Ennui has a way of sneaking up on a fella, it’s insidious. Days quickly turn into weeks, then months; the routine gives birth to inertia which weighs heavy on the deployed soul. It’s easy to watch the time slip by because there are some many useless activities to pass that time; the passage of time is really the ultimate goal here.
By the completion of the life deployed, it is possible to look back on 4 months and realize that none of the goals set forth at the beginning were attained. It’s been a month and change here, and while I won’t say I’ve been hamstrung by the inertia, I will say there’s more I should be doing. The running hasn’t been easy as I anticipated, and the gym schedule doesn’t always work with my sleep schedule, or the getting off my posterior schedule for that matter.
After a month of sitting behind the desk and hearing stories from the guys flying the line each and every day, I realized what I was missing most during my time over here, the one activity I most enjoy, flying. I’d gotten myself in to such a routine: work a few days, off a few days, go to chow then lament the eating of too much chow, go to the gym to work it off then lament my sore muscles. Last week, one of the aircraft commanders asked me if I should like to relieve him for a day, he was getting a little burned out. I obliged.
The crews fly every other day, sometimes the days are long, 15-16 hours from the time they get alerted, other times they get lucky with a short, 10 hour day. The short days are the exception rather than the rule. It would seem to the uninitiated that 15 hours of just sitting there in the seat wouldn’t be that taxing on the energy level, but I will attest that it wears on you. 36 hours off is barely enough time to recharge to go back out and do it again, day after day.
The plan was for me to fly for Jason on Wednesday so he could recoup a little, maybe even go downtown for a relaxing meal with some other friends. Tuesday evening the schedule came out and we were fragged to go to a place I’ll just call TOOTH. Kind of has a nice, secret squirrel ring to it, eh?
This would be one of the shorter days the crews get to fly, and Jason was quick to back pedal on his desire to be relieved that day. His plans to go downtown faltered, and maybe I should like a nice day of flying around Iraq or Afghanistan instead of a quick and easy one to TOOTH. I’d never been to TOOTH, and honestly, it was the flight I’d been hoping for when I accepted his offer.
Nothing is quick and easy, mind you. The phone rings 3 ½ hours prior to take off to alert the AC, 45 minutes later the crew is on a bus to Ops Town where they get briefed on the day’s mission. Intel has some words of wisdom they like to impart, stuff has to be signed out, guns have to be issued and then of course is the ever important in-flight snacks have to get picked up at the Grab ‘n’ Go. All this happens before the dreaded clearing of customs. There are very specific procedures to be followed during the clearing of customs, not the least of which is constantly telling yourself not to use your left hand for anything at all, especially passing your paperwork on to the customs agent. Apparently the left hand is the dirty hand and it would be the equivalent of waving dirty toilet paper in the face of the individual behind the desk. In the words of George Bush, “Uhhhh, Ummmmm, Errrrr, I’m not making this stuff up!”
Customs turned out to be much ado about nothing, as you’ll recall it was the first time we had to deal with them upon immigrating. The adventure wasn’t over though, we still had to wait on our passengers and cargo, sometimes they’re at the plane waiting for the crew, other times the opposite is true. Wednesday, we were waiting for them, for an hour.
My excitement level was borderline giddy from the time I woke up Wednesday morning. I couldn’t recall the last time I was so excited to strap in to the mighty Herc, but then I can’t remember the last time I’ve gone over a month without flying either. It was like the hours and minutes leading up to that first flight in pilot training, full of anticipation and excitement to go do something new and amazing. This promised to be a good day with a great crew.
With the passengers and cargo safely secured in the back, we cranked the engines and taxied out to the runway. We climbed out over the desert and then got vectored out over the Gulf and on to our route of flight. Then the excitement turned back to routine. I broke out some snacks, and my new favorite book and settled in for a few hours of sitting there watching the flat, brown earth slip beneath my feet. Every so often there would some topographical anomaly, like a hill or some sand dunes, but mostly it was just flat, brown earth, the shape and color of a sandbox that hasn’t been played in for a while. I was glad I brought a book.
We landed at TOOTH, and were greeted by a welcoming party. I’m guessing that not much is going on there because when I got off the plane, there was a full bird Colonel waiting to greet me like I was some distinguished visitor. Behind him was a line of about 15-20 people of all ranks and sizes just smiling and waiting for me to pass through the welcoming procession to shake everyone’s hand. I felt important, if only for a minute. I guess the passengers we brought in were the highly sought after replacement party for people who are on the short end of their tour. Nothing makes a deployer happier than to see his or her replacement in the flesh. I know I’m looking forward to seeing mine and I don’t even know who he is yet.
The first thing I noticed about TOOTH, other than the Colonel waiting for me to get off the airplane was the climate. It was hot to be sure, but it was a different hot. The elevation wasn’t that much different than here, maybe another 1000 feet higher, but it was dry. The temperature was the same, hotter actually, but it felt cooler because there was no humidity. I liked that, a lot. I now had the authority and foundation to back it up next time I say, “Yea, but it’s a dry heat.” There really is a difference.
The airplane needed to be reconfigured since we brought in more people than cargo and were bringing out more cargo than people. Like any good C-130 crew, we all banded together to help the guys in back reconfigure for the new load. Then we were back in the air, cruising high above the desert floor and my nose planted firmly in my book.
Customs back here was a breeze and before I knew it the day’s adventure was over. Nothing significant to report, except me feeling revitalized and ready for the next crew who needs a replacement pilot!