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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mama Moose

Greetings fellow travelers on this journey we call; life.

I gain new respect for professional caregivers, especially those who deal with seniors, every day! Yes, we have been dealing with elder issues for the better part of 16 years, but to do it full time for multiple people who are not family, takes a special kind of patience. 

For the rest of us, I know that it wears hard on everyone to watch people you care about deteriorate and fade. On good days it is easier to be upbeat and philosophical and maintain a better attitude... but every day is not a good day, nor are there any guarantees included for tomorrow. All we can hope to do, is to do the best we can do for each day and take it from there.

We have had a full week of hauling Mr S. to appointments, a haircut, and shopping, with lunch at Jerry's every time. He is worn out but loving being the center of attention. I am afraid that we have also created the expectation that he will get to go somewhere every day and that is not realistic.

His doctor visit went well enough and we are getting control of his blood pressure again, bringing it back up to a reasonable level by cutting back on yet another medication. It is our good fortune that we are able to have him treated at the VA clinic in Fallon where he gets the very best care and we are able to get fast appointments and lab work and they know his physical history. If we had to deal with the generic medical world out there, he would be suffering. Dr C. told him flat out that he has no more options left regarding knee pain except pain killers. An operation is NOT an option as the stress of the surgery would kill him. Finally, something that he can understand and accept. Will he remember it? Probably not.

I had an appointment for an MRI on the 28th and could not do it. I went alright, and got all the way to the point of being on the table, but when the nurse started securing my head I was up and out of there. I have severe claustrophobia and felt trapped and could not do it. I have a request in now for complete sedation during the procedure. It is the only way that they will be able to get the MRIs needed (left shoulder and C-spine) to determine how to proceed with the repairs.

On a sad note, my Emperor scorpion Napoleon died this morning. I have no idea why. I also heard that a friend has lost 7 of his snakes to a mystery problem in the last two weeks so I almost feel lucky. Life is fragile for sure.

Today's story is another somewhat humorous tale of the human species trying to fit in. The setting is beautiful Alaska where many memorable tales just wait to be told and every day is an experience. Enjoy!

Mama Moose

In 1976 I was in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska and had just weathered my first arctic winter. The snows had melted except for the deep shade areas and life was picking up speed with an energy and sense of urgency that only Alaskan winters can engender.

Bright and early one Spring morning I went out to the control tower to open it up and get everything ready for the day's flight operations. As was my custom I was earlier than the regular reporting time so that I could check everything out very carefully. It was quiet and beautiful and no one else was around our end of the airport property.

As I slowly drove down the gravel access road I could see a cow moose lying in the bushes about twenty feet from the tower. It was not an uncommon thing and nothing to be concerned about I figured. As a general rule if you leave them alone, they'll leave you alone.

I parked my vehicle and walked around to the door, which was at the closest point to the moose, and she just chewed her breakfast and acted like I didn't exist, which was fine with me. I don't know how many of you have seen a moose up close, but these critters are taller at the shoulder than the top of my head and weigh more than a horse. You wouldn't call them cute, or cuddly, and they are completely lacking in the elegance of the deer family. Still, it was pretty cool to be able to walk by a moose twenty feet away from you and not be in a zoo or some other artificial environment.

Control towers are of necessity a secure area, and as such kept locked at all times. We had keys and in most places have electric door lock releases, to let authorized persons inside. The door lock on this tower building had a "mind" of its own and it often took a lot of fussing, cussing and fumbling to get the thing to open. Not something that could be done in a hurry. I got inside and made sure the door latched closed again and climbed the stairwell thinking how much nicer it was than winter time where it could be minus forty-five degrees and you couldn't take your gloves off or you would stick to the handrail.

As I got things turned on and tested, I noted that it was just about time to open for business. There were some helicopters cranking up on the ramp getting ready for their daily flights and I was still by myself; something that I would address in a rather "unfriendly" way when my troops showed up. They should have been there already!

I was done with all of the items on the lengthy checklist and turned off the rotating light on top of the tower which flashed when we were closed, indicating that we were now open for business. Having been in this situation before, I arranged the microphones and radio controls so that I could work everything myself from one position without having to run back and forth between consoles.

The telephone rings and it is my second-in-command for that shift and he is foaming at the mouth (angry, not rabid). The new officer-in-charge of the barracks where the single guys live had decided to hold an "accompanied" inspection with no prior notification. That means that every soldier must be standing by his room until the inspection is completed. My controllers are being held hostage and no exceptions are being granted for the duty crew. I told my man that as soon as anyone who worked at the tower completed their inspection to send them to the tower, whether they are scheduled to work or not as I was alone and flight operations were starting.

I quickly placed a call to our officer-in-charge and bent his ear about some new guy barracks officer playing silly games with my people when I had an airport to run and flight safety was being affected, etc. He assured me that he would personally go to the barracks and put a stop to it and send me some help, asking if I could operate alone meanwhile? I assured him that I would do my best, but if I deemed it to be unsafe I would stop flight operations and hold everything until I had a crew on hand. This brought a gasp in response as we both knew that the upper command would freak out if I held up the flight schedule. At that point I hung up on him as aircraft were calling me and I got busy.

As I was bringing helicopters down the taxiway to position them for takeoff I could see a dust cloud coming towards the tower. I was too busy to pay much attention to it, until it turned the corner on the tower access road and I could see that it was Jerry (my # 2) in his old beat-up green Ford pick up truck that used about as much oil as it did gasoline and smoked and sounded as if it were going to explode at any moment. Funny thing though, that old truck would start and run every time, no matter what the temperature was, even when the newer ones wouldn't start from the cold. One tough old noisy garbage heap!

I watched as Jerry slid to stop next to my International, sending a spray of gravel flying like bullets into the brush... and thinking how glad I was that he was much better at controlling airplanes than he was at driving... and then I had to look the other way to work airplanes.

A few minutes went by and I started to wonder what was keeping Jerry, as I knew he always bounded up the stairs like he was in a race or something. I looked down at his truck and he wasn't in it, so I just kept working traffic and puzzled over the delay. It was getting pretty hectic between the telephone lines and radios and working the aircraft and I was wishing that he would get up there and plug in and help. Even for someone as experienced and skilled as I was, it was getting to be a circus act.

What I didn't know was that Jerry needed help himself! When he drove up in that noisy truck it alarmed the cow moose and she got to her feet and was stamping and snorting, which is a bad sign. It was the sliding stop that really set things off though. That old Ford through gravel in the direction of the moose, which ordinarily would have made her turn and trot off, except for one, make that two, little things; a pair of twin moose calves which were lying down in the brush about ten feet out, completely hidden from sight. When the gravel went flying it landed on them and they squalled like you had ripped their tails out by the roots and that's when things got choice! OK, I will admit that moose babies are kind of cute, in an awkward soft looking way... but it doesn't last long.

Jerry was oblivious to his surroundings as usual (he was a city kid) and he didn't even know the cow moose was there until he heard a loud snort and heard the thunderous sound of her running... at him! He never did see the twins and he was almost to them when he saw the mama barreling down on him. He didn't have much time to react, but react he did! Zero to full speed in the blink of an eye and running like his life depended on it, because it truly did! It helped that the tower was built on a raised pad of compacted gravel about four feet higher than the surrounding ground and the cow had to run up that after passing her babies.

Even so, that mama moose was fired up, with blood in her eyes and hate in her heart, she was definitely out to stomp some human butt. Jerry took off around the control tower with the moose in close pursuit and was yelling at the top of his lungs for help, but I couldn't hear him as I had a headset on and was talking to aircraft.

A helicopter pilot finally spoke up and said to me over the radio, "Hey Tower, doesn't that guy know it's dangerous to play with a moose?"

I was not sure what I had just heard, so I said, "Say again?"

The pilot responds, "There is a guy in fatigues doing laps around the control tower with a grown moose right behind him."

Another pilot chimes in, "Yeah, he's made at least five laps around the building and it doesn't look like he is having fun Tower!"

It had to look like an Alaskan version of the Keystone Cops and it was a good thing that Jerry was able to keep turning around the building. If he had to run in a straight line that moose would have caught him in no time! He tried to stop and put his key in the lock and open the door, but there just wasn't enough time. We had seen a moose jump into the back of truck just the week before so he didn't want to try getting on top of the vehicles. The only thing he could think to do was keep running and hope she gave up soon.

After his fifth trip around the tower one of the airport firetrucks pulled up to the building to get in position for standby duty and Jerry ran right up the truck like it was a set of stairs! From there he jumped to the fire escape ladder on the side of the control tower and didn't stop climbing until he was inside and had closed and locked the door to the catwalk. I really didn't think that the moose was going to climb a ladder forty-five feet up the side of the building, but there was no convincing Jerry of that.

It took quite a few more minutes until Jerry was of any use to me at all and then all I could do was have him answer telephones as he was still too rattled to work airplanes. By the time the rest of my crew showed up the moose had moved her babies safely away from the loud machines and crazy humans and there was no more conflict.

The rest of the crew gave him an unmerciful ribbing about how he attracted females of the wrong species, were the babies "his", and asked what kind of aftershave he used, and was he considering running in the base marathon, etc. It did have a positive influence on the way he parked his truck (no more sliding stops) and how fast he drove on the tower road though, so all was not lost on him.


The new barracks officer did get told (by his boss) to excuse the controllers from further accompanied inspections from that day forward.  The down side was our guys had a very difficult time for the next month passing any inspections. They were drawing extra duty for failing room inspections where none of them had ever failed even once before.

I had a talk with the Command Sergeant Major about how the harassment was affecting morale and he made a couple of phone calls and everything calmed down again. It was another month before I found out that the new guy Lieutenant had been transferred to the 172 Light Infantry Brigade and would no longer be a problem. That may have been a coincidence, but I didn't ask. I have found that when things are going your way, it is best to keep your mouth shut.

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