Cold Weather Exercise Held in Sapporo

By Lawrence I. Charters
Kenko Shimbun, February 1987, pp. 4-5.

After months of intense planning, the annual Joint Hospital-Dental Clinic Cold Weather Exercise got underway during the last week of January. Composed of 60 or so Navy personnel, camp followers and lackeys, this year’s operation, code-named Usagi ’87, was designed to explore certain feasibility options in isolated northwestern Pacific regions under real-world no-cost TAD conditions of a falling dollar and a rising accumulation of snow. [1987 was the year of the rabbit, or “usage” in Japanese.]

An advance party flew to Hokkaido, Japan’s vast northern island, in the middle of darkest winter, and spent several days conducting friction, inertia, dexterity, gravity, and longevity tests at Furano, in Daisetsu-zan National Park. Any day now, the Navy is expected to announce a requirement for rapidly deployed ski-mobile dentists, dental techs, physicians, nurses, corpsmen and postal clerks (known to D.C. insiders by the acronym RADESKIMODEDETEPHY-NUCOPO), and Yokosuka will stand in the front ranks of installations ready to answer the call.

Meanwhile, a second party left Yokosuka to prepare a base camp in Sapporo, the remote provincial capital of Hokkaido. Their arms aching from the long flight in from Tokyo, group members were still energetic enough to take time out and make friends with the local native guides. The guides were so impressed that they inducted everyone into their elite organization, going so far as to instruct everyone on how to wear the unit patch, cryptically embroidered “JAL Ski Tour ’87 Hokkaido.” Health care professionals that they were, these instructions were completely ignored.

Snow sculpture of Konishiki
Snow sculpture of Konishiki, the Samoan-Hawaiian sumo wrestler and highest ranked foreigner in history as of 1987. Image scanned from newspaper.

Group members soon secured lodgings at two quaint hotels. One, the Chisai-san, caused considerable comment among the party because it appeared the architect normally designed doll houses. None of the group could ever recall bathrooms so small you could wash only one hand at a time.

After many months (or in some cases years) living around Tokyo, navigation in Sapporo proved exceptionally difficult. The subway has only two lines, but some rose to the challenge and got lost anyway. Surface streets, instead of the familiar Byzantine maze of the Kanto, were actually wide enough for buses to pass each other without major damage, and arranged in a grid of straight streets. How, several people asked, can you find anything if all the streets look the same?

One purpose of cold weather exercises is learning how to cope. It was soon discovered that sandals, high-heeled shoes, sexy underwear, and light jackets with alligators were inappropriate for sub-zero temperatures, and foraging expeditions fanned out to get supplies. One of the more astonishing discoveries was learning that, in a city of 1.5 million, home to two famous breweries, there was not a single box of pretzels.

Snow sculpture of rabbit yokozuna
Snow sculpture of rabbit yokozuna (sumo grand champion). 1987 was the Year of the Rabbit in the Asian zodiac. Scanned from newspaper.

Another discovery, with important military implications, was Genghis Khan’s secret weapon. Mongols, it should be remembered, lived mostly on mare’s milk, cheese, and dried vegetables. After attending a “Mongolian Barbecue,” many members of the group discovered this kind of dining was actually intended to incapacitate enemies, since the Mongols never ate anything like it.

Several members decided to investigate an astonishing claim. One native guide stated Sapporo’s Susukini District has 4,000 bars, discos, cabarets and clubs, so a hardy band set out to count them. Sadly, only a few survivors made it to breakfast the next day, and they claimed there were only 3,964. (Of course, they also claimed it was the year 2004, and Tom Cruise was President.)

Ice sculpture of an Asian dragon
Ice sculpture of an Asian dragon. Asian dragons, unlike western dragons, don’t require wings to fly. Scanned from newspaper.

While there were, admittedly, a few false steps and slips, these were (except the lackeys and camp followers) Navy professionals, and they soon mastered the situation. By the last day, virtually everyone had found the secret underground Scottish restaurant, and many had even managed to order the day’s special. Cryptologists are now at work to discover if the coupons that came with the meal are valuable.

Once the operation was over, the tension of several days began to slowly fade away on the bus ride from Haneda to Yokosuka. Bonded together by this shared experience, group members shared stories and tried to get each other to take their duty the next day. Strange and unusual experiments were performed with a Pringle’s can, Tang, and beverages from Scotland and France, all mixed together — but that’s another story.

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