and is allowed to wear a Ranger Tab.  My impression, on hearing tales of Ranger school, is that it’s like USAF survival school on steroids.  There were a few fighter pilots I knew who were Ranger Qualified, but most of us looked a little askance at them. 

The other meaning of “Ranger” was someone who was Ranger qualified and had actually been in a Ranger unit.  The two guys in my staff group met this definition.  For whatever reason, the Aussie, myself and these two Rangers became fast friends.
Now, my time at CGSC was before Uncle Saddam decided to take his summer vacation in Kuwait, so most of the students had not seen any combat operations, except for these two gentlemen.  
Fun in the sun.

Both had jumped into Panama.  Since one of them is still on active duty, I’m not going to go into any detail except to say he’d “been there, done all that and got the t-shirt”.

Ranger 1 had a wicked sense of humor.  As expected for a “Staff” college, one was expected to present briefings which we did with mind numbing regularity.  These briefings were usually presented to the Instructor with the rest of the staff group arrayed behind him.  Occasionally there were higher ranking officers present to receive the briefing which generally raised the seriousness of the presentation.

Such was the case when I was scheduled to present a briefing on some aspect of USAF fighter pilotness, and the commandant (an Army Two Star) was the recipient.  I’m standing tall giving my presentation in all my blue glory, when I notice Thing 1 and Thing 2  Ranger 1 and Ranger 2 stack my books and other paraphernalia on the back desk and begin duct taping it to the desk.  They weren’t just taping it to the desk, they were wrapping the tape around the books and then around the top and bottom of the desk, completely cocooning my stuff in the tape.

It was difficult to keep my concentration, and more importantly to keep from laughing.  I got through the briefing, the General asked some banal questions which I seem to answered successfully and it was done.  As he got up to leave, he did a double take when he saw the cocoon, but said nothing.

One thing I learned about Rangers, give them an inch and they’ll take everything you own, once owned or ever hope to own.  So, it’s about a week later and Ranger 1’s turn in the briefing barrel.  Now, Ranger 1 had a fixed daily routine, he would come in the classroom about 15 minutes before class, drop his stuff off and head to the snack bar to get a cup of coffee.  Styrofoam cup with a lid and a hinged drinking flap.  He’d bring it back to class, put it with his stuff then go out in the hall and talk with folks.  He’d sip on the coffee while class was going on, and then refill at breaks.  

Regular as clockwork.

Which is a bad thing when shenanigans are afoot.

Ranger 1 is scheduled to be the first briefer of the day, so I get there a little early and wait for the target to come onto my scope.  He comes in the class with his cup of coffee, puts it down and walks out the front door.
Source and link in case you want to add this to your arsenal:

I strike, open up the lid and dump in 4 or 5 plastic flies, close the lid and sit down to wait.  

Class starts, the instructor sits in the front, we’re arrayed behind and Ranger 1 gets up to begin his presentation bringing his coffee with him.  He’s getting ready, fires up the PowerPoint, and takes a gulp of coffee to clear his throat.  As he’s got it to his mouth, one of the flies comes floating out, (upside down, so the fake looking wings are not seen).  To the amusement of all (well except Ranger 1 and the instructor) the ensuing spew of coffee was epic.

Fortunately, as I said, Ranger 1 had a wicked sense of humor and saw the humor in the situation.  The instructor negotiated a truce which both sides generally followed for the remainder of the year.

Juvat, what the heck does that have to do with C-130’s?  Well, since you asked.

So,  There I was…..*

At Kadena AB, Japan at the MAC terminal, about to board a C-130 enroute to Osan AB ROK to sit PARPRO (Peacetime Air Reconnaissance Protection) alert.  There will be 5 of us on this deployment, but just Bones and I are MACing the trip.  The other three pilots are deploying 3 F-15s up as our squadron is replacing one of the other squadrons.  The 18th TFW rotated the three squadrons every 4 months to share the load, it’s our turn now.

Bones and I look to be the only two passengers on the 130, so we should be able to spread out and get some rack time.  The only other stuff on the bird is a pair of Pratt and Whitney F100 engines as spares.  So there are only a couple of sections of troop seats positioned.  We bus out to the 130 and load up, seating ourselves on either side of the starboard window which puts us about even with the wing and engines.  

The crew is busy going about their getting ready to launch business, when the crew door opens and in steps a group of Army types and they’re all Rangered Up.

Weapons, Helmets, Back Packs, they’re ready for War, kids.  

A couple of disdainful glances towards Bones and I as if to say, “why do you get the window seats?” and they settle in in the center section of the troop seats.

The engines are started, doors closed and the “noisy basement” soundtrack is selected on the sound system.  It’s going to be about 3 hours to Osan, so Bones and I settle in as the 130 takes off.  

The troops are being ever so cool as they get settled in also, one so bold as to put his feet up across the aisle on the seat right beside me. At least he doesn’t put them on me, so I really couldn’t care less, but I think he meant it as a challenge.  WHOGAS?

We’ve been in a climb for quite a while when the pilot finally reaches cruise altitude and levels off. As he pulls the power back, one of the engine has a bit of a problem and the pilot has to pull it to idle.  This reduction in power, of course, produces a very audible reduction in noise emanating from our side of the airplane.  

Without a word of coordination, Bones and I slowly turn our heads and look out the window at the engines for a minute, then turn and look at each other. Then quickly turn and look back at the engines. This is what we see.

Pandemonium ensues from the Rangers.

Tap, Tap, Tap on my shoulder from the NCOIC.  “Sir, what’s wrong?”

“Not sure, seems we might have had a little engine problem.”

“Is it on fire?”

“Well, Sergeant, since it is a turbine engine, it’s always on fire.”

“Is it an emergency?”

“Only if this is an F-16.”

Landing at Osan, we weren’t even met by the fire department.  However, the boys in green were a bit more humble getting off the plane than they were getting on. 

Interestingly, Googling "C-130" in the images section showed me these pictures of a VERY SECRET version of the C-130.

Who knew?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Fever

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
“It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want—oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
― Mark Twain
The scene outside my kitchen window, Saturday, 21 March 2015. 1146 local.

Same scene, Saturday, 21 March 2015. 1535 local.

Started with a light snow last night (probably about the same time as the Vernal Equinox was occurring). It was still snowing this morning. Not heavy, as you can see, but enough to paint the ground white.

By afternoon, everything which had fallen that evening and morning was gone. The sun was shining, temperatures were New England pleasant (no doubt the more southerly would find it a mite chilly).

Now one can see robins in Little Rhody nearly year round. I've seen them gathered in the crab apple trees at work in the very dead of winter. Partaking of the fermented wee apples in those trees. Squabbling like the locals down at the pub.

But they tend to stay off in the forest until Spring arrives.

Which it did on Friday (though Saturday was the first full day of Spring).

Seems the birds timed it right this year. A most pleasant day.

I doubt winter is truly over though. He goes down hard that one, usually with one more blast of Arctic air and one final dump of white stuff o'er the landscape.

But for now, I am enjoying what we've got.

Like Mr. Twain said, I don't quite know what it is I want. But the heart yearns for something.

If not downright aches for it.

As the snow dwindled, the robins increased.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The War, 1861 - 1865

Battle of Spotsylvania by Thure de Thulstrup (Public Domain)
On my recent trip out to California, I picked up a book in the airport at Phoenix. I have just finished reading that book. You can probably guess what the book was about by the topic of today's post.

An excellent read. Though a mite depressing. This topic always leaves me somewhat confused as to how I'm supposed to feel about it.

Growing up we were taught a few things about the conflict which began in April of 1861 and ended four years later.
  1. It was called the Civil War.
  2. It was about slavery.
  3. The North won because it was larger, had more people and industry.
  4. Northerners weren't natural soldiers but learned.
  5. Southerners were all outdoors-men and crack shots.
  6. The South had better military leaders
  7. People thought the war would end after one big battle
Before I address those points you need to remember that when I was a young lad we were celebrating the centennial of the war. I turned 10-years old in 1963. Two days after my tenth birthday was the centennial of the death of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. An event which was not remarked upon at all when I was a boy. After all, he was on the "wrong" side.

So I was young and impressionable and there was a great deal of interest in the war at that point in time. I remember attending a fireworks display in July of 1963, a hundred years after the battle of Gettysburg. There were some young men dressed as Union soldiers in attendance. My kid brother, The Olde Vermonter and I were amazed, at the fireworks and at the guys in blue who, to our young minds, had emerged from the mists of time.

To put things further in perspective, we are now in the midst of the centennial of another great conflict from the past, World War One. When I was born, there were many WWI veterans still alive. There were also a number of Civil War veterans still alive.

They're all gone now. Even World War Two vets are getting scarce!

Okay, point (1) - One of the first things I learned about the war was that the South tended to name the battles differently from the North, for instance
  • North: First and Second Bull Run, South: First and Second Manassas
  • North: Antietam, South: Sharpsburg
Of course, that's not atypical. The Battle of Waterloo had three names, depending on which army you served in: Waterloo (Anglo-Allies), La Belle Alliance (Prussians) and Mont-St-Jean (French). Having more than one name for the war itself? Makes perfect sense viewed in that light.

Point (2) - Yes, slavery was a causative factor, but not the reason for the war. A trigger yes, the reason, no.

Point (3) - Well sure, that has a lot of bearing on the outcome. But the South almost drove the North to be tired of the cost of the war. Especially the cost in lives. (Something we forgot a number of years later. You don't have to defeat the enemy on the battlefield. In fact, you can win most, if not all, of the battles and still lose the war. Defeat the will to continue and you will win the war.)

Point (4) - Many Northern troops were from the cities, but not all. One thing the South forgot from the Revolution, fight enough battles and you learn to be a soldier. You don't have to be born to it.

Point (5) - No, not really. Many were small time farmers, the South was more rural than the North. Farmers are excellent material for soldiers. That's been true since war began. That's only an advantage early on, experience of battle will make up the difference between a country boy and a city slicker soon enough.

Point (6) - The South did get a lot of West Point graduates. Even now, a large chunk of the American officer corps comes from the south. (That might have something to do with having a large number of military bases in the south. The weather is better, you can train more of the year.) Over time the Northern officers learned the brutal trade of warfare. Some of them got very good at it.

Point (7) - As late as World War One people thought that one big battle would decide everything. Everyone remembered Waterloo, one big battle did end Napoléon's attempt to retake the French throne. But that was an anomaly. Everyone forgot (I guess) the long bloody struggle to get him off that throne in the first place. (Over ten years!) Then, as now, people have very short memories.

I consider my education, with all its perceived flaws, to be much superior to what is on offer these days. At least we learned about the war. Not sure history is even taught anymore. At least not real history.

One can understand why there might be more than one name for a war. Many Southerners, I learned as a teenager, call it The War Between the States. I've even heard it called The War of Northern Aggression. That latter name I don't care for, call me a fossil if you will but P.G.T. Beauregard's guns started the war when they opened fire upon Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Seems aggressive to me. But I can entertain arguments to the contrary point of view. The folks in Northern Virginia and in Georgia still have less than fond memories of the armies clad in blue who destroyed their homes and crops.

Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard (Matthew Brady photo)

But, as I learned growing up, the South had their reasons for opening fire on Sumter. Just want to acknowledge that. I've been there and walked the ground, the passions of the time used to escape me. Not so much these days.

When I was a boy, another man I had issues with was Robert E. Lee.

Robert Edward Lee by Julian Vannerson

Superintendent of West Point, a superb record in the Mexican-American War and arguably one of the best field generals ever produced by our country.

However, he swore an oath, an oath not much different than the oath I myself first swore long ago. He violated that oath. He turned his back on the United States and later took up arms against that nation. When I was a lad, there were still those who named him "traitor."

While that's not a stance I ever really held, his actions made me uneasy. "How could he?" I asked myself many times. How could this great man do what he did?

As you get older, you begin to understand things a little better. Especially in these days when the Federal government is throwing its considerable weight around. Makes me nervous it does. Nervous indeed.

I have stood on the grounds of General Lee's home, at Arlington. For whatever reason, it gives me pain when I consider how that beautiful place came to be. A place where I wish to be buried someday is there because the government seized it from the Lee family. From my readings on the subject, there was a great deal of hatred of General Lee in the North, at least amongst the political classes.

Robert E. Lee's citizenship was finally restored in 1975, over a hundred years after his death.

All I really know about the time is that political interests on both sides were determined to have their way, regardless of the outcome.

I would be willing to bet that very few politicians died in that war.

No surprise there.

The cost of that conflict was high, very high. It deeply affected the psyche of this country. There are some, particularly in the South, who are still bitter about the outcome.

There is an old saying, attributed to George Clemenceau (who's bitterness towards Germany at the end of WWI gave us Hitler, World War II and many other wonders, at least in my reckoning):

La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires.

Which has come down to us as "War is too important to be left to the generals."

I would make the argument that it is too important to be left to the politicians.

What say you?

Dead Confederate soldiers from Starke's Louisiana Brigade, on the Hagerstown Turnpike, north of the Dunker Church.
Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg)
Photograph by Alexander Gardner