Well, I suppose I haven’t done the best job at keeping everyone as informed as I would have liked since starting this “blog.” My intent was/is to share with you all what we’re doing, where we’re going, and what we’re seeing. However, I have a very demanding job in which I take great pride in. We’re on our fifth assignment and I’m finally, after all these years, carrying out what we’ve been so elaborately trained to do…generate Air Power and save lives.
In retirement, they say, you won’t look back and wished you’d spent more time at work. Family first. I trust this will haunt me when I doff my uniform for the last time in about 6-10 years. My girls know I love and adore them, but they’re still too young to understand what I do and why I must work tirelessly to mentor, train, and prepare our team of amazing crew chiefs for success. I must remain focused and selfless because not only do our pilot’s lives depend on it, the lives of the front line infantry depend on us as well. Close air support requires surgical precision; precision that is the direct result of the hard work from hundreds of dedicated maintainers.
Attention to detail is of the utmost importance in the aviation industry. Military aviation, I say, demands an even greater level of attention to detail. Our nation depends on it. I wake up every morning realizing the scope of responsibility we have. I’m a very small piece of the puzzle, but in all reality, I’m a senior member of the greatest Aircraft Maintenance Unit in the United States Air Force. I say this with conviction and challenge anyone to put this to the test. My only reserve here is my love for the F-15 and that I’ll never believe there will be a better tactical fighter aircraft. #15>16 #oncegreen #bleedgreen
With that being said, I hope I’ve provided you with enough insight as to why I’m such a ghost. The days, weeks, and months seem to blur together for me. I welcome the attack of hugs and kisses from Kenzie and Bella when I walk in the door. Kenzie still believes I’m her knight in shining armor, her hero. My time away from work and with my family is never long enough. Of course I would love to work a 9-5 and play Monopoly or Parcheesi every other night. Coffee and pastries in the morning with my wife before work? Yes, please. Unfortunately, that life doesn’t exist here. I’ve struggled to dedicate time at home. My weekends are often spent divided between home and office. The 55+ guys in my section deserve my time as well and it’s not often that I can give it to them during the week. At least not the way in which I’d like to. Writing takes a bit of skill. Getting my guys recognized at the right levels for their hard work and selfless dedication to the mission requires that skill. The competition is fierce and my intent every single time is to crush their competition by guiding them towards success. I can’t write about it if they don’t do it. The challenge in balancing time and effort between family and family has little light at the end of the tunnel. As a friend once said, “the struggle is real.”
Disclaimer before I get started: I had an external hard drive fail (I dropped it) in May and I haven’t been able to recover anything from it. Sadly, it contained almost every digital image that I’ve taken since 2001. Luckily, a small number of my images were preserved via SmugMug, the photo hosting website I use. Lesson learned…back them up!
On to my trip to Leiria, Portugal. We joined up with the Portuguese Air Force at Monte Real Air Base near Leiria for a two-week close air support exercise. Our pilots trained with the Portuguese and Royal Netherlands Air Forces.
Although it rained almost every single day there, it was an exciting experience for me. It was the first time many of us from the Triple Nickel AMU would go on a temporary duty together. TDYs often present the best breeding grounds for building camaraderie in a unit. We’re all but forced to spend time together. Generally, the outcome is often life-long friendships. I won’t be surprised if we’re drawn even closer together during our upcoming deployment. Anyways, Portugal was an interesting experience. I wrote the following paragraphs on my experience while I was still there, but life happened and I never took the time to finish it until now.
Rain from these European skies has been the recurring theme from the get-go. We departed Aviano Air Base, Italy in chalks of buses to the Marco Polo airport in the rain and arrived in Lisbon, Portugal in the rain. Some of us were scheduled with non-stop flights directly to Lisbon, while others stopped in Munich, Germany. My flight to Frankfurt International Airport was a mere one-hour flight, but entertained us with the most turbulent ride I’ve had the pleasure to endure. Our caravan of buses made their way to Leiria, Portugal in just a few hours, delivering us to our hotel…in the rain. It was dark, cold, and wet upon our arrival. We were greeted with a quick briefing from our leadership and given our room keys. Hours upon hours of studying for promotion while in Korea paid off—I was but a few out of the 260 personnel with a single room. The joys of becoming a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer! My room has a 36-inch LCD TV, which I don’t use, while the shared rooms are apparently equipped with 9-inch screens. The gamers in the crowd were a bit displeased to say the least.
My room, located on the seventh floor, offered a decent view of the surrounding apartments and hillsides in the distance. Hotel Eurosol stands in the lower elevations within the area, but still towers over most of its neighbors making it an easy find when wandering about the city. The town center of Leiria is nearby and delivers some amazing restaurants! Within the first week of our arrival, I dined three times at “Mata Bicho – Real Taverna,” which has quickly become one of my favorites. The food, service, and atmosphere are all outstanding, minus the cigarette smoke. The paintings, décor, and all-around structure on the inside don’t change, but seem to offer something new each time one takes time to enjoy the view. A mural-sized painting in the main dining room in particular will surprise anyone with its intricacies—something not noticed once before will appear the next time it is looked upon.
As with many European meals, hors d’oeuvres are served first. Mata Bicho serves marinated green olives, bread, tuna, and sometimes octopus. All of the above are delicious, but the octopus leaves an overwhelming seafood aftertaste which was a bit too strong for me. The sirloin I ordered, à la carte, was cooked to perfection and served over a sauce that resembled melted butter, but perhaps was more than likely a seasoned olive oil. I enjoyed my first meal at Mata Bicho amongst approximately twenty-five of our Triple Nickel crew chiefs—a meal served with nothing but hyperbolic and satirical humor from our finest aircraft mechanics.
Following the meal, our group gradually dwindled down with everyone going in different directions to explore the city and enjoy the newfound Portuguese nightlife. Being the eldest and essentially their ‘boss,’ I didn’t hang around too long, but did enjoy conversing with a few of them outside of the workplace. I learned a few of their personal interests and some background information such as family history, talents, and aspirations that otherwise may have been left undiscovered had I not joined in their quest to experience Portugal after dark.
And now I’ll have to re-cap what I remember from the trip. In no particular order:
The housekeeping staff taught me how to say thank you in Portuguese, “Obrigado.” It’s the only word I remember and I still use it today with a few friends from the trip.
I toured a Port winery in the town of Porto. Port wine is a very unique wine that is usually consumed after a meal. The alcohol content is about 21% versus 11-14% of table wine. I bought a few bottles from the winery, Ferreria, after the tour and have given them as gifts to friends and our landlord. Porto is about an hour and half drive from Leiria. I enjoyed the town so much that I drove back the following weekend. During the second trip, I photographed the Dom Luís I Bridge that crosses the Douro River. I knew from the previous trip that I wanted a panoramic photograph of the bridge. I packed my camera, tripod, intervalometer, and nodal rail in my camera bag and set off to capture what my mind’s eye wanted hanging on a wall once I returned home. In two degree increments, I painstakingly shot ninety images of the scene to build the panoramic photograph you see below. My computer’s processor didn’t like me very much as it took Photoshop over two hours to stitch the images together. I’m fairly certain I could have obtained a similar image by using a number of different methods, but I’m pleased with the result nonetheless. Pros-very high resolution image capable of producing an extremely large print. Cons-the file size exceeds just about every software platform I needed…print lab, photo hosting website, and even to be saved as a TIFF or PSD file, and had to be downsized anyway. My only complaint is that I would have preferred to shoot the scene much later in the day.
I forgot to mention the awesomeness that is the Porto-born sandwich, the Francesinha. I’m not quite sure how to describe this besides it’s just simply delicious! Covered in melted cheese and a very specific flavor, the Francesinha is filled with ham, sausage, steak, and I’m fairly certain a fried egg or two. Once plated, the sandwich is topped with a special sauce. You’ll swear it’s a soup! Given the opportunity, don’t pass it up if you’re offered an authentic Francesinha!
I’ve always been fascinated by castles since I was younger and to my surprise our hotel offered a magnificent view of Castelo de Leiria. Breakfast was served on the eighth floor in an open-spaced room with large windows—the perfect vantage point. The only problem is that the windows didn’t open and I wasn’t about to settle for a shot through window glass. I convinced the staff to let me on the roof. They were hesitant at first, but I showed them a few shots using my iPhone that I’d taken in Korea, Italy, and their very own neighboring town, Porto. I could see their curiosity starting to perk so I went to my room to grab my camera in an effort to put them on the spot. Needless to say, it worked. I’m an amateur photographer at best with much to learn, but an expensive-looking camera seems to encourage those normally reluctant to permit the shot when it’s typically not allowed. And by expensive-looking camera, I’m referring to the installed battery grip and L-bracket . Basically anything besides the kit lens will get the obligatory “that’s a big camera” comment. I ended up shooting the castle from a few different surrounding locations as seen below.
DEUTSCHLAND – GERMANY
While I was off working hard in a strange and foreign land, Misty was back in Italy having the time of her life playing Bingo for fun. <–sarcasm Just as you probably suspected, yes, Misty won the grand prize—at free two-night stay at Edelweiss Resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Shortly after I returned from Portugal, we made the five-hour drive to one of the most hospitable places I’ve ever been. The people, food, scenery, and family time were fantastic! We walked from the resort grounds to Garmisch and loved everything about it. Let’s just say that we all devoured the side of sauerkraut offered with our meals and ordered more because it was truly divine.
We visited the Partnachklamm gorge during our trip. The trail was very narrow with parts iced over, but we thoroughly enjoyed the brisk air. It was refreshing and peaceful. A passerby offered to take our photograph, but of course it came out blurry. The man didn’t seem to understand English and my camera settings are customized to separate the focus and shutter. I didn’t want to be rude so I let him try.
We stopped on the way back to grab lunch and take in the scenery. What a beautiful drive! Unfortunately, my camera battery died on me after the first shot. Not to worry, I carry a spare, but somehow failed to realize it wasn’t charged. So there I was, stopping for pictures that I passed up as we were driving on the way to Germany a few days prior, and now unable to record the Dolomites covered in snow. Rookie mistake, right?! Thank goodness for cell phone cameras…something I rarely say.
My parents came to visit in July. We had a great time and the weather cooperated with us, but I think we had thundershowers any time we were inside or driving. Step foot outdoors and the sky opened up to the sun. It was actually rather amusing!
Okay, so remember when I said all I ever do is work? Well, my plan to create a photo book of our trip has been postponed…time and time again. I didn’t share the pictures with my Mom because I wanted to send them in the form of a professionally constructed book full of memories frozen in time by the shutter of my camera. Unfortunately, I just never took the time to create it and to that I’m very sorry. To my Mom, I love you more than anything. I treasure the time you took away from work to spend with us and I hope you enjoy these images.
TOSCANA – TUSCANY
FIRENZE – FLORENCE
The hotel we reserved was in downtown Florence. Never again will I attempt to drive a giant American Sport Utility Vehicle in downtown Florence! After making a 40-point turn to exit a small parking garage where they raise vehicles on hydraulic maintenance lifts to make additional space, we made our way out of the city. Well, not before being yelled at by a traffic officer for driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Oops!
COMUNE DI LUCCA
We also toured the Torre delle Ore, a fourteenth century bell tower, during our visit to Lucca. Each of the 207 steps to the top of the tower seemed more rickety than the last! I was nervous during the entire climb that Bella would somehow break through and tumble to the bottom. Luckily for us, or not, the child is not afraid of heights and practically skipped up the steps to the top.
LE CINQUE TERRE
In an effort to get these images out to everyone on Christmas, I”ll have to pause here on the commentary, but will continue as time permits. Enjoy!
Mom and the girls playing Parcheesi, a family favorite, on the balcony of our awesome apartment style hotel in Moneglia. The hotel was a steep one-mile hike up the mountainside from the town, but offered amazing views and unbelievably clean air.
Apparently the scenic coastal trail, Via dell’Amore, has been closed for quite a while due to a landslide. Not to worry, we embarked on a journey through a trail less traveled. Unbeknownst to us, however, lay ahead one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The single-track trail was rocky and very steep. We had little water and had no clue what we were getting ourselves into. Bella, the fittest of the bunch, climbed the mountain with ease. The rest of us gasped for air along the way, perspired profusely, and found new muscles in our legs that didn’t seem to be there before. Calories were burned and our lungs reminded us that we were alive.
In the 2 1/2 hours it took us to climb up and back down from Riomaggiore to Manarola, we encountered less than ten people. We weren’t even sure we were headed in the right direction until we spotted a hand-painted sign that read, “Manarola” with an arrow leading us towards somebody, somewhere that could sell us a cold bottle of water. Every painful step, every drop of sweat, and every labored breath evaporated in time once we reached the peak. To say the views were breathtaking would be an understatement.
My sister came to visit for a few days.
We drove up to Levanto, a town north of Cinque Terre with views just as incredible as Moneglia. This time, we were 1.5 miles up the mountain. We jogged our first trip down to town for dinner. I was breathing harder from walking back up after dinner than from running down. Just as we did when my Mom and Dad visited, my sister and I walked everywhere and even touch the car door handle until it was time to leave.
Next up: Two month TDY to Las Vegas for Exercises RED FLAG and GREEN FLAG in preparation for our deployment. I may have to sacrifice a night of sleep, but I’m looking forward to capturing the night sky overlooking Valley of Fire. I can see the stars shining upon the gorgeous fiery-colored rock laden State Park.