Archive for august, 2005

Hurricane

søndag, august 28th, 2005

You are in New Orleans. The calendar on the opposite wall says August below the images of coffee beans. You are in a coffee shop, sipping your insanely expensive watered-out coffee-like concoction while taking advantage of the wireless connection to the outside world.

The buzz at the counter is friendlier than usual, and inbetween the shouting of made-up Italian words and handing-over of thick paper cups with beige plastic lids on, a couple of words are repeated. No, not “thank you” or “have a nice day” or even “caffè molto sottile, venti”.

“Storm season.”

Then you remember Katrina. Shit. Fuck. Oops.

You should have been somewhere else, but you aren’t. You gotta cash your paycheck first, and that takes some time. Besides, you aren’t done with your coffee yet. Hurricane or not, you are not going to leave a three dollar cup of coffee for some godawful hurricane. No way.

Eventually you disconnect from the world, pack up your laptop and make your way outside into the incredibly fucking awful humidity. The paycheck-cum-cash is burning in your pocket and subsequently hot-potatoed across the counter and transformed into greens.

You pass outside Bar 76 and recognize Marco behind the counter behind the glass behind the sidewalk behind the road. There’s a bar and in the pocket is a wad of money.

“Fuck this, I’m having a drink”, you utter to yourself, all Charles Bronson-like.

Marco just looks at you, mentally shaking together a glass of what you always drink when you’re around.

“Surprise me”, you say.

Marco surprises you.

New Orleans Hurricane (serves one)

  • A handful of ice
  • 60 ml light rum (151 proof or thereabouts)
  • 60 ml syrup tasting of passion fruit
  • 235 ml of a lime-like soft drink
  • Some lime juice.
  • A splash of rum which isn’t considered light

Pour everything except the heavy duty rum haphazardly into a shaker, shake the shaker about (put the lid on first) and pour everything into a nice looking glass. If the guy in the back doing the dishes has fled the county, use a paper cup or something. Be creative. Ask the coffee shop next door if you don’t have any. Carefully float the rum that didn’t go into the shaker on top of the mixture now in the glass or cup. Stick a straw into the drink and go from the bottom. Enjoy it while you can.

While your head starts emitting a pleasant buzz, you think Fuck this. Dallas can wait.

———

Kommentar: i august 2005 satt vi en hel gjeng i den såkalte catboxen på everything2.com. En av de som var til stede var en kar som bare kaller seg discofever. Han satt på en internettkafé i New Orleans og lurte på om han skulle rømme nå eller vente på noe de har i junaiten som heter paycheck. Så fikk jeg en personlig melding fra JohnnyGoodyear der han ba pent om jeg kunne skrive noe til discofever siden han ikke hadde tid selv. Hva annet kunne jeg skrive?

Dagen etter kom Katrina, og discofever forsvant i to måneder. Han har det mye bedre nå.

Unjoining the army

torsdag, august 18th, 2005

Among the usual deluge of junkmail and bills in my mailbox one day in May, there was a beige envelope with a little plastic covered window on it. In the top left corner, the national coat of arms with the familiar lion clutching an axe told this particular letter meant serious business.

Serious to me anyway. Sort of.

Through the window, my name was visible in laser printer typeface, and by then I had come to realise that this was no ordinary letter from the powers that be. Usually when I get the beige looking envelopes, they’re mass printed and mass mailed to lots of guys like me, ordering us to meet up at such-and-such place at such-and-such time. In the opaque window, my name used to be written in all uppercase, line-printer style. Inside you’d find the tear-off part which you’d sign and return to acknowledge your summoning.

Shortly thereafter - usually a few weeks - you’d suit up in your standard issue fatigues, some not so standard issue gear and go away for some hairy military training.

The letter in my hand simply told me that all this had happened for the very last time. It didn’t really say exactly that, but when you’re given a date and time which you’re supposed to show up at a military camp to hand over all your goverment issue stuff, you know it’s over. That’s how it works. So I’m told.

I am 37 and no longer a bodyguard/escort trooper with the Home Defense Escort Platoon. They’re relieving me from front line duty and placing me in the reserves after 11 years. No more four hour alerts, no more notifying the local lieutenant when leaving the country, no more two week male bonding in some deserted camp far away, and last but not least, no more governmentally sanctioned driving-like-an-asshole on forest roads, negotiating checkpoints in a spray of blanks or hunting down pretend snipers in the middle of the night.

I’m gonna miss the guys in my unit. We’ve been more or less the same handful of men doing this for the last eight or ten years, although we don’t hang out outside of the exercises. It’s not the kind of thing you make friends by doing. I don’t really know why it came to be that way, but no officer or NCO ever hid anything from us when trying to prepare us for what we were supposed to maybe do one day. I guess it’s not the kind of thing you sit in each other’s houses and talk about. None of us were of the “gun nut” type either; subscribing to Soldier of Fortune, owning rifles ourselves or spending weekends in the wilderness on “survival”. Those types were all weeded out early on, insofar as there was any selection process at all. I don’t know that either. One day I just got one of the beige envelopes and found myself as a bodyguard. After all, my military record is what it is. Or, was what it was.

You think that sounds strange? Well, I could tell you a lot about how the military used to be organised in this country, but the lowdown is simply that if you were able bodied and old enough, you became a soldier. It was mandatory. The conscript service dates back to right after Norway stopped being inhabitated by Vikings. Everybody did some sort of service, and nobody complained. It was what you did when you turned 19. Nobody was sent off to die anywhere (excluding to some rather unpleasant and incessant meetings with the Swedes), so nobody gave it much thought.

In 1987 I left for basic training, sitting around in a very cold hangar for the better part of a day before being allocated a bunk in a room with eleven others, carrying things which were mostly unknown to me.

They taught me a lot of useful things and a lot of things that in retrospect were pretty useless. After all, the Russian armoured columns never flooded the northern border posts, decimating everything in their way. But hey, I can still take care of my feet before, during and after a 30 km frisk (military style frisk, anyway) walk, and when I’m in the progress of freezing my butt off somewhere, I know a couple of tricks that will make me a little warmer.

I never found much comfort in knowing how three kilos of TNT feels like when it goes off ten meters from you though, but they spent a whole day teaching me that many years ago. You can think of that the next time you toil away in a warm classroom and decide that maths or biology are useless things to know. I can’t think of anything being more useless in anyone’s daily routine than TNT.

In an old-style photo album there’s a picture of me on a makeshift bed, stretched out with bare feet and some kind of smile. It’s taken in November 1988 after I returned from my first ambush patrol in South Lebanon. For reasons that are starting to fade, I volunteered for UNIFIL’s Norwegian battalion. It rained the whole evening and it rained the whole night since it was the onset of the Mediterranean winter. It rained the entire next day too. I have never been so cold, uncomfortable and covered in red, sticky mud before or since. This went on for the duration of the winter, only broken up by long hours at some deserted road junction checkpoint or perched in a white observation tower behind a ridiculously large set of German binoculars.

It beat being stationed at the smallest air base in the world though, because that’s where I was when I volunteered. The arrival of a plane - any plane - turned out the entire base. Rides in the ops car and aircraft guard duty was raffled out like they were luxurious goods or a couple of leave days. It was a different kind of boring.

After coming back from Lebanon, they took my completely worn out government stuff, gave me some money and told me to have a nice life. A few months later they sent me a beige envelope containing - in bureaucratic parlance - a welcome back, including directions to where I could go and get myself some government issue gear. Again.

The most useful things the military taught me during those 18 years, was how to hang in there while being incredibly bored and how you smell after one week without any personal hygiene. I’m not kidding. The other things a soldier needs to know, like how to hit something with a weapon, talk coherently on a radio set or that without your mates you’re nothing, they all became embedded in my spine. Those things are like taking a piss. Once you put the thing back into place and zip up, you don’t think much about it. You just go back to whatever you were doing before the tingly feeling in your bladder. But it’s all pretty useless now.

On June 7, 2005, I became a reservist. But really, I’m dismissed because of old age. You have no idea how that feels.

Now I’m just another guy with some war stories and a couple more weeks I have to make plans for every year.

Intercepting a bunny

fredag, august 12th, 2005

Captain Liland shuffled over to the small table in the ready room, periodically glancing down on his full mug of instant coffee, up towards the respatex table again, carefully balancing himself and the coffee mug back to kill more time.

The room was clad in fake paneling, had uncomfortable steel tube chairs, dog-eared magazines with done crosswords and a never ending supply of bad instant coffee. Lined up along one of the walls, their day-glo survival overalls hung like carcasses waiting for reanimation. Nobody goes swimming at 67° northern latitude in December with only your government issue flight suit protecting you from the cold, unrelenting sea. Along the coast of northern Norway there’s a lot of very cold, unrelenting sea, especially in the middle of December.

The ready room was in the alert area outside the cavernous hangars east of the runway, housing four guys waiting for the Badgers, Blinders, Bears and SIGINT Cubs on their routine Wednesday milk-run down the Norwegian coast. Amidst aircraft recognition posters and foreign squadron memorabilia, the pilots waited for the next inevitable high-speed trip out into the Arctic Ocean in their F-104G Starfighters.

Out to meet the Soviets in a high-speed, high-tech capoeira, snap a few black and whites with their Leicas and head back home, hopefully reaching the airfield while the last remaining pounds of fuel provided reassuring thrust and lift. If the Soviets turned around, they would let them mind their own business. Should they continue south, it was time to alert the Keflavik Phantoms or their UK counterparts in Leuchars. You can only fly so long in a tiny Starfighter without air-to-air refueling.

The room’s only phone rang.

“This is Yankee”, the businesslike voice at the other end said.

“Scramble two eff-one-oh-fours, vector three-one-zero, angels two-eight-zero, gate, contact Yankee channel one seven, backup one niner.”

Liland immediately pushed the alarm button to alert the line crew. He looked over at the orange suits on the wall and felt the tingle of adrenalin while listening to the last of the controller’s message.

They wallowed in their fluorescent suits out to the planes, Liland and his wingman, hurriedly crushing their cigarette butts just outside the barrack door. There would be no chance for another one for several hours.

“Whatcha think?”

“Naah. It’s Wednesday so it’s probably just one of the Cubs. They’re waiting for us up there, just like we’re waiting for them. Let’s go and say a big capitalist hello from the Royal Norwegian Air Force. No need to let our Russian friends bore themselves to death. I’ll bet you a tenner it’s 03 today.”

“You’re on!”

Minutes after strapping the plane to their backs, they were ready to go. The crew chief pulled away the wheel stops and they taxied out into the blistering Arctic cold. It was going to be a long afternoon in the fastest office in the world.

During the climbout, Liland got directions from AOC telling him where the zombie was and were it was heading. Under each wing he had a Sidewinder missile with a red band painted around the body. Hot missiles with real explosives inside, doing real explosive damage in real Soviet planes with real people inside. It was all a game, but this particular game had no referee and nowhere to turn if things went bad. There was no rule book either, except everyone’s sense of sportsmanship and the wish to get back on the ground. One wrong move and it could go wrong in more ways than it was possible to imagine.

Yankee vectored them perfectly onto the Cub’s tail, a transport plane with a ridiculous amount of ventral antennae. The weekly Soviet SIGINT flight was well underway, just as the weekly interception of it was. Another day on the job.

Liland’s wingman fell back to cover the intercept and photo session. Although the Cub had very little in the way of armament, the twin 23mm cannons in the tail could rip the Starfighter into shreds in a matter of milliseconds. But like an F-104 Starfighter isn’t bulletproof, an AN-12 Cub is neither bulletproof nor Sidewinder-proof.

320 knots at 28.000 feet. That’s not a particularly pleasant flight regime for a manned rocket with almost laughably short, razor thin wings. In order to match the Cub’s cruising speed, Liland had to fly with an angle of attack nearly that of landing.

Liland sweated under the survival suit while simultaneously balancing a near stalling aircraft on a thin jet beam while fiddling with a camera. Nobody got to sit in the ready room and wait for the phone to ring unless they had a perfect understanding of the government issue Leica. Their photos adorned publications in every part of NATO that had any interest in showing what Soviet aircraft looked like. In the portholes in the Cub flying a couple of hundred metres away, Liland’s 104 was photographed too, but they were in for a much smaller treat than Liland was.

Liland bled off a couple of knots to get a better view of the Cub’s tail when he saw the tail gunner waving at him, almost cheering. He snapped another two pictures.

“Huh? What on earth is that?”, he said to himself, muffled by the helmet and the deafening noise of the jet plane. The tail gunner was holding something up for him to see, but he couldn’t make out what it was, however much he squinted behind the helmet visor. A message? Did they want to defect with the spyplane? Was he being ridiculed in cyrillic? Instinctively he wanted to rub his eyes, but forgot all about it when the wingman came on, crackling through the ether.

“Lion two four. We’re bingo. Let’s go home.”

During the numerous intercepts he’d been flying lead on, not a single time had the Soviets attempted any kind of communication save for the occasional waving through their plexiglass windows. Now that they did, it was by the tail gunner in one of the slowest aircraft in the Soviet inventory.

“Liland? You took the pics of the Cub yesterday? You simply gotta see this!”

Liland recognised the photo interpreter’s voice on the phone, but he sounded like he was about to burst into laughter instead of his usual grave tenor.

“Yeah, I gotta see that. A smiling intel guy”, Liland grinned to himself while he mounted his bike to pedal down to HQ and the waiting spooks.

“I took a picture of WHAT?”

In front of him on the cluttered desk, the magnification of the tail gunner’s window showed a familiar sight, but Liland couldn’t believe what he saw. A naked woman suggestively soaping herself with a sponge.

“Ester Cordet”, the spook said, louder this time.

“Ester who?”

” I did some … er … research … on my own. Ester Cordet. Last October’s Playboy centerfold.”




This is a true story (with a lot of artistic license) from the NATO northern flank in the 1970’s, although I couldn’t find out exactly when it happened. Capt. Liland was a real pilot flying Lion 26 at the same squadron, but he flew an F-16 in the 1980’s and 1990’s. He was my parachute instructor in 1989. My apologies to him if he should ever read this.

You can see a photo of a RNoAF F-104 intercepting a Cub here: http://www.starfighter.no/web/Cub.jpg