Saturday, March 29, 2008

In the Hot Seat Now

Spent the latter half of this week completing the final spin up for my new job. The guy I'm replacing and I held the "Passing of the Blackberry" ceremony on Thursday. Friday came and I was off to the races. I had my quarterly phase simulators on Thursday and Friday, which added to the general "busyness."
I'm scheduled to fly on Sunday. Nothing big, just a short 3 hour local sortie. The AMC evaluators are in town conducting a major inspection, so we're going to get looked at. One of the inspectors is a guy who was the only guy I failed on a checkride during my schoolhouse tour at Altus, a point he reminded me of when I first saw him (it was the only checkride he'd ever failed). We've since had a tete-a-tete about the whole thing. Nothing personal...just business.
Wife has given me marching orders to go check out a couple of potential rental houses today. I've got tickets to go see them on 11-20 April. I'm looking forward to that very much. My kids have been sharpening their PS3 skills and are selecting Rock Band songs for us to play together.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter Kilts, Flying and Eggs

Had a great Easter weekend with Jay and his wonderful family. Church, chicken, and dying Easter eggs. The eggs were not only colorful, they have proven to be very tasty as well, serving as my breakfast for the past few days.

I flew on Monday on what turned out to be a beautiful, if atypical, Pacific Northwest day. We flew a nice low level up the Columbia River and over and around part of the Cascade Mountain range. When came back and requested to land a little early. Command post asked us why we weren't back 30 minutes ago. Ooops! Minor math error during planning gave us an extra hour of flying. Bonehead mistake.

Got some pictures from the family. I've been waiting for one in particular of the Scotsman, William, at his history fair. I was particularly pleased to see that he's one of the few people I know that can pull off wearing a kilt!

Here's some great egg coloring going on at Das Ritterhaus:
Isabella and Benjamin both appear pretty pleased with their work.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Week Off, But I'm Back!

Busy week. I'm taking a big drink from the firehose and learning my new job, Director of Operations for the 10th Airlift Squadron. What really cool is that I've got my own office--it's huge! The previous DO was a bit of a handyman, so there are all sorts of creature comforts. My wife has already volunteered to "spruce it up" for me [translation: "Don't touch anything until I get have no sense of style]. She's right. One of her funniest stories is the first time she came by my bachelor pad and saw the picture of Jack Nicholson as The Joker hanging (too high) on the wall.

New car is working out great. The New-Car smell is still wafting in the air everytime I get in. I figure I've got about 3 more weeks before the "man scent" covers it up. You know, that musky, outdoorsy, smell of testosterone and campfires, footballs and steaks. In other words, it smells a lot like feet. I'll be buying one of those air fresheners shaped like green pine trees to hang from the rearview mirror in about three weeks.

Arlene said they've gotten quite a bit of snow in Germany. I talked with my daughter this morning on her way out the door to go sledding with her brother the Scotsman. Not sure if he wears his kilt when he plays in the snow. Wouldn't put it past him, though. I've got plane tickets to go visit them in April and they'll be here for good in May. I can't wait. I miss them very much.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Boss Knows My Name

I was reading the Word this morning and came across Exodus 33:17:

And the LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."

I'm reminded of the scene in the Chevy Chase movie, "Christmas Vacation," where Clark Griswold's boss continually forgets/get wrong his name, despite the brilliance of Clark's work on various food additives. In the Air Force, as I'm sure it is in any large civilian corporation, it is often who you know that helps you move up in the organization. Fact is, there are so many excellent people, how does a leader choose who to promote? It often boils down to a simple matter of picking "the known commodity." A leader will go with the people he knows are good rather than take a chance on someone who is an unknown commodity. Some many folks work very hard to be noticed by the big boss.

I read this verse and I equate this in my life to the CEO of GM knowing the name of a simple stocker in the back room of a parts department in the Chevy dealership in Butte, Montana. Not just knowing his name though, it would be more like he knows everything about this person: His favorite color, his hopes and dreams, his weaknesses, his strengths. In fact, he knows more about him than the stocker knows about himself.

It struck me that God, the creator of the universe and each and everything in it, knows me that well. Not only knows me, but loves and cares about me and has a plan for my life. He takes the time to guide me, give me correction along the way, and who, I know, will be standing there at the end of the race to take me in His arms and tell me, "Well done, son." It's comforting, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Wheels

I bought a car last night. In my last post I mentioned the chain of events that led me to decide on the Honda Fit. As I drove away last night in my new car, I realize that I made a good decision. The car is a joy to drive. The engine, while not overpowering, is peppy enough for me. It handles like a dream and is very responsive. I can plug in my IPod and play it over the radio. I even love the color.

So I'm coming to grips with the fact that a South Carolina boy has passed on buying a 4-door, 4X4 truck, in order to purchase a Euro-car. My friends in Oklahoma would probably take me out back and horsewhip me. I'm going to call my new car it what it is...Euro. Perhaps it was my three years in Germany that made this purchase possible. I couldn't imagine buying something like this five years ago. In fact, a little over five years ago I had bought a Dodge Ram 4X4. THAT was a truck, my friends. Low gas mileage, little creature comforts, with enough power to pull down a fair-sized house.
With gas prices the way they are now, I'm sure I'll get over the Tacoma everytime I have to fill up. Yeah...I'll get over it real quick.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Back Home and Car Shopping

Back in the Pacific Northwest. We packed up most of the squadron and left Turkey early in the morning 5 March and flew 5 hours up to Mildenhall Air Base, England, where we stopped there for some gas and some tasty breakfast burritos (insert witty "breakfast-burrito-gas-comment" here). We took off for McChord AFB about 9:30 that morning, arriving 10 hours later. It was daylight the whole trip over and we had some great views of Iceland, Greenland, and Northern Canada. We were about a thousand miles South of the North Pole.

That was my longest sortie in about 9 years. I had forgotten how difficult it is for me to sleep on a plane, so I arrived at 11:45 in the morning Seattle-time pretty tired. Of course, you can't go to bed at 2 in the afternoon; you'd be wide awake at 2 in the morning. So I stayed up until 9 that evening...and woke up wide awake at 2 in the morning. This jet lag thing is a big drag.

I'm finally past the jet lag now, though. I've found me a little extended stay hotel to park my stuff in for the next 2 months until Arlene and the kids roll in. I'm busy looking around for a new car now. I test drove a 2008 Toyota Tacoma 4X4 crew cab on Saturday. My eyes glazed over and I was transported to a magical place somewhere beside a pristine mountain lake. My new Tacoma was parked underneath a giant redwood. My tent set up next to a small campfire. Trout were jumping in the background, dancing to the music of nearby songbirds. Soon my eyes drifted down to the sticker price and I was immediately ripped from my fantasy--I am convinced I heard a witch-like cackle from the car salesman. I phone call with my wife later brought me back to my senses. This Tacoma truck is not the smartest second car and we can take the Ritter Family Truckster camping.

So, I was sent with new marching orders to the local Honda dealership, a new Civic in the crosshairs now. Fun...removed. Okay, the Civic was nice, but it kind of cramps my "Mountain Man" image of myself. I thus reported back in to the Commander-in-Chief and brought my pouting "A Game." She said she could almost see my shoulders slumping and my bottom lip poking out from Germany. I smiled to myself. This might work. I may get the Tacoma. "These aren't the droids you're looking for," I continued.
"Have you looked at the Honda Fit like I asked you to?" AAARRRGGGHHHH! "Yes, dear."
Back to the Honda dealership for a test drive. What a pleasant surprise! I had a smile on my face the entire time I drove that thing. Maybe it was the shifter knobs at 3 and 9 on the steering wheel a la Formula 1 racing car. This car definitely appealed to the Michael Schumaker part of me. I'm sold. The wife was shocked but pleased. Everyone wins (except the cackling Toyota salesman).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Last Day in Turkey

Hard to believe the deployment is over. We hop on a plane to return home tonight. I'm part of the front end crew and will be responsible for getting everyone home safely. I just need to remember the directions--fly North to England and then hang a left. Got it.

Just finished John Adams by David McCullough, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. John Adams was truly a remarkable man who lived in remarkable times. I really liked how the people back then wrote letters to each other. These letters provided such an insight into their states of mind and thoughts about a variety of things. I guess that these blogs are just a different version of those same letters and serve the same purpose. Like my friend Todd has said, one day our grandchildren will go back and, hopefully, learn a little bit about what made us tick through these blogs.

Next post will come from the Great Northwest.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Not What It Seems

I'm headed home in about 2 days. Last night a few of us took the opportunity to go off base and do a little shopping. I ended up buying a nice machine-made Turkish rug. This is a bit of a gamble as this has not been cleared with the Frau. I might end up with a nice carpet to lay on in the garage when I change the oil in my car. My other purchase was a bit more of an impulse buy. I went into a store run by a man named "Mr. Rolex, " at least that's what he kept referring to himself as. He had Rolex and Breitling watches galore. I ended up buying a nice Breitling for only $75! Why, I should buy up the whole store and bring them back and make a killing!
Well, not exactly. It looks like a Breitling and even says "Breitling," but the sign on the wall of "Mr. Rolex's" store clearly stated that the insides of the watch are not Breitling but rather Timex or perhaps Casio. What the heck, the watch looks nice and, so far, keeps decent time. Reminds me of many stores in Korea that sell "knock off" items like this. We commonly refer to Korea as "The Land of Not-Quite-Right," for just this reason. I bought my wife what I thought was an expensive brand named purse in Korea. The lady I bought it from glued the logo on the purse which raised the red flag in my mind. I tried to pass it off as genuine, but the wife was on to me and saw right through it. Everyone knows but me...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Hero's Return

There are occasionally times when you get through with a project you've worked on, sit back, and say, "Man, that turned out really well." There is a Guard unit deployed with us here supporting the ongoing operations in Iraq. One of the members of this unit is a guy named Dale Storr. I was first made aware of Dale at Air Force Survival School training in 1995. The instructors showed us a video of a local boy who's A-10 had been shot down over Kuwait during the First Gulf War. In the video, the various instructors were asking him about his experiences and how his survival and resistance training had helped. I remember having a sense of the tremendous amount of respect the instructors had for him, that Dale had "done it right."

I returned from survival training to Charleston for my C-17 assignment there and subsequently met Dale's younger brother Doug. I grew to be friends with Doug and even met Dale on one occasion in the late '90s when he came out to visit his brother. I was surprised about a month ago to see Dale come walking into our operations room. I struck up a conversation and caught up on a few folks.

During one conversation, Dale asked about the possibility of hopping down to Iraq on one of our missions. We have flown many of these folks on these flights to give them an awareness of our mission, as they have taken some of our folks up on their aircraft as well, so this was nothing out of the ordinary. As we talked though, Dale mentioned that he had not been back to Baghdad since his 1991 release from his 33 days as a POW. This was going to be something special. Couple of calls, and quick signature from the boss and Dale was on.

To make a long story short, we were able to fly him into Baghdad on a perfectly clear day. He had a great aerial view of the cell block where he was kept at Abu Ghraib prison and got some great photos. He got off the aircraft at Baghdad and walked around a bit, taking it all in. He said the place had changed a bit since he was there last and that the whole experience was surreal.

I'm glad we could put something like that together for a true American hero.