Good story. Remeber the time you went swimming in the water buffalo?
Say, I had forgotten about that little adventure. OK, here's the story as I
While a member of the 5th Combat Communications Group (5CCG), at
Robins AFB, GA, we would be called upon a few times each year to participate in what
were termed “Healthy Strikes.” Now, I never have figured out what was so healthy about
them. We would be awakened at around 5:00 am to the delightful sound of an emergency
response claxon in the barracks, at which time the clock started ticking for us to report
to our duty stations, fully prepared for deployment to anywhere in the world, within
30 minutes. That included showering, dressing, grabbing our two very large deployment
bags filled with a shelter half (someone else had the other half, assuming we always
deployed in even numbers), first aid kit, shovel, arctic parka and white bunny boots,
mosquito netting and repellent for same for the tropics, canteen, and various other
objects of necessity that one would expect an army grunt to take anywhere in the world.
But wait, we were Air Force, not Army! I never “got” that concept, either. The recruiters
never mentioned the possibility of this scenario when I specifically mentioned that
I joined the Air Force so as to avoid such inconveniences.
for me, all the Healthy Strike deployments I “shared in” were a whopping 40 miles away
at Herbert Smart Airfield, north of Macon, GA. For some reason, and I am certain it
was merely happenstance, our deployments always coincided with extreme weather. We managed
to go during the rare Georgia snow and during sweltering summer heat. I think I remember
hearing something about making us tough and prepared for anything. It’s kind of the
same philosophy my son, Philip, who will be commissioned into the Marine Corps upon
graduation from college, says the Jar Heads have with their T-shirts that read, “Pain
is weakness leaving the body.” I still don’t understand it, but thank God for those
who do. They keep me safe. But, back to Georgia now. The instance alluded to in the
posting involved one of those aforementioned sweltering hot summer days. I mean it was
hot! And humid! And the air was full of mosquitoes!
Fortunately, as with many
situations in life, having good friends, especially ones that know the ropes of military
life, can make even the least desirous situations bearable. For the sake of this story
(an absolutely true story), let us call my two friends Don and Allen. Let us also say
the one I call Don was a service brat whose father retired from the Army, and taught
this Don how to exploit the many opportunities that military service could offer to
the clever amongst us. The other guy, Allen, and I in a manner of speaking sat at the
feet of Master Don, not unlike Luke Skywalker subjugated himself to Obiwan – at least
as far as acquiring a mastery of military life went. One task to be mastered was remaining
as comfortable as possible during these ill-named Healthy Strikes.
This is not
as shameful as it might sound since we also had to disassemble and transport an entire
precision approach and airport surveillance radar system consisting of a trailer that
housed all the radar electronics and antennas, another that contained the air conditioning
unit, communications radios, spare swappable equipment chassis, spare parts, tools,
and the radar maintenance shop refrigerator if we could sneak it in there. In addition
to that was a RAPCON trailer that was so large it had two crank-out sides. Add to that
about 30, 3-foot diameter spools of interconnect cables that needed to be rolled up,
and it was about an 8 hour stint of busting butt with a crew about 10 people. Then,
the two smaller trailers had to be hooked up to 2-ton trucks and the RAPCON to a for-real
semi cab, and towed to a staging area so the entire 5CCG could make like a convoy down
the road. Oh, add to that the out-processing briefing that we all attended to learn
whether we really were going who-knows-where, or just to Macon. Any shots that were
not up-to-date were taken care of on the spot. Ah, those were the days!
and a half later (it was a slow convoy), we pulled in to Herbert Smart Airfield, helped
set up tents, got our personal items unpacked, and by around 10:00 pm, were finally
able to rest. Reveille was at 5:00 am, with some pleasant fellow walking around with
a bull horn wishing us a good morning and providing a weather report. After a leisurely
crawl out of our cots and sleeping bags, we would amble over to the chow tent (yup,
just like in M*A*S*H) and sit around for a long while and eat some fresh-cooked eggs,
bacon, and enjoyed a couple cups of coffee. Then a nice warm (or cool, if hot out) shower,
get dressed, and report over to the radar to put it all together. Unconstrained by time
pressures, we proceeded to work. Did you believe that? Ha! We sprang out of our cots,
heated up some C-rations, took a generally uncomfortable shower, whipped on our uniforms,
and dashed to the assembly site because from wake-up until the time we had an official
flight check completed was something like 12 hours (the one I call Don can correct this
if I am wrong). Everyone from the Senior Master Sergeant down to the Airman 1st Class
was busting donkey out there.
I’ll not bore you with the details, but our assembly
process involved first performing a site survey to accurately position the three trailers
and MTI reflectors, towing the trailers into place and painstakingly leveling and adjusting
the alignment of them, and then putting all the parts back together again. Once all
the broken vacuum tubes were replaced, power supplies adjusted, systems slowly turned
on, PPI and Alt-Az displays aligned, and frequencies set, we handed over the radar to
the air traffic controllers (some of whom were prima donnas that sat back and observed
the entire assembly, and some who actually got their hands dirty helping – guess which
ones got the speediest assistance from us when something went wrong?) for flight check.
A genuine Air Force pilot would fly a genuine Air Force jet in a series of maneuvers
to validate that the surveillance and precision approach radars really knew where he
was in the sky. Our senior members tracked glide slope and azimuth positions of the
jet using a theodelite at the edge of the runway. That was the truly way-cool part.
Things never went smoothly.
So, after all that, we lower ranking peons would
also be assigned some menial additional task like guard duty, mess tent duty, cantonment
area trash collection, or in the case of this story (yes, I am back to the original
story), keeping the water buffalos filled with water. This water was used for showers,
fire fighting surplus, or for an occasional swim on very hot days. Well, that last use
was not really written in the official manual. A water buffalo, for the uninitiated,
is a huge water tank on wheels, with a rather large hatch in the top for which to fill
it with water. Our source was a nearby fire station, that was kind enough to allow us
to use their hydrants and hoses (I suspect that actually the government probably paid
them $10,000 per fill or some other ridiculous amount).
On one hot, sweltering
summer day, Don, Allen, and I decided that a nice dip in the cool water of the buffalo
would feel really good. So, we each jumped in, just once, and laughed at ourselves all
the way back to the field. The gate guards must have figured we were sweating really
profusely from working so hard.
That’s the story.
For a look at
our MPN-14 radar, please check out this page.
- Kirt Blattenberger