Sunday, November 21, 2010

Relics . . .

Ft Sill OK 2010 11 015 Pershing 2
My most recent trip was to the University of Oklahoma to install quadrapole mass spectrometer there. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that it made just as much sense to drive instead of flying. Anytime you enter the airline system these days, you can count on at least a six to ten hour travel day. Drive time to the airport, getting to the airport two hours early for security, usually waiting for and catching a connecting flight, waiting for baggage at the other end, getting the rental car, etc, etc. So, should I deal with all of that hassle or just jump into my truck and drive six hours? I decided to drive . . .

Oklahoma City 2010 11 15 001

The dress I chose would have been insane in most of the country this time of year, but in the central Texas area, it’s still mostly in the mid seventies. I knew it would get cooler as I drove north, but didn’t figure it would get too bad, so I got ready, loaded my bags in to the truck, and off I went!

Navigating on this trip wasn’t really gonna require my GPS because the directions pretty much consisted of “Go North on IH35 for 400 miles to the hotel on the left.” My one year old son had kept us up for a couple of hours that night and so I was tired and kind of dragging my tail behind me as I headed down the freeway. That’s OK though because I’ve learned a trick or two about dealing with the boredom on a long drive. I have a number of TV series loaded on my IPOD and listening to them while I drive keeps my mind awake and active. Six AM and driving north on IH35 while listening to the third season of “House” on my IPOD – there are worse ways to earn a days wages!

As is bound to happen on a long drive and after having drank a couple of cups of coffee, eventually I had to find someplace to go to the bathroom. Believe it or not, even after all of the time that I spend out and about in the world, using the women’s bathroom still scares the hell outta me. There is always this fear in the back of my head that someone will “read” me, get pissed off and think I’m a pervert or something, and make a scene about it. Anyway, I decided to wait for a rest area I knew of just south of Dallas. As I got out of my truck, I realized that my dress really was a bit too thin and cool for this time of year, even for this area of the country. As I entered the restroom and realized that the walls didn’t go all of the way to roof, I realized that women really get kind of a raw deal when it comes to rest area bathrooms, because it was cold in there!

About mid way to Oklahoma City, I started seeing exits and signs for “Scenic View” and so I decided to take one and see what it had to offer. I’d have to be honest that the view didn’t impress me a hell of a lot, but I still took the chance to snap a pic or two out in the great outdoors.

Oklahoma City 2010 11 15 004

Since I was gonna be there for the better part of a week, I had chosen to stay at one of the hotels that have kitchens with pots and pans and dishes and the like, so you can make your own meals. Of course this meant that I had to do just a little grocery shopping when I got there. I needed something off of the bottom shelf and knelt down to get it when a woman in her mid to late fifties walked around the corner, took one look at me, and started to giggle with her hand over her mouth. I thought I was past worrying about that sort of thing, but I’d have to be honest that it actually crushed me. I was self conscious and awkward for the rest of my shopping, and was fairly relieved when I got it done and could at last go hole up in my hotel room. I don’t know if it was due to that woman’s laughter trashing my confidence, or my work schedule, or both, but I did no more cross dressing for the entire trip.

When it came time to make the drive home, I had a few decisions to make. A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I had gone to basic training and been stationed at Ft Sill Oklahoma an hour or so south west of Oklahoma City. One of the very few Pershing 1A and Pershing 2 missiles remaining in the world were on display at the Museum there, and I was seriously interested in visiting them. It might sound odd to a lot of people to have an emotional attachment to a huge nuclear missile, but this thing represents a huge part of my life. It is how I got my start in electronics and it was my career when I met my wife and we had our first child. Once upon a time, it was my honor to tell people that not only was I a soldier in the Unites States Army, but that it was my job to maintain, trouble shoot, and repair the Army’s premier nuclear weapon. I decided that I would go ahead and make the drive, because I might not get many more chances to see the thing. Now the remaining question was, did I want to do it as Kimberly or Matt? Given that my confidence was down, my trucks “Service Engine Soon” light had come on when I got to OKC, and that I just wasn’t entirely comfortable at the idea, I chose to do it as Matt.

As I entered the open part of the Fort I was surprised and gratified to find that almost 30 years later, I still had a clue how to get around. A lot of things have changed since then of course, but it didn’t take too long to figure it out. The first thing I noticed is that they moved all of the exhibits to a new and much nicer location. The next thing I noticed was that they had replaced the very old museum building that I remembered from my tour there with a very large and modern facility. On the lawn just in front of the Museum was the Redstone Missile – the predecessor of the Pershing missile that I had worked on. The Redstone was much bigger than the Pershing, but didn’t have anywhere near the range because of its heavier construction materials. I made it a point to take pictures of it though, because in a fairly unlikely coincidence, it turns out that the grandfather of my daughter-in-law worked on it!  I took two or three steps across the grass to get to the missiles before it struck me that you do NOT walk on the lawn of an Army facility. I doubted very much that anyone was likely to start yelling at the 45 year old man taking pictures, but still it just felt wrong, and so I back tracked with a smile on my face and used the sidewalks.

IMG00112-20101118-0911 Redstone

As I was walking around the Redstone and taking pictures of it, a formation of several hundred soldiers marched past me and then filed in to the museum. It was almost surrealistic to stand there with the sound of heavy weapons fire and artillery off in the distance while I waited for the formation to go by.
“tat tat tat tat . . . HHHAARRRUUUMMMPPPHH . . . . tat tat tat”

Soon enough, the formation had entered the museum and I then followed them in to find that they were apparently getting a guided tour. I was invited to listen in as experts gave groups of twenty or so soldiers at a time lessons in history. They had not done this when I went to basic so long ago, and I think that it is an awesome idea! A soldier should know their history, they should know where their traditions came from. I came across a large model of the Pershing missile that had been used for training, and saw that one of the tours was approaching it with the expert describing everything in detail as they walked past. I stood there, eagerly waiting to hear what the expert would tell these young soldiers about the missile I had taken so much pride in, and found myself terribly disappointed when he walked them right past it, saying not a single word. Quite honestly, it irritated the hell out of me! The Pershing was the number one most potent weapon ever to be part of the United States Army arsenal. It was largely credited with keeping the soviets out of West Germany, and later, given quite a bit of the credit for the collapse of the Berlin wall. The most impressive and destructive weapon ever to be part of the US Army field artillery and the man had not even bothered to point at it, name it, or give any of it’s history. I felt robbed!

IMG00118-20101118-0927 Training Model Pershing 1A

On the way out of the Museum I walked past three drill sergeants and was amused at how young they seemed to me now. I couldn’t help myself and stopped to shake their hands and talk to them for a moment.
“I’m sure I don’t have to tell you guys how significant a part you are going to be of these soldiers lives. It’s been almost 30 years ago and I still remember my Drill Sergeants name!” I told them as I shook their hands.

Next, I made my way down the path to the actual Pershings that they had on display. It’s an awful feeling to see something that you dedicated your life to preserving sitting out in the elements rotting and rusting. I couldn’t help feeling that the damned thing symbolized my own life and aging. Once young, strong, significant, and capable, but now old, rotted, rusted, and no longer relevant to the nation it had once served so proudly. It was with a fairly heavy heart that I set up my camera and tried to smile before the flash went off. . .

Ft Sill OK 2010 11 019 Me in front of Pershing 1A

(The Pershing 1A where I started my career)

Ft Sill OK 2010 11 017 Me in front of Pershing 2

(The Pershing 2 - Replaced the Pershing 1A and the version I spent most of my career working with)


  1. I've said it before and I'll say it again - how that thing flew with those wheels hanging off the bottom beats me. I surprised you missed that one and didn't think of taking them off.?

    Sarah Kennedy (Australian Rocket Scientist)

  2. Sarah, the United States is talented that way - we can make ANYTHING fly! Just look at the Space Shuttle!