Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day one....

We were up and ready early on our first day. After packing overnight bags, including sleeping bags in case we got stuck somewhere, we met in the lobby of the hotel 7:30 to meet the bus to the Armory. Our intrepid driver and XO of the mission, Captain Crabtee, was to become, like MSgt Kiel, one upon whom we would depend for transportation to and from whatever place we might be directed.

We had breakfast in the Armory- the best scrambled eggs I ever had! My image of military meals was of Igor, the camp cook from M.A.S.H. in the episode where he made the French toast in a vat big enough to hold a cow. Instead there were efficient tables with steam trays of eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon and ham.

We spent some time visiting with people giving and receiving eye exams before getting the word that we would be going to the airport to watch a group of doctors, nurses and techs be on their way to the village of Point Hope. They had been trying to get there for four days, but each time the weather was, as is normal in Alaska, uncooperative. There is a lot of hurry up and wait when it comes to travel.

The hangar was filled with gear and people in various stages of readiness and resignation with the delay. Three BlackHawk helicopters hopped over from the other side of the field in clouds of blowing snow, and loaded up. It wasn't long before they returned to the hangar, after one had a mechanical.

Next, we got word that since the helicopters weren't going to Point Hope, one would be available to take us and a medical crew to the village of Noorvik. We would be dropped off there while the BlackHawk went on to Selawik to deliver and pick up personnel and then return for us. Get ready!!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

A few sketches.....

Turn right at the Husky.......

After our arrival in Kotzebue and trip to the armory and Manilaq Health Center, we went hunting for the local restaurant. We knew it was nearby, but turned right rather than left after leaving the hotel. With all the snowy streets, where were the landmarks for three hungry and weary travelers? The answer? Turn right at the Husky!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hitting the Ground Running.....Sort Of

We arrived in Kotzebue in a cloud of blowing snow, met by Major McPartlin and Lt. Col. Calderwood. Collected baggage and on to the Nullagvik Hotel, about three minutes from the airport. It was still light, and the shadowless snow seemed to create the feeling of being in a snow globe. The white sky met the white ground, with dots of color and value where buildings, snow machines and dogs dotted the landscape. More tomorrow.....

Back in the Northland!

Flight was ever so smooth into Anchorage. But those memories of bad weather flights never leave. While on the flight, I met the other artist bound for Kotzebue, Shiho Nakaza, from Los Angeles. We approached Anchorage over Cook Inlet. I had forgotten how beautiful Alaska is from the air. The snow capped mountains slip by seemingly so close that you can reach out and touch them, and the ponds, rivers and nothingness beyond Anchorage brought back memories.

Of course our flight was late and we had to run for the leg to Kotz. Which was sitting there due to a mechanical. So while we sat and waited, we met our escort/guide/liason/personal ID/and new BFF MSgt Brady Kiel. MSgt Kiel would be the one we would depend on during our stay to let us know where we needed to be and when as well as help us with making sure we had the photo reference material we would need to create the paintings.

Through the Looking Glass

As I go through my notes and recollect the happenings of the past week, I only slightly regret that I didn't post every day. It would have been nice to have a daily log on the blog, but there was just too much happening. It is taking awhile to digest and come to some mental agreement in terms of emotions, particularly regarding going back to Alaska. I love Alaska! Alaska is not a place, it is a state of mind. People in the Lower 48 glaze over when we talk about our life there. How does one describe commercial fishing at a set net site to someone whose chief concern is whether or not to buy organic? (Commercial fishing is organic. Believe me.) People simply don't understand Butch when he talks about flying there. We have often talked about whether or not we should have stayed. Had we hung on another year, we'd have a little more income, but with the way the economy went, we wouldn't have been able to afford to leave, much less buy a house here. We miss our friends, without a doubt. And we miss the lives we had there, the things we did, the activities we engaged in. But it was time to leave, and we wax nostalgic, all the while reveling in the sunny days here. And we don't hesitate to react when people complain about rain or cold.

So on the 13th of April, I headed off into The Looking Glass, or my first step into the unknown that would be the week. I was booked on the Kenmore Air flight from Port Angeles to Boeing Field in Seattle. I thought I had left small planes behind me in Alaska. The Cessna Caravan is a 9 passenger high wing aircraft and the promise is to get you there in 35 minutes. Weather permitting, of course. Where have I heard that before? Once at Boeing Field, passengers are taken by bus to SeaTac airport. It turned out better than I thought, and now I know how it's done. Then came the usual checking in, security, taking off boots (it was easier to wear them than pack them) and making sure I kept track of my stuff. The older I get the harder that is.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A little background.....

I've had the honor to be a member of both the Air Force and Coast Guard Art programs since 1994. The purpose of the programs is to tell the story of the missions through art. Artists may visit bases and/or observe missions with the purpose of creating artwork that is donated to the military. In the Air Force program, many artists are members through illustrators' societies. My affiliation is through the Northwest Air Force Artists association.

While living in Kodiak, home to the nation's largest Coast Guard base in terms of area of responsibility, I was able to go out with cutters and small boats as well as fly on helicopters and C130s. For a small town, the large Coast Guard contingency is an integral part of the community. Over the years I have submitted many paintings to the program and one was displayed in a Coast Guard exhibit in The Netherlands last year.

Since we moved to Washington in 2006, I have continued to contribute to the programs, and in 2007 was invited along with three other artists to McChord Air Force Base south of Seattle to document the Rodeo where units from all over the world come together to compete in various exercises. Not only was the event an exciting experience, the other artists have become close friends and we had the opportunity to regroup at the "art turn in" held at Bolling AFB in Washington DC in 2008. The painting here is entitled "Wranglers," which Rodeo participants are called, and they are shown as they load mannequins onto a waiting C130, being timed and graded on their activities.

When the call came a few weeks ago asking if I would be willing to go to Kotzebue, Alaska to observe Operation Arctic Care, I jumped at the chance. To return to Alaska, to interact with our men and women in uniform as they go about their duties, to create paintings from the experience.....Does it get any better than this? Not for me!

Operation Arctic Care is in its 16th year. Reservists and active duty personnel with medical expertise come together from all over to provide medical coverage for people in the remote villages of Alaska. This year the mission would be hosted by the Air Force. We would spend two days there and weather permitting, would fly on BlackHawk helicopters to villages to observe and interact with medical personnel assigned there.

Official orders and itinerary arrived and I began checking weather in "Kotz," 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Emails flew back and forth with our assigned escort, MSgt Brady Kiel and fellow artist for the mission, Shiho Nakaza of Los Angeles. We were to bring sleeping bags, just in case we were to fly to a village and be unable to get back to Kotzebue, and don't forget the cold weather gear! Temperatures hovered below freezing. Like, 8. Or 18. Or 22 degrees. The Arctic is still frozen at this time of year. Unlike Kodiak, the cold is dry and breakup won't happen for another month.

So how could I take enough stuff, travel light and still get the job done? How would it feel being back in Alaska, even though I had never been that far north? I put my trust in God, and the Air Force, to show me what needed to happen and prepared for the trip of a lifetime. Pr 3:5, 6

More to come.......

Sunday, April 18, 2010

North to Alaska!

I just returned from Kotzebue, Alaska where I was able to observe our men and women in uniform as they provided medical care to people in remote villages. Operation Arctic Care 2010 was sponsored this year by the Air Force with more than 250 people participating. There will be more to come as I sort through photos, sketches, and yes, emotions, too. It was truly an honor and an adventure, and as part of the Air Force Art Program I'll be creating more than one painting to submit to the Air Force. Meantime, it's late, there are more than 500 photos to sort through and I still have to bake cookies for our Sweet Adelines Chorus installation meeting tomorrow. Yawn. After all the cool stuff last week, who can sing?