By lex, on April 11th, 2005
So – last week you got some fighter stuff.
This week: Attack
Fighter pilots get Silver Stars for shooting down MiGs. Attack pilots get Bronze Stars for winning the war.
Hornet pilots? We’re fighter/attack.
It doubles your odds.
You’re up high, and bringing the heat, moving fast. The combat checklist has been completed a dozen times – you do it again. You’ve come a long way for this. It wouldn’t do to go through “dry,” and not release. Or worse yet, dud your weapons, because some switch was in the wrong position. You’ve done this a thousand times in training, but only a few times now for real.
The novelty has not worn off.
There’s chatter on the radios – the fighters up ahead. They’re clearing a path, talking back and forth in short, terse bits. The E-2 Hawkeye paints the picture. No bandits airborne – none, anyway, that they can see.
You look to your right – there’s Three, right in position. He’s a good man. Four stacked to his starboard side, stepped up a bit. A brief glance over your shoulder shows you that Two is right where he’s supposed to be. You’re satisfied with the formation – and to tell the truth a bit relieved: Two is new, he was goggle-eyed in the brief, and rough on the tanker – you almost sent him home, back to the ship. You decided not to on a hunch, as much as anything else – it would be a crushing blow, and you don’t know how long this will go on – everyone is already tired, beat down from fighting, beat down from planning – nothing much is left in reserve – you need them all. You’ve briefed him carefully, walked through every contingency, every threat, every reaction. Still, you wonder how he’ll do. You hope he’ll be OK.
In the beginning was the target, and the target had a position, and all of this was given to you. And it was your task to fall in love with your target, to worship it, to care for it as though it was your very own. To know its every feature, every contour, in darkness and in daylight. And the target had an ontology, a construction, a type. This required you to think, and compare experiences and analyze a weapon, or multiple of weapons, and a delivery technique.
And because the target was worth destroying, it was worth defending. And you had to learn about these defenses, their being, type, number and nature. These were all designed to frustrate your designs, the pairing of the weapon to the target, a union devoutly to be wished. Some of these defenses you could avoid. Others you must confront. None must be allowed to prevent you from your task.
This is what you do. This is who you are.
Behind you and supporting you are 5000 Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier, 3000 more in the battle group – they exist so that you can do this thing. You exist to make their effort worthwhile.
Behind them are untold thousands of analysts – men and women who pore over arcana you only dimly comprehend, in order to nominate this target for you, so that you might fall in love with it. Behind them are politicians who decide collectively that this thing must be done. Behind them are 300 million people who have asked you to stand in line for them, to be there for them, for whom you serve.
Among that 300 million are four that you know best in all the world – and in your heart, these stand for all the others. For them, you will do all that you must, all that you can. If necessary, you will give that last full measure of devotion.
You would do this because you believe.
You’re getting close – almost to the Initial Point, the IP. From there to the target you will be very tightly focused indeed.
It’s very important to strike only the target. There will be places near the target, that are not of the target. These you must not strike.
These, you must protect, though they are not yours.
In target study, you will realize that you have an acquisition challenge. The target is not large, it does not stand out. It will be hard to find.
So instead, you find something that you know you can find. A bridge by a peculiar bend in the river. Something that you know you’ll find on your ground mapping radar. Something whose position you know precisely. From that bridge, you will find the range and bearing to your target. You will determine this information quite precisely. It is an “offset aim point,” or OAP. It will help you to fall in love with your target.
At the IP, you talk on the radio for the first time in miles, in miles. “Deploy,” you will say. And it is done.
Three and Four lag your turn, they fall in trail. You check the distance in your heads up display – too close still, but the trend is right. They’re opening the range.
You switch from air-to-air mode to air-to-ground. The sound of your breath in the oxygen mask is suddenly loud, a Darth Vader sound. The sound of some mechanical organ, drawing air. The colors of the world are suddenly clearer. Every sense is sharpened. The world springs out in heightened detail.
Your blood sings in your veins.
There is a beep on your radar warning receiver – you look at the display with the critical eyes of a surgeon – the meaning is evaluated carefully. A life hangs in the balance, your very own.
You are not threatened yet.
Designate: You slave all sensors, inertial, radar, and forward looking infra-red (FLIR) to the bridge, by the river. The picture builds.
You are satisfied.
You press the pushtile once again – the FLIR shifts to the target area. Still too far away to see the target, you wait, patiently. You look outside – there is still time.
You look to see if there are any missiles coming your way, the poetic puffs of anti-aircraft artillery, the formation of your wingmen, the angle of the sun. It is, after all, a beautiful day. Your heart is gladdened. There is singing in your veins, something primal.
But miles have passed, and now you should be able to see the target area, if not the target itself in your FLIR. The miles count down like heartbeats. You arm the jet – the bomb will now release. You arm the laser – the bomb will now guide. You stare into your display – the target is approaching. You recognize the trees, the angle of the river – all is all just as you predicted, in mission planning. You turn the mission recorder on – if it is not on tape, it never happened.
You want so much for it to have happened.
The airframe hums. The throttles creep up to the stops.
The airframe howls.
You place the diamond lovingly on the target, a caress. You turn to the steering line – press release consent – wait. A lifetime passes spent in momentary contemplation.
She shudders, and the bomb falls away.
No more looking outside. No more concern with exterior threats. You’re on government time, now. It isn’t about you anymore. Everything you are, and everything you know, was only to get you here – the satellites, the analysts, the flag officers and staffs, the carrier, the crew, your squadron mates, your wingmen. All of them were made to get you to this point, as ten thousand feet below you, a smart bomb falls, blindly, questing, seeking a home.
With small movements, the kinds a surgeon uses to save a life, you keep the designation diamond on the target. It starts to flash – The laser is firing. Not much longer now. You have come so far. You must stay on target.
The bomb wakes up – it falls in love. It rushes home, consuming itself and all that stands before it in its passion. The flower blooms, it blossoms – it is over.
It is done.
You blink, wake up and get back into the mission. Which has now changed, which has now, once again, become staying alive, and getting home. The hornet’s nest has been stirred. Your presence is known.
It is resented.
Flares and chaff, and confusion to the enemy. Hard turns and jinks, and as fast as you can go. Your fragile body bangs against the borders of your frail craft. Your blood no longer sings. It screams.
You are clear.
There is your wingman. There is Three, with his. You cross the coast, outbound, call, “Feet wet.”
You start to let down, ease down a little. Relax.
The tanker is there ahead of you – you’ll need a little more.
Done. Two struggles, again.
Back to the ship, a day recovery. No challenge any more.
You hold, come down, break and land. Two follows after you, but bolters. You shake your head – after all this?
Ah, well. He is young.
We were all young once.