Well, it’s getting toward the end of my first semester at Embry Riddle – and how fast the time has passed me by! It’s really quite amazing, now that I stop to think about it…anyway, let me not go off on a tangent – I will remain completely focused on myself.
A lot’s happened this past fortnight. Let me start with a weekend trip I took with forty other AFROTC cadets up to South Carolina and Ohio. We visited Shaw, Charleston and Wright Patterson Air Force Bases from Thursday to Saturday, and did and saw so much that I don’t know where to start! I got a first hand look at real active duty Air Force life and jobs, and after seeing it, I’m doubly proud in what I’ve chosen to do.
Anyway, to start off, we departed from Embry-Riddle at 4 in the afternoon, aboard a bus. It was a long six hour drive up to Shaw Air Force Base, SC. We had to take our PT uniforms, SS Blues and the Det T along with us for the trip as well. We arrived at about 10:30 PM, and drove through the base to our quarters. We were put up in temporary residential quarters run by the Air Force Inns. I got on the bus in humid 75 degree (Fahrenheit) weather and got down in 26 degree winds, with a wind chill factor of 10 degrees. Dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, which is what I wear every day in Daytona Beach – with a thin jacket on, I emerged into below freezing weather! Oh yeah. Doesn’t say much for my common sense, I know, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. To those of you hailing from places that get snow regularly, let me tell you that this was the first time ever that I had experienced to below freezing weather! Unbelievable, I know, but there it is. California weather is just like Florida, and India is eight degrees from the equator, so when I got to South Carolina, I felt the cold! I don’t think even veteran snow boys would brave that cold in shorts. To cut a long, freezing story short, I waited for what seemed like forever to grab my bags and ran off to find my room. So it figures that I wouldn’t be able to find it quickly. That’s Murphy’s Law for you.
The next morning I was up long before the sun would rise, because we had to do Physical training with the 682nd squadron, whose job is to back up the US Army on the ground if the need arises. So 0540 found me out in even colder weather, clad in a very inadequate PT sweatshirt and pants. To say that I felt cold would be a woeful understatement – I would have gladly rushed into the nearest KFC and asked to be put in the pressure cooker at that moment. We waited for what seemed like hours before the entire group assembled and Capt Chivington, our APAS, led us to the Dining Hall, where I actually enjoyed scalding my throat with hot coffee. Then we drove down to the PT Pad across the base, where we split up into four groups and PT’d with the 682nd squadron. They gave us quite a workout, and for once I wasn’t grumbling – in fact, I was cursing the fat kids for not allowing us to do a full sprint. Ahhh, the warming wonders of a run for your life.
We then returned to our rooms, showered, and got dressed in our SS Blues uniforms for a day-long tour of Shaw Air Force Base. We were going to get briefings from people all over the base, in various jobs and capacities, to get an idea of what our day to day life in the Air Force would be like. Our uniforms had to look impeccable, so I spent some time ironing it (again), and even if I say so myself, it looked pretty damn fine.
We were scheduled to receive a brief from the Shaw Wing Commander, who is pretty much the Head Honcho on the base, but he was engaged in a war simulation and couldn’t make it. The PA officer and a Sergeant on a flight crew spoke to us, as well as an engaging Colonel who was an F-16 pilot. The pilot wanna-be’s got their fill from him.
Next on the itinerary was a static, up-close display of a real F-16 fighter, which is based at Shaw, which is also the headquarters of USCENTAF, the 9th Air Force and the 20th Fighter Wing. It was completely awesome! We even got to climb up to the cockpit, though pictures of the cockpit and the flight line were forbidden, as they are classified. It was so cool, to be able to see those massive beasts sitting on the tarmac, cockpit open – ready to fly out at a moment’s notice.
(thanks to Chris Higginbotham)
Throughout our day at Shaw, F-16s roared above, roaming the skies, flying on a leash because they can’t release their massive potential above CONUS, or the continental United States. We saw the training arsenal the F-16 carries – Sidewinders, HARMs and cluster bombs – it’s incredible to think that those tubes carry tons of explosive death…
The rest of the day we received briefings from members of the Operations squadron, and ‘shadowed’ members of several on-base professions – men and women of varying ranks and personalities, such as weather. At the end of the day I was pretty tired, having stood on my feet all day. The last brief of the day came from Maj. Gen Forsythe, a man who left a deep impact on me. He was matter-of-fact, no BS, and just invited us to ask us questions. As he admitted, ‘I’m not full of shit. I know most generals are supposed to be (and I know a few who are, though I won’t name names), but I’m not. He’s flown in Vietnam, aboard most aircraft the Air Force has or had. Anyway, there was one story he told us which really struck home. He’s been moving from base to base all his life with his family, and the entire family has to uproot itself and grow new roots. Anyway, he has a daughter who, naturally, grew to dread and hate the day her father would come home and announce in a falsely cheery voice, ‘So who wants to come to Wal-Mart and buy jumbo cartons?’ As she grew into the teenage years, of course she found her true love, and of course Daddy General had to move – as you may have guessed, they didn’t have the most Brady-ish relationship.
There was a boy at her high school who was making fun of this General’s daughter because her father was in the military. He kept needling her, and one day she decided she had had enough. She printed out her pop’s biography, listing all his meritorious achievements, and got up in class one day and read it aloud to the class. When she was done, she said, ‘This is what my father has done for this country’. She made such an impact on her class that after the bell had gone, a group of guys took the kid who had been badgering her and beat the crap out of him. When Gen Forsythe was telling us about this, he choked up and started crying! He was embarrassed about it after ward, but that human touch was what lit up our interaction. He made me, and I’m sure all of us there, proud of what we’re about to do for the country we love.
(The AFROTC gang with Maj. Gen. Forsythe)
Dinner at Cici’s was informal and interesting, as you can probably see…the next day we were up at 4 in the morning to board the bus to Charleston Air Force Base. Stupidly, I didn’t have my government ID on me, but they accepted my photo credit card as ID and let me through. We waited for what seemed like hours in the terminal (I hate airports after I had to wait 72 hours in Bombay’s Sahar Airport to board my plane to Daytona) and then took a C-17 Air Force plane up to Wright Patterson AFB. Flying in the C-17 was the coolest thing ever! We were lined up facing each other in chairs of webbing, the massive bay doors to our left. Some Junior ROTC kids and a few other enlisted Air Force personnel were also on the plane with us. I was pretty damn excited about flying on a military plane, to be sure!
Well, she revved herself, pawed at the ground, and heaved her great butt into the air. I got to go into the cockpit and check out West Virginia from 28,000 feet – the Interstate Highway looked like a noodle.
As we were landing and taxiing to a halt, the pilots opened the bay doors, so we could see the earth rushing by just beneath us. Now this was cool, no doubt, but what with the relative motion and the ten degree winds, I quickly decided Ohio could keep its weather to itself, thank you very much. Cold!
I was glad when we got into the Air Force museum, which was a short drive away from the airport. I saw loads of cool planes, including the prototype YF-22, the B-2 (which struck me as strange at first, as its cockpit is still classified, until I realized of course they’d have removed the avionics (duh) before sticking it in a public museum), the Titan ICBMs, the Black Widow, the A-10…name it, it’s probably there. Which is why I was kind of disappointed that we had just under two hours to go through the three enormous hangars – they were big enough to hold the B-52, so you can imagine their size! Seeing as we flew across the country on a military transport, they might have given us a bit more time.
Oh well. Back to the C-17 – but not before I bought a ridiculously priced ear muffler from the museum.
Hey – at least I didn’t feel like I was wearing icicles on the sides of my face when I got back to Wright-Pat (!) We took off on the same plane we came on, heading back to South Carolina, and weather only a few degrees below freezing. Whoopee.
On our approach to Charleston, I was awakened from a doze by a drawling Yeager-style voice over the intercom, languidly informing us that we were about to take a 10,000 foot dive to liven things up. Shortly after that the plane slid forward and we began shooting toward the ground at an incredible speed. Wow, that was fun! We all lifted our hands and legs into the air, and experienced a novel sensation – of near-weightlessness! I was kinda disappointed when it was over! The JROTC kids didn’t take it so well, though – a couple of them were really petrified and I think a few threw up too.
The pilots wanted to show off, and they certainly made an impression! I heard that they actually wanted to just surprise everyone with the dive! Half the people were asleep – we had had an early start – and they wanted to wake us up with a free-fall. Picture it. You’re fast asleep on a plane and when you wake up it’s plummeting at a frightening rate. What would you think? OhmigodwearecrashingIAMGONNADIENOOOOOOOOO! I think it would have been awesome, but the pilots were dissuaded on the grounds that there might be panic.
A long drive later, we were back in Daytona Beach.
This past fortnight two of my courses ended – EGR 101 and UNIV 101. I’m thankful, because it means that my schedule is going to be that much easier! Not to mention less homework! I had an Air Force Lead Lab final, have a GMC AF class final coming up, as well as two papers, a 1500 line C/MATLAB project, four assignments and I’m afraid to think any more, because I’ll remember pending work and panic! The next two weeks will be crazy, but it’ll be worth it.
This semester has been a blast so far, and I have no doubt the others will be too. Cheers, dudes, and have youself a blast too!
MOTTO FOR THE SEMESTER: Diplomacy, ladies and gentlemen, is the art of saying “nice doggy” until you can find a rock.