Giving a General a ride…Part Two…
The funny thing about weather men is that they are very often right. In fact, they can very accurately forecast the weather at an 100% rate when they just take the time to look out the window. But as they start to peer into the future their vision, just like ours, becomes increasingly fuzzy. Not bragging but just stating a fact, I have the equal to or better training as the average weather man on television. I have dedicated the last twenty four years of my professional career, looking at and studying weather as a daily part of my job. I have taken several in-depth courses devoted to the study of weather and I can analyze a forecast map just as well as anyone in that profession.
What I am telling you now is a fact that is as certain as the sun rising tomorrow. The only time the weather man knows what is going on is when he looks out the window and anything he says about a period of time more than an hour in the future is a guess. Most of the time they get it right or close to right, but the weather is not beholden to them. Case in point the dud of a blizzard in the northeast, it snowed and some placed got dumped but most of the area escaped the snow apocalypse. The weather guy is in a very unfortunate position because if they fail to predict the severe weather accurately then people might be in a real danger. And if they call for the worst weather ever and they get it wrong then the people might be safe but they are ticked because the social services have already been cancelled. It doesn’t help when every knucklehead reporter is on television spreading lies and half-truths because that is what sales. I guess the point is that I am glad that the East Coast didn’t fall back into an ice age.
Onto story time, yesterday we left off as the airplane took off with a Four Star General and two of his staff members. The General was the Commander of the Air Education and Training Command. A massive part of the Air Force, AETC is directly responsible for the initial training and continuing education for every Air Force service member. To illustrate the size of AETC, when I went to pilot training at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio Texas a part of the welcoming briefing was the fact that if the base was its own country, it would rank as the fifth largest Air Force in the world. AETC has four initial pilot training bases the same size at Laughlin and more training bases for each airplane in the inventory. By itself AETC would be the second largest Air Force in the world that is twice the size of the entire Navy. The General was in charge of a lot.
As we climbed out, I distinctly remember that everyone was talking to the General. I expected it from Carlos because he is a true extrovert. He never met a stranger and he lived to be a social monster. I know that Carlos wasn’t talking to the General just because he thought the General could help his career. Carlos is from the Dominican Republic and his skin tone is much darker than my lily white backside but he is not a brownnoser. I was always impressed with him because he would go out of his way to talk to the lowest Enlisted person with just as much passion and zeal as he was talking to the General. It was just his nature.
I wasn’t surprised that Bobby was talking as well. Back home Bobby was the Squadron Commander and there is some type of unwritten rule that Commanders talked to other Commanders regardless of rank. Bobby is a very engaging type of guy, naturally funny and a bit on the sarcastic side. He is more so when he turns on the charm and he can be very charming. Like Carlos, Bobby comes by it naturally.
I was surprised that Richie was talking as much as he was. Richie is not an extrovert nor would he be considered an outgoing personality. This isn’t to imply that he isn’t very friendly or personable. It is more that he is guarded until someone gains his trust or respect. Once earned then Richie is the guy that you call at 2AM when you have a problem. He will always be there and is only upset if you don’t call. But on this flight, I remember that Richie was a Chatty Cathy with the General. Somehow, the General had earned Richie’s respect and I know for a fact it wasn’t because of the stars on the General’s shoulders. Men like Richie always saluted rank but that didn’t mean that they would ever cross the road to shake the hand of the man wearing rank.
Even if I wanted to make a comment there was no time or space to get a word into the conversation. So we droned up north and the General told us that he was in the theater to see firsthand how what AETC taught and how it was being applied in a real war. I remember thinking that this guy actually got it. Training wasn’t an end result but it actually needed to be applied in the real world. He was looking for what worked, what didn’t work and how those lessons needed to be applied in training. And he didn’t send a few staff people to tell him what they saw. He wanted actual eyes on the men and women doing their job in combat. He was going to spend several days with the troops, out in the field, asking questions and taking notes.
The General was a pilot and he talked about how one of the best parts of his job was being able to fly every airplane in the inventory. Richie asked him the redundant question if he flew the C-130 and he said yes. I chuckled because most fighter pilots don’t consider the C-130 to be a real airplane. But the General talked about going to Little Rock and making an airdrop on the “All American” drop zone. He talked about making an assault landing and how the little runway looked tiny when compared to a normal sized runway. Then Richie asked if the General had any “combat time.” The General said no, he had always been in the wrong place when each war kicked off and he had missed them all. Richie asked the General if he could take instruction from a Captain. The General hesitantly said yes and I turned around. Richie was smiling and he ordered Carlos out of the co-pilots seat and he ordered the General to strap in. It is rare that a Master Sergeant orders a officer to do anything but this was a order that none of us could refuse. After they did the seat swap Richie told the General that he was officially logging “combat time.”
The General and I just looked at each other for a minute. I confirmed that if I told him to do something that he would do it. He said that he would so I started talking about tactical arrivals. I explained how if he was in his fighter that he had a gun, missiles and bombs to attack the bad guys and for defense he had a highly maneuverable jet with the ability to go supersonic to escape a bad situation. If we got into a bad situation, the General would need a sundial to time how long it would take us to escape to a safe zone. But all we had was the ability to fly in a random pattern and be as unpredictable as possible. That meant that we were going to descend early, not over fly any geographical point on our chart and we would be going as low and fast as possible. It was a different mindset but he grasped it.
I talked him through the tactics of defeating a missile and how to avoid small arms fire before talking about performing a tactical approach. We spoke about power settings, maneuvering capabilities, approach speeds, and landing techniques. I assured him that I would be with him on the controls but he was a pilot and he was going to fly the whole thing. After all of his questions were answered, I told the General that if we bought the farm it would be his fault. The General laughed and we descended early and flew a low level for about 100 miles. The General did a great job and happily took his flight log with him when he left he gave us all his personal coin as a way of thanking us for the good time.
The tradition of the coin goes back to the early days of the Air Force. It is the primary method of determining who buys drinks at the bar. Someone puts a coin on the table as a challenge. Everyone else at the table has to produce a coin. If someone doesn’t have a coin then they get to buy everyone else a round of drinks. If everyone meets the challenge, then the first person who put the coin down must produce another coin or buy the round. I always carried three coins with me anytime I was on a trip. The General’s coin was a great coin because it was oversized, heavy with a detailed engraving on one side and four stars on the other. When we got back to our base that night, I gave it to “Opie” who is one of the crew chiefs. Opie is a avid collector of challenge coins he said it was his first four star coin. He gave me a big smile and a hug. I assumed that he was happy to have a new coin to add to the collection. All things being equal, it was a good day.
Until next time, keep on rockin.