Monday, January 6, 2014

Damn it's cold!

With the dreaded polar vortex sweeping across the nation, about the only thing I can think about on this first day back to the real world of work and worry is how damn cold it is. Have I mentioned how much I despise the cold of winter? Yes? Good! I must admit, in my current secret bunker in an undisclosed location in Maryland, the vortex has yet to make itself felt. I fear that by tonight we shall be in it's dreaded grasp. I believe a polar vortex was the basis for this movie:
I think we are safe though. The temperature is only projected to reach down to the single digits tonight in the DC area. While our fearless leader has returned to capitol city to face this dreaded menace with up, he wisely decided to his lovely bride in Hawaii. I don't know what to say about that other than as a taxpayer, I don't appreciate the additional $100000 or so this move will cost me.

I recall the coldest temperature that I ever experienced was during my stay in Alaska under the kind care of Uncle Sam and the US Army. As I recall, the temps were 30 below or so, and we deployed to Fairbanks for the annual winter exercises. No sled dogs were needed for this little journey, instead the venerable jeeps, equipped with 'winter kits' and pulling trailers containing 8 man tents, cots, and flooring were all that was needed.

Upon arriving at out camping spot, er bivouac area, we went about setting up. The eight man tents were erected, cots set up, and Yukon stoves installed. A Yukon stove is a bizarre invention. It basically is a stove that burns gas or JP4. The gas can goes on the outside of the tent, and the feed line goes into the stove. The gravity fed gas stream drips on the hot burn plate where it explodes/burns and the glowing stove heats the tent up to a tolerable level. That being said, it was common to find a sheet of ice underneath the sleeping bags on the cots from moisture evaporated from the sleeping bags.

I mainly remember the pain of the cold more than anything else. I also recall that once the temperature got down to -15 or so, there wasn't much of a difference between that and -30. The cold does funny and unexpected things. For example, certain chemical reactions will not happen once the temperature drops below a certain level. This was illustrated for me rather dramatically. As the one counter-intelligence squad in the Military Intelligence Detachment, it was our job to evaluate the use of camouflage by the troops. To perform that task our lieutenant had secured the use of a helicopter to fly over the units to evaluate them. I was tasked to go along as the photographer. Other than a short hop as part of my training when I first arrived in Alaska, I had never been on a helicopter, so I was agog by the adventure of it all. We got airborne, and the lieutenant started directing me to take pictures. The problem was that the camera hadn't been protected from the cold, so the emulsion agents necessary for the Polaroid film to work had turn turned into a gooey mess. When I triggered the first picture, the camera jammed beyond all recovery. The conversation went something like this:

lieutenant (in the front seat): "there - get a picture of that!"
me (in the back): "Yes Sir!"
lieutenant: "Did you get it? Do we need to circle back?"
me: "Sir... we have a problem..."
lieutenant: "Campbell - what's the problem"
me: "Well Sir, the camera seems to be malfunctioning"
lieutenant: "Keep working on it"
irritated pilot: "Do we need to go back?"
lieutenant: "No, i'm sure he will get it fixed."

To make a long story short, I didn't get it fixed as gooey film, once frozen could not be reconstituted. I am not really sure how critical the pictures were to whatever we were doing up there, but I felt really bad about it, even though I had no experience with that kind of weather or Polaroids. At the time I had quite a bit of experience with 35mm film and cameras, and the unit had no shortage of those and a darkroom. Of course the darkroom, cameras, and film were in Anchorage and we were in Fairbanks, which is why we were using Polaroids. Needless to say, the trip was something of a waste, and I learned a valuable lesson about the cold and Polaroids.

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