Operation: Tuna Pilot vs Operation: Iraqi Freedom (Nov 17)

Operation: Tuna Pilot vs Operation: Iraqi Freedom

Ok – it seems weird to even compare the two but I think this will help me explain a bit of what life is like out here. I lived in a small room in a metal container in Iraq, out here, I live in a small bunk, in a small room, in a metal container shaped like a boat. I like it though, it’s cozy. Picture this, me on my bunk, the left side lined with my back pack, small duffel, bags of groceries to last me the month, and then a small shelf at the foot with my chargers for cameras, GPS, laptop, cell phone (you never know when you might need to make a call). There is a thin bit of plywood next to where my head goes – I suppose to provide my face with some privacy and a runner along the side to keep me from being ejected by the pitching and twisting of the Caribe as we cut through the open ocean. I Velcroed my alarm clock to the plywood so I can reach it when I’m laying down, and see the time. It now also serves as a dual purpose clock and nightlight. Cool!

In Iraq when we weren’t working we were relaxing, often in our rack feet up watching a movie or playing a game or at the gym. Here, when I’m not working I’m in my rack doing the same things. We don’t have a gym though, just a makeshift pull-up bar near the door to the flight crew cabin. I did add climbing the observation tower to my workout routine, I do a few trip up and down the –what I feel is- 100 foot tall tower. So that’s my gym, a pull up bar on the open deck behind our cabin, pushups on the helicopter deck, and a major set of ladder climbs. Can’t much run on this thing, so I’ll need to work some squats in. Oh yeah, and situps/crunches in my rack.

In Iraq there was that constant danger of getting shot or blown up, and this is where the comparison gets a bit fuzzy, because out here there isn’t anyone actively trying to kill you. That being said, you try washing a helicopter on an open deck in ridiculous pitching seas and tell me that your life wasn’t in the balance.

That’s another thing we have here that wasn’t around in Iraq – corrosion. I knew coming into this it would be a constant battle but I had no idea about how hard it would be to gain any footing. The ocean is ALWAYS there. We’ve been in open sea for only 2 days now and every part of the boat, ladders, railing, controls, has a thin layer of salt on it. It’s remarkable – and frightening. Every morning now I get up and the first thing I do after brushing my teeth is go and hose off the helicopter and rinse off the salt layer from over night. Then I go eat breakfast. My mechanic goes up after breakfast and washes the helicopter again (I don’t tell him about my morning rinse down because I don’t want him to stop his morning washes). Then after lunch, I go back up and wash the helicopter again, a nice fresh water bath. And you might think that there wouldn’t be much of a salt build up in only a few hours, but it is immense. You could literally brush the salt off of the helicopter and into a shaker. Finally after dinner, another bath from me, and then my mechanic goes up at the end of the day and hoses it down again. I don’t tell him about my after dinner wash either because I figure the more fresh water on the hub and blades and tail rotor and…well everything…the better.
They say we are sailing toward Tuvalu fishing grounds, which still doesn’t mean anything to me beyond the fact that I might get to fly finally. The wind has been so strong, and the seas so large that we haven’t been able to do anything for flights yet. I’ve spent a bit of time in the cockpit just getting familiar with how it feels – I’m extremely grateful for everyone that suggested buying and bringing a seat, I can see how these old mesh seats could get old after some time. I toyed with the GPS a bit, and have been brushing up on my pilotage math – because the Caribe doesn’t have a functioning GPS locator. So getting back to the boat is going to depend a lot on knowing where I came from, what the wind is doing, and how fast the boat was moving when I left. With all that I should be able to get back into the ballpark of the only place to land for hundreds of miles. Welcome to the adventure.

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