Lara defends the nation

We’re all so proud of our niece Lara and all the work, and awards and promotions, she has done with the Air Force. Wonder what she’s doing to keep us all safe?   Thanks to the Tacoma News Tribune for noticing the work of her unit.

McChord unit keeps eye on the sky

Air defense mission expands amid personnel cuts

Published: December 24th, 2008 06:53 AM | Updated: December 24th, 2008 07:00 AM

The map of the continental United States is jammed with a constellation of multicolored dots. With a few computer mouse clicks, the image zooms in on a stretch of coastal California.

The screen shows the movements of dozens of aircraft: an American Airlines flight on a cross-country route. A recreational pilot enjoying a day off in his Piper Cub. A military helicopter on a training mission.

If something flies west of the Mississippi River, the Western Air Defense Sector is watching. Tens of thousands of aircraft daily move through the airspace of WADS.

The unit operates 24 hours a day out of a three-story building at McChord Air Force Base. It is comprised mostly of Washington Air National Guardsmen and members of the American and Canadian militaries.

In a room filled with four rows of computers, technicians gaze at screens, watch for intruders and respond to possible threats, sometimes by deploying F-16 fighter jets.

The importance of intercepting threats was hammered home more than seven years ago, when four teams of hijackers turned passenger jets into missiles and altered the nation’s history.

WADS’ workload has changed radically since the Sept. 11 attacks. Its jurisdiction has expanded eastward to include more than 70 percent of the continental United States. It now watches the interior of the country as well as the coastline and the borders.

And it’s doing so with fewer personnel – a worrisome trend for such an important mission, its commander said in an interview earlier this month.

“We can do sustained day-to-day operations,” Air National Guard Col. Paul Gruver said, “but I’m more challenged now than I was on 9/11.”

New Technology helps expand reach

The Western Air Defense Sector works with similar units in three other regions: Alaska, Canada and upstate New York. Together, the four sectors report to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.

The air defense sectors began during the Cold War days, when the threat of a Soviet air attack was a distinct possibility. The attention the sectors received waned throughout the ’90s, but they were thrust to the forefront of national security again on Sept. 11, 2001.

At the time, WADS watched the U.S. coastline and borders but didn’t monitor the interior of the country. It relied on the Federal Aviation Administration for information.

The sector’s capabilities have grown steadily since then, including a $1.8 million renovation of its operations center two years ago. The cold, darkened control room and the green-and-black monitors were replaced with fluorescent lighting and flat-panel color monitors. Large video screens near the front of the room show air traffic over the United States.

Today, radar and radio coverage blanket most of the continental United States. Radar-equipped tethered balloons add additional monitoring. And the sector communicates with Airborne Warning and Control System planes if technicians on the ground need more information.

About 25 to 30 people are at the WADS controls during a typical day; a smaller number at night.

Airmen at WADS also have the ability to monitor the continental United States with a few keystrokes. With the previous system, any expansion beyond the area of responsibility required a technician literally pulling out and plugging in cords, Lt. Col. Paige Abbott said.

“It was a huge monster of a thing to do,” said Abbott, a part-time Guardsman and stay-at-home mom of two. “Now it’s instantaneous.”

In October, WADS found itself in the role of watching the continental United States when the Northeast Air Defense Sector went offline to upgrade its equipment.

During several days pulling double-duty, WADS crews watched jets take off in Las Vegas or cross the border from Quebec. They also tracked dozens of helicopters flying between offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We had to look at everything, just not the western three-quarters,” said mission crew commander Capt. Brian Nagel of the Royal Canadian Air Force. “We had to look at both coastlines, everything internal. We monitored presidential movements – is he home, at the White House?

“We learned the subtleties of their area. And subtleties are huge when you’re monitoring this stuff.”

A threat or a fisherman?

WADS’ sphere of responsibility is growing. Its territory in mid-decade stretched from the Pacific Coast to the middle United States, a vertical line that ran from North Dakota’s eastern edge to Brownsville, Texas. It was an area of about 1.8 million square miles.

The Air Force rearranged several aspects of the air defense sector mission in November 2007, and WADS’ territory was stretched eastward to about the Mississippi River.

The result for the airmen at McChord: About 400,000 additional square miles to monitor.

The Air Force has also become more measured in its response to unidentified airplanes, Air National Guard Capt. Dennis Amico said. The 38-year-old Gig Harbor resident and pilot for Alaska Airlines said WADS used to be much more likely to scramble fighter jets. Now, there’s a bit more autonomy.

“If you see certain people doing certain things that you’ve watched happen a million times, you can say, ‘Oh, that’s people searching for fish off the coast of San Diego. Or maybe it’s something else we should keep an eye on,’” Amico said. “It’s a different perspective.”

The unit’s budget has held steady at $5 million a year.

Gruver, a 51-year-old Gig Harbor resident, said it’s an “ongoing balancing act” to determine the proper response to a potential threat.

“We have to work in an environment of intense time pressure, compounded by an extraordinary lack of information,” he said. “We have to make decisions based on partial information all the time, and that’s why this job is so hard.

“There are a whole lot of wrong answers, and there’s only one right answer.”

More work, half the work force

As the workload has increased, the number of personnel has steadily dipped.

Since 1994, just after the Cold War ended, the number of radars WADS monitors has jumped from 31 to 145. And the number of flights it tracks daily is up from 2,000 to 12,000.

Fourteen years ago, 553 full-time employees monitored the western United States. Today that number is 261.

Budget cuts last year also trimmed 45 of the unit’s 96 positions for drill-status Guardsmen – the typical part-timers who work one weekend a month and one week a year.

The reductions in personnel are felt on the floor of the operations center, several airmen said. “Fewer people are doing more things,” Amico said. “The job hasn’t gotten easier.”

The commander of WADS isn’t optimistic for a drastic improvement; he points to personnel shortages throughout the Air Force. But his bosses at the Pentagon realize the importance of monitoring American airspace, he said.

“The (secretary of Defense) and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff both told me personally this is America’s No. 1 mission,” Gruver said. “Defending America is the No. 1 mission.”

Blizzard in Ballard

One thing about living in Ballard is that when it’s nasty weather everywhere else in the Puget Sound we usually are spared. We’re tucked behind the Magnolia bluffs at just about the lowest elevation in Seattle.  So, blow you winds on the Cascade front, rain and snow in the convergence zone. We’re usually fine.   But this morning, we’re hammered along with the rest of the region. We have a pile of snow seven inches deep on the table on our balcony.Stormwatch 2008 002

But it looks pretty with the all the Christmas lights I put out there last week, so Karin and I just opened the curtains on the bedroom, which look out onto to deck, and snuggled under a down comforter. 









So it was pretty rude for the fire alarms to go off at midnight.  Someone down on the second floor was having a little trouble with their popcorn making…and the fire department rolled.   When you wake up, it takes a while to figure out what’s happening…but eventually you realize…Oh, the building is burning down…I better leave.  We bundled up, made our way down the stairs, and trudged out into the height of the blizzard. Nice way to meet the neighbors. Too bad the folks on the second floor didn’t make a new batch to share with the crowd

FIIiiiiiIIrrrRRRReeee! IMAGE_064

Sunday morning there was so much snow we didn’t even make it to church.  But we make breakfast and around 10am we ventured out to see if anyone was brewing java. We have our needs.   And while there’s lots of snow and ice around, some of the stores in Ballard are opening up mostly as normal today.  We thought to ourselves, “Well sure, the coffee shops are open…but if Ballard is really tough…then then Sunday farmers market would be open too.”

Oh, I guess this is a tough hood

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If they’re selling, we’re going to buy something…just to salute the internal fortitude it takes to make it down here with your wears and set up shop on a snow covered street.  And we decided, Yes, we could do oysters for Sunday supper. Mmmm!

We decided to make use of all this snow on our deck…to chill a little wine to go with the Oysters. Nice.

  Balllard in the snow 009

You know I’m starting to think being snowed in isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Love to all,


Christian is getting very handy

All parents love the gifts children make for you. It’s part of our make up. No matter how lopsided the clay bowl from art class, or odd looking the dog is in the drawing, we love the crafts out children make with their own hands.  (I still have the oddly shaped “spork” my son whittled at boy scout camp to pass a merit badge).  As we accept these gifts, and treasure them. we also wonder if they’ll one day be really good at this. We’d never say this to them. But we wonder if they will ever be the kind of good people who aren’t their parents would pay for.

The answer, of course, is yes they do become very competent people.  I told my son I didn’t have a good bread board for kneading the dough. You know, the solid maple kind with the downturned front edge that holds the edge of the counter when you push to knead the bread.  So he went back to his shop and came back with this.

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It’s perfect in size, shape, and finish. If there are any other bakers out there who need one of these, if you ask really nice, Christian might make you one. And you should look up on the internet to find the best bread kneading board there is…and pay him that much. Because his will be at least that good, and probably a whole lot better.

He’s just getting so darn useful to have around. And handsome too, but I may be bias on that


Merry Christmas to all.


Excitement in the Emerald City

Well, this Friday is a day that has us all on pins and needles. 


Oh, the humanity! Stormwatch 2008! Lay in your winter stores and supplies.  Run to Les Schwalb to get studded snow tires installed on your 4v4. Go buy a new 4×4 if you don’t have one. Your life, and the lives of all you hold near and dear, are at risk in what could be the most dangerous and deadly winter storm on record.   Hmm, lets see. It’s December. So it’s raining. There’s a blast of cold air coming from Canada. So the rain could turn into snow. But as I mentioned, it’s December. So getting a blast of cold air is kind of normal. And getting some snow also happens here sometimes. It never ceases to amaze me that we go through this every time it might, and I emphasize “Might", snow in Seattle.

But that’s not why we’re on pins and needles. No, the excitement around these parts has more to do with the fact that my nephew Jared Ashmead and is wife Lynn are about to bring a baby into this world. They moved to the Seattle area last summer, so we get to be the nearest family. Sure their mothers will visit from Idaho. But they will go home, and Karin and I have full plans to move in and assume all rights and responsibilities as Grandparents-in-training. We may be UnkaDan and AnnyKarin…but we reserve the right to be Noah’s favorite relatives. And we aren’t above buying this position with massive spoiling. 

So stay tuned.

Oh, and one other thing for those of you who are into sailing.  The boat is now in Seattle, and we still go out in the winter…so long as the days aren’t too gross.  So if someone needs a fix of boating…just let me know.  

I put Christmas lights on the boat, and she’s looking all festive, especially at night.  Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, God Jul, and Merry Christmas to all. Boat at Christmas 072

Brady Leach and the Knappa Loggers roll to Oregon State Highschool 2A Championship

Well, the headline in the Portland Oregonian says it all…


What a game it was! Everyone in Oregon High School Football figured that the defending champs, Culver, with their superstar senior quarterback (who wears gold shoes….what was that about pride going before something…) was going to roll over the poor little loggers from out on the coast. But, well, err, that’s why we play the games people.

So with our own nephew/cousin Brady Leach a starter going both ways, Jeff, Christian and I figured it was time for a road trip to the Beaver State for a little afternoon high school football.  Now Jared would have come too. In fact, he wanted to come.  But as you all know his young wife Lynn is great with child.  And one thing we all know in the MacBean family is that when one of our women folk is great with child the only thing we say to them is, “Yes sweetheart. Not if you don’t want me to dear. Is that pillow comfortable? Would you like me to get up and give you this chair? And of course I’ll stay in town for your baby shower if you want me to.”  What a trooper. Good thing Aunt Karin was at the shower too and had promised to just keep filling Jared’s cup with many beers.

The morning was drizzly in Seattle as we left, but by the time we got to the stadium in Hillsboro (about 15 miles SW of downtown Portland) it was a lovely high overcast dry fall day.   The field was dry, the temperature was a comfortable 55°, and there was no wind. In other words, perfect conditions for a football game that would decide which school was the best.

Brady Leach State Champion 079 Stitch

At about 2:15pm, the Knappa Loggers and the Culver Bulldogs took the field for their epic struggle.  OK, maybe that’s just a little too much hyperbole. In any case, Brady was a rock at the end of the defensive line and a tough tight end going the other way on offense.

Brady Leach State Champion 005The Loggers had a plan for this hot shot quarterback who had been running all over the other teams all across Oregon.  His basic trick was to take every snap, drop back as if to pass, getting the defense to rush in to try to sack him.  Then he’d use his considerable skill as a running back to beat them in the open field, and with all the defense pulled in…he’d run for big yards around the ends.  There was just one problem for Culver, Knappa Assistant Coach Dennis Leach has learned a few things as a high school and college football stand out. And he’s been teaching the Knappa kids a few new tricks.   So they were ready for this quarterback’s trick. Dennis trained them to rushed in about one yard…and then wait in a picket line.  The QB didn’t have anyone to throw to, as his receivers were blocking down field expecting their QB to be running. When he started to run, there was always a line of Loggers waiting for him.  They were able to score the first TD, but after that the Logger defense shut him down.

Brady played well, but then just 20 seconds before halftime he suffered a terrible sprain to his ankle. It was clearly painful.

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Through out the first part of the second half Brady was running up and down the sideline on his newly taped up ankle, trying to loosen it up. And he finally made it back in the game in the 4th quarter.

It was the first ever state football championship for Knappa, and when the game was over the family and friends who had driven down from the coast swarmed the field to hug the boys and bask in the excitement and fun of winning the whole enchilada.

Brady Leach State Champion 089 image

Karin and Dan tie the knot….again


Friday the 28th dawned gray and rainy in Seattle. But the hearts were warm at Blessed Sacrament Parish where after 29 years of wedded bliss, Dan and Karin Leach decided to make their union formal in the Catholic Church.  It’s called a convalidation, since the church recognizes their civil marriage in 1979,  but if you were there it felt for all the world like a wedding.

KarinDan Wedding 041

In keeping with this new moderne’ era, both the bride AND groom were radiant. And there’s a real debate over whose dress was better. Our son Christian served as Best Man and our niece Lara Koler stood up for Karin and Maid of Honor. There was a friendly crowd of family and friends, and Father Daniel conceded that since many of them have known the couple longer than he had they would have to testify that the couple indeed still do love each other and should be allowed to be married.    …….

…..Hearing no objections. He was off on a full mass to celebrate the nuptials.


And as many there noted, father was in full voice and full of things to say about marriage, and about how he was sure that Dan and Karin loved each other in all 4 ways mentioned in the bible…though he was very clear in that he didn’t want to hear any details. “Oh, and another thing….”    Yes, Father Daniel does have a rather rambling style once he gets going.  And he was going on Friday, on and on.  But he’s also a pretty amazing theologian and biblical historian. So when he “gets going” he’s pretty interesting to listen to.  Combine that with a pretty wry wit, and you have a pretty interesting homily. Some people came up to me after saying, “You know I’m not Catholic, but if I were I think I’d want to come here to listen to this guy some more.”  That’s why we like Blessed Sacrament.

There were only two little issues with the service. First, the hundred year old steam radiators started knocking right in the middle of the homily.  The wedding coordinator had to head quickly to the boiler to shut off the steam.  The second was when Father forgot to bless the rings with holy water. But he quickly grabbed the sprinkler from the bucket…and made up for it…all over Christian’s hand. That was a lot of holy water.  His hand will be blessed…for a long time.


That’s the reason for all the laughing in this shot.

Afterwards it was off to the house in Terrace for a party.  Yes, it was our normal day after thanksgiving party. But this year we had a much more legit reason for our merry making.  Thanks to all who helped us get ready for the wedding. To Jared Ashmead for doing the readings. And to Shirley Runkel and Bob Kleinschmidt for making soup and stew for the party.  It made it much easier for us to get from the wedding to the party!IMG_0986

Birthday Gift

OK, many of you know it was my birthday a couple of weeks ago.  I keep getting asked how it was. Fine. Very nice small family dinner at the house in Mountlake Terrace with Karin, Christian, Jared, Lynn, Mom and BD.  All very lovely and low key.  And Karin, love that she is, made me my favorite lemon cake, But I wanted to show you all the coolest gift from my son.Chess Board 001

 Chess Board 002Yes. That is a chess board.  But more than that it’s a chess board that was hand made for me by my son, Christian.  He made it at work at Seattle Stair, and it’s beautiful.  I couldn’t buy anything nicer.  It’s about 16” by 16”, perfect size, and it’s made of black walnut and maple. Two very hard and beautiful woods. He finished it with stain and then multiple coats of butcher wax (think what they put on a bowling alley), and it just glows.

Anyway, I just wanted to thank him for the wonderful gift. It’s made all the better in that it came from his own hand and I will always cherish it.  Christian is well on his way to becoming as good a woodworker as his is a painter.

Next week is Thanksgiving, and Karin and I will be having our convalidation ceremony at the Church. So look for pictures and a summary of all that action.   Love to all.

Karin Blows Glass

So, we’re settling in here in Ballard this Fall.  Karin has her favorite coffee shop, and her favorite wine bar. I love walking everywhere and when I think about running an errand somewhere in Seattle or up to the house in Snohomish County I find myself saying, “Oh, come on. You don’t really want to deal with all that traffic do you?”  And, of course the answer is, “No.”   So I just walk to somewhere near by do get my errand done.  Think globally, walk locally.Karin Blows glass 001

Last Saturday night we took ad vantage of Ballard’s monthly Art Walk to toddle over to Art by Fire, a little gallery right across the street and up about half a block. They sell glass art by many NW artists, and they have a studio in the back.  For the Art Walk they were having “Glass Blowing” night.  You could sign up and they would help you blow your own piece…in this case a pumpkin.  They are very small, but very nice for future Halloweens and for Thanksgiving table decorations.

Karin decided…her time had come…and she signed up…and on the line of the release that said if her singed off her eyebrows it was her own damn fault. They told her it was hot.  Go ahead Karin, sign it…you don’t need to read it. (She was the only one who did. I think it’s all those contracts she’s handling for Sprint. Now when she has a legal document in her hand she feels compelled to read through it…and suggest improvements.)

So into the hot shop we went…Karin with her teacher James…and me with the camera to document all this. First, when they call it the “hot shop”, they ain’t kidding. It was very hot.  And they move really quick.  But Karin did it all

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So…why the dark glasses you ask?  Well, they have to look into the find the molten glass. And you betcha, it was more than a little hard for her to see in there.

Once she had the ball of hot glass on her rod, she had to pick the color of glass she wanted to add to it.  Then she rolled the ball in a tray of colored glass shavings.  Then it was back to the furnace for more heat…more blowing…and then some shaping of the pumpkin with iron tongs and wooden paddles.

Karin Blows glass 043 Karin Blows glass 050 Karin Blows glass 056

Finally, they attached the little stem and popped it into the cooling oven….which takes about three days to slowly bring the glass down to room temperature.   All in all, it was a lot of fun…and now we have a nice table decoration too.

Glass Pumpkin 002

More “Adventures in Ballard” later.

Fall 2008

OK, it’s fall, and it has been some time since we’ve updated everyone.  Not that we don’t want to. It’s just not the first reaction we have.  But here’s the summer and into fall.

Karin and I had a lovely last few days saying goodbye to Aunt Roselee in Idaho before she passed away. It was hard to see her long fight with cancer come to and end, but it was also beautiful to see so many members of the family come to Idaho to be with her. It was hard for her to hear, but you could see that she loved having the house full of family who were laughing, hugging and remembering all the times on the family farm.  It was warm, wonderful, sad, and uplifting. She knew we all loved her, and hoped to be together as a family again…some day.

At the end of July it was back to Seattle for a few hasty preparations, and then shoving off in the boat to head to Canada.  I took the boat up to Anacortes alone, and then Jim and David joined me for the sail North to Vancouver. Frankly, this part was more of a cruise.  There was no wind.  But the new engine proved it’s worth…humming along flawlessly to get us to Vancouver BC for the big fireworks festival.September 2008 008






After that, Karin, her sister Suzy and Suzy’s husband Tom joined me for the sail across the Straight of Georgia and into the Gulf Islands.  We played around there for a while, then sailed South to the San Juan Islands. 

September 2008 028

Why is US Customers always so hard when Canadian Customs is always so easy?  Yes, it’s a semi-rhetorical question.  In any case, we did some sailing, fishing, and crabbing as we continued through the San Juan Islands.

It wouldn’t be a trip if I didn’t have some mechanical issue.  This year I started losing my coupler/shaft connection.  So we finally had to limp home in late August. But still…any day, week, month on the boat is still a good one.

Coming back a little early allowed Karin and I to execute on our plan to become dazzling young urbanites. We packed up a few things and moved into a condo in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

Canal Station 001  My son and nephew are renting the house from us, and that allows us to cover the condo.  All in all, it’s a wash financially. Well, not if you count the new furniture I suppose.  Hey, that mission style stuff at the house won’t fit in a 1 bedroom + den condo.   Still, the coolest thing is that the condo is right in the heart of Ballard, in walking distance from everything.  And I’m moving the boat to a berth at the North end of Lake Union in Seattle, and it’s a 12 minute bicycle ride from the condo.  So far, I’m liking it.  But Karin is missing the dogs and her garden.  So we’ll just have to say this is an experiment in progress.


Now it’s September, and I’m beginning the job hunt.  We’ll see what interesting new challenges are out there.  Who knows how long it will take to find just the right fit.

Later team

A little jaunt to the South….end of Bainbridge Island


OK, Karin was out of town last week and that means there’s nothing to keep me at the dock.  So I decided to head the Marie south for a few days of gunkholing around Bainbridge Island.  As is required when I go sailing….the wind was coming from the direction I wanted to go.  So that means a slow beat to windward all Friday long. 

Now that’s normally a lot of work, with the boat healed over. But since the wind wasn’t all that strong, I didn’t have to pay such close attention to sail angles, or looking out for logs floating in the water.  When you’re only going about 3 knots, you can’t get in trouble very fast.  So I let "Otto" the autopilot have that wheel, and I read books. You get into a habit of looking up every 5 minutes or so, to make sure you are still on course, that nothing is in your way, and that no freighters are steaming down on you at 25 knots. That’s not much of a problem as long as you stay out of the VTS lanes. (Vessel Traffic Service running North/South in the middle of Puget Sound. Think I-5 for big boats)

I tucked into Blakely Harbor at the South end of Bainbridge Island, dropped anchor far enough out to account for the tides, and resumed my reading.

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Yes, the sweater is an indication that it’s still "Juneuary" here in the Puget Sound.  But it got better over the course of the weekend.

The great thing about this little anchorage is that it’s quiet, and has a nice mud bottom for good anchor sets.  And you get to watch the twinkling lights of downtown Seattle at night. I’ve seen pictures of this harbor from 100 years ago, and it was jammed with really big boats, as there was a big timber operation here.


It’s wild to think about all those boats jammed in here.  Now it’s all fancy homes on the shore, and a few boats anchored in here on summer nights.

Looks more like this:

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After a nice Friday night, a bald eagle swooped by ten away while I was reading my book, I pulled up the anchor and sailed around the South end of the Island and went up North for a night anchored off Poulsbo.  After that, I knew Karin was coming home from her trip…so I also started back.   I love timing my arrival when she gets back from business trips.  Homecoming is always sweet.