Friday 21 March 2014 by Alison Wishart. No comments
Opinion, views and commentary, Personal Stories, Al Minhad, plane pulls, C130 Hercules, avionics

Day 8 - Brown bears, angry birds and plane pulls

Culture is a curious thing. We create it, shape it and mould it to suit ourselves and our circumstances.  The military has its own culture, which is characterised by conformity. Everyone looks the same (women have to wear their hair in a bun, men must be clean shaven, no jewellry is permitted), dresses in the same uniform and speaks the same lingo of abbreviations and acronymns strung together with verbs. 

Within the military culture, there are the sub-cultures or army, navy and airforce, and within those the sub-cultures of the different units and trades. It was while interviewing an avionics technician that I learnt about the cultural phenomenon of doing a "brown bear".

At Al Minhad airbase there are about 40 aircraft technicians working shifts to maintain two C130 Hercules (J series for the plane-spotters) . This is a seriously cute plane, with its snub nose and whale-like belly.  The name derives from Roman mythology and seems appropriate since they are sent on missions far and wide to take important stuff and people to difficult and sometimes dangerous places.  The 'hercs' set off on their adventures in the morning and usually return in the early evening. This means the aircraft technicians work on them at night time, making sure they are ready to fly for the following day. Finishing work at midnight is an early night.

So that they are not completely nocturnal, the technicians usually rise about 8am, head to the mess for a hot breakfast, then do a "brown bear" - they go back to bed to hibernate in air-conditioned comfort with a full belly. Then they emerge from their doonas for lunch, head to the gym in the early afternoon, and get ready for work in the evening, perhaps indulging in an "angry bird" en route.

Angry birds are sometimes confused with the popular electronic game. In fact, that's what our photographer did in his jet-lagged state, when he started calling the popular drink at the cafe, an "angry bird" instead of an "angry bear". So now we try and restrict ourselves to one "angry bird" a day - but it's hard to hold back on a shot of espresso blended with chocolate icecream and topping when it's 40 degrees in the shade. 

The technician I interviewed needed his angry birds and gym workouts to compete in the inaugural Al Minhad plane pull.  For this event, teams of 20 people had to pull a Hercules 10 metres. It takes a lot of grunt to get a plane weighing around 35,000kg rolling, but once it starts, you have to run to catch up with it! Teams competed from the six nations working around Al Minhad: UAE, Brits, Americans, Kiwis, Aussies and Dutch.  The entrants paid a fee, which gave them a t-shirt and raised funds for Legacy. The winning team won the event with a time of 11 seconds. The Australians from the Force Communications Unit took home the cup, filled with 'near beer'. Hopefully the plane pull will become part of the culture of Al Minhad Air Base.