Sunday, April 14, 2013


The company Erik works for is located in what's now Brooks City Base. Until 2002, it was Brooks Air Force Base, though the Air Force didn't totally vacate it until 2011.

I will confess that, although I spent a fair amount of time as a child on Fort Sam Houston, I am almost completely unfamiliar with the Air Force bases in the area. My mother, after all, was former Army, as was my dad, so I had pretty much no traffic with Brooks, Kelly, Lackland, or Randolph AFBs.

The Base Realignment And Closure rounds which began in the 1990s have ultimately benefited Fort Sam, but have shuttered half our other bases.  Kelly was the first, and it is held up as a shining example of how to recover from BRAC, being now known as Kelly USA, oh wait, I guess it's now Port San Antonio. My bad. (We're not real good with remembering name changes around here.)  Anyhow, Brooks has been mostly gone since 2002, and you can't even tell there was a base on that portion, since it now boasts a Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Starbucks, assorted restaurants, etc, et cetera.  It looks like your average strip mall.

The portion where Erik's new employer is located, however, was only vacated year before last, and you can tell it used to be a military base.  Well, if you're used to the way bases look, I guess.  A couple of weeks ago the kids and I were early to pick him up from work and I decided to drive around and have a look-see.

It's...interesting.  Even though only a handful of buildings are fenced off, you can still tell what's being used and what isn't.  Aside from putting up some real estate company signs, no one's really taking care of the empty buildings, and they're already starting to show the effects.  Now, I couldn't get too into the UrbEx with the kids (or even going back later with Erik and the two littles), but I did go around and get some photos just to show y'all how it looks now.

This was my first stop: Hangar 9,more properly known as the Edward H White II Memorial Hangar.  This is the only extant World War I airplane hangar in the country, to the best of my understanding, and at one point (according to Wikipedia anyway) housed the USAF Museum of Aerospace Medicine, which I would about kill to see.  I can say that it seems to be kept up, but I doubt there's anything inside it anymore, and they're certainly not using it for a museum at this point.  I had to park near another building and walk to this one, as the parking lot is understandably blocked off, and the path that used to go from this lot around to the back of the building is nearly gone.

But I did go around back, because I'd seen something strange and wanted to get a picture of it. 

There's a small area behind the hangar that is apparently known as Schriever Heritage Park. It has a handful of memorials, and I took photos of all of them.  (This will make sense in a moment, I promise.)

This is the Sidney J Brooks (for whom the base was named, obviously) memorial.  I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to be a basketball the bird's on, but the way SA is about the Spurs you never can tell.  The inscription reads TO ALL THE U.S. AIRMEN OF THOSE EARLY YEARS, FEW IN NUMBER, GREAT IN SPIRIT--THE SEEKER, THE PATHFINDER, THE BUILDERS.  THEY DARED THE HEIGHTS AND SAW BEYOND THEIR TIMES.

Behind that was this:
Holy shit, it's a tree! But not just any tree.  This is a magical tree, with the power to make you feel old.  Gaze upon it. See that it is not a sapling, though not yet possessed of the majesty of the trees behind it. 

That, my friends, is a tree planted in remembrance of the war in Iraq.  No, not that one. The other one, the one everyone cheered us for.  Desert Storm, 1991. Now do you feel old? Because I do.  Side note--we actually had a car back then, and at one time we had to park it 'cause we couldn't afford gas. I remember very well the shock of gasoline that cost $1.03/gallon

Sigh. Actually, that's the part that makes me feel old.

Moving on, I photographed the piece de resistance of the memorial park:

Look, it's an F-100!

Er...Well, it was.  At one point. (If you check the Wikipedia article on Brooks, you can see a photograph of it.)

The rest of these photographs are from last Saturday, just to explain the lighting difference...

This was, I guess, a fire station.  It has that look, anyway. I'm not entirely certain why they would abandon it, as I'm sure there's still need, but perhaps there's something newer and larger nearby?

This is the BEQ. Wait, does the Air Force call it that? The barracks, anyway, and also visitors' quarters.  Interestingly, this is one of two buildings, or sets of buildings, which were blocked off by fencing. I didn't check out the other one, though I should have since there was actually an open gate. 

I'm kinda surprised these are just sitting there. As many hotels as they keep building in this city, you'd think they'd be all over a few ready-made buildings.

This is the ambiguously-named Services building.  I was playing a little game with myself, trying to see if I could guess what a given building was, and I was way off here. It looked like the library to me. I have no idea what Services was.  ID cards? (I'm actually hoping Dave can enlighten me.)  I couldn't look inside, 'cause these guys pulled down the shades on their way out.

I'm still not quite sure what this is. I suspect (and could easily be wrong) that it is the E Club.  But again, I'm not familiar enough with the Air Force to know whether they even bother with such a thing, but I'd guess so.  It's actually a pretty nice-looking place.
This is the patio out back. It's in excellent condition, but I didn't walk down to where the tree was. You can see they left the fire extinguisher.  Good idea, I guess, with all that wood.

I took these interior pictures through the windows. That's my excuse for how they turned out, anyway.  It's the second photo that makes me think this might be the enlisted club. Obviously, there's a bar component, but it doesn't look quite nice enough to be the Officers' Club.

But for all I know, it could be a little bar & grill they just had. The Air Force is odd like that, in my scant experience. There was actually a fantastic little cafe attached to the O Club on Hickam AFB in Hawaii that we went to a few times. Great food--the same stuff they served to the officers next door--and incredibly cheap.  So maybe this was something similar. I kind of view the Air Force as a strange land of attractiveness and fun, mainly because of the contrast between Hickam and Pearl Harbor. Hickam had beaches and walking trails and gardens. Pearl Harbor had...overhead steam pipes. Lots and lots of overhead steam pipes.

But I digress...

Second to the last picture.  It kinda sucks, sorry (and so does the last one).  Look there in the middle of the photo. There's a barrier across the street.  On the other side, you can unwittingly drive right up to that sucker without realizing it's blocked off. I know, 'cause I did.  There's maybe twenty feet of road blocked off. I don't have a fucking clue why.  I mean, look at it! They aren't actually blocking access to anything.


Anyway, on to the last one. Wait, no. I'll put this up as the second-to-the-last again. Consider me as tricky as those assholes who blocked off a street for no reason at all.

Look, Ma, the Repair Calibration Lab:
This is one of those "Why did I take this picture?" pictures.  Maybe I thought it was neat, at the time? Maybe I was seduced by the open window I could have climbed through had I had the equipment, lack of family members, and a reasonable assumption I wouldn't have been caught?  I dunno.  Actually, now that I think on it more, I think it was initially the setup, and then the surprise that something as seemingly high tech as that would be housed in what seems to just  be a warehouse complex.

OK, the last one for reals:

Again, sorry it sucks.  This is the gate we drove out through.  I wish I had been able to get a better picture of it, but as you can tell there was a surprising amount of traffic, and the closest parking lot was that of the Repair Calibration Lab in the previous photo.  So you can't really tell how run-down that guard house is.  But it is falling apart, in stark difference to the gate house I usually pass by, which seems to be freshly-painted and well-maintained.

So, there you have it. A brief, very incomplete walkthrough of what used to be.


Dave said...

Interesting. I haven't been to Brooks in years when my son (now 27) was playing tee-ball.

Services in the AF has to do with those things to improve morale. They used to have MWR, or Morale, Welfare, Recreation but now they have what is billed as The Air Force Services Agency (if I'm up to date) headquartered at Randolph.

Services is responsible for all your base clubs, equipment rentals (did you know in the AF, you can rent an RV?) and that sort of thing. Every base has a services place. Probably one of the things that separates the Air Force from the other military services, is, Services.

You are right about the vacant barracks - they'd make a good motel.

HeywoodFloyd said...

I enjoyed your picture tour of Brooks. I do have a nit to pick: you mentioned that bar didn't look nice enough to be in the officer's club, but when I was in the AF, a lot of enlisted clubs were far nicer than O-clubs, since they had a larger base to draw on and the enlisted folks actually knew how to do things.