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Snow Day

The army’s schedule accommodates no man. It doesn’t matter that I signed in from leave three days ago or that I’ve been living from a duffel since the beginning of October. Today there was a mission! An important, long-planned mission which, since I’d been gone for the duration of the planning, basically required me to attend but gave me no role to fill. So they made one!

My role: open the Arms Room at 4am for the ground convoy.

So at 0350 this morning, I was on my way to the company building through the freezing rain, seemingly the only human awake within miles.

The weather’s been moody all week. It’s mostly been a frustrating kind of fog: breathtakingly atmospheric, kind of warm and comfortable, but absolutely impossible to photograph. No matter how you set the camera, the picture looks like it’s underexposed and out of focus. This morning, though, it just seemed vicious. This was the kind of weather that in a more mountainous country would demand Frankensteinian mood lightning.

As the morning wore on, things seemed to get better. Things stayed cold, but by sunrise, there was no more rain. The whole battalion was churning with pre-mission preparations. The ground convoy eventually set out to set up the ATC site and the tents. The flight crews ran up the aircraft to make sure everything was working. Half of ours turned out to have broken deicing gear, but that only meant that they couldn’t fly into observed icing conditions. We joked about the weather report: winds gusting from 30-44 knots. It’s only a joke when you know that Black Hawks are prohibited from running up or shutting down the main rotor in winds at or greater than 45 knots. Half an hour before planned takeoff, the aircraft were loaded and set. The crews gathered for a final brief.

That brief never happened. Outside, the first flakes of the first snow of the year were drifting from the sky.

For the next four hours, the situation didn’t change. We all watched movies, or watched each other, or watched the weather. The snow skirled and danced in the wind, enthusiastic in its role as winter’s leading element. Every half an hour, someone called the weather station to get an update on its predictions. They never reported a change. Every once in a while, someone called the ground convoy to see what conditions were at the destination. The only change there was the steadily increasing depth of the snow.

We made pilot jokes. “Check this out: Osan’s reporting ‘unknown precipitation.’” “What do they have, meteors?” We waited.

Eventually, the commander called everyone in. Despite the BN CDR’s enthusiasm to get out into the field, it wasn’t going to happen today. Everyone go home, get some rest. Be back at work at 6am tomorrow. New takeoff time is 9.

So we put the sensitive items away and all walked home, in the bright blue sky and the quickly vanishing snow.

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