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 recall it.
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.
Anyway, fortunately 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!
An hour 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