"War" Story Friday: LAVA VIPER

Flying the C-130 in the Pacific offered pretty much everything I had ever wanted out of being a pilot: destinations, scenery, adventure. Just a local training flight from Yokota Air Base gave me all of that, with either a 2- or 4-ship meandering through the Japanese mountains, NVG low-level over Tokyo's "suburbs," or dropping heavy equipment at the base of Mount Fuji, I can't imagine life getting any better.

Oh wait, I can.

Some of the trips the DoD would have us do were just ridiculous. the 36th Airlift Squadron supports missions in Australia, Alaska, Hawaii, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, even Nepal, to say nothing of the more routine stops in Guam, Okinawa, and Korea. Usually we were carrying Marines or Army bubbas to some training exercise, or participating in one of our own. Most often, even when the days were 16 hours long, it just felt like stealing.

One such trip was to take some Marines from MCAS Iwakuni to Hilo for some exercise. The trip, astonishingly, took a whole week: one day to Wake Island, another to Hawaii, three days on the ground, and the reverse of the same. It's funny, because in the funky math of the DoD the Marines have to pay us to fly them places (different pots of money!), but in the Marines' funky math, somehow 30 hours of flying in a C-130 for five people over seven days is more cost efficient than probably half that flying time in a C-17 over two days. Take what you can get, I guess.

The getting to Hawaii and back wasn't the best itinerary, exactly. Pick up the Marines just before field closure at 2200, fly all night to Wake and arrive right when they open at 0700, then have 24 hours on the ground basically means staying up all day to have a normal bedtime for the 0500 alert the next day. Somehow, we survive.
But, in that 24 hours one can do some killer sightseeing. There's the ruins of the Pan Am Hotel, all kinds of WWII airplane bits that have washed ashore, the pill boxes, rental kayaks, or 98 Rock, where the Japanese massacred 98 sailors in 1943. If none of this suits your fancy, the Thai nationals working for the DoD contractor Chugach make some killer Thai food in the chow hall, if you ask nicely. At night, there's the full-of-character Drifter's Reef to hole up in while you listen to the waves crashing beyond the lagoon (beer subject to availability!).

On to Hawaii, three days on the ground with no agenda equates to a lot of beach time, and since lodging at Hickam is full, we get the government rate at the Outrigger, eat some great food, grab a couple of kegs of Longboard for the squadron bar, and life is great. One could really get used to this.

The best part of all of this? About three weeks after I got back from this trip, I heard the most amazing thing one can hear from a scheduler: "dude, you're the only one...I need you to go on this trip." So I did the return trip, for the second time in a month. Some people get all the luck.


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