Birthdays aren’t really the same when you’re deployed – for many reasons. The obvious reasons are that you’re in a combat zone, in a barren wasteland …just for starters. The not so obvious reason is – what do you get someone for their birthday? Especially when, like in our group, you have been together for really only a handful of months and it’s not like it’s a person you have known all your life. Top that off with the fact that possessions don’t really mean much here, and what you do get you have to either pay to mail home or throw away at the end of the deployment.
Cue Tech. Sergeant Justin **enters desert, stage right**
Tech Sergeant Justin is one of the Air Force folks that you met in the previous blog. I must also say that he is one of those Sergeants that you go your whole career hoping to work with. I’ve worked with some great folks, don’t get me wrong, but he’s definitely in that top one percentile to be sure. Well Monday was his birthday. And he has been going on since we got here that he wanted to get his photo taken with an AH-64D Apache helicopter. Or even a UH-60 Blackhawk if that’s all he can get. Apparently in the Air Force they don’t have cool toys or something. Or maybe it’s just the toys are always shinier on the other side of the fence. Either way…it’s been his darn near obsession.
So, a couple weeks ago I organized a hands-on “tour” of the aircraft for his birthday…but didn’t tell him. Honestly, the pilots are a really cool group of folks just about anywhere you go and will gladly show off their toys, so that was easy. The hard part was – keeping it a secret from him. This was especially true over this past weekend. Over the weekend he kept pressing me with stuff like “you think you can get me over there for a photo for my birthday or something” and stuff like that. It was really a pain to keep our game faces on. No less than 3 times he brought it up between Friday and Monday and each time I had to play dumb (“oh, I thought your birthday was Tuesday not Monday”) or lazy (“Oh, I haven’t seen one of the pilots at chow yet”). In keeping it a secret and making it a true surprise, everyone else was in on the joke.
Back story – there is an old collapsed blast protection bunker outside our sleep area. It’s made of a LOT of sandbags. It’s useless since we live in a concrete building so it’s safer there than inside the bunker.
Cue Sergeant Hoyt **enters desert, stage left**
“Ok guys, I tried arguing the stupidity of it – but none the less apparently the Colonel wants us to shore up the blast bunker outside the sleep area. He says it has to be in good condition in case someone is walking outside our area when the sirens go off. Yeah, I know it’s stupid but he wants us to do it now and says he talked to someone where there are a lot of pre-filled sandbags for us to take. So hey guys, look on the bright side, I know it’s 120 degrees outside but at least we don’t have to FILL the sand bags.”
So I pulled this about an hour before the trip to the air field and boy was Justin PISSED!!! He knows a B.S. detail when he hears it and I just ordered the biggest B.S. detail he’d probably ever heard in his life. So at almost 3pm we all loaded up in our vehicle and I took a pick-up truck “to load the sandbags in back”. On the trip there he even mentioned going to the sleep area to grab his work gloves and I gladly obliged just to keep him thinking. He was so fuming pissed at the whole detail plan when we got to the airfield he hadn’t even put it together yet. He figured we were getting the bags from that area. Once the Lieutenant (Blackhawk pilot) and Chief Warrant Officer (Apache Pilot) walked out one asked “So where’s the birthday boy” and we started singing “Happy Birthday”. I think it wasn’t until about halfway through that he figured out what was really going on. This is one of the most even keeled guys I know and he was so pissed he wasn’t even thinking straight!!! Yeah, PUNKED ain’t got nothing on us!
So – enough story for now – how bout some photos.
Here you have Justin and C.J. in the most feared helicopter in the world…the AH-64D Apache Attack (and Anti-Armor) Helicopter It’s over 20 years old now and still just absolutely amazes me with its combination of relative stealth (for a helicopter) and lethality.
And here’s a photo of the whole team in front of the beast.
Here we are at the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. This is really the workhorse of the Army’s air movement inventory. The thing is highly reliable (as far as military equipment goes) and can be configured for various different missions.
This here is La’Sheema getting into the fun playing on the toys as well.
And here’s another group photo in front of the Blackhawk. Most feared military in the world I say. I think this should be on a multi-service recruiting poster or something.
It’s pretty darn rare for either Air Force or Navy to get to play around Army stuff (I’ve never played on non-museum Navy gear), and it was the first time for the LT Jennifer and C.J. to get the guided tour and crawl around on them as well. So pretty much everyone was living it up and it was a great time. And I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a small sense of accomplishment and pride while watching everyone have such a good time. Again, it’s one of those things you can really only do in the military.
At the end, we finally got our photo at one of the signs we keep saying we should get a group photo at.
Even before we got here we heard of the boasting that Delta had been deemed “The FOB of Choice”. It was probably someone’s idea of sarcasm at one point, but really I and our team are quite happy here – and the visitors like hanging around as well. The chow is good, the rooms are “nice”, the work is serious, and we don’t have the stress of being near a major headquarters with all the accompanying headaches like picking weeds in a land where nothing grows. It’s still austere in plenty of ways – but I still have yet to have someone tell me a place I’d rather be in this country. I consider myself quite lucky.
Well – that’s enough blog for now. Maybe in my next blog I can tell you how I am helping two Iraqis get their visa to the U.S. and how that means trying to find a phone number for the Russian Air-Force Engineering School in Kiev.
Think about it – where is Kiev?