He went to Paris…

Our second stay in Guangzhou was shorter than the first. I had time to take a nap, go to breakfast, take another nap, then hang around in the room until the late wakeup call. The captain chose to do a long, long, short, short rest cycle for the trip to Cologne, meaning we had about 3.5 hours on, 3.5 off, 2 on then 2 off before getting back in the seat for the landing. At the last company we used to split all the flights right in half, but current fatigue studies suggest breaking the rest periods up can be more beneficial than only one long rest. I slept pretty well during our first rest, and then while we were up front for the short period we got to see a lot of China. The weather was beautiful, and it was easy to see the many towns, military bases (we think) and other odd buildings that just seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. On the second rest I just read the whole time, and then we got back in the seats for the landing. The approach was one we don’t often have to fly, meaning the normal level of micromanagement was knocked up a notch. I didn’t mind it as much because it was something unusual for me. The landing turned out to be a lot less eventful than it seemed like it would be after all the talking preceding it. We got to the hotel and I set an alarm to wake up at 4:45 to meet at 5:30.

I rolled over in the dark and checked my phone to see how much time was left. My phone was dead, which I really didn’t see coming. As long as I leave it in airplane mode, I can usually make a very long distance flight and still have plenty of use in the room before charging it. My watch hadn’t died, and was surprised to see it was 5:21pm! I managed to get downstairs in 9 minutes and meet the captain. He wanted a drink first, so we went to the hotel bar, where we met another crew who was planning to head out to eat. We joined them for a good meal. I had Schnitzel “Berne,” which was ham and a cheesy sauce on the schnitzel. It was excellent! We followed with a quick Guiness at one of the two Irish Pubs in the Heumarkt Square, and then the other crew headed off to bed. The captain and I walked to the train station to scope it out. We decided it was an easy enough walk, but with our luggage we preferred to take a taxi.

By the time we got back to the hotel, I was ready to call it a night, though the captain stayed at the hotel bar to listen to the musician they had there. I passed out almost right away and woke up about 3 in the morning. I wasn’t able to go back to sleep, so I just kept reading. I’ve been running through the Jack Reacher novels, which are thin on substance but easy reads. They’re great work books because I can put them away for weeks and easily pick them back up again the next time I’m on a plane, or wide awake at 3 am.

We met this morning around 8 and took a taxi to the train station. It turned out to be less than 8 euros which is not a bad deal. We scouted out the gate’s location and then decided to find the lounge in case we have more time the next time we do this. It turned out to be outside the train station in a little store front that barely advertised the name of the train company. It was a small lounge, good for getting out of the crowds but not much else. Having found our target, we hoofed it back to the train station, where we had to wait less than 5 minutes before it arrived.

Since we traded in a plane ticket, we were able to buy premium class tickets on the train. That includes wifi throughout the 3.5 hour journey, which is the reason I’m writing this now. Between writing and eating the small airline-style breakfast, I’ve managed to kill one hour of the trip. Hopefully the weather in Paris will allow me to see some of the famous sights since I’ve never been there before.

Back to China

After the excessive amount of sleep the night before, I wasn’t able to go to bed very early in Japan. Part of the problem was the room temperature. Instead of a thermostat with a number, there’s a rheostat that goes from cool to warm with no numbers. I guessed how cool I wanted it, and I guessed wrong, waking up at least twice to turn it down more.

When the phone call came in to wake me up, I was sound asleep and dreaming. Luckily I had mostly packed the night before, giving me extra time to stand under the shower and wish time would stop for a bit.

There was a delay that caused the captain to be behind on his preflight. That gave me a lot of time without interruptions, and surprisingly I was able to complete all my duties promptly. Later he said it was my “best leg” and that I was “finally up to speed,” a backhanded compliment that was really saying “I didn’t say anything the last 4 legs but I was unhappy with your performance.” I had to chuckle a little and bite down hard to avoid saying it had a lot to do with not being interrupted. I don’t know if they’re trained that way or that’s part of the captain persona here, but they mostly have the habit of seeing that I’m in the middle of something and demanding my full attention to whatever they’ve decided to interrupt me with. A great example of this myopia occurred approximately 3 seconds after I told him my electronic flight bag had failed and was rebooting. “Ok, I’m ready for the performance numbers now.” “Do you want me to come over to your side and run them on your EFB?” I asked.

On a lighter note, when we’re outside Chinese airspace and try to request digital ATIS, the message comes back “TIS REJECTED.” I’m sure it’s something like “terminal information services” or whatever, but in my mind I always hear a pirate saying, “Arrr, ’tis rejected matey!”

Anyway I’m back in Guangzhou and took a short nap before enjoying the executive floor breakfast again. Man, I thought I had a big room the lst time I was here, but this is huge! It’s a true suite with a 1/2 bath in the living room and then a full bath with the bedroom. Max is eating dinner way over there in ‘Murica, and then we’re planning to try out Planetside 2 together.

So much for the streak!

Ok I managed to break my 1-day posting streak because I was just too tired when we landed in Narita. I was tired when I woke up in Guangzhou, though I’d slept a solid 7 hours before the trip.

The trip was relatively uneventful, though the captain continues randomly flying the airplane for me for no reason. I get it, I’m new, but rather than proceeding from a presumption of competence and correcting mistakes, he just does things for me and says he wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. I was, but somebody else’s hand was in my way!

I was whipped when we got to Narita, but like always the act of checking in and getting to the room woke me up a bit. After chatting with e, I went to the convenience store in the hotel and bought a bit of food. After eating I messed around on my phone a bit, then climbed into bed to take a nap before meeting up for dinner. Well, by the time I finished reading Facebook and a good bit of Jack Reacher, I didn’t go back to sleep until 3pm. I woke up at 11pm, then again 1 am, and finally 4 am! I don’t know why I’ve been so knocked out because I slept pretty well in Guangzhou.

Today I’ve been trying to get Max hooked up with Planetside 2, but as soon as we started trying to work on it the internet went crazy. When I left it last night, it had about 1GB to download and install. I assumed it would be ready today. When I finally connected, there was no shortcut to the game, so I ran the install repair again. The stupid computer kept saying there was no internet even though I was connected to it through–you know–the internet! I tried multiple times before giving up. We spent at least an hour resetting the jetpack, turning the router off and on, and restarting the computer. No luck. I could connect via TeamViewer, but the computer said it couldn’t connect with the Planetside server to complete the install. It’s frustrating because there are so many possibilities for error as I connect from Japan to a computer running OpenDNS servers through a router, through a Verizon Jetpack. Any one of those could have an error, but everything looked fine by my end. There’ve been Verizon outages reported in the news the last few days, but I can’t find out if there’s an error in Kissimmee, FL.

I finally gave up and told Max to turn everything off and go play. I asked him to turn it on again when he gets home. Maybe the reset will fix everything and we can finally install this game. I really hoped to play it with him today! After giving up, I went to breakfast for the first time in this hotel. It’s a pretty standard western/Asian mix, and there was plenty of good food to eat. I’m back in the room now at 8:40 am Monday morning, and my wakeup call comes at 7:30pm. Tonight is a short trip back to Guangzhou, so I’ll be ok even if I don’t get a ton of sleep before the flight.

Back in the saddle…for awhile, at least.

It’s been 5 years since I posted anything here. I’ve been on a lot of adventures since then that have been documented in thoughts, pictures, and my #1 fan’s blog. She suggested I start writing again instead of deleting the blog as planned, so I’m jumping right in rather than trying to recap the last 5 years.

Sunday, March 4, China Time

I’m in Guangzhou near the end of a 48-hour layover. We came in at 3 in the morning and leave at about 1am. That sounds bad until you realize it’s a fairly decent schedule back home, meaning I’m not yet totally out of sync with E and the boys. Just wait, my schedule will be totally screwed up by the time I get home! 😉

International travel is fun, and I do enjoy the time even when we’re off cycle from the world. I spend a lot of time awake at night and sleeping during the day, and usually I’m unwilling to go outside in the city in the middle of the night. I think that just makes sense. So what do I do? Yesterday we got to the hotel by about 3:30 am after a 3-hour flight from Singapore. I intended to stay awake until at least breakfast, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. The layover in Singapore was short, and I chose reduced sleep so that I could see a bit of the city. The captain had lived there previously, and he had a lot of cool stuff to tell me about while we walked around. Anyway I took a little nap, leaving the shades open and my phone on so that I wouldn’t sleep too long. I missed most of my notifications, but at about 7:30 a text woke me up and I got ready for breakfast.

The China Hotel by Marriott gives us access to the executive floor where a decent breakfast is served. I ate breakfast alone, expecting the captain to join me. I think he was more tired than me last night and was probably still asleep. After breakfast I returned to the room and had almost a 2-hour conversation with E. That’s unusual for us, not because we don’t like talking, but because bad internet, China blocking calls, random schedules, and E’s normal life often prevent us from talking so long. We got her setup with two nights in a hotel, something we haven’t done since Mother’s Day last May. I try to give her a complete break from the RV and us every few months so that she can enjoy some of the solitude I do when I’m on long layovers in big hotels. I definitely try not to rub it in, but the single hotel room I’m in now has more living space than our whole RV. It is nice just to hang around in PJ’s and read, play computer games, etc.

Speaking of games, I spent some time playing one of my new favorites, Player Unknown’s Battle Grounds, or PUBG. It drops 100 players into a map and then shrinks the map over time, Hunger Games-style, forcing players to run into each other eventually. It’s a lot of fun, but I enjoy it more when I can play with one of my online friends cooperatively. I also love playing Watch Dogs 2. Although I finished the single player mission, it’s still fun to connect to other people and chase them around or hack them when they’re trying to complete missions, just like they did to me.

Max turned 13 this year, and I decided to make it a priority to find a game we could play together. After some searching I decided to try the free-to-play Planetside 2. It’s a massively multiplayer first person shooter. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of players running around battling each other. I thought it would be fun to play that with Max. I downloaded it here first and played a bit to see how it would go. It’s not at all bloody, and by default there’s no talking and very little typing by other players. That means Max won’t see or hear a lot of bad words, although when I joined a team the kids there felt the need to cuss every other sentence. I tried to install it remotely from here, but with the Chinese firewall and the RV poor connection lately, I haven’t been able to finalize it on his laptop yet. Hopefully it will finish downloading tonight and we can give it a try tomorrow after church there while I’m in Japan.

So there’s my attempt at a reboot of the blog. It’s 10am here in China on Sunday morning, regardless of what the post time stamp indicates. I had my executive floor breakfast and am making myself stay up until at least noon. Tonight’s another relatively short flight over to Narita, then I’ll be back here again.

Part two

I thought today was worth a second post, mainly since I’ve got 2 hours to kill until takeoff for Bogota. I haven’t flown internationally on civilian airlines too many times, so I was surprised that I didn’t have to go through any sort of customs in order to get to the gate. I keep imagining that I’ll get to the gate after all this waiting and they’ll tell me I need to go get my bags from my first flight and walk through customs with them, but I’m fairly certain they wouldn’t have allowed me to go this far if I needed to.

Anyway here’s me at the Concourse E food court and free wifi zone. The free wifi doesn’t extend to the departure gate so looks like I’ll be here awhile.

Here we go…almost

Well I was going to once again resurrect my blog with a photo-a-day from my six-month deployment to Colombia, but due to a flight delay I won’t be leaving home today. It’s weird because of course I don’t want to leave my family for six months and E doesn’t want me to leave, but we got ourselves geared up for it so could I please just leave already? Nope, not until Sunday at the earliest. Here’s a photo anyway just to see how it works.

Hurry up and…well, you know the rest

I’m sitting here in the passenger terminal where’ve been for nearly 4 hours now, but I’m thrilled to be here!

Yesterday I got late word that I would be able to maintain my flying currency at Ramstein and that they’d like me to come right up. e and MJ have been up there for 2 weeks now and were expecting to see me a week from today. Now that I have a reason to go TDY I’ll be able to go see them a week early, fly for a week, and then go into my pre-baby permissive TDY and leave.

e’s due on the 18th with our second boy. We’re both pretty excited but just last night were talking about how much of a change a baby is going to make even though we’ve been through this before.

Now that so much time has gone by, I’m not nearly as bubbling with excitement as I was when I first got here. It will still be great to surprise them, but as of now I’ve spent almost more time sitting here in the chair than I will be in flight. Hey, at least they have free wireless while we’re waiting!

Better or Worse?

Well it’s been a good long while since I wrote that last post and I still haven’t gone back to delete it. Naturally it turns out that a good portion of it is wrong because the AF hasn’t unmasked advanced degrees, but as my current boss pointed out that doesn’t mean my previous boss didn’t hold it against me. He also didn’t rule out the possibility of him holding it against me so no telling what my recommendation will look like this time around.
Some things I did find out are that my performance reports for the last 5 years–as long as I’ve been a major–were not very well written and have a fairly strong negative impact on my chances to get promoted. I also have to consider that less than 30 out of 700+ promotees were above-the-zone, meaning that no matter how stellar the record my chances of getting promoted are very slim.
My cynicism only became worse when I saw that my previous boss weakened my OPR and downgraded my medal. It’s hard to feel like he wasn’t deliberately trying to cause me to fail. Happy news all around, huh?
Of course, good things have happened here, our Outstanding rating in our UCI being chief among them. Also, e and MJ are doing great, and that’s what’s important to me. They’re actually leaving me tomorrow so that e can be at the military hospital in Germany to have the baby, but I’ll be seeing them in a few weeks–hopefully before the baby comes.

Beginning of the End

After more than 15 years I’m starting to get the first signs of a major relationship problem. Not with e, thankfully, we’re doing just fine. I’m talking about the Air Force.
I’ve been in a committed relationship, you might say, for nearly 16 years now. In fact, I don’t have the option of trying to leave until 2013. The Air Force, on the other hand, has no such obligation to me. It demonstrated as much by letting me know that I wasn’t worth promoting to lieutenant colonel this time around. Being passed over puts me in the bottom 25% of the 1,000+ majors who were up for promotion in this board. It also means that if I’m not selected next year then the AF will have a second board to decide if it’s worth keeping me around. A lot of pilots get what’s called selective continuation each time they get passed over, but there’s no guarantee. Without being continued, I’ll be unceremoniously asked to leave the Air Force within six months of the decision to pass me over.
Wow. That’s a hard blow to me. I’ve been wearing an Air Force uniform since I was fifteen years old. Granted, the first 4 years were as a JROTC cadet, but every day since 29 June 1988 has been with an active duty ID card, no matter what the retirement laws say about my time served. That’s more than 20 years wearing the blue, olive green, and camouflage colors of the Air Force. I’ve said “yes, sir” and saluted more times in those years than I can even imagine. I’ve been around long enough to see the pendulum swing back and forth more than once on a host of topics.
It seems that the particular topic which will force an early end to my career is the infamous Master’s degree. For years it has been an Air Force tradition to get a degree–any degree–to help get promoted. There wasn’t any consideration to whether the degree was worth the paper on which it was printed or if the person did their job even .0001% better with that rag on the wall. The assumption was that the haze of getting a degree–even if it involved only sending off $$$ to a degree factory–made a person worthy of the next level of promotion.
A few years back, just when I was getting ready to complete ACSC–another mandatory, probably worthless haze, but that’s an entirely different post–I realized that I was old enough to start thinking about a Master’s degree soon. It was then that the Chief of Staff of the Air Force decreed that his officers should stop wasting their time on meaningless degrees and that from now on officers should only obtain a degree if required by the Air Force and that only those degrees would be visible on official military records. Fool that I am, I obeyed the CSAF, even though I realized his term was very short and that his decision would probably be quickly reversed.
As it turns out, the reversal wasn’t nearly as public as usual because there really wasn’t a leg to stand on. The previous CSAF had said his AF officers should stop wasting time and money–much of it gov’t money–on useless education. The new CSAF could hardly say that he espoused wasting dollars and effort to help officers “fill a square,” could he?
So it was with relatively little fanfare that we were told advanced education would be “unmasked” on future promotion board records. We weren’t told to go out and waste time and money, nossir. We were just told that a harmless unmasking would take place, one that effectively returned the Air Force to the wasteful good old days without coming right out and saying it.
I’ll admit it again: I was dumb. I shouldn’t have believed the leadership when they said unneeded degrees were a thing of the past, because deep down I knew they were just paying lip service to the CSAF. But I was lazy. We were coming back to the States after a tough (but fun) tour in Spain, the baby was on the way soon, and ACSC was d-u-n done. I took a nearly two-year vacation from education, all the while hoping that I would make LTC before the pendulum came back. Instead, it got me squarely in the face. Not only was I not able to complete a degree fast enough after hearing that education would show up on my record, I’m still not able to do anything about it. I need to finish 6 classes by November if I want any chance of having a Master’s on my record, and that just ain’t gonna happen.
For starters, I can only take 4 courses a year at government expense. With 2 down already this FY, I’d have to pay for 4 of the 6 I need, a total of over $3000. Besides that, I’d have to basically take a “full load” of 18 credits–as a part time student! I’d have to be so involved in my studies that I’d stop working, which as far as I know might also impact my chances of promotion.
Yes, I am wallowing just a bit in self-pity, I realize that. I’ll probably come back to this post in a week or so and hit delete, but for now it’s hard not to lose hope. As far as I can tell, there’s almost no way to avoid meeting the next promotion board without a degree, and that means this time next year I’ll be looking for a new job. For the record–not that the AF cares–I’d have stayed until 2013 with no complaints. Heck, I’d have stayed until 3013 if it were possible. It’s in my blood far more than any words like job or career or even family can describe. But you don’t want me. Wow again. That’s hard to take. You won’t even blink when I walk out the door, but what am I supposed to do without you?