Sunday, March 10, 2013

About turning 70

It may be due to advancing age (I turned the big seven-zero on the 6th), but I have great concerns about the future of our wonderful country and, as well, the future of the planet.  I have almost discontinued listening to national news; it's full of name calling, failures to compromise, and just darn pig-headedness (apologies to swine). 

Our population has become a species of entitled individuals who have little or no idea of what personal responsibility might be and the people that lead the country, both in the political arena and in business, are the most gross examples of this lack.  Nothing is anyone's fault! 

If I am a congressperson or a state legislator or a governor or a mayor or, even, a president - I know what is best for the folks and I deserve to profit  from my actions.  I deserve all of the money, the goodies, the trips and the respect.  I deserve to be worshipped.  The notion of civil service as a duty or a moral commitment has long since become missing.  If I run a business, damn the environment, damn those who do the work and damn the politicians who try to extort more cash out of me for their own benefit in getting reelected. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What's It All About, Alfie?

I don't like to boast.  That being said, I have been blessed with an intellect that allows me to understand reality a bit deeper than most.  It's like the difference between Newton's concept of reality and Quantum Mechanics when I compare myself to friends and acquaintances.  My one friend with whom I can talk about physics is also my flying buddy and we spend a lot of time talking about both things. 

However, the more I have learned about reality, the less content I am.  It has resulted in me becoming a sceptic just about everything.  Politics, religion, name a few. 

The point is that, I guess, ignorance is bliss.....

Celebrity Death

We've all spent the last week or so mourning the death of Whitney Houston, one of the great vocalists we've enjoyed hearing over the past thirty or so years.  Sad as the situation is, it was almost predictable.  Ms Houston spent her time and her fortune trying to chemically alter reality while ignoring her great gift she could've continued to pass on to her fans. 

Sometimes, reality is a real bitch.  People treat you bad.  You experience aches and pains.  The enviorment isn't always pretty.  Some days you eats the bear; some days the bear eats you.  Life goes on. 

I'll admit that I have taken an pill or two to get rid of a headache but taking a pill to make yourself happy is a fantasy.  Things sort themselves out and, if you have the benefit of nearly unending wealth, your options are much greater than most.  Do something nice for someone, if all else fails. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

When I was a kid, Memorial Day was "Decoration Day" and we all trooped over to the cemetery where our family members, deceased, had been layed to rest.  I remember that we always took peonys to put on the graves of so many people that I had no memories of.  Grandpa Christensen died before I was born.  My own father's sister had died as a child about 8 years old of diphtheria, a disease no one even knows about any more.  Anyway, we were told to be reverent and to honor these relatives we had not known. 

Also present in the cemetery were numerous American flags (48 star variety) and none of us kids knew why they were there.  Some years later, Decoration Day became Memorial Day.  We still went to the cemetery and placed flowers wherever a family member or dear friend was buried.

I didn't go to another cemetery for many years.  I was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force and either overseas or many miles away when my remaining grandmothers passed away, actually in Southeast Asia when Grandma Christensen passed on.

I attended a few military ceremonies over the years.  Most involved military honors and, since most of us were aviators, the mandatory "fly over."  These were sad occasions but we all kept "stiff upper lips." 

After I retired from the service, we lived in Folsom, CA where I was active in the local Chamber of Commerce.  I was asked to head an effort to construct an appropriate military memorial in the city park.  I got some of my friends together and, as a committee, we purchased a bronze plaque with the names of the young men of Folsom who had given their all in the various wars.  My daughter composed a poem which was read at the dedication and we felt we had done something good. 

Fast forward a few decades and we now live in Lincoln, CA.  I am active in two veterans organizations and represent same on the Placer County Veterans Advisory Board.  I and others assist veterans in filing for benefits and such.  We also help those with needs for transportation and so forth.  The veterans groups were tasked to construct appropriate memorials for each of the four cemeteries in the area and I was asked to assist.  We took about two years to design and acquire the four memorials which were installed a couple of weeks back.  We dedicated the one in the old city cemetery today, Memorial Day 2011.

I've done enough memorial construction.  I routinely think about the hundreds of thousands of young American men and women who will never have the opportunity to become husbands and wives, to hold their children, to enjoy their parents as seniors and, yes, to become senior citizens themselves. 

And for what?  World War II was at least a response to an attempt to control the whole world and to eliminate our way of life.  Since then, the goals of war, whatever they were, resulted in nothing more than continued hostilities.  In Korea, we fought to a standoff, the results of which have never changed. In Vietnam, we continued to pour young people into that terrible mill which disgorged only wounded, whether on stretchers or walking.  The result was an abandonment or a tacit surrender.  Fifty-thousand young people who will never come home.  And we veterans took the blame from a generation of coddled and overfed kids who burned flags and called us baby killers.  We all discovered that, contrary to public opinion, soldiers did their duty not to Mom, country and apple pie, but to help their buddies, their brothers in arms. 

Finally, we have the morass of southwest Asia.  Sounds a lot like southeast Asia, doesn't it?  Thousands of our best and brightest fighting other guerilla wars in a far off place.  Dying in the company of men and women like themselves.  The best and the brightest. 

I will never build another memorial.

Friday, May 13, 2011

When the Balloon Almost Went Up

I left the crew force in 1974.  I had the opportunity to transfer to the unit command post as a controller and I jumped at it.  Even though it was shift work and holidays (the command post was a 24/7 operation) it provided me experience I needed to promotion to major. 

The command post was the final link between the President of the United States and the weapons he had at his disposal should "the balloon go up."  I don't know where this saying originated but it was used frequently to describe the onset of nuclear war!  The command post was also the central control point for all that happened on the base.  We handled emergencies of all types and security breaches.  We issued instructions to aircraft crews and assisted personnel who had questions or concerns.  We monitored the whereabouts of all of the senior staff who had to be available 24/7 on six rings of the telephone. 

It was tough work but it was seldom boring.  I came to work on a swing shift one afternoon.  After a few minutes an F-105 belonging to a tenant reserve unit on the base, swerved off the runway into the mud at about the 5000 foot marker.  The nose gear was about two feet into the dirt and the aircraft tail was extending out over the runway.

We were effectively closed!  B-52s could not land with this aircraft blocking the active and we had several missions returning with various fuel states.  I had to find alternates for the airborne aircraft and get the word to them.  Somehow, our chairs got kicked back to the rear wall and we remained on our feet, talking on the phones and radios simultaneously.  It took several hours, but we got everyone safely on the ground and got the stuck Thunderchief out of the mud. 

Alert force exercises were another event we had to oversee.  As the message came down from headquarters, we would decode it and know what it meant so we could start a chain of events that involved the personnel who had roles and ensured safety.  These aircraft were loaded with nuclear weapons, after all, and we couldn't affort to compromise any procedure.  These birds were all over twenty  years of age and many had upwards of 25000 hours of flying time.  Exercises usually resulted in several maintenance problems, engines that wouldn't start, hydraulics and electrics that were not right.  The radio was jammed with continuous requests for instructions or reports of troubles. 

Then came one late graveyard shift.  At about 2 a.m., the alerting klaxon began to sound and the alerting system message began.  We decoded it and found that it was not an exercise.  It was a real message that increased the position of alert aircraft to ensure their survival.  We thought the war had started.  I stared and my enlisted controller and he said, "maybe we better decode this again."  We did.  Same result.

All of the aircraft, 6 bombers and 6 tankers, responded.  Their times couldn't have been better.  No maintenance problems noted.  They were ready to take off.

Sometime later, it seemed longer than it was, we were returned to a normal alert status.  I realized then how close we'd come and I now knew that the crews would do as they were directed. 

What Crew Dogs Did

After I had completed my training to get rated, I spent the first five or so years alternating between deploying to Guam and Thailand for six month stints and pulling nuclear alert in B-52s.  The former was 99% boredom and 1% stark terror as we did our support of the Greater Southeast Asian Land/Air War usually designated as the Vietnam War; however, we did do some bombing other places and so Vietnam War is not particularly accurate. 

The alert part was, by comparison, 100% boredom.  At Beale Air Force Base, in northern California, we pulled three and four day alert cycles.  This was because the alert facility and the airplanes were about 7 miles from everything and so we couldn't go anywhere.  The wheels thought that we'd better not keep these guys so isolated.  Who knows what might happen!  At Carswell Air Force Base in Texas, our alert tours were seven days in length.  We could even go to the officers' club!

We ate, drank, slept, showered, and everything else in the alert shack.  The shack had two stories and was built half underground.  The top floor had the offices, the mission planning rooms, the briefing room, the T.V. lounge and the mess hall.  Down below were the sleeping rooms and showers.  We bunked two and three to a room.  Just like college! 

We began the day with the "daily briefing" (imagine that) followed by a check of the aircraft.  We put external power on a fired up the radios for a check with the command post.  After that, we returned to the alert facility for whatever the schedule directed.  We studied our war mission and withstood the onslaught of questions from the staff as required.  After this exercise, we might do some mission planning for a future flight, go get some simulator time, or perform any of a number of recurring training requirements.

Frequently, we were "exercised."  This meant that the alert klaxon went off and we had to run to our aircraft and start engines.  After we got radio contact, we would receive our orders.  Sometimes this might be to taxi to the hold line and await further instructions, shut down engines and remain in the aircraft, or wrap things up and go back to the alert facility.  These exercises were very important for timing and we were graded by headquarters for our response times. 

After normal duty hours, we lined up for chow and then spent the evening at various avocations such as card playing, T.V. watching or b.s. sessions.  It was difficult to be away from home for a week; however, we were able to invite family members to visit us on occasion.  Holiday meals were open to family members.  We had an important job and we realized that each of our alert aircraft carried more destruction than was used in World War II. 

Exciting?  Not really but see next blog.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


My wife and I had completed a 4000 mile automobile trip and we arrived back home just before the wedding of William and Kate.  My daughter was visiting and so she and my wife sat down to watch the recording I had made of the big shindig.  For the next 6 or so hours, I "watched the watchers" as I went about my business. 

Royalty, like much of organized religion, is another sham perpetrated on the folks but some slick operators.  Somehow, these folks have convinced everyone in Great Britain that they are the appropriate persons to hold the position of ruler of this country.  Even though the position is largely ceremonial as no power to govern exists, they are still held in high esteem, own a lot of valuable real estate, are supported by public funds and are followed by all of the news organizations.  Queen Liz can't have a hangnail without all of the world's press organization sending interviewers.  Sounds just like the attention given to the Pope when he has a bout with the flu, or something similar.

When I visit the British Isles, as a courteous tourist, I do not expound on the idiocy of the notion that some elderly lady has a "divine right" to govern me and that she was forordained to this purpose by a controlling diety.

In addition, the papers and television news coverage of the Queen's family, including kids and grandkids and ex grandkids in-law sent reporting entourages to every party, wedding, birth or other event. 

Come on.  When are we going to grow up and quit aspiring to be princes and princesses?