Visiting an Air Force Base

Several people we have met since arriving in Japan on this trip have commented that we arrived just in time for summer. The weather had been more cool prior to our arrival, but it has turned hot and humid, with high temperatures nearing 90 and above and the relative humidity in the high 80’s. The heat index is rising above 100 degrees every day. It don’t know if it helps to think in Celsius, as most Japanese people do, but the numbers are smaller. The forecast is for the temperature to reach 31 degrees with the humidity around 86% today. However you describe it the weather is warm enough to raise a sweat, and I’m doing a pretty good job of sweating each day. Up until last night we have been staying in off-base commercial hotels all of which have air conditioning, but yesterday we moved to the Navy Inn and Suites, located on Misawa Air Base. To our surprise, the modern hotel with very spacious and comfortable rooms, lacks air conditioning. We rounded up all the fans we could find at our daughter’s home and by midnight, we have it down to a bearable temperature in our room. It is still humid, but you can sleep if there is a fan blowing directly on you. We’ll try to manage the temperature with fans and by pulling the drapes and closing up the room during the heat of the day and hopefully it will be a bit easier to cool our sleeping room tonight. The forecast calls for lowering temperatures this weekend, so we are hoping that things will be a bit more comfortable as the time passes.

A little discomfort is always a part of travel and enjoying traveling involves learning to make the best of each situation. I can’t imagine, however, how the rooms on the upper floors of this hotel feel. We’re on the ground level of a four-story hotel. It has got to be pretty hot in the rooms above us. This hotel is primarily for US Navy personnel who are here on temporary assignment and for those who are in the midst of a permanent change of station and need temporary housing while their permanent housing is being arranged. It has to be a challenge for those who are beginning new jobs and adjusting to a new time zone to also have to deal with the heat. I’m sure that most of the year air conditioning isn’t an issue in this place known for winter snows and cold weather. But right now it is definitely a problem with this particular building.

United States military personnel are known for serving around the world in every climate and enduring whatever is necessary to get the job done. Certainly those who fought in the Pacific theater of World War II endured high heat and humidity and didn’t have the luxury of air conditioning. Remembering their sacrifices and service is a bit humbling when I complain about a warm evening and the lack of air conditioning in our temporary housing.

Although my father served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, that service was before I was born and I definitely did not grow up in military culture. I’ve had to learn a bit about how the military works as we have visited our daughter and son in law in their various places of assignment during his military career. All of the bases we have visited have had the basic services we expect: a base exchange for general department store shopping, a commissary grocery store and a U.S. Post Office where the same rates that are used for mailing within the US apply for letters and packages from the remote location back to the United States. But modern military bases also have a few amenities that give them a US flavor, such as Burger King and Taco Bell fast food restaurants, mini-mart style convenience stores and cafes and coffee houses.

The result is enough security and familiarity to make it work for family members to live and work abroad. Those who enjoy overseas service the most, however, learn to get off of the base and explore the culture and people of the place where they are serving. Our daughter and son in law have been very good about this in each of their overseas assignments. When we visited last year we went to several local attractions that they had previously discovered as they took time to show us the place where they are living. Although none of us speak Japanese, we have found the Japanese people to be very welcoming and helpful and many of them speak English very well, so communication isn’t a big problem. The few confusions of language that we have encountered have provided fun stories to tell about our travels.

One way to reach across cultural differences is to go places with the baby. Of course he is new born and outings are limited in the warm weather. However, wherever we go, his cuteness opens doors and attracts friendly people. We get questions about his age and comments about his small size and plenty of oos and aws as people look into his stroller or car seat. There is something completely cross cultural about a baby and the care of an infant that garners support wherever we go.

One of the high points of this visit will be the baptism of our new grandson, which is set for Sunday, August 11 at the base chapel. The chaplains, both protestant and catholic have been very supportive of our family during the pregnancy and birth. Our daughter works at the base chapel and it was fun to visit there yesterday and meet the staff. They were welcoming of us and have arranged it so we will be able to officiate at the baptism as we have for other other grandchildren. We will have a video recording of the celebration made for his other grandparents who are in Virginia and not able to be present.

Planning worship reminds me of the congregation back home and the colleagues who are leading worship there to enable this special trip for us. I will return with many stories to tell and there will be stories of what is going on at home during our absence. We’ll be missing the Sturgis motorcycle rally and the church rummage sale as well as the worship services of our church.

A pilgrimage is a journey into the unfamiliar for the purpose of the spiritual growth of the community back at home. May this pilgrimage develop into a meaningful connection for our church which serves in an Air Force Base community. I know I’m learning some things that will help our ministries grow.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!