(with some help from Lynne)
When we touched down on Guam on Tuesday (everything is “on” rather than “in” Guam, presumably due to its island status), the flight crew of the C-5 informed us that the next leg of the mission would depart for Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan in about 24 hours. We were all extremely skeptical; rightly so, as it turns out, but that part comes later.
Through the magic of Skype, Dad was able to get in touch with his friend from Spain days, Max, who is stationed on the island. He was gracious enough to collect us from the terminal and host us during our time on the island. We were only sorry that his lovely wife Sally and their boys were not there as well.
Dinner at a nearby Korean restaurant was quite an experience! As each of us ordered, the waitress looked extremely uncomfortable, and gently and repeatedly asked each of us if we would like rice as well. Some dishes were great, others definitely a “fail”- totally operator error on the part of the one doing the ordering!
We had the evening to enjoy the fabulous view from Max’s 11th floor beach condo, and Dad, Mom and Max caught up on family doings and reminisced about old times. Max has been to most of the places that we plan to go in Asia when on humanitarian missions, so he was a great font of information!
We reported back to the passenger terminal at 11:00 for the 12:00 showtime. As expected, it had been delayed until 18:00. After a few hours of waiting, we went through the motions of checking our bags and boarding our beloved C-5.
I have not yet taken the time to explain fully explain our flying situation. C-5 airplanes are massive creatures designed to transport large volumes of cargo and small volumes of passengers. The body of the plane consists of an enormous chamber used to hold whatever the military needs and an area above this cavern for passengers. This space is what would happen if a commercial airplane and a 1950’s Greyhound bus had offspring. The C-5 also has a distinct odor which is a combination of Port-A-Potty and engine grease. We thought we were just being wimps until a particularly foul odor was emanating from the W.C. and a crew member passed up and down the aisle spraying air freshener. Dr. Dad explained that all air freshener does is anesthetize one’s sense of smell, but we were still grateful. Flying on a C-5 is also somewhat disorienting because the seats face backwards, there are no windows, and everything has a quality of typical military spartanness. We learned that C-5s are being phased out and the remaining vessels are breaking down left and right; in fact, our C-5 was on its final voyage! That explained a lot…
At 22:00, we climbed the enormous flight of stairs that leads to the cabin and sat down, ready to fly. Initially there was much banging around in the cargo hold, and after a couple of hours on the tarmac, it was announced that they were missing some parts needed to strap down the pallets, hence the delay. Next came the pounding rain battering our C-5. My family tells me that the cargo had been secured, but the monsoon conditions delayed the flight next, and the flight had been delayed so long that the crew now needed a 12 hour mandatory rest! I can relate since I was too busy taking advantage of the reclining capabilities of the C-5s aging seats to remain conscious for these events, but the rest of the family was rather frustrated by the whole ordeal.
We exited the C-5 through the belly of the plane this time and returned to the passenger terminal at 03:00. Joy overcame fatigue when we heard that there was a C-17 scheduled to fly directly to Yokota, Japan (our next destination), which would cut out the Kadena stop that the C-5 was scheduled to make. We spent the rest of the night in the highly air-conditioned Guam terminal playing cards and drinking hot chocolate from the vending machine. In the morning, we had little trouble obtaining seats on the C-17.
In contrast to the smelly old C-5, the C-17 was much newer. This plane did not have a separate cabin; instead, we were seated in the cargo hold on fold-out seats bordering the area. In a shameless stroke of military recruiting, Nate was invited to sit in the cockpit to experience takeoff from the point of view of a pilot. When we reached cruising altitude, we were permitted to move about. We immediately sprawled out on the floor for reading and naps. Having so much extra space made the four-hour flight seem like a breeze, and we soon touched down in Yokota, Japan.