RIP Frank and Jeff

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I was going to write about Frank Spivey again, anyway, and then I saw another news article shared on Facebook. This was from the police report on the events. Apparently after he got back from the 25 Club he put on his Blues before grabbing his rifle and shooting up Eagle Trace (I was right about the apartment complex being where Jody used to live – I just couldn’t remember the name the other night).  He fired a total of 23 shots. When they finally had to take him down it was a shot to the chest. He didn’t die immediately. He crawled back in to his apartment. They sent in a robot to verify, then went in and tried to resuscitate him. Maybe if he hadn’t crawled back inside he would have lived. I just hope he didn’t suffer too much. Hopefully he went in to shock and wasn’t in pain. He was a good man.

It’s nice to see all the comments on the AMMO pages. Lots of positive memories from people who worked for him. I wish he knew what kind of an impact his life had had. Maybe it would have saved him. Maybe if people knew what kind of pain he was going through they could have reached out to him, showed their support. Like I said the other day, we didn’t work together for long, but he was a good man. You heard (then and hear now) nothing but good things about the way he lived his life. Godspeed, Frank!

There was one negative poster the other day. This was somebody who didn’t know him. He shared the story with the interview with Frank’s wife and called him a loser. Lots of people jumped to Frank’s defense. I can imagine a time (in the not so distant past) where I would have felt the same way. But knowing Frank, and knowing that he was a kind, gentle soul, I couldn’t feel that way at all. It’s so easy to judge when we don’t know the circumstances. I think I’ll try to remember that! If this wasn’t somebody I knew I would have forgotten the story within a few hours. As it is I’m having a lot of trouble letting it go. Maybe if Frank had been an asshole it would be easy to reconcile.

He was the second guy I worked with who’s killed himself (yes, technically the cop shot him, but he himself called it suicide by cop). Jeff Culp was my sponsor at my first base. That was Nellis, the same place where Frank died. We used to go to the 25 Club after work even.

Jeff Culp was a big country boy from Oklahoma. When he picked us up from the airport he had on a big belt buckle and a bright red, white, and blue shirt. I don’t know much about the particulars of his suicide. He was a TSgt by then, and I believe he was in Germany. He shot himself at work in the bomb dump. It may have been after hours. I don’t know if he was in a storage structure, an office, or one of the shops. I just don’t know what happened with Jeff. I don’t know if he and his wife were having problems (or even if they were still married) or what. It sucks drawing a blank. He was a good guy, too, and deserves the honor of being remembered.

I’ve never considered suicide to be a coward’s way out like many people do. Aside from the fact that many people who do it are at least temporarily unbalanced; I think it also takes a huge amount of nerve. It’s just so unnatural. But more than anything is the fact that you’re are forcing yourself into the biggest unknown of all. If you’re a person of faith you probably view suicide as one of the ultimate evils you can commit. Do you really want to piss off God right before heading out to meet him? And if you are an atheist, then is nothingness really better than anything you can hope for the rest of your life? And if you are one of the many who are unsure, do you want to take the risk? You can’t come back from it, you know.

I’ve contemplated it myself at various times in my life. But I’ve only come close once. And that was in 4th grade, when my best friend said he was going to kill himself when he got home, so I decided to also. I wrote a note. I ran a belt up through the light fixture in our bathroom. I then realized that I would most likely break the fixture, and how in the heck could I explain THAT? I’m sure if I’d really wanted to I could have found a place to do it. My heart just wasn’t in it. Suicide pacts are pretty stupid. And then he showed up to school the next day like nothing had even happened.

The other times it’s been more of a fleeting thought. “I could just drive my car off this cliff” and that sort of thing. I’ve never tried, and with each passing day I find it much less likely that I ever would. I have a good life now, and a wonderful fiancé, and life is good. I just wish Frank and Jeff had been able to hold out for a better day, too.

RIP, brothers.

R.I.P.Frank Spivey

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I used to work with Frank Spivey, and now he’s dead. He committed suicide by cop earlier this week. He was living in Las Vegas, recently retired from the Air Force. Watching a news clip, it seems he was depressed and overwhelmed about the difficulty he was having in finding a job. He’d asked his wife for a divorce, saying it might be easier for her and the kids, but wasn’t sure that’s what he really wanted.

He was outside his apartment with a rifle. It looks like the apartments where Jody used to live, just down the street from my Vegas apartment (I was stationed there in 1995 – 1996). He was shooting rounds into the air, and the police came. They tried to talk him down, but it didn’t work. When he started shooting into an apartment, which they thought may have people in it, they had no choice but to shoot him. I really feel for that poor cop, too. He did the right thing, but still has to live with this for the rest of his life…

I worked with Frank at RAF Lakenheath, in England. We were both working Storage. He was a Staff Sergeant at the time – he made Master Sergeant before he retired. I was probably a Senior Airman, but I put on Staff Sergeant a few months before I left there. I just remember him as a genuine, nice person. He treated others with respect, and really listened to them. He tried to get me to go to a Bible study or church group with him, but never pressed it when I declined.

The last 6 months I was in England I lived in the small village of Weeting. This was after my now ex-wife and the boys left and headed back to the States. Frank was also living in Weeting. I think he had just arrived. We sometimes rode to work together. I used to walk around Weeting, and passed his house a few times. He was always affable and friendly. And now he’s dead.

It’s funny, but one of my overriding memories of SSgt Spivey is his bad haircut. His hair was too long for the Air Force, and it was just basically cut back around his ears. A lot of us ended up doing that when we too broke to get a real haircut…

I hadn’t thought much of him over the years. And now he’s dead. Our time didn’t overlap much. And yet I still find myself thinking about him. Maybe because it seems so out of character. Or maybe because we’ve all had those suicidal thoughts. Leaving the military can be rough. Finding a new job can take many months. It’s a completely different world. AMMO (our career field) supports one another, pretty much without fail. You don’t find that in the civilian world, even after you find a permanent position. You definitely don’t have that during your job hunt. It can be depressing and heart-breaking to realize that the skills you picked up over the course of a career aren’t valued by the “real” world. Actually, you pick up many skills that really are valued, but many employers are too narrow-minded to see how those skills carry over: You’ve handled millions of dollars’ worth of accounts. You’ve supervised a wide variety of people in sometimes stressful situations. You’ve placed the well-being of your unit ahead of yourself. You’ve sacrificed.

Employers look at the job title, I think, and don’t see a correlation. No, you will not be building bombs, but you will be dealing with the same issues and struggles you’ve faced for years. It’s a shame, really. I know from personal experience that it’s hard to even format a resume coming from the military.

What drove Frank over the edge? Was he dealing with depression for years in the military? I didn’t see it, but I didn’t know him very long. Robin Williams always laughed and smiled – outward appearances can be deceiving. Was Frank only recently depressed, due to his job woes? Or was something like this bound to happen to him at some point? I wish I knew.

He was a good man. He was a kind man. He was a loving man. And now he’s dead.

Kuwait, part 8 (Homeward bound!)

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After we got back I switched to nights.  It was funny, because when we used to get to work in the morning we always wondered why the night shift people would turn the air conditioning off and open the door.  It was always hot!  But at night time it felt cool.  It was still around 90 degrees out, but by then that seemed cool to us.

You’d see more scorpions walking across the sand at night, too.  I tended to not wander too far from the office.  Working days I liked to get out, even if I had to walk to the other shops (it wasn’t a big area).

The last two weeks I was there we changed our schedule, too.  We shifted from 6 days on, 1 day off, to 4 on, 1 off.  It actually started to feel like too much time off, even though our shifts were always 12 hours.  You needed one day off for laundry and an occasional haircut, but 2 days left you with time and not much to do.  I never did go to the pool.  I only went to the gym a few times.  It was too hot to just walk around, though I actually did quite a bit of that.

When it got close to time to leave you had to keep checking on your flight.  It was annoying because a lot of people who got there after me flew out a week before me.  Once we got home we would get 2 weeks off, but it had to be in the local area.  But I was heading up to see the boys, and already had a set time, so leaving Kuwait late just meant that I’d lose some of my free time off (I still had to take leave to go out of the local area).

When I finally left it was September 11th, 2002.  The one year anniversary of 9/11 was not the best day to fly.  For a week or two leading up to it our security had been increasing.  Part of that was probably due to our impending invasion of Iraq, too.  So I gave up my dorm room, and went to wait for the bus to the airport.  And wait we did!  We went to THREATCON Delta, as in highest security, and they weren’t going to let us leave base to go to the airport.  Eventually we got on the bus.  And then we sat and sat and sat some more.  Finally we took off, with an armed Humvee escort.

When we got to the airport the bus just sat on the tarmac.  We could see the plane, but couldn’t get on it.  Apparently some generals were arguing about whether it was safe to fly on September 11th or not.  The yes vote won, and away we went.  We were only 5 or 6 hours late leaving…

By then I didn’t care if I got shot down, I just wanted to get off the damn bus!

On the flight I had a middle seat.  And then the guy in front of me decided to put his seat all the way back and sleep.  The whole flight.  All the way to Baltimore, including 2 layovers.  It’s so nice when people are considerate of others…

We stopped at Aviano, Italy first.  It was in the mountains and very green.  Beautiful!  They wanted everybody to stay nearby, in case the flight was ready to go early.  Unfortunately they didn’t communicate this very well.  I sat in a crowded, uncomfortable terminal for 2 hours or so, and then got back on the plane.  Of course the guy in front of me went back to sleep.  All the way to the Azores, off the coast of Portugal.  Here we couldn’t even get off the plane.  They asked that nobody even get up, unless it was an absolute necessity.  Fun times!  It was a short layover, and off we went.

We flew in over New York.  I could see the Statue of Liberty all lit up in the harbor.  Gorgeous!  And either the Mets or Yankees were playing a home game, because I saw a stadium full of people.  It was nighttime by then.  We continued flying on down the coast.  We had been due in to Baltimore around 5:00 pm, but didn’t get there until 11:00.

C and D and I got a cab to a hotel.  Shortly after we got settled in, each in our own room, D called.  He needed help.  I went to see what he needed.  Emergency time – he needed his cigarettes and couldn’t get out of bed!  His legs and feet were all swollen from the flight (he’s a very large man).  I was about ready to choke him!

When I got back to my room I called home.  It was great to talk to mom and dad from the same country again!

Johnny Unitas had died that day.  Big story in Baltimore, of course.

C and I got up early the next day.  We had a flight to catch, first thing in the morning.  On the way he showed me topless pics his wife had sent him (he was very proud of her new breasts it seems) We flew through Dallas and then on to El Paso.  So close to home!  Z picked me up. It was a little annoying because instead of going straight home he wanted to go to the PX at Fort Bliss.  I just wanted to be home, but oh well.  I did make it eventually…

Kuwait, part 7

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Somewhere along the way we met with the base safety NCOIC.  She was very good at her job, but had never dealt with explosives.  We passed on some recommendations.  And then we met with her and the base commander (a colonel) and a few other people.  We outlined what we’d found, gave a few suggestions, and emphasized that the base safety NCOIC was doing a good job, and we gave credit to the EOD guys for getting us there in the first place.  I don’t remember much of it, but it went well.  Most of the colonel’s I ever dealt with where pretty nice.  I guess by then they’re pretty secure in their position, and have no need to terrorize NCO’s and airmen.

The overall trip took longer than expected, mostly due to not getting much time in the Bahraini bomb dump.  The bomb dump itself was tiny, and much trashier than we were used to.  There were lots of papers and things stuck in the fence line, which would never fly in an American bomb dump.  They also had a few piles of trash, which looked way out of place to D and me.  Anything that could even remotely be conceived as a potential fire hazard was a big no-no to USAF AMMO.  In any event, the AMMO Flight Chief (actually a SMSgt, but that was his job title) was wondering if we were ever coming back.

On our departure day we got a ride off base to the airport.  There was a water tower on base painted with red and white stripes – it looked exactly like the one I used to always see in the town of Pocahontas, Iowa, as a kid.  Very cool!  And there was a golf course.  Talk about your sand traps!  The “greens” were about the same color as the desert.  Didn’t look like much fun.  Driving into town I could see a lot of billboards with familiar names on them, but Arabic writing.  It seemed kind of strange to me at the time.

We had to spend a long time waiting for our flight.  It was a small military terminal, with absolutely nothing to do.  When we were finally loaded into the back of the cargo aircraft it was a big relief.  And this time we had a direct flight to Kuwait.  We were hoping for a layover in Oman, but it wasn’t meant to be.  We flew into Ali Al Saleem, and were picked up by a couple of MSgt’s from the bomb dump.  I can’t remember if MSgt L was one of them or not – he was the second in command, and I had worked for him at Lakenheath.  He’s no-nonsense, but a great guy to work for.  Like a smart-ass I had kept a couple of labels from beer bottles, just to make people jealous.  They didn’t seem to care, but a few of the people back in the bomb dump were definitely jealous.  AMMO has a lot of drinkers…

Kuwait, part 6 (Oman, Bahrain)

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Bahrain was a little different than Oman.  It was much more humid than Kuwait, but not nearly as bad as Oman.  In Oman we had no problem getting a place to stay and an alcohol ration card.  In Bahrain they acted like it was a major inconvenience.  I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I know the First Shirt was being a jerk.  However, we did get our cards!

The tent we were in slept 12 or 14 or so.  They had huge generators acting as air conditioning units outside each tent.  One long tube ran down the center of the tent, made from the same material as the tent.  There were holes along it in order to let the cool air out.  Somebody had rigged up a few of the spots in our tent – They connected large water bottles together and put them in the holes of the center tube, directing it straight on to the beds.  Much cooler at night that way!  The chow hall was also just a big tent.  It was extremely long, and relatively narrow.  I’d never seen a tent like it.  Without permanent facilities the cooking wasn’t up to the standards we had in Kuwait.  They still had a steak and lobster night, though.  The lobster tails were probably half the size, and the steaks were smaller and tougher, but the gesture was nice.  And one day as I left the chow hall they were giving away books out front.  There wasn’t a whole lot that I’d normally read, but I found an Elmore Leonard western.  Until then I didn’t know he wrote westerns.

In our spare time D and I played a lot of pool.  They also had video games.  Pool was more fun, though.  And he was a smoker, so we’d go hang out in a smoke shack from time to time.  It was in a smoke shack that an Arabic translator told me that Kadous (my last name) is a slang word, meaning a blessing.  You got that right, obviously!

We met up with the EOD guys, and spent a lot of time hanging out with them.  They were able to direct us to the different units on base that had munitions items (mostly bullets).  The armory was basically connected to the recreation center – where we played pool, hung out, or played games.  The armory included things like grenades and WP rounds (White Phosphorous) that really shouldn’t be stored where people hang out.  The cop commander, a major, didn’t like hearing this.  I remember that he liked to say “I consider myself a combat commander”.  He was kind of an idiot…

One of the things the EOD MSgt pointed out was the placement of vehicle searches at the base entrance.  It was elevated up above the main base, so if there was a car bomb, it could conceivably rain down heavy parts (such as a motor) on to a tent where people were sleeping.  Not exactly well thought out.

The EOD guys had a little robot/car that they practiced with.  It was used to go defuse bombs remotely.  They had all kinds of cool toys.  I used the shower by their tent, though, and that was harsh.  The water was warmed by the sun, so after about 3 minutes it became scorching hot and you couldn’t turn it off.  The showers by the dorms were better, but always crowded.

They got us in contact with the Bahraini Air Force people, so we could have a bay to perform inspections in.  Wow – I wish I could work their hours!  It took a lot of pleading to get a bay for just a few hours a day.  Apparently the 8 hour work day would kill them.  We were always on 12’s – one day was probably about a weeks’ worth for them.

So we brought stuff in and started looking at it.  Mostly it involved verifying that the items were not on hold for any reason, then making sure the correct item #, lot # and quantity were stenciled on every outer container.  Our biggest issue was the lack of time we were allowed.  It made our stay much longer than truly needed.  We kept busy during the days by visiting the other units, counting things in place that were good, hanging out with the EOD guys, and playing pool.  There was actually a McDonalds on base, too.  In Bahrain we could have 2 or 3 drinks every day.  Every night they showed two movies, many of them still in theaters.  The first night it was indoors, but the rest of the time we were there we watched movies on the beach.  They had a huge screen where they projected it, and comfortable chairs and tables, where we could sit and have our beer.  Not bad!  You were not allowed in the water because of pollution, but still a nice feeling.

They even had a mid-tour party while we were there.  In Kuwait there were about 15 people who were permanent party, stationed there for a full year (including the base commander, as well as the bomb dump SNCOIC).  In Bahrain nobody was there for a year, not even the base commander.  They had prizes, including whatever the best new game system was at the time.  They even gave us the first drink for free, and didn’t mark our ration card.  Mine got mismarked on a different round, and I ended up having 5 drinks.  When you haven’t had anything for a few months that feels like a lot!  In Alamogordo Ross and I would have twice that almost every Friday and Saturday night, and oftentimes on Thursday as well.

They did have a chemical attack drill one day.  We knew it was coming, and we were hanging out with EOD.  We all went to a shelter near their tent.  They were a ways away from everybody else, so nobody else showed up.  We hung out with our helmets and gear on, sweating our asses off.  I don’t think we had to actually put our gas masks on, though.  Thank God!  We probably would have passed out from heat exhaustion!

Kuwait, part 5

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About a month into my Kuwait tour I got an email.  It was from somebody I’d never heard of, on a base he wouldn’t name.  He was a MSgt (master sergeant) in charge of the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) in Bahrain (though I didn’t know it was Bahrain for a while.  He mentioned that there were munitions on base in various locations and that nobody had accountability of them.  Apparently, he had discovered that they fell under us for that, and that I was the NCOIC (NCO in charge) of Custody Accounts.  It took a bunch of wrangling, and figuring out the logistics, but eventually myself and SSgt D were given orders to go.  D worked Inspection.  An inspector was needed to verify that everything was serviceable.  At the same time I could have probably gone to Afghanistan instead, if I’d wanted to.  The first group had come back.  There wasn’t much of a mission there.  They were mostly working out and eating crappy food.  A lot of them lost 15 -20 pounds in a month.  So maybe I should have gone!  D, too – he was much larger than me.

When the day finally came caught a flight in a cargo plane headed to Oman.  Oman was kind of a central point for flights.  We would get there and check every day for a flight to Bahrain.  We sat in the back of an ungodly loud, extremely uncomfortable aircraft, and spent 4 hours flying to Oman.  Oman was actually well on the other side of Bahrain, but there were no direct flights available.  When we got to Oman the first thing we noticed was the humidity.  As soon as we stepped out my glasses fogged up on both sides.  Not just a film, but actual drops of water.  My arms too.  Blah!

We checked in at the orderly room, and received our alcohol ration card.  Kuwait was alcohol free.  In Oman we could have 2 or 3 drinks, 4 days a week.  We got there on one of those days.  Oman was used for R & R for lots of units in the Middle East, not just Air Force.  We were directed to a humongous tent that seemed about the size of a football field, and really dark.  We found some bunks and stowed our bags.  We headed out for some recreation!  Mainly we played ping pong.  We also watched some movies with a group of people sitting on couches.  We had our few drinks.  They had a Pizza Hut on base, so we had that.  We hung out and watched people play volleyball.  Nice and relaxing!  Every time I stepped outside it was the same thing – glasses fogged, arms soaked.  I went and bought a tee shirt commemorating the September 11th attack on the Pentagon.  It wasn’t necessarily a patriotic act – I wanted a darker shirt that didn’t show sweat so easily.  There were other options though, so I shouldn’t downplay the September 11th angle I suppose, especially being in the Middle East less than a year after the attacks.

The next day we went to check flights and they actually had one.  We weren’t exactly excited about that, but there wasn’t much we could do.  I remember walking up the narrow stairs at the front of the aircraft, and moving into the back.  It was crazy hot sitting there, our cargo plane baking in the sun on the hot flight line, high humidity, and no moving air.  We sat quite a while, too.  Eventually we took off for the 3 hour flight back north to the tiny island nation of Bahrain.  Everybody on there was soaking in sweat.  All the DCU shirts were off.  When we got up to altitude it felt significantly colder.  We all tried to bundle up.  I’m sure it was actually still quite warm, but as the sweat dried in the cooler air it was like air conditioning.

Kuwait, part 4

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I did get to leave base a few times.  Two days in a row I went to another nearby base (I can’t remember which one).  The highlight there was that they had a much bigger BX, with an actual food court!  I was able to get a Hardee’s Mushroom and Swiss Burger!  And then some KFC the next day!

One thing I learned was that when wind blows sand across the road it looks an awful lot like snow drifts.  Probably a bit warmer, though…  Just off base there was the “Kuwait Camel Racing Club”.  I’m not exactly sure how often they raced, and how big of a deal it was, but still, not something you see every day.  When we’d leave base we weren’t supposed to go in uniform, or at least not have your uniform shirt showing.  We had to be in uniform since we were going on official business, but we drove with our DCU shirts off.  I’m betting any alert terrorist would see three white guys with really short hair, no beards, wearing black or brown tee shirts riding in a big pickup truck (called a 6 pack, as in 6 passengers) and figure out we weren’t exactly local.  That could just be the cynic in me…

One time I had to go to Ali Al Saleem Air Base.  When your directions include “Turn right on the only paved road on base” you know you’re not exactly going to the nicest place.  My dorm room was probably a better stay than the base commander had here.  I’m thinking he was probably able to get his own room, though.  Our senior NCO rooms weren’t bad, though.  They’d share a trailer, each with their own room, 2 sharing a bathroom, and a big common room as well as kitchen, plus washer and drier.  Not exactly the Ritz, but certainly much nicer than the football field sized tent I spent the night in in Oman.

We had a pretty decent chow hall at Al Jabbar.  You could get omelets made to order, and the food was good.  We had a steak and lobster night every week, and many weeks we had chicken Cordon Bleu.  Not exactly great quality, but pretty decent.  It was also open 24 hours for snacks.  At Al Saleem it was…not as nice… The people there were great, offering us food thought they were about to close.  The facility was a bit run down though.  Al Saleem is where I got my picture taken with the Predator drone.  We were there to inventory the Hellfire missiles.  They were pretty small, weighing in at only 66 pounds.  They loaded very easily, too.  We saw a few of the drone “pilots”, sitting in comfy chairs, out of harms way.  None were in uniform, so they were probably civilian.  The unit commander was a full bird colonel, though.  I thought it was funny that he wore a flight suit as his uniform.  Pretty sure he didn’t need it to ride a desk.  I’ve heard that uniform is extremely comfortable, though, so I can’t really blame him.  He was probably a real pilot, too, just temporarily flying from a leather chair.

Another trip off base was to go count munitions at the armory located at the airport.  That time I rode down there with some cops (not in cuffs though).  The airport was just a bit more secure than most of them you see in the states… They had plenty of small arms munitions (bullets I guess I should have said), and grenades (both frag and stun).  I’m sure they had a few other things that I don’t recall right now.  There were lots of barricades to prevent a suicide bomber from making it near any aircraft.  I don’t think the threat level was seen as very high at that time; people were allowed to make trips downtown if they wanted.  You had to go through a few hoops, and it didn’t sound like you could do much, so I never went.  I’m pretty sure that hanging out in a mall in Kuwait City isn’t really any more exciting than it sounds.

I’m thinking the only other time I left was when I flew home and when I went to Oman and Bahrain.  I’ll cover both of those later.