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Happy Birthday…part one

April 12, 2013

This is a picture from the cargo section of our airplane. We hung this flag prior to every flight. Photo from my collection.

Hey Y’all

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.



I learned to fly in a Cessena 152. Photo from yahoo.


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.



All things being equal, take the money. photo from yahoo.



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.



That is a funny picture. Photo from yahoo


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.


Tent City #2 Tabuk

Taken from our tent in Tabuk. From my collection.


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.


C-130s at Tabuk

West Virginia C-130s in Tabuk. From my collection.



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.


f16 pilot

Photo from yahoo.


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.


f-16 pilot 2

Photo from yahoo.


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.



My best wishes to the Steel family. Photo from yahoo.


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.


From → military

  1. I did read about Capt. Steel’s death; he comes from a good military heritage. I did reblog it a couple of days ago, I believe…as did a couple of others. Tough situation… 😦

    But congratulations on your dedication to a goal. You accomplished this first phase with energy and patriotism to boot.

    BTW, I just shipped a package to Hiroshima via FedEx. 🙂 It arrived safely and quickly… Thank you.

    • Koji,

      I actually learned Captain Steel’s name from your link. I heard about the accident the day it happened though. It is tough for everyone involved. Sad times, for sure.

      About your package to Hiroshima. On behalf of all FedEx employees, worldwide. I thank you for choosing FedEx and I am certainly glad that you found the service to be what you would expect. On a side note, I assure you that I had nothing to do with the successful delivery of that package. Ha ha.

  2. Rob…happy belated birthday. Did you fly this year? You know, as I read your blog (throughout these months) it’s more or less a biography of YOU, and is quite interesting!

    Yeah…we all have lapses in judgement…many things would be different if other choices had been made. But guess what I’ve figured out from all the knocks life has dealt? Everything is going according to HIS plan. You’re exactly where you need to be. Had you partnered with your friend, would your wife be your wife? Your children be born? Your writing be written? Remember that. The best things in life usually have nothing to do with money.

    Peace, Rob. And Happy Birthday.

    • Swifty,

      Thanks for the birthday wishes. I am not trolling for birthday wishes, in fact I would never mention if unless it was a central part of the story. More to follow in parts two and three. Like I said, I didn’t tell my crew that it was my birthday over there.

      I am not upset at the way my life has turned out. Not at all and in many ways, at that time I knew that my destiny wasn’t in the computer repair business. However, it was a very dumb thing to do. The aviation business is so difficult to find success. The amount of good fortune that I have been blessed with is unconceivable. It is the equivalent of a high school baseball player making it to be a player for the New Your Yankees. Very rare and I know how blessed I am.

      To answer your question, I was at my parent’s home celebrating my birthday with my family. No I did not fly. More explanations to follow in the next two posts.

      By the way, the purpose of this series of posts is so that my kids will have a better understanding of who I was during that time of my life.

      • Oh…I didn’t mean to imply that you made a mistake at all, but quite the opposite. God said, “Rob, I’ve got better things in store for you.” I hope your kids see the great guy that I do.

      • I know you didn’t mean to imply anything. I was saying it about myself. At the time, without knowing the future it was a dumb move.

        Having said that, I love my life. I would never change anything, ever.

  3. Looks like we just missed your birthday. Here’s a belated greetings!

    Wow, you even have a video. Prime teaser material when you finish your book.

    • Thanks, I appreciate the wishes. The raw uncut video is cool, but I made a music video and it turned out pretty good. My friend Mikey made a video with his crew and it is amazing. I have asked Mike to be the director of the movie for the book when it comes out. Ha ha.

  4. Sometimes I wonder if they are lapses of judgment or divine intervention, sometimes for reasons we don’t really know or maybe ever see. I truly believe in the spiritual application of “All things work together for good…”

    Happy birthday, you young thang you.

    • I think that most of the decisions that we make with our life will allow us to be influential for our creator. Did it matter that I choose to take a risk and be a pilot or play it safe and take the job offer with my friend? I don’t think so, either way I would have had the opportunity to be a agent for good in the world.

      Like I said to Swifty, If given the chance to change my life in any way. I would refuse and take it as it is. Perfect!

  5. Oh… Happy Birthday Rob! My youngest daughter is an April 3, Husband, April 7, Granddaughter April 9 and you are on the 6th. You’re right in there among the great births! And then all the tragedy of April…so sad!

    I’m sitting here in Bombay, thinking about life as I get ready to fly, with the news of N Korea on, and I have to wonder if there is not the message being sent that birth, death, life events all transpire simultaneously show us that this is life. Maybe for everything that that happens bad, there is another birth of someone who will make a difference in the world for good.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • My dad is a 13th baby. We were both born on Easter, different years of course. Ha ha.

      Life is amazing. You are sitting in a wonderful hotel, on the other side of the world. And here you and I have the ability to communicate, keep up with world events and discuss the intricacies of life and death. All because of a magic, plastic box. Kind of cool.

      I know that everything happens for a reason, and I think that most of those reasons are for the good.

      • Yes…it is kind of cool. And everything happens for a reason. But, one of our FA’s shed a few tears last night as she was out here because she didn’t want to be home on the 2nd anniversary of her 3 year old’s drowning. I’m not sure the reason for that one. But…everything else. Yes!!!

      • Karlene,

        I am very sorry for your FA’s loss of her child. So terrible and I am sure that she has a lot of self-inflicted guilt over the event. It would be shallow and inappropriate for me to even comment about the lessons that can be learned from her loss. As a parent, I have no words to express how awful that must be for her and her family.

        My friend Pastor Jack made a point in one of his posts recently. It is something that I never thought of and it troubles me that it never occurred to me. He answered the question “Does God care when bad things happen?” The answer is yes, of course he cares. The question that should be asked “Do we care when bad things happen?” If we are truly believers in God, then we called to be God’s representatives on Earth. Our duty is to do his work on Earth. And when bad things happen, it is our duty to minister to those who are hurting. God is love and because he is love, he can do nothing but love. We need to reflect Gad’s love onto the world by our actions.

        God gets blamed for lots of things that I fail to do. It isn’t his fault, it is mine.

        Here is the link to Jack’s post. He says it much better than I could ever hope to do. Because he lived it.

      • Rob, Yes, I agree with all you said. Thank you so much for the link…off to read now.

  6. Rob,

    So you look like Tom Cruise? I imagined you more as the Clint Eastwood/Arnold Schwarzenegger/John Wayne looking kind of a guy, but then I remembered the whole flying thing, Top Gun, and flying on the highway to the danger zone. Now it all makes sense.

    If you squint in a dark room, I look like George Clooney.

    Happy Birthday. How is the book coming?

    • Big Joe,

      I look exactly like a short, fat, ugly Tom Cruise. It is a tough look to pull off, but I do it with ease.

      The book is progressing well. I had some re-writes and some even more detailed re-creations. I dabbled with the thought of adding a couple more characters, but I think I have decided not to do it. As it sits today, it is coming in at about 210K words. That will be cut by about 50K words through the re-write and then hopefully the edit will get another 50K.

      I have about 25 solid opening chapters of about 1,500 words each. My brother is editing it and when he is done, I will fire them off to you.

      How are James and Rory doing? Miss those troublemakers.

      • The sequel is at 80,000 words. I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I need a few more months to finish the rough draft. By the end of the summer, I should have the finished product.

        As usual, James and Rory are in a fine pickle.

      • Love it, can’t wait to read the next one!

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