A simple change of duty stations…
By John Petersen
Back in the middle of ’88, I left a cushy shore duty billet for a second tour on the Island of Guam (this I had requested, the detailer suggested a conference with the base chaplain..). I got what I asked for, homeport-wise, yet not quite the command, I had hoped for the resident sub tender but instead wound up with orders to one of the two combat stores ships currently assigned to the island, the USS San Jose AFS-7. When I received my orders I thought ‘no prob, I’ve flown to Guam before from Cali, and vice-versa, no big deal’. Here, my friends is where I was wrong. Very wrong. The following is verifiable proof that one should never, EVER, assume anything, as it only makes an ASS of U and ME, and is also proof that the military, no matter what branch of it, will stop at nothing to ensure your ass is planted where they want you to be, at any cost.
My little adventure to make my ‘report no later than’ date started at Norton AFB, San Bernardino, CA. No civilian flight for this swabbie this time around (at least at the start), the creature comforts of backward-facing padded lawn chairs tied down in a window-less C-141, for a quick roughly 2-hour flight to Travis AFB in NorCal was the ticket. (For those of you reading this, take a moment to log the hourly flight times). After a short layover at Travis, back aboard what these days amount to luxurious accommodations aboard Con-Air for another 6 hours, next stop Hickam AFB, Hawaii. The in-flight meal consisted of the never-fail nutritious horse cock and cheese sandwich, a small bag of Lay’s potato chips, a hard-boiled egg, brown and an off-white Snickers bar, and a room temp Pepsi. Oh, and a 4 pack box of Chiclets gum. Yet another layover at Hickam, back aboard the bass-ackwards C-141, next stop Guam. (8-hour jaunt).
Now, Guam is where my then future ship is homeported so one would think that upon arrival at Anderson AFB (You guessed it- Guam), it would be a short van ride to the ship. Instead, this is where the seemingly comical thought process of Naval personnel logistics came into play. You see, the San Jose was on deployment, out doing exactly what a combat stores ship was designed to do: steaming forever while supplying carriers and BB’s and other badass warships, and currently located somewhere out of DeGar. So, instead of the higher ups thinking to save a few bucks and assigning me to a TAD spot on this tropical paradise would be the thing to do, they figured it would be better suited to ensure I was physically placed aboard that ship no matter where on Mother Earth she happened to be, period. (For those keeping count, ~15 hours in air so far..). Therefore…
I was told by a rather snooty airman at Anderson AFB that instead of a quick van ride to NAVSTA, I was booked on the next flight to Singapore aboard a charter flight out of Won Pat Int’l Airport (Guam). Finally, respectable flight accommodations. Or so I thought. Apparently, the flight crew was pre-informed that their new load of sardines were all military, and as such, I assume they felt that they could take it easy for several hours and not attend to our needs, other than tossing us some peanuts and soda pops. No booze was allowed to be served (to this day if I ever find the wingnut that ordered this directive…). Upon landing in Singapore (log entry- 7 hours, no liberty, dammit), we were shuttled and then loaded onto a USAF C5 Galaxy Now, I had flown on what I thought were big planes for great distances, but I gotta tell ya, this particular aircraft was FUCKIN’ HUGE. The cargo bay alone could support a full scale, regulation NBA game, with bleachers. My first thought upon seeing this thing was just how the Hell does something this big get off the ground and stay there? After climbing a 2-tiered set of stairs at the forward part of the cargo bay, we entered the passenger compartment, which was, for a military aircraft, pretty close to a civilian plane accommodation-wise. I think 75 seats, facing forward (which was much more beneficial to one’s digestive tract than facing backward, like the C141’s did), and a bit more spacious, but alas, still no windows. At least the seats reclined so I could grab some z’s. Landed in Diego Garcia several (about 5 for your log) hours later.
Ah yes, Diego Garcia. The Footprint of Freedom. I was not new to that sandbar, as I had been there a couple times previous. We (note: I refer to ‘we’ as the group of weary schleps including myself that were en route to the same ship. What was really strange is among the group, there was not ONE E7 or above or zero among us..) were bused to the transit barracks, and informed that our gallant warship would be going pier side at the fueling pier in two days, and until then we were required to muster at 0700 daily, ensure our rack was made up, and that was pretty much it. Basically, we were on our own, for the most part unsupervised. For two days. Two days that dragged on for almost 7 days. For anyone who has had the opportunity to visit this idyllic paradise, you know that all there is to do there is eat, drink, fish for Red Snapper, drink, take pictures of coconut crabs the size of feral cats, drink, cook and eat the Red Snapper, drink… Oh yeah, there was a rinky-dink putt-putt golf course and a two-lane bowling ally (this is where I bowled my best game ever-a 294, largely due to the fact that the lanes were older than hell and concaved down the center.. but I’ll take the score none the less), and drink. We finally got word that we would be leaving this tropical island and heading to our ship, however, the ship was NOT coming to retrieve us, we would be flying out the next morning. PARTY TIME!!
Tell any Asia sailor that they are scheduled to be somewhere at a certain time the next day, and they will take advantage of every moment before that deadline. We, the aforementioned group of snipes, deck apes, twidgets, pecker-checkers and whoever else invaded and proceeded to deplete the stock of 3.2 MGD’s and whatever else the bar (can’t remember the name) had. No one got more than maybe an hours sleep that night, as we had to be checked out of the barracks and at Diego Garcia International Airport (yes, this is what the chair force called their little airstrip) by I believe 0700. We were herded onto a C141, the 1st class accommodations were the fold-down jump seats along the bulkheads. It was hotter than hell outside, everyone was still inebriated, the thought of either food or flight did nothing to quell the urge to purge. Thank God the A/C worked. Sailors being the resourceful types they are known for, members of this group found any and every place available to grab a few hours of rejuvenating sleep. I personally sacked out on a pallet of stacked boxes. (For your log keeping, the jaunt lasted almost 9 hours).
We landed on the island of Masirah. As stated before, no one had any desire to eat as we were all still plastered when we boarded this flight. After a lengthy, climate controlled trip, the doors to Hell were opened before us, and the instant blast furnace heat of Masirah combined with (what we thought were) empty stomachs was just too much. All but one of us managed to hold things in til we made it to the terminal. The heat of this place was nothing like I had ever experienced (that, of course, would soon change when I got assigned to the pit on the San Jose). It was the dryest, hottest, skin burning heat I had ever encountered. The was no vegetation whatsoever, and I spotted a lone individual off in the sandy distance, just sitting there with an assault rifle. We were told that we were not supposed to be on this island during daylight hours, so we had to double-time it to the ‘terminal’ (read: a small building with some chairs, a pay phone, and a decrepit soda machine). Within 15 minutes, we were given a warm 8oz soda and flight deck headgear. Our seabags were in the hands of God at this point. After a quick and largely non-sensical briefing, we were shuffled out to a waiting, thumping twin prop Huey (or Chinook, whatever, a chopper is a chopper. I’m a snipe, don’t judge me), yelled at to ‘sit the fuck down and strap in’, and off we went.
After a brief ride, were deposited out the aft end of the chopper onto the flight deck of what I think was an oiler, an AO, which one I don’t know. It was late, our seabags and such were stacked in the ships hangar bay, so we slept in whatever we were wearing that night. we were fed, thankfully, and told to just stay out of the way for the night. Awoken early the next morning, a quick trip through the mess decks for breakfast, and back to the flight deck. Our host oiler was at this time at UNREP with my next command, USS San Jose AFS (I learned quickly that AFS stood for Always Fuckin’ Steaming) 7. We and all we owned was helo’d over to the Joser, and life pretty much went to hell from that point on. After port visits in Australia, Thailand, and Singapore, we were back at Guam within less than 4 weeks. 4 weeks. I could have painted curbs and pulled weeds for 4 weeks.
A roughly 37 hours total in the air, hop-scotching from one place to another, all in the name of ‘we need him here ASAP!’. Money is never an object.