USAF Snapshots of Life in the
US Air Force
I was on active duty in the Air Force for 22 years as a "civil engineer," meaning I worked in the organizations that maintain the facilities, utilities, pavements, and grounds on Air Force bases.  Since every place in the world that the Air Force can operate from has at least some facilities, civil engineers can be assigned pretty much anywhere.  I made some of those rounds and collected some photographs along the way.  These are some of my favorites--click on them to go to larger images. 
McConnell AFB, 1985 McConnell AFB, 1985 McConnell AFB, 1985
Davis-Monthan AFB, ~ 1993 As much as I sometimes griped about various bureaucratic office jobs, I had some great experiences and met some great people in the Air Force.  In the mid-1980s, McConnell AFB, Kansas, hosted active-duty KC-135s, Air National Guard F-4s, and an annual air show and open house. Watching the Thunderbirds perform is always fun; the best part is when most of the jets do a slow pass to one side, drawing your attention, and then a solo jet streaks over low and fast from the opposite direction and scares the living daylights out of you.  At another air show, years later in Tucson, Arizona, this lovingly restored B-17 greeted the crowd.
Osan, 1986
Me, as a lieutenant at Osan Air Base, Korea, in 1986.  The red castle marked "FED" is the symbol of the Army Corps of Engineers, Far East District, which supervised US military construction projects in Korea.  I loved those plain olive-drab fatigues...long since replaced by camouflaged "BDUs", they were honest, comfortable, hard-working uniforms.

19 years later, I posed next to the "Gulf Region North" castle while deployed with the Corps of Engineers at Balad Air Base, Iraq.
Me at Balad, 2005
Stop Ferris wheel at Kimhae Sunrise, muggy morning, Osan Korea
Alluvial fan Miscellaneous images from Korea:  A stop sign in front of a construction-site fence; some kids enjoying a hand-cranked Ferris wheel at a street fair in Kimhae; the sun rising on a crushingly humid morning in late summer.  At left, this perfect alluvial fan caught my eye one day after a monsoon-season rainstorm.  The storm brought a rush of sediment-carrying water spilling into an existing muddy-bottomed puddle, where the sediment dropped as the water slowed down.  Eventually the puddle drained,  leaving behind this miniature geologic masterpiece.
F-4s often held my attention in those days.  Big, loud, smoky, powerful, they were what fighters were supposed to look like.  Watching them light the afterburners for takeoff was always fun, on a clear summer evening or on a rainy fall night, as in the wobbly time-exposure in the center, below.  In another time exposure, at right, F-4s in the landing pattern approached the airfield as I watched from the roof of my dorm.  The Phantom's engines had a distinctive sound while the planes circled overhead to land--kind of a ring almost, a hollow moaning kind of sound, very different from that of other jets' engines.
Launching F-4s at Osan F-4s at night F-4s in the pattern, 1986
At right, a C-5 crabs into the wind on short final approach to Osan Air Base in mid-1987.  Not overly well known for their reliability, C-5s nonetheless impress the living daylights out of me...they're just so big.  Taking the sequence of photos below was a fairly memorable experience, as I'd decided my vantage point on the perimeter road wasn't quite close enough and snuck onto the airfield, just short of the runway overrun.  It seemed like a good idea until the airplane began to get really big in the viewfinder of my camera.  After snapping those last two pictures I hastily retreated, hoping the Security Police weren't about to pick me up.  They weren't, and it remains a good memory, although I wouldn't try it again. C5 arriving at Osan, 1986
C-5 departing Osan, 1986 Getting big in the viewfinder C-5 departing Osan, 1986
Hahn Air Base, West Germany, was in one of the world's most beautiful spots--on top of the Hunsrueck above the Mosel River valley--although you often couldn't see it through the fog.  But the fog did clear on occasion. Hahn Air Base
The Hunsrueck, early 1988 Evening light In a Riesling vinyard Hahn Air Base, 1988 Hahn Air Base, 1988
Hahn was east of the Mosel, Bitburg and Spangdahlem Air Bases to the west.  Spang is still there but the USAF left Bitburg and Hahn as the world situation changed.
The Mosel River winds among Riesling-covered hillsides and past medieval castle ruins, making its way northeast to join the Rhein at Koblenz. Mosel River vinyard Mosel River, 1988 Mosel River, 1988
CE troops Deployments for civil engineering troops usually mean long days, spartan conditions, and inevitably some hours sitting on a parking apron somewhere, leaning against a cargo pallet, waiting for an airplane.  I've had the good fortune to experience those days in the company of hardworking, honest, friendly people, who pulled together and carried their loads with dignity and good humor.  These photos are from Sidi Slimane Air Base, Morocco, in November 1987. Morocco, 1987
Sidi Slimane had been a USAF base in the 50s or 60s, and many of the old facilities were still intact, if run down, in the late 80s.  The old theater building reminded me of Jimmy Stewart and Strategic Air Command, saving the world in the movies I watched as a kid.  Being there, helping jets fly from that runway again, gave me a real sense of history, of having a small role in a long and proud tradition.
B-52 launching at Sidi Slimane, Morocco, 1987 B-52 launching at Sidi Slimane, Morocco, 1987 B-52 launching at Sidi Slimane, Morocco, 1987 Morocco, 1987

Delta Daggers
Space Shuttle Columbia, being ferried by a 747 back from its Edwards AFB landing site to the launch facility at Cape Canaveral.  The 747 had stopped at Davis-Monthan AFB to refuel.
Space shuttle
Some of the last F-106s, in the "boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona.  These jets were eventually converted to remote-controlled drones, to give fighter pilots some very rare opportunities for live-fire target practice.
The view from the boom operator's window in a KC-135 refueling tanker as a B-52 approaches for a fill-up, somewhere over the central United States.
Mid-air refueling
Filling sandbags at King Khalid Military City, Saudi Arabia, in December 1990.  As a young captain, I took about 70 other civil engineering troops from Davis-Monthan and went to the desert to build and maintain this base.  We all hated it at times, but it was one of the defining events in my life--along with growing up on the farm and becoming a father, it makes me who I am today.  
Wrecked F-4
Hoisting a wrecked F-4 onto a trailer, after it crashed a few hours before dawn on about the third day of the war.  Unable to land in dense fog at an airfield with no approach lights, and with no fuel to fly somewhere else, the crew ejected safely.  The airplane settled down in the sand and came to rest, amazingly intact.
Inside a "hardened" aircraft shelter at a base in Kuwait, after it had been occupied by Iraq and attacked by coalition forces during the war.  The structure consisted of an inner reinforced concrete arch a couple of feet thick, covered by several feet of earth and finally about three feet of unreinforced concrete.  Wasn't enough.
Al Jaber
 The team of firefighters that worked for me at Al Kharj Air Base, Saudi Arabia, giving me a proper sendoff just before I was reassigned to a base in Riyadh.  Gentlemen that they were, they let me take off my watch and boots before they dragged me over to this firefighting water storage tank and tossed me in.  Thanks, guys--I'll always remember you.
Into the water
My most unexpectedly-enjoyable assignment:  Thule ("Too'-lee") Air Base, Greenland.  Great people, exciting weather, amazing scenery.  In the summer of 1999, a couple of coworkers and I ran the 12 miles down from the radar site to the main base.  Temperatures in the low 50s, bright sun, meltwater streams rushing past the road, permanent icecap just a few miles off in the distance, icebergs calving off the glaciers into the fjord, big white arctic hares bounding along... that day was a special gift.
6 a.m. In Iraq in 2005, I didn't experience any of the big Cecil B. DeMille type sandstorms that other parts of Iraq sometimes see, with the towering fast-moving clouds of blowing sand, but we did have dust storms during the shamal, a hot summer wind from the northwest. The mornings were usually clear, but by afternoon the air was often thick with a fine brown dust. 3 p.m.
Driving through little villages on the way to project sites, I always saw people everywhere.  Walking, driving, riding bikes, pushing carts, unloading trucks, coming into town on a tractor or a donkey, selling stuff by the side of the road.  I don't have much happy to say about Iraq, but I couldn't help but be impressed with the resilience of people who go on about their business despite the uncertain and often dangerous environment.

I felt good about serving a tour in Iraq because if I hadn't gone someone else would have had to go in my place.  But I'm sorry that any of us had to go.  See my WishingForHeroes site for some political reflections.

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Copyright notice:  Unless noted otherwise, I wrote all the text and took all the photos.  Feel free to make any personal use of them, but do not make any commercial or public use of them without my specific okay.