Tag Archives: Air Force

Whose idea was this, anyway?

Lane Alaska_1It was Halloween 1972, and in the vernacular of the times, I was “short with 31 days and a wake-up” before discharge from the Air Force on 2 December. My roommate and fellow weather observer Phil (last name redacted) had a bit longer to go but not much more. With our four years of service so close to finished, we are in a festive mood.

We were stationed at King Salmon AFS, Alaska, a remote Air Force station along the Naknek River in the Alaskan wilderness. The town of King Salmon, with a population of less than 200 souls, mostly FAA and weather bureau types, with a few locals, plus maybe another 150 Air Force personnel, decided to throw a Halloween costume party. You can’t pop into Walmart or the Dollar General on the way home and scoop up a quick and cheap costume, because there is nothing in King Salmon even remotely resembling such a place. Ya gotta get creative. I didn’t bother, but Phil took it as a challenge.

King Salmon MapOne of the Weather Bureau forecasters we worked with (USAF supplied the weather observers) was married to a German lady he met while stationed in Germany when in the AF. (Wish I could remember their names.) She and Phil cooked up a costume for him to wear.

Phil was going to the party in drag. He was pretending to be the visiting sister of the lady from Germany, and “she” (Phil) was named “Elsa.” Elsa didn’t speak English, and no one in King Salmon spoke German, so Phil only had to say things like ja and nein while fluttering his fake eyelashes.

I had worked a day shift at the weather station, so I arrived late at the home of Elsa’s “sister” to meet them to go to the party in downtown King Salmon, which consisted of a general store and a bar. Phil/Elsa was already costumed and made-up, and “she” was getting into character, fluttering those fake eyelashes and pursing those red lips seductive-like.

King SalmonAnd let me tell you, Elsa was one pug-ugly woman!

Laughs over, we made our way “downtown” for the party. The hall was decorated with orange and black crape-paper, and a scratchy phonograph turned up very loud supplied the dance music.

And everyone was smitten by the “exotic” Elsa. Considering that Phil worked part-time in the general store, and everyone in King Salmon knew him well, surprisingly, only a few figured out the pug-ugly Elsa was really Phil. Some of those in on it asked Elsa to dance to further perpetuate the hoax.

King Salmon Sat2Don’t-ya-know, someone falls in love with Elsa! I mean head-over-heels in love with pug-ugly Elsa. The poor misguided sucker was a local native-American. Phil was about six feet tall, and Tonto is barely five feet tall and getting along in age. Other than the fact that Tonto was obviously drunk, I am thinking he fell in love with Elsa, because when he danced with her, his head fit nicely between her breasts, which must have been rather lumpy since they were made of toilet paper stuffed in a bra.

While dancing, Tonto would look up from between those “mounds of joy” and ask Elsa questions or comment on how cute she was, and Elsa would flutter her eyelashes and mutter ja or nein, whichever seemed appropriate at the time.

This was all rather hilarious for those of us in on the gag, but it began to get serious.

At first we thought this was just a passing infatuation on the part of Tonto, but he kept asking Elsa to dance. To complicate things, Tonto had friends at the party, and they were all probably armed with knives and maybe even an ulu or two. (Google it.)

Alaskan_Air_CommandWe decided this had the potential to get real ugly very fast. Phil was getting nervous and concluding this was a bad idea. Meanwhile, I suddenly get a mental picture of the fists and ulus coming out, followed by an Air Force Times headline that read, “U.S. Air Force Declares War on Eskimos!”

Time to decamp! Someone distracted Tonto, and Elsa slipped out a back door. Then we had to deal with the lovesick Tonto pining for his lost Elsa, and that was a pitiful sight. The poor man really was in love—or maybe just in lust for the “lovely” Elsa—with the lumpy boobs—right at face level.

I wonder if he ever found out Elsa was a guy?

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PIBALS, Helium, and Boys

Lane PIBALBeing in the Air Force as a weather observer, we had access to some really large weather balloons, mostly red where I was, and the helium needed to inflate them.

We blew these things up with a specific amount of helium so they would rise at a known rate of assent and tracked them with a device called a theodolite. At night we attached a small flashlight size bulb with a water-activated battery and tracked that tiny light up to 10,000 feet. We usually cheated and use two lights to make tracking easier. Kinda hard to see that tiny light against the bright stars we had in the clear skies of the Mojave Desert where we were taking these PIBAL (Pilot Balloon) obs.

We took azimuth and elevation readings at one-minute intervals and recorded those to plot them and arrive at pretty accurate wind speed and directions at 1,000 foot intervals. We did this at Cuddeback AGGR (Air to Ground Gunnery Range) north of George AFB in the Mojave Desert of southern California. The F-4 fighter crews used our winds aloft obs to adjust their approach and aim on the targets.

Big balloons and helium in the hands of young men who sometimes had too much time on their hands was a combination ripe for mischief.

One of my favorite ploys was to breathe the helium and call Janis, usually around 0100 when she was sound asleep, and talk like I was Donald Duck. The helium affected your vocal cords and changed your voice to sound just like the Walt Disney character. I thought this was hilarious. Janis never seemed to find much humor in it—can’t understand why.

Another observer calculated he could inflate three 1,000 gram balloons and jump off the roof of the barracks at Cudde and float like Mary Poppins with her parasol. I think he miscalculated. I figured the three balloons had the lifting capacity of maybe half a pound.

Mary Poppins crashed.

One time the range officer was really ticked his pilots were missing the targets, and he blamed my PIBAL obs. He called me to the tower and reamed me out, told me I had five minutes to get him fresh winds, implied correct winds. That presented a problem. It would take me at least two minutes to get down from the tower and to our balloon shed, and that would be running. Then you have to fill the balloons at a certain rate, which was quite slow, and I have no idea why. We ignored that rule anyway. Tracking the balloon would take at least another eight minutes, and plotting the winds would take another five or so. That was well over my allotted five minutes. I had a choice: lie and make something up, or do it right? I took the high ground. I figured if he wanted my stripes because I did it right, I would be OK with my DETCO (Detachment Commander). I gave him fresh winds that indicated little change from the previous obs and never heard about it again.

On a side note, right after Cuddeback AGGR got their new electronic target scoring system that detected hits by the passage of the 20mm round within a set detection area, they had an issue with a fighter squadron commander back at George AFB. The CO was sorely disappointed with his pilots strafing scores and questioned the new equipment. He called and chewed out the Cuddeback crew then announced he was coming right up in his F-4 and would do strafing runs on the target to prove how screwed up the new system was.

The clever boys at Cuddeback thus warned, cranked up the gain on the electronic scoring system. They had it high enough, if the 20mm round hit the dirt anywhere in southern California, it would score as a hit. The CO shot really well that day and called and apologized to the Cudde crew when he got back to George. He then proceeded to ream out his pilots for their lousy shooting.

The Air Force could be a lot of fun!

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The Ostrich Takes Flight

Lane USAFThe Ostrich, who will remain nameless, and I were in basic training together at Lackland AFB way back in December 1968 through January 1969, and sixteen weeks of weather observing school at Chanute AFB following basic.

Ostrich was given that moniker by our TI (Training Instructor – a non-commissioned officer wearing a Smokey-the-Bear hat and has god-like status if you are a new airman going through Air Force basic training). Ostrich was tall and gangly and marched with his head kind of crained out away from his body. I guess the TI thought he looked like an ostrich.

For those unfamiliar with the institution, basic training involved getting up real early with a lot of whistle blowing, yelling and name calling, mostly on the part of the TIs, and of course, a lot of running, jumping, push-ups, and sweating, mostly on the part of the trainees. The objective was to turn raw civilians averse to authority (remember, the late ‘60s were the Age of Aquarius) into obedient, well-trained Airmen. Sometimes they got the desired results, sometimes not so much.

Ostrich was a rather strange fellow. Every military unit, especially basic training units, has at least one klutz. That was Ostrich for us. He was actually very smart, because he did get through weather observing school, a career field reserved for men and women who scored high on their AFQT (Air Force Qualification Test).

He may have been smart, but he struggled with the fundamental concept of the difference between his right foot and his left foot. The TIs had a saying for folks like that, which is not repeatable on this blog. Let’s just say it involved monkeys and footballs and leave the rest to your imagination. (Don’t dwell on it. It never made much sense to me, either.)

When marching, Ostrich was almost always out of step with the rest of the formation. The TI called the cadence, “Lef’, rait, lef’, rait!” But Ostrich be going rait, lef’, rait, lef’! This was a problem for me, because I marched in first squad directly behind Ostrich. My rait would be stepping on his rait heel, and my lef’ be stepping on his lef’ heel. We were supposed to have this all down by the first week of basic, but four weeks in, and Ostrich was still frequently out of step.

To get back in step, they taught us to simply skip a step, like skipping down the street, second nature for most of us. One day we were marching to a training class, and the flight be going lef’, rait, lef’, rait, but Ostrich be going rait, lef’, rait, lef’ again, and I be stepping on his heels, and Ostrich be skipping to get in step and still ends up out of step. The formation is looking all sharp and military except for the second guy in first squad (Ostrich) who is bobbing and skipping along like a seven-year old girl on the way to a birthday party.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the TI coming up from behind the formation and homing right in on Ostrich, and he wasn’t looking very happy! I’m thinking someone is gonna die!

Ostrich never saw it coming. The TI snuck up behind him and got about an inch from his left ear, and yelled loud enough to wake the dead, “OSTRICH! GET IN STEP!”

The Ostrich went airborne!

He launched straight up about three feet in the air with his feet pumping like he was peddling a bicycle in low gear going up a steep incline. I’m talking blurry feet! WAY blurry feet! He must have skipped about a dozen steps while airborne, but he did come down in step with the formation. I don’t recall him ever being out of step again.

I have one picture of Ostrich but can’t find it. He was holding a mop in front of his face, anyway. Camera shy. So, you got a pic of me instead.

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