Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: 24th Supply Squadron

Rain on me

imagesIt’s another rainy day in Daejeon—the kind of rainy day when you know it’s going to rain on and off all day. There are the occasional cloudbursts, not what you would call “raining cats and dogs” but more along the lines of a swirling, blowing rain that is accompanied by gusts of wind rushing down from the hills and mountains that make up so much of Korea’s topography/terrain.

Now when you talk about some real cloudbursts—when it rains so hard you can’t see anything in front of you—well that reminds me of this time when I was stationed at Howard Air Force Base in Panama and I got caught, better yet, stranded in one of them. I was working in the After Hours Support Unit—this section in the 24th Supply Squadron—where I took supply requests and delivered whatever had been ordered “after hours” (on weekends, holidays, and night). It was a real cushy job, one day on and three days off, but on the weekends or a holiday it was a 24-hour shift.

One Saturday afternoon, this call comes in from maintenance for a C-130 radome (a large, black cone-shaped covering for the radar on the front of the aircraft). This C-130 was from a squadron of Air Force National Guard C-130’s on TDY (temporary duty) rotation as part of the Southern Command’s mission in Central and South America. The radome came in a wooden box about the size of a Volkswagen and I had to use this enormous forklift to deliver it to the aircraft.

It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and the sky was this lovely azure blue accented with clumps of white, billowy clouds. Just a glorious day on the Isthmus of Panama. I started chugging down the flightline with this img_3374radome, soaking in the sunshine and humidity. Didn’t notice at first how those lovely, fleecy white clouds had turned gray and ominous. And when I did glance up the sky, wondering what the heck had happened to the sun that had been hidden by those clouds, it was too late.

The skies just opened up with a torrential downpour. There was nothing I could do but stop where I was. I turned off the engine and waited. The rain came down so fast and hard,  I couldn’t see beyond the forklift. It rained for about 10-15 minutes and then stopped. Those gray clouds turned white and fleecy and then the sun reappeared along with that lovely azure sky. I swear I could see the steam rising from the flight line.

As for myself, I was soaked but once the sun came out; my fatigues started to dry. I started the forklift and continued on my merry, chugging way down the flight line to the C-130’s. By the time I arrived, about 10 minutes later, my fatigues had pretty much dried.

Goofy Falls — Somewhere in Panama

Path between the Seas -- Panama Canal Zone, 1978I can’t recall the first time I heard about Goofy Falls when I was stationed in Panama at Howard Air Force Base from 1976-1978 or understood why it had been called Goofy Falls in the first place but for many people stationed on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal, it was an alternative to the beach at Howard and Fort Kobbe and the adjacent Veracruz Beach.

I do remember that the first time I went to Goofy Falls was in May of 1977. Some of the guys from the 24th CAMS Squadron (Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron) who I knew quite well and who lived in the same barracks as I did (Barracks 714 was shared by CAMS and the 24th Supply Squadron) had already been there and were raving about how great it was to go swimming there. We had all been to the beach at the far end of the Howard AFB/Fort Kobbe military installation as well as the supposedly off-limits Veracruz Beach (I think it was off-limits because there were no lifeguards and shark nets) and some of the guys were just looking for some other cool place to hang out in Panama.

So, one Saturday afternoon a bunch of us from the barracks piled into two cars and headed off to Goofy Falls, which was located about an hour outside of Panama City. What I do remember about where it was located was somewhere past Tocumen International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional de Tocumen) in sort of in a small rocky valley carved out by a stream and erosion. I know we parked on a small hill and that in the distance we would see Tocumen, Panama City, and the Pacific Ocean.

We had to walk down a path about a hundred yards or so until we came to a freshwater pool fed by a stream that had rushed over the rocky terrain that created Goofy Falls. It was also quite interesting how the geography had changed once we had traveled into the interior-gone were the rain forest-like jungles that surrounded Howard-and now, the geography appeared more like grasslands characterized by dark red soil. The falls were not that spectacular by any means-there was some cascading action over the rocks but what really made Goofy Falls cool was that you could slide down one of them into the lower pool (there were, if I am not mistaken two upper pools).

It was definitely more fun-when one slid down the falls or jumped/dove off some of the rocks into the lower pool-than just swimming at the beach at Howard and Fort Kobbe or Veracruz. The water was cool and quite deep-not sure if anyone ever tried to touch the bottom. In addition, it wasn’t too crowded: there were a few Zonians there along with some other service members when we arrived. Maybe that is one of the reasons why a lot of the guys had raved about it so much because it was sort of like our own private swimming hole.

We brought plenty of beer and other beverages that day and got a pretty good buzz going soon. I just remember a few of the guys who had gone out there that day: Rusty Steele, Harry Tschida, and John McPherson. Aside from John and Harry everyone else out there that day had served in Vietnam. That’s one of the things I will always remember the most about the two years I was stationed at Howard: how a lot of the guys I hung out with had previously served in Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. There was even one guy who supposedly was assigned to Air America and had brought his Thai wife along with him to Panama.

I forgot to wear suntan lotion that day and with the hot sun glaring down I ended up with a pretty nasty sunburn. Indeed, it was so bad that later in the evening I swore I suffered from a mild case of shock. After we had gotten back to base and had chow, some of us went to Veracruz beach to keep on partying. Even though it was around 80 degrees I was shivering but by then my skin from where I had gotten sunburn was burning me up.

The next day I could hardly move. I couldn’t report it to my supervisor when I went to work on Monday because I could have been reprimanded or if my supervisor wanted to really make a fuss out of it, I could have gotten an Article 15-non-judicial punishment. What I got though was worse: I was assigned to a detail to help set up some booths for the base carnival later that week. There was no way I could get out of that detail. It was a classic example of Catch 22-either I got out of the detail because of the sunburn and risked the Article 15 or I suffered being out in the heat setting up the booth. I opted for the latter. In the end, it took me over a week to recover from that sunburn.

I would end up making two more trips to Goofy Falls before I rotated back to the States in September 1978. Just add Goofy Falls to the list of other memories I have of serving in Panama: driving across the Thatcher Ferry Bridge that spanned the Panama Canal, taking the train across the isthmus, hanging out in the Ancon Inn and Ovalo Bar and getting my first tattoo.

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