Dan at San Nick

My first assignment in the Navy after training was to San Nicolas Island Naval Facility in the Catalina Island group just west of Los Angeles.

This base had a secret mission at the time and I could tell you what went on there, but then I would have to kill you.

The Base on San Nick

The road to the "NavFac"

The "NavFac" where I worked and shoreline

The basic idea at San Nick was that we had our full time barracks on the island but we also had TDY (temporary duty) barracks at Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station. On Monday morning you were to report to Pt. Mugu terminal and catch one of the several flights to the island, go to work, get off at 5PM and go to your barracks room. You lived on the island all week until Friday, when you would catch one of several flights back to Pt. Mugu to spend the weekend on the mainland. Of course if you had "the duty" you had to stay on the island and take care of things all weekend and wait for your friends to return on Monday. It could get lonely on the weekends. The island had no civilians on it (except for a few specialists that we never saw). No stores, no fast food joints, one movie theater, with one new movie a month. And no women (at least when I arrived)

It was a very strange existence for most folks, especially those with wives or/and girlfriends. I ended up getting an apartment in Oxnard (what a name!) with my cousin Scott who wanted to get out of Tracy. He had the apartment to himself on the weekdays while he worked at a Denny's, I would come home and we would have fun on the weekends together. Eventually we started hanging out with my island room-mate's sisters Brenda (for Scott) and Mary (for me).

Foosball was the popular game on San Nick, there was a table in the main barracks lounge and me and my roommate Tom Schott would play together against all comers. Someone organized a Foosball Championship and Tom and I won! We were champs of the whole island (about 100 guys). They made these plaques for us, it was great to be a winner, but I was used to it having been the top contender in the video game Biplane! at ET school.

I say this was a strange existence because we were so close to the mainland, but so far away. There was no way to get a flight back to the mainland for anything other than a bone-fide emergency, and it had to be serious. So, married or not, engaged, whatever, you were a local phone call away from you wife/girlfriend but you could not go see them until Friday, or maybe even later if you had the duty. If you were married and having a fight with your wife, you would have to do it by phone, and the barracks rooms didn't have phones, so you had to do it in the hallway on a pay phone. Hence, everyone knew your problems, and the distance seemed to multiply them. With the wife on shore and you safely marooned on the island till Friday the wife could roam the bars, bring home anybody she could find and you could only sit there on that island and go crazy thinking about it. Lot's of people did go crazy, one guy named Leroy was married, but his wife was having an affair with another guy on the island, Tim. Tim and Leroy's duty schedules were offset, so on some weekends, poor Leroy would sit on the island going nuts thinking about his wife screwing Tim, and vice versa. However, since Leroy was married and had to support the wife, pay rent, and all that, he would take other people's duty in exchange for money, which meant he was on the island most of the time, while Tim had full run of Leroy's wife and his apartment on the mainland that Leroy was killing himself to pay for. Things were very tense most of the time between those too, and like an idiot I tried to be a go-between and friend to both, it didn't work out. Leroy ended up stealing electronic equipment from the island, when the Navy figured it out, Leroy went to prison, which is the only thing worse than sitting on San Nick.

Perhaps the only other thing worse than being on San Nick was to risk your life flying on these old propeller driven twin engine planes twice a week for two years. That's close to 200 flights in a deployment. The odds of going down are not insignificant. On my first flight in I was astounded at how crummy the plane was (having only flown in jets before). Then when making our approach to the island I could see the debris of airplanes strewn on the cliff right near the approach end of the runway. I wondered how many flights had crashed there! Well it turns out, San Nick is also used for testing missile. They did this by firing them at unmanned drones launched from Pt. Mugu or San Nick. If a drone survived a missile attack, they would attempt to land it at San Nick, sometimes they made it, sometimes not. OK, that explained the debris, but another incident worried me. One Friday sitting in the plane, jazzed up to go see my gal, the pilot fired up the left side engine, and it burst into flames! The ground crew rushed out with a fire extinguisher and put it out, and I was all ready to start getting off the plane, when the pilot tried it again! This time it fired up and we rolled onto the runway and took off. OMG, how in the world did I survive that for two years?! I could not wait to get out of there. Unfortunately for me they did not assign a Crypto guy (my specialty) to San Nick when my two years was up, so the CO extended my stay by three months, and eventually had me train someone else on my job so I could leave. I was so happy to get out of there, and best of all, I was going to Australia!