Happy Birthday…part one
This is the first of a three part post. The events of this post occurred on 6 April 2003.
I started flying in late November 1991 in Kennett, Missouri. I finished college six months earlier and after an unsuccessful job search, I went to work unloading frozen food trucks. I saved up enough money to pay for the private pilot license. I made the trek to Kennett and lived with my Grandmother, Zada as I started flying at the small, local airport.
By February 1992, I had earned my private license and headed back to Memphis. Sometime during that period, I got a phone call from a college friend. He detailed how he was starting a business working on computer systems for business. He needed a partner and asked me if I would come to work for him. He would make me a 50% partner in the business. Like a dummy, I said thanks, but no thanks. I was going to be a pilot like Tom Cruise. I have made some dumb mistakes, but friends I think this still ranks as my number one mistake of life.
At least as of today. The last time, I spoke to that friend, he was only worth about ten million dollars. I am not saying that I am displeased with my life as it is tonight. I love my life, but a twenty-two year old should never, ever make a mistake like that. That is a free lesson to anyone who chooses to learn from it.
My birthday is 6 April, yearly. Starting in 1992, every year on my birthday I went flying. It was a birthday present to me. I missed one birthday in 1998 because I was in the academic phase of training in C-130 school.
My birthday was fast approaching in Tabuk. We were flying every other day by this point and we were lined up for me to celebrate another birthday by escaping the bonds of gravity and attempting to cheat death again. The night before my birthday, I looked at the next day’s flight schedule and my heart sank. My crew was sitting alert, we were not scheduled to fly. We would be hanging out in the tent waiting for something to happen. I was really down, but I never said a word to my guys. In fact, I dont remember if I even told them I was having a birthday.
The morning came and went. Another MRE while sitting around and watching the world fly by. Late in the afternoon, my wishes were answered. One of the ground guys came to the tent and told us to expect to be alerted. There was a war going on, and that meant that something was happening somewhere and that meant that I was going to get a birthday present.
I knew that it would be a long night, I immediately went to the cot and tried to nap. Before I went to sleep, I got a visitor. My good friend, Captain Bill Grimes came to the tent looking for me. He didn’t waste any time on pleasantries. He knew where we were going because he had been there the night before. His summary was that it was no joke, and that it was real as a heart attack. Some pilots are prone to exaggeration, and some pilots don’t have the experience to know what is tough. I took the words that Billy spoke as the gospel. Billy told me that when he got back, he told our Commander that he had never done anything so dangerous in his life. He added that if ordered to do that mission again, he would refuse. He was never going back under those conditions.
We were alerted as expected. It was dusk when we climbed into the van and headed to Ops town. Just as Billy told me, there was an airfield about 200 miles west of Baghdad that was not in possession of the Allied Forces. Billy carried 60 Special Ops type guys there the night before. Tonight, we were carrying another 60 guys to the field. We were tasked for a standard, air-land mission using NVGs. The guys would get off and we would come on back home.
There were several good things about this mission. The first was a straight forward run up to Iraq, and come on home. We expected to be back in the tent six hours after we took off. That is easy, compared to the average 22 hour days we had been doing. Secondly, it was Scott’s turn to fly from the left seat. I would still get a leg but he would be doing all of the ground work and I could just be a co-pilot. I liked that too. Finally, since Billy and a couple other airplanes had been there the night before and didn’t get shot at. I figured the odds were low that we would have any problems. I was thinking about the phrase “What could possibly go wrong?” as the Chaplain prayed for our safety.
A couple of housekeeping items.
Important things first. On 3 April, an F-16 crashed in Afghanistan killing the pilot, Captain James Steel. I don’t know any details about his accident. Anne Martin Fletcher’s blog documents her relationship with his family. He came from a long line of service members and if you would like to pass on your comments, please visit Anne’s blog. http://annemartinfletcher.wordpress.com/
Another military family was stationed at McCord AFB with Captain Steel’s twin brother, Jon. Caitlin and her husband Ryan are stationed at Columbus AFB in Mississippi. He is a T-1 IP and she is a new mother. Her post about Captain Steel is a reminder about the small world of the Air Force and how a single tragedy can affect so many lives. If you have time to pass on some encouraging words, say hi to her at this site. http://thepearlandthepilot.com/2013/04/10/a-toast-to-capt-james-steel/
I misspoke in the previous three posts. I had stated that our first flight was on the 29th of March. That is inaccurate. Our first flight was on the 22nd of March. It was the formation flight that I thought happened on the 29th. Our second flight was on the 26th to pick up some Army guys from Egypt. Our third flight was with Jimmy “Two Balls” Simmons on the 28th of March. It did extend to the 29th but that is a technicality. We had two more flights on April Fool’s Day and then again on the 4th. Please excuse my lack of memory.
There was a lot going on and it seems to run together. I assure you that the details about Jimmy “Two Balls” are accurate. When I make a mistake or have a memory lapse, I promise I will do my best to correct it as soon as possible. The memory jogger is a video that Deron made to document our experiences. I watched it today and did not remember much of it. Maybe I have repressed it or maybe I have Alzheimer’s. Either way, I don’t want the FAA to know any more details.
Until next time, keep on rocking.