Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Returning to the Past

Rekjavik, Iceland

I lived in Iceland from April of '80 to April of '81, during my last of four years in the Air Force. I had a remarkable experience in that year, unlike most other military personnel stationed there who seemed to be simply waiting to go home.

Being stationed there was considered a hardship, a "remote assignment," something that most people were asked to do only once or twice in a 20 year career. I, on the other hand, volunteered to go. It was a unique chance to live in a Scandinavian culture (a life-long interest for me). Once there, I bought a used car. This, in addition to my minor knowledge of Danish (the second language in Iceland) allowed me to make the most of this chance to explore Iceland.

I'd always wanted to go back.

Last Summer my English friend and former "Saga Insurance" team mate Charlie was pondering an unusual way for her and her boyfriend Jake to celebrate their 21st birthdays, both at the end of March. Somehow the idea of Iceland came up and somehow I got invited to join the adventure.

Boy, do I love my life. With friends like this, how could I ever be bored.

We rented a car and set out to circumnavigate the entire island counter-clockwise, with a day or two in Reykjavik at the beginning and end.

In my year in Iceland in the installation we called "Rockville," not far from Keflavik on the tip of a rocky peninsula, the summers were never that hot and the winters never that cold. Any snow fall was small and would melt away in a few days. Such, I had thought, was the way it was in all of Iceland. Icelanders say, with accuracy, that Iceland is green and Greenland is ice. Yes, but in the north in late March, we would discover, it is still very much a land of snow and bitter cold.

One goal for both Charlie and Jake was to witness the Northern Lights for the first time. When I lived there a year, I had many opportunities to witness spectacular light shows in the sky, often while soaking in a natural hot springs pool in a lava field. Sunspot activity was at a lull during our adventure and, however, so the best we got to see was a dim green glow on the northern-most horizon two nights out of our week there.

Jake put together this video the one night we decided to drive a small distance from our hostel in Vik to find a clear northern horizon and brave the huge drop in temperature in the evening to stand outside our car to steady our cameras on the roof for long exposures.

The last thing I did before heading home was to drive out to the small Air Force Station where I spent a year of my life. The entire station consisted of perhaps 100 enlisted personnel and 10 officers, I among them. Our job was to use our radar to monitor Soviet aircraft (always Tupolev bombers) flying between Russia and Cuba. I was an Intercept officer, guiding our fighters on their intercept until they could see the target aircraft themselves with their own radar. Our fighters would escort the bombers through our NATO air space, both parties offering friendly waves and taking photographs, and then head back to Iceland.

The end of the cold war ended the necessity of this mission so my small station was decommisioned years ago. It's still visible in this Google Map satellite photo but, much to my chagrin, it has since been razed to the ground.

All that's left are the concrete foundations.

I took a picture for my daughter's sake of what was left my small Officer's Quarters where she was conceived (above).

I can hear her now, thousands of miles away, repeatedly punching her index finger on an imaginary button and saying, "Eeewww. Daaaaaaad!! Ding ding ding ding ding!TMI! TMI! (Too Much Information!)

Moments later I returned the rental car to the international airport a few kilometers away and boarded my plane to fly home.