Me and Abilicious

Me and Abilicious

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rodeos, the Superbowl of Cheyenne, and the Last Ride of the Hercules (WITH PICTURES)

               The rest of the deployment went much like the first, but more downtown Doha trips. Also I think that through the use of a delicious recipe submission and a detailed treasure map (not a joke) I convinced the food contractors to make chocolate chip pancakes (an easy OPR bullet: "MORALE MANUFACTURER! Single handidly improved WING morale and enhanced diet options for ovr 10,000 US and international troops!" (that only sounds ridiculous if you've never been in the military)). 
                  The trip home was about as much fun as you could have with three, full C-130 crews plus a maintenance group (which is a lot of fun). The airplanes never broke and we got to see Crete, Spain, the Azores (again), plus Canada, and nobody maxed out their government issued travel credit card at a gentlemen's club (which is more than can be said of the trip over).  Canadians are as polite as their reputation suggests. It was wonderful to be surrounded by a bunch of Americans again (albeit Canadian-Americans).
               After seeing much of the world I had hardly even read about I decided that I am wholeheartedly glad to live in America. It’s not a “red, white, and blue pride” that’s leaking out of me. I just like home, specifically the Southeastern United States. Not that the rest of the USA is undesirable…probably just Wyoming.
Made it back from the deployment in time to go to Peter's wedding

I went home to Alabama as soon as I could to see my niece and nephew, I think male modelling may be in Calvin's future

Abigail's best lion impersonation. FIERCE!

What true disappointment looks like (aka I decided to sit on this tractor and I just now see the merry-go-round...I've made a huge mistake).

True happiness is sitting in a disease-ridden bubble bath splash pool

Of course, the only thing better than sitting in a pool of infection is having it all over your face

Also, running is fun

               Wyoming. The least populated state in the United States feels just like that. Unpopulated. When I first arrived here, many of the locals who have lived here for a while told me that Cheyenne is a great place to raise a family. I've heard that about many towns, many of which house military bases: Cheyenne, Columbus, Abilene. I now know that, “this town is a great place to raise a family,” is a code phrase for, “there is nothing else to do in this town so you might as well raise a family.”
               The Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo is the biggest event of the year for the town…because it is the only event. When locals talk about CFD they sigh with regrettable anticipation, as if Cheyenne turns into downtown Manhattan for two weeks. Many locals leave town for the whole event because the apparent overwhelming crowds are too much to handle. I pictured waiting lines for restaurants extending for blocks down sidewalks, no parking anywhere, streets blocked off, intersections backed up for miles, riots, looters, cocaine mania. Truth is, if you were an out-of-towner who just happened to be driving through Cheyenne during CFD you would have no clue anything special was going on, save for some streamers and signs and a strong farm animal smell in the air. The only roads that had backed up traffic were the two that corner CFD stadium. If you go downtown to eat during CFD you may actually have to wait to be seated. Like 10 minutes.

Vedauwoo (pronounced Vee-dah-voo) is about a 30 min drive west of Cheyenne. It's the closest trail running to Cheyenne and I escaped to here often.

I decided to make a wooden chest. Partly because I could use one, partly because it's fun, mostly because I don't have a family to raise. I should have taken more pictures of the whole process to prove I didn't just purchase a piece of unfinished furniture.  

The finished product

It even opens, which is a nice feature

Lady Antebellum (or 1/3rd of it, although she is the only lady)

All thirds

Nothing between myself and the stage, except a bucket full of ice

I bought a ticket to see Tim McGraw with some friends

Ol' Timmy

               None of this is to say that CFD was disappointing. I quite enjoyed it. But it’s not the Superbowl madness the locals talk it up to be. It would be more accurate to say it is a state fair with a bunch of smelly animals, and a few smelly people. There’s more traffic around my home church in Birmingham, Alabama every Sunday between the 9:30 and 11:15am services. That’s not even a joke.
               The rodeo itself is called, “The Granddaddy of them All.” Which is either because it’s been around forever and is the largest and longest outdoor rodeo in America (counting Canada), or because it caters to grandparents. I did have a grand time and so enjoyed the influx of people that I often drove by the rodeo grounds just to see people, even when I wasn’t going in. I went to the actual rodeo three times (in a row). Once probably would have sufficed; two definitely would have sufficed. Three was a bad choice.
               What I enjoyed most were the nightly events. Every night they either had PBR – bull riding, not the alcoholic beverage (then again there was a lot of Blue Ribbon there) - which I never saw, or a concert. I saw three concerts – Lady Antebellum, Florida-Georgia Line, and Tim McGraw - and could hear the rest from my house. My squadron works at the rodeo to raise money for our booster club. I got into Lady A and FL-GA Line for free by volunteering. Going into it I had no clue what I’d be doing. They gave me a 10-gallon bucket of ice filled with bottled water and sodas and told me to walk the security line in front of the stage. Never would have guessed I would have as much fun as I did. I was close enough to the stage to touch it. I caught a guitar pick from FL-GA Line, but gave it away to make a friend. And I actually made a lot of friends. And possibly almost a wife, however, I didn’t get her name so maybe that shouldn’t count. And tips. I made tips. Not beer tips. Water tips don’t pay as well as beer tips, but something is more than nothing. I also got a workout.

Uncle Jim and I ready for Auburn Gameday! We've watched a few games together with hundreds of other best friends at the Denver Auburn Alumni Club

I also had time to build a kitchen table top


Back in Huntsville, AL to see the new edition (not pictured). This is how we wash cars.

Hanging with Big Pops

Walking with Big Pops

Chocolate is happiness, especially when applied liberally

Sister Tote

Birthday boy, in a birthday box, "reading" a birthday book, and possibly wearing a birthday suit
               Aside from the rodeo, the rest of my time in Cheyenne consisted of flying a little bit and trying to get to know everyone I can in four months. Since January, my squadron has had three different squadron commanders. I wish I could say more about that but it’s all conjecture at this point. The only thing we were specifically told by leadership about the firing of the first two commanders was that we are not allowed to ask any questions. So, everyone has been asking a ton of questions. No answers yet, and none expected, but there are some fun rumors and one particularly nasty comments section attached to a blog that discusses the peculiarity of the whole situation.
               My flying time has been limited. In part because a lot of guys we work with needed lots of time to get current, and partly because I knew my next job will not require proficiency in the might C-130H Hercules. I’m getting a different job and moving soon (days away) to Sacramento to operate a flying camera. I do mean operate rather than fly. Beep boop beep beep ENTER. That, more or less, describes what I will be doing. Ask me if you would like to know more. I, and the rest of my squadron, are shipping out of Cheyenne. As of October 1st, 2014, the Active Duty Air Force no longer owns any C-130H models (although it does (I know because I have seen them)). Out with the old, in with the C-130J. Because of this, our squadron is being shut down. We are all leaving and headed in different directions. Most of us will be gone by the end of the calendar year, and the last ones will leave in May 2015.

Had the privilege of being in a friends wedding in Wisconsin (groom not pictured).Had a great time except any time one of the Wisconsinians would say bag. "Beygh," it's awful.

Groom still not present

There he is - in all three chairs. Don't act like you're not impressed

               I have enjoyed being around the squadron more than before I deployed. Many of the other guys my age deployed for four months only weeks after I arrived in Cheyenne, and they didn’t return until I had already left for my deployment. We have more fun flying (or "cheating death," as we say) together than should be allowed and have fun finding ways to distract each other from work when it comes to non-flying duties. Such distractions are unimpressively easy, but we have fun doing it. I will truly miss being part of the C-130 community. Our mission is incredibly unique, but what makes it fun are the people who I have had the privilege of doing the mission with. Every flying community has its own flavor. I love the taste of mine.

My fini (last) flight in the C-130

Panoramic selfie. Please be impressed

                It seems the closer I get to my departure date, I exponentially get to know more people that I enjoy being around. Maybe the Lord simply has a sense of humor and decided to give me a taste for excellent community RIGHT before I leave, just because it’s funny to watch. As little as 3-4 weeks ago I would've said I could leave Cheyenne and not give it a second thought. After just a few weeks, though, I feel disappointment when I think about leaving. It has nothing to do with the physical location of Cheyenne - I don’t think I will ever long to live in such a flat, treeless, underpopulated, coarse, and windy place (to put it lightly). It has everything to do with people. And that's a good thing.  

Look, mom, I do have friends! At my house!

               That’s a recap of the last 5 months, and I didn’t even include Switzerland. Another day. Another post.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

From Not a Non-Undisclosed Location

         Before arriving we were told this base was an undisclosed location, and should be referred to as "An Undisclosed Location in Southeast Asia" in social media, conversations, etc. But upon arriving here we were briefed that Al Udeid Air Base is no longer an undisclosed location. Which was slightly confusing because of all the negatives in that statement. Almost a triple negative. Not an undisclosed location = a disclosed location = not a closed location = an open location = I can tell you where I am.
          In ROTC, our commandant told us stories of his deployments to the Middle East: long, 14 hour days, 6-7 day work weeks, rugged quarters, cold showers, pill boxes and guard towers, mortar attacks, harrowing convoys through cities dodging IEDs . This is nothing like that. At all. Those not stationed at Al Udeid refer to it as "Camp Cupcake" out of jealousy. All the amenities here give it more of a TDY feel rather than a deployment. When not working or on the Operations side of the base we are allowed to wear civies, giving off-duty personnel a feel of humanity. No one likes work clothes. The indoor and outdoor pools are more than I've experienced at any base in America. There are still pill boxes and guard towers here but they are empty, only vestiges of harder times when there was only one pool to lounge at. Comically, the base has grown much and now engulfs what was once the fence line so the pill boxes and guard towers face towards what are now the living quarters giving - with the help of barbed wire fencing - a prisoner camp feel.
         When I'm not flying my day is my own. No additional duties. No need to wear a uniform. Get up early, sleep in late, whatever. With all the free time (we are only flying 2 times a week on average) I'm finding it hard to occupy my time. There are not a plethora of activities on base. When I call home most of my part of the conversation includes what I ate for meals and what type of workout I did. Eat. Sleep. Workout. It makes for hot bods but dull stories. Even the flying itself is rather vanilla.
           Much of the last decade of flying in theater has consisted of flying exciting, fast paced low levels over hostile territories, dropping supplies to forward deployed troops or landing in an obscure, unimproved, dirt landing strip in the middle of the wilderness. Now that America's pace in the Middle East, especially Afghanistan, has started to draw down, all we've been doing recently is standard hauls back and forth between big hubs. Pile on some pallets and passengers here, fly 5 hours away to drop them off, pick up some more trash, haul it back home. After a couple of weeks we got in the grind of the routine and spend most of our time trying to fill the free time with something other than eating and working out.
            A couple of days ago my crew and I drove into down Doha, Qatar's capitol. Tons and tons of construction going on everywhere and traffic was a roller coaster. We stopped in a large marketplace area and spent most of the day there, walking around shops, talking with vendors and eating at a restaurant Damascan. When I went to Kenya after my Junior year at Auburn, the majority of vendors there attempted to make you feel like the "rude American" for looking and not buying so I was surprised by how friendly some of the shop owners were in Qatar. We talked at length with a Sri Lankan jewelry vendor. He was adamant that we come in and have tea and just talk and look, "No need to buy!"  
Devin, our AC, second from the left, bought us all these Raybans, authentic, of course

We got to see a sunrise on one early flight

The Crew, from left to right: me, Kris, Mike, John, Doug and Devin

Over Pakistan you can see where the desert ends and the rocks begin

Pakistan shore line

Load masters load mastering

The engineer engineering and I

Same but now with Raybans

Go-karts #warishell