It’s been a long time since winter arrived and stayed this long. Those of us who old enough to remember the Blizzard of ’78 know that winter has been worse. This winter may be memorable, too, a deep mark on the calendar as a matter of pride, a matter of survival.
It is the Arctic temperatures that worry me now. But this is not the first time that I have felt the harsh bite of a persistent winter wind, feeling instantly that it can, and will, do you harm. I spent a couple of years in North Dakota as a young man, a boy really. I joined the Air Force when I was seventeen. I was wholly unprepared.
The Cold War was still fully engaged, and I was an SP (Security Police), at the missile wing in Minot. I have been closer to a nuclear missile than I care to think about now. I was assigned to the MFT (Mobile Fire Team), and I flew in a helicopter as air support when a warhead was being moved from the silo to the base, or vise-versa. When there was no convoy, duty was spent in the field, based out of one of the LCFs (launch control facilities), and we would respond to alarms set off on one of the missile sites. Usually it was a coyote or bird.
I saw no battle, never fired my weapon at the enemy, and I was never tested in a way so many soldiers have been since, or before. It was a reasonably quiet time in history.
There was a time, deep into January, that I remembered recently, staring out the window as the wind-chill dropped to minus forty-five, and the wind kicked up a snow squall so dense, so white, that I couldn’t see the back fence.
It was my first winter in North Dakota, and thankfully, we had been provided Arctic gear. Bunny boots, parkas, long johns, everything to keep us warm. I got called to special duty to go up in the chopper on a really, really cold day. Minus fifty wind chills plus. We had to go up. An engine had fallen off of a B-52 bomber and landed in Canada. We needed to find it--fast (no, they weren't exactly sure were it had landed). The helicopters were combat choppers, probably a variant of a Bell UH-1, I can’t recall for sure. The pilot and co-pilot were Vietnam vets, and I had flown with them before. I have never been so cold in my life. The foot heaters in the back of that chopper could not even begin to keep us warm. But we had our gear on, and we were driven by duty. No complaining allowed. Luckily, about an hour in, we found the engine in the middle of an open field, called it in, and headed back to base. It was the absolute coldest experience of my life. I saw wind-chills of minus seventy-five that year, but I came away with all of my fingers and toes.
It was a bone-chilling cold that I will never forget. I’m lucky now. I don’t have to go out unless I need to. I can stay warm. But I think of those folks who are out in the weather because they have to be, and I sure hope they have some good socks on, because trust me, they’re going to need to them. Bundle up, layer your clothes, don’t fool with this weather. It’s dangerous out there. Be safe, and use common sense.
Oh, one other thing, this too shall come to pass. The days are getting longer, and before long, this cold will just be a memory. A memory that will make you shiver.