Monday, June 26, 2006

Elephant Cages and Jet Lag

Kirk was assigned to the 381st MI squadron at Elmendorf. It's a huge unit - somewhere around 300 people I think when we were there. They worked at the elephant cage - well, the elephant cage surrounded where they worked - up a hill, behind the flight-line. That worked well for Kirk. You drove in the front gate and past all the boring stuff, circled the flight-line where, quite often, the f-16's would be taking off, or a c-5 would be making an utterly improbable looking landing (and where there was a resident fox who sometimes could be seen bouncing above the fireweed looking for food), then headed up the hill, watching for moose on either side and hoping that the eagle pair who nested nearby would be putting on an aerial show.

He had to take a test when he first got there - no idea what it was about. He loped through it in a couple of weeks, and only afterwards learned he had broken some sort of local record by getting through so quickly. Once that was over he was, butter-bars and all, suddenly a commander. I think that's one of the things that made this such a highly prized position - the chance at command right out of school.

Slightly less enticing was the schedule. There were three flights that rotated the off hours of a 24 hour duty - a 12 day cycle. Four days were swings - 4 p.m. to midnight, four days were mids - midnight to 8 a.m., four days were off. It meant for over a year he would be in perpetual jet lag.

Worse, for four days he didn't see the oldest kids at all - during swings he missed them on both sides of school. Because he was always chasing his last sleep cycle we learned quickly that Daddy sleep was sacred. If he did manage to drop off, we all tiptoed around the house, or left completely in the hopes he could catch an hour or two. I don't think he ever slept normally again.

There was one benefit however. Child 3 had, as probably happens in families like ours, been the funny, charming, but quiet tagalong kid. It wasn't that it was forgotten or ignored, just that the older two set up such a constant chatter Child 3 didn't really get a look-in. When Kirk had his four days off though, and the older two were in school, we just took Child 3 with us to do errands and get to know Anchorage. I remember sitting in a restaurant one day, and looking across at Kirk while Child 3 contentedly informed us of important life facts in an endless stream of noise. 'You know what?' Kirk said, 'this kid talks.' It made us a bit ashamed to realize that this wonderful, intelligent, hilarious personality had been there all along and we hadn't known because of the surface babble. I think that was the thing we both found most fantastic about the crazy schedule - getting to know Child 3 as its very own person.

Of course, once it realized that it could talk and have an audience it hasn't actually stopped for breath since. But I'll take it.

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