I’ve said this before, but one thing that occasionally happens around here are moments present themselves that are rare and unique—moments that I will never forget for as long as I live and imprint themselves on my heart, never to be erased.
Last night I witnessed two of those moments.
The O’Club here had a New Year’s Eve party. The parties they’ve had in the last few months have been nice, but they really outdid themselves this time. The guards at the gate came in to ask the manager why there were so many people there, as they had run out of visitor badges and were having to turn people away. Approaching midnight the bagpiper from Christmas Eve climbed up onto the bar to overlook the crowd. They rang the bell that is customary when they want silence in the club for whatever reason and the player addressed us solemnly. “New Year’s Eve is a traditional day to gather with friends and celebrate the oncoming New Year. It is also a time to remember the past. Before we celebrate in a few moments, we should remember our brothers who have fallen this year.” You could hear a pin drop. He then went into a rendition of “Amazing Grace” like none I’ve heard before. I bowed my head and tears filled my eyes as he played the most beautiful hymn in honor of those who were unable to celebrate with their loved ones this year.
Shortly thereafter the bar staff began handing out champagne in plastic cups to the crowd. Corks were flying everywhere as they rushed to beat the clock. Two of my friends from the night shift, Santini and Michelle, couldn’t take the night off and had to go to work an hour earlier. As the crowd started to get ready, the four of us who were able to be there--myself, Magnum, Karen, and Allison--grabbed an extra two cups of champagne and wandered out of the bar and over to the CAOC with our noisemakers and hats.
In the front of the big, dark, room that I had arrived bleary-eyed almost four months ago there is a giant red digital clock that keeps the time for the guys controlling all of the massive airpower fighting this war. We all joined under those enormous TV screens for what may be the last time as the original night shift and watched as the clock went from 23:59 to 00:00. The Combat Operations floor (all twenty of us) erupted in cheers, and we blew our noisemakers and hugged each other. It was, to the outside observer, probably pretty sad to see. But to me, with those friends that have been unlike many others I have known, who I have become closer to than many of the boys I sweated and died with in college, pilot training, or any squadron, it was a priceless memory that will never be forgotten.
Short of being at the foot of my children’s bed with my hands on Emily’s belly there was nowhere in the world that I would rather have been to ring in the New Year.