Posted: Mon – November 22, 2004 at 08:45 PM
Well, it has been a little while, hasn’t it? And a lot of sea miles in the wake in the meantime.
Let’s catch up:
We (my staff and I) flew out to join a carrier already at sea, and on deployment. She was an “emergency surge” carrier, sent forward without the usual preparations and training. Our job was to polish the diamond before crying havoc! and unleashing the dogs of war.
How she came to be an emergency surge carrier is beyond the scope of this post.
We took the COD on board, instead of walking on in San Diego – a novelty for our staff.
We got a very professional brief from the cabin crew – how we’d know to brace ourselves for the shipboard landing, for example. For those of us who had made a living of landing on aircraft carriers, it was small beer. But a lot of our folks were enlisted, or surface officers or submariners. Folks who’d never done this before. They watched the brief with rapt attention. The loadmaster made a point of telling us how she’d warn us when we were 15 seconds from landing: She would come on the intercomm saying, “Here we go!” a couple of times, and wave her fist around in circles over her seat. The COD pilot would tell her at the right time. That would be how we knew. We bundled into the aircraft, all rank and honor temporarily suspended by the knowledge of our shared fate – whatever was to happen to us, it would happen to us all, regardless of time in grade, station or seniority.
Now, it was once part of my role in life to train COD pilots. So I can say without the risk of too much irony that I wasn’t entirely surprised while peeking of the single porthole which created our view on the world outside our little microcosm to see the rapidly growing ocean, with white caps filling in details. And as we came closer to the waiting sea, I knew that either 1) we were about to ditch into the open ocean, and the pilots had decided to spare us the stress of knowing, or B) the aircrew had forgotten to tell the loadmaster that we were on final.
And as we struck the flight deck, I was amused, if not surprised, to see the loadmaster swing her fist in the air, shrieking, “Here we go!” even as the arresting wire payed out beneath our transport. Once out of the wires and chocked, the ramp came down and we were escorted to the island, where the ship’s XO promised us that our rooms were ready, that we were welcome, that our bags would be attended to – nothing to worry about!
Two out of three’s not bad in the fleet. We found the bags on day four.
Planning this particular exercise had been the proverbial goat rope. The plan had change no fewer than four times between when we had initiated our first conference, until we finally embarked. In the short hairs (planning wise) a four star change of command had been ordered upon the carrier’s flight deck. Right in the middle of the exercise. Not entirely sure if the staffers understood what they were asking for, we had gone back with a, “are you (kidding) me?” email. In response to which, we were politely required to shut up and color. When the change of command was later cancelled (for reasons, once again, beyond the scope of this post), we were left to fill the void with training. Or not.
We entered port, instead. And after a couple of adult beverages, I was somehow induced to wrestle with an officer just half my age, on the hotel room carpet. Leaving non-trivial pieces of myself behind. But you should have seen him.
Shortly after we got underway again, we had a wee bit of a ramp strike. Which got all kinds of people very excited. It was one of those dark-assed nights when even a brave pilot had to admit that it was better to be on deck, wishing one was in the air, than to be in the air, wishing one was on deck. See, it’s hard. Really, hard. Like Chinese algebra, on a night like that.
Fortunately no one was seriously injured. Which was nice.
While underway, I had to do my annual flight physical . A short form, once again, thank God. Next year, the full Monty, ugh.
The flight surgeons seem to get younger every year. This year I had what had to be a 15 year old flight doc, blonde, female, relentlessly upbeat. After having gone through all the usual indignities, it was time to go to her office, one on one. There I was subjected to the Agent Smith treatment, as she carefully flicked every page of my medical record, murmuring the occasional, “hmm.”
Eventually she said to me, “There’s nothing in here!” to which of course, I replied, “Eh?”
“Nothing!” cheerful teenager-looking doctor-person cried. “Nothing at all!”
And that’s a bad thing, I wondered aloud? Not realizing that I was speaking to the Terrible Arrogance of Youth:
“Well,” she said, confidentially, leaning in, “Nothing personal or anything, sir. But you are in, like, your forties, after all. I mean, really!”
Causing me to leap across the desk and wrestle her to the ground and choke her, of course. Until the corpsmen came in with the good hypodermic and the funny white jacket with the arms at the back, to take me to the nice room with the soft walls and colorful crayons.
No, that didn’t really happen. Except in my imagination, between two placid blinks of the eye.
But I was left to wonder: Is this the way it’s going to be from now on?
The rest of the exercise went well. And I missed the whole election with all the yes-he-will, no-he-won’t exit poll drama. Hats off to JFK, by the way, for a really class act clearing the stage once it became clear that the numbers weren’t there – he fought the good fight, he kept the faith, he finished the race. Good for him.
I also missed the end of the Boston curse, about which I am somewhat ambivalent, I must confess.
I also missed the passing of terrorist thug into what I hope is his just desserts. And the nastiness of watching his heirs and successors squabble over the leavings.
I didn’t miss the assault on Fallujah . I watched it all, through a special lens I can’t really tell you about except to say that you ought to be very, very proud of your Marines, and the Army too. My God, I hope someday we earn the trust those young men placed in us.
Ah, well, there’s more later. But it’s still hectic, and I’m still just barely home, so I’ll say farewell for now.