They say you can never go back – and I guess that’s very true. Things are never the same as “they used to be.” When Ole was in the Navy we lived in Iceland for just over two years. One of our greatest desires has always been to go back and visit again; to make the trip with dear friends of ours that lived there at the same time. Unfortunately, when you’re young, busy raising a family and trying to get ahead in the world, those kinds of things get put on the back burner. As of September 2006, the NATO base was closed – turned back to the Icelandic government, as it should be. But it would have been fun to see it once more in full operation.
Ole was an Electronics Technician, responsible for the maintenance of all the microwave gear that was used to communicate with all the submarines, airplanes (spy planes –shhh – don’t tell anyone) and various ships that were patrolling the North Atlantic during the time of the cold war with the Soviet Union. The North Atlantic was a busy place then, and Iceland was in a very strategic location. Ole had an extremely high security clearance at that time, so he really couldn’t talk about a lot of the stuff that he did. I remember when he was investigated for that security clearance – they did everything including look down his shorts (hope they saw something interesting!) along with everyone else’s shorts that he knew – both presently and in the past.
I was fortunate enough to get a job working as the secretary for one of the Commanders of the NATO base. (Back then we were called secretaries – not administrative assistants. I guess we were secure in our status knowing that we, in reality, ran the offices, and didn’t need any new and improved titles to make us feel important.) Commander Davis was in charge of the Supply Office – the location where EVERYTHING that the base used to function was kept and disbursed. There were six divisions within the Supply Office, and each division was supervised by an officer of a lower rank and a secretary, along with a number of enlisted men. There were a total of 300+ enlisted men working in the Supply Office at that time, a number of Icelandic Nationals, and seven American females – one for each division and myself, the Commander’s secretary.
My specific office consisted of the Commander, myself, two yeomen (male secretaries), a mailman, and a couple of chiefs. In my opinion, a Chief (E7, 8, 9) is a disposable entity in the Navy – their sole purpose in life is to hold a coffee cup (snicker) and sit with their feet on their desk.
You would think that in a situation like this our office would have been very busy – but I have to say this was one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had due to the lack of enough to do. I would accomplish my workload within a couple of hours in the morning and then had nothing to do for the remainder of the day. I have to say that the Commander was well trained in holding a coffee cup and sitting with his feet on his desk also, as were the other six division heads.
So my days got very long. I read magazines, wrote letters, paid bills, anything I could think of to make the time go faster. AND I played Ann Landers to a lot of the guys in the entire Supply Office. THAT got to be quite interesting. I didn’t apply for that job – it just happened. I must have some kind of sign on my forehead that says “good listener” because people have always unloaded on me and still do. I heard everything from stories about married guys that were having affairs with Icelandic girls (Iceland is the land of “free love” – more on that later) – to guys who were trying to get a Section 8 (just like Klinger on Mash). Most of the time it was an information overload, believe me. One young man, in particular I struck a tight bond with. He was a fellow Minnesotan, an 18-year old from the Iron Range, who had just found out his girl back home was pregnant by another guy. He still wanted to go home and marry her. He finally did, but wasn’t granted leave until after the baby was born. He came back to Iceland, served his time and then got stationed stateside. I often wonder what happened to him. I should try to look him up sometime.
Then there was a guy from Royal Oak, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He was a true hippy and I often wondered what he was doing in the military at all. He was tall and slender with a handlebar moustache that would wrap around his head and meet in the back when he stretched it out. He used a lot of wax on it and coiled it to keep it in order. His best buddy, from New York City, was a short red head with rose-colored granny glasses. They made quite a pair, and when dressed in civies (civilian clothes) you would never have guessed they were part of the military with the exception that they didn’t have ponytails. I have to say the military standards back then were quite different for haircuts than they are now. And especially in Iceland, things were much more relaxed. Most of the guys had big moustaches, LONG sideburns, and hair that touched their collars. Not the clean-cut shaven, shorthaired military you see now.
Then there was Chief Conroy – one of those Chiefs that had a permanently malformed hand from holding his coffee cup all day. He was probably in his late 30s or early 40s, with a beer paunch and an attitude that thought he was God’s gift to women (yuck). He was constantly trying to put the make on all the young females in the department. Fortunately being non-military, I could tell him where to go.
For some reason sailors drink a lot of coffee – probably out of boredom or something. At that time Ole didn’t drink coffee. Each week one of the sailors in his office was assigned the job of coming in early to make coffee in the big 100-cup pot so that it would be ready by the time the officers came in to the office. Well, when it was Ole’s turn, he didn’t like doing this because he had to be there by 6 a.m. in order to have it ready by 8. So one morning when he was there alone, and before he got the coffee going, he found a dead cockroach, stuck it in the spigot from the inside to plug it, and then went on about his business making coffee. The first officer came in, managed to get a cup of coffee, but it didn’t come out very fast. More officers came in, and the coffee was running slower and slower until finally it wouldn’t come out at all. They knew the pot was full, so they started poking around in the spigot and cockroach parts started coming out!! Ole didn’t get out of making coffee, but he got a few chuckles out of that one.
Here’s a picture of me in my office – freaky glasses, huh?
They say you can’t go back – but I sure wish I could go back to being that thin!!