Wednesday, December 02, 2009


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.


Aluwings said...

I can identify with your feelings of uneasiness about being on a military base as a civilian.

Our university flying club once organized a fly-out to tour Cold Lake Air Force base in northern Alberta. We had a few non-flying members who were aviation buffs of one sort and another and they came along as passengers. One of these fellows who no-one knew well looked like a charicature of
Boris Badenov

Wouldn't you know it - our tour guide had to interrupt him when he whipped out a camera to snap photos of the 101 Starfighter cockpit. We were wondering if we'd be detained for further questioning.

Lawrence Musci said...

Don't forget the Coast Guard Aviatrix!

Anonymous said...

The Navy also has quite an aviation department as well.....the whole aircraft carrier thing and all.

Aviatrix said...

I assumed the Navy provided the aircraft carriers and the Air Force landed on them.

Aviatrix said...

The Coast Guard isn't a branch of the armed forces in Canada, so it didn't occur to me that they would be military in the US. Our Coast Guard is more like police: enforcing laws and helping people who are in trouble.

mattheww50 said...

The Coast Guard in the US is part of the Department of Homeland Security now, prior to 2001 they were belonged to the Treasury except in times of declared war, when they are part of the US Navy IIRC.

They were part of the Treasury because orignally the Coast Guard were the Revenue Cutters, concerned with collecting import duties.

Sarah said...

I assumed the Navy provided the aircraft carriers and the Air Force landed on them.

Ah, no. The Airforce flies the bombers, land based fighters and for all I know, space planes.

The US Navy does mostly it's own aviating. During and after WW2 the Marines also flew off carriers -maybe they still do, in the Ospreys/Harriers like you saw.

Aviatrix said...

The Canadian Coast Guard is part of the department of Fisheries and Oceans. They chase off foreign fishing fleets, investigate oil spills, provide icebreaking service, rescue fishermen from drowning, look after maritime nav aids ... that kind of stuff.

Echojuliet said...

I come to visit Aviatrix to learn about my own country's military... yeah!

I just came to give a shout of to the Coast Guard, though I have friends in several branches of the military.

Aviatrix said...

Echojuliet, I think I blog to learn about my own and neighbour country's anything. I was like "Coast Guard? Military? Huh? Isn't ours in Fisheries and Oceans of something?" I confirmed the latter, then just let my readers tell me about the US one. It appears that Coast Guard means what ever your country wants it to. In the UK the Coast Guard is a partly voluntary organization mainly involved in marine safety, but the National Lifeboat organization that goes out in boats to rescue people is a different one.

Jim said...

The US Army operates more aircraft than the US Airforce. Though most of them are used for moving army-things and army-people from here to there, and back.

And IIRC, the age-old question of why US aircraft have an N-number (as opposed to the G- in the UK, the C- in Canada, etc) goes back to the US Navy. That was before the US Airforce even existed. And someone with more than my superficial knowledge of all this can likely do a better follow-up posting.

Verification word: rapier. How appropriate.

dpierce said...

The US Marines, which used to be characterized as "the people who establish beachheads", are now characterized as our military "first response" force. They're still very much the beachhead people, in terms of doctrine, training, and equipment, but it's interesting that they're now being defined strictly in terms of their readiness aspect.

I've never considered what someone's expectations might be about driving through a base. They're pretty much just self-contained small towns with families, yards, schools, shopping, generally very low crime, and their own airport. 99% of the time, there's nothing exotic at all to see. Some bases have better eye-candy than others, though.

There has been long standing strife betwixt the US armed forces about the operation of aircraft. Over the generations, the USAF has often taken the position that any aircraft should be under their domain. In general, the USAF operates out of fixed bases, naval aviation operates from ships, the Marines (being Marines) like to be dependent on nobody for their needs, and the army operates aircraft that directly supports the army's function on the tactical scale (tactical transport of their troops by helo, tactical ground support of their troops by helo, etc). There are exceptions to that general picture.

And yes, space operations belong to the USAF, which suits them because they've seen the traditional aviation aspect of their role diminished by other forces over the years. Truth be told, our armed forces would be better separated by *function* rather than the element (air / land / sea) they're deemed to operate in. The Marines capture this notion the best.

A Squared said...

Jim wrote: And IIRC, the age-old question of why US aircraft have an N-number (as opposed to the G- in the UK, the C- in Canada, etc) goes back to the US Navy. That was before the US Airforce even existed.

That seems a bit unlikely, as the "N" has to my knowledge, always been for civil aircraft. Photos of early Naval aircraft show a single numeral painted on the side. (presumably this was expanded when the inventory exceeded 9) At any rate, while the USAF, as a distinct service wasn't around then, the Aeronautical branch of the US Army Signal Corps certainly was, and in fact there were airplanes in the Army inventory several years before the Navy had any.

A Squared said...

So do the Marines paint everything on base the same identical beige with brown trim that the Air Force uses?

david said...

The original function of Marines (British or American) wasn't establishing beachheads -- it goes back to the time when many (most?) naval battles ended with men from one ship grappling and boarding the other and fighting hand to hand (right until 1815, more or less). Ships needed to carry extra men besides the sailors so that they wouldn't be overwhelmed by the other side.

Perhaps more importantly, in the days of crowded wooden ships, flogging (the Americans actually flogged even more than the British, contrary to the modern stereotype), and occasional mutiny (mostly British), captains in both the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy found it very useful to have a well-armed force that was separate from the sailors and loyal only to the captain. Captain Bligh had no marines on The Bounty because he was on a research trip -- 'nuff said.

A Squared said...

Doing a little googling on the history of the "N" designation I came up with this article which seems to be extensively researched and claims no conclusive answer. Jim's Navy theory is mentioned among a number of other theories, but the authors favor the theory that it was a logical extension from the fact that N (and W) had already been assigned to the united States as a prefix for radio station call signs. I guess that the "K" identifiers in the western US came later.

Anonymous said...

aviatrix said "I assumed the Navy provided the aircraft carriers and the Air Force landed on them."

Oh no. The Navy definitely has its own pilots and planes.

Lynn said...

aviatrix said "I assumed the Navy provided the aircraft carriers and the Air Force landed on them."

My understanding is that if an Air Force plane needs to make an emergency landing on an aircraft carrier, they have the pilot ditch the plane in the water near the carrier, and then they go rescue the pilot.

Air Force pilots don't practice carrier landings, and Air Force planes don't have tail hooks to catch the arrester cables, so trying to have an Air Force pilot land *on* the carrier would just endanger the carrier, it's crew, and the other planes.

INAP, but that's what they tell me.


Anonymous said...

I was rather amused by the snag requesting an operating system upgrade to something "more current" such as "Windows 98."

Michael5000 said...

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