Wed – December 17, 2003
Skip this entry if you’re looking for something upbeat. Read on, if you’re interested in hearing a bleat.
For the past two days I’ve been stuck in a conference with about 15-20 staff officers, preparing for a battle royale among our principals. It’s all Very Important Stuff, and someone has to do the background work, but I can’t help feeling at times like we’re building arguments for an extremity-measuring contest. Or something like that.
It hasn’t been all that fun, and the whole process has reminded me of one of Henry Kissinger’s more famous remarks, “Politics in academia are so petty and vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” The elephants are about to start crashing around in a room, and we little things never want to be around when that starts happening – it’s too easy to get trod upon. We were all relieved to hear at first that the ultimate discussion of our process was to be a closed-door, flag officer only session. Now we’re informed that representatives from the different staffs will need to be there at least part of the time as “technical experts.”
Flag officers are generally brilliant men, who can see right through any weakness in a logical argument and exploit it ruthlessly. So going in front of them while their dander is up is basically tethering the goat to the stake, and we’re in the process of drawing straws to determine who the condemned are to be, and what they would like done with their personal effects afterwards.
It didn’t used to be like this: Growing up as an aviator, I was used to hearing other officers from different branches of the service complain about how spoiled we were. “Whatever,” was our usual reply. “Choose your rate, choose your fate.” One of the big complaints the surface warfare officers had was the amount of rack time a pilot gets. That was easy to answer: We were required to get eight hours sleep a day, for safety’s sake. The hours we got at night, well that was gravy.
But seriously, growing up flying fighters can twist your world-view. Every morning when the alarm clock rang, I’d spring out of bed and hurry to work, unable to contain my enthusiasm for starting a new day. There was a fighter to fly, on most days, and even when there was not, exciting things were to be learned and mastered for the next flight.
Oh yes, there was paperwork to be done and people to lead, but working with Sailors was fun, and the paperwork was payment for the flight time.
All good things come to an end, and now my days of flying fighters in the battle line are pretty much over. Now it’s mostly paperwork, emails, messages and PowerPoint briefs.
Ugh. It’s…. work.
That’s right, work – like other people have. I used to know people who had actual jobs, and feel sorry for them. I used to know people that used to be fighter pilots, and pitied them. Now I am one.
You might say that guys like me are lucky to have ever had the chance, and I’d agree. It was a blast, and I loved every moment of it. But it’s also not unlike having a sugar daddy buying you a daily supply of crack cocaine every day for 19 years, and suddenly cutting you off. The withdrawal symptoms can go on for years.
Worse, you get to see other people still flying – I see FA-18’s overhead every day. The FA-18 was my baby, my girl. Now I feel like I’ve been divorced, like the tramp left me for someone younger. And when a Hornet flies by, I find myself staring after her, stalking her – next thing you know I’ll be drunk-dialing her in the middle of the night, asking if I can come back, asking her what I did wrong.
These days, when the alarm clock rings in the morning, the temptation to hit “snooze” is very hard to overcome.
“You love a lot of things if you live around them, but there isn’t any woman and there isn’t any horse, nor any before nor any after, that is as lovely as a great airplane, and men who love them are faithful to them even though they leave them for others.” – Ernest Hemingway