Thursday, May 26, 2005

Success At Last

Ok, so I've been pretty hard on the Air Force here recently, and now I feel I have to eat a bit of crow, a wee bit mind you, sauteed in the glow of success and seasoned with a bit of gloating.

I arrived at the terminal in Salerno right after breakfast yesterday about 2:00 A.M. Dublin Pub Time and the Secret Squirrel Flight Decoder System indicated 4 flights, 3 for Uzbekistan and 1 for Bagram. I asked the Warrant Officer on duty to ask the Secret Squirrel what was going from Uzbekistan to Bagram later that I could hitch a ride on and it chattered out 3 different options, so heeding the aviator's advice, I signed up for the first thing smoking.

Ten minutes before the first plane was supposed to land, I pulled on my body armor and was quickly informed that the pilots had just called and diverted to Bagram. Bad weather over the mountains. Surely the Air Force Flight Planning Voo-Doo Witch Doctor couldn't have seen through my intra-theater inter-national flight connection scheme could he?

I remanifested for the second flight and waited. 20 minutes before second plane was due, there was no bad news. Hopes began to rise again. Rain began to fall and my hopes fell again with it. Ten minutes to go. I pulled on my body armor again and looked at the warrant officer. He shrugged his shoulders and I walked out to the flight line again. To my amazement, I saw a C-130 bank into the light rain and descend towards our little dirt runway. 20 Minutes later, I was being pushed sideways in my seat as the Hercules accelerated into the sky and Salerno dissappeared behind us.

2 hours of light to moderate turbulence later, we touched down in Uzbekistan and I quickly shlepped all my bags to the terminal to, in accordance with what is now the First Commandment of Air Force Travel, "Sign up for the first thing smoking". I was politely informed by the Air Force Chief Master Sergeant, that there were 3 flight going to Bagram, and I had just missed the first one. Undaunted, I manifested for the second one. 2 Hours later, all the pallets were loaded on my new ride, and I strapped in to the web seat only to be informed that the airplane was broken and wasn't going to fly.

"No Problem Sir," delared the cheery co-pilot from North Carolina, "We're switching all the cargo to the airplane next to us, and we'll call the terminal and have you manifested on that flight as well."

The forklifts drive back out to the flight line. The pallets roll off the broken plane and migrate to its neighbor. Once again I drag my bags across the flight line and strap them onto the floor of the cargo area. I sit in the seat, pretending to read but watching the crew out of the corner of my eye. The pallets were tied down but there was still some serious discussion going on with the loadmaster. This wasn't a good sign. One of the crewmembers squeezes between the pallets and the fuselage of the aircraft making her way from the rear of the aircraft to the front while the loadmaster flips through a manual.

"We've called passenger services to come and get you." The female crewmember says after she makes her way up to me, "We can't carry passengers with this load."

"Why not, is it hazardous cargo? Fuel? Amuunition?"

"No, it's laundry detergent, but the pallets are so big that there isn't enough room to get by in the event that you have to make an emergency exit out the back of the plane."

"You just did."

"I'm a crewmember. I'm trained for this."

"I'm trained as a crewmember on a few different aircraft." I said pointing to my wings, "I'm pretty sure that if this plane is on fire, I'll be out before you."

"They requested a waiver and it was denied." said the navigator who had walked in on this discussion.

"Are you sure?" I asked him "Because last time I was in this situation, they were going to grant the waiver, but didn't because there was another plane leaving 6 hours later. You guys are the last ride out of town."

"Uhhmm, well, I'll check on that again."

5 minutes later, the pilot emerged from the cockpit and escorted me to the Flight Ops building where I was manifested as an Additional Crew Member.

Once again, the loadmaster started throwing a fit, but eventually stormed off muttering something about people shoving stuff down his throat.

After we finally got off the ground, the navigator came down to where I was really reading this time, and invited me up to the cockpit since it was "Just us crew-members on board." The visual impact of crossing the Hind Kush mountains at sunset was magnificent from that vantage point. An hour and a half later, we landed at Bagram without need for me to demonstrate that I could conduct an emergency egress from the aircraft faster than the loadmaster.

I am grateful to the Crew for getting me where I needed to go, and with the opportunity to see and hear them perform their duties in flight I was struck by their professionalism. I truly appreciated the pilot taking the time to manifest me the way he did, but it was the attitude of the loadmaster that still sticks in my craw. There was no additional effort required on this guys part to have me on that aircraft, yet left to him alone, I would have waited another day to catch a flight. He would have denied me the seat just because he could and without regard to my need or my mission.

Be that is it may, thanks again to the crew for the great ride in the end.


MKL said...

You should have called the last post "Yes, We Have No Flights"

Happy Memorial Day and Thanks to all who serve.

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