Monday, February 9, 2009

My First Trip to the UK

It was this month 9 years ago when I first set foot in the UK. I was amongst a small group who were issued orders for a temporary deployment to RAF Lakenheath, the largest American military base in the UK.

This was to be my 3rd deployment in less than a year since arriving in Germany and one that everyone looked forward to going on. The purpose of the deployment was to give air to air combat experience to both bases pilots although F-16s vs. F-15s is not much of a contest.

We left Spangdahlem in two coaches heading towards Calais, France to catch the ferry to Dover, England sometime in the morning. The ride was pretty uneventful other than the lack of comfort from being on a coach and getting stopped by the French Gendarmerie at the Belgian-French border. I do not remember if they stopped the bus I was on first or the other one but I remember them coming on board and wanting to see everyone's military I.D. and a copy of the deployment orders. I would say that we were held up for no more than half an hour before we were on our way to the port in Calais. It was all a little funny because none of the Americans spoke French nor did our German coach drivers and of course the Gendarmeries said they spoke no English. It seemed like the Gendarmeries didn't care after they realized no one spoke French and kind of gave up... Go figure.

I remember the bus driving onto the ferry and everyone going up to the cabin areas. It wasn't long before we took off for the port of Dover and everyone went in all directions exploring what the ship had to offer. The English Channel was especially choppy on this particular day. I remember leaning about 20 degrees to the side in order to walk without falling over. It was incredible. Unfortunately I and I assume everyone else had not had anything to eat since we set off from Germany about 5 or 6 hours earlier and we all set upon the small cafe on the ship before it set sail. Little did we know that upon hitting the extremely choppy waters we would all be losing our lunch.

When I felt the urge to vomit I headed to the bathroom and all the stalls were occupied with people vomiting themselves. I and another individual who was waiting could hold out and ended up puking in the sink... Good times.

We did finally land on the other side of the channel all be it a little late because of the choppy waters and continued on our coach ride up to Suffolk County. The base is about an hour and half to 2 hours drive north of London and it really did suck after being sick and having been stuck on the coach for the trip from Germany to Calais.

It was late afternoon or early evening when we arrived at the nearby base of RAF Mildenahall where the hotel (on base) was located where we would be sleeping. I was pleased to have my own room as we were told that we might have to bunk up 2 people to a room because of lack rooms. The rooms were very ordinary but had a very different smell to them. Not a bad smell, just different and I have since smelled it again at a couple hotels in other parts of the UK.

We were given a section of the flightline with 3 hardened aircraft shelters (HAS) to house our 6 jets and some other equipment that we had brought with us. My crew was given the responsibility of working the 'End of Runway' (EOR) which entailed performing a final inspection of the jet before it became airborne and then safing the aircraft up to go back to the flightline.
It was a cool job to have because you were out on your own and had more free time to do what you wanted when the jets were in flight.

I remember running back and forth from one end of the runway to the other as jets take-off and land on separate ends of the runway. Normally you have a crew on each end but as we limited in manpower we had to cover both ends and would end up speeding down the parallel runways in order to complete the tasks in a timely manner.

As we were there for 2 working weeks we has the weekend in between free to do what we pleased. A large amount of us were going to London but we all found our own separate ways to get there. The way my 2 crew members and I took was the cheapest by far though. I figured out by reading the base newspaper that they had a free bus service from the base to London Heathrow Airport on the western outskirts of London. From there we caught the Tube to central London to begin our fun filled weekend.

Only the supervising member of my crew was able to afford a hotel in central London so we ended up giving him £10 each to sleep on the floor of his extremely small room. I ended up with one of the livelier members of my work section looking for an even more lively place to dance the night away. We never found the London House music scene we desired but he did manage to find some ecstasy that he paid £10 for and preceded to drop. London proved to be a tad bit too expensive for me and I really just walked around for most of the night laughing at drunken people stumble over curbs and other objects that Brits are so famously known for.

We returned back to the base on Sunday afternoon via the same way we arrived to get ready for work the next day, We were quite shocked to hear that a guy from another work section got jumped in a large town nearby to the base name Newmarket while we were in London. Apparently he was waiting for a taxi back to Mildenhall and some guy came up to him and asked him some question and then proceeded to wallop on him with a few other friends. He was admitted to a local hospital and I don't remember seeing him until maybe a day or so before we were packing up to go back to Germany.

I do not recollect anything from the ride home other than the water in the channel being much more calmer than it was when on the way to the UK.

Overall I had a descent time in England. I tried some British 'food' and remember attempting to drink dark Guinness Ale but was not impressed with either of them. Never would I have thought I would one day return to the UK to live but that is what makes the whole journey fun I suppose.

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