After serving four years at Lowry AFB, CO school of Metrology as an Instructor I received an assignment to Shemya AFB, AK...a remote isolated tour of duty. Supposedly any and all career military personnel are subject to this kind of an assignment! Some receive remote tours of duty to places like Germany, Italy, etc...who ever heard of Shemya, AK???

My original reporting date was February, 1975. As I was in the middle of purchasing and settling in a new home we had just purchased the previous year, I asked for and received a two-month delay regarding the reporting date...to April of 1975. This was something of a lucky break...Shemya experienced an earthquake in February of 1975!

This presentation starts out with a picture taken through the window of the aircraft transporting me from Denver, Co to SEATAC airport in Washington State en route to Anchorage, AK, thus the color and focus is a bit off. The picture shown is that of Mt. Rainier, located 54 miles southeast of Seatle, WA.

The next series of photos are that of the flight from SEATAC approaching Anchorage, AK's airport. A bit of trepidation was felt during this approach...seeing nothing much other than the waters below known as the Cook Inlet with chunks of ice floating about. Very desolate looking. And...it was very difficult locating the runway amongst the frozen grounds surrounding Anchorage. I was to find out after landing at Anchorage and taking up residence at Elmendorf AFB for a week prior to departing for Shemya that we were experiencing what Alaskans call "Spring Breakup," where the ice begins to melt and signs of Spring begin to appear. The ground was mushy, slushy, icy, snow covered...a mix of winter and Spring.

The flight to Shemya, AK from Anchorage was aboard a Reeve Aleutian Airline aircraft, a Lockheed turboprop showing its age. After boarding at Anchorage someone accidently opened an overhead storage bin...which released a rubber life raft which slid to the floor. It was rather large...and...had numerous visible patches which didn't go far in terms of imparting comfort and relief that the trip would be a safe one!

Approximately half way between Anchorage and Shemya lays the small Aleutian island of Adak...which is the "point of no return," implying that once the aircraft took of towards Shemya it was committed to a no return flight to Anchorage in case of emergency...more than likely weather related. We had a short layover on Adak, perhaps an hour or so in duration, prior to taking off on the final leg towards Shemya. It was damp, heavily overcast, and seemingly a bit misty.

The flight time from Anchorage to Shemya is somewhere around 5 hrs and 45 minutes...depending upon the type of aircraft. The next series of photos shows us approaching Shemya island...where you can see the 10,000 ft grooved runway built during WWII to accomodate B-29 aircraft destined to carry the "bomb" to Japan. There were two other shorter runways used by fighter and bomber aircraft stationed on Shemya during WWII.

There is a gravel road leading from Shemya Terminal to Building 600, the large steel-reinforced concrete building housing most of Shemya's residence as well as the post office, BX, chow hall, and a bar or two. Along the way we passed by the Civil Engineer's building, as well as two of the close by islands of Hammerhead and Alaid in the background.

Opponents of Sarah Palin (Progressive/Socialists and Republicans alike) laughed when Palin claimed to be able to see Russia from her back yard. Shemya and Attu Islands, western-most location of the Aleutian chain, is only a couple hundred miles from Russia...and yes, metaphorically at least, she could see Russia from her back yard! It was part of Shemya's mission to keep an eye on Russia...part of the SALT treaty formulated several years earlier...at the very least. Isn't self-imposed ignorance wonderful!?

Some of the photos show the Cobra Dane structure, a 6-story phased array radar aimed at russia. Other missions on the island likewise had an interest in that direction. Also found on the island were the White Alice antennas, a major means of communicating to a large extent along the vast reaches of remote Alaska vital information related to the protection of the United States...carrying everything from DEW Line communications to phone calls. Several photos show the White Alice and Cobra Dane structures.

Steller Sea Lions and dozens of various bird species...including a lot of cormorants...would inhabit the outlaying rocks around the island...mostly it seems along the northeastern and eastern side of the island. An area particular known for good watching was at a location called Seal Point. Yes, even seals would make the long trek to Shemya, and could be found on occasion bobbing up and down the shoreline, keeping a watchful eye on those standing on the shore watching them.

There were no trees on Shemya...and for a guy born in Upper Michigan...that seemed to be a very curious environment. Vegetation consisted largely of tundra, beach wildrye, lupine, and hairgrass, along with red fescue and ryegrass.

Large supply stocks were brought to Shemya via huge barges, called "Cool Barges." I believe it was in September of 1975 or thereabouts when our supplies were due in, but the barge was kept out at sea due to the heavy seas, towering waves, and generally rough weather. We ate powdered eggs and any othe food stuff that was powdered for around 10 days or so. I believe that we had also tapped into WWII rations of salted pork as well. Powdered eggs have a green, unappealing look to them. There were also weekly flights to Shemya via Reeve Aleutian Airlines that would bring fresh perishables to the island. That is...when the weather would allow them to land on the island. Kelly, a noted and respected RAA pilot and former WWII pilot along the Aleutian chain, seen to it that more often than not he would bring in a plane loaded with passengers, food, and the all important mail.

There were about a half-dozen dogs on the island, each of them friends with many on the rock. The most famous was Boozer (the 3rd rendition I understand), who was friends with everyone. The dogs would attend commanders call, standing on the stage with those doing the presenting or receiving commodations and the like. They also used the island transportation, most notably the shuttle bus that ran a route from the terminal area up to Cobra Dane.

Shemya's weather was different...the temperatures are reported to never drop below around +28F, and rarely reach above the high 60's or low 70's. Fog and rain prevail during the summer months, and snow, sleet, and williwaws are seen throughout the winter months...lasting from around October through and including April. When the wind blew...Mother Nature went all out to display her fury. We had an anemometer mounted on top of the Cobra Dane building designed to withstand 120 mph winds. After one such storm, it was discovered that the anemometer had been wrenched loose and blew away! Such winds are not uncommon on this island located in the "cradle of storms."

There were around 1,100 souls on Shemya during my assignment. Each reacted in their own ways to the remoteness of living on Shemya. Some took to heavy drinking gambling, and yes...even pot smoking. Others engaged in hobbies offered on the island such as photography (I was a manager at the base Photo Hobby Shop as a part-time job), lapidary, candle making, and so forth. Some were extremely homesick, others were able to balance being away from home with work. It helped me to have three jobs while on the "Rock." I was also the island CREI representative...a mail order electronics course of the day.

I had saved up enough money from my part time jobs to be able to afford a ride back home during Christmas of 1975, and back to Shemya following. We flew through a blizzard on the way out of Anchorage...white knuckled flying for sure. On the way back...a military exercise was under way, and there was no place on Elmendorf to stay while waiting a ride back to Shemya. I stayed in a run-down motel located behind a bush pilot airport...and listened to planes reving up most of the time spent there. I was finally able to get a military flight on a C-141 back to Shemya, where I spent the next 4 months waiting to board the "Freedom Bird" (Reeve Aleutian Airline) for the ride back home to family and civilization! Heavy snows made an appearance in April of 1976, causing much concern as to whether or not RAA would make it in. It did, and I anxiously boarded the flight...but with some sense of sadness at leaving great work, many friends, and fantastic dogs behind. But...family and friends also awaited back in Colorado...and I was even more anxious to return home to see and be with them!