My Corona … Day 80: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Air Force

Dear U.S. Air Force:t

At times like these that I have to question the readiness, judgment, and sobriety of our National defense forces!  Though true at such dark times, many individuals will be looking for fresh starts, even seismic shifts in their life paradigm, it appears the USAF has lost all recruiting perspective.

Either that or you have really hit rock bottom in regards to recruit qualifications for chaplaincy services!

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I am not sure what troubles me more.  Is it that you actually send a recruiting offer to a 64-year-old civilian U.S. Navy (nonetheless) employee with 40 years of service?  Or is it the obvious desperation your Chaplain program appears to be in?

Me? A chaplain?

Mark my words, from here on out I will be side-eyed leery of any U.S. Air Force chaplains I might run across after this!

Yours truly,

Cranky Man

 

Memorial Day Remembrances

My Corona … Day 77: A Memorial Day tribute

I am guilty of complaining quite a bit lately about this interminable COVID-19 shutdown.  But such will not be the case on Day 77, as we enjoy a COVID19-stunted holiday celebration. At times like these, it is important to understand what real suffering and sacrifice looks like in the wake of some of the darkest times in our history.

Remember the following and all the rest of these Heroes for the last full measure they have given and what their loved ones have gone through and endured for decades.

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Charles H. Grubb

Charles H. Grubb from War Eagle, West Virginia looked like a Boy Scout, not so much the soldier he was in his U.S. Army uniform.

Attribution: Aaron Kidd, Stars and Stripes(.com)

“Grubb — who served with Company M, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division — was declared dead a few months later, and his body was never found.

“The Chosin battle of Nov. 27-Dec. 13, 1950, pitted some 30,000 U.S.-led troops against a Chinese force of about 120,000 trying to prevent the allies from pushing north in a bid to unify the Korean Peninsula. Thousands were killed on both sides as troops engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Others perished from the bitter weather.

“Smith — who served with Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division — was reported missing Nov. 25, 1950, after his unit was attacked near Kujang-dong, North Korea. He died the following January at a temporary prisoner-of-war camp near Pukchin-Tarigol, according to several Americans who survived the war.

“In July 2018 — weeks after President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the first time in Singapore — the North handed over the 55 boxes purported to contain the remains of U.S. service members from the war. They were then flown to DPAA’s lab in Honolulu for identification.”

Grubb’s younger sister, Glenda Hatcher, waited 69 years for word of her brother’s fate.  Grubb’s mother passed away in 2001, never knowing what happened to her son.  Charles H. Grubb is now interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

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A somewhat uplifting storyline accompanied the return of COL Roy J. Knight, Jr., of Milsap, Texas.  In November 2019, 52 years after being declared MIA, then KIA when he was shot down over Laos, his remains were brought home.  His son, Bryan Knight had the honor of piloting the Southwest Airlines flight ( < Click on link for details.) that brought his father back to Texas.  He had last seen his father in January 1967, just four months before his loss over hostile territory.  Bryan was only five years old.

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COL Roy A. Knight, Jr. in front of his A1-E Skyraider

In July 2019, the remains of 20 U.S. Marines, who lost their lives on the island of Tarawa during the island-hopping Pacific campaign of World War II, were returned to the United States after their makeshift graves were located.

Attribution: David Vergun, US Department of Defense website

“The battle of Tarawa took place from Nov. 20 to 23, 1943, on the heavily fortified island of Betio, which was held by 4,500 Japanese troops. More than 18,000 Marines and sailors were sent to secure the island. When the battle finally ended, more than 1,000 U.S. troops had been killed.

“Marines killed in action were buried where they fell or were buried in a large trench built during and after the battle. These graves were typically marked with improvised markers, such as crosses made from sticks or an upturned rifle. Grave sites ranged in size from single isolated burials to large trench burials of more than 100 individuals, according to DPAA officials.

“More than 3,000 Japanese soldiers were killed on the island, as well as an estimated 1,000 Korean laborers. These men were buried where they fell, or in bomb craters and existing trenches. Their remains are sometimes commingled with U.S. casualties, DPAA officials said.

“Immediately after the final day of battle, landing troops were replaced by Navy construction battalions, known as “SeaBees,” who had little knowledge of the burial locations.

“The Seabees engaged in construction projects requiring the movement or rearrangement of known burials or grave markers. Later recovery efforts found that multiple grave markers were relocated without moving the burials they marked. No record of these movements has been found, officials said, and it’s likely none was kept.”

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Repatriation ceremony for the Tarawa 20

My heart wants to believe their families knew they were killed-in-action; knew where it happened; knew where in general they were laid to rest.  But waiting so long for the ability to say goodbye and assuage their grief sounds marginally better than not knowing anything for decades and yearning for their physical return.

Closure for those still living is a comforting thought.  But you must empathize with those relatives … mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters … who passed away before their loved ones were returned home.  Remember those loved ones – still waiting or now gone – when commemorating those brave American souls who were lost in far flung battles.

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My Corona … Day 47**

** I think … At this point I am having a hard time just keeping track of what day of the week it is.

Tuesday, April 28 was an exciting Day 47.  The combined flights of U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds conducted coordinated America Strong demonstrations over New York City, northern New Jersey, and the Philadelphia region to salute COVID-19 healthcare workers.

As a dutiful patriot, this was an opportunity to share with those unable to witness the spectacle first-hand, using my drone’s live-broadcasting capability.  We get very few opportunities to see and record our military’s precision and power on display, especially from the front yard.

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Photo Credit: James Beaver

But as Murphy’s Law goes, several aspects of the operation went awry. This due largely to the Navy and Air Force’s inability to be predictable, practical, and cooperative!

Sons of bitches …

Anywho … An intricately laid plan was dreamed up roughly an hour before the scheduled flight down the I-95 corridor towards Center City Philadelphia, then out north towards Doylestown.  A Cranky Man aficionado, located to the northeast of Drone Central in the Langhorne area, was an obliging volunteer spotter. Far enough north – I believed – to give plenty of warning as the DoD’s Finest passed to the east from NYC.  By either sight or sound, I should have sufficient notice to get Little Bird off the ground and into position.

images-1But no … no, not at all …

Our Heroes of the Flight Line evaded my spotter through stealth and a general reluctance to cooperate. Our frustrated spotter claiming to have neither seen or heard our elusive subjects. (Frankly, I think she wasn’t really paying attention.). After waiting five minutes past the expected FOP (Forward Observation Post) alert, I launched Little Bird and took it to its maximum altitude (400 ft).

Expecting – at best – to catch a glimpse of the 12-plane formation zipping down the I-95 corridor somewhere in the vicinity of NE Philly, I trained the drone to the east.  In assuming the flight would be traveling high enough, but likely be too far for Little Bird’s camera to pick them up, Plan B was to look for them heading north up Rt. 611.  The drone’s dedicated WIFI allows me to link my personal devices with the drone camera.  On my iPhone, I could see Center City as a slight rise of tall buildings well out to the southeast.

philly-flightpathAfter 5-10 minutes of fruitless searching a neighbor announced that they were already flying out over West Philly; and I had the sinking feeling that my op was lagging far behind the action.  Plan B was executed, and I scanned the skies to my immediate south, hoping to catch the flight on what I was assumed to be a direct line from Philly towards Doylestown.

Of course this was where the Greatest Military on the Face of the Earth decided to prove –  once again – their complete disregard for best laid plans.

Perhaps I missed an important tidbit of information, difficult as that may be as its a 1000-acre property no more than a 1/4 mile from my house.  Somehow I never considered the potential for a flyover of the largely abandoned Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove.  Also missed was the only military presence at JRB Willow Grove was an Air Force drone facility (oddly enough) and that the Thunderbirds were – ya know – in the Air Force!

Seconds after my neighbors started screeching, “There they go!”, came the realization … I was now at the mercy of events.  Trying to multi-task, a dangerous development, especially when trying to do three things at a time (fly, watch the video, and eyeball a large uncooperative 12-plane formation).  All the while a large formation of military jets speed where they aren’t expected and quite obviously flying a lot lower than predicted.

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Photo Credit: James Beaver

Remember the drone?  I had it at 400 ft, as I expected a fairly far-off sighting at altitudes approximating that of the tall buildings of NYC and beloved Philadelphia.

Suddenly the roar of jet engines grows, reminiscent of days-gone -by when JRB Willow Grove hosted airshows with bi-annual appearances of the Blue Angels.  Yep … They used to fly right over the house at treetop level!

Right over the house they screamed, and at that instant I realized Little Bird was in big danger!  Not to mention the potential for damaging a $18-30 million copy of an American fighter … The thought, “How much damage a drone could cause if sucked into an engine intake”, came from my professional though vague familiarity with the intricacies of military jet engines.

I frantically looked to spot the drone, which at that height is visible to the naked eye, but barely.  When I found it, I realized the Thunderbirds had just passed it to the south.  But the Blue Angels were actually flying directly BENEATH IT!

It would have been the Video of all Videos … if only its camera were pointed down, not out.

I do not take lightly the ultimate stupidity of allowing Little Bird to get anywhere near any aircraft, let alone high-performance jets. It was a brief, terrifying in moment.

I take all the blame, but never ever expected to see the fly-bys so low and that close.  I should have known better though.

In the end, the balance sheet has no videos, no photos, no property damage, no federal prison time. Could have been worse …

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The shot would have been epic, if I had gotten it. On the other hand, the pilot would likely be giving Little Bird a one-finger salute!

 

 

 

 

My Corona! Day 36

18Techfix-illo-mobileMasterAt3xTeleworking is either the bane of our civilized existence or the greatest invention since the beer keg … depending on your personal perspective. Being an old school diehard, I have avoided teleworking, despite the encouragement of the US Navy, largely because I did not trust myself around so many home-bound distractions.

Before big, bad Corona reared its ugly dangerous head, I was forced by Necessity to experiment a bit with the whole work-from-home phenomena when – somehow – The Most Powerful Navy in the World tripped over their Internet cord.  We have many alternate definitions for the acronym NMCI (Navy Marine Corp Intranet), and none of them are flattering.

On such occasions I suggested to Carol that this might be our retirement dry run, as I am painfully close to pulling the plug on my illustrious civilian Navy career. Those practice sessions improved neither my views on teleworking or the prospects for a stress-free retirement. Let’s just say, when you aren’t around as much, people get used to you not being around.

My first mistake teleworking was setting up the Command Center within sight and sound of the Activity Monitor. It was impossible for the monitor to avoid observing – and commenting – on how many “breaks” I took for silly things like eating, drinking, and personal hygiene.

Retirement-wise, I began to wonder what working into my 80s would look like.

z-funny-75-1When Corona confronted me with the prospect of living for WEEKS in constant, uninterrupted work-from-home contact, I knew we had to make this work. If not, one of us – likely me – would end up buried beneath my thick, weedless, pillow-like Best Lawn in Horsham, Pennsylvania.

The first couple of days were tough. You know … The usual “Are you eating again?!?” and “Do you do this at the office?!?”

It was time to get realistic.

So I moved lock, stock, and barrel to the basement apartment. Comes with it’s own half-kitchen, Keurig, fridge, TV and semi-comfy furniture! It also has a bed (wink wink). The benefits in peace, quiet, and unlimited, unjustified man-breaks are a boon to navy supply support!

It’s been an enlightening experience. And I found a solution to the inevitable post-retirement “What the … You’re still here?!?” adjustment period!

I will only have to disappear for 10 hours a day … five days a week!

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My Corona! Day 6

Yesterday – Day 5 – was my second consecutive day of teleworking from home. A small personal first which included a conference call that set forth NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support official response to the corona virus crisis.

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For the foreseeable future, I will be tethered to the military-industrial complex via the Ethernet from home. NAVSUP WSS Command initiated its Continuance Of Operation Plans, appropriately named as its acronym describes the status of home-bound hostages, as in “I’m freakin’ COOPed up in this freakin’ house”!

The immediate essentials are the prohibition of employees in the work spaces unless absolutely essential; the continuance of systems and interactions that support US Navy and Marine Corp operations; and the collection of data on things like systems availability and the quality of networking connections. The latter data requirement the product of this event as the first implementation of the COOP.

As one, who never worked a regular telework schedule as a personal preference, this is a big adjustment.  As mentioned yesterday, this will also be a challenge for Carol as well!  

As is my habit, when I leave for work (in this case the basement) I gave her a kiss as I left our bedroom. A bit sleepy and confused she asked, “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to work”, I said.

“You’re a weirdo …” was her loving response!

Love is a many splendored thing!

I leave you today with this observation plagiarized and paraphrased as follows:

“If we go through all of this bullshit (paraphrased part),

and absolutely NOTHING happens to us …

Well, that is the point!”

– a known but forgotten author

U.S. Navy Fleet Readiness Center Southwest

One of the more fascinating aspects of my employment within the largest military organization on Earth is the occasional opportunity to peak behind the scenes at the infrastructure that maintains the US Navy and Marine Corp capabilities. Due to a recent assignment to attend a training event held at the Navy’s Coronado, California, I had the chance to learn about a limited facet of Fleet support … The aircraft repair and refurbishment facilities at Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) Southwest (commonly referred to as FRC San Diego or North Island).

Note: Nothing discussed here would be considered clearance-required information. The only access granted was perhaps a step above common base access permitted for normal, non-clearance business operations. No photographs were allowed or taken.

Our visit was arranged by my supervisors (NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support) through comparable supervision at the FRC for six visitors, including myself. Our focus was the maintenance of aircraft repairable assemblies, although our organization also deals heavily with shipboard systems.

As we drove to our pre-tour meet ‘n greet, we caught glimpses of the work going on. The most interesting was a hanger area full of older version F/A-18s going through tear downs we learned would lead to de-militarization of the aircraft and disposal through approved de-mil processes. One aircraft – which I think I saw – was a fanciful aircraft in unique painting purportedly used in the remake of Top Gun (i.e. Top Gun 2), serving as Maverick’s (Tom Cruise) ride!

Pretty sure I saw a glimpse of this aircraft in a teardown hanger.

Since the DoD frowns on old components finding their way onto Amazon and e-Bay. Most components are scrapped following the harvest of any special metals used in their original manufacture.

What strikes even the most experienced civilian desk jockey is the lengths in maintenance management, repair and refurbishment, quality artisanship, and exacting process the military services expend in maximizing the service longevity of its aircraft fleet! No small order when one gets the opportunity to see it first hand and dwells on the infinite amount of detail required to make those exacting processes flow.

Of course with operations so involved, so broad in scope, conducted both CONUS (contiguous U.S.) and OCONUS (outside CONUS), across large complex military facilities, not everything is perfect. Flaws develop in handling and processes; material get waylaid, mismanaged, lost; and facilities become disorganized and unimaginably cluttered.

But again, the Services (in my experience The Navy) have adapted to become more reactive and corrective in ensuring the most efficient and effective industrial facilities are available to support the War Fighter. FRC Southwest, for example, recently endured a reorganization and reinvention of its industrial facilities after an audit by a private consultant found much lacking in the efficacy of its operations.

I had been to several commercial defense facilities in my Navy aircraft support experience (e.g. McDonnell-Douglas, Sikorsky). But I had never seen a facility as clean, well-defined, exacting, and organized as the repair and refurbishment operations at FRC Southwest! Even the floors were clean enough to eat off.

Not that I would recommend that …

My own duties at NAVSUP WSS involve Contracting Officer Representative (COR) duties for a program elegantly titled Technical Assistance for Repairable Processing (TARP). This program manages the flow of retrograde material (i.e. used repairables which can be refurbished to like-new condition) from ships and aircraft units scattered all over the globe. These items can be as small as circuit cards to helicopter rotor heads and aircraft engines shipped to and fro in immense protective cans (many designed in part or in whole by coworkers, who labor only feet from my desk).

The point in all of this is to stress the Herculean effort the Services – at least The Navy – undertake to manage – as best as is possible – the service life and availability of crucial components needed by the War Fighter to conduct operations in an increasingly complex, technological world.

Meanwhile, back at FRC Southwest, we viewed F/A-18 wing panels awaiting either refurbishment and reassembly or demilitarization scattered about a huge warehouse/hanger bay in varying states of disrepair and dressing. In an enormous industrial space, you could see a spotless areas dedicated to various intake, evaluation, repair, and testing of components from Navy fighters, helicopters, aircraft and even ship engines all benefitting from a collection of artisans, trained and developed in exacting capabilities.

On a drive and park tour, we also viewed covered, open-sided building were four H-53 type helicopters were shown in the varying stages of refurbishment. From right to left, you could see one aircraft in the evaluation stage, then one in electronic and component removal, a third in complete strip-down/rebuild, and the fourth in completed/testing awaiting its first test flight before being released back into the fleet. From right to left, you saw old and fatigued evolving to almost new, ready-to-go condition. It was quite the impressive migration as each aircraft would be moved down the line to eventual service life extension.

All this benefits not just the War Fighter, but also the Taxpayer, who – in the end – receives more bang for the tax dollar in terms of the original investment in major military equipment!

The Fleet Readiness Centers in concert with a well-integrated supply and distribution network perform what many a civilian taxpayer would consider practical miracles in the capabilities demonstrated in maximizing the service life, performance, and availability of American military equipment. The sad truth is not many of my fellow civilian Navy employees get the opportunity to witness and thereby appreciate the fruit of their individual labors where the proverbial rubber meets the road!

As an NAVSUP employee with over 39 years of experience, even I am immensely impressed by the quality of the Navy’s industrial capability. And I have not seen more than a tiny sliver of total Navy effort. It is – quite frankly – an experience that every single NAVSUP employee who directly or indirectly affects the Navy’s repairable management, procurement, and support operations should be required to enjoy!