Thursday, March 30, 2017

AWACS Reunion Luncheon, Celebrations of Life, and Long Time Friends

      Departing Texas for this winter we headed straight up I-35W north towards Oklahoma City.  Enroute we boondocked overnight at the Fort Worth Cabelas.  If you did not know you can boondock for one overnight at any Cabelas store. They have set aside long RV spots (watch for the signs) as well as a water and dump station that can be used with a code you receive inside if making a purchase.  Easy for us; we're always in there.   We gassed up at the Bucees Store @Exit 70 in Fort Worth for an amazing $1.99/gal for diesel.  Averaging 13.4 mpg we arrived in the OKC metro area we steered east into the Tinker AFB Fam Camp located on the south side of the base just off I-240.  Another one of those "Veteran Perks", full hookups for $19/night or $116/week.  Very nice showers and laundry with washers and dryers at only 50 cents per load.  They even have a very large ice machine.  Propane is available at Uhaul just across from the base.  It gives us complete services and security and very close proximity to the Base Club for the AWACS Luncheon, BX, Commissary, golf course, hospital, and gas station as well as allows us to sneak away for a day or two for shopping and to visit extended family.
      It has been 24 years since I retired from the Air Force and even though I have kept in touch with most of my good friends over the years, this was an opportunity to catch up with many others; fellow 'crew dawgs'.   I saw crewmembers and friends I had not seen in many, many years.  These gatherings are held twice a year at the club and I have always been just out of range to attend till now.  This was a special treat for my wife Barb as she is also an AWACS veteran, having served 5 years at Tinker AFB and Keflavik, Iceland.  Although it was quite the "Gathering of Eagles", I found myself looking in the mirror when I got back from lunch. 
      Another reason for our stopover in OKC, and perhaps more important, was to attend the Memorial Celebration of Life for Anna Doris Shanks who passed recently.  Anna was the wife of 59 years to our good friend Col. Jesse Shanks . We felt it important to pay our respects on our way home. 
      Miss Anna was a dear woman, his 'Irish Lovely' as he called her, and even though we only visited with her twice my wife and I always felt like part of her family whenever we stopped by.  Miss Anna and I were on opposite sides of many issues, but I always loved our discussions.  She always made it a point to cook or bake for our visits so I was so very proud to present her with a wild boar ham for her Easter Dinner in spring of 2016.
      Col. Shanks made it a point to open the evening to anyone and everyone who ever knew Miss Anna as her heart and soul intertwined with so many folks, both Air Force families from around the globe and her time at Rose State College.  Everyone who knew her was touched by her love of life and convictions of belief.......always centering on family.  It was an evening filled with warmth, memories, love, and a celebration of a life well lived. 
       To Mrs Anna Doris Shanks, thank you.  As you have taught me, I will always count my 'gratitudes'.  I wake up each morning hoping that I too am able to cherish as much of a fulfilled life with my wife and family.
We ate out probably more than normal while in the Oklahoma City area as there are plenty of good venues, but Barb did enjoy the following meals by her personal 'In Camp Chef':

Wild Boar Ham Steak with Peach Salsa, Garlic Sour Cream Redskin Taters, & Salad

Cajun Sea Scallops w/Honey Carrots and Sunflower Seeds
Fusilli Alfredo w/Beef Sausage, Diced Heirloom Tomatoes, Garlic Bread, and a Salad

      Departing Oklahoma we continued our course north towards Kansas City, MO, once again boondocking overnight at the Eldorado, KS WalMart.   This is a nice location with a quiet corner to park in next to a convenience store, bank, and Subway inside of WalMart.  This is always my favorite Flatbread Black Forest Ham, Eggwhite, and Cheese Sandwich for breakfast when on the road.  This was two nearly identical days of 188 miles of easy travel, although I'm not a fan of turnpikes.....or big cities. We sat in traffic on the outer loop I-435 of Kansas City for 2 hours as a result of several fender benders and a boatload of rubberneckers. I should get extra points for negotiating this type of mess hauling a 35' RV successfully.  Arriving in Grain Valley, MO just east of KC we stayed at the East Trailside RV Park. 
      This visit for Barb and I has been long overdue.  Gordon Wiltse is someone we have both known, worked for, respected, and admired for over 36 years.  We always plan on stopping in to visit, but plans as they often do....inevitably change.  This year we 'set it in stone'.  Few people have had an impact on the AWACS system, research, and development as 'Gordie' has.  His USAF career spanned 26 years and even more with Boeing and the Delaware Resource Group.  He is one of a select recognized few that have significantly improved AWACS Surveillance development.  Since retirement, Gordie lives comfortably with his wife Gloria in Grain Valley, MO enjoying their grandchildren.  For both Barb and I it was a treat to visit with him again. 

      Leaving KC we head east on I-70 for now, taking our time and measuring distances and weather at home.  We are planning on a variable length stay in East St. Louis at Scott AFB Fam Camp, keeping an eye on the forecast, in order to time our arrival in Michigan without the presence of 'the white shroud'.   We stay in contact with friends and neighbors in order to find out if we can get up our driveway or not.  Our ETA is April 8th.  Last year we ended up hiding out in Missouri for nearly 3 weeks to avoid the last winter storm of the year at home, arriving May 1st.  Again this year the weather, to say the least, has been unpredictable.  We didn't boondock too much this winter, totaling only 19 days, saving $570, figuring $30/day for RV parks.   We used generator power 45 hours totaling 9 gallons at $18. The other 408 hours was solely solar/battery bank.  This equated to a net off grid savings of $552 this season. 

"A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles" 
                                Tim Cahill

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

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