As I was readying to leave Georgia, headed to make the trek West, the cute girl (now fiancee) driving me to the airport looked at me, somewhat askance….
“You’re headed to summer camp”….
Huh? Never really thought about going out to fly fires as “summer camp”….but it got me to thinking. Summer camp, as a kid, always involved “church camp”. No sir, none of those fancy/schmancy camps where you go and have catered meals. We stayed in rudimentary cabins. No air conditioning, and in West Texas the lack of air conditioning approached child abuse.
The food was relatively healthy…fresh goat meat, occasionally a hamburger, beans. Always there were beans….and if you were a junior high age boy, that provided it’s own source of amusement. Activities varied from sitting and having worship services, to cleaning, to organized games…and the ever present campfire at night. Not that we were going to suffer too much from lack of heat, but it did seem to provide an internal warmth that I remember to this day. I still love a campfire, even if it’s way too warm to *really* need one.
We had the morning class/lecture/inspirational talk. Most of them were clearly unremarkable, other than the fact that they seemed to be delivered by people who truly believed what they spoke. Lunch was a time to look forward to, if for nothing other than being able to get out of the heat, into the air conditioning, and get something down to quiet the growling from your stomach after breakfast had long worn off.
The fire season day usually begins about 5:30 am or so for me. My body is still on Eastern time, and even when in the Eastern time zone, I was an early riser. “Show time”, or the time that we have to be ready to be utilized, is either 0800 or 0900…0800 today. Because I am the relief pilot, I get out to the air field a bit early, to go over the plane that has been flown by another pilot for the past couple of weeks. My mechanic/driver/loader (another Stan) helps me get things ready. Naturally, the rudder pedals have to be adjusted….which, in an 802, is really easy….if you are 5’0″ tall and weigh about 125 pounds. For those of us who are taller, heavier, and have an abdomen that has expanded over the years, it’s not quite that easy.
Bending over, trying to avoid impaling my head on the control stick, opening a nice laceration on my right arm, and using a few choice words somehow helped get the pin into the correct place. Better to suffer for a bit early, than suffer sore ankles and legs from pedals that are way too close. (Ever notice how mechanical objects seem to require the shedding of blood?)
Then the morning brief. The weather report is read in a monotonous tone (but how in the world can Battle Mountain, Nevada, be too excited about a front moving moisture in over Ohio?), and the fire “sit report” (situation report) including Alaska, is read as well. A discussion of the LAL (lightning activity level), the Haines index (google it), and the mixing level of winds occurs.
Time for PT. The young, healthy, fit ones go for a run. Us slightly older…(well, maybe a lot older) ones walk around the base. Some of the guys go off for a cigarette and a cup of coffee. I take a path leading out to an old abandoned C-123, with the JATO still mounted on top (Jet Assisted Take Off). I ponder what it was like to take an elderly, much used work horse, add a jet engine to it, load it with retardant and light the fire in the jet, put full power to the old radials and hang on. More likely, add all the power and hope that nothing broke, and that you could get the thing airborne.
Now, waiting on lunch.
You know, there are certain parallels. Maybe this really is summer camp.