1982 A Very Late Aftershock

While assigned as a lieutenant at FT Richardson, Alaska in the early 1980s I was part of a very select group. Rangers?  No. Delta Force?  No. Special Forces?  No. I was a soldier in Alaska who was from Alaska. Not as in “second tour” or “army brat”, but a kid that had grown up in the 49th state. It threw everyone for a loop when I was able to go sheep-hunting three months after arriving – with a resident license and when my sergeants would swear and say: “L.T. (slang for lieutenant) – no one is really from Alaska” – but then I’d pull out my wallet and show them my license with the long-hair photo and a fairly low license number (low 50000’s) and they’d finally ease up.

Because we had moved from California to Anchorage in the summer of 1962 I was witness to a lot of changes and the soldiers around me were always asking questions about the way things were back then and how they’d changed as the city of Anchorage quadrupled in size during the intervening twenty years.  They were particularly interested in the 1964 quake and the fact that my family had lived fairly close to Turnagain when it occurred. I talked about how much the quake shook, ,how we scrambled to find safe places in the house to ride it out, how the topography changed in some areas and how my friends and I tried to sneak downtown to see the damage when school was out for a whole week after the quake.

They particularly liked to hear about the aftershocks, how scared we were when they’d come and how we’d jump and run whenever one hit. Those stories got a lot of laughs, especially when I told one during a break in planning a field training exercise when I was assigned as a battalion staff officer in the spring of 1982. Our operations NCO Master Sergeant Santiago took great delight afterwards in his speculations about how “the lieutenant must have jumped like a little rabbit during the quake.” It was all fun at first, but after the fourth rabbit/bunny comment I started to get a little annoyed

Soon the break was over and we all went back to our offices to continue planning our individual tasks.  Two hours later we met again in the common area between the offices to coordinate…and when we did the ground began to shake.

It was a perfectly timed earthquake. I stood firm with my legs apart, shoulder width and watched the other men as the quake progressed and started to intensify. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Sergeant Santiago looking at me out of the corner of his eye and I could tell what he was thinking just as clearly as if it was written out in a comic-panel thought bubble.

“The L.T. has done this before. He knows what’s going on and what to do. I’ll key on him”

It was evil but I couldn’t help myself. I gave the slightest knee-fake towards the door; much like a wide-receiver would do to deceive a pursuing corner-back. Sergeant Santiago took one look and bolted for the door. (Bear in mind that he was a wiry Puerto Rican infantryman with the gait of a quarter horses).) By the time I got out of the offices and through the front door (less than fifty feet) he was three blocks away and still moving. The sight more than made up for all the bunny jokes earlier that afternoon.

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