Just in case anyone hadn't noticed, I took a "leave of absence" the past year. During this time, I backpacked across Europe, staying with friendly strangers and eating local cuisine. Only kidding. I spent any spare moment away I had from 'day job' and raising a crazy family to work on my memoir.
I am so excited to announce that it will actually be complete with the publishing process at the beginning of the New Year- 2016! That is when you will really get a taste of "What They Don't Teach You in Deer River." Occasionally, I throw out a few stories from the book on my blog. Below is one of my favorites- -now, that is. At the time, not so much. This was when I was 19, and brand-spanking new to the squadron. Oh and just to warn you- there is naughty language involved. But rare is a Navy story told without a few colorful words...
Not too long after I arrived in Iceland, we were scheduled for a long ten-hour burner (flight). After my pre-flight was complete, I realized that I didn’t have much to snack on for the long flight that was ahead of me. After checking with the crew how much time we had left, I gaily sauntered to the gee-dunk (food store) in the cold darkness of pre-dawn light.
I have a fear of being stuck somewhere for any amount of time without food- so I always overcompensate how much food I have with me at all times. I not sure why- perhaps I starved to death in a past life, or perhaps it has something to do with going hungry on a mountain top for a week. My helmet bag, purse, or anything that I carry always has a pocket or two containing food of some sort. I hoard food like a squirrel hoards nuts.
After gathering my treasured food items I had just bought from the gee-dunk, I began my trek across the icy ramp to where our fine mode of transportation lingered. As I began to approach the plane, I was suddenly blinded by the severe glow that was cast from the taxi-lights above the forward landing gear. Now, for any experienced operator, this should have been an obvious warning sign not to come any closer and to turn back. Still, despite the hours upon hours of classroom training about aircraft safety, the thought had not yet crossed my mind. I had only read the warnings in a book. It had never been demonstrated to me. Most likely, I was thinking about my food. Instead, it was due to this illumination that I did not see the second key warning device of the top and bottom strobe lights flashing, signaling that the RADAR was in use.
As I began to get closer to the aircraft, I realized the complacency of my actions. Complacency/stupidity. Potato/Pa-tatto. I began to casually back up, hoping like mad that I hadn’t been spotted. All at once the lights snapped off and the ramp was instantly black. The door flung open hard and fast. At the top of the ladder stood Stanley, the RADAR operator (Sensor operator-3), with one hand on his hip, and the other waving his finger toward him. My head dropped, and I proceeded forward like a dog with his tail between his legs- knowing that this could not possibly be good.
It was then that he yelled over the auxiliary power unit (APU) the words I feared more than anything. “Chief wants to talk to you.” My body was instantly weighted down with dread. I knew it was all over. My head was flooded with a million excuses that were up for grabs. Sadly, I knew none of them would work against Chief. He would not be bothered with such incompetence. All I could do now was to beg for mercy.
I climbed the ladder, looking at Stanley with pleading eyes that screamed “Help me!” He just looked away with the unspoken words that left me to understand that I was on my own. As I reached the top of the ladder, I slowly turned my head to the right, towards the galley where I knew Chief was.
His face wore no emotion but I could feel in my stomach the penetration of the daggers his black eyes shot through me. He simply pointed his fingers to the seat across the galley table from him. Quietly, I obeyed and sat, trying to appear as innocent as possible. Terror rose through me. How is it possible that one man could make so many Airmen so terrified? How is it that I would have rather shot my own foot off than face his wrath or worse yet, disappointment him? Maybe I could play dumb- pretend I just didn’t know. I thought to myself. No, that would probably be worse...
He looked up at me and then down at the table, squeezing his fists together, as if he was trying to control himself. He looked back up and then came the words that I will never forget. “DO YOU WANT TO FUCKING FRY YOUR OVARIES!?”
Was this a trick question? “Um, No?” I stated, more asking if that was the right answer. He smiled, which confused me even more. We sat in silence. I think he knew I hated silence.
“You’re goddamn lucky Stanley shut it off before you got to close.” Oh that was nice of him, I thought, slightly relieved. I can still have children.
“What is the stand-off on the APS-137 RADAR?”
Okay, this was one of the easiest questions out there. I learned this in VP-30. Don’t blow this answer. Was that the big RADAR or the little one? I took a stab at it. “Ahh…250 feet?” I replied. At least that used to be the answer. I think. I wasn’t sure of anything in this moment. Chief had the ability to do that to me.
He didn’t say anything for what seemed like forever. I wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or a bad. “Go finish your preflight,” he said, releasing me. I turned to go, when he stopped me. “Hey,” His voice echoed. I turned back towards him. “That’s one.” He stated simply, and held up his index finger.
Crap. One strike already! I just got on this crew, and I only had one more freebie to go. Somehow I knew I was going to need it.