An Army public-affairs officer stumbles through a decidedly unglamorous first year in the frozen north.
His knowledge of Alaska gleaned principally from episodes of Northern Exposure, Lieutenant Flynn, sweating on a base in Mississippi, requested a transfer to Eielson Air Force Base, 400 miles north of Anchorage. A short time later, the cheechako (“a tenderfoot, a greenhorn”) arrived at his new home on a night when the temperature was 43 degrees below zero. His first weekend, playing rugby on a frozen river, he realized that distraction and denial were the ways to make it through the Alaskan winter. Taking to these strategies with gusto, Flynn amused himself by creating a monthly column for the military newspaper covering some of Alaskan life’s more striking aspects: the difficulty of really getting away from it all despite being surrounded by wilderness; the abysmal state of waste disposal; the Native American “Ear Pull” competition. Getting this column approved was a challenge; the Air Force was used to public-affairs officers pitching stories about survival school and plane crashes. (Flynn covered those too.) Alternating between pondering Alaskan and Air Force curiosities, the author displays a time-honored attitude toward military bureaucracy: good-natured grousing. He is quite amusing, for example, in such slice-of-life pieces as his account of working on an outdoor sign when it was 68 degrees below zero, a general consideration of the drudgery of base chores, and an analysis of the pecking order and mating habits of the officers (a mere flack, Flynn was completely eclipsed by the pilots). Equally compelling are his explanation of flying’s central importance to Alaska’s survival and a description of his first encounter with the local tribes.
Surface glibness, and a boys’-club tone only slightly distract from a deeper insight and charm.