map showing Greece, Turkey, and Crete My experience during an earthquake
After graduating from the non-morse intercept operator training course at Goodfellow Air Force Base, I was assigned to the 6931st Security Group located on Crete, Greece. This was an 18 month tour of duty on a 3,206 square mile island in the Mediterranean Sea. Our military base was located on the northern coast about 20 miles from Heraklion, the island’s capital.

I woke up each morning with a grand view of the Mediterranean Sea shimmering in the sunlight about 400 yards from my barracks. The climate was warm, the water crystal clear, and the scenery was beautiful. But my job on this island paradise involved working for the Air Force.

Our main workforce consisted of four flights (company-sized units). I was assigned to Charlie Flight. We manned electronic communication positions 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For example:

Charlie Flight’s work schedule

  • Day 1 - 4:00 PM – 12:00 PM (swing shift)
  • Day 2
  • Day 3
  • 24 hours off duty
  • Day 1 – 12:00 PM – 8:00 AM (midnight shift)
  • Day 2
  • Day 3
  • 24 hours off duty
  • Day 1 – Days – 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM (day shift)
  • Day 2
  • Day 3
  • 72 hours off duty
  • Back to the swing shift and the cycle begins anew

In the meantime, Alpha, Baker, and Delta flights were also working staggered schedules which ensured that our electronic communication positions were constantly manned. This crazy schedule did not fit a normal 5 day work week. Pretty soon, Mondays, Saturdays, and holidays began to have less meaning. It was just another day at the office.

I didn’t remember the exact date, but I vividly remember working a midnight shift when my chair began rolling away from my position. I quickly looked behind me to see the joker who was pulling my chair. Seeing no one around, I next noticed the overhead florescent light fixtures had started swinging on their chains. This was weird! Things got scary when a row of six foot high equipment racks began rocking. Each rack contained stacks of electronic equipment weighing several hundred pounds.

I managed to stand up and felt the concrete floor vibrate. Turning around I noticed my fellow airmen similarly shocked and transfixed by the sudden movement. Seconds later, we realized that our base had been hit by an earthquake.

After it was over, we resumed work. I’m sure my mind was not focused on my job for the duration of the shift. This was my first time to experience this powerful natural force.

Am I glad I lived through that experience? Heck yes. Now I understand what people all over the world experience when the ground under their feet begins to shake. Do I want to be in another earthquake? Heck no! Once was enough for me. What’s the old saying, “been there, done that, got the T-shirt.” This magnitude 6.2 earthquake occurred on April 9, 1965.

Why did I write this article? Something terrible happened on Friday, July 21, 2017. “A powerful earthquake [magnitude 6.6] killed two people on the Greek holiday island of Kos in the early hours of Friday, sending tourists fleeing into the streets, and causing disruption in the nearby Turkish tourist hub of Bodrum.” Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/world/europe/94973497/magnitude-67-quake-hits-off-turkeys-coast

Turkey, mainland Greece, and the Greek Islands lie on tectonic plates whose movement create earthquakes. Back in 1965, I had never heard of a tectonic plate. Today, I find the study of plate tectonics fascinating and it explains so much about our planet.

Joe R. East, Jr.

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Updated 07/21/2017
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