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Birthplace of the Winds

Adak, Alaska Naval Air Station

After a brief amount of time as a Family Practice physician, I decided to do something "a little different." It's not that I didn't like family medicine, it was that a shinier object was always just around the corner, so like a mouse with ADHD, I went to go look at it. The recruiter for the United States Navy is probably several ranks higher for having hooked me into the military, and I am convinced that on the day I signed the Oath and was sworn in, it appeared that there was a little drool on his right collar.

My decision to join was based on the fact that flying airplanes with Navy pilots, and working with the USN air crews seemed to be adventurous. Also, it had to do with some boredom during my years as a family medicine physician. After 6 months of Naval Flight Surgeon training (including two weeks of learning how to salute), I knew I would be destined for something....big!

To this day, my suspicion is that there are Naval Officers in high ranks still chortling and snorting about the day they decided to send me to Adak, Alaska. This small Naval island was a mere 4-hour flight from Anchorage, and that flight involves insane winds, crosswinds, and crazy landings. It was February of 1994 and thus the weather in Adak was intensely welcoming to absolutely nobody. Also, it is clear that there is not much snow routinely on this island. However, gusty winds (with sideways rain) up to 40 mph are routine there, and thus the slogan for Adak on their one sign as you enter the town: "Welcome to Adak, Alaska. Birthplace of the Winds."

It is clear to me that if Adak was the Birthplace of the Winds, it must have been in active labor and it also must involve triplets and a large episiotomy.

As we were landing through winds and crosswinds, I could only conjure up an image of our two pilots having a Vietnam PTSD flashback ("Pull up, goose! Incoming!") Regardless, after experiencing the interminable moment known as landing, we all collectively shook out our pants and proceeded on to the tarmac of a desolate, February day.

The Captain of the Medical Clinic picked me up in his car after a short while, and we proceeded to drive on at least 1 mile of the 7 miles of paved road on the entire island. He described to me of Adak as a "paradise. " My view of paradise and his view of paradise were on two ends of the spectrum of visible color....or for that matter, visible and invisible light. We drove on to the clinic and then to my pre-fabricated house that had special vents to avoid the wind from sucking the windows (and my teeth, apparently) right out of their sockets.

Upon turning in to the clinic (the clinic that geographically was the most western from all other clinics of the United States), I saw what appeared to be a remnant of a car that reminded me of a Chrysler. During its better years, I suspect that the car had most of its hood, but unfortunately, wind or rust (or both) battered that car into some sort of benevolent submission. It had been painted, but not with car paint...someone had haphazardly spray-painted it a lime color that cannot be found on the food chain of actual colors, and then with murderous-looking red spray paint, someone inscribed this word that pretty much sums it all up: ADAKATRAZ.


“The Guide says there is an art to flying", said Ford, "or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”


I think, though, that Adak, Alaska was a time in my life where I grew to be a stronger human. In spite of the fact that we did not get mail daily (only weekly, and that was if the weather was "good," which made this a rarer event in the wintertime), could not find fresh produce easily, and had limited supplies in which to care for sick and injured folks who came to our little clinic, the experience was worth a thousand bumpy airplane rides. I was convinced that some of younger folks in the United States Navy had less appreciation than I did for the paucity of....everything. We had one psychologist who somehow was sent to Adak to help out our active duty sailors.....and I had him sucking down daily aliquots of Zoloft within about three weeks from the time he arrived.

Thus, the answer to all of this: we will have hard times. We didn't ask for them, but we got them. Frankly, I like going out to eat in a Southern Minneapolis restaurant and imbibing two specialty cocktails and a steak rubbed in butter and blue cheese. I miss seeing my friends, hugging kids, going on walks and planning expeditions to the Boundary Waters. I miss sitting in a coffee cafe and eating a roll and talking about life with friends and family.

But wait. Here's a perspective that we may not have thought about. Remember that 2020 graduation? The time that teacher drove 20 miles to come wish a student well? Remember that pandemic where we didn't leave the house for 2 months and the family dogs began speaking with suspiciously human-like voices? Remember the time that the grandkids went to the nursing home to sing to grandma outside of her window?

For, although we have landed on our own version of Adak for a while, we will all be better for it. Kids will find a way to move forward in spite of home schooling, and parents will never look at teachers (nor take them for granted) ever again. As we delve into this new Universe, we must learn a new way of "throwing ourselves to the ground....and missing."

And if we do miss, no matter how it looks and for how long, we will fly.

On well-deserved wings.


“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

Leonardo da Vinci


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