Sue & Dean McCraw fly Space-A to Spain & Morocco!

A walled city on the coast of Spain. Photo by Sue McCraw.

A walled city on the coast of Spain. Photo by Sue McCraw.

We live in Stillwater, OK, and as such, our closest installation is Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City, OK. Tinker has few Space-A opportunities although they are very good about posting flights when they occur.

Our next closest Space-A facility is McConnell AFB in Wichita, KS. They frequently have KC-135 flights to Europe and various bases in CONUS. The next facility in proximity to us is NAS JRC Ft. Worth, TX. They have frequent flights to various locations in CONUS as well as overseas. They fly mostly C-40 aircraft and are very good about posting their flight schedule on their website as much as 30 days in advance.

Our objective was to get to Norfolk, VA, to catch a posted C-5 flight to NAS Rota, Spain, leaving 18 March. Our best option was a flight from Ft. Worth to Oceana, VA, leaving Ft. Worth, March 17.

So, Friday, March 16, 2012, we traveled by POV from Stillwater to Ft. Worth before checking in to the Navy Lodge suite ($66).

The Gateway Inn at NAS JRC Ft. Worth is just as nice and costs a little less. We have stayed there before but not this time. It is possible that I just called the wrong number. Those things do happen and it is the duty of the wife to point those things out. At least that is the way we do it.

We put our car in long term parking next to the terminal and took the flight, a C-40 with 121 commercial airline quality seats available and 11 passengers. It was a very pleasant flight which left and arrived on schedule. There was a commercial charter flight posted from Oceana to Rota that afternoon but the terminal was packed with uniformed duty personnel in transit and the odds of making a flight were not very good.

The only travel option from Oceana to Norfolk, VA, for category six folks is a 30-mile cab ride with a fare of $70. We took it and felt pretty darn good about it.

At Norfolk we checked in to the Gateway Inn, ($56) closest to the terminal. As usual, the room was fine.

A potentially important point here is that Norfolk is a very large installation and the lodging options are not all in close proximity to the terminal. Ask that question when you make reservations.

The next morning we checked out of the lodge and took a cab to the terminal in time to make the posted show time.

Another important point is that our time at Norfolk was over the weekend and, although the terminal was open for business, only flight related facilities were open—i.e., cafeteria, snack bar, etc.—were not open. There were some vending machines but no other options within walking distance. Our flight out of Norfolk was a C-5. That is frequently not good news and this case was no exception. All was not lost. We had the chance to watch from the very comfortable terminal as a CH-53 helicopter and several large containers were loaded inside the C-5. The helicopter with crew was deploying to the Gulf area. We arrived at the terminal at about 0800 and at about 1800 the flight desk announced that the aircraft would not depart until morning. A civilian shift change worked into the equation some way, but how is not clear.

We took a cab back to the Gateway Inn for another night then returned to the terminal the next morning where we watched the plane all day, again. It was pretty darned exciting!

We got clearance to load and departed Norfolk for the one hour flight to Dover AFB, DE, at 1500. A short stop turned into two days at Dover. The C-5 had more maintenance issues. The distance from the Dover terminal to lodging is long but walkable. We, along with several other couples, started out walking and were offered a ride by an Air Force sergeant who, it turned out, was the supervisor of an aircraft maintenance unit at Dover AFB.

He said, and I will paraphrase, “Travis sends us their (xxx) junk C-5’s and we have to work on them to get them back to Travis”.

I initially thought he was talking about C-5s in general as they do have a reputation, but, in this case, he was talking about that specific airplane. It apparently has an individual reputation. I cannot help but wonder whose maintenance budget took the hit for repairs the Dover AFB crew made on the Travis AFB plane. Oh well, two days later after issues with maintenance and life jackets for the crew we were airborne en route to Rota, Spain.

Our time at Dover was quite enjoyable as the terminal has nice lounges, both DV and USO, and the Eagles Rest Inn and Suites is very nice, very reasonably priced and has a golf course and a very good eating establishment, Mulligans, across the street. One of the couples in what came to be called “the Rota group” even worked in a round of golf during our stay. There are some perks for a retired O-6. Sometimes they are beneficial, sometimes not so much. With respect to quarters, on base, DV quarters for O6/E9 and above are frequently available. They are always very nice but cost a little more.

It has been my experience that the standard quarters are always less expensive and, with few exceptions, very acceptable. It brings to mind a “service connected narrative”, (some call them war stories) in which we were waiting to brief a one-star general in preparation for a briefing for a two-star general at Ft. Sill, OK. While waiting for the general to show up, one of my colleagues said, “You know, the biggest difference between being a colonel and a private is that as a colonel you get to ‘hurry up and wait’ in the coffee shop”. The saying has merit.

In the case of Dover AFB, a DV suite was only $48.50. It was easily the nicest room we had on the trip and certainly the best bargain.

Box lunches—$4.25 each—were distributed at 1300 hrs. and in most cases consumed by 1400 hrs. We called for reservations at Rota Navy Lodge (1-888-AFLODGE) from the Dover terminal and departed Dover at 1725 hrs. for the eight-hour flight to Rota. We needed some “poggie bait” to finish the trip.

When the C-5 is in the air, it is a fine ride with rear facing, airliner quality seats. In this case, only about half the seats were taken. The flight arrived at Rota on Thursday, March 22,at 0630 hrs local time.

Sue McCraw says hello to a friendly burro in Morocco. Photo by Sue and Dean McCraw.

Sue McCraw says hello to a friendly burro in Morocco. Photo by Sue and Dean McCraw.

From the Rota terminal we walked to the Navy Lodge, a jaunt which was on the outside edge of walkable (next time we will take a cab) and took us in front of a relatively new Gateway Inn, which is apparently seldom available to Cat VI personnel.

Rooms at the Navy Lodge were quite comfortable, (two beds, bath, kitchenette, TV, $75.00). In the old days we would have hit the road immediately. But that was then. This is now. We checked in and took a nap—the C-5 is not THAT good of a ride.

We had previously reserved a rental car from the Hertz dealer in the Rota terminal by calling prior to leaving home. They are very accommodating and offered no problem when we had to call and change the reservation due to delay in transit. In this case it was fortunate that we had called because some who had not called had to wait until other cars were available.

Our car was a Toyota something or other; a tiny little thing, that got excellent gas mileage and cost $622 per month. One of our traveling acquaintances chose to rent from a vender off base in Rota as it was less expensive. The convenience of renting and returning a car at the terminal may be worth the difference.

The next morning we woke to the sweet smell of orange blossoms. I suspect the fragrance was present the day before also but we may have been too tired to notice.

Rota is a closed base. Our first task was to obtain a pass for admission through the gate. To accomplish this we had to have an official document from the terminal showing our names, nationality, flight origin etc. As it turned out, we had the document we just didn’t know what it was.

The first day we had to take that document along with passports to the police station in Rota and get our passports stamped as visitors. It was not really a visa; in fact, I am not sure what it was. At any rate, we then had to take that to the visitor’s center at the base for an admission authorization. I am not sure about this but my memory tells me we had to renew that at the visitor’s center (which is at the main gate) every 24 hours. For subsequent entry we had to have the permit on the dash of the car and show the permit along with our ID. Rota is a Spanish installation. The Americans are tenants. We were not treated rudely at all. The Spanish military MPs staffing the gate, who spoke only broken English, were just adamant that we could not enter without the permit.

Friday: We checked out of the Navy lodge and had lunch and dinner with new friends we met on the trip over. Again, one of the real benefits of Space-A travel is meeting new people with similar interests. We have done so on each trip and expect to continue to do so. Before leaving Rota we decided to spend a night at a nearby resort.

One advantage of traveling in the off season is that drop in rooms usually are available. We checked in for one night (60 Euros) at the Playa de La Luz, located just outside Rota. It is a nice resort on the Mediterranean coast. The room was very small with two twin beds, but offered an enjoyable evening and morning of the next day.

Saturday: We checked out and drove to Jerez where we checked in to Hotel Trype Jerez, (59 Euro + 13 Euro parking). It was a very nice, large room with two beds. It was an excellent location downtown near plazas, cathedrals and other points of interest.