9 Sep 11

This Show Ain’t Gonna Get Itself On The Road

The clock radio said 0414 when I finally allowed myself to look over at it this morning; 6 minutes left before my alarm would go off. Why bother trying to sleep? I decided to get up.

Showtime was 0515, and the squadron was abuzz with activity when I rolled in. Four airplanes worth of crew and passengers were trying to say goodbye to their families while getting our airplanes preflighted and loaded for takeoffs starting at 0800.

My family drove up with me on Wednesday to drop me off. It was a busy 24 hours once we got there, Shannon hadn’t been to the base since Karl’s funeral and Han had never been. So many people to meet and so little time to do it a justice.

People often ask me why I drive 5 hours to work every other week, and I think my girls got to see that reason first hand; it’s the people I work with who make that drive worthwhile. It’s those same people I’m deploying with and they’re the reason I feel the least bit positive about leaving my family behind for any length of time, particularly this length of time. It’s as though I’m leaving behind one family to spend time with another.

Carrie’s main goal in visiting the base was to see the airplanes that Daddy flies, and she got her chance Wednesday evening. We walked out with some of the crew as they were getting ready to do their preflight before the night’s flying. After Carrie got to see where Daddy sits she wanted to see where all the people sit in the back. I think she envisioned airline seating, not the spartan conditions we’re used to in the C-130 world; web seating, facing sideways and crammed in like sardines between pallets of cargo.

Dan, one of the loadmasters brought the girls to the back of the airplane and let them open the ramp and door, which in the mind of a five-year old seemed to be equivalent to flying the thing. Han was a bit more reserved but I know she dug it.

Thursday was more of the same for us at the base, with the impending doom of a tearful goodbye lurking closer on the horizon with each passing minute. I had to drop my bags at 0900 and I left the girls in the room to sleep. After breakfast we headed back out to the airplane so Carrie could work on jumping out the back. Of course she wanted to open the ramp and door again, but we couldn’t do it since no one was there to supervise.

Carrie jumped out the paratroop doors instead, Hannah and Shannon caught her and before we could grab her, she was back up at the front of the airplane, running through the prop arc (well under it really), climbing up the crew entrance door, running to the back in her flip-flops, dodging all obstacles, never tripping or stubbing her toes and then right out the paratroop door again. About 5 or 6 iterations into this cycle, Han told her she could go one more time and then we had to get going. Carrie told Han in no uncertain terms that she would be going 5 more times. Han replied, no, one more time. Carrie’s response,”no, six more times!”. This circular argument went on until Carrie forgot which number came after 8. She finally relented after a couple more passes when I asked her if she wanted to jump onto my shoulders, and that’s where she sat all the way back to Base Ops.

After a few more introductions and no other way to delay the inevitable it was time for the girls to go. They dropped me off at the clinic so I could get one last shot in the arm before I left the next day. Carrie was wiped out and I think that was the easiest way to say goodbye to her. She had a full couple of days, lots of fun and excitement and certainly a lot of attention paid to her. That was exactly how we wanted it, we didn’t want her to be worried or concerned. I don’t think it could’ve worked out any better. For the rest of us, it was a hard goodbye. It’ll be a long time before I get to see them in person again and that point wasn’t lost on me that afternoon.

The girls left and I went on with the rest of my busy day. There was a lot to do and not much time to get it all accomplished. By the end of the workday it was time for what I thought might be my last decent meal for a few months. We went out to a nice little Italian place, had a couple of glasses of wine and then went to bed.

So now it was 0515 and I was dragging my big bag to the squadron for the start of my latest adventure. We took off at about 0830 and headed east to St. John’s Newfoundland and arrived 4 1/2 hours later. Sleep didn’t come easy in the back of the plane and although I might have dozed off for a few minutes, I was eager and anxious to get this show on the road.

The plan for the last month or so was to have a fishing guide meet us at the airport in St. John’s and take four of us out for a few hours of Atlantic Salmon fishing. Just a week ago we found out that the season ended 2 days before our arrival. We attempted to curtail our disappointment at the news by walking around downtown trying to find a flyshop to at least learn a little more about the fishery up there and maybe pick up some reading material for the flight over. No such luck, but we did find a nice little Irish pub and hung out there until dinner time.

Dinner was good and it turns out that Italian meal the night prior wouldn’t be my last decent meal this year. I had salmon with the cod tongue appetizer. The rest of the guys turned their noses up at the very idea of eating cod tongues, as though they were fish balls. They were sports and gave it a try, and then turned their noses up again. I always figured a guy ought to try the local specialty and I’ve had the cod tongues every time I’ve been to St. John’s. It would be like going to Bar Harbor and not getting a lobster roll. I might be overselling it a bit, they’re not that good.

With dinner complete, it was time to get back to the room and work on a decent night’s sleep. Our show time the next morning was mighty early. There are generally two schools of thought on flying across the pond as a passenger on a C-130. First, you can stay up all night partying and then sleep the whole flight, and that works great when there is a lot of room in the back of the plane to stretch out. This school of thought is generally subscribed to by loadmasters and the younger captains and lieutenants.The other school of thought, subscribed to by most majors and married folk, is to get a good night’s sleep because after all those years they’ve finally learned it’s just miserable being tired and unable to get comfortable enough to fall asleep.

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