Friday, April 25, 2008

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Wednesday evening, I recorded the newest Mythbusters for later viewing and found the time to watch it last night. The show was interesting, in that they were tackling Alaskan Myths.

I lived in Alaska twice for two years and loved every moment of the time I spent there. I spent most of my time in the Anchorage area, but I did work for short periods of time in other areas. As I said, I loved the state. Alaska is definitely the land of extremes and amazement.

In the Mythbusters show, one of the myths they were tackling was whether or not you could lessen damage to your car if you speed up when hitting a moose in the middle of the road is the only recourse a driver has. They sort of proved it wrong, and I sort of knew they would. Moose legs are really long and most cars would go under the moose bringing it right into the windshield. As they were discussing their experiment, I thought back to one of my first moose encounters in Alaska.

It happened shortly after I arrived at Elmendorf AFB. I was tasked with driving an F-6S fuel truck containing low grade aviation fuel to Six Mile Lake. Once there, I was to refuel several Civil Air Patrol de Havilland Beavers. The lake was called Six Mile Lake for a was six miles from main base area along a dirt road cut through some of the thick on-base Alaskan wilderness.

I went out to my truck, inspected it, climbed in, did my radio check and drove off. The trip was uneventful for the first couple of miles and I was enjoying the scenery around me as I drove along. Most of the other workers in my job didn't like the Six Mile Lake run as it was long and dirty (dirt road, remember?), but it gave me the chance to get out and about and see things I wouldn't normally see. As I neared the midway point on the outbound run, I came across a sweeping right turn with woods on the left and an open prairie on the right. I also noticed a moose just entering the open field. The moose was on a fast run away from something, or wanting to go somewhere mighty fast.

As I watched the moose heading towards the road, I realized there was a very good chance that if both of us remained at the same speed we were going, that a collision would occur. Not wanting to damage government equipment, I decided I would slow down and let the moose cross in front of me. But as I began doing that, the moose also slowed and the collision again seemed likely. I decided the moose was slowing to eat or something and again applied pressure to the gas peddle and sped up. By this time, I was halfway through the turn, the moose was off to my right requiring me to lean forward a little and turn my head far to the right to see it and I needed to concentrate on navigating a washboard section of the turn.

I hadn't gone fifty feet, when BAMM! and the several ton fuel truck I was driving, began rocking. I knew what had happened and slammed on the breaks and came to a stop at the apex of the turn I was making. I immediately leaned forward and to the right and looked out the passenger side window of the cab. There, 20 feet away, I saw the moose. It was heading back into the woods from the direction it came, but it wasn't running. It was walking...slowly walking...and staggering. It's head was down and swaying from side-to-side as it walked. I got out of my truck and walked around to the passenger side, keeping an eye on the large creature heading away from me.

I wasn't much more than 40 feet from it, but it was ignoring me and my truck. I watched it for a moment and then looked at the side of the truck. There in the passenger's door, was a large dent. It wasn't there when I checked the truck out prior to departure...and my stomached cringed. How would I explain this to my boss? I looked closer at the dent and realized there were moose hairs around it. That would help, I thought. I went back around to the driver's side, reached in for my radio and keyed the mike.

"Fuels 4 to Control," I said.

"Go ahead four," came the reply from the dispatcher.

"A moose has hit my truck and damaged the door."

There was a long delay and then a new voice came on the net.

"Say again, four?" said my boss.

I repeated what I said and after a few seconds, came my boss' voice again.

"Where did you hit the moose?"

"I didn' hit me."

"Is the truck operable?"


"Finish the mission and bring the truck back to dispatch when finished."

After acknowledging the order, I glanced back at the moose who was now reentering the woods from where it came, started the truck and drove off. I finished my job and made my way back to the dispatch office. When I arrived there, everyone came out to see for themselves just what happened. I showed my supervisor the dent the moose made. While looking it over, they had also found moose hairs in the area of the dent and shook their heads in amazement. After I explained to them in more detail what had happened, we all retired to the office area where I got a cup of coffee.

As I stood at the bar sipping the hot liquid, my section chief, or boss, walked over and said, "Jones was able to pop the dent out with little effort. There was also a little damage to the pump section of the truck. You think it just didn't like yellow trucks?"

"Either that," I said, "or it was blind or just plain stupid."

That wasn't the last encounter I had with Alaskan wildlife. Stay tuned for more moose stories from The Last Frontier.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Who? Me...A Smart Ass?

I wasn't a good student in school. In high school, I failed and had to retake in summer school, English. One of the last things my English teacher said to me, was, "Never get a job requiring the use of the English language."

Well, the Air Force didn't hear that and made me a journalist. I had never had any training in it, but I was a quick learner. Within a year, I had made my way to editor of the paper and I turned into a pretty good one, taking several Air Force level awards and placing third (out of five) at Department of Defense level during my 16 plus years as a public affairs specialist which included the journalist job (I spent my first four years as a fuels specialist).

One reason I did well in that job was I wanted to learn the job. It was better than pumping gas to an airplane, which I didn't mind doing when I had to, but the public affairs job sounded a lot better.

These days, I use my writing skills for blogging (you know that already if you are reading this) and for writing short stories and several novels I am working on. I also have a lot of experiences in my life I can rely on and modify in one way or another for certain areas of my writing. Being in the Air Force, traveling the world, helped me with gathering these experiences.

But what also helps me with my writing in my broad knowledge base of things. Like I mentioned above, I catch on quick to things...especially things I want to learn about. I know a lot about a lot of things. I know about earthquakes because I have experienced several killer quakes around the world. I know about volcanoes because I have experienced several eruptions around the world. I know about astronomy because I became interested in it when was 14 years old. I know about birds and bugs because I photograph them and want to know what it is I have created an image of. There are a many other topics I am knowledgeable of, because I wanted to learn about those things.

Because of my knowledge, I have been called a smart ass, a know-it-all, and a few other things. I have also been disbelieved when I answered a question about a topic so obscure that few people even knew what the question was about. But that's me. I love to share my knowledge of things. It comes partly from my military career where I was in a public service position. I would give tours of the bases I was stationed at and have to be able to answer any and all questions thrown at me. So I learned about the places I visited and objects which would be seen along the tour route.

But these days, I don't give tours of anything. I only occasionally do something new which peaks my interest, such as card modeling. I thought it would be fun to create my own card models. So I did. I selected objects from one of my favorite cartoons, The Flintstones. If you go to the website here, and scroll down about halfway, you'll come across my stone age designs. They are available free for downloading and printing. Then with some scissors, Xacto knife, white glue and a little time, you can create your own stone age world. There are other designs from other people, all free for the downloading, but if you go there, don't forget to locate the designs from Ashrunner and look at them. If you do, let me know what you think of them.

But I still have a lot of knowledge in my brain I use. When I can, I pass on that information to others. Recently a friend of mine commented about our relationship being so one sided. When I asked for clarification and was told that I have taught this person so much about a lot of things, while I have gotten very little in return. Well, I don't pass on my knowledge with the expectation that I get something in return. Knowing that I have added to someone else's level of knowledge is a good enough feeling for me. When I was writing news stories, knowing at least one person read any particular of mine, was enough for me to continue. It's the same with sharing my vast database of knowledge.

I love learning something new and I retain that information because you never know when that information will come in handy. But you need to know that the information you are passing on is the correct information. I have made mistakes with my information in past. But I try to limit those errors in fact as much as possible. But there was one time I was wrong and that one time was the impetus for me to learn as much as I can about as much as I can. That incident happened when I was in the fifth grade.

More on that later, but first a some background is needed. When I was four or five years old, I was staying at my aunt's house in Alvin, Illinois. While I was there, a thunderstorm developed. Not long after that, we heard of a tornado warning on the radio. My aunt's family, being accustomed to this sort of thing, gathered up all the children, and led everyone down into the basement. We had tuned in the local radio station we waited for the "All clear." When it came, we went upstairs and checked things out. Things were okay on my aunt's farm, but on the late news that evening, was a story about the damage done to a farm not far from aunt's place.

A photo of the damage was shown and I looked at that black and white picture on the round
cathode ray tube of my aunt's television set with fascination. I also listened as the announcer said, "This is what the tornado did to the home of (I can't remember the name so I'll just say:)
John Smith of Alvin." On the screen was a picture of a tree which had been broken and tossed against the house. That picture was burned in my mind forever, along with what the announcer said.

The next day, my father came out to pick me up and he went out to see the damage himself. He took his camera with him and took a photo of the house damage which I had seen the night before. This is that image.

Flash forward to the fifth grade for me. It was science class time and we were learning about storms. At one point in the class, the teacher asked, "Does anyone know what a tornado is?" Excited that a question was asked which I actually knew the the answer to, I raised my hand. The teacher raised his head, pointed to me and called my name. I stood, fully prepared to give my answer. Now, remember, I was young at the time the above incident happened and it did make a lasting impression on me. I can still see the image on the television screen to this day taken from a slightly different angle than the photo.

I cleared my throat and proudly blurted out my answer. "A tornado is a walking tree which goes around destroying houses."

I slowly sat back in my seat even as the laughter from the rest of the class got louder and louder. I couldn't believe I was wrong and when the smiling, head shaking teacher finally calmed the classroom down, he pointed out the error of my description.

I vowed at that point in time, I would never again volunteer to answer any question in school. I also vowed that I would learn as much as I could about everything.

If that makes me a smart ass, so be it. 8v)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Rockin 'n' Rollin in the Midwest

Things were shaky today for people in the Midwest. A 5.4 magnitude earthquake rumbled through a number states in the early morning hours, followed by a smaller aftershock several hours later.

From what I have read, the quake was felt as far away as Atlanta, Georgia. It was definitely felt by a friend of mine in Lexington, Kentucky. However, my mom who lives about 200 miles north of the quake area, didn't feel it. She was asleep like a lot of people at the time the the temblor rolled through. But something woke her at the time of the quake...probably it rolling through.

I remember my first "felt" quake. It was in 1968. At the time, I was working in an animal hospital on the south side of Chicago. The animals in the back room where I worked started acting strange, then the cage doors started rattling and I could feel a rumbling. I could almost hear something, but the critters in the place were making way too much noise for me to know for sure. Not long after that, one of the front office people came back to tell me there had been an earthquake.

Several years later, I was in the Air Force, stationed in extremely seismically active, Alaska. My first quake there was an interesting one. I was at an off-base mobile home where myself and two co-workers lived to get away from the barracks life. I had just come back from a dental appointment, and sat down in a swivel-rocker to read my mail. The noon newscast was just beginning and suddenly, I saw the announcer dive under his desk. A split second later, just after I had opened a letter from a friend in Ohio, my chair started swiveling and rocking on its own. Then it was over. I looked around and then looked at the television screen and had to laugh. The announcer had poked his head up over the edge, looked around, then got back in his chair and said, "If you don't know, the Anchorage area has just experienced an earthquake. More on that as it comes in."

Several months later, during the early morning and I was out on the tarmac refueling a C-141 Starlifter. At the time, I was watching a distance aircraft in the landing pattern. Suddenly, I started swaying side-to-side and I looked towards the control tower. I couldn't see it moving, but I could see ripples in the runway. I looked again at the aircraft in the pattern and it was still coming in. When I went back to our dispatch office, I was told there had been an earthquake.

There were a few more minor rockers during my time there, but after I left Alaska, I didn't experience another earthquake until I was reassigned from Texas to northern Italy. Prior to my arrival there, there had been a series of quakes which brought devastation to a number of towns and I was heading into the area of the worst damage. After my arrival, things were rather quiet. The area was being cleaned up and life was returning to normal. Then another quake rolled through. This quake occurred early in the morning as most of us slept. However, it woke everyone in the barracks. I know, because as soon as it finished, the entire building was heard to say, "Holy shit...did you feel that?" Then a line formed at the urinals.

For me, that quake was interesting. I woke just before the shaking began. At that time, one side of my bed was up against a wall. Hanging on the wall, right above where my crotch area was (and still is), was a 4-point, mounted deer head I got in Texas. As soon as the shaking started, I looked up at the mount and said, "Don't fall...Don't fall," over and over. It didn't fall, but it did get moved to a different part of my section of the barracks room.

Later in the morning, I was at work and was being interviewed by a radio announcer from the Southern European Network, a division of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, in Vicenza, Italy, about 100 miles south of Aviano, where I was. I recall the announcer asking me what the morning quake was like and as soon as he finished, an aftershock hit. I had just reached for my little, yellow plastic coffee cup and couldn't immediately figure out why it kept moving just out of my reach. Then it hit me...EARTHQUAKE! I stood up and looked at my supervisor who was rushing out of the office and was frozen with what I was seeing.

I worked in a cinder block building and the wall I was staring at, was painted cinder block. I was watching waves move through the cinder blocks. I could see them actually bending and not crumbling...and I couldn't figure it out. Then the shaking stopped and slowly made my way outside the building. The entire cast of characters who worked in the headquarters for the 40th Tactical Group was out there. I was the last to leave the building. About 30 minutes later when engineers had given the building an okay for occupancy, we were allowed back in. More rumblers moved through the region in the days which followed, but none like that one.

I didn't feel anymore earthquakes until I was reassigned to Anchorage, Alaska in 1983. I hadn't been on base for more than two weeks, when a very strong, quick quake occurred. I was just walking into my office when it hit and almost as quickly, finished. When I entered the office, I saw the person I was replacing halfway out the window of the building. He had a mortal fear of quakes and would do anything to avoid them, including jumping out of a third floor office window to make sure the building didn't collapse on him. But the quake finished before he could leap, and he was spared the consequences of what might have happened on landing.

It was in Alaska, where something really strange happened regarding an earthquake. It was a year or so after I had arrived there. I was in a new job as the community relations advisor for the base. I was sitting at my desk in the office I shared with our media relations NCO, when I felt dizzy and put my head down. My office mate noticed something strange with me and asked if I was okay. I looked up at him and said, "In 24 hours, we will have a 5.2 earthquake," and I went back to work on some paperwork. The NCO with me, shook his head and went back to what he was doing. This took place at 3 pm.

The next day at 2:58 pm, a 5.4 magnitude earthquake hit. I had missed it by two minutes and two degrees of magnitude. However, soon as it finished, the person in the office with me gathered some notebooks, forms and pens and walked out. He went to another of the offices and told everyone what had happened. For the next several minutes, people would walk by my office and look inside at me, then walk away. The person in the office with me during that incident, refused to work with me after that. Our office areas were rearranged and I was considered a really strange person by everyone. Sorry, Tom. I didn't mean to upset you.

After I left Alaska, I felt minor quakes in Honduras while I was on temporary assignment there. None of them were big, just little shakers everyone laughed at. But in the summer of 1990, I was in The Philippines. On a nice July day, I worked a little late in the office and when I finished, went out to the bus stop to await transportation to my barracks. As I stood there talking to two Filipina women, a quake hit. It was so strong, and so long, it actually knocked me on my ass and began bouncing me around. As I sat on the roadway acting like a rubber ball with the quake, I recall looking towards our legal building across the street. It was a cinder block building and again, I could see waves moving through the cinder blocks.

As soon at that quake was finished, I got up, brushed myself off and went right back to my office. As I entered the front part of the office, my boss was walking through the door. He looked at me and said, "Where did you come from?" I told him I was at the bus stop when it hit and then the phone rang...and rang...and rang...and rang. It didn't stop ringing for several hours. By that time, several coworkers were in helping out and I was sent to the command post to help coordinate things there and answer media queries during the night hours. I worked the night hours there for six days before things returned to normal.

That quake was a doozy. It registered 7.8 on the Richter Scale and produced thousands of minor aftershocks. And personally, I believe it was the beginning of the end for Clark AB, as less than a year later, Mt. Pinatubo erupted and destroyed most of the base.

I haven't felt another quake since I left The Philippines in November 1990. However, in 1994, I was on the Oregon coast with my nephew. We were talking and walking along the shoreline when he asked me something. I don't remember his question, but I remember my answer. I looked at him and said, "I could tell you in two hours, California will be hit by one hell of an earthquake...but you wouldn't believe me." Two hours or so later, California was devastated by the Northridge Earthquake.

These days, I keep my thoughts to myself and hope someday to feel the frantic rumblings of a quake again. After all, they are Mother Nature's roller coaster rides.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's in a Name?

I am a man of many names. Yes, I have alternate identities.

There is my give name, then my nickname and my online name.

As for my given name, my parents gave it to me shortly after I was born. I guess most folks get named that way.

My nickname is Bear. It is something I picked up somewhere along the way during my adventures in life. However, it didn't start out being what it is now. My nickname has gone through a variety of changes until it finally settled down. During my military career, I was called The Mad Russian (a reference to what, I don't know), Ol' Yeller (a reference to a small, plastic, yellow coffee cup I used for a long time), Larry (a shortened version of my given name), Enzo (the Italian version of Larry) and finally, the early stages of my final nickname, Kodiak and Grizz (a reference to my rough, tough NCO attitude resembling that of a grizzly bear).

During my second assignment to Alaska, I didn't make a good impression on my bosses at first. Several errors on my part made them question my capabilities and after several changes in my job positions, I was finally placed in media relations where I handled almost all media queries regarding the base. It was in that position which I made a name for myself and was one of only two people on base authorized by a three-star general to talk to the media. I'll get into that in a future post.

During that assignment, I worked for the 21st Tactical Fighter Wing commander in the public affairs office. However, there was also the headquarters for the Alaskan Air Command on base and there was a public affairs office there also...and they were higher up the chain of command. In other words, my office was subordinate to them. The command office was run by a full colonel who had a good sense of humor. Shortly after the general told him I would be included in the short list of people able to speak for the Air Force at Elmendorf AFB, the colonel began calling me Kodiak. If you know my last name (Sobkoviak), it's not a far reach from the last six letters. He also developed a joke regarding the nickname.

First, let me explain something. In Alaska, there are Brown Bears...big mean Brown Bears. There are also bigger and meaner Kodiak Brown Bears...known as Kodiak Bears. Now for the joke. This colonel enjoyed telling the joke around me, and I didn't mind it, as it added to my reputation. It went like this:

Q. What's meaner than a Brown Bear?

A. A Sub-kodiak!

Well, the nickname Kodiak came about and it stuck....for a while.

Fast forward to Scott AFB, in Illinois three years later. Someone there had heard about my Alaska nickname and mentioned it to someone else. For some reason however, no one liked it, but a new one came about, which was actually a growth of Kodiak. Someone there began calling my Grizz, in reference to my rough demeanor similar to that of a Grizzly Bear.

Several years later, I was transfered to Clark AB, The Philippines. One of the first things I did there, was join an intramural softball team. When I did, I was asked what number I wanted and name I wanted on the back of my shirt. I picked the number 26 (for Billy Williams, my favorite Cubs ballplayer) and my then current nickname, Grizz. But the people at Clark didn't like calling me Grizz, so they started calling me Bear.

The name stuck and when someone asks me what they should call me, I said, "Bear." The nickname Bear for me was popular with everyone on base who knew me. Clark was my last assignment in the Air Force and was badly damaged in a volcanic eruption. During the aftermath of the eruption, everyone left on base (about 1,200 at first) carried multifunction radios around for communications. The radios were capable of clear air transmissions, private channel transmissions, scrambled transmissions, telephone calls, and a few other things I can't remember. When you needed to contact someone, you would say call-sign of the person you wanted to contact, then your call-sign on the clear air channel. Everyone could hear what was said on that transmission.

However, if you wanted to talk privately to the person, you would punch in a set of numbers for the person you were calling and talk away and no one would be able to hear the conversation. It was a rarely used capability as there were limited channels for private conversations, but the higher ranking officials often used the private channels to talk between members of their staff.

However, there were several times when I would get a private channel call from my boss regarding something I needed to do. Generally, he would punch in my code and say, "Bear?" into the mic and wait for my reply. Then there were several times when the vice commander needed to contact me and he would do the same thing, but follow-up with his call-sign. At first he would say my call-sign, then his. But then he began saying, "Bear...(his call-sign which I don't recall)." The first time he did it, it took me by surprise. But I got used to it. Then one day, the general in charge of the post-Pinatubo activities called me. "Bear...Gator here." I grabbed my brick (what we called the heavy, brick sized radios we carried around) and replied, "Bear here...go Gator." He asked me to track down my boss and have him contact his office immediately. I replied in the affirmative and that was that. I was the only person on the radio net who would be referred to by his nickname, rather than call-sign.

Today, people still call me Bear to my face. I have promoted a book about Clark AB in which I am prominently featured in the final 100 pages. The author of the book uses my Bear nickname in it and some of my friends have picked it up and now use it when calling me.

Finally, there is my online persona. If you're reading this post, you know the title of my blog. Ashrunner's Rants. I also have Ashrunner's Photo Safaris (my Flickr account) and all the forums I belong to, I am known as Ashrunner.

I developed that persona when I first started an online life many years ago. It was somewhere around 1993 or 1994 when I joined AOL. I had actually tried to use Ash Warrior as my nickname there, but for some reason (probably too many letters) it wouldn't take. After several moments of thought, I decided since I've had three volcanos dump ash on me, and once, was forced to flee the occurrence, that Ashrunner would be a good name to use. So I entered it, it was accepted and a legend was born.

For the most, I'll answer to any one of the names listed here. But if you see me in person, please call me Bear.