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I have seen a lot of odd and funny things during my time in service. My third trip to Norway, with H&HS-28, 2nd MAW (Marine Air Wing) reminds me of several of these. I hope that I haven’t included these in other articles but . . .
When we arrived in Norway we were dressed in the new polypropylene and Gore-Tex outfits, which were great. We had to strip down to the polys any time we did anything strenuous even though it was below freezing most of the time. The only problems with them were that they were flammable, you could not wear underwear under them, and they had a tendency to form ‘pills’ between the thighs where the legs rubbed together.
We were supposed to set up in a large open area that was covered with about 8 feet of snow. It seems that a Swedish company had decided to try to sell the Norwegians some heavy-duty snow removal equipment. They sent two machines over and, for some unknown reason, it was decided that they would do their demonstration in the area we were supposed to set up in.
The first machine was brand new and looked like a snow blower that had done way too many steroids. The Swedes fired it up and started plowing. It went about 100 feet before its ‘smoke’ ran out. (My wife has this theory that every piece of machinery is powered by smoke. They seem to run fine until all of the smoke comes out and then they stop. Who knows?)
The second machine was an older model and had been through some extended testing before. It lasted about another 200 feet. And then all of its smoke went away. It was sad.
So we set up on top of the snow and it managed to hold the loads fairly well.
We stayed in a large blue and yellow plastic tent with the manufacturers name on it. This may not have been ‘tactical, but it was warm. There was a space heater, and, just like the ammo dump outside of Ramstein, we each had a small area of ‘floor’ to live in. No big deal except that there were duty personnel assigned who were to wake up people at various times. Our slabs were not marked so the normal wakeup procedure was to wake up people to find out what unit they were assigned to, then wake up more people to see where the particular part of the unit was sleeping, and then wake up more people until you found the right one. This might take hours and involved a lot of tromping around over sleeping bodies in the dark. My entire supply of candy bars was flattened one night during one of these maneuvers.
Having been an infantryman, and tank crewman, etc. I learned to appreciate the comfort of a ‘Porto-Potty’. I’ve actually had just about as much experience with these since I left the military because large corporations don’t like contractors to use their worker’s bathrooms. The Porto-Potties in Norway were different. They came in two flavors. One was a place to wash and the others were places to do other things. Not knowing much Norwegian, it was a little difficult to tell which was which. They were heated, though, and, although I would never do anything like this, some of the ‘wash’ variety were occasionally used for other purposes. That could be a nasty surprise in the morning.
So, my part of the operation was set up near the northern edge of the TACC Center area, so we could set out the antennae for our HF radios as the manual described. One night I got a call that said that one of my HFs was not doing what it should. A few minutes of troubleshooting gave me the impression that the antennae coupler was at fault.
In this particular configuration, we had a new radio van that contained UHF, VHF and HF radios, all of which were pretty much standard equipment that we had been trained to repair. The difference was that the HF radios did not have power amplifiers. Because of this, they had a tuning unit inside the van and an antennae-matching unit at the base of the antennae. Somehow this was supposed to compensate for the lack of the power amplifier that raised the output of the radio to 400 watts from its normal 2 watts. I had some doubts about the effectiveness of the new system, but we actually got some fairly good results from them.
One thing that I didn’t understand was why the antennae-matching units had internal fans. There were no holes in the box, which was necessary to keep water and other nasty thing out of the delicate electrical stuff. To me it seemed that circulating hot air inside the box just brought everything close to the same temperature after a while. If it was hot, the internal organs of the coupler/matching device would be hot. If it was cold, things got frigid in there in a hurry. If any of the seals leaked the box turned into a fireworks display after a while.
That was a pretty long diversion. The real problem was getting to the box to replace it. It was on a hill about 50 meters from our van and it was a bitterly cold night. Another bold soul and I started off with the replacement unit but only made it about 25 feet before we were stopped by lack of traction. We could get to the bottom of the hill, but were unable to make any progress vertically because of the wind and ice.
We did a retrograde maneuver to the van, and warmed up for a while before discussing the problem. We were basically REMFs, (Rear Echelon MFs) and didn’t have snowshoes or any other kind of gear designed for mobility in cold weather. We finally decided that we would take all of our screwdrivers to use as pitons and take the hill, which must have been at least 10 feet high and was totally featureless except for the antennae.
I think it took about 15 minutes to drag our fat butts up the side of that hill. By the time we got there, we were too cold to be functional even with our Gore-Tex and Polypros so we returned to the van and warmed up again.
On the third trip we finally replaced the antennae-matching unit and it worked just fine until the exercise was over.
Why do I think this was humorous? If I had pictures, or better yet a videotape of us on that hill, you would understand. Edmund Hillary we were not.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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