Waiting on a Helicopter

Sometimes the most ordinary or inane event can bring back a memory for me. This week that was caused by the weather. Here in the Florida Panhandle, we have four seasons. They include Hot, Really Hot, Humid with Heat, and a few days of winter. Since we don’t experience the winter most others around the country do, we may have a skewed view of the winter season. When it gets down to the 30’s at night and daytime highs are only in 40’s, we start to lose our minds. And when Mother Nature decides to throw rain at us during those “freezing” temperatures, we act like the world is coming to an end.

Although I’ve experienced snow and cold weather all around the world, I am not a fan. During my deployment to Afghanistan, we had plenty of snow in the mountains 6000 feet above sea level. We had below freezing temperatures, the lowest I recall was 14 degrees Fahrenheit. But the most gloomy, uncomfortable weather I experienced there was like the weather here in Northwest Florida this week. It had been in the mid- to upper 30’s with rain during one missions. The near freezing rain is what clinched it for being classified as miserable. I would have rather it been a little colder and traded the rain for snow.

I went on over two dozen missions during my 9 months in Afghanistan, mostly escorting the unit chaplain to different places he needed to be. Although, I always downplayed each mission by calling them “trips.” It sounded less dangerous. And my roommate over there would go a step further by saying I was going on vacation or a weekend getaway since most of the missions were multiple days. Most of the travel to and from our destinations went well, considering we were traveling in a war-torn country. There were always possibilities for delays, either caused by the enemy or the weather.


From our base in Kabul, we embarked on what was supposed to be a six-day mission. First, we took the few minute flight to the airport in Kabul. From there, a British C-130 gunship to Kandahar, with a stop at Bastion on the way. For the trip back, we flew to Bagram, which was like my home away from home during deployment. And that’s where we got stuck for a few days. The transition to winter weather was upon us. It was early November, fairly mild up until that point. The days had been comfortable, the nights were cool. Nothing too bad. But that was about to change.


The night before we were supposed to fly by helicopter back to Kabul, the temperature dropped to almost freezing and the rain came. For three days it rained. Cold, wet, miserable, rain. Knowing the weather would likely result in travel issues, I woke up at 0430 to walk the mile to the terminal to see about flights. If they were flying, I would call the chaplain and the other traveler in our group and tell them to come. But of course, they weren’t flying. I walked back to where we were staying. In the cold, miserable rain.

The next morning, I awoke at 0430 again and made the walk. The rain was just enough to be annoying, light but steady, and still very cold. I was in line to inquire about flights, knowing we weren’t going anywhere. They guy came down the line holding a clipboard, asking each hopeful traveler a single question, “Where you going?”  I answered, “NKC.”  He simply said, “Nope,” and moved to the next person in line.  Back to my bunk, sloshing through the rain, looking forward to a nap. In my journal that I kept about the missions we went on, the single entry for that day was: “Flight cancelled due to weather. Did nothing, getting bored.”

On the third morning of being stuck at BAF (Bagram Air Field), I made the same early-morning walk. Still raining, still cold, still knowing there would be no flights. At least not any civilian contractor flights that we mostly traveled on. But while at the terminal, I was able to find out that the Deputy Commanding General of our unit was traveling through there on his way back to Kabul. And the DCG flies on Black Hawks with military pilots, not relying on the civilian contractors.

When flying with the civilian contractors, you just show up, get on, and go. It doesn’t work that way when trying to hop a flight with a general. When I peeked over the counter and saw the general’s flight on a manifest, I told the guy that I was in that unit, and we had three personnel that had been stuck at BAF for days and needed to be on that flight. He looked at me like I was Jon Lovitz saying, “Yeah, that’s the ticket!” But, eventually, after some phone calls, we were confirmed on the General’s flight.

Finally, just before midnight on the ninth day of our trip, we boarded one of two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters going back to our base in Kabul. It had been a long trip and I was ready for it to be done. And as much as I loved traveling throughout Afghanistan during that deployment, it was nice to get back “home” to my own bunk. After returning, my roommate told me I got back just in time, that he was going to rent out my bed because he thought I wasn’t coming back. And of course, he asked how my ‘vacation’ was.

Good times. Good memories. Despite the blaring sirens during the rocket attacks and sitting in concrete bunkers at both Kandahar and Bagram during that trip, I have good memories of that mission. And somehow, it was this miserable weather here that elicited those memories and made me smile. There are still things around me that might take me back to an event during that trip that would not make me smile. Perhaps, a fire alarm or loud booms might make me remember the same trip in a different light. But for some reason, and I can’t explain why, this cold, wet, nasty weather we had in Florida this week takes me back to that mission in Afghanistan, and I smile because of it. Go figure.


Thank you for taking the time to check out Story of My Life. Good day, God bless.



Tropical Storm Cindy and My Crazy Thoughts

This past week we dealt with Tropical Storm Cindy here where I live in Florida. Yes, the landfall was hundreds of miles away to the west, but the rain was far-reaching. With the rain came localized flooding, at least one tornado that caused damage, and over 5 ½ inches of rain right here from June 20th to the 22nd (recorded at the local military base according to Weather Underground’s website). That’s a lot of rain in just 3 days.


Views from my back door after the main part of the storm had passed.

But now I’m going to be controversial. All the hype the different weather sources put out about weather events, is just that, hype. At least most of it is. They need ratings, just like the news channels. They will play it up as much as they can to make sure you tune in. I have to do some research on the subject, but as far as I can tell, someone changed the term “tropical disturbance” to “tropical cyclone.” Why? Because “cyclone” sounds more scary. On a similar note, but going in a completely opposite direction, we got PTSD from changing the way it’s named. It went from “shell shock” to “battle fatigue” to PTSD. People will change the name of something to impact how you view it depending on how they want you to see it. PTSD doesn’t sound near as bad as Shell Shock.

But I digress. I do that from time to time. Let me grab another beer.

The reason I know the Weather Channel, and other weather outlets, hype things up is because I’ve seen it. In Panama City Beach years ago, they did a report about flooding from a parking lot that floods in an average afternoon thunderstorm. The roads were fine, no problems. But the reporter walked through the deepest part of the parking lot talking about how the flooding was affecting us. It was a lie. I saw a reporter on the Weather Channel once talking about how bad the winds were during a particular tropical storm one year. They were reporting from in between two condominium buildings, where the wind is tunneled as it comes off the beach and increases in strength. It’s always windy in that spot. I was on the crew that built the pool for one of those buildings and I know firsthand that the wind right at that exact spot is always much greater than on the beach. Again, they lied. Or at least in both cases, the source of the information was manipulating the truth in such a way that it was not accurate reporting.


Some tornado damage at a local park.

I have lived in the Florida Panhandle for more than 25 years. I’ve sat through every tropical storm and hurricane that has ever come our way. Some storms were worse than others. Some hurricane seasons were worse than others. But the common denominator in every storm, every year, was the reporters for the weather and news channels hyped them all up more than any of them ever turned out to be. The only one here that even came close was Hurricane Opal in 1995. Opal forever changed the landscape of the Emerald Coast. And 1995 was a record-breaking year for named storms at the time.


This guy had a bad day.  But then again, the tree missed the house, so maybe it was a good day.

The point of all this is to take everything with a grain of salt. Have a little common sense, do some research. Understand that not everything is as it appears or is as reported. Not everything is what the name suggests. A tropical cyclone is still just a tropical depression until it becomes a tropical storm. And while I’m on the subject, who renamed the “War Department” to the “Department of Defense” in 1949? Someone that thought War Department sounded too harsh, probably. They still do the same functions despite the name change.

I’ve written enough for the amount of beer I’ve consumed tonight, so I’ll close for this week. Thanks for reading my bizarre ramblings. But I do hope you take some of this to heart and not be fooled by the appearance of things that aren’t true. Good day, God bless.