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Sat, Mar. 6th, 2004, 04:07 pm
Part 1 - Prologue

Emily's Note: Okay, found part 1 buried in my inbox. So here it is...i know now it's out of order but...meh...

Dispatches from the Ice-Season 2

Here I go again! Off for another tour at McMurdo Station.
I can hardly believe how things have worked out for me this
year. Couldn’t have been better in some respects. Dispatches will
go on for another deployment. I would like to welcome back those
who enjoyed the first edition and welcome new recipients from
SIGArms. Again the disclaimer warning those there may be entries
targeted for family or friends who know what I am talking about, but
others may not know exactly what I am referring to. Enjoy it for
what it is, just a simple communiqué from one person living and
working at the bottom of the world.

Hello All,

December 25th, 2003. Rainy, warm and 46 degrees. Good of a time to start as any. Christmas morning. Nothing else to do so I thought I would begin my next tour to Antarctica today. Much has already happened in preparation of my next deployment.

Well, boys and girls. Here we go again. The first year of Dispatches was so warmly received by all those who was on the mailing list, I just have to keep going with this “little diatribe” a bit longer. I know diatribe is not the correct term, so anyone with a better grasp of the English tongue than I can just BITE ME!

I must have been asked a million times the following questions since August 26th when I departed New Zealand. Is it cold? (If you call –49.6 degrees F cold, then no.) Is it sunny all the time? (No, dark.) See any penguins? (AHHH those cursed penguins!) See any polar bears? (Duh-wrong pole!) What do you do there? (Worked a lot.) How do you get there? (Fly.) Can I go? (No…Well, yes.)…And the list could go on. But won’t.

I think the biggest and easiest to answer questions are, Are you going back? (YES!) Quickly followed by Why? Why is a little harder to define, and the final answer didn’t come to me as quickly as any other answer. Yeah, I stumbled through an assortment of lame reasons why I want to return, but risking plagiarism, the writers of one of the first episodes of the West Wing provided the best answer to the why question.

Flying home from New Zealand I realized I did something really cool. There was a certain feeling every time I thought about it, a buzzing in my scrawny brain keeping me up at night and making me aware of its existence at all times. Every time I was queried about what I did, where I went, or I get a spare moment to think, it was always there. It is there right now as I type these words on Christmas morning. Here is the canned answer I give everyone now.

“It is great to be home. See the kids, family, and friends.
Play radio in Maine in September. Go back to work
at SIGArms and making great money. Buy a new car. Have
a great holiday with the family. Having a wonderful
time as a whole. BUT. BUT.”
“That feeling doesn’t go away-EVER.”

So, there it is. It is the best summary of why I got to do what I got to do. I did a good job, got a nice bonus. Got a nicer raise to do it again. Things will be different this time for sure. I know what I am to do. This first installment will chronicle the road back to McMurdo Station.

November 7th. At long last, and after too many phone calls and emails, I finally got my 2004 offer letter from Raytheon. They claimed it got sent on October 14th, but I never got anything, seeing I was watching for that in particular. I signed the letter accepting the terms of the 2004 contract, scanned it into my computer and emailed back to waiting hands in Denver. They sent out the medical package right away and I made the appointments and filled out all the paperwork. It was nice to see I was not required to have another stress test, EKG, or X-rays. But the remainder was the same as last year.

November 17th. Had my physical at the same facility as last year. Extracted all my blood and as I find out later, again screwed up the lab documents. At least they are consistent.

November 19th. Dental exam. All OK except for a couple of small repairs to old fillings. Return all paperwork to Denver.

December 15th. Informed by Denver medical that lab screwed up again. Had to retake my HIV & TSH test. Somebody is incompetent. All I know is I have to get stuck again with a needle! Retook the test December 22nd.

December 22nd. After I got stuck again, I went to the United Airlines ticket agent at the airport and verified my travel bookings to Denver and arrange for aisle seats on all my flights. I learned about the advantages of aisle seating the last time I flew.

January 2nd. Off to Denver for my psychological evaluation. Had a lot of fun this time. Out of 21 in this group, 17 were guys I wintered with last year. Sort of like old home day. Went out a lot, ate a lot, talked about the Ice a lot. One restaurant near the hotel, a joint called the Trail Dust, who offered up a 50 oz. Porterhouse steak and cooked over freshly burnt mesquite coals. That is over 3 pounds of artery jammin’ cholesterol, that I couldn’t pass up for $18.95 including salad, potato, veggie, and $2.50 Coors NA.

I have decided I like flying but hate air travel! Weather delays, long lines, security, etc… Sunday coming home, Chicago O’Hare was closed for snow, so everything from the west was being routed through Denver. There must have been 600 people waiting at check in, and another herd backing up security. I made my flight just before they closed the door. Then we sat there so the airline could fill the last seat!

The pace quickens.

Having decided to move from my apartment this time, I was starting to think about a nice orderly pace to finish this move, pack for the ice, and deploy sometime in early February. Well, that idea was all blown to hell when Raytheon, on February 9th, sent me an email with my itinerary detailed, and moved up my deployment date 2 and a half weeks, which is fine with me but hell on everything else. Here I was again, going into work and quitting my job prematurely.

Lesson learned-be prepared to deploy on the date of the psych eval!!!!!

January 9th. Now that I know when I am leaving, I sent off a care package to myself. It will take over a month to ship the box down through the Air Post Office in San Francisco. I sent down my new coffee maker, 3 pounds of coffee, $43 worth of toiletries, books and projects to do. I was going to include some snacks. But forgot them. The box weighed in at 23 pounds and cost $46.50 to ship. I just might send down a second box of goodies and pray it makes last flight.

NOTE: The second box followed by a couple of days containing the real important items. CDs, DVDs, tapes, my headphones and cables, Ritz crackers (2), Better Cheddars, 3 cans of squirt cheese, 2 packages of pepperoni, 2 bags of Oreos. You know the real important stuff!!

January 12th. My last day of work at SIGArms. Everyone seemed grateful that I was “available” and could start right away and help out. I hope I made a contribution, fixed a few things there. Made a new group of friends to add to the Dispatches distribution list. Maybe go back after I get home next September. Certainly fortuitous for both parties being here making guns again.

The move actually went pretty good thanks to friends and family. This dump is 99% empty after only 5 days of thrashing and dumpster filling. I got a 10 x 15-foot storage area nearby, and it is ¾ filled. The dumpster is full! My last week here hopefully will be a little more relaxed with last minute box filling, cleaning, and packing for the Ice.

During all this, I have been fretting over getting a ham radio station down to the ice for an activity we have been working on since I got home. I finally got all the pieces gathered at one place on January 16th. Now I got to repackage it and get it off ASAP and do some more praying for a safe and speedy passage! I fear any package sent this late may be delayed enough to miss last flight and get held in Christchurch NZ until I get off the Ice in August. Lots of postage for nothing.

Last week. Just as I thought, pretty relaxed, even boring at times. Cleaning up lots of loose ends, carrying a few light loads to the storage area. Spending money on essentials for deployment. Changed the oil in the PT Cruiser and even bathed it. Kickin’ back some. Friday and Saturday will be finishing up and packing. Then driving to Ronnie’s to drop off the car for safe keeping and a ride to Manchester Airport.

I will end this installment with the same format as I end all installments of Dispatches. This one encompasses the last month I am home. Usually they span a two-week period from picking up where the previous one stopped.

Today is January 23rd, A bright sunny day in New Hampshire. I am organized for the last little push out the door. Things going to the Ice in one pile and a second pile with stuff heading for storage and a third targeted for the dumpster. The computer is coming apart right now and the computer desk follows as it is going to Dennis’s so this first installment is a few days early. That’s ok.

See you all from Antarctica.

Ernie Gray
Epping, NH