Thursday, October 3, 2013

Here, Here, Mark Levin

I haven't written to this blog in a long time.  It's not that have nothing to say, it's because every time I did so in the past, I couldn't finish the post without a bunch of profanities.  Hopefully, I'll be able to finish this post and make it at least a PG rating.

A few minutes ago, I checked a link posted to my Facebook feed by my sister.  It was an excerpt of from a recent Mark Levin show, regarding WWII vets and their memorial.  If you haven't seen or heard the excerpt, you can find it here.

Not only do I fully agree with much of what he said, I too got very angry when I initially heard what was happening at the WWII Memorial.  As Levin says in his commentary, "These men are in their 80s and 90s."  They earned the right to visit THEIR memorial.  They earned the right to visit it WITHOUT interference from a bloated government, which has totally forgotten the reasons those men went to war.

I feel this way for one simple reason...I served my country myself.  I did so during a time of turmoil and I did so without question.  I went where I was told to go, and in some cases, where I was asked to go. I gladly  served because I knew I was serving the greatest country on Earth.  I entered military service in 1969, a few years before the Vietnam war ended for American military members.  I survived the cutbacks of the early Carter administration.  I continued to serve during the lean years of that same administration.  And I was glad when President Reagan was elected, then reelected.  I finished my military career shortly after the first Gulf War ended.  At that time, I was fighting a war of my own, so to speak.  I was facing off with Mother Nature and Mt. Pinatubo at Clark AB, The Philippines.  In the end, the base was badly damaged from a volcanic eruption and I was retired when I returned to the United States five months after the initial destructive eruption.  You can see some of the damage done to the base at the website here.

After more than 20 years in service to the United States, I feel a kinship to anyone else who served, including WWII veterans wanting to see THEIR memorial.  Those brave men are provided that opportunity by an organization called Honor Flight.  The organization takes veterans, at NO COST to the vet, to Washington, D.C. to see their memorial.  It is a fitting tribute to soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who served this country in past wars.  And it is a tremendous way for the American people to show the respect which all members of the military deserve, both past, present and future.

What all this is about, is the National Park Police closing the memorial and threatening to arrest anyone who crossed the barriers.  When I heard that numerous members of congress open the memorial in front of the park police, I literally jumped from my chair and let loose the loudest "Yippee Kiyaa..." I could release. Probably scared my landlord at the same time. I would have hoped that the movement to open the memorial was bi-partisan.  But I have yet find reference to any democrat who assisted.  Is it only members of the GOP who respects the actions of American service members?  It looks that way to me.

After I finished reading and listening to what Levin said, I read the comments.  The second comment I read, from "Barb," was unbelievable.  She states "Your language to incite anger within your followers is disgusting," referring I believe, to the tone Levin took in his verbal address. Well Barb, the anger was already there.  I had the anger before I saw or heard of Levin's statement.  And I am sure thousands of other Americans felt the same way.  It's disgraceful for a party to act the way they are acting. And I am not writing about the GOP.  Yes, I lean to the right, but I am a registered Independent.  What I see in Washington, D.C., is the party which holds the presidency and the Senate, think they can do what they want without consequences.  Mr. Reid should have left congress years ago.  His actions of not bringing a House anything to even a debate stage is absolutely irresponsible...and that's the cleanest way I can say it.

Many people blame the Republicans in the House, especially the Tea Party Republicans, for the shutdown.  I would say they are partially to blame.  But just as much blame, if not more, goes to Harry Reid and U.S. Senate, and President Obama.  They seem to have forgotten that there are other parties in the US government who were elected BY the people.  We are not a "We have the power, we will do as we please," system of government, as happened with the ridiculous Affordable Health Care Act.  I fully support the House of Representatives for shutting down the government.  The house holds the purse strings.  I personally hope the negotiating stance the house takes is, "You scratch our back first, then we will scratch yours."  All to often in the past, when the Democrats promised to do something in return for the GOP doing something, the Democrats conveniently found ways of avoiding fulfilling their end of the bargain.  So, this time I hope the House, and the GOP members, stand together and hold tight until actions from the Democratic party speak louder than their so far, worthless words.

I want to address a few more things from Barb's comment on Levin's statement.

First of all, Obama didn't win reelection...the GOP lost the election.  Yes, they put forth a person who couldn't get elected.  Because so many people didn't think Romney was the best choice, they just didn't vote. I almost didn't vote for the president position.  But I did feel I would rather have four years of Romney, than four more years of Obama.

Secondly, you mention how the anger and nastiness needs to quit.  Yes, it does.  But there is plenty of anger and nastiness on both sides.  Personally, I don't see anything wrong with the anger.  It is a lot better than radicals standing up for liberal ideas setting off bombs.  Isn't venting anger better than blowing up people and/or property?  I think venting is much better.

I have no crystal ball to tell me what is going to happen in Washington, D.C., but I hope both sides come to their senses and start doing what they were elected to do, and not what they want to do.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Blast From the Past

About eight years ago, I did an internet search for World War I aircraft models. While going through the hits, I came across a company called Fiddlers Green. After ordering their Aircraft CD, I became hooked on cardstock models of aircraft.

The Fiddlers Green models come on PDF files and are easy to build. Plus, if you make a mistake, you simply reprint and rebuild.

After completing a number of models, I decided I would try my hand at designing a card model.

But what should I design?

I pondered that question for several days until one night, I tuned into one of my favorite cartoon shows...The Flintstones. But what object from the show should I make my first design attempt?

I settled on Fred Flintstone's car.

After breaking out my favorite CAD program (TurboCAD), I began drawing. I had downloaded screen captures of the car from the net and listed all the parts on it. After that, I free-hand drew the parts to get an idea of what each should look like as a flat object, then I transfered the piece to the CAD program.

It took a couple of weeks, but I finally finished the first version of the car and sent it off to a friend to test build. He found several problems which were easy to correct and in the end, the first of the World Famous Flintstone Models was born.

Since then, I have added Barney's car and a Police scooter to the collection, along with the limousine driven by the Gruesomes. The latest model released has been the drive-in theater seen in the opening and closing segments of the show.

I have plans for future Stone-age era releases, such as the car hop restaurant and other vehicles, but for now, these are the only ones available. If you'd like to start your own collection of World Famous Flintstone Models, they are available at the links below.

Fred's Car, Barney's Car and Police Scooter are included in one file located here.

The Gruesome's Limousine is located here.

The Drive-in Theater (with a number of different possible movies) is located here.

Keep watching this blog for more Stone-age card models as they are released.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

And Now You Know My Story

Sunday morning I heard a news item which saddened me.

I didn't know Paul Harvey, but when I heard he had died, I reflected back to another time.

I thought back to December 1971. I was on a temporary assignment to Galena Air Station, Alaska. Now closed, the base was located next to the native Alaskan village of the same name on the north side of the Yukon River. At the time, the station housed two alert aircraft, ready to respond to any intrusion into the airspace of the Northern Frontier.

Myself and three other fuels troops from Elmendorf AFB, near Anchorage, Alaska, arrived at Galena for a three month assignment in early October. Our main job was to support the alert aircraft. We also gassed up transient aircraft and motor vehicles. It wasn't hard work, but when the temperatures of the interior Alaska area dropped to well below zero, it made the desire to do the work a lot harder. I spent many a cold hours standing in the weather passing gas.

However, In early December, the person doing the fuels accounting for the office, went on a 30-day leave. Someone had to take his place and the lieutenant in charge of the office, gave that job to me. I quickly learned what I needed to know and when the time came, I settled into the job.

Things were going fine for me at that time. In the mornings, I would walk to work in the cold (there were several days in a row when the thermometer outside the door of the fuels office read -65 or more...yes, that is 65 degrees below zero) and once inside, warm my hands over the oil stove providing heat for the building. I'd then pour myself a cup of coffee, go to my desk and listen to Paul Harvey present the news in only the way he could.

I hadn't been working at my new job much more than a week, when I walked into our office, warmed my hands, got my cup of coffee, settled into my office chair and glanced at the paperwork in front of me as the voice of Paul Harvey came over the radio on the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. As he presented his news, I was getting ready to dive into my work when I heard something which caused me to spit coffee across my desk and stare at the radio in disbelief.

I don't remember the exact words he used, but about midway through that day's presentation, Paul Harvey began his next news item with: "Galena, Alaska...Officials at the Bureau of Indian Affairs say the U.S. Air Force spilled more than 15,000 gallons of aviation fuel in the Yukon, killing fish up and down the river. " He continued with more information about the spill, including the date it happened and then went on to other items. By this time, I was in shock.

Everyone in the office turned and looked at me with a puzzled look on their face. The lieutenant looked up from his desk, with a jaw which had dropped almost to the floor. And then my phone rang.

I knew immediately who was calling...and I didn't want to answer the phone. Glancing skyward, I reached for the phone knowing I had nothing to do with the loss of fuel, but also knowing I would be the one catching hell for what Paul Harvey said.

"Fuels...Sergeant Sobkoviak," I said.

"Are you the one who took over for the guy on leave?" came an unfamiliar voice from the other end.

"Yes, I am."

"Were you listening to Paul Harvey this morning?"

"Yes, I was."

"Then why is this the first we are hearing of this massive fuel spill?"

I had no idea what to say to the person on the phone. I knew he was assigned to our headquarters at Elmendorf and he read the daily reports we sent down to him. I also knew he knew as much about our fuel situation as I did, maybe more, considering I had just started at the job. I looked over the lieutenant for help, and he grabbed the phone on his desk.

After a few minutes of talking, he said, "We'll have the report ready as soon as possible and call you back with our findings." He hung up, shook his head and told me some background on the Paul Harvey report. He told me how during aviation fuel (AVGAS) off-loading from the supply barge, a passing vehicle hit the pipeline system and caused a leak. Fuel did fall into the Yukon River, but the amount was determined to be 15 gallons or less.

He then asked me to go stick the AVGAS tanks, so another report could be filed. Sticking the tank meant measuring the depth of fuel. With that measurement and the temperture of the fuel, a chart could be cross referenced, and the amount of fuel in the tank could be determined.

When I completed my calculations, I found that close to 150 gallons of AVGAS was missing...not the 15 gallons as originally thought. I passed this information on to the lieutenant who wasn't happy. He had been in charge of the office when the accident occurred and now had to tell headquarters that his original report was in error. But before he would do that, he told me to double check my figures. This meant returning to the AVGAS tanks, getting another depth measurement and temperature reading, and redoing my calculations.

So off I went, back to the AVGAS storage area.

When I arrived at the tanks, I decided I would check to see if there was any water in the tank. To do this, a person needed to open a drain valve at the bottom of the tank, let about a pint of fuel to flow into a jar, and then visually check the amount of water in the bottom of the jar. If there was any water, another procedure would done to determine how deep the water was in the tank.

I grabbed a jar out of the truck I drove to the storage area, and began removing the three feet of snow covering the area I believed the drain valve to be. After moving about a foot of snow, I was puzzled to see snow stained in the color purple. I knew the AVGAS we had in the tank was dyed purple for visual verification of the type of fuel and I instantly knew there was a leak at the drain valve.

After removing all the snow from around the drain valve, I realized where the extra 135 gallons or so of aviation fuel was in the bottom of the dike surrounding the tank. I checked the valve and noticed a steady drip of liquid coming from around the area where the valve was attached to the tank. After doing what I could to stem the flow of fuel, I redid my measurements and returned to the fuels office. Once inside, I told the lieutenant what I found out and put in a work order for maintenance to fix the leak.

When I completed my new calculation, I came up with the same number as before...150 gallons missing. Reporting this the LT, I speculated that additional missing fuel is inside the dike. Since the dike was sealed to prevent any leaked fuel from contaminating the environment, it was unlikely any more fuel was leaking into the Yukon. However, the river was frozen over and there wasn't any way to tell for sure.

Resigned to the fact that the Air Force at Galena AS may have screwed up, the lieutenant called headquarters back and relayed the news. After talking to his counterpart, he told me to get on the line and I gave my counterpart a blow-by-blow description of everything I had found out since he called me that morning. When I finished, he said, "This isn't over. We have everyone from state officials to people in Washington calling about this. File your report and get it in the next outbound mail." He then hung up.

I then turned to the lieutenant and said, "Of all people...Paul Harvey."

He let out a long sigh, cracked a smile, stood up and proclaimed, "Let's get something to eat, then hit the club before we do the report."

I grabbed my hat and parka and said, "You're buying."

Even after his report on Galena Air Station, I continued to listen to Paul Harvey when I could. I learned things I never would have known from his "Now You Know the Rest of the Story" segments, although I have probably forgotten everything I heard. But as before the incident above, I enjoyed listening to him.

He has passed on now, but I will still think fondly of him and am saddened by his loss...even if he did get me in trouble with my superiors back in December, 1971.

And now you know my story.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Superbowl and Things

This weekend is Superbowl XLIII (43 for those trying to figure it out).  But I already had my Superbowl...and guess what?  

I won it!

Yes, my fantasy football league superbowl game was played almost a month ago, and I was victorious.  The game started out slow, and at halftime, I was far behind.  But in the second half, Drew Brees and Donald Driver both put up numbers which brought me back into the game.  And then, with minutes to go, the score was tied.  But I had my field goal kicker still to play, and when the Sunday games were finished, I still had a two point lead, and the victory.

This was my fourth season as a fantasy football player.  I'm proud of the win and even though I won the big game, I didn't get a ring, nor a big trophy.  I did receive a book with photos of past winners, and my photo will be included as a champion of the "There Can Be Only One" Fantasy Football League.

My fantasy football victory isn't the only proud moment of my life.  During my Air Force career, I accomplished many things I'm proud of.  I antaganized Soviet soldiers in East Berlin, I flipped off the chancelor of East Berlin, I won awards for my journalism skills and I faced down Mother Nature.

But my greatest pride came at a place close to the top of the world.

I was stationed at Thule AB, Greenland at the time.  The base is located somewhere between the  North Pole and the Arctic Circle on the west side of the island.  Although I started getting a bit of cabin fever near the end of my year there, I still enjoyed the assignment. 

At the time, the Cold War was still going strong with the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the two big men on campus.  In January 1983, events began to happen which, in the end, would prove to be my greatest accomplishment in my career.

In the Summer of 1982, the Soviet Union launched a satellite into orbit.  I don't know the function of Kosmos 1402, but I do know it was carrying a small nuclear reactor.  A couple of months after its boost into space, things started going wrong, and the satellite's orbit began to decay.  When it appeared 1402 would definitely reenter the atmosphere, folks began wondering when and where.  But it was too early to tell.

At Thule, life was going on as usual during the cold, dark Winter months.

Then one day, I was informed that a Swedish journalist who claimed to have visited Thule, had written an article about his trip.  He wrote about the missiles and bombs and if I remember correctly, the submarines he saw at Thule AB.  This very much puzzled myself and our Danish liaison officer, as none of the items the reporter mentioned seeing were positioned at or anywhere near the base. 

A little background is needed here now.  Thule AB was primarily a radar support base.  The largest radar array (at that time) was situated several miles northeast of the base along the cliffs of a fiord.  The job of the people at Thule was to provide support for that site, and several other out-lying radar units.  My job was that of noncommissioned officer in charge of the Public Affairs Office.  Among other duties, I met and escort visiting news media around the base.  Since the base was on Danish soil (Greenland still belonged to Denmark at this time), we had a Status of Forces Agreement with the Danish government which spelled out what we could do and have on the base.  To monitor what the U.S. Air Force was doing there, members of the Danish navy were assigned as liaison personnel.  Their office was a couple of doors along the hall from my office.

Back to my story.

Not long after the article was published (I believe it was around mid January 1983), the liaison officer came to my office and asked if I had escorted a Swedish journalist around the base.  I told him I hadn't, and since I had to have his approval, before I could approve the visit of any media organization, he knew the journalist had never been on the base.  He then explained the reason for his question and told me he would provide me with a translation of the article when he got a copy of it.

Less than a week later, unrelated events began to combine.  One was the article written about Thule AB.  The other was the orbit of Kosmos 1402.  

A couple of days after asking me about the article, the liaison officer was recalled to Denmark.  I was told he had left in a rush by one of the other people in his office.  It couldn't have been more than two days after Commander Johanssen's return to Denmark, when I received a call from him.

He informed me that he was testifying before the Danish Parliament regarding the article written by the Swedish journalist.  Parliament was concerned because what was written about was a violation of the SOFA, something which could lead to dismissal of the agreement and loss of American rights to use the base.  And that is just what the parliament was thinking at the time.

Cmdr. Johannsen gave me a brief rundown of what was going on and informed me things weren't looking good.   He had told parliament that the article was a fabrication and parliament basically asked him to prove it.  All he could do was state that the Americans were following the SOFA and only supporting the BMEWS radar site (BMEWS stood for Ballistic Missile Early Warning System).  But the Danish Parliament was skeptical.

As proof of our good intentions, Cmdr. Johannsen was asked for something the Danish government was having difficulty obtaining.  

Here is where Kosmos 1402 enters the picture.  By this time - the end of January, everyone around the world knew the satellite was going to reenter Earth's atmosphere.  But where, no one knew.  The space tracking facility at NORAD, in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado was closely watching the object, trying to predict its reentry, using orbital data from numerous radar sites around the world.  However, other governments needing the data, were having a difficult time getting up-to-date number, as they had to go through the U.S. State Department to obtain the information.  For the most part, this meant any data they received was close to 24 hour old.  Old data meant inaccurate predictions.  And this included the Danish government, who were especially concerned since the orbit of the satellite at that time brought it over the area of the North Sea and near Denmark.

So the Danish Parliament asked Cmdr. Johannsen, since he was the liaison officer at the base supporting the largest and most powerful radar system in the world, if he could get more accurate orbital elements.  Orbital elements are numbers which when used with proper equations, will show where an object in space is, and what its current path will be, should the orbit remain unchanged.

Cmdr. Johannsen then called me.  I don't know if he called anyone else before me, but he and I had worked together on a number of projects and we both had great respect for each other.  When I got on the phone, he informed me of how bad things were looking and then told me about parliament's request for the better orbital elements.  We talked a little bit about situation, then set a call back time.  We both hoped I would have the requested information by that time.

After hanging up, I called the BMEWS office and inquired about the elements.  I was informed they couldn't release the information without approval from NORAD.  I then asked for verification that if I got the approval, they could provide me with what I needed.  Even though I was making an official request, the officer I was talking to, was tight-lipped and wouldn't even verify if they could provide the data.

After discussing the situation with my boss, we decided the best course of action would be to wait for the Public Affairs Officer at NORAD to open, and call them.  So an hour or so later, I placed a call to the NORAD PA office.  I explained the situation to the lady who answered, and she put me through to the officer in charge of the office.  Although they didn't have the information I needed, I was given the number to another office which could help me.  So I asked to have my call forwarded and waited for someone to answer on the other end.

During this time, I could only hope my goal was soon within reach.  When a gentleman answered on the other end of the line, I again explained the situation and asked him if he could help.  He not only could give me the most current and up-to-date orbital numbers, he also gave me the civilian phone number to his office and informed me the Danish people tracking the satellite could call him anytime for updates. 

After breathing a sigh of relief, and then verifying the numbers I had which were less than 20 minutes old at the time, I hung up and waited for Cmdr. Johannsen to call me back.  An hour later, at the agreed time, my phone rang and I heard the rough, yet familiar voice of Cmdr. Johannsen on the other end.

I gave him the numbers I was given, and the phone number which could be called to obtain newer numbers.  He thanked me and we hung up.  I then went back to work on other projects.

A few days later, Cmdr. Johannsen walked into my office again.  This time he wanted to thank me for what I did.  He explained how the information I gave him was given to members of the Danish Parliament and a vote on the situation at Thule AB shortly thereafter, went in favor of the base.  The situation was contained, thanks in part to my help.  He then said something which brought a knot to my throat and almost a tear in my eye.  He said, "You saved Thule base."

I smiled and said, "Anytime you need anything, just ask."  He laughed and walked out of my office.  I never spoke about the incident to anyone after that until about a month later.  I received a call from someone in the State Department.  This person wanted to know who it was who circumvented the State Department and provided the Danish government with data regarding Kosmos 1402.  I informed him that I was that person.

He began to tell me how many state department regulations I had bypassed and before he could go too deep into his tirade, I told him he really needed to talk to my commander.  I offered to transfer his call to the colonel's office, but instead, he stuttered a few things about protocol, I said, "Yes...thank you," and hung up.  That was the last I ever spoke regarding Swedish journalists, Danish Parliament and Kosmos 1402.

That my friends, is and probably will be, my proudest moment.  In case you are wondering, Kosmos 1402 burned in over the Atlantic Ocean on Feb, 7, 1983.

Friday, October 10, 2008

7 Things

My dear friend, Misty of Misty's Musings tagged me for this. Normally, I don't participate in this sort of thing, but how can ya say no to someone named "Misty"?

Ok...the rules......

1. Link your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

I'm going to have to plead the fifth on part of the rules, as I have no one I can tag to further participation. So, since I have already accomplished Rule #1 (see above), I'll begin working on Rule #2 and see what happens.

Fact #1 -- I'm a REAL city boy. When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, my dad got a job in the Chicago area. I lived there until I was 18 when I joined the Air Force.

Fact #2 -- I have twice been to the North Pole. Once in the air and the other on the ice. By the way, there is no red and white striped barber style pole there. I looked and looked and couldn't find it. It must be on the South Pole.

Fact #3 -- I have a great sense of direction (as opposed to someone else I know). I can look at a map and not need it thereafter even if I'm driving 2,000 miles...which I have done many times.

Fact #4 -- In my teenage years, a friend of mine and I were instrumental in saving hundreds of lives in South America. My friend is a HAM...amateur radio operator...and one evening, we intercepted a general call for help. We copied down the information, contacted a local hospital and told them the story and lucky for us, the person who took the call was also a HAM. He then contacted the people in South America, made arrangements to have the needed medication sent there and my friend and I were featured on the front page of the Metro Section of the Chicago Tribune, the largest paper in the city at the time. I got the friend has the story.

Fact #5 -- I am also known as Ashrunner and for good reason. If you have read my previous posts, you know I have had up an up close and personal encounter with a volcanic eruption. But it wasn't my first. I also experienced the Mt. St. Helens eruption. But those aren't the only disasters I have experienced. Two major earthquakes also rattled my chains, one in The Philippines and one in Italy. Both didn't let up with the shaking and continued rolling minor tremors through the areas.

Fact #6 -- I have spent a lot of time with some rather famous people. One of them was Billy Joel. He was at Clark AB to put on a USO sponsored concert, but prior to the show, we gave him a tour of the base. I was his "unofficial" escort. We spent the day discussing world news regarding the up-coming Gulf War One. I have also spent time with Dorothy Hamil, the Olympic ice skater, the late Bob Hope and a number of others whose names escape me.

Fact #7 -- Ok...a weird one now. I can not drink a drink out of a glass which has ice cubes in it without a straw. I must have a straw. If I don't use a straw, I actually fear swallowing an ice cube and choking to death on it before it melts.

Well, there you have things about me no one cares about 8v)

As for the number 3 and 4 rules, since I don't have anyone I can tag to do this, I'll leave it to those of you who read this blog and decide they want to do it. Just follow the rules (as close as possible) listed at the top of this post.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Visitors from the East

I spent most of last week in the company of my mother, her sister, my cousin and her husband. They came to Oregon from Illinois for a visit and to see the gorgeous beauty of this country.

For the most part, I acted as a tour guide for the group, and took them to local areas well worth seeing...and of course, I took along my camera.

It had been so long since I spent any time in the high country, that I actually felt like crying when I returned. There are two spots in central Oregon which are my favorite top two favorite spots in the state. The top spot on the list is the McKenzie Pass area. The pass, along the McKenzie Highway, is located between the North Sister and Mt. Washington in the area of Belnap Crater. The view there at the right time of the day, is absolutely spectacular.

Unfortunately, the area is still blocked by snow and the pass is closed until the end of July at the earliest. I'll get there again...I hope. And when I do, I'll once again be awed by what I see.

The second place on that list encompasses a large area of central Oregon and is known as Newberry National Volcanic Monument. I got to know this area before it became a national monument. Though not a lot has changed, it does cost more to get into the park and some places I could go before, I'm not allowed to go to now. Not that I would these days as my Davy Crockett days are long gone, but it would be nice to go there if I could.

There are so many volcanic features throughout the caldera, that a person could spend a lifetime inside the volcano studying it all. Among other sights, are the Big Obsidian Flow, Central Pumice Cone, lava flows, smaller obsidian flows, pumice flats, two lakes formed by the collapsed summit, a beautiful waterfall and Paulina Peak.

The peak is the highest point at the monument at 7,989 feet. It can be driven to along a gravel road cut into the flanks of the mountain. The drive itself is interesting, as in spots, you're driving the edge of a three hundred foot drop to oblivion. But the views from the roadway are gorgeous and well worth the time. One of my most memorable trips up to Paulina Peak occurred in 1992 when I took a friend of mine up there. We were in an old Ford pickup and the road was extremely wash-boarded at the time. Since the drop offs were on the passenger side, my friend from St. Louis wasn't accustomed to looking out his window and seeing nothing at road level. He certainly was glad when we finally made it to the top.

Once at the top of Paulina Peak, the views are spectacular. On clear days (few and far between these days in the summer wildfire season), a person can easily see into the states of Washington and California. To the north, Washington's Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams are easily seen. Further north, Mt. Rainier can be made out on the horizon. To the south, Crater Lake in Oregon and Mt. Shasta in California grace the distance landscape. I have seen what I believe is Lassen Peak, a volcano which erupted in California in 1915.

Still looking south but moving more to the east, a person can easily make out Fort Rock and Hole-in-the-Ground. In the distance, the flats of the Great Basin show and further south, the fault block system of the Hart Mountains.

There is much more to see in the High Desert area of central Oregon. And I hope to someday be able to visit the areas I have been before, along with those I haven't seen. In the meantime, I'll continue to do what I can to see what I can and when I do, I'll have my camera and record it for all to see.

I have posted some of the photos I took from Paulina Peak during my recent visit at my Flickr site. Although it was a nice day, my views were limited due to smoke from the California fires.

I do hope you enjoy my photos and if you decide to visit the central Oregon area, I do hope you enjoy your visit. But please...just visit...don't plan to stay 8v)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What's in a Word?

A few minutes ago, the Top Chef reunion concluded and it reminded me of something from my past. Yes, I watched Top Chef and my favorite chef - Antonia - didn't win. I can't cook worth a squat, but I enjoy eating food and watching some really cool dishes cook is interesting.

Anyway, what happened to trigger a memory was all the dead air during the show. When the chefs were being interviewed, or while they were cooking away, four-letters words flowed from their mouths. I spent 20 plus years in the military and four-letters are just words to me. One of my favorite cartoons is a Doonesbury strip. It was during the build-up phase to the first Gulf War. The star of the strip was talking to the person next to him who related he was too old for war. He then turned to Doonesbury and said, "Hell, I don't even remember how to use the f-word."

Doonesbury looked at him and said, "Just use it like an adjective."

I love that particular cartoon. I cut it out and stuck it on the wall next to my desk. I loved it because in a way, it rang true.

The last job I had in the Air Force was that of a public affairs specialist. I could work on the base newspaper, edit the paper, write news releases for public release, conduct tours of the base, arrange for speakers to attend civilian functions and a variety of other jobs. But the one job I enjoyed the most was working with the civilian media.

My baptism of fire so to speak was when I worked at the US Air Force Survival School at Fairchild AFB, west of Spokane, Wash. I arranged several media interviews with survival instructors and had my own radio show on a Spokane station where I interviewed an instructor about survival techniques unique to the Inland Empire area. It wasn't difficult working under those conditions.

However, to make sure I was ready for anything the media might throw at me in the future, the Air Force sent me to DINFOS, the Defense Information School, in Indianapolis to learn more of my trade. During one of the courses, we were lectured on how to handle the tough, hard-hitting news questions which seem to always happen at a news conference. After the classroom discussion, we were given scenarios to study and then we would be put in front of the camera and be interviewed by a local reporter.

My scenario was that of a mid-air collision of two US Navy Blue Angels during an air show. No one was killed, but the pilots ejected and private property had been destroyed.

One of the things they told us was when you are asked a question which takes several minutes to ask and in which the reporter is making a number of unsubstantiated points, that we not answer the question at the end, as that will validate all the points made during the asking of the question. The proper thing to do is to ask the person to repeat the question. Most of the time, they will ask only the actual question the second time, leaving the unsubstantiate crap off. When the interviewee then answers the question, there is no other points being validate.

So when my turn came to be interviewed, I got up went to the front of the class and began my exercise. The first question I was asked was what happened. So I gave a brief statement of events, highlighting that everyone survived and the private property destroyed would be compensated for. Then added that a board of qualified officers will investigate the cause of the accident.

The reporter then went into a long, drawn out question berating flight training, demonstration teams, and the military in general and ended it all with the question, "Is what happened today worth the cost?" I looked at her, remembered the training and asked her to repeat question. You'd figure they would throw a curve at ya and they did. This reporter asked the exact same question, almost word for word and ended with the same question.

I figured if I asked her to repeat it again, I'd get the same practiced question, so there wasn't any reason for me to do so. Instead, I cocked my head to the side, squint just so slightly, looked the reporter straight in the eye and said, "Shit happens." Well, everyone cracked up, including the reporter who told me to sit down. I actually got through the exercise without answering a single question. But it was a learning experience for me and that was the entire purpose of the training.

Following the survival school, I was assigned to Columbus AFB, Miss., where I had a couple of run-ins with the media, but for the most part, they treated me good and weren't any trouble. After that assignment, I went to Thule AB, Greenland. There wasn't any media there to worry about except for those who travelled through for one reason or another. I have an interesting story about a Scandinavian reporter who brought all sorts of trouble down on my office and commander of the base...but it's a story I'll save for a future post.

Following Greenland, I was assigned to Elmendorf AFB, near Anchorage, Alaska. It was there where I really came under fire, and from when the memory surfaced.

About a year after my arrival at Elmendorf, the base was holding their annual air show. On that particular weekend, I had the on-call duty. It was the on-call person's job to field telephone queries from the media, obtain the required anwers, clear the information, then pass it on to the requestor. Not a hard job, but one that could take a long time to accomplish since we had to have everything reviewed by the three-star general on base before we could release it...and that was a pain in the ass.

Early in the morning of the air show day, I had been contacted by the command post on base and told that rising flood water at Galena AS, located on the north side of the Yukon River in the interior of Alaska, was going to force an evacuation of the site until the waters resceded. That wouldn't have been a big deal except for two things. First, the evacuees were being flown into Elmendorf during the air show; and second, the two Alert F-15s were being relocated to Elmendorf.

Now, this incident took place at the height of the Cold War. Soviet aircraft were constantly making moves towards US airspace, and Alert aircraft at two sites in Alaska, Galena being one and King Salmon Airport being the other, would be launched to intercept them before they reached our airspace. It was a cat and mouse game, that was played seriously by both sides.

As soon as the C-130s carrying the first of the evacuees to Elmendorf landed, an announcement was made for the show attendees that a real world situation had developed and that it might cause some delays in the scheduled flying activities. That announcement was all the local media needed to flood me with phone calls. I took all the questions (at the time, I had no data what-so-ever) and told each reporter I would get back to them as soon as I could. After getting the required information, I located my counterpart who worked for the general, told him what I had, and he basically gave it the nod of approval as it was strictly harmless facts.

I then proceeded to call back the reporters and pass on the information to them. At one of the call-backs to one of the local newspapers, I was asked another question. The reporter asked if the relocation of the Alert F-15 aircraft posed any problems with the reaction time of the aircraft should the Soviets decide to head our way again. My mind instantly went through a number of scenarios of what would happen with each answer. One of those instant thoughts was that if I said I would get back to you, the reporter would think there was a problem and wouldn't believe anything I got back to him with...and I didn't want that. I also thought that if I answered the question right then and there, without the general's approval, I would probably being damaging my career. But my job at the time was to help people understand the role of the Air Force in their day-to-day lives, and not do anything which would portray the Air Force or this county in poor light. So I answered the question right then and there. I told the reporter it in no way affected the response time of the Alert birds.

The next day my boss and I were called to the general's office. He wanted to know the story surrounding a headline in the morning's newspaper which read: Air Force evacuates Galena: Officials say they can still do their job...or something like that. Inside the article, I was quoted as saying the change in location of the aircraft had no affect on our ability to intercept any Soviet intrusion. The article also talked about the evacuation and flood waters, but the general knew about those questions. Fearing the worst, my boss and I waited for the hammer to fall. But it didn't. The general was so impressed with how I handled the situation, that he stated that from that point on, no one else, other than my boss or I, were allowed to talk to the media about anything, and best of all, we were to use our own judgement as to whether it the information needed to be cleared by his office or not.

Eight months later and hundreds of media queries, I was again in tricky situation and facing the news media. On a Friday afternoon, an F-15B model, a two seat version of the single seat air superiority fighter, took off with an enlisted man in the back seat. The back seater was being given an incentive flight for doing a good job as a crew chief. Two hours into the flight, the aircraft disappeared off radar and never reappeared. We immediately dispatched search teams to the last known radar position of the aircraft and I went to the Rescue Coordination Center which was my job when any search and rescue was occuring. As soon as I got there, I knew we wouldn't be doing a lot of searching that day, as the weather in the area was bad.

In town, the media had found out that we lost and aircraft and I was being flooded with calls regarding the lost aircraft. Since we had not been able to contact the next of kin I was unable to say anything regarding the lost aircraft. Everyone who called knew what we lost. But since I wasn't verifying the information, no one was using it. When I finally could release the information, it was late in the day. I explained about the poor weather conditions in the search area and that we would try again Saturday.

The next morning, I got up and went to the RCC and found the same thing going on which we had the previous day. The weather was just too rotten to do any searching. So, I again called the media I had contacted the previous day, told them there wouldn't be a search that day either and headed home after making sure I had a good battery in my beeper. The news that night made mention that bad weather was thrwarting attempts to locate the missing aircraft and that we would try again Sunday which according to forecasts, would give searchers a good window in which to operate.

The next morning, there was a lot more interest in the lost aircraft, as the news of it had been picked up by national outlets. By 6 am, I had already had half a dozen calls and I knew more would come in. So I called back the earlier callers and as others called, told them I would hold a news conference at one of the gates at noon.

At the appointed time, I was at the gate and so were dozens of news media. Everyone from radio to newspapers to television were there, waiting for what I had to say. Armed with the latest information, I made a short announcement that we would begin a extensive search of the target area at 2 pm when the weather would begin to clear from the area. I then added on the known facts and finally, opened it up for a question and answer period. Most of the questions were simple to answer...until a television reporter from Seattle raised his hand.

I acknowledged him and he began his question. It went something like this: "I have sources which have told me that you didn't loose the aircraft at all, that the pilot actually flew the aircraft across the straits and turned it over to the Soviet for a substantial reward. Do you have anything to say about that?"

I looked straight at the reporter and without hesitation said, "That's a stupid fucking statement. Does anyone have a serious question?"

There was a moment of silence, then everyone, except for the reporter who asked the question, burst out laughing. That statement basically ended the news conference. The reporters headed back to Anchorage to file what they had, I headed back to the RCC to monitor events. Four hours later, called the media again to tell them we had located the crash site.

And it was nowhere near the Soviet Union.