13 May 2006

AK - Round 2

Okay…so I had this all written up but I needed to redo it to (hopefully!) make it a little more coherent. You’re right, K, when we get out of our cultures, it’s all doublespeak. Seriously, I sometimes feel like that even within both the cultures I live. People start talking about hermeneutics and my eyes glaze over from confusion. I completely understand if people do the same with the military (hell, I do that at times there too!).

So here’s a shorter recap and explanation of what I did:

I and 129 of my closest guard friends, traveled to near Fairbanks, AK, to attend a training called Red Flag. This isn’t a new kind of training because it often happens in Las Vegas. The significance here is that it was the first time it was held in AK and with, what we call, a dedicated Aggressors force. This last thing means there are dedicated pilots who train and ‘play’ as the enemy using enemy tactics the military has studied and learned. So here’s a story based on the Aggressors Squadron of men who play the enemy.

My job there was to initiate interviews with key players of the exercise, take pictures of the different players (and primarily my unit), help set up media interviews with real media from the area, write articles, and perform the functions of a Public Affairs specialist, which is what I supposedly am.

The trick is that not many people really know what I do. Especially in our unit. One of my friend's told me that people had been telling him that I was just there to take their picture. SO not true. He set them straight, but most didn’t believe him. One person had even told others that I was just there for a vacation trip. Funny, since all he did was sit on the computer.

It wasn’t a vacation. We worked a lot. The PA office had 3 people dedicated to Red Flag, but we also worked with the host unit PA office of 7 people. These folks were all active duty and knew their way around – they were fabulous. The three of us, the Captain and Tech. Sgt. Jeff and me, were really indebted to them for all their great help. All 9 of these folks are people that I will forever remember. They all taught me so many things. I learned more than I can even express and truly understand my job better.

That was the big thing for me during this trip – it was really the first time I was able to deploy (go on a military exercise) as a Public Affairs person in a true Public Affairs capacity. Such a learning experience. There is so much more to my job than just putting together a stellar paper in 16 hours (though that was a big part of it, too). I’m still overwhelmed by emotion when I think of my time there for 2.5 weeks. I met so many fabulous people, many of whom I may not ever see again (though I hope to!), and worked with the incredible talents of the folks in my unit. I was able to see them in action on a daily basis and see others watching and learning from them! (i.e. active duty folks watching our guard guys and taking and implementing some of our tactics into their workplace). OH and I did get to go up in a KC-10 and watch the boom operator refuel several jets. Very cool.

We did get to relax some – though 12+ hour days, most days didn’t leave a whole lot of time. I mentioned Denali National Park last time. Our second weekend the group minus Casey went to Chena Hot Springs just outside of Fairbanks. If you click on that link…the middle picture shows the rocklake, which they liked to keep at about 104 degrees on the edge (so around 110 in the middle). The group spent 6 hours there on our second Saturday and I spent the entire 6 hours in that rocklake, having found the perfect rock to sit on where I could relax and enjoy. I got too relaxed though – I spent the next 3 days feeling like jello. It was great. On our 2nd Sunday, Tom, Jeff and I went to the Protestant service. SO much better than Mass…at least I felt welcome there. And then another vegging day. Lingered over breakfast/lunch. Drove to Delta Junction (which there was nothing there!) but the scenery on the way was great. Saw the Alaskan pipeline, which was pretty cool. Went for a 3 hour walk that night – the weather was perfect, found moose poop along the way. :) And just relaxed. It was really great.

Our last Friday there was a very touching day. In so many ways. I spent most of the day finishing up a story, running errands, slamming my hand in a van door, crying over the coin Jeff gave me (he coined me!) and trying to keep focused. I really didn’t want to go. It seemed too soon for the exercise to be done, though I know the rest were ready to move on. I felt like I had finally found my niche and could pull things together, but alas it was done. That night the PA folks all went out for Mexican (which was good since it kept me from the end-o-deployment party for the unit which tends to turn into a drunken bash – blech!). Airman Weaver and I had put together a spoof front page (this is a tradition in the PA world) for the Captain, Jeff and I that afternoon. The three of us had written spoof articles and picked out some appropriate pics to highlight our time and then Weaver and I put it together. It turned out really well – lots of inside jokes or I’d share…plus I don’t have an electronic copy. But that night at dinner the host Captain presented them to us. It was very touching. Hugs all around, laughter, a few tears (just from me – I’m a sap).

I took the Captain to the airport that night. I was very sad to see him go. He’s possibly getting out of the service in a couple months (I had set him up on a Y cord on Thursday – it’s a jet thing – as a going away present) and it’s really a loss to the Air Force. He’s fabulous.

The next day we did our usual military hurry-up-and-wait moment. Work call was at 0600 and we sat around waiting to leave til close to 11. I hung out with the crew chiefs some, took a few last photos, and just tried to downshift. Our 7.5 hour flight on a C-130 sucked – cold and cramped, but we made it home fine (obviously). And the next day I worked another 10 hours getting our latest edition put together of the base paper.

So I hope this helps – I’m not sure if I was clearer or not. I’ll find some links to the papers we did, but I can’t get them to come through on this computer very well right now. Soon.

No comments: