Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Life in a very remote place

Alaska Public Media has released an interesting report about the early warning radar sites that cover that state.  Here's an excerpt from the written report, followed by part of the video report.

Scattered across Alaska are 15 radar sites in some of the most remote areas of the state, feeding information to a command center in Anchorage. Keeping them humming 365 days a year are tiny crews of private contractors who live there for months at a time. To a lot of people, the prospect sounds crazy. To others the solitary rhythm makes total sense.

“Ya know, we have celery, and avocados and broccoli, all the normal normals,” said Leta Page. Page is what’s called a “service technician” at the Cape Romonzof Long Range Radar site, an Air Force installation at the edge of the Bering Sea, 15 miles from the nearest village. She’s basically a combination of a cook, quartermaster, and housekeeper.

“I keep my cheeses here,” Page said as she showed me around one of the many freezers. She keeps pounds and pounds of bacon,there, too. “These guys eat a lot of bacon.”

Page and the three other employees that live here work for ARCTEC, a private company that’s held the Air Force contract to maintain these radar sites for the last two decades. Back in the ’50s and ’60s when the installations were manned by hundreds of service members each, it was considered a hardship posting. Depression and pathological boredom were regular. Tours were kept to just one year. Page has been here five.

“I’m a piddler,” Page said. “And I find something to do all the time.”

A “piddler,” in Page’s telling, is someone who can just find work that needs to be done. She said it’s common here, that all the technicians are pretty self-directed, and don’t need each other for amusement.

. . .

On top of the schedule, it’s good money. Generally, technicians make between $120,000 and $150,000 a year, with few expenses while they’re on site. There’s internet, so people can communicate with their families. ARCTEC’s workforce is overseen by Kevin Smiley, who said the company screens job applicants to make sure they’re the type that can handle remote postings.

“We try to work people into it a little bit slower,” Smiley said. “Your first assignment might not be such a long stretch, might be a shorter stretch, kinda send you out, let you experience what’s it’s like before you sign up for that four-month haul in the middle of winter.”

The vast majority of site techs are former military, many of whom take advantage of the surrounding wilderness.

“Ya know, one site does a lot of gold mining,” Smiley said. “They find a lot of ways to recreate, whether it’s hunting, fishing, gold mining, trapping. They find a lot of things to keep busy and to do.”

. . .

At Romanzof, Page recalled a period where weather kept out the supply plane for six weeks.

“Yeah, we didn’t have any groceries – anything fresh,” Page said. “So I told the guys if they wanted milk they had to go out to the barn and milk the cow. And if they wanted any eggs they had to go down to the beach and get the seagull eggs down there, that was the closest to eggs they were gettin’ from me.”

There's more at the link.

Here's the video report.

I guess, for some people, the Cold War never ended . . . and they're still on duty.



m4 said...

Don't think it's just the cold war. The list of people who would do America harm has only grown over the years. You know what they say: Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate.

Bob said...

The practice of having new employees dip their toe into the job with a short-term assignment reminds me of the practice in Catholic monasteries and nunneries, where an individual progresses through a process of postulant, novice, and full profession to make sure (s)he is suited for the life.

Bruce said...

I go to work, I go home, may be dinner with the parents, go home, do bills, spend the rest of the night gaming or reading a book, and go to bed. Wash, rinse, repeat. That either makes me the perfect employee or someone that desperately needs to get a life... :)