Small town girl. Joins Navy. Sees the world. Flies in planes. Hunts submarines. Gets out of military and has 3 kids. Rejoins Air National Guard as an "old lady" of 38.

A humorous compilation of stories and lessons learned. Usually the hard way.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Old Enough to Fight

Inspired by a prompt from Write on Edge, I was to write a memoir piece in which one of the following features prominently: Wine, Coffee, or Chocolate.
"Conjure a moment."

The following moment came to mind...

I couldn’t stop thinking about the thick, succulent steak and lobster I would devour that night.  I would order the steak cooked my favorite way- medium rare- knowing I would not have to worry about contamination.

It was the first time I had dressed like a girl in months.  My short legs were finally long again, as they appended sparkly heels.  My hair was full, curled and fell down past my shoulders.  I even took the time to paint my nails fire-engine red. I was completely out of regulation. 

I couldn’t stop staring at my handsome date, and my love.  Tonight we were going to be ‘real people’.  I smiled and squeezed his arm close to me as we walked inside the restaurant.

We sat across from each other at a table that overlooked the water, holding hands.  The waves glistened in the moonlight and crashed upon the shoreline.  No expense was spared as we celebrated at our favorite restaurant.

I glanced around and was met with stagnant expressions from my fellow diners.  I wanted to shake them and say, “How are you not smiling?  Don’t you realize we are all here and that all of us have it so good?!”  Instead, I just fashioned them the biggest grin I could.  Surely, they thought I was daft.

The waitress read the specials of the night in English.  Her New England accent was music to my ears.  She asked to start with our drink order.

“I would love a glass of your house Red and a side of water, please,” I requested, thinking how wonderful the wine would taste with my steak.

“Can I see some ID?”

Without thinking, I handed her my military ID- the same 2-inch rectangle that dictated whether or not I was allowed to pass through the safety and familiarity of armed American gates in the middle of a foreign country.  It was the rectangle that held my entire identity and fate for the past 6 months.

“I’m sorry Hun, but you’re not of age.  I’ll bring you that water though.”  She placed the card on the table, and headed back to the kitchen.

It took me a second to register what just happened.

“Welcome back to the states, Babe.”

Embarrassed, I sat back in my seat. Maybe I was going crazy.  In my head I felt seventy- I had worry lines around my eyes and dark circles to prove it- despite their mere twenty years.  It had been so long now that I was away. I had simply forgotten that I was not old enough to drink a glass of wine with dinner in my own country- though I was old enough to fight for it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Measure of a Leader

It had already been a painful day.  We had pre-flighted three planes and ‘downed’ all of them.  Engine oil leak here, cracked wing there…  We were always to be quick and efficient, though to be efficient- it was impossible to be quick.  Finally, on the 5th hour of our 3-hour preflight, we deemed the 4th plane good enough to trust with our lives.   We relocated our gear once more and took off.
The Mission:  Deliver three Commanders to ground forces “In Theater” so they could show how efficient our operations were.  It was not a typical day- it was a show-and-tell day.  The Skipper trusted his best crew would accomplish the mission with ease. 
After dropping off the officers, we took off for the sky.   Somewhere in that moment, a gruesome realization struck our unfortunate Technician, Dan.  Instantly his face grew as pale as a ghost.  I thought him to be ill and quickly searched for an empty bag.
“You okay?”
He hesitated, mumbled something and then spit out, “I forgot the antenna!”
Surely I hadn’t heard him right.  “What?!”
“I FORGOT the antenna.  I left it on one of the other 20 effing planes we pre-flighted.”
I racked my brain for a plan- but fell short.  There was no way of transmitting video to the ground without the antenna.  I strained to find words of comfort to my poor friend.  I had nothing.  He shook his head and accepted the inevitable- he was going to have to tell them.
Over the hum of the engines I watched Dan hang his head as he informed our TACCO of the situation.  It was like watching your best friend march off to the firing squads. 
Big Lovin’ was our beloved TACCO.  Rare was a day that this man’s face did not hold a smile, or a song upon his lips.  He was the size of a grizzly, but had the heart of a saint.  I had never seen him angry.
I watched as Big Lovin’s song stopped.  He paused and looked out the diminutive window at the engines.  Dan stood next to him.  The silence was deafening.  He turned back to Dan and instructed him to sit.  Big Lovin’ got on his radio and informed our pilot of the situation.
The arms of the man in the cockpit flailed about in a disturbed manner.  His lips were moving, but it was like watching a silent movie.  After the soundless commotion had stopped, a voice came across the internal radio, “Continue mission as planned.” 
I glanced back at Rugged, the other operator, my eyes asking how were we to continue a mission without the vital piece of equipment.  He just looked back at me, shrugged his shoulders, and began to work the camera.  It was great stuff.  We could see everything as plain as day.  However, we knew without the antenna, they wouldn’t see anything but fuzz on the ground displays.
“Yes sir, these are great shots!”  Big Lovin’ narrated throughout the day, in such refined detail they could have drawn a picture.  “You’re not receiving them, sir?” he asked nonchalantly.  “Hmmm. Interesting.  Perhaps a bad connection?”
And there it was.  Our equipment failed regularly, (recall:  three downed aircraft) a failed antenna wasn’t a hard concept to believe.  The mission wasn’t a detrimental one- simply a show-and-tell.  And, we had failed.  However, all of the information was recorded, so nothing was lost. 
But something else was gained that day.
In a world where making a name for yourself was paramount to making rank, these two officers were men of valor.  They never faulted Dan for the failed mission that day.  Instead, they took a bullet for their crew.   They had his back. They taught us what it meant to be a true leader.  Respect was never demanded- it was a by-product of being honorable.

**Each of us on CAC-9 had our fair share of bad days and stupid mistakes.  That day just happened to be Dan’s.  Still, it didn’t change the fact that we were the best crew in VP-8.  At least that’s my humble opinion.
**True to their character, our pilot went on to have a stellar career as a civilian pilot and Big Lovin’ is now the Commanding Officer of one of the best P-3 squadrons in the World’s Finest Navy.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whipping Shitties and Playing Duck Duck Gray Duck (though not at the same time)

(photo courtesy of
Recently I learned a new expression: "he fell out" It is a southern expression for "he threw a tantrum".  Initially, my mind was going completely somewhere else on this.  [Thank you, NC Narrations-]

I cannot help but be amazed that within our wonderful country of the USA- we have such vastly different land masses ranging from deserts to cities to mountains to beaches to cornfields etc.  Anyone who has had the privilege of driving from one end of the country to the other can attest to the broad spectrum the little USA has to offer of land masses- but it doesn't stop there!  The culture differences and dialects among the different regions are about as far different as if there were an ocean separating them.  But there is not, or you would not be able to drive from one end to the other.  I divert.
I grew up in the northern Midwest region.  Up there, strong work ethics are ingrained at birth.  If something comes too easy- well it's probably a scam because everything worth having takes hard work to achieve.

I also lived in New England for about 4 years.  What an incredible part of the country!  The oldest parts of this region were where some of the first colonies had originated.  In my tiny community of beautiful Phippsburg, Maine, they were also once an established colony back in 1620.  Amazing.  In Maine, I feel compelled to say, they speak funnier dialect than I've ever heard.   The first time my landlord, Martha, (pronounced Ma-thah who was more like a mother) said to me "Just go ahead and pahk the cah in the dooryahd."  I was dumbfounded.  I needed a translator:  Park the car in the driveway.  For some reason pronouncing an "R" is scary to them.  And everything good is proceeded by wicked.  "It was a wicked good time."

Now back in MN, we knOw how to speak.  In fact, I distinctly recall a conversation I had with my friend growing up, "Isn't it funny that everyone else in the country has an accent except for us MinnesOtans?"  I never heard the accent until I went away for a few years and came home.  Everything was followed by "You knOw?  Or 'hey'?  'Hey' is simply used to see if you're paying attention.  "I'm going to the store, hey."  Makes perfect sense.

I also didn't know it was weird to end a sentence with a 'with'. "I'm going to the store, you want to come with?"  I could go on.  Other words in which I knOw we speak correctly but the rest of the country does not:  About, bag, goat, boat, or any other long O word.  We say 'O's the way that God intended them to be spOken.

Another observance for my fellow MinnesOtans:  The rest of the world says "Duck Duck Goose,"  not "Duck Duck Grey Duck".  I'm simply attempting to spare you the embarrassment I suffered when a bunch of preschoolers laughed at my game suggestion one day.  Okay- it wasn't that embarrassing.  They were preschoolers, right?  They can't even drive yet.  So at least I got that on them.  And by the way, when you are driving crazy- apparently it also is weird to say "whip a shitty."  Instead, more politically correct (and more common) would be to say "Whip a doughnut). [this is when you spin around really fast on the snow or mud in your motorized vehicle- usually intentionally for pleasure]

And for my final observance- Southerners- while they can be quite the gossipers and are sure to let you know what's going on with everyone- are the friendliest folks I've ever met.  They'll tell you their entire life story in one sitting- whether they are your waitress, barber, or sales clerk.  They are caring, open, and take their time...which can drive an East Coaster (such as NY or DC) crazy.  Slow down and smell the roses.  They talk slower, eat slower, and tend to enjoy life.  But word of warning- many Southerners don't have the Northern bubble.  Northerners are quite particular about someone getting in their bubble.  It's a comfort zone thing.

One of my good friends was my roommate in the Navy off and on for several years.  I solely blame her for my use of the word y'all.  I never realized the convenience of combining words- or how freely it flows from the tongue.  Northerners take note!  (Though she was also the one who sent me on a mission to get a coke and was upset that I brought her an actual 'Coke' instead of asking her what kind of 'coke' she wanted.  What?!?  Pop = soda = coke.

So I now in my confused state of mind living in the middle of the country may say something like, "Y'all need to checkout this wicked good show, hey!"  I've become a mess.  I stumble upon which word to use when I want a softdrink.  Often it's just better to order by name.  Or just order a beer.  Beer is at least universal, worldly perhaps.  I'm in people's bubbles, asking for soda up north and playing Duck Duck Gray Duck down south.  I constantly have to think before I speak- which I suppose isn't too bad of a habit to get into.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Bloody Mess


(photo courtesy of stock.xchang)
During Aircrew School optimum health was imperative and medical tests were routine.  One day of screening, we were instructed to 'fast'.  By the time we were to be poked and prodded, I was starving!  Up next for the blood draw and deathly afraid of needles, I nervously sat down in the metal chair next to my friend Chester, the Marine.

“Check ‘er ought, Maki, that there needle’s hew-wedge!”  I shot him an evil look.  “It’s made fer uh Hol-stein!”

“Shut up, Chester.”  The needle penetrated my perfectly sealed flesh.  Damn it hurt.  Stupid corpsmen.  He appeared too happy.

“I’m serious, Maki.  That there’s the biggest darn needle I’ve dun ever seen.

“Shucks,” he attempted to sound excited, but his slow, Louisianan drawl was unconvincing.  “My blood’s all squirtin’ ever-ware.”

Think about something else.  I’m on a beach.  I attempted to distract myself.  I was doing a decent job until the corpsman began carving a cavern inside my arm.  I looked at his eyes- avoiding my arm.

 “Problems?”  I winced.

“I can’t… seem to hit… your vein...”

Waves are crashing.  I am on a peaceful beach.  I said a peaceful beach, dammit!  It was all enough to make me want to vomit.

Then, it came.  The feeling was not a stranger to me.  Immediately, I tried to shake it and regain focus of something.  Anything.  I squinted my eyes. Find a focal point.

“Whoa, Maki, yer face is as white as a gator’s tooth.  You uh-kay?”

My vision tunneled.  The corpsman continued to dig away in my flesh.  I heard everything, but it was hollow and distant.  “I’m… not doing… too… well…” my voice trailed off.  At last the corpsman, not a master of the obvious, realized that his inexperienced excavating job was affecting me severely.

I knew I was going to pass out soon if I didn’t do something quickly, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself in front of all the guys.  If I just do it quietly in my chair, no one will notice.

“Airman, you need to put your head between your legs!”  The corpsman yelled off in the distance.

I protested.  Surely there was another way…  And then... there was darkness.

Seconds later, I came to- lying on the floor.    The corpsman and Chester were both standing over me.  I laughed.  Poor lanky Chester...  I wonder if he’ll ever find a wife...  I miss my cat...

I caught a glance of my arm. A needle and syringe were sticking out of it, blood trickling out, completely covering my arm with dark fluid.  I mumbled, “Can I get… another… corpsman?”  And then… blackness.  Again.

*The previous is a piece from the book What They Don't Teach You in Deer River. For those that aren't as familiar with the military- you are much of a practicing bed for the corpsmen in training. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Furniture Shopping Gone Bad

The other day my friend Anna and I were looking for a table.  A kitchen table, actually.  Quickly this simple excursion turned into a tedious one.  We were continuously met with dead ends.  Some stores were closed.   Some didn’t have what we were looking for.  And some, located in the 'shadier sides of town', greeted us with bars on the windows.  Insightfully, we opted against these ones.  Furniture shopping was becoming about as painful as getting a colonoscopy.  Though of equal importance.

Suddenly, the heavens parted and sunbeams gleamed down over a magical furniture shop.  No really, the rain suddenly stopped as we pulled up to this particular shop.  It must have been a sign.  We found exactly what we were looking for.   We took lots of pictures to send to her husband for joint approval of the purchase.

Mission was accomplished.  Now onto something fun since we were already stuck in the ‘big city’ that we don’t get to often.   We decided to get our Bed Bath and Beyond shopping fix.  It had been years since either of us had made it to the enchanted store of wonder and every kitchen gadget known to man.   We were in a mad state of withdrawal.

After we spent much glorious time in this place of dreams, we realized that we had in fact, lost track of time.  It was- dare I say it- after dark in the scary big city.  (Far, far away from somewhere like Deer River where the scariest thing that comes out after dark are the black bears and foxes.)

As we were walking out, we noticed a cop in the parking lot, just sitting there.  Looking for some riff-raff, no doubt.  We continued on into the car.  For a short moment I was glad Anna was driving, knowing there was no chance we’d have to worry about being pulled over for speeding.

I must take a quick moment here to explain Anna’s driving.  It’s not that she is a bad driver.  It’s more like she’s an 80 year-old near-sighted woman driver.  Let’s just say she’s very cautious.

As we pulled out of the parking lot and drove around this town in which we were less than familiar, we spotted a Chipotle and were smacked in the face with an animal-like starvation that can only be compared to a National Geographic special on lions meeting wildebeests.  Food not only sounded amazing- it was necessary.  As soon as we located the restaurant, the turn for it whizzed past us.

Attempting to turn around at this point would have consisted of crossing 6 lanes of traffic, going through 3 lights and at least one illegal U-turn.  It would have been like switching to water-saving toilet flushers - it sounded like a good idea and we would have felt good about the outcome- but wasn’t worth the headache.

I suggested that maybe if we just kept making rights- we would eventually end up back where we started.  It seemed logical.  So we took a right.

And somewhere in our moment of food-focused frenzy, apparently we pulled out in front of decked-out gang car with flashy rims that had somewhere he needed to be- now.  The next few seconds became a blur.

My phone rang and I began the conversation of explaining that we were just grabbing something to eat quickly, and then we’d be on our way home.  Mr. Flashy Rims behind us then proceeded to lay on his horn, no doubt expressing his displeasure with my grandma-like driving friend.

“Are they honking at us?”  Anna asked me, innocently disgusted.

“What’s that noise?” Asked the concerned voice in my phone.

“Um, I think the guys behind us are honking.”  I told everyone who could hear me.  “Turn here.”  I pointed.  It was the next first right- and ended up being some dimly-lit back-alley road.

“Are they following us?”  Anna asked.  I glanced in the mirror- but all I could see was a blur of headlights.

“Hun, I gotta go- these guys are following us.”  I said casually.


“I’ll call you right back,” and hung up, not waiting for a reply.

“Quick, turn here!”  I quickly pointed to the next right, bringing us back into the store parking lot from the back entrance.   Anna turned, and Big Rims followed in suit.

“They’re still following us!”  Her voice began to shake which only made me angry.  This was ridiculous.  The fact that they were upsetting my friend was upsetting me.  I began to feel nervous for a second, but realized I had to keep it together for her.  Sure we were in the land of gangs and had heard warnings of this area- but who did these people think they were?

At this point, I was tempted to stop and tell them what I think.  Then I thought of my kids.  Dammit.  I hated how my kids suddenly made me mortal and practical.  Suddenly I had to have fear.  It was bittersweet.  I had to think logically.

“Just keep going and we’ll see if that police car is still there in the parking lot.” 

Sure enough it was.  And as we neared the police car, our ‘followers’ not-so-surprisingly veered off in another direction.  We parked a few feet further up into the Chipotle parking lot.  The climax of the night was over and we had arrived at our destination.

“What in the heck just happened!?” was all Anna could muster.

“I have no idea.”

“I’m not exactly hungry anymore,” she said, her hands still shaking.  I wasn’t either.  But I had to eat.  If I didn’t eat, Mr. Rims would win.  Of course he would never know. 

I ate my 5lb chicken burrito on the way home.  I couldn’t help but think that mean people really suck.  And so does table shopping.