Thursday, 3 December 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 18 - Finally a Job!

Base Transport Cold Lake, Alberta
I start this section as I finished my last one, a photo of my first real job in the Canadian Armed Forces. I graduated in the summer of 1978 from University of Toronto and then headed out to Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Cold Lake, Alberta. This was my first time west of Ontario so I went there with some trepidation. I remember asking my Dad about Cold Lake, as he'd gone there many times for training on the fighter aircraft. His recollection was what he called the Toonerville Trolley. From what he remembered that was how you got from Cold Lake to Edmonton and vice versa. So, not much help.. But, then again, his last time there was probably sometime in the early '60s.

My message told me I was going to work at Base Supply. I shipped my meagre possessions out to Cold Lake and discovered that I was to take the Service Flight, a CF Boeing 707 from Trenton to Cold Edmonton, via Winnipeg (as I recall anyway). Getting off at the Air Movement Unit in Edmonton (we travelled in uniform back then, by the way), I looked for the way to get to Cold Lake. Luckily, at the check-in counter there was a sign for Cold Lake and/ or Calgary passengers to report in. I discovered that those of us without our own ground transportation (*raises hand in the air*, that was me) were to be transported to their home base on the Inter-base Bus Service (IBBS). So, baggage was offloaded and picked up by the passengers and those of us heading off to Cold Lake boarded our bus and away we went. The trip was a few hours, with a stop in Smoky Lake for a drink and snacks. I had my first experience with Old Dutch potato chips there (yummy). We arrived in Cold Lake around 10 pm and the first thing I noticed was that it was still light out.

Because everything was closed for the night, we single folks, who were just arriving to start work there, were dropped off at the Transient barracks. Officers reported to the Duty Officer and received keys to a room in transient quarters and then we were expected to report in next morning. Due to the time change, 2 hours difference from Ontario, I woke up around 2 or 3 in the morning and once again noticed that it was already beginning to get light. (Yup, that was summer in Cold Lake).

Anyway, next day began my in clearance routine, where the first thing I discovered was that I would not be working in Supply but instead was to report to Base Transport. Hmmmm, I wondered, what do they do in Base Transport. I found the place and reported in. The Base Transportation Officer (B Tn O) of the time was Maj Peter Vetra, but he was in Edmonton for the summer, providing transportation support to some major activity taking place there. I want to say the Commonwealth Games, but they didn't take place until a couple of years later, so, honestly, I have no idea what. But, the Acting B Tn O was a grizzled Capt by the name of Price Carson. I discovered that I would be taking over his normal job, that of Mobile Support Equipment Officer (MSEO) (okie dokie, still have no idea what this meant) and that another new Officer Cadet coming in, Maude Pellissier, would be taking over as Base Traffic Officer as that officer was being posted out to Edmonton that summer. (ah.. now I remember, yes it was the Commonwealth games, because I went down to Edmonton later on and stayed with the Crichtons and attended the Games with Karen Crichton.). I think so anyway.

My room, overlooking the Officer's Mess
I also got the keys to my new barrack block room during this in clearance process. I was basically one of two or three officers living in this block as the majority lived in Officer's Circle in a different Barrack block. This building was the overflow and in the summer was also occupied by Cadet officers who were there in support of an Air Cadet camp that took place every summer. I was pleasantly surprised by the size, if not the starkness, of my new room. I had a bedroom and through an alcove, a separate living room. It was furnished with the basics, bed, sofa, a couple of easy chairs, everything a man could want. I fitted it out with my belongings and made myself at home.

My fancy book case
Over the next 3 years, I learned my job and became quite active in Base and Section activities. This being my first ever posting, it became one of my favourite jobs. I learned that as MSEO, I was responsible for of the military vehicles at the Base, those operated by my own drivers, about 50 or 60, if I remember correctly, and all those other vehicles that were used by the other sections and Squadrons on the Base. This was normally a Captain's job, hence Price Carson normally filling the role, but for the time being, I was given the job and for the next few months, learned what it all involved by the seat of my pants.

Tpt course (I'm in the back row, 3 from right)
I did eventually go to Camp Borden for the Transport Course to learn what I'd been doing for the previous 4 or 5 months. Prior to the course, Maude and I spent an hour or so each day for a few weeks, learning how to drive a 2 1/2 ton truck, a jeep and a 5/4 ton truck so we would be prepared for our road move portion of the course. Then off we went in the Fall of '78 to wonderful Camp Boredom to learn about being Transport Officers. So what did I learn? Well, we did learn that the Transportation Manual was an awful mishmash and that nothing was anywhere that it would make sense. We started counting how many times our chief instructor would play with his moustache during lectures and go ahem. During the road move, I learned that I wasn't very good driving a manual transmission, as I lightly, I repeat, lightly, bumped into the jeep in front of me. (The favour was returned by the way). But it wasn't a total waste of time, as I met some new people and reacquainted with others.

The Flight Line
Cold Lake was a great place for a single guy. I had a great, challenging job. I ran the General Purpose Vehicle section (buses / cars/ freight), the Refuelling section (which was a busy place as there were 3 Squadrons (CF-5 and CF 104 fighters) and the Aeronautical Engineering Test Establishment (AETE) to support and also the Heavy Equipment section, that maintained the roads and runways. And that was a challenge in the winter with temperatures down in the low -20s (Fahrenheit). There was also a small section out at Primrose Lake, (a Fighter weapon range) and a marine section that patrolled Primrose Lake as a safety boat when the aircraft were flying there.

Some visiting aircraft
While I was there, Cold Lake hosted the first ever Maple Flag Exercise. This was the Canadian version of one that took place every year down at Nellis Air Force base in Las Vegas. The premise for the exercise was to give combat pilots the necessary experience in air to air combat that would stand them in good stead in operational, wartime situations. The Americans had discovered, during the Vietnam War, that most pilot losses occurred during the first 3 combat missions. So the aim of both Red and Maple Flag was to give those pilots that experience before they ever experienced real combat. It was a massive exercise with aircraft from both the US and UK and from all across Canada, deploying to Cold Lake for 2 or 3 weeks for this training exercise. My transport folks were extra busy and we had to get extra drivers and refuelling tenders from other bases across Canada to make sure we were able to provide that support. It was lots of fun. Also while I was there, the various fighter aircraft companies were bidding to replace our CF-5's and 104's, brought their test planes to Cold Lake to demonstrate their capabilities. It was always neat watching the shows they put on.

Fun - Run
But it wasn't always work. There were so many activities to take part in. There were lots of parties, of course, but because everyone lived on the base in those days, everybody took part in activities. I curled, played inter-section baseball and even intersection hockey. Luckily the Transport team played in the C-League; no body contact, no slap shots.. Our games usually were Sunday evenings either 9 or 10 p.m.

The Transport hockey team (front row, 1st from right) (I do sometimes smile)
My favourite past-time was working at CHCL radio, 1450 on your dial. This was the base radio station, and everybody, other than the secretary was a volunteer. It operated 7 days a week, from around 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., when we would switch over to the CBC.

WRD in Medley, Alberta. :0)
It was a small radio station, I think, 50 watts of power. Basically you could get it on the base, itself, and downtown Grand Centre. Maybe in Cold Lake as well, but was about the extent of it. We played all varieties of music, country, classics, French, jazz, easy listening and rock. Certain people had regular shows, I did the Saturday night rock show and the Sunday night easy listening show. But you could fill in gaps in the schedule if you were available and nobody else had put their name down. I did a country show, alternating weeks, a jazz show every third week and sometimes helped out with the French show (that was interesting) and the classics show. At various times during my time at CHCL, I was the pop music director (I set up the pop charts and did the Saturday chart show); the country music director (I did the same thing with the country charts) and finally I was the Station manager for a year. It was all very exciting and so much fun. I think I spent about 20 to 30 hours a week there.

I haven't looked like that for awhile.
After my first year, I moved to the other barrack block, where most of my friends stayed. It was definitely a better room and atmosphere. We all got along very well, usually ate at the same table for dinner in the Mess and took part in activities together; heading down to Edmonton en masse to go to the Police concert and such. Trips to Edmonton were a highlight. For all that the Cold Lake/ Grand Centre and base had to offer, there was no McDonald's!! Grand Centre was a town of around 3,500, Cold Lake somewhat smaller and the base probably as many people as both of the other towns together. So a trip to Edmonton was a highlight. You always made a MacDonald's stop (pathetic much). I mean they couldn't hold a candle to the burgers served at the Base's Chimo lounge. There were many times that the boss and I and some of our section would head to the Chimo lounge for lunch, the day after a big party (hangover time) and have a couple of hot Caesars and one or two Chimo burgers to cure the ills. Ah, that was nice. But MacDonald's was sort of a tradition.

Going away party from the Kiwi Club
I was in Cold Lake from '78 - '81 and was offered a year long French course. Once again I turned it down, as I was still pretty sick of school. So instead, I found out I was posted to 1 Air Movements Unit in Edmonton, Alberta. (As an aside here, because I won't talk about this very much, I did leave Cold Lake a married man. Because it didn't end up very happily, I'll leave it at that.) So after 3 years in a great job, with lots of responsibility and recognition, I was moving on to the next phase of my military career. (It wasn't quite so enjoyable.)

More to follow.

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