TKE Beta Pi Alumni Serving in the Middle East

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Michael Picciano (beta pi 1054, ME '95) is flying F-14 Tomcats for VF-32 "Swordsmen" aboard CVN-75 USS Harry S Truman which is in the Mediterranean. Mike normally lives in the Norfolk area. E-mail him at piccianoma @ vf32.navy.mil (sorry about the spaces but we're trying to foil the screen scrapers).

Here is an article about what Mike is doing.

Tomcat top guns
A young Navy pilot joins with other "incredibly gifted young" flyers to fight the war against terrorism
By J.D. Wetterling

THE U.S. NAVY'S F-14 TOMCAT IS a swing-wing, twin-engine fighter capable of speeds over Mach 2-twice the speed of sound. In its 30th year of service, the Tomcat is older than many of its pilots and the aircraft carriers it lands on. It was a mainstay of the Afghan air war, stalking the skies 24/7 with updated night-vision technology and launching laser- and satellite-guided "smart bombs."

The young men (and a very few women) who crew the Tomcats-a pilot and a Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) fit in each-are the most highly motivated, talented, trained, and unabashed patriots Americans could ever hope to have. Fighter pilots today get paid to do what they would gladly do for free, driving a bullet around the wild blue. It's a feat 99 percent of all young men could only dream of, and most would lose their lunch if they tried.
One of the pilots, nicknamed K-robb, is a Naval Academy graduate who set foot on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Arabian Sea just eight days after graduating from Tomcat school. The Stennis is a floating steel office building, apartment, airport, and hangar rising 18 stories above the waterline with a flat, 4.5-acre anti-skid steel roof. The Stennis is home to 5,500 souls dedicated to the support of up to 80 fighter planes, and it's a bigger stick than Theodore Roosevelt ever dreamed of when he announced his soft-spoken strategy for international relations.

Three weeks after arrival K-robb was sitting in the cockpit of his F-14, the sharp end of Roosevelt's stick, one shaped like a spear point when its wings are swept back. K-robb was ready for his first combat mission as a member of Navy squadron VF-211, called the "Fighting Checkmates." There were plenty of reasons for a raw rookie or even a veteran to be afraid. All had heard the dire media warnings about a faraway, hostile land with legendary Afghan warriors unsubdued by external force since Alexander the Great. Every fighter crew had heard of the sporting games the enemy played with the severed heads of their Russian foes in an earlier war. When K-robb entered the fray the enemy was holed up in an area of the Hindu Kush mountains in eastern Afghanistan, some of the most hostile mountainous terrain in the world. Over such territory one enemy missile, one bullet, one loose nut, or one broken turbine blade out of hundreds spinning at 1,400 rpm in an aging engine built by the lowest bidder, and K-robb and his RIO could experience a "nylon letdown" into their worst nightmare.
But such fear gets willed into the subconscious on the catapult aboard the aircraft carrier, which sends the Tomcat into the air with a six-G kick-six times gravity-that drives the stomachs of the pilot and his RIO into their spines. In two seconds the plane accelerates past 150 knots, trailing thunderous twin blowtorches. In K-robb's words, "A cat shot is the greatest roller-coaster ride you ever had-times 20."

The route to the target was not a two-hour sight-seeing trip, especially for a new guy. K-robb's fear of "messin' up" exceeded his fear of the enemy. He was part of the operation launched March 1, 2002, to drive Afghanistan-based terrorists out of their last and most formidable mountain stronghold. In the airspace in the vicinity of an eight-mile box of geography more vertical than horizontal, dozens of fighters and bombers orbited in holding patterns waiting for directions from "Bossman." That was the call sign of an airliner-sized command post loaded with electronic gear and controllers called AWACS-Airborne Warning and Control System.

Air warfare today is an immensely complex choreography with a web of instantaneous audio and visual communication links between earth, sky, and outer space reaching all the way to the White House. The Tomcats were flying air support for the small, "crazy brave" teams of Special Forces troops, called Forward Air Controllers (FACs), who had infiltrated the snowbound, thin-aired terrain to find the enemy and the caves in which they hid, and to direct air strikes on them. With such information, the Tomcats were able to stay 5,000 to 25,000 feet above their targets and five to 10 miles away, while delivering weapons with more accuracy than a Vietnam-era fighter pilot delivered from 50 feet above the target. The RIO is the human factor responsible for that incredible accuracy. Managing the smart-bomb deliveries, analyzing the imagery, punching in target coordinates for the Tomcat's JDAMs (satellite-guided bombs), or fixing the target in his laser crosshairs for GBU-12s (laser-guided bombs) is no easy task, especially while hurtling through space as a cramped, heavy-breathing passenger maneuvering in three dimensions and fighting the vertigo induced by G-forces that assault inner-ear balance mechanisms.
The RIO's window on the world is a square computer screen with multiple shades of green, the product of infrared sensors creating a picture, in daylight or darkness, of what is on the ground. That screen and the instruments surrounding it feed him vast amounts of information that he must interpret and react to as quickly as possible with a delicate touch on his laser control. The difference between being the best and being a close second can mean life or violent death for an American soldier on the ground or for an innocent bystander, the enemy's cover of choice. While "collateral damage" is a non-issue for our foes, the sanctity of one innocent life still drives America's rules of war, even when that puts our own soldiers at greater risk. It is drilled into the head of every airman who pickles off a bomb, and it's a major part of the stress under which he works. One mistake can end a career. Two Air National Guard fighter pilots are currently facing a court martial hearing for accidentally killing four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. If convicted of all charges they could spend up to 64 years in prison.

Every veteran Tomcat crew has an anguished tale of a rich target that was passed up because of nagging doubts as to authenticity or possible collateral damage. All of them have heard the FAC on the ground frantically calling, "Abort, abort," just seconds before they were to drop a bomb because of a change in the fluid chaos of the battle.

There are few trades that demand so much of a person. In a press conference Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, "We have some incredibly gifted young men." K-robb's inaugural run went well, but his day was far from over. He had to find another tanker plane over the northern Arabian Sea and fly his refueling probe into a 20-inch-diameter basket-a giant metal badminton birdie-at the end of the tanker's refueling boom angling down from below its tail. With the Tomcat's big twin tail fins poking up into the tanker's slipstream, K-robb had to close in precisely and then match the tanker's airspeed as the Tomcat got heavier and heavier with fuel. Every six- to nine-hour mission in support of Operation Anaconda took at least three refuelings.

K-robb's hardest task came when he was exhausted: flying the Tomcat from 150 knots down to zero in two seconds as he came aboard the carrier. Unlike a committee-driven airliner gliding from over the horizon onto two miles of stationery concrete, a flight of Tomcats arrives 800 feet overhead the carrier at 500 knots. In 15-second intervals each plane smartly banks 80 degrees, making a U-turn onto a racetrack-landing pattern, a thrilling sight for the crews working on deck. Turning onto final approach at 150 knots with wings swept wide like a gliding goose, the Tomcat driver aims at a 600-foot-long runway moving forward at 30 knots with a small sideways vector because of the carrier's angled landing deck. It also has a vertical vector, bobbing up and down as much as 20 feet, depending on the seas.

The pilot must land on that moving runway so that his tailhook snags one of four arresting cables-ideally the third-spaced 40 feet apart beginning 60 feet from the blunt end of the ship. There are no other options aside from trying again, so the instant his wheels hit the deck the pilot jams his throttles full forward so that he still has flying speed, should his tailhook bounce and miss the cables, a not uncommon occurrence. Success is a jarring deceleration with two tired, sweat-soaked bodies straining against seat belt and shoulder straps-sweet pain indeed. And the Tomcat and crew have earned the right to do it again tomorrow or tomorrow night. With all the turmoil in the Middle and Far East, the end of such tomorrows is not in sight.
-J.D. Wetterling was a fighter pilot in Vietnam

Here're a few words Mike has to say about life at sea waiting for something to happen:

"...We left on 05 December, but for AT LEAST 6 months. There is a scheduled return date, but I'm not buying any summer clothes yet, if you know what I mean. I really hope we make it back in time. I am truly looking forward to the summer at the beach and taking a lot of road trips. Nowadays I take road trips, not in a Mustang with enough bass to blow your head clean off, but in a 70K pound Tomcat with afterburners loud enough to blow your head clean off. Plus I can cover a lot more ground. However, staying sober enroute is a requirement.

We are still out here, and are now in our 4th month ( I am sure you can do the math ). We are pushing 45 days at sea. All of this uncertainty and sliding deadlines has made everything quite a redass. I try to sleep as much as possible to make the time go by faster. I wake up, workout, eat lunch fly, nap, watch some movies or the Sopranos, and go back to sleep. I am logging 10 -12 hours a night, which is night [sic]. I have somehow grown accustomed to all of the noises on the boat, and can now sleep through the launches. This is no small feat. When a jet goes off the cat, it is like a bomb going off 20 feet over your head. When the shuttle hits the water break, it is LOUD. It's amazing what you can get used to.

The flying is great out here, but that's about all. Quality of life is generally low, and hinges heavily on the food, which is generally shitty. Mark would be King Kong out here. Even shitfaced and on narcotics, he can cook better than these retards.

Morale shifts on a daily basis, including my own. Some days are great, when I actually love being out here, and can't imagine doing anything else. Other days I would rather doing anything else. Any day I would pay $100 for the shitiest bottle of Vodka know [sic] to man. The people are great, though. I live with 3 really good guys, and at times it reminds me of the fraternity. The rooms are about the same size, the setup similar. I am lucky to be out here with some great people.

Hope all is well.

Stay in touch.

Your friend somewhere in the Med -

Mike"

Here is an article about Mike and the other pilots flying off the Harry Truman. The article appeared recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Posted on Thu, Apr. 03, 2003

Training over, two fighter pilots get to do the real thing: Drop bombs
By Sandy Bauers
Inquirer Staff Writer

SANDY BAUERS / Inquirer

Lt. Michael A. Picciano of Haddonfield with flight-deck crew during downtime.

ABOARD USS HARRY S. TRUMAN, in the eastern Mediterranean - One flew into the night. The other followed hours later, taking off into the gleaming sunlight. One was making his first combat flight. At 27, Lt. Michael A. Picciano of Haddonfield, N.J., was still a "nugget" - older pilots joked that he needed polishing - but he wasn't scared. "Most of the guys are just nervous about not wanting to make any mistakes," he said.

The other had flown plenty of missions over Iraq. Lt. Cmdr. David Dorn, 32, born and raised across the Delaware in Northeast Philadelphia, had learned a thing or two, including this: "Dropping bombs is an impersonal business."

"Psycho" Picciano and "Rags" Dorn fly F-14 Tomcats, airborne versions of muscle cars that scream through the sky at twice the speed of sound. Their Tomcats are flung off the carrier's deck by giant catapults that take them from zero to 150 miles per hour in two seconds. In 12-hour missions, including before-and-after briefings, they fly to Iraq, refueling in midair three times from tanker planes, and drop bombs weighing up to a ton on bunkers, and terrorist camps, and Iraqi command posts.

And they love almost everything about it.

"Who wouldn't want to be a fighter pilot? It's the best job in the world," Picciano said.

He'd been studying mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech when a frat brother took him up in a Cessna, a plane "as small as they come." They soared over the red clay of Georgia and "I just fell in love with it," Picciano said. He graduated from college in 1997 and two weeks later was in officer candidate school. Dorn had wanted to be a pilot since the fourth grade, when he interviewed one for school. Though Dorn suspects it was the uniform that hooked him, "from then on, there was never any doubt about what I was going to do." After getting a mechanical engineering degree from Drexel, he reported to the Navy. Out of Dorn's ROTC class of 28 people, three were selected for pilot training. He's the only one who finished. In his next "winging class" of 13, he was one of three picked to fly jets. Of the three, only Dorn is still flying.

Most pilots like combat exercises best, training for a midair dogfight. They like to come in fast and low, to do crazy turns and "pull a lot of G's." The only part no pilot really likes is night carrier landings. "It's the most unnatural thing," Picciano said. "You're flying on instruments. The boat is dimly lit. You don't even see the landing area until 10 seconds before you hit, and that's on a clear night." To come roaring in just feet above the stern of the carrier, thumping down, hoping that a hook on the rear of the plane catches one of the arresting wires - all the while, gunning the engine in case the hook doesn't catch and they have to take off at the other end - is something that still plays with their nerves. During landing, every foot the jet is too high on its approach means it will be 16 feet off on the deck. "If you're 5 feet high, you just missed all the wires," Picciano said.

But this is what they want to do, what they're compelled to do.

"There are moments of clarity up there," Dorn said. "You get a bright, sunny day, puffy clouds here and there, and you kind of leave the plane behind. It's like you're flying alone." At night over the ocean, accompanied by the moon, "it's like being in space."

Now, they were flying bombs into enemy territory.

At briefings before their missions, the pilots sit in huge airplane-style chairs in the "ready room," their squadron's sword logo plastered everywhere. On the wall is mounted a bed-sheet-size calendar that wives have made with photos of their children and families. Rage Against the Machine blares from speakers as they don helmets and flight vests and night-vision goggles and zip themselves into desert survival gear. They don't focus on whether they might be hurt or killed or whether their bombs might hurt or kill someone. They're Navy officers on a mission; this isn't a time to be philosophical. With today's more accurate bombs, there's less angst about civilian casualties. Still, Picciano wondered whether his first combat mission would be a watershed. Two weeks ago, he had never killed anyone. "I wondered if I'd feel anything about that," he said, "anything bad or somber."

The answer came several days later.

Picciano and Dorn, on separate missions, flew to northern Iraq. To Picciano, the countryside looked like Nevada, where he had trained. Everything went just as it had during training and yet there he was, dodging anti-aircraft fire, seeing explosions to the south in Baghdad. It was hectic, and stressful, and surreal, he said. Picciano kept in contact with a ground soldier and could hear the excitement in his voice: "Great hit! Direct hit!" Only when Picciano was headed back across Turkey toward the carrier did he begin to relax and think. "I can only think that us going out there and doing that saved American lives," he said later. "You can't think of it as going out there and killing somebody. You think of it as, 'All right, we did our job; we hit our target.' " He added: "I didn't feel the least bit bad about it. Once the war starts, people are going to die. The best thing you can do is end the war as decisively and quickly as possible." Likewise Dorn. "We all want to make a difference," he said. "Every single mission we fly, and every bomb we drop, I honestly feel it saves lives." Returning, if they have enough fuel, they fly fast. The sooner they get back, the sooner maintenance crews can ready the planes for their next sorties.

Tomorrow, in all likelihood, they'll do it again.

Some photographs sent by Mike on Sunday 06 April 2003:

 




Daniel Prochazka (beta pi 1087) flies E-2C Hawkeyes for VAW-115 "Liberty Bells" aboard CV-63 USS Kitty Hawk and is in the Gulf or in the Arabian Sea. This vessel's home port is Yokosuka, Japan. E-mail him at Daniel.Prochazka @ cvw5.navy.mil (sorry about the spaces but we're trying to foil the screen scrapers).

A photo found after "extensive" research (Dan on the far right...)

An article about the kind of work Dan and his crew do:

Issue Date: April 07, 2003

We've got your back
Navy air units clear way for ground troops en route to Baghdad

By Mark D. Faram
Times staff writer

ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK IN THE NORTHERN PERSIAN GULF - For the first time in several days, the sun reappeared over this carrier's steel deck on March 28, clearing the way for the air wing's continued shift from bombing buildings to supporting ground troops.
Gone were the sand and rainstorms that blanketed the Persian Gulf for much of the past week. Aviators walked to their planes, and the ship began to settle into another day of 16-hour flight operations.

Early speculation of a cakewalk to the Iraqi capital has given way to a slugfest all the way up the highways to Baghdad. And as coalition troops close in on the metropolis, they're getting some much-needed help from Navy power. Not long after the major assault on Baghdad on March 21, fliers from all five carriers found themselves increasingly concentrating on hitting enemy troops and equipment. "We just started that in the last 24 hours," Lt. Cmdr. Mike "Tung" Peterson said March 24. Peterson, an F-14 Tomcat pilot assigned to Fighter Squadron 2 aboard the Constellation, said March 24. "We are still continuing to do the 'shock and awe' missions, hitting the leadership targets and military facilities. But the extra sorties are all going to close-air support."

Pilots say the shift in emphasis is being dictated by early success in striking the pre-planned "shock and awe" targets and rapid advances being made by U.S.-led ground forces. Peterson said some of the close-air support missions have included attacks on Republican Guard forces near Baghdad. On March 23, Air Force Maj. Gen. Daniel Leaf, head of Central Command's air component, said aviators were beginning close-air support missions and working closely with special-operations troops. As of March 28, Navy jets were taking out surface-to-surface missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, military vehicles and barracks, said Rear Adm. Barry Costello, Constellation's battle group commander.

The shift in mission already is earning praise from ground troops, said Capt. Patrick Driscoll, Carrier Air Wing 5 commander on Kitty Hawk. "We've gotten feedback from our liaison working with [Air Force Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley,] the commander of all the air forces in the region," he said March 28. "In particular, he's very impressed with the flexibility the Navy has demonstrated when the weather went bad ashore. We can flex and also get to targets that for whatever reason the Air Force can't get to in a certain time." "Flex" refers to the ability of Driscoll's air wing to adapt to a quickly changing mission by swapping out bomb loads and changing targets. It's operations like these, Driscoll said, that prove why the U.S. military needs aircraft carriers. "If you could bring all the United States Army and Air Force over here and operate the way they'd like to, there'd be no need for the United States Navy," he said. "But what happens is, we come over here [and] are constrained by geography. We don't have the bases or the time to get all those assets where we want them. So the Navy pulls up off the shore in international waters and we fill the gaps that can't be filled any other way."

Still, there have been difficult times in the campaign. The first night over Iraq was frustrating for the tactical air pilots of Kitty Hawk's air wing. None of them dropped a single bomb on a target and returned saying there were too many aircraft and not enough targets.

"Initially, we had a lot more capability airborne than they could use, and it was stacking up pretty bad," Rear Adm. Matthew G. Moffit, Kitty Hawk battle group commander said, referring to aircraft waiting to be given a target. "With any operation of this magnitude, you're going to initially have a little confusion from a command-and-control perspective."

From that frustrating first day, the effectiveness of Air Wing 5's aircraft has risen steadily. Since March 23, the numbers of daily tactical sorties have ranged from 25 to 30. The numbers of those dropping bombs increased from 10 on March 23 to 20 for the next two days. Bad weather over the gulf and Iraq slowed the total number of sorties, and bomb-laden aircraft continued heading to Iraq. Political concerns began to factor in, as well, to the manner in which missions are flown. "We've also had the collateral-damage piece that has played significantly in this campaign," Moffit said. "We're really concerned about that, so we put the onus on the pilots to make sure they are dropping on militarily significant targets."

That accountability has made pilots work to ensure they are accurate. But the weather, Driscoll said, also has "caused difficulty in determining just what damage is being done to the enemy." Other methods, he said, are coming into play to evaluate bomb effectiveness and battle damage. Predator drones, for example, are beginning to be used for damage and target assessment. Driscoll said it's in the Navy's nature to be flexible and adapt to changing missions. Navy E-2C Hawkeye squadrons have taken on a role in organizing close-air support, and S-3B Vikings from the Kitty Hawk are providing round-the-clock aerial refueling to aircraft from their battle group.

Even ships are assuming nontraditional roles. "We have an Aegis cruiser at all times working like an AWACS, controlling the picture in the northern [Persian] Gulf," Driscoll said, referring to Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. "It's not so much Red Crown - that's controlling air space, a defensive thing. What we have is a ship that is controlling tankers and aircraft in the North [Persian] Gulf and that's something an AWACS would normally do, but since they're busy, we have a ship doing that."

Hawkeyes carve a niche

At the center of naval aviation's ability to quickly respond to battlefield needs is the venerable E-2C Hawkeye early warning and control aircraft - the Navy's version of Air Force AWACS aircraft. E-2Cs from Airborne Early Warning Squadron 115 aboard the Kitty Hawk, along with those from the Abraham Lincoln and Constellation's air wings, are spending their time aloft doing what they call a "tactical relay" mission, helping pilots connect with Army and Marine units needing close-air support. The extent of the need to control the aerial battlefield wasn't really clear until the shooting started and tactical aircraft flooded the skies. "The E-2 is kind of filling a void that was missed by the planners," Moffit said. The propeller-driven aircraft are "helping coordination between the aircrews and the Army and Marine Corps coordination centers on the ground."

"It's a great example of joint warfare," Driscoll said. "You have the United States Army on the ground with the requirement for close-air support. Attached to the U.S. Army is an Air Force unit called Air Support Operations Center. "The ASOC is run by Air Force guys who are looking to flow air assets to support the troops," he said. "But, they've got a problem; they're on the ground. And in order to reach out and touch a large group of aircraft they need an airborne asset. So you have a Navy E-2 talking to an Air Force ASOC who is directing fire for the Army, and it's worked out really well." This doesn't mean the Air Force AWACS aircraft aren't doing any work. "The AWACS is the best command-and-control asset in the world," Driscoll said. "But they're busy. They're controlling the special-operations events in the west, the northern air picture and the combat air patrols - the F-15s that are making sure there are no MiGs flying, as well as participating in the southern ground war. "That's a lot going on, almost too much for one or two aircraft. Where the E-2 has been critical is filling this role, giving direct attention to making sure all service aircraft coming into the theater to do close-air support are communicating, getting targets and getting fuel."

Chaos turns to order

Designed initially to provide early warning to aircraft carriers of incoming Soviet fighters and bombers during the Cold War, Hawkeye crews have responded to the change in threat by finding new missions. "We make order from chaos," said Lt. Kaz "Scuba" Hashigami, a naval flight officer who serves as a mission commander in VAW-115, coordinating the efforts of two other airborne controllers who ride in the back of the turboprop-driven "Hummers." "We're the glue that holds it all together," he said. "Before we got back in the picture in a major role, the air wing wasn't dropping bombs. We got out there and organized the assets to where they were needed, relaying from the controllers on the ground." The mission isn't totally new to the squadron, according to Lt. Cmdr. Mike "Heartless" Hart, another airborne controller. "We've been experimenting with this type of mission for some time now, but not on this scale." "We're the Navy's customer service representative aloft," said Lt. j.g. Ollie "Crazy German" Stormer, who flies E-2Cs. Stormer said even he doesn't understand everything the controllers he keeps in the air actually do. "We take care of all the airborne assets. We figure out who is going where and what they need. If a guy needs targets or fuel, the airborne controllers take care of that." Rotating with VAWs 116 on the Constellation and 113 on the Lincoln, there are at least two Hummers aloft at all times, Hart said.

Keeping track of large numbers of aircraft isn't easy; at any time, there are nearly 100 aircraft over the battlefield. Of those, 20 to 40 will be U.S. or British tactical aircraft with bombs to drop. Hart likened what they do to being the narrow end of a funnel. The Hawkeye takes in all the different types of aircraft and the weapons they have onboard, organizes the information and pushes it down to the Army and Marine tactical control centers on the ground. Those centers also are the narrow end of their own funnel, Hart said. They take in all the targeting information from the forward air controllers identifying targets on the front lines. The E-2s have made the most impact where those two funnel ends meet, Hart said. Before they took on this role, the pilots were communicating directly with tactical information centers, and the sheer number of aircraft made it impossible for the TICs to manage alone. "It was a choke point early in the game," Hart said. "It's been our job to try and expedite pilots and their ordnance flowing through it to the forward guys in the field who need their services."

Many pilots arrive over the battlefield with a preset target or at least expecting to work with either the Army or Marine Corps. "We try to stay true to their game plans," Hart said. "But if there's five aircraft stacked up waiting for the Army, I'll call over to the Marines and ask them what they've got. We'll reshuffle and send the aircraft where they're needed." "I don't think the Air Force or coalition pilots really understand who we are," Hashigami said. "They just know if they come up on a given frequency that we're the ones who can find them targets and gas."

Helping in this effort, the Army's V Corps has one of VAW-115's own living in the dirt and coordinating the Hawkeye's role from the ground, Hart says. Lt. Brent Trickel has been sent to the ASOC to help those on the ground understand what the E-2 can do and how best to employ the Tomcats and Hornets and their ordnance. Trickel also gives feedback to the three Hummer squadrons via e-mail, passing on information about what is working and telling them how to fix what is not.

Meanwhile, on the carrier, Air Force Maj. Richard Killmeyer, a B-1 bomber weapons officer assigned to the ASOC, is working with mission planners, making sure they and the carrier pilots understand how the Air Force ground controllers work. Hashigami says Hawkeyes also track where tanking assets are in the area, and can direct pilots low on fuel to a Navy or Air Force aircraft for a refill. For Kitty Hawk aircraft, they merely point them in the direction of the Vikings, who are waiting somewhere on the return trip to the Kitty Hawk.

"We're pretty popular guys up here," Hashigami said. "Word's got around pretty quickly that if they call in to us, we'll find them a place to put their bombs as quickly as possible and get them a drink for the ride home."

Staff writer William H. McMichael, aboard the Constellation, and senior staff writer David Brown contributed to this report.

Here are a few words Dan sent back recently:

"Hello everyone, I know that I have been pretty bad about staying in touch with most of you. Here is my attempt to fill you in on my whirlwind life over the past 6
months or so. In the middle of May I got two weeks notice that I would be moving to Japan for 3 years. As you can imagine that was a bit of a shock. At the time I had been told that I would end up in Malibu. I was already dreaming of living on the beach again and driving to LA for the weekend. But with lemons make lemonade so I went to the store and bought some "learning Japanese" CDs. So I showed up in Narita, Tokyo airport. My squadron was out to sea, so nobody was there to pick me up and I quickly learned what a homogeneous society Japan seems to have. I spoke about 4 words of Japanese and they were not "man am I lost" or "How do I get to Atsugi". Atsugi is the base that I am stationed at. Of course I had no idea where it was so that added to the problem. This story does a happy ending though, I found a Department of Defense desk that ran buses to all of the US bases in the area, including mine. I showed up in Atsugi and luckily had a room reserved for me, thanks to my boss' wife. The guys in my squadron, yes all guys- a bit unusual but it makes for an interesting work
environment, probably a little more crude than most are used to, got back a couple of days later. Though I appreciated my Commanding Officer's wife taking me around for a few days it was nice to have a conversation with someone who's biggest interest wasn't Star Wars or Barbie (her two kids, who for a while were my best friends in Japan). I got taken out a bunch and had my first set of adventures in Japan. We went to a baseball game, a little different than the states, the crowds are a lot louder, clappers and flags (big flags, kind of like the one that this cool kid used to run out before GT games), and you can bring your own beer. The world cup was going on at this time. I didn't make it to any games. Everyone had made plans and bought tickets well before hand, but I did make it to a few pubs for some of the action. It was pretty exciting, the Japanese where really behind there team and when we got beat by Germany, they were all rooting for the Germans, though I think that most of that was due to the hot goaltender who is a favorite with the ladies (blonde hair here is a bit unusual and gets some attention). I have been to Tokyo a few times. It is an enormous city. There are lots of museums, parks, a zoo, great places to eat and shop. A lot like any big city. It is about an hour or so away by train, driving can take anywhere from an hour to 4-5, depending on the traffic. Speaking of traffic the roads here are really small-a two lane road is equal to an American driveway. I bought a car. We have a bit of a hand me down system. I bought a ten year old car from a friend who was leaving for $750. It runs pretty well, though the passenger door doesn't open now because I crunched it on a little wall. It is about the equivalent of a Nissan Maxima. If it breaks down I will just buy a new one.

********This is probably going to be a long message not sure how long it will turn out so beware*********

I went on a day flight to Korea shortly after arriving. This turned into a Gilligan's Island trip. We couldn't get an engine started while we were there so I ended up getting stuck there for a few days. It was pretty interesting. The city was pretty small, but there was a lot of shopping aimed mostly at Americans. I bought a leather jacket got a suit made- that kind of stuff. It was also my first introduction to South East Asia nightclubs(read shady scene). This may go a little above PG so read at your own risk. Well there are a lot of places that hire girls from other countries-Philippines, Russia, Korea, Thailand- they pay them very little and almost force them into acts with customers. These girls get trapped somewhat , there are stories about there passports getting taken, but they send money back to there families. There was not much discretion at these places, they sit down next to you, very forcibly and then ask you to buy them drinks - a shot of orange juice for about $20, and there are older Korean women who continue to ask you about every two minutes. You have to be pretty forcible when blowing them off. This is definitely a shock, and to see some guys who are eating it up buying drinks for these girls to talk to them and whatever else makes you a little uneasy. Well enough of this junk.

In the summer I went and spent just under a month in Guam. It is an island about 1800 miles south of Japan. It is an American territory, this is nice because you can use dollars, and they have some American staples that go unappreciated in the States. For example Denny's, TGIFridays, K-Mart (though it is picked clean by locals and Japanese tourists). The island is a lot like Puerto Rico I hear. There are a couple of military bases and one nice section of beach and resort and the rest is pretty poor. It continually gets hit by typhoons, so that doesn't help. There are incredible places for kayaking and snorkeling. The scuba diving is pretty good too, but since I was flying everyday I can't dive and fly in the same day (it could cause a really bad physiological reaction). There was a coffee shop right next to our hotel which was a nice piece of home also. I will probably take a couple of more trips there in the coming years. We are able to do some really good training there. I went to Iwo Jima for a few days at the beginning of fall and then again in January of this year. Iwo Jima is the island where the famous
picture was taken of the guys raising the flag on Mt Sirabachi. (The statue is in Arlington, VA). We go there to practice flying at the boat, nobody lives there so we don't have restrictions on how low we can fly. The flying is great there, though the hours are long. There isn't any other work to do though, which is a nice relief. There are still numerous caves that the Japanese used during WWII to when the US was attacking the island. It is a pretty incredible to go to this small island where 50, 000 people where killed or injured. There are memorials to the peace that was forged through the fighting and the hope that the fighting will ensure peace. The irony is not lost on me that we are now training for war on this island. It seems as though some things never change.

Japan is pretty incredible. The culture is pretty different from the US. It is the safest place that I have ever been. You could leave your wallet open on the street and nobody would touch it. This is nice if you end up getting split from your friends while out. The train system is pretty extensive and we use it all the time to get around. When you around a big city there are a lot of signs in English, but when you get farther away from the city the signs are mostly in Kanji-the main Japanese writing system. This makes getting around a little tough some times, and ordering from restaurants can be pretty comical. More than once I have had to walk out to the display case with the waitress and point to the picture of what I want. I also have gotten pretty good at international hand signs. There are more than the one extended finger. I went to a concert this summer, somewhat like Lollapalooza. It was a three day concert headlined by the red Hot Chili Peppers. My buddies and I had a good time, we camped out for a couple of days. We went and saw some Japanese punk bands, but it was tough to get into the slamming around with the people because we would have hurt someone, I definitely feel tall here. I also went and saw Sheryl Crow when she came. In between songs the Japanese got really quite, patiently waiting for the next song. It was a pretty big buzz kill. Of course this gave the annoying Americans in the crowd, namely my friends and I , the opportunity to yell such eloquent comments as "We love you Sheryl" This was only topped by two things. We made a banner saying "US Naval Aviators love Sheryl Crow" Thinking that this might draw attention and we could go back stage, needless to say this didn't happen. I later learned that she is a pretty big pacifist and not exactly pro military. In case this wasn't enough, about half way through the concert we realized that the sign actually said : "US Naval Aviators love heryl Crow" Yeah, the "S" didn't get colored in on the train ride. Well an amusing anecdote at least.

I am out at sea right now. This is the second time that we have gone out. The first we sailed for a few weeks, at the end of it pulling into Hong Kong. It is a very unusual place. It is part of communist China, but there is definitely a huge western influence. We went to bars that had been in James Bond. The tailors that we went to had pictures from years of US servicemen that had been coming. A Chinese/British accent is pretty neat. Of course there is a great night life, taking water taxis to go out is pretty unusual. We met people from all over the world. This is the same when going out in Tokyo. There are people from all over. This is one of the most exciting parts of going out. You never know how the night will turn out. It is not uncommon for me to use my broken Spanish and one of friends speaks native German, so he is always a favorite with the Europeans. They can always speak multiple languages, this is very embarrassing being a monolinguistic American. I am trying to learn some Japanese, but I hardly ever use it. I am surrounded by Americans and on the boat there is no outlet. My buddy, Olli, and I are trying to get an apartment in Tokyo. The plan is to have one place by our base to live in and a place in Tokyo for the weekends. Once we get back this is going to be first on the to do list. You have to put some effort into getting out into the culture and society. There are a lot of people who spend most of their time on base and never really get a good sense of Japan.

My family is doing pretty well. Many of you know that my mom has been sick for a few years. She had a really bad time a little over a year ago, but she is doing much better as of late. My dad retired and is taking care of her most of the time. My little sister is driving ( holy crap). My little brother Billy got engaged over Christmas. His fiancé is great and they work really well together. I hope that I can make it back for the wedding. I am dating a girl that lives in DC. Many of you met her in Raleigh. She is finishing up her Masters right now, and will be done at the end of the semester. I wish I had an answer to the question that many of you are thinking right now. I will say that she is great and will probably come visit Japan this summer. After that ???

As for the way that things are going in the world right now... Well I can officially say that the "Kitty Hawk battle group has been deployed to the Central Area of Responsibility". But I am sure that CNN will give much more information than that. Though I pray for peace I am ready to do the job that I have been training so many years for. Freedom is not free and we need to ensure that justice and liberty are not catch phrases dropped at a cocktail party in DC but ideas that are spread throughout the world. Enough of my soapbox.

Well if you have read this much and not fallen asleep a couple of times than I applaud you. I would love to hear from you and learn how things are going. Even if it is a two line email (not the book that you just got through). I am very limited in my internet access so this is my best email. Because of this I am not able to get at a lot of emails that I have on my Hotmail account. If this email did not get to someone ensure them that it is not personal, rather a matter of the email addresses that I was able to get. If you would like to get postcards from some of the more exotic and some of the farthest thing from exotic places in the world send me you address. I hope that this email finds you in good spirit and in good health.

Take care,
Dan
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