By lex, on Sat – April 9, 2005
No. It’s just that…
Well – it’s only a little, tiny…
Five years ago this weekend, your humble scribe was the commanding officer of a line FA-18 squadron, the finest in the fleet. I had a, I think, well-deserved reputation as being something of a prima donna when it came to the article of training for combat. The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war – that whole thing. We hit it pretty hard, tried to milk each and every mission for the last possible drop of training value.
I was fully equipped and prepared to be, in other words, a right pain in the ass when it came to realistic and effective training accomplishment.
I owed it to the people who’d be doing the fighting, you see. Didn’t want to have any regrets, should something go wrong and we lose a man. Didn’t want to second guess myself afterwards – “Oh, if only I had…” None of that. And too, I thought that these peoples’ parents had entrusted their children’s lives to the Navy – and as the squadron CO, I was the Navy, to them. We owed to their parents to make sure they were as prepared as they could be, in the event of hostilities. Too, I earnestly believed (and still do) that you, the taxpayer, have the right to expect maximum effectiveness for the share of the national lucre you have so graciously showered upon our upturned heads. I mean, by the time you tally up an FA-18 squadron: aircraft, tools, spare parts, facility, and payroll, you’re talking a national investment right around half a billion dollars. Yes, that’s right: “illion” with a “b.” So, I always felt that, when the time came, and my squadron was flung into the line, we owed it to you to provide a good return on investment.
So, this weekend five years ago, my squadron was on a training detachment in Key West, Florida. Which is exactly as arduous as maybe it sounds.
Now, there are many advantages to taking your squadron on the road to train – for one thing, the focus is entirely on training, not administration, paperwork or, well, chicken poo. Often the ranges are superior at det locations, and the weather more clement. And there’s the non-trivial issue of team building and bonding. You throw folks into close proximity in an unfamiliar environment, force them to work both effectively and creatively in the accomplishment of defined goals, and then allow them to blow off some collective steam together after hours, without any familial distractions, and you have created a kind of miniature lab experiment in deployed operations at sea.
You can learn a lot about your people, in this way.
My Operations Officer was a man after my own heart. He was a born warrior, and gifted pilot. He had few vices, and all of them were conventional. He knew how to turn vision into tasking with minimum oversight, and like me, he valued training – challenging, intense, realistic training. He realized that there are no points for second place in combat. He knew that in order to survive those first few, deliriously confusing moments when someone you are trying to kill is actually trying to kill you back, the fighter pilot must be trained to an exceptionally high peak.
So it was with some grim determination on his face that he came to me on Wednesday afternoon of the first week of the detachment with a leave chit from one of my junior pilots. This gent’s mom worked at Augusta National, the home of the Masters Championship golf tournament. He had tickets to the weekend’s play. He wanted to have the weekend off, leaving Friday – a day of work. A day of training.
My Ops gave me the leave chit, recommending it be disapproved: “We’re here for training, skipper. Not for watching golf tournaments.” He looked me in the eye, and knowing me as he did, he knew what to expect.
He was surprised: “Dude! It’s the Masters!”
I mean, come on. So he misses one day of flying. We can make that up to him.
It was the Masters !