Saturday, May 27, 2006

Those Magnificent Men and their flying Machines

Memorial Day weekend is here, just another day off to go shopping, grill steaks in the backyard, and chase the kids around the pool. How fast folks forget the meaning of these holidays and why we have them. It’s actually the first time in many years that I will be off from work and able to participate in a biplane tribute to the fallen American and Canadian Soldiers who died in training while stationed at Hicks Army Airfield in North Fort Worth, Texas. As you can imagine, flying the old Curtis Jenny, a classic biplane trainer, was a very dangerous prospect for these eighteen-year-old kids in 1916. Back then and even in WWII, more young men died in training accidents than were killed in combat. You faced a terribly high percentage of dying then, and yet these guys still trained for war in these flimsy motor powered “Kites.” As my dear pilot-friend Reb always says of the era, “That was back when flying was dangerous and Sex was safe, what a world we live in now.”

A group of local pilots here in my area will take to the skies in their antique biplanes to fly over the Veterans Cemetery in downtown Fort Worth to pay homage to those who have gone west before us. On the ground, the roar of old radial engines will fill the air as we pass overhead, our silk scarves trailing out of our cockpits; my eyes shaded by tinted flying goggles over a tan-colored flight helmet. Flying formation with six other planes is a very tedious task, constantly moving the throttle back and forth to control your airspeed as you maintain a position just off your partner’s right wing. Every bump in the air is felt, forcing you to make numerous corrections every second.

I often imagine that time travel is possible during periods like this; truly, you’re in a 1929 biplane, with the wind creating the same whistle as it passes through the flying wires out on the wing. They resonate along the lines of A plus, leaving a slight ringing in your ears after you have landed.

This is what I will do on Monday, flying my 1929 Fleet biplane and saluting all the veterans below who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I urge all American to reflect on what our military has done for this OUTSTANDING country; for without their sacrifices, we might be speaking German or Russian as a national language, or in this day and age, our enemy would like us to be Muslim or dead.

So, I will have my daughter set an extra place at our dinner table with an overturned wine glass for those who are serving now and those who will never come home.

Semper Fi,

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Thanks for Flying with me today

The Super 80 sitting at the gate in Dallas Fort Worth was completely filled; all 136 seats plus two jump-seaters on the plane. In ten minutes the Silver bird would push from the gate on this hot May afternoon, bound cross-country to Seattle Washington. I turn to the Captain, a civilian-trained pilot in his mid 50’s, “Hey Boss, you want to see this plane go nuts???” He says “sure,” so I pick up the mike to make a P.A., but before I do, he says “just make certain I’m not called into the Chief Pilots office to explain my First Officer.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, as a Marine Corps Reservist who has just returned from Iraq, I just want to see a show of hands, Tell me, how many active-duty Military do we have onboard right now?” I am looking back and see two hands go up. “O.K., now let me see the hands all the folks who have served in the Military or have retired.” About twenty folks raise their hands. “Now the biggie, how many parents to we have onboard whose child is serving or has served? Especially all of you Mothers out there, put your hands up.” I can see at least thirty people put their hands up now. “Ok, I’d like all of you to raise your hands again that I have called out,” They do. “Folks, I’d like you to give these OUTSTANDING Americans a big round of applause for the sacrifice they have given our country!!!”
The entire plane erupts in clapping and whistles. I turn to the Captain and say “I sure wish the media could see this. Ok, the plane is yours again, Boss, and thanks.” The clapping continued for another thirty seconds causing the gate agent to run on board wondering if a riot had broken out. This is America, and like it or not, the military has touched many lives of the folks here. I am proud to say that I am part of that big Green Machine.
Semper Fi,

Monday, May 08, 2006

Save your Mommy, Kill a Commmie

The sweat stings as small drops make it into your eyes during the two-hour drill session on “The Grinder” which in laymen’s terms is a large asphalt parking lot the size of three football fields. We lucked out and had the Grinder booked from 0900 to 1100, but by 0930, the sun was starting to peek over the tops of the tall trees on the East end. The humidity was increasing too, causing our hands to slip on the plastic M-16 A1 rifle that we had to constantly switch from shoulder to shoulder.
The only goal while out here was to clear your mind and do EXACTLY as the Drill Instructor says. One small slip and he would know about it. The drill instructors visual scan over the platoon was incredible. Anders, the number one point guy, had a severe nosebleed the day of our first haircut and was taken to Bethesda Naval hospital where they cauterized every blood vessel in his nose. We all thought that was the last of the surfer boy, but he came back. Now here we are in our fresh uniforms and baldheads and it looked like a woman was point guy in the front of this mob with his shoulder length blonde hair, and he had to wait until Saturday for the next haircut. This, of course, put Anders on the skyline (walking on the skyline allows the enemy to see you and pick you off easily) who, to add insult to injury, couldn’t march to save his life. I have to admit, it’s hard enough to do all the drill, but at least I was behind a prior enlisted guy and could see what his movements were, whereas Anders was all on his own.
The platoon was drilling around in big squares, practicing “Right shoulder, Hharshhhhhhhh,” “Left shoulder, Harrrrrrrsshhhhhh” with the sweat dripping down our faces, hoping that we weren’t next to get yelled at. “Platoon Halt!!!” the drill instructor yelled out. “Left face” and we all turned like little robots towards him. This was our second week of this stuff and it’s starting to come together somewhat. SSgt JJ runs over to a guy only five down from me. His name is Clements, but he has one of those natural mouths that wouldn’t seal properly, so it left a gap. SSgt JJ took to calling him “Candidate Fly Catcher” when he addressed him. “Hey ‘FlyCatcher,’ what college do you go to?” Clements was from Ohio and was a Buckeye, “Platoon Sgt, this Candidate attends Ohio State” SSgt JJ looked at him and then shook his head, “Well, I’ll make sure I strike that off my son’s wish list if they all as dumb as you.” “Right Shoulder Harrrrrsssssshhhhhh” We all move the rifle to the right shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices a guy in the second row named Eppson who moved his head as the rifle went in front of his face. “God Dangit!!! Eppson, WHAT I tell you? Don’t move your head! Dat Rifle ain’t gonna do you no damage if it hit you, watch, gimme dat rifle.” He moved out in front of us with the M 16 in his right hand. Took off his Smokey Bear hat and smashed the rifle up against his own head a couple of times. There was a sound of plastic hand guards rattling followed by a loud thunk..
“See Dat Platoon? This ole toy rifle don’t hurt none, but if I see you moving your head, you’ll be over in da corner beating yourself up with it and that will be painful.” He walks back and hands Eppson the rifle, and we go through it again. Eppson does the same thing. This causes SSgt JJ to explode as he is shouting in between us on the front row to Eppson behind me and over to the left. SSgt JJ had his arms outstretched to the sky, “Lord, why you give me such a F’d up platoon???” He then lowered his arm and pointed at Eppson, “You a Commie Spy Eppson ain’t you? Eppson is frozen, his lips quivering, on the verge of trying to answer this insane question, I mean, could you imagine being a spy and volunteering for this??? “NO Platoon SGT”, SSgt JJ was shaking his head left and right, “I think you are Eppson, I think you a God Damn Commie Spy sent here to F up my Platoon. So tonight, I want you to write your Commie Spy ringleader and tell him that you doing a great job F’ing up my Platoon.” Eppson, on automatic replies “Yes Platoon Sgt!” which sends SSgt JJ off again. “Oh, you admit you a SPY now huh???” The voice behind me is a bit weaker now, “NO, Platoon Sgt.” By now there were snickers coming out from everyone. I found it very hard to hold back the thought of some poor Russian getting tortured on the Grinder as a spy. SSgt JJ looked at everyone and said, “Well if you ain’t a spy, what then???” “Did my Ex-wife send you out here to F with me????”
After that, everyone called Eppson “Da Russkey”. All in a days work at OCS…
Semper Fi,