Way back when, in the days of yesteryear I imagined that I would have two dogs. I imagined they would be large dogs, active in all things that are dog. I imagined they would be like Zeus and Apollo and I would be Higgins. They would be like an ideal me. Well mannered, intelligent, and furiously loyal to family and friends. I imagined I would sit in the study reading philosophy, wearing my red man-slippers and smoking my pipe while they laid at my feet, watching over me and awaiting my command to attack. Walking in trail of me and mirroring my every move they would greet my family with a sweet bark and every danger stranger with a toothy growl.
In the winter of 2002, my wife and I were still “just dating” but after she kicked me to the curb three times earlier it was apparent to everyone that we were destined to be together. I made the decision, that it was time in my life to get the dogs of my dreams. The thought about the dogs of Magnum PI; scary Doberman Pinchers that would frighten the neighbors. But that was not in the cards because those types of dogs are expensive and I didn’t have two nickels to rub together. So I went to the local Animal Control Shelter and started looking. There was a litter of seven puppies that I was immediately drawn too. Pound puppies, the attendant said they were a mixture of Lab and something. I couldn’t pick one from the litter so I left and returned two days later.
There were just two puppies left. I sat on the concrete pen and held one. The other vied for my attention. I grabbed the second one and the first started to nudge me. We ended up playing musical puppies. They were exactly one more dog than I wanted but I couldn’t leave one behind. I surprised the attendant when I said I wanted both of them. They filled out the paper work and took my check without even to see if it would bounce. I left the pound and went to a friend’s house to grab a crate. I was starting from zero and headed off to the store to buy baby gates. Already the negligent father, I locked the dogs in the kitchen, left some cold hot dogs on a paper plate, water in a bowl and puppy pads in the corner, I ran out the door late for the with my wife and some other friends. At this point, she had no idea that I had the dogs. In the middle of dinner, she started grilling me about why I was late. I had given her plenty of reason to doubt me in the past so I didn’t take any offense. Finally, I said I had to buy some stuff from the store and she asked to see the receipt.
Looking over it, she asked me if I got a dog.
I said. “No, I got two.”
She grabbed me by the arm and we left to go see the dogs. On the way to my house, she asked what their names were. Magic and Legend. You know after Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.”
When we got to my home, they had tore up the pack of hot dogs, relived themselves all over the kitchen, knocked over the water and eaten all the puppy pads. My wife scooped them up in her lap and for the next thirteen years the only time she was separated from “her little monsters” was when we were on vacation. Legend passed away in February.
Magic passed away Monday. Since Legend passed, she assumed the role of chief protector for the family. When it was time for bed, she led the charge of kids and cats upstairs. She would fall asleep in my son’s room. After my wife went to bed, Magic would go into our bedroom and lay on the floor while I was downstairs watching TV. When I came to bed, she would migrate to my daughter’s room and position herself where she could see the entire upstairs floor. In the morning, my wife would wake her up and they had their coffee together and then she would come back upstairs to sleep in the floor until I woke up. One of the most comforting feelings in the world was knowing that the first thing I would see when I woke was her wagging tail.
In the past few weeks, she had lost some strength so we put a baby gate blocking the stairs. Stubborn as a mule, she would claw at the gate until we let her come upstairs. Over the weekend, she deteriorated rapidly losing her strength and ability to walk. After we took her to the vet for her last visit, we walked into the house for the first time ever without being welcomed by a black snout and wagging tail. It has been a long week of firsts for the family. The kids have never lived without a dog and we all are trying to readjust to our new reality. Given a choice, I would take the genuineness of a life with Magic and Legend every day and twice on Sunday over the imaginations of a life with Zeus and Apollo.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
I know the posts have been few and far between lately but I promise to have a good excuse. Well at least one that comes with a doctor’s note. A couple weeks ago, I caught the pre-flu season flu bug and it kicked me in the backside. I don’t really like to be sick although I like to take time off from work because I have anal glaucoma. That is the disease where I can’t see taking my butt to work. Anyway, I really got sick a couple weeks ago and it literally took me a couple of weeks to shake everything off and to feel right.
So here I am now, back at work watching the computer words pop up on the screen and waiting for 4AM so I can drag my tired butt to Knoxville, Tennessee for sleep. This morning, Monday the 14th I took the kids to school and then drove from my house outside Huntington, WV down to Knoxville. Many of you might be asking yourself why I don’t fly commercial to Knoxville especially considering the fact that my employer is good enough to buy me a ticket. From my front door to the door of the hotel room is a 4.5 hour drive. I like that I go on my schedule, that I don’t have to listen to the flight attendant tell me when I can turn on the electronic equipment, that I don’t have get up at 3AM to make the 5:30 AM flight out of Charleston and that I don’t have that overweight guy sneezing on me and getting me sick again.
So there I was driving down the road when I spied a single engine airplane towing a rainbow banner over the interstate today about 10 AM. I thought that was odd until I saw the sign for the Morehead, Kentucky exit. I almost keep on driving but then I started thinking about how many times I have been able to witness history. I just happened to be in Los Angeles during the OJ Simpson trial and drove downtown to see courthouse. I saw the last Metallica concert with Jason Newstead playing bass. I was in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and I was staying in the Des Moines hotel that Rick Perry’s delegation used when he pulled the plug on his 2012 Presidential campaign. Matter of fact, I had a free meal at the hotel restaurant because his people had to spend all of his campaign funds. I offered to pay my own bill, but some 5 gallon guy in a 10 gallon cowboy hat told me that they would put it on Rick Perry’s tab. So much for campaign finance reform and the thought that Republicans are fiscally responsible. By the way, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was a Democrat. I am like a real life Forrest Gump and with that kind of front row seat to history there was no way that I was going to pass on the opportunity to see the epicenter of the marriage controversy.
Jetting across two lanes of interstate and slamming on the breaks, I pulled into Morehead Kentucky on a mission; Find Kim Davis. I tried to follow the airplane with the banner but he was circling the interstate and not the courthouse. I thought that was odd but soon realized that there were more people at Kroger than the courthouse. I pulled up the map on my phone and 4.4 miles later, I found the courthouse. I thought something was wrong because I was able to find a parking spot easily. I would have parked in the court parking lot but all of the spots were taken by the massive television trucks that normally show up for a football game. By the way, there were no big TV trucks in the parking lot of Rick Perry’s hotel back in 2012. Anyway, I started walking towards the sounds of an animated speaker on a microphone. I had to walk through the parking lot and up a gentle incline to get to the courthouse grounds. When I first saw the protesters, I thought I had missed it but on further inspection, they were really there standing in a circle, holding their signs and listening to the speaker in his preacher voice. Again, I didn’t believe that I was in the right spot so I walked to the other corner where a much larger crowd of journalists were standing in a circle listening to one guy talking. It was probably Mrs. Davis’ lawyer but since I don’t have a picture of him, I can’t pick him out of a line-up.
I retraced my steps back towards a set of tents where the media had set up camp. While I was walking, the speaker started asking rhetorical questions. Before I go into the questions, please know that I have matured over the last 25 years. Earlier in life, I would have been running my mouth, talking loud and generally trying to be an agitator to the rabble-rousers. Today, I had no desire to start trouble and I really didn’t want to tell my employer that I would not make my trip because I was in the Morehead city jail sitting next to Mrs. Davis.
So the speaker asks the question; “Are you a Christian?” Under my breath I said. “Yep.”
He asked. “Do you believe that marriage is only between and man and a woman?” “Maybe.” I replied.
He asked. “Are you willing to stand here with us today and publically fight this outrage?” “Nope.” I said.
He stated. “If you won’t stand here and fight today, then surely you will burn in Hell.” “Sucks to be me.” I said to myself.
I did start to laugh but not because it was funny but out of disbelief and outrage. It isn’t the first time that I am going to Hell and it probably will not be the last. Normally, I don’t put much thought into the comments of people that don’t know me but there was something that was just flat out wrong about what was going on in Morehead today. For about ten seconds, all I could think of was 1 Corinthians 13 and how I wish I had it memorized.
I walked up to the CNN tent where the cameraman was sitting in a chair looking at his laptop probably looking at his fantasy football team. I asked him if this is what was going on last week. He told me that this morning there were no protesters (gay marriage supporters) on the other side so the crowd was about half of the size it was last week. I said they probably had to go back to work. He laughed and said they would be arriving about noon but that today was the end of the story because Mrs. Davis wasn’t going to block the marriage licenses from being issued. I apologized for the guy with the microphone and he said that he had tuned him out early on last week. Before I left, I told him that CNN was my go to station for the news, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was down on the list after ESPN, History Channel, Discovery Channel, VH1, HGTV and the Food Network.
I was walking back to my car when I passed two Morehead City police officers. They stopped talking when I came into ear shot. I was wearing shorts and plain gray tee shirt so I was about as nondescript as I normally am. I asked them how much trouble I would get into if I unplugged the speaker’s microphone. One officer said it would depend on what I did afterwards but the other one had a better idea. He said that if I brought some doughnuts that they would escort me to the wire. We all laughed at his joke and I thanked them for keeping the peace and apologized about the controversy. I was almost out of the parking lot, when another guy pulled out his megaphone and started yelling at the speaker who banished me to Hell. I thought this would be good so I made my way closer. His beef was that John 3:16 was not being quoted by the self-appointed judge. While I was watching the commotion, two State Troopers walked up behind me just to be ready if a fight broke out. When it was obvious that nothing was going to happen, I snapped a couple of pictures with my phone and started to walk away.
Before I did, I once again thanked the Troopers for keeping the peace and apologized for them having to deal with this. One of the officers said that he didn’t mind because of the freedoms we get to enjoy and that if we lived in Iran none of this would be possible. I agreed and walked off. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that if the guy who was handing out free passes to Hell had his way, America and Iran would have a lot more in common and my head would be stacked on the courthouse steps.
I didn’t see anyone from the Pro-gay marriage crowd but in all there were about 50 police officers in the crowd and another 50 or so media members. There may have been 25 protesters but that might be overstating the crowd a little. Driving away, I reflected on what I was feeling and that could be best described as shame, anger and sadness at a missed opportunity to tell people that the vast majority of Christians are embarrassed by that guy with the microphone. The only thing that keeps me going is the belief that an all-powerful God created me perfectly with no mistakes just like he created the homosexual guy perfectly. I believe that God loved all of us all enough to allow someone like me the opportunity to have a chance to spend eternity in Heaven. All I have to do is to return his love and to reflect his love to other humans. I really think that we are missing the point in this contrived drama. It isn’t that marriage is only between a man and a woman and it isn’t about an elected official not following the law. It is that everyone should have the opportunity to be loved and respected. Especially the guy with the microphone who dammed me to Hell.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
I know I haven’t been posting much lately but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been watching and thinking about things. Since time is limited (both yours and mine) I am going to say some things with pictures. Hope this makes sense.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
Hope everyone is enjoying your summer. I know it isn’t fall time but I thought you might like a ghost story instead of the random “There I was…” war story. I have to warn you before you start reading that the story I am going to tell you is very real. It really happened three weeks ago exactly as I describe it. If you get weirded out over scary things please stop reading now and go on to the next article, because I have proof that things do go bump in the night.
My wife is a wonderful woman who attracts good friends like a light attracts moths. She and three other women have formed a bond that is much stronger than the bond between sisters. All four of these ladies just happen to be in the medical profession although they were friends before their career paths were set. All of their kids are in the same age grouping with the two oldest being 15 and the youngest is just 5. The other six kids are between 11 and 7. The other three husbands and I can be described as garnish, we complete the meal but really we serve no real purpose. As proof as to the tightness of the four families, the last five years we have vacationed together at various locations around the beaches of Charleston, SC. In fact this year is the first we have not vacationed together because of various reasons. So this past weekend the four families minus two leaves of garnish spent the weekend together in Davis, WV.
Davis, WV is a sleepy mountain town about ten minutes from the Canaan Valley ski resorts and just two miles from Blackwater Falls. It is a town of approximately 600 people with a gas station, a couple of restaurants, a grocery store and about five stop signs. The house that we stayed in is almost 100 years old belonging to the extended family of one of my wives friends, Jennifer. As a youngster, Jennifer would visit the home of her Great Grand Parents playing in the yard and throwing sour apples at the neighbor’s houses. Her Great Grandfather “Pappy” ( I don’t know his name, but Pappy sounds about right judging from his picture) built the house in the just after World War I for his wife “Mammy” (I don’t know her real name either) and their sixteen children (Yes, you read it correctly. Sixteen kids in the house.) Jennifer’s Grand-Father took over the house and raised another large family. Jennifer’s Mother was one of the kids that grew up in the house. Not so amazingly, Jennifer doesn’t have any relatives in the area because all the children left Davis WV at a young age. Jennifer’s Mom settled in Huntington, WV where Jennifer was born.
Every year the family converges on Davis for their family reunion where they all stay in the house. Otherwise, the house sits vacant. I have lived in a lot of houses during my life but I don’t know that I have slept in a house that is that old. I ate dinner in a castle in Ireland that was a few hundred years old once and even that gave me the creeps. But giving credit where it is due, Pappy built a house that has lasted. Other than having old plumbing and electricity, the house is holding up very well. It is rock solid and looks like it can last another 100 years. Yes, it squeaks when you walk, but my house that is thirteen years old already has some squeaky places. It doesn’t have air conditioning but who needs it when you are at 3,000 feet elevation. Last weekend it was over 90 degrees when we left our house and upon our arrival in the mountains, it was a brisk 65. When we left on Sunday, it was 55, windy and rain. It felt like April at the Grand Canyon, cold and once again I was under dressed for the weather.
When my son saw the house Friday afternoon, he was apprehensive about sleeping there. He said it looked like one of those houses in the scary movies and he is right. I thought it resembled the Norman Bates house from the 1950 movie Psycho. My son was so nervous at bedtime that I let him fall asleep in our little bed and then I tried to transport him to the room where the other boys were sleeping. Normally, he falls asleep very fast and I can move him without an issue but on Friday night he woke up and wouldn’t let me walk out. I took him back to our room where we both went to sleep. My wife who normally goes to bed early actually stayed up to talk with her friends. When she came to bed, she got to have the fun of moving our 70 pound, long armed monster to his bed with the boys.
On Saturday night we repeated the process except this time, my wife fell asleep with my son and I stayed up. When I came to bed, it was my turn to move my son. The first night, the house was still a little stuffy from sitting closed up so all the windows were open and everyone left their bedroom doors open to allow the house to cool. On Saturday night, the house was comfortable so the windows were closed and all the bedroom doors were shut. The rooms that the kids slept in all had night lights but with the doors closed there wasn’t even the faintest glow below the door. Old Pappy must have been a perfectionist because there wasn’t any gap between the door and the floor. Because it was so dark, I grabbed my cell phone and tried to use the glow from the screen to give me enough light to make my way out of the room and down the hall. My wife woke up and saw me struggling with my son and the light so she took the phone and lit the way.
With my son in his bed, I went to the bathroom to do my business before bed. Walking into the bathroom, I stepped on one of the girls plastic necklaces. The kind that one of the Disney Princes might give to his Princess to earn her hand in the fairy tale marriage, except this one was made in China for two cents and sold in the USA for five dollars. Yes it was uncomfortable to step on but I was man enough to cry in silence. When I was finished with the bathroom, I held the door open with the light on to scout my meandering route around the railing of the stairs and back to the right room. I didn’t want to step on anymore kiddie landmines and I figured it was bad form to crawl into the wrong bed with the wrong woman. With the path cleared of all hazardous objects, I turned off the light listened. Any living creature that weighed more than seventeen ounces and was moving would make a noise. The doors of each room buckled against the latches as the air pressure in the house rose and fell because of the loud wind whipping around the soffits. It was an eerie feeling knowing that every door upstairs was moving in unison but no one was jiggling the door knobs. It seemed just them that flashes of lighting illuminated the hallway from the only open door in the back bedroom. The house groaned as the storm intensified outside with the sound of rain pelting the roof and windows. Despite all the clues normally associated with every 1980 slasher movie I saw as a kid, I was sure that I was alone and that my wife was back in bed. Being the chicken I am, I started my silent self-talk. “Don’t be afraid, Rob. It is just a walk in the park and there is nothing to be afraid of…”
I tried to step very gently but each step made two squeaks. The first when I put pressure on the floor and the other when I lifted the foot. Three annoyingly loud steps later, I found the edge of the railing. I started out slow because four steps straight out of the bathroom was the opening to the stairs leading down and I had no desire to tumble down the nearly vertical wooden steps. I put the finger from my right hand on the railing and slowly traced my path back to the bed. Making my way down the hallway, the alarms from my spider senses started going off telling me I wasn’t alone in the pitch dark hallway. My internal self-talk went into hyper drive telling myself that it was okay to die like a man. I kept moving towards the room with the forbidding intermittent flash of lighting.
But I wasn’t alone in the hallway.
Making the right 90 degree turn towards assumed safe zone, my left hand brushed against something that I would have sworn wasn’t there ten seconds earlier. It was wickedly cold to the touch. The shock wave passed through my body like a jet blasting through the sound barrier. I am glad that I relieved my bladder just a minute earlier because had I not, it would have happened right then. Instinctively I reached out and grabbed the object that my finger hit. It was a human wrist and the only reason I didn’t scream out in terror was because I was still in gasping for air. Freezing in position and gripping tightly to the wrist of the creature in the dark, my left index finger felt something unexpected… cotton.
With a trembling voice, I weakly called out to the ghoul in the night. “Baby?”
“Get out of my way, I have got to pee.” My wife replied. She went on to the bathroom thinking that I knew she was standing in the corner waiting for me to pass by.
When she came back to the bed, I confessed that I thought she was a ghost and if she had reached out to grab me, I would have jumped over the railing and tumbled down the steps to my death. She called me a chicken and we both went to sleep laughing.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
It is time for another trip down memory lane, better known as story time. For the benefit of all of our new friends a little catch-up on why this series exists. Long before I was a father, writer and generally domesticated, I served in the West Virginia Air National Guard as a C-130 pilot. In 2003, we were activated for Iraq and for the next four years the squadron was in a constant state of deployment, with each of the approximately 120 men and women doing their part by being “Over There.” I separated from the Air Guard in late 2007 after we all had been deactivated and started on a new path of trying to be a better husband and father. Part of that new path was a new venture into becoming a writer. In 2010, my wife asked me to write down my experiences in Iraq and later in Afghanistan so that my kids would know who their dad was before they were born. For a lot of reasons, I hesitated to document these stories but in 2013 on the ten year anniversary of the first deployment, this series was born.
Since the first story, I am honored to know that several of my former squadron mates use my words to tell their families about what we did back then. While I take a small degree of satisfaction from knowing that my friends are able to relate to these events, these stories are solely mine. Even though we generally all had the same experiences, there are so many variables in our collective experience that are uniquely our own. These stories are based solely on my memories of that time and if there are any inaccuracies or misstatements the errors are mine alone. When I write about the men and women who were deployed with me, I refer to them by either their first name or by their nickname. While I am the central figure in these stories, I am not trying to portray myself as anything other than human.
Balad Air Base is located about 35 miles to the north of Baghdad and rests squarely in the center of the area known as the Sunni Triangle. A pair of two mile long runways formed a “V” shape with the bottom of the “V” towards the south. One of the runways was for fixed wing aircraft and the other to the west was for Army helicopters. I wrote a story about hauling a mobile Navigational Aid to the field a few months earlier. For some reason, Balad and I didn’t get along very well.
This particular story occurred on the rotation between February and April 2004. Carlos P was the co-pilot, Bobby I. was the Navigator, Rich L. was the Flight Engineer and Mark C. was the loadmaster. For some reason, I want the think that this happened towards the end of the deployment but honestly I have no idea when it happened. This time of the Iraq war was a very dangerous period for all of us. The insurgency was in full swing and in just a few short weeks, the country was going to explode in violence starting in Fallujah in very early April 04. I remember it was a tiring time for me personally and it was getting tougher and tougher to get motivated to continue to fly into and out of these places.
A typical day would normally see a sunrise, a sunset and another sunrise. We were still flying twenty hour days but we were getting a full day off afterwards. That was better than having twelve hours to recover before the next take-off but it still wasn’t enough to overcome the fatigue. When we were not eating or sleeping, everyone tried to find an outlet that provided an escape from what we were doing. Lots of guys played video games, others watched movies and others read books. I kind of bounced around aimlessly between all of the groups. I played college football and Tiger Wood’s golf on Gummy Bear’s PlayStation or I would join Mikey O. and Russ P. watching a movie and I read several books. The two that I remember were the Di Vinci Code and the Angels and Demons. They were okay, but that was the first time that I thought that I could write a book. I figured out Angels and Demons fairly quickly and I decided that if Dan Brown could write that dribble and make all the money from it, why couldn’t I?
So there we were in Balad, it was well into the middle of the night past 2 AM. We were on our last stop for the day, so all we had to do was get the airplane back to Ali Al Salem, Air Base Kuwait in one piece. We off-loaded the cargo and were about to taxi out to the runway. Sometimes we shut down the engines just to give ourselves a break from the constant noise. Other times we left the engines running and transferred the cargo on and off as needed. On this night, I remember that we stayed in our seats and left the engines running. Bobby called the Command Post to tell them we were leaving. Normally that simply cleared us to depart but when they called back and ordered us to stay on the ramp, I vaguely remember him asking a couple of times to confirm the statement.
Bobby relayed the information to the rest of the crew and we all wondered why. Watching the clock tick very slowly with the engines running and no further explanation, I asked Bobby to call in to tell them we were leaving. Once again, they told us to hold position on the ramp. We were all tired and irritable and I was probably not as patient as I normally would have been. I got on the radio and asked the Command Post why we couldn’t leave. They told us that they were coordinating for an emergency medivac and they were going to re-task us for it.
There are very few things more important than a medivac flight and when we heard that, we all sat up in our seats. In the back, Mark asked for permission to take his headset off and start to re-configure the back of the airplane for patients. I cleared him off and told him that I would ring a bell when we were ready for him to be back with us. I looked at Rich and we discussed our fuel state. Carlos and I were already wearing Night Vision Goggles and the airplane was prepped for a NVG landing. Literally, we took about twenty seconds to brief what we need to brief and then we just sat, waiting for more information.
A few minutes passed and I got on the radio again asking for an update on the medivac. The Command Post radio operator told us the patient was in Baghdad and that would be where we would be heading. Bobby confirmed that he had the destination and put it into the aircraft navigation systems. Without anything to do, I looked at the fuel panel, did some basic fuel calculations and mentally flight planned what we would do. We had been to these places so many times in the previous year that we all knew them by heart. Baghdad was to the South and even though we would be overflying a large percentage of the Iraqi population, it was night and no one would expect us to fly over at 300 knots and 75 feet. I figured by the time they saw us, they wouldn’t have time to get off a shot with anything more than small arms fire. Random and unpredictable would be the tactic of the flight. When Bobby announced that we needed a little over an hour to get to Baghdad, I literally spun around in my seat. I swung around so fast that is probably where I tweaked my back for the first time.
“Yes, there is a no fly zone so we can’t do anything but fly around it.” Bobby stated.
I pointed out the window. “Baghdad is thirty-five miles that way. It should take seven minutes, gear up to gear down.”
“The no fly zone is from the surface to 15,000 feet and it extends in all directions except for the corridor to approach from the southeast.” Bobby explained.
I was really becoming irate at this point. “Bobby, it is thirty-five miles. Just a couple months ago we climbed up to a hundred feet and went direct. If we go all the way around, we will need to gas up at Baghdad. It takes ten minutes, we have NVGs and there is a dude that has been blown up. We are not going to fly all the way around Baghdad just because some map tells us too.”
Bobby matched my intensity and responded with the same level of defiance and irritation. He emphatically said that we needed to go around to the approved approach corridor. Back home, Bobby was the Squadron Commander and my boss. But on the crew, I was in charge. It was my decision and I knew that I could do what I wanted but there would be consequences when we landed and the mission was over. I looked at Rick and he shrugged. Bobby was technically and legally right.
We all sat in silence listening to the engines drone. I knew it was going to be one of those decisions that would define my career. Go the long way and that guy might die or go direct and Bobby would do everything in his power to end my flying career. I also knew that there were medivacs where every second was precious and there were medivacs where the wounded guy might have a big zit on his face like I had a couple of months earlier. All he was doing was getting a ride to Germany.
Sitting in the silence, my mind ran through all the possibilities. I finally decided that if it was some dude that had been blown up and minutes did matter, then I couldn’t have lived with myself for spending an hour in flight and another 30 minutes on the ground to re-fuel just to honor what some tactics officer a thousand miles away decided was the best was to plan a flight. I knew that I could make the call and go on my own authority but until we picked up the wounded man, I was legally in violation of a no fly zone. After the man was on board, I could declare a medical emergency and break any flight rule necessary to get him the medical attention he needed. I tried to think of a reason to preemptively declare an emergency, but there wasn’t a good reason to do that. Until that guy was on board, we were just a flight doing a mission.
This clock slowly ticked and we waited. I decided that when we told to take-off I was going to do whatever it took to get to Kuwait as fast as possible. I also knew that it might be the end of my flying career but honestly it probably would have been okay. What troubled me was that Bobby and I were friends and I knew that when I told him to sit down and shut up that it would be the end of that friendship. I also knew that any future promotion would sit on his desk unsigned; I would get the worst jobs and generally get the short end of the stick with no mercy as long as he was in charge.
Before we left for Iraq in 2003, a couple of us were talking about what we might expect and somehow we discussed medals and other worthless things they give you for playing in a shooting war. Someone joked that I would probably get a Commendation Medal and a Letter of Reprimand for the same mission. I played it off like I was a Boy Scout who followed the rules, but the friend that said it knew me too well. Now when I found myself contemplating the decision, I really didn’t care about my military career any longer because I knew that all the crap that we got for being over there didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that everyone made it home alive. My job was to take care of the wounded solider and I had to trust that he would do whatever it took to help us if the roles were reversed.
The minutes slowly passed and we made repetitive calls to the Command Post requesting permission to be re-tasked to fly to Baghdad just to get into position. I even told the Command Post operator that we needed an hour to get there and they could call us in the air if they needed us. That was a total lie but I was anxious to get going. However, every request we made was denied. We all sat in silence and waited. I never told anyone what we were going to do. My plan was to tell them after we were tasked for the mission and to make sure they knew that it wasn’t a request but an order. I was going to say that I didn’t care if they agreed with me or not, but that I couldn’t do this on my own. I needed their help to complete the mission and get that guy to safety. Once we were in Kuwait, I would turn myself in for breaking the rules and I would take the blame. If they were questioned about it further then I would be upset if they did anything other than tell the Commanders that I acted on my own.
Finally, we were called by Command Post informing us that we were no longer needed and we could go direct to Kuwait. Apparently there was another airplane in Baghdad doing the medivac and we were just backing it up. In some ways I was relieved but in others I was disappointed because I was mentally psyched up to do something important. Bobby changed the flight plan in the navigation system and we went home without incident.
Every day, Richie and I would talk about the previous mission at the next meal. I remember sitting down with him at breakfast and we both just ate our food. Neither one of us brought up the incident; he never asked me what I was going to do and I never asked him what he thought we should have done. To this day, I have never discussed it with anyone who was there and I don’t think I ever shared this story with my wife. The only witness to my thoughts that night is God. With him as my witness, I promise that there was no way that I was going to fly a 300 mile circle around Baghdad when the direct route was 35 miles.
As we flew back to Kuwait, we were about five minutes behind the actual medivac flight. We listened to them on the radios as they approached Kuwait City. I thought about calling the other airplane to find out what the injuries were but in the end I decided that it didn’t matter. All that mattered was he was going to a hospital.
Last weekend, I was reading some other sites and found a fellow Iraqi Veteran online. I am enclosing the link. Rob Mitchell is a veteran of Iraq and a police officer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you want a real and honest perspective of how someone got PTSD and how they deal with it on a daily level. Then this is the place for you. There are no soft, warm, fuzzy places on Mr. Mitchell’s site so it isn’t for the faint of heart. The most recent story that he wrote was about a roadside IED that claimed the life of his platoon leader and injured several men. His event happened just a few months before the story that I just wrote about. Over the years, I wondered if I had made the right decision to ignore the rules but after reading about his experience, I am convinced that I was making the best decision with the information that I had.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
Our good friend Casey over at https://caseyalexanderblog.wordpress.com, left a comment about the previous article. Casey writes about her journey raising two adopted children. She replied to my request that you guys to throw me some cash or otherwise you get what you get. Basically she said that I found any cash in my pocket that I could keep it and consider it from her. If I found pocket lint then I should use that as a writing prompt. For the record I have never met Casey in person so she must be psychic because she knew there wasn’t anything in my pockets. Maybe she used her deductive powers to know that it is the end of the month and my allowance must have run out. Maybe she can see the future or maybe she sees dead people, I don’t know but since she challenged me and she laid on a sob story about her daughter being in the hospital for some tests. Hope this brings a smile to her and a laugh to the rest of us.
A guy goes into a Irish Pub and orders three beers at exactly 5 PM. He pays for the drink and leaves, the next day he returns and repeats the process again. A few days after the guy has been coming in and having his three beers, the bartender asks him what he is doing.
“I have three identical twin brothers; one is back in the home country of Ireland. The other is climbing mountains in New Zealand. Our father made us promise that no matter where we were in the world, we would stop what we were doing and have a beer for each of us at exactly 5 PM.”
The guy keeps coming into the bar for months following the same procedure. He orders three beers at exactly 5 PM, offering a toast before drinking them, paying the bill and leaving.
One day he comes in and tells the bartender to only make two beers. The bartender is confused but he does as requested. The man silently drinks the two beers, offers a toast, says a silent prayer, pays the bill and leaves.
The next day he comes in and orders two beers. He drinks them and says a prayer and starts to pay.
The bartender says. “My friend, the drinks are on the house today.”
“Every day you come in have your three beers and leave. Now you are only ordering two. In memory of your loss, I want to buy the beer for you.”
“Which brother passed away?”
“No one died.”
“Why two beers and not three?”
“Because I gave up beer for Lent.”
If you would like to accept Casey’s challenge, feel free and post it in the comments. 300 word limit.
Until next time, keep on rockin.