26 August 2017

Navy Memories #12: North to the Future (Now With More Pix)

Previous installments:
  1. Boot Camp Memories
  2. About Those Navy Memories
  3. First Orders
  4. Anchor's Aweigh
  5. Man Overboard!
  6. Reflections of a Black Shoe
  7. Destroyer Life and Ports of Call
  8. Warships vs. Big Waves
  9. The Accident, and More Ports of Call
  10. The Black Sea - Operation Silver Fox
  11. 1975, A Year of Change

On June 1, 1975, my flight from Juneau arrived at Anchorage. The once-daily flight to Adak in the Aleutian Islands had already departed, so I spent the night in a hotel. The next morning, bright and early, I boarded the turbo-prop airliner to Cold Bay, Adak, and Shemya.

Why turbo-prop planes? Bob Reeve, founder/owner of the airline, had been a bush pilot in Alaska since the 1930s. When WWII began, he and all the other pilots began flying for the military. At the end of the way, the government offered various routes for commercial airlines. 

While the other pilots quickly grabbed routes and founded their companies, Reeve remained in government service for awhile longer. When he concluded his contract, all the "best" routes were gone. In fact, the only thing left was the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands.

The Aleutians form the boundary between the north Pacific and the Bering Sea. The warm Japanese Current flows northeast, to the south of the Aleutians. The warm area from the Current meets the cold air mass moving southward from the arctic, and the Alaskan mainland. This clash of weather fronts creates high winds, fog, rain, snow, and other unpleasant conditions.

And usually all at the same time.

Reeve believed that turbo-prop planes could deal with the winds more readily than jets, so he used the Lockheed Electra L-188.

Adak is 1,350 miles southwest of Anchorage, and the flights took about three and half hours. Each flight stopped either in Cold Bay or Dutch Harbor, on the way. I learned to love the drone of the engines on that flight.

Why, you may ask, have I provided so much info about the airline? Flying on Reeve Aleutian is part of the lore, the allure, of the place ... at least, among the veterans who were once stationed there. They've even written songs about it.

The island of Adak, showing the boundaries of the Naval installation in red.
The rest of the island was Alaska, but no one lived there.

The airport. It served one commercial flight, once daily on weekdays, and so didn't have to be very large.
And it wasn't. :)

Photo courtesy of Sandy Stevens Stringfellow,
a sailor with whom I served on Adak.

So I arrived on June 2, 1975, and was met at the airport by my sponsor (i.e., the petty officer I would be working for). He took me to the BEQ, Batchelor Enlisted Quarters, to be assigned a room in the barracks.

The Longview Barracks were only a few years old, and more closely resembled college dorms than a military barracks. In the picture below, what you see is four three-person rooms, around a central space which usually had a couch, a couple of chairs, and a TV.

I don't have a good photo of the Longview Barracks, but it's the one on the left edge.
The older wooden barracks, center, are across the road.

Why "Longview"? Here's the view from my room on the second floor: 

Looking easterly from Longview Barrack, across the base, piers, Kuluk Bay,
to the mountains on the other side.

Note: my Adak photos are of varying quality, depending on which camera I had at the time. Some sailors spent their money on cameras; I spent mine on guitars and stereo equipment. 

Then he took me to my new office in the Administration Building.

Admin Building, NAVSTA Adak

I spent the next two years working there. One thing any veteran can tell you is that nothing is static; we moved around some. The Personnel Office started on the 1st floor, to the left of the main entrance shown above. A couple months later, we moved to the far end of the 2nd floor. We moved files, regulation books, chairs, and so on. Someone else moved the desks and file cabinets, for which I remain grateful. :)

My first assignment was Receipts. That meant I was responsible for receiving every new sailor as they arrived at the Naval Station and checked their personnel records in. 

We received about 18 to 20 new sailors daily, and that was a lot of paperwork. I worked from 08:00 until 21:00 weekdays for four months, with 90 minutes for lunch. After those four months, I was exhausted, and asked for either a helper, or a different assignment. I actually got both. They moved me to the diary desk (more on that, later) and replaced me with two people.

Cindy and K.P. The diary desk is in the far corner, behind them.

At that time, the "diary" was an early (1976, so very early) computerized printout of roughly 50 pages, containing the name and rank of everyone who had orders to Adak, was currently there, or had been sent elsewhere. It was supposed to be more or less up today, but had to be verified monthly. The purpose of review was to assure accuracy. I had to notify the Bureau of Naval Personnel in New Orleans of listings which were incorrect in any way. I also had to send them a monthly list of names which needed to be removed, either because those personnel had been gone for months, or had been reassigned prior to arrival.

The Diary desk

In and out boxes, outgoing mail, and incoming regulation changes
which had to be inserted in the proper ring-binder
Everyone had a sign above their desk, supposedly to aid foot traffic. The diary desk
didn't get any foot traffic, except from others in the office.

There was a color code used for coming, here, or gone, but I won't bore you with the details. Meanwhile, the sailors on the Receipts and Transfers desks provided me with copies of arrivals' and departures' orders. I also maintained a card file of transfers (name, rank, destination, and new mailing address), in case anyone wanted to reach one of those personnel for whatever reason.

Before I forget, there was one other thing I tracked from the diary desk: the numbers of people on the island: military, family members, and civilian contractors. There were several commands on the island beside the Naval Station; the Communication Station, a Coast Guard cutter, the Marines, and a half-dozen other, smaller commands. All told, roughly 9,000 people on the island in 1976.

And here I said I wouldn't bore you details. Oops. I apologize for so much detail about the work routine; this is all to set the stage. Won't do it again, I promise.

* * * * *

If you ever speak with an Adak veteran, they'll tell you that the two most significant things about Adak were the landscape and the weather. Did I mention the weather?

Outdoors was WAY more fun than indoors. Now the fun begins; you know what I'll talk about, next time. 


drjim said...

Details are fine; they don't bore me in the least!

I had a friend who worked for NASA, at either Fairbanks or Anchorage, I don't remember which, but he was there when the big earthquake hit.

He said it looked like a wave at sea, but it was making the land move!

He and a buddy were out riding dirt bikes that day, and were up on some overlook when it came rolling in.

He said it's one of those things you see in life that you will never forget.

Rev. Paul said...

Jim, the '64 quake was a 9.2, and lasted for four and a half minutes. There were six- to eight-foot land waves rolling across yards, sidewalks, and parking lots. The north half of 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage dropped 30 feet, and shifted 20 fee sideways. I used to manage a mall that now sits atop where that hole was.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Love the memories. First hand looks back in time are always delightful.

LindaG said...

And you should be as wordy and detailed as you need to be. :-)
Enjoying these a lot. Thank you.

Rev. Paul said...

TB, I appreciate that. But I'm still not thrilled about being old enough to "look back in time." ;^)

Thank you, Linda.

Old NFO said...

Yep, weather... Bright, sunshiny day on takeoff, come back and land in a blinding snowstorm... That's Adak...

Rev. Paul said...

Or both at the same time. Snow out of the west, and sun from the east during the snowfall.

Mark Osher said...

I did the exact same jobs as a PN2 in 1981. Ironically we were on the first floor to the left of the mainentrance and quarterdeck.

Rev. Paul said...

So from Point A to Point B, then back again. Of course, the reason we moved upstairs in '75 was to combine the PNs with Yns, plus the Education Officer. Sounds like they split it all back apart again.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Maybe you should title it "Now with 30% more pictures". Somehow that always seems to make Raisin Bran more full of raisins....

Rev. Paul said...

LOL - good one! :^)

Mark Osher said...

No split. The inception of the Personnel Support Activity Detachment (PSD) began Navy wide in 1979. We handeled all personnel, educational services, transportation and disbursing functions for every command and person in/on Adak. I was there for 39 months and would have stayed longer if I could. Loved that tour!

Rev. Paul said...

So the merge continued; interesting. And you're right - it's an awesome place, and an outdoor lover's paradise.