Friday, 4 December 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 19 - Final Thoughts on Cold Lake, Vacations, plus Gratuitous Family Photos

Old Friends
Before I move on to my short stay at 1 Air Movements Unit (AMU) in Edmonton, some final thoughts on my first posting in Cold Lake and other items. One of the nice things about the military life is that no matter where you are, you tend to meet old friends. I noticed this especially in my next posting at Edmonton, but more on that in my future BLogs. In Cold Lake, I met Gary Christenson, who was just finishing his initial training there and heading off to his next job. We had been on basic training together back in '75. I think he was in 12 Platoon and I was in 13. We had also spent that summer down in Halifax, where he was doing summer On-job training. In Cold Lake, he was working at the Base Pharmacy. Much later on in my career, as I was winding down my career in Comox BC, I was to meet him again, now a doctor and working at the Base Hospital.

Also in Cold Lake was one of my roommates from Basic Training, Jim Dunstan, working now in the Base Dental Section. Jim had the neatest cars, a Plymouth Road Runner and also a Mazda RX-7. And here I was, still walking downtown. He drove me to Calgary one weekend, so I could meet up with another old friend from my Halifax time, while he went on to visit his family in Lethbridge. This was my first time in Calgary and I also managed to spend a day at Banff, enjoying the scenery and the Hot Springs. One of the neatest things I recall from this weekend, was the change in climate as we went from Northern Alberta (-10 degrees or more Fahrenheit) to Calgary (sunny and mild; it was Chinook season).

During my time working at Base Transport, I worked both as the MSEO (for most of my stay there) and briefly in the other officer's position, that being the Base Traffic Officer (responsible for movement of all Cold Lake personnel across Canada, movement of the furniture and effects and also for cargo movement to and from Cold Lake). I preferred the MSEO's job, but both were very interesting and a great start to my military career. I had a crusty Major, Pete Vetra, as my boss, as the Base Transportation Officer. The one thing I learned from him was, "If you are making making mistakes, you are making decisions. Just don't make the same mistake twice." Words to live by. He trusted his two junior officers very much, let us have all the responsibility we wanted and was always willing to stir things up if we asked him. I fondly remember him and our Master Warrant Officer (MWO) 'Moose' Breitkreutz squeezing into my small office when they were bored, both smoking cigars, asking if I had anything for them to do.

You have to remember that this was before we all had desk top computers, I add as a preamble to my next comment. One of my favourite sections in Base Transport, and this is probably due to my love of lists, was the Maintenance, Planning and Liaison cell, ran by one Corporal, Mike Parr-Pearson, and a civilian. In this small room across from my office, all of the vehicles we managed (over 100) were tracked and controlled. The walls were covered with large bulletin boards, carefully lined and blocked, listing every single vehicle we had, who owned it, how it was controlled. Mike pulled them in for maintenance, moved them around the base to get best usage of them, all those sorts of things. I know it seems boring, but it was such an important job. Especially when the team came down from headquarters in Ottawa to review our establishment and make sure we could justify each and every one of them. Preparing the books for each vehicle, engaging all of the sections to come and meet the team (who were there for a week) and explain why they needed what they had or why they needed more, was a big job. We still do that, but I don't think bases get the visits and oversight from HQ, as we did back then. The meetings were quite fun. One of the members liked to jog at the end of the day and was impatient to get out, so we quickly learned to slip in the oddball requirements in then for approval. We were pretty successful with that.

OK, enough work stuff, although, I have to say, it was such a great job, it's hard not to expound on it more. One last thing I recall with pleasure. On many Fridays, after lunch, the boss and the Administrative staff would gather around the orderly room in Transport. One of us would bring a bottle of something, whiskey, Caesars, whatever, and we'd spend the afternoon, having a couple of drinks, joking, chatting. It was a great way to finish off the week and to head out to the Mess for TGIF.

As I mentioned earlier, for my first year or so in Cold Lake, I didn't have a car. So to get down to Edmonton, I either had to rely on friends or take the Inter-base Bus service the base in Edmonton and them make my way downtown for whatever weekend activities I might be attending. There was also a commercial Grey Hound bus service and the other option was the Dakota flight from the Base to downtown Edmonton. We had one left over from WWII, I guess, and it was used for hospital runs to Edmonton once or twice a week, but if there were seats available, you could catch it as well. Early morning departure and make sure you were at the municipal airport for the return flight. I used it to meet my appointments to get my Officer's mess kit tailored and my first new suit make. In the winter, the people in the last two seats, closest to the passenger door, were given blankets to keep warm, due to the draft that blew in. It was an old plane.

I did finally buy my first car. It was a black 79 Pontiac Sunbird, 2-door, hatchback. I purchased it on one of my trips back home and drove it back to Cold Lake. It took four days to get back; North Bay to Sault St Marie; Sault St Marie to Thunder Bay; Thunder Bay to Regina and then to Cold Lake. My first big car trip. The car only had an am radio and driving north around Lake Superior was booooorrrrinng. I think I managed to pick up Radio Wawa for awhile and sometimes an American station that skipped across the lake. But I had a car!!

The boys at home for Xmas '78
Speaking of trips home, the easiest way was to book yourself on the Service Flight that traversed the country; west one day, then back east the next. At Xmas there was a special service and they catered to single folks and families. You did have to wait impatiently at the check in to see if your number was called. It could be tense.
The folks enjoying Xmas, checking out new books and relaxing after Xmas dinner
One year I lucked in as there was a VIP Falcon at Cold Lake and they had room for some extra passengers. I jumped at the chance, it was great. I think the general in charge of Air Transport Group had a daughter in Cold Lake, so the plane went there to pick her up (plus any other passengers), then stopped in Winnipeg for him and then carried us onward to Trenton, Ontario where I could make my way up to North Bay. Cool!
The boys again (that was my Cheryl Ladd poster by the way)
It was always nice to get home. I tried to at least once a year, especially at Christmas. But there were other opportunities as well and I got to spend some time with other members of the family.

A visit from Chris and the kids
With my cousin, Laurie Lee
I did get visits to Cold Lake as well. My roommate from my last year at university, Alan Harris, came out one time to spend a week with me. I got to show him around the base and the Cold Lake/ Grand Centre area. I don't know if he was impressed. ;0)

My trip to the West Coast
Before I headed off to Edmonton, I managed to get in one other road trip in 'Birdy' (yup, that was my unique name for my car), this one with an old friend from university, to the Victoria. This was my first time over the Rockies and we had a great time. We started in Edmonton, headed to Jasper, through Lake Louise, to Banff and then over the Rockies to British Columbia.
Maybe Lake Louise?
We got to see a fair bit of BC, heading to Vancouver via Kamloops on the way there. We stayed with other friends from university in Vancouver, then took the ferry across the Straits to Victoria.
The touristy things, Butchardt Gardens
We did all the touristy things, tea at the Empress Hotel, visit to Butchardt Gardens, all in all a great time. We returned to Calgary via Kelowna, through the Okanagan Valley, also lovely.
The Mountain shot
It was a great trip, beautiful scenery and a chance to break in 'Birdy' somewhat more. Then it was time to prepare for my next move, 1 AMU, Edmonton, Alberta. More next time.

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