Saw the sign above while driving home the other day.
What's an Eielson, and why would someone want to save one? Is it a rare inland walking whale species? Alas, no. Eielson is an Air Force base, up here in the Great Land.
(Note for those of you on the Outside: Alaska translates to "Great Land," just like Colorado translates to "Red," and Texas translates to "Ya'll take a look at this here thang.")
The original Eielson was Carl Ben Eielson
, a true hero pilot who lost his life while attempting to save other folks. But, he's been dead for the last 75 years or so, so any attempts to save him are just a bit late.
When they built the Air Force base up here, they named it after him, and now the military has put it on the list of bases to close. When Eielson showed up on the list of bases to basically be closed, Fairbanks was collectively stunned. It's like you'd whiffle-batted the lot of us.
For those of you who look at the map and see a tiny-tiny Alaska somewhere south and west of San Diego, let me remind you that's an artifact of the map projection techniques that allow us to not put the living evil that is Canada on the map. Alaska is actually north and west of San Diego, and bigger than the rest of the continental United States, if you exclude about ten states and the love that exists between Tom Cruise and
Mimi Rodgers, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz,
Katie Holmes. I don't really have a good comparison, so I'm making that part up. Let's just say it's big.
Alaska is also far away from some things, but is central to the world. How can that be?
Alaska is of a similar distance to New York, London, Moscow, Beijing, and Tokyo. We regularly sit in the hot tub at night (whenever there is any night) and watch planes heading north out of Anchorage up over the pole filled with I-Pods made in Shanghai destined for the residents of Poland. Heck, maybe the planes are filled with gumballs, pantyhose, and elephant saddles for the residents of Prague. Whatever, Alaska has a centrality to the rest of the world that is fairly strategic. Air freight companies regularly exploit that by stopping in Anchorage to fuel before heading to their final destination. We are the Stuckey's of the interstate of the air. You can even get nut logs here, I think. (Has there ever been a food concept more disgusting . . . nut . . . logs? I shudder.)
Anyway, in the infinite wisdom of military planners, some group of junior officers decided to remove the fighter wings (and the rest of the fighter, too, I guess) from Eielson, because it's expensive to operate here. Now, this alone is shocking. I had no idea that it would be expensive to operate an Air Force base in a place where milk is $75.00 a gallon, and expires 15 minutes after you buy it. And, if the Air Force has suddenly decided that expense is a concern, heck, I learned from the movie Independence Day that drunken crop-duster pilots can fly fighter jets pretty well, and you don't even have to pay them.
One thread that is showing up as a concern in the local papers is security - removing fighters from Eielson isn't the same as removing them from, say, Ohio, since Ohio is nestled near lots of other places where fighters could come from, and if Ohio is the front lines in a war, dang, we're trouble. Alaska is far away, and getting fighters up here to do the job that they ultimately are designed for, namely flying real fast and blowing things up, isn't something that's real easy if the fighters are in Nevada because you're on a budget. And, if you remember history, Alaska is the one place that's actually a state now that was invaded (although in a half-hearted way) by the Axis powers during WWII.
But, it's not like Alaska is close to potential geo-political adversaries, like North Korea, China, and Russia. Oooops, I forgot, we are
And, it's not like Alaska has any strategic targets like the North Slope oil fields, the Alaska Pipeline, the Missle Defense Battery, or my house. Oooops, I forgot, it does. (I know that from a military standpoint, my house is probably not strategic. But, to me, it really is. I doubt Mr.
Kim Jong-il thinks my house is strategic either, but, maybe he doesn't like satire. If he does hate satire, Trey and Matt, look out.)
Anyhow, this drama has yet to fully unfold. There are about 300,000 committee meetings, briefings, dog shows, etc., before it's all complete. Now, where did
I put that Chinese phrasebook . . . ?