Friday, February 24, 2012

Wet Footprints

For a little while now, I've known it was time to go.  I've spent almost seven years of my career at Laughlin Air Force Base flying with the 85th.  Eight if you include the 6 months at Pilot Instructor Training in San Antonio as part of the deal. Once I realized that my time was coming to an end, I started noticing details about the place that I hadn't before--things that make this place, and the experience of being a primary pilot training instructor, somehow worth it in the end.

When a student in Air Force UPT goes on his first solo flight, it is a pretty big deal.  The vast majority of kids that wash out do so prior to achieving this goal.  Quite a few still falter before finishing the program, but the first time you solo a $5M aircraft, you feel like the king of the world.  For decades, when a student lands after his first solo his classmates carry him to tank of water that each class decorates.  It is normally filled putrid water that's been out in the sun for the duration of the class being pre-solo.  They toss him fully clothed into the pool as part of the baptism of becoming an Air Force pilot.  As part of the tradition, there is an unwritten rule that if you are able to make it from the jet back to your flight room without being dunked--the flight owes you a case of your choice of beverage.

As you would expect, no one escapes their dunk.  Even the very rare individual (we had one recently change from his flight suit into a FedEx uniform, grab a handcart, and try to "deliver" boxes to his flight room--he was caught) that makes it back to the flight room is summarily tackled and carried back to the dunk tank.

One of the little details I've noticed recently surrounds this tradition.  Our hallways are carpeted here.  When a kid comes back into the building to change his soaked clothes, he leaves a long trail of wet footprints down the hall.  To me, it resembles a trail left by a ghost.  Every student that has come through this building in pursuit of the coveted wings has left this trail behind them.  To see the trail warms my heart that once again, my instructors have taken a kid who knew nothing about flying and taught him how to master the skies. 

To leave that trail means that you have just had one of the most significant events in your life--so recent that the water has yet to evaporate from the steps you have taken.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Back to the Desert

I've always wondered what I would do if I was tasked to go back to the sandbox.  Specifically, what would I do with my blog.  In the days now of Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and Facetime, the need to have this blog is kind of inefficient to serve its originaly purpose: to keep the homefront aware of what I was doing.  It did, however, make for a very theraputic way to pass the time when I was over there.  So, I've always wondered.

Now I get to find out.

Rather than move to San Antonio for what would likely have been the last time, I've been tasked to go to Baghdad.  My intial reaction (like everyone I've told where I'm going) was "I thought we didn't have anyone in Baghdad??"  Well, apparently we do.

There's a few things different than the last time.  First, it's Baghdad.  When I went to Qatar there was very little combat training involved or gear that I had to bring.  This time around there's a significant amount more of both.  It's a six-month deployment, rather than the four-months last time.  I volunteered months ahead of it last time, whereas this time I was tasked with only weeks to go.  And the most significant:  this time around I'm leaving four kids with SW, rather than two.

I am not thrilled--but I'm not complaining either.  This is going to be a very difficult challenge for me and my family, but it is yet another Desert Odyssey.