In 2001 I walked with my peers in a sweltering May heat to the cadence of shutter clicks and golf applause. Murmurings from extended family. The wail of a proud infant. After my 10 seconds of fame on stage, and clutching the paper validating four year's worth of questionable (but fun!) antics, I was given a brief break and then reported for duty to my commissioning ceremony. The mood was light and jovial. The commander was in fine form, and talked of the personality makeup of my class of about a dozen. We had joined in 1997, fresh out of high school and with clouds in our eyes....even for those who would sneer and say "no of course I don't want a pilot slot." Raising my hand, I said the magic words...
2001 seems like a long time ago. In reality, it's nothing more than 12 short years, a number that (sigh...haha) almost approximates a third of my life. And yet what a segment it was. The events that transpired in September of that year shook the world, and changed it. Forever. At first, we all blinked in the harsh light of reality, unaware that things had changed. You see, it had changed too fast to recognize. And like the shout of "Fire!" late at night, you could only react. There wasn't time to think. Like Maverick (If you don't know that's from Top Gun you need to do some immediate film reeducation!) always says "You don't have time to think.... if you think. You're dead."
And yet we had all thought, of what this new world meant to us. To my friends and colleagues, it meant the day had come--it had just gotten real. All the time spent in musty basement classrooms talking of honor and duty and watching ancient films so we could dissect "leadership styles," it had all boiled down to what you were going to do on approach into Baghdad International, call visual 15 Right. Land west side of centerline, 5,000 feet down. East side under construction, marked by glow sticks. 4,500 feet remaining.
We knew that, comparatively, we had it easy. We got to leave, as soon as the reason for being had exited the aircraft, the adrenaline from the tracers fading into black. The missile strikes from the Quick Reaction Force THUMPing in the backdrop. Taxi to position. Mortars falling inside the wire. Not quite ready for takeoff. Ah shit, that one was close....report ready.
We fought back in that manner.... never saying no. Turning from one three week trip to the next. And the next. Whining to each other, while always thinking that 12 months would be far, far worse. Secretly enjoying the fact that we were called. The nation needed us. Those pallets had to get there, and we were the chosen few. What's that--you need me to upgrade and do a 6 monther? Absolutely. We were happy to do it, eagerly giving of ourselves--the world had changed. We were all Americans, America needed us. It's what we do.
In 2014 the last US forces are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan. If it goes as planned (From someone much smarter than me: "Life is what happens while you're busy making plans") it would represent the second longest war in US history. It would also be the end of an era. The rugged terrain and harsh conditions, combined with extremely limited facilities meant that the majority of supplies arrived via airlift. For the mobility forces, Afghanistan was a large bill constantly needing to be paid.
This chapter of my life closes one section, and begins the next. I am leaving Active service, and will begin with the Reserve component in a few weeks. In many respects, nothing changes--I wear the same uniform, fly the same jet, and go to the same base. However, the freedom and control over my schedule will change dramatically. For the better. To commemorate this passing, I wanted to do something special. I have always enjoyed history, and loved aviation, and hoped to honor the past.
A good friend of mine in Sacramento, Maren Conrad (She. Is. Legit.) is a very successful artist, and has shown work all over the Northern California area. I commissioned her to do a painting, depicting a C-17 maneuvering during a Tactical profile. When you are beginning your approach into a contested area, and you inform Approach control of your request, they will pass you field information and tell you to "Proceed Tactical." Namely: 1) Do not hit other planes, mountains or bullets. 2) Don't bother Approach Control unnecessarily. Just make it happen. 3) See #1.
|Early stage...before coloring. What I love about this picture is the raw beauty and power. The emotional qualities are so impressive. If C-17s flew into Mordor, Middle Earth this is what it'd look like.|
|The finished product, before presenting to the squadron. "Proceed Tactical" is acrylic on wood panel.|
|With my good friend, Will. We deployed to SW Asia for several months together in 2011.|
|With my commander, 21st Airlift Squadron.|