War Story

It was a dark, frigid day when we touched down at the Keflavik airport in January 1988. It was 7am and we were told to hurry through customs because the sun would set at approximately 10:45am. After stowing our baggage and being rushed through clothing issue to receive our parkas and various other warm items of clothing, our group of 40-50 Air Force and Navy folks were soon shuttled off to the base theater to receive 3 hours of indoctrination. I had an interesting conversation with the bus driver, Ansell, on the drive around base.

Typical boring stuff at the in-processing, with a few interesting tidbits about Icelandic culture and monetary differences. At the conclusion, we were told to walk two blocks down the street to the barracks, where our baggage and rooms were waiting for us. Only one problem-- Keflavik was having its worst "white out" of the season that day, and the sun had already set.

As I walked out the door of the theater, I learned the definition of "white out". Snow was falling hard and fast, and the wind was blowing 35-40 mph. Visibility was reduced to 15-20 feet. This would be a fun walk. I learned another new term that day--"horizontal snow". The wind was blowing the snow sideways, so it looked like the snow was originating somewhere from the east, not from the sky. My cold comrades and I headed for the barracks, wading through 4-5 inches of snow in our dress shoes.

I had removed my Air Force hat and pulled my parka hood over my head, but as I was walking, or rather struggling against the wind, it fell from my pocket and was being blown across the field. Some guy said, "hey, there goes your hat!" I took chase. The hat was tumbling across the field end-over-end and I was in a full sprint on its trail. Just when I thought I could grab it, another gust of wind would sweep it away. This went on for another 50 feet and I was now far away from my group. I could barely see it tumbling through the snow not 20 feet in front of me. I considered letting it go--I had three other hats in my suitcase. But by now, I had a vendetta to settle with this hat.

I picked up my pace and started to gain on it. I swore I'd quit smoking as I wheezed and gasped for another lungful of frigid air. Just as my hat was approaching a road, the wind slowed to a breeze for a few seconds and my hat lay still on the ground. I took this opportunity to dive on it. "Gotcha," I yelled. I stood and brushed the snow from my face and noticed a man standing near a bus across the street watching me. It was Ansell, the bus driver. I waved at him and he raised his arm in exchange. Although the wind was whistling in my ears, I could clearly make out what he yelled to me in that thick Icelandic accent. "Welcome to Iceland!"

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(Keflavik is located just southwest of the capital, Reykjavik).

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