The Banya in the Arctic Circle

One of the more interesting trips I ever had as part of my Russian Flight Escort assignment was a trip to Russia to escort an AN-12 from Tiksi AB, Russia to Eielson AFB, AK for a joint Arctic Search and Rescue exercise between the Russian and US Air Force’s.

Tiksi had the distinction of being the most Northern permanent Air Base in the world (it has since been closed). We were going there in January. I shiver just thinking about it 20 years later.

Due to the high visibility of this exercise, the Assistant US Air attaché (a Lt Col) from the embassy in Moscow would be coming along and was going to be staying with the Russians for the duration. I was just along for the flight into Alaska.

I met up with the Attaché in Moscow and the next day we hopped on an IL-18 (4 engine turboprop) that was the personal plane of the Russian 3 star for the flight from Moscow to Tiksi.



The Lt Col AF Attaché was a great guy (ethnic Ukrainian) who spoke fluent Russian. Unfortunately for this assignment, he was not a good drinker.

I was up front in the passenger section and the Lt Col was in the rear of the aircraft in the VIP compartment with the Russian 3 star and all of his staff.

About three hours into the six-hour flight a Russian Colonel came up to me, shook my shoulder to wake me up and invite me back to the VIP section.

Turns out the vodka was flowing and the Lt Col was not doing so well. I took his place at the table with the 3 star and told jokes/stories when it was my turn.  I had to hold the Lt Col’s head as he puked in the lav on our approach into Tiksi.


IL-18 getting deiced at Tiksi AB. Sun is out, so it must be summer.

We landed and it was -40C. That’s where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet on the back side. This is were the Russian tradition of always taking off your gloves to shake hands really started to suck. I had my AF-issue extreme cold weather mittens on over flight gloves so of course every damn officer on base came out to welcome us to their frozen base. The good news is you really can’t feel the frostbite once the appendage is numb (this will come into play later in the story). It was also very dark. In January in the Arctic Circle it’s always dark. You get a bit of glow on the horizon for about an hour in the morning. That’s it, daylight complete.

We got the Lt Col to bed and then I had to fill in for him for the afternoon and evening. The 3-star’s valet picked me up from the VIP quarters and drove me to the ‘Banya’ on base. It’s basically a sauna/steamroom and it is a very old school Russian tradition.


The Banya, complete with Birch twigs. Sadly, no girls are involved in this story.

I walk in and the General is already there. He starts taking of his uniform. All of it. EVERYTHING.

So I do too. We’re soon sitting buck ass nekkid in the banya when his valet comes in with champagne.

Drinking champagne naked with a Russian 3 star. Well, at least it can’t get any weirder than that.


Next thing I know he starts hitting me in the back with birch twigs. It’s a Russian thing, meant to improve circulation, but I was not warned of this. After a minute or so he hands the twigs to me so I can reciprocate. I do. Sadly, that was not the gayest thing I did that night.

After our mutual flagellation session the valet brought in chilled vodka and strawberries. That was nice, and it was soon time to go. The General informed me that since this was my first time in a Russian Banya I needed to ‘complete the experience’.  This involved diving naked into the snowbank outside. Evidently it is healthy to ‘close up the pores’ after sweating so much. So I did it. At 1:00 am, -40C.

It also does a great job of ‘shrinking the penis into the mid-section’.

The next day we hopped on the AN-12 (C-130’ski) for our flight across Siberia to Fairbanks, AK. The trip over was relatively uneventful and thankfully no one got naked.

Next up will be some stories about a few of my trips with Yeltsin. Will try to do one a week until my temporary retirement is over and I go back to 737 school in January.


Filed under Air Force, anthropology, history, Humor, planes, Politics, stupid

7 responses to “The Banya in the Arctic Circle

  1. Thank you, Phat. You made my December :D


  2. Sadly, that was not the gayest thing I did that night.

    Must. Refrain. From. Making. Air Force. Joke…


  3. phat

    Hey, when I entered the service you weren’t allowed to be gay. When I got promoted to field grade you could be gay, but you couldn’t tell anybody and no one could ask you. My last year in you could be gay and tell everyone.

    I figured I’d retire before they made it mandatory!


  4. Phat,
    Classic! You will NEVER live this down…


  5. SFC Dunlap 173d RVN

    It’s not just a job……