The Goal: A Trip to South Korea

My last few posts have indicated a bit of a surprise to come in a future article. Well, the surprise is that Connie and I have been in a bit of a hurry to get to Travis Air Force Base outside Fairfield, California where we have intentions of catching a space available military airlift flight to Osan, South Korea. From Osan we hope to catch another military flight to Kimhae Air Base in the southeastern portion of South Korea. From Kimhae we will travel on to the island of Geoje where we intend to spend a couple of weeks visiting our friend Ron. I have added a map of South Korea with markers showing where we intend to be. We have been monitoring the events in North Korea and as of this writing there seem to be no concerns regarding travel to and from the region.

For us, the drive from Mission, Texas to Fairfield was a pretty fast paced adventure. We normally drive anywhere from 150-250 miles per driving day with two or more days layover at each stopping place giving us time to explore a new area. As you observed, with the exception of a two night stay in Laredo, a three night stay in El Paso and a two night stay in Peoria we moved every day and we generally covered some pretty good distance doing so. The up side is we got to Travis sooner. The down side is we passed a lot of places we now will have to go back for further exploration. That is okay, as it gives us things to dream about. I have also included a series of maps showing the route we took. The first shows the whole route and due to space constraints is really hard to follow. The three remaining maps are subsets of the first showing a lot more detail of our trip. I have started using this technique to help the reader follow our route a little easier and also to give us a permanent record of where we were and when we were there. As it turns out creation of the maps is really quite simple and then I use a screen shot application to create a .jpg file of selected portions of the map to share. I hope you like the added dimension and I do welcome your feedback.

So, what did getting to Travis faster do for us? I will start with the positive. We had the opportunity to learn more about how this space available system really functions by our daily visits to the passenger terminal to see where things stand. We have gotten to know the area around the base pretty well. We were able to have mail forwarded and received before flying off. We were able to spend a very relaxing day in San Francisco re-exploring Fisherman’s Wharf and the surrounding area. We were able to tour the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard and actually found the barracks I lived in for the first few weeks of attending Nuclear Power School. Of course we found the site of that school as well. We also were able to find the apartment building I lived in while assigned to the USS Haddock in overhaul at Mare Island. That building is located in Napa, California. Lest I forget, we also took a tour of the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield.

Our week and counting here at Travis has been pretty busy and quite enjoyable. That is with one not so minor exception, the not knowing what tomorrow will really bring. When you are a retired military member you are in the Category VI on the priority list for utilizing military transportation. That is the lowest priority. Let me add that I fully agree with that policy as we should in no way have the ability to cause mission required travelers to wait, nor should we interfere with the reconnection of active duty members from their family members when they have the opportunity to travel on leave. So, having to wait is not a big deal. Not knowing when we might be able to fly can be a little frustrating.

When we first got here and got settled in the campground we ventured over to the passenger terminal, about a mile and a half from the Family Campground on base. We were informed that there was a flight the next morning and one the following day as well. We didn’t feel as though we could get our act together to catch an early flight the very next morning, so we set our sights on the second flight.

We went back to the motorhome and started packing and trying to determine what to do with the now minimal food remaining in the refrigerator. We also talked with the campground manager and made arrangements to store the motorhome in a location he and security monitor rather than the long term parking offered by the passenger terminal. There are a number of reasons to utilize this option, the most compelling one being that we can move the coach between the RV park and storage and back again at any time of the day or night without having to get access to a locked parking area. All in all, it seemed like a very good option for us as we could stay in the park until literally minutes prior to show time at the terminal. When using the long term parking you have to get into the lot well ahead of show time. If the flight fills before your name gets to the top of the list, you then have to gain access to the long term lot again in order to have a place to stay.

Let me explain the term show time. The flight schedule for the current day and next day are posted inside the terminal and can be accessed via a phone number or a web site. About two hours prior to flight time is an event called show time. Prior to show time anyone desiring to fly space available must have reported to passenger service and declared themselves flight ready. That means all the people in the group are present, all travel documents and luggage are present and the vehicle is either in long term parking or in some other way taken care of. Then, at show time the agents start down the list from Category I on through to Category VI or until all seats on the flight are filled. Once you have been called up, you then process your luggage and clear security and wait to board the aircraft. If you are not at the appointed place for show time it matters not where you are on the priority list, you are not going to fly.

Part of the adventure in this type of travel is that you really don’t know what can happen. In fact, the rule of thumb is that you should never leave the terminal until after the flight has left the ground. Last minute changes happen frequently and seats open up unexpectedly and are filled with the next person on the list who is present. Another little gotcha that makes life exciting is that if the flight stops, as all flights to Korea do, anyone can be bumped off the flight by someone who is traveling with a higher priority. For instance let’s say we are to get out on a flight that stops in Hawaii. When we arrive in Hawaii if there are active duty folks in the terminal trying to get to Anderson AFB, Guam, they would bump the lowest priority folks starting with the last person to have gotten on the flight. Again, a good policy as no standby passenger should ever have priority over mission requirements. The good news is that once on a flight you cannot get bumped by another Category VI flyer regardless of how long that person may have been on the list to go to where you are going.

As it turned out the first flight was canceled. Whatever the mission was that it was to support either evolved or was also canceled. At any rate that flight did not go. The flight we were trying to catch the following day never showed up from Memphis, Tennessee. So, there we were all packed and ready to go, but without a way to get there. Fortunately, we had been visiting the terminal often enough that we learned that our intended flight was going to be a no show before we had moved the coach. That was a good thing. We simply checked in with the campground manager and let him know we wouldn’t be going anywhere for a few days or more.

The way the system works you can look no further into the future than 72 hours for flights out of any of the military locations. The reason is operational security. Remember, these flights are to support various missions worldwide. For the most part they are cargo flights with some number of seats aboard. Some of them are on refueling planes, and some are actually passenger planes under charter to the Air Force. Most of what flies out of Travis is large cargo and tanker jets. The cargo planes have 73 seats while the tankers have 10 – 17 seats. Often times on the tankers several of the seats are already dedicated to a second flight crew for the long trans-Pacific flights. In those cases there are very few seats available for lowly Cat VI folks like us. Complicating the issue at this time of the year is Spring Break. I am not sure what category active duty members and their families on leave occupy, but apparently it is greater than VI. One of the passenger service representatives we have gotten to know has been very up front with us in letting us know that spring breakers make it really difficult for retired folks to get anywhere. If you are wondering how there can be so many spring breakers flying to and from South Korea, allow me to explain. All Korea bound flights go via Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii or Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. There are plenty of spring breakers moving back and forth between Hawaii and the mainland. Since we have been here, there have been no Korea bound flights stopping in Alaska enroute.

To continue, now that our first real shot had disappeared and our look ahead indicated we would be around for at least three days we started making plans. The sort of no brainer plan to visit the Jelly Belly factory was immediately put on the top of the list. The factory is just a few miles from the base and the tour is less than an hour long. I would love to share the photos we took of the factory with you, but we were not allowed to take any photos. Therefore, we have nothing to share. Suffice it to say that the tour was pretty cool. We were able to see virtually every facet of the candy making process except the one that I find most intriguing, development of the various flavors. Some are pretty obvious, such as licorice or chocolate. The ones I find most interesting are those such as buttered popcorn and birthday cake. They also blend some of the flavors to create other flavors, such as cappuccino. Finally, there are flavors that really make you wonder about the corporate sense of humor, such as vomit. I found it not necessary to sample that last one to determine its authenticity. I will forever take the company’s word for recreating that reproachful taste sensation. Anyway, the tour guide discussed in some detail how they blend various base flavors to create other flavors, but she did not discuss what is likely a trade secret as to how they developed some of the basic flavors that are not a direct extract such as chocolate, vanilla or cherry. The tour was wonderful and of course they end it at the retail store so you can satisfy your sweet tooth before leaving. We bought a little more than a pound of various Jelly Belly jelly beans. It will probably take us months to eat them all.

On our way to the Jelly Belly factory we saw signs for olive oil tasting. So, once we satisfied our sweet teeth we ventured over to try the olive oil. As it turns out olive oil is a huge crop here in California. There are small producers of olives as well as mega farms with millions of trees. As the proprietor of the particular company we found ourselves in explained, there appears to be a huge difference in the health benefits of the various varieties of olives as well as the differing processes for extracting the oil from the olives. I would explain all this in more detail, but at this point I have only one man’s opinion and he is in the business of selling some pretty expensive oil. I will try to do some more research and if I can validate this man’s claims, I will share via this venue. The olive oil produced by this small company tastes very good. If the health benefits are as claimed, the higher price is truly justified.

Connie had a tooth that was bothering her so she decided to find a dentist. When she went in to have the tooth examined she was impressed enough with the practice that she decided we should have our semi-annual exams and cleanings taken care of. So, nearly one full morning was devoted to catching up on dental care. The good news, no real work needed to be done on either of us.

As the weekend approached and we learned we would not be flying over the weekend, we decided to take advantage of discounted fares for ferry service between Vallejo and San Francisco when riding off hours during the week or on weekends. The schedule is really a commuter schedule and therefore does not have any late night crossings. So, we decided to go over in the morning, tour around a little, have a larger than normal lunch, more touring and then catch the last boat back to Vallejo. Well, that turned out to be the perfect plan. We got there in time to catch a Grey Line Tour Bus from Fisherman’s Wharf. The tour was something like ninety minutes and was filled with history and a good bit of local humor provided by a tour guide who was born and raised in New York City. So, it was San Francisco with a Bronx accent. We had been to San Francisco before, both together and prior to knowing one another, so the tour was a refresher course for us. Having said that, we were exposed to facts that I had not previously known. Following the tour we walked along the wharf in search of the right restaurant for lunch. The choices were several with each establishment having it particular specialties. We finally found what seemed to be the right place and had a delightful unrushed lunch.

After lunch we walked. I, for one, needed to as I had a dinner sized lunch. Our walk took us further along the waterfront towards the Golden Gate. We walked out on the Municipal Pier which curls back into the bay rather than jutting straight out. From there we watched a lone sea lion snooping around someone’s crab traps as well as several gulls that were looking to make a living from what people dropped along the pier. From there we walked further west to Fort Mason and took in a little more history of early San Francisco. The view from the fort is to die for. When we left the fort we walked east along Bay Street to the Embarcadero and eventually to the ferry pier, Pier 1. Pier one hosts several specialty shops and we walked through some of them. Unfortunately, we arrived after many had already closed, but we were really early for the ferry. We spent most of our waiting time sitting on a park bench looking out across the bay watching the ships and boats making their way into port. It was a wonderful way to end our afternoon in San Francisco.

While we were waiting for the ferry Saturday morning in Vallejo, I looked across the water to Mare Island. Mare Island is one of those places that played an important role in my Navy career. In the early 1970’s I attended basic nuclear power training on the north end of the island. Later in that decade I came back to Mare Island on board USS Haddock SSN 621 for a refueling overhaul.

With nothing to do on Sunday, we decided to tour my old haunt. Surprisingly, most of the buildings that made up the industrial area of the shipyard remain standing and many are now used by a variety of companies. More interesting is that there seems to have been little effort by the current occupants to modernize these really old buildings, at least nothing that is visible on a drive by. Mare Island Naval Shipyard was the first Navy shipyard on the west coast. It opened in 1845 and a few of the original buildings remain to this day. Certainly the core of the buildings that remain were built in the first or second decade of the shipyard’s existence. Connie and I drove around the industrial area as I tried to remember some of the shops I had visited during my tour there. We also ventured out to where the golf course is. I don’t think I even knew there was a golf course on the island when I worked there. We were surprised to learn that some of the former housing areas have been and are being redeveloped as housing developments. In fact many of the old houses are still occupied today by what must be some pretty wealthy people. After driving around the shipyard portion of the base for a good bit we found the museum and to our delight found that it was open. It is only open two Sundays a month, so this was luck at its best. The museum is housed in the former pipe shop. For those not familiar with shipyard terminology, the pipe shop is the shop where piping systems are fabricated prior to installation on a ship. They also refurbish portions of piping systems removed from ships during overhaul. The shop is quite large and the museum staff has done a wonderful job of trying to fill it with memorabilia and interpretive displays of the history of Mare Island and its various tenants over the long existence. We spent much longer in the museum than I had intended, but it was worth every minute.

After the museum we drove to the north part of the island to see what remains of the Nuclear Power School and the barracks I lived in when I first arrived at school. I remembered that the building housing the school was old way back when I was there. The barracks we students were assigned to were even older. I remember thinking how smart Admiral Rickover was that he put all his resources into the ships and reactors his program was responsible for and picked up the scraps for training facilities. I don’t have any idea if that was the way it really was, but I certainly remember having that thought as I examined the facilities that would be my home for three months of my life. Today, the buildings are dilapidated to the point of being unsafe. The barracks have started to fall in. One building has signs of having had a fire at some time. The school building seems to have been last used as an employment office for the shipyard as it was being closed in the nineties. I took some pictures and they, along with some San Francisco photos, are in the linked album. Just click on the photo below. Of course these old buildings will mean nothing to most who read this. However, for the few who may have been there they will have meaning.

The Sights of San Francisco

The afternoon was still young enough that we decided to take a ride up to Napa where I had lived while assigned to USS Haddock. Saturday evening I was able to come up with the name of the street where I lived, so we had a place to start our search. My time on Haddock pre-dates Connie being in my life. Therefore her great memory of all the places she and we have lived would play no part in finding my former apartment. We ended up driving up and down Brown Street a couple of times, but we eventually found the old apartment building. I hadn’t remembered it exactly as it is, but I was pretty close.

We ended the day’s travels with a stop at the passenger terminal back at Travis and found that the flight that I had learned about earlier in the day that was to have gone out on Monday had been moved to Tuesday. So, the wait continues. In fact the reason I have time on my hands to write this is because we are waiting to see if we will be moving the coach at zero dark thirty Tuesday morning to meet a very early show time.

Wish us luck, as we venture onwards.



2 thoughts on “The Goal: A Trip to South Korea”

  1. I hope you get your flight before the next millenium…I couldn’t stand the uncertainty and frustration…LOL
    Your maps were good, especially since they could be enlarged just by clicking on them, and your system for pictures is perfect.
    You are having many enjoyable travels while you wait.
    I certainly wish you LUCK!

  2. i have to admit that I haven’t read in some time and I was surprised to see the “Old Grey Beard” showing it’s face again. It looks good.

    Also, we were in CA to visit grandkids, etc in Fremont. I wish we had known you were enroute or there. We spent Sunday the 5th at Golden Gate Park.

    Good luck with Korea.

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