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Itís A Long Way Home From Norway To North Carolina.
This happened while I was a Staff Sergeant with the TACC (Tactical Air Command and Control) Center, H&HS - 28, 2nd Marine Air Wing, stationed at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Cherry Point, North Carolina. I was in charge of the Air Radio Repair section and this wasnít my first deployment to Norway. (I was finally awarded an Arctic Service ribbon for the amount of time I spent up there.)
I had just finished the Cryptographic Materials Custodian course and was assigned to carry a box of assorted classified materials with me on the flight over. Since they needed to be there early, I went with the first group to leave Cherry Point. I had become interested in personal computers earlier during this enlistment and had recently assembled a sewing machine style IBM PC XT compatible computer that I decided to take with me. It used full sized components, so it was fairly heavy. We happened to be scheduled to fly over on a civilian aircraft rather than a C-141 because we werenít taking any vans over with us. They were mostly loaded onto a ship that would arrive about the time we did. There were three vans, however, that would be flown over and back because they were too important to operations to spend that much time on ship.
When I got on the plane I thought it would be full and the computer was too large to fit under a seat or in an overhead compartment, but I didnít want to take up three seats, and the box of crypto materials was definitely too big to stow anywhere. So I asked one of the flight attendants where I could put the box. She showed me a large curtained compartment in the flight attendants area and I stuck it back into a corner. This may seem to have been kind of irresponsible, considering what was in the box, but the theory was that it was a box inside a box, and I wasnít supposed to have any idea what was in it. So that made it OK for me not to have it handcuffed to me, or anything like that. I was expected to take reasonable precautions to avoid losing it or having it stolen, but that was all. When we got to Norway, I went to retrieve the box and found out why the compartment had been empty. It was their trash bin. My box full of classified materials was covered with coffee grounds, fruit peelings and other kinds of edible and inedible trash.
Oh well. I cleaned it up and went on.
There were two other things that I remember about this operation that arenít related to this story, but that I will probably never write about if I donít do it now.
I had a young WM (Woman Marine) working for me named Paula Monaco. She had the most incredible hands I have ever seen. They were small enough to get into places where most of us could not reach and her gripping and twisting abilities were amazing. Things were very tight in the equipment racks in our vans and there were a very large number of connectors in difficult to reach places. Lance Corporal Monaco was a good Marine anyway, but when we needed to take something apart in a hurry, she was indispensable. Her main goal in life, at that time, was to get married in front of her parents. She didnít want them to know that she had already married, without their knowledge or permission while she was still in the Aviation Radio Repair Course. Unfortunately, although she and her husband were both assigned to Cherry Point, he was a Microwave Relay technician, and his unit deployed even more than ours, and not always at the same time. Earlier I had been tasked with providing two people for the annual CAX (Combined Arms Exercise) at MCB 29 Palms, California, and the only people I had were two WMs, LCpl Monaco and an experienced Corporal named Christina Swacina. So I sent them out to 29 Palms for 45 days with the agreement that Monaco would get enough time off to get married when she got back. Then the dates of the Norway exercise were changed. Then we found out that we would have to go through cold weather training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin before we went to Norway. (This was odd because I had been to Norway twice before but had never been through cold weather training.) So Monaco got off one plane at Cherry Point and onto another headed for Wisconsin for two weeks and then flew directly from Wisconsin to Norway. When she and her husband were finally re-united, I think it had been at least six months since the last time. I really felt bad about having to do that to her, and I told her that, but there really hadnít been anything else that I could do.
When we arrived in Norway, the area that we were supposed to set up in was covered with 8 feet of snow and ice. A Swedish company was trying to sell the Norwegian government some machinery that was designed to clear that kind of mess and had sent two of the machines over, one old model and one new one. Someone decided that clearing our area would be a good demonstration of how well these machines worked. The new machine started off and cleared and area about 10 feet by 20 feet before, as my wife would say, it ate its pigs. The older machine had fewer frills but was supposed to be tougher. It lasted nearly half an hour before it went fins up. I think the area was finally cleared with 40 pound cratering charges and bulldozers.
The exercise went well except that someone got the bright idea to have us start packing before it had actually ended because nothing was going on in our area. We had things pretty well torn down when the assigned commander for the operation noticed what was going on and said he wanted it all put back up. So we put it back up and then tore it down again about an hour later. That was our fault, not his. We should have known better.
Because I had come over early, I was scheduled to fly out with the first load on a C-141 to escort our important vans, which were full of crypto equipment, back to Cherry Point. The first snag was that the embarkation peopleís computer had so many copies of a popular golf game on it, along with a lot of other junk, that there wasnít enough hard disk space left to run the program they used for load planning. My Warrant Officer asked me to fix it, and I was ruthless. When I was done they had lots of empty hard disk space and were able to complete their tasks in record time.
I guess I should mention my computer. Our vans, 8 foot by 8 foot by 10-foot enclosures, which were full of electronics equipment, actually had very few spare outlets in them. My computer was not battery operated so I needed to provide power for it. I had a two outlet box with cabling, but I needed to hook it to something. That is why my Warrant Officer caught me, at two oíclock in the morning, in driving snow, on top of one of the vans, splicing into the active lighting circuit that our maintenance people had provided for us. They had run two insulated and one un-insulated solid copper core wires from a big circuit breaker near the non-critical power generator to some stick mounted insulators on top of the vans, and then wired light sockets into them at intervals so we could see outside at night. We usually didnít do this unless the weather was particularly bad. Having spent more than three years in various electronics courses by that time, I was very familiar with electrical theory, and my theory was that, if I didnít ever touch two or more wires at the same time, I could splice into the live wires without being killed. DONíT EVER TRY THIS!!! Especially if you are wet. Iíve done it a few times without being zapped but it is not a good idea. (As I keep telling people, if I had hoped to die of old age I wouldnít have made ANY of the career choices that I had made up to that point.)
So I got my power into the van, and I was ready to go. Except that it was too cold. My hard drive was frozen and the temperature in that van never got high enough during the time we were there for it to thaw out. I could get a blinking cursor on my nine-inch monochrome screen, but that was it. I was depressed.
Back to embarkation. On the scheduled date we were informed that the C-141 was there and ready, so we loaded our vans onto it and waited. About sun down we were informed that one of the planeís engines was bad and they were waiting for another engine. The replacement engine came in the next day, and was installed, and it was also bad. Another engine came in the next day, but it also appeared to be bad so people started suspecting that there was something wrong with the plane itself. By this time most of the rest of the unit had left and it was getting to be hard to find places to sleep.
Finally, a C-141 stationed in the Portland Oregon region was flown to Norway by way of the Philippines and Turkey to pick us up. This took about three days. In the mean time, my unit had called my wife several times to tell her that I would be in that day and to come and pick me up. After the hourís drive from our home near Camp Lejeune, she would get there and I would not be there. She finally told them that until I called her and told her I was at the unit, she wasnít going to drive up there again.
I got to watch everyone else leave, and I do mean everyone. Finally there were four people from squadron headquarters, and myself, left. There were no more places left to sleep except sleeping bags by the runway. That other C-141 got there at about 1900 and we took off a few hours later. I had been hoping that we could smoke on the plane, which wasnít unusual, but we had a generator as part of the load and it had about a quarter of a tank of diesel in it, so no smoking. It is a long flight from Norway to Goose Bay, in Canada where we arrived some time early in the morning. We were told by the crew that we would not take off again before noon so we were bussed over to the billeting area where we checked in. We were told that we had a whole building to ourselves, but that we should keep our doors locked because it was an open post and they were having ďIndian trouble.Ē I have to admit that caused some raised eyebrows.
Anyway, we slept until eight or nine oíclock and then people started getting hungry. I was the senior person so I made it my responsibility to get everyone fed. We found the mess hall and went in so I could talk to whoever was in charge about how this would be done. There was a very nice woman there who told me that she needed to see a set of orders. None of us had any orders with us that covered this type of situation. She said, ďWell, I donít know much about what American orders for this kind of thing should look like. Do you have any orders at all?Ē I managed to find a set in my pocket that didnít even have anything to do with travel, but she accepted them happily and we went in to eat. We got some strange looks. Three women and two men in Marine Corps cold weather gear in a mess hall in Canada. There were people in there in what I was sure were Russian uniforms. I hadnít realized before that that Canada had a different relationship with Russia than we did. Actually, I just hadnít thought about it.
After breakfast we decided to walk around a little while the plane was being prepared. It was cool and kind of a gray day, and we walked for quite a while. We stopped at a mini-market and bought some necessities of life, like soda and candy which we had not seen for more than a month, and then headed back to the airfield. The hop from Goose Bay to Cherry Point seemed short and was uneventful. The temperature was in the 80s when we got there. I finally called my wife and told her I was there, so she came and got me. It was the same old scene when I actually got to my house. The first thing my children said was ďWho are you?Ē
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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