After the aquarium I had been planning to go back to the hotel for a quick nap, but I was feeling wide awake and knew I wouldn't sleep so I asked if we could go straight to the base, maybe look around a bit. I knew where it was already, as I'd seen several exotically pointy aircraft descending in that direction, and you can't miss the sound of jet fighters taking off. It's a small town, too. I could pretty easily have walked to the gates from the hotel. But no further, I'm sure.
I'm a little nervous about going onto a foreign military base, and think about what's in my purse to make sure there's nothing anyone could worry about. I brought only carry-on luggage, so I know I can pass a security scan. "Can I bring my camera? Will I be able to take pictures? Is there a dress code?" I have my ID and my pilot licence ready but we only pause a moment in front of the soldier at the gates before being waved on. They don't even check John's ID. He says he has a special sticker on his car. I knew the car had to have some redeeming feature. It wasn't the paint job, the tracked "automatic" shoulderbelts or the missing panel completely exposing the interior of the driver's door. Apparently his sister bought a truck with bullet holes from being blasted by a drunk logger with his rifle when it would not start, so it must be an issue of family pride.
The US military has Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines. I get that an air force flies, an army travels over the ground and a navy does things in boats, but that doesn't leave much room in the universe for a fourth force. The US Army, Navy and Marines were all founded in 1775 to fight the American Revolution. It seems that in those days the Navy concentrated more on sailing the ships and firing the guns, and the Marines were a fighting force that went with them. John explains that the Marines have always been regarded as shock troops, their traditional mission being to capture beachheads and hold them until occupation forces arrive. Nowadays it seems that they are an elite force that get to do everything all the other forces do, but spend their training being told they are better than everyone else, which, as John put it, "meant in practical terms that the individual marine trusted in and relied on his comrades to an extraordinary degree and that he himself was trustworthy and reliable."
They're better because they are told they are better? That seems a little touchy-feely for jarheads, but John has advised me that one doesn't mess with Marines, so I'll take their word for it. It does seems a little insulting to the other forces, who I'm sure have their own elites and don't think of themselves as the 'safety schools' of military forces. This whole base is a Marine base, no other forces personnel are present.
There are lots of civilians, though. I think I see more people in civilian clothes than military uniforms. I see a car with a GRAMMA personalized plate outside of a hangar and at first I think, "heh, some A&P has borrowed his grandmother's car." But there's no reason not to think that an A&P didn't order that plate when her son or daughter had their first child.
I had been hoping to take a picture of a real KC130 on the ground, and then the simulator inside, but it turns out that the entire flight line is one of the places where photography is forbidden. Not that I could see anything out there anyway. There was a pretty solid row of hangars all along the runway, so I can only see the aircraft on approach and after taking off. My US military aircraft identification skills are poor, but John pointed out a Harrier and a V-22 Osprey. You know someone doesn't know a thing about military aircraft when she has to have those identified to her. I can report that they are both angular, loud and grey.
The housing area looks like a nice residential district anywhere. There's a marina with sailboats, a school and a gym, that sort of thing. Along one road, the chain link fence is covered in creative homemade banners welcoming individual marines home from deployment. There isn't really that much military stuff to see just driving around. We go to John's office.
It looks like a computer geek's office anywhere. Cartoons on the door, old computer manuals (ADA, anyone?) on the bookshelves, undecipherable scribbles on the whiteboard and printouts taped to the wall. He gave me permission to photograph and post one of the snag sheets, a list of what is wrong with the sim. The items to be fixed are not burned out light bulbs or missing screws as on an actual aircraft, but rather modifications that are required to make the sim exactly like the real airplane. Amusingly to me, many of the snags relate to lights not dimming when they should, something I can definitely relate to. Presumably lights burn out and screws get lost on the sim, too, but someone junior to John gets those repair jobs. I poke around the office and giggle at the geeky calendar while John works on unclassified military business, related to photocopier maintenance contract billing schedules.
Hey, there are fifty thousand people on this base. They can't all be flying around in fighter jets and stabbing bayonets into mannequins all day.