By lex, on October 6th, 2006
Well, and I very much appreciate all those who offered their thoughts. They pushed and pulled in many different directions, and apart from those who counselled immediate retirement – sorry, that’s not me – I have shared in all of them, all in a moment. Funny how things can swirl so quickly through your mind, between the moment when you hear unlooked for news, and the moment after, when you are asked what you think of it.
Is there a moment of wounded pride, wherein you ask: What? How can I be offered up? How can I be spared? As busy as I am, and as much as I contribute?
There is. But we are none of us irreplaceable, the wheel continues to turn. And it does not surprise me that I am offered up: I made a decision some time ago that this would be my last tour, which obviated the need for self-promotion. I do my work quietly, accept no thanks, offer it instead to others. It’s really quite astonishing what you can do, when you don’t care who gets the credit.
Is there a moment when the old joy of battle sings again in your heart? When you think of joining the fray rather than reading about it? When you think of qualifiying in weapons whose range is measured in meters rather than in miles? Of strapping on and suiting up once more? Of hurling yourself into the fight?
There is such a moment. A moment only. And then you reflect that no one places super-annuated FA-18 pilots on the deck in order to carry the fight to the foe. You reflect that of all the things you might learn in Sojer School, the most valuable would be to count your rounds as they went down range, in order to save the last one for the end. Because just like in the days when I strapped an airplane on to go to war, if it comes at last to a pilot with a pistol in his hand and dust on his boots, something has already gone horribly wrong, and the odds of it getting any better are vanishingly small.
No, they don’t want a grounded air warrior. Much more likely to be building powerpoint slides, safely ensconced in the rear, while younger men, better men, men trained for the work and environment do the necessary, and despise those who remain safe behind the barricades and concertina wire, turning powerpoint slides. Pretending to make a difference.
But would not my presence there perhaps free one such man up to fight the good fight? Is not this a kind of service?
It is. But it is a service in muted tones. I was a very good pilot once. One of the very best, if you will permit me this very rare immodesty. But I was only ever an average officer, and have never been much better than an average staff officer. I cannot make myself care as much about the slickness of the presentation as I ought to. I have never managed the task of gladly executing an idea with which I profoundly disagree. I take no pleasure in someone else’s misfortune. I have never been political. I was just a good pilot who stayed beyond his use-by date.
But the call has not gone out for a used-to-be somebody. The call is for an anybody of a certain grade. Anybody at all, so long as he wears eagles.
Color me uninspired.
Bahrain, then? Among friends, and work you know? Six months against 15? Surely that would be the easier path?
Ah, yes. But neither have I been an easier road kind of guy. It would feel like cheating, volunteering to spend six months in NAVCENT in order to avoid the harder service. A dodge, the sea-lawyer’s way out. Not quite dishonorable, but not entirely creditable either.
Are there not also personal considerations?
There are. I’ve a teenaged daughter who is on the very brink of casting her life away, and is also therefore on the very brink of saving it. Because of the many times I was not there for her, I take some degree of responsibility for her closeness to the precipice. I’d like to hope that I can help her step safely away from the chasm. I fear what might happen if I am gone for six months, for a year. It is a very sensitive time. I love her very much. I have already missed so many opportunities to make a difference. I feel sometimes that the clock is running out. I am not entirely sure that this is going to work out. I’d like to know, twenty years from now, that I’d done the best I could.
And the Hobbit?
She is a trooper. She always has been. She understands the needs of the service. She thinks I’ve already done my bit. She might take it hard if I volunteered for the longer bout. She’d gladly trade for the shorter one, if forced to choose. But we’ve already talked about taking the easier path, haven’t we?
So did all of this go through my head in the moment after The Man asked, “what do you think?”
It did. And I answered him on the go, “I’ll go where I’m sent, do what I’m asked to do. I won’t volunteer.”
Which was not an acceptable answer either. Not to me.
And here we are.
Let you know when I know.