Thursday, November 13, 2008


Today, I was having a conversation with my commander about an NCO of mine that is having a hard time. He was asking me what my gut feeling was of her progress/potential, and as I answered, I mentioned to him that I'd told her a bit of my personal history.

Specifically, I related to her how hard I'd had to work to overcome some of the obstacles that I've faced. To put it simply, there are two kinds of pilots in the world. There are those who naturally have what we call "great hands", and there are those who have to bust their ass and wring a metric shitton of blood, sweat and tears from their skin before they can learn to fly. I fell squarely into the second category. Flying did not come naturally to me. Not by a long shot. When you couple that with a series of disasters (mostly self-imposed) in my personal life...I had a hard time learning to fly.

My commander was there for some of that, and he'd advocated for me in the past. So he knew what I was talking about when I said that I told my NCO that it was possible to overcome such difficulties. I also told her that it sucked, and that it was very difficult...but possible.

My commander, whom I respect greatly, looked at me and said "you're a tough cookie, aren't you?"

That statement, from that man, made me smile greatly and thank him. Because that's probably one of the best compliments I've ever gotten. I've endeavored to be tough, because toughness = survival.

Toughness is not the absence of pain, it is moving on in the face of pain.

It's nice that someone I respect, noticed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

In other news...

I woke up this morning and looked out my window to see something truly kick ass.

The line for the polling place across the street was around the block.

I'm so happy. Even if most of those people don't vote the same way I did (and judging by the bumperstickers and yard signs in my neighborhood, they won't...) I'm still thrilled that the turnout is so large.

To put it bluntly, seeing people lined up to vote is a validation of my service and the service of those I love. You could be the biggest asshole, military- and America-hating prick, and if you vote...if you exercise the freedoms that I and mine provide for you...then you've validated my service.

Or, as someone much smarter than me once put it: "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Or something like that.

On Risk Management

Here's the thing about being a pilot: (well, one of the things, anyway...) Flying an aircraft is inherently risky. Think about it, nothing in our genetic makeup or history as a species indicates that human beings were meant to fly. And yet, like the stubborn children that we are, we persevere and utilize machines to participate in an activity for which we, as people, are decidedly unsuited.

Sounds risky, right?

That's probably where the stereotype of the arrogant pilot originates. Likewise the crazy pilot, who seems to have a death wish, but manages to keep breathing. These are byproducts of the situation in which man (used as a gender neutral term, here and forever after) does what man is not designed to do: fly.

So the Air Force (and other services, too, in my observation, though I know less about their process) has a policy of "Risk Management". For the record, I find this a Good Thing(tm). I may be a helicopter pilot, and therefore by definition insane; but unlike the stereotype, I don't actually have a death wish. Flying safely is one of my paramount it should be. So I appreciate that my training emphasized managing the risks inherent in the business.

But, (and you just knew that there was a 'but' coming, didn't you, Gentle Reader) I've observed a disturbing trend in which Risk Management has become an attempt at Risk Elimination. As I've stated, risk is inherent in the flying business, so you can see why I'm disturbed at attempts to eliminate risk altogether.

Orville and Wilbur, Lindbergh, Billy Mitchell, Jimmy Doolittle...these guys didn't try to eliminate risk, they sought to understand it, to mitigate it where they could and then they accepted what they couldn't mitigate and moved on to make history.

I'm not trying to make history, I'm just trying to do my job. And it's getting increasingly irritating to be told that I can't or shouldn't do that job to the best of my ability simply because it's "too risky".

I'm nobody's cowboy. When it comes to flying, I'm pretty conservative in my "comfort zone". I don't do stupid shit in the helicopter because I want to be an old pilot. You know that old saying? There are old pilots and bold pilots but there are no old, bold pilots. It's probably not entirely true, but the idea is sound. The US taxpayer has paid thousands of dollars to train me to make decisions and mitigate my own risk...and it's frustrating when I'm not allowed to do that.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


So I added a music player to this story of mine. Here's the thing: music has always played a huge role in my life. I'm one of those people who is convinced that my life is secretly being filmed somewhere. My music is the soundtrack, and like any good soundtrack, it illustrates and informs the rest of the story. Movie. Whatever.

Certain songs are my "flying songs". I play them in my head while I'm stepping to fly. They serve to get me jazzed up, ready to go. I've included a few of them on this playlist. I hope you enjoy them.

Music also serves another purpose for me. It's like an index of memories. Songs remind me of where/when I was when they were popular. When I deploy, I have no doubt that the music I listen to will color my perceptions about the entire experience. If I can, I'll share that music with you, here.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Information Age Trench Poet

So here's the skinny on me.

I'm a USAF helicopter pilot. I'm also a writer and poet (are they two separate things? I don't know, but I have better things to worry about. Go waste someone else's time with silly questions. Thanks.)

I've long held the belief that stories are the crown jewel of the human experience. Storytellers of some form are revered in every human culture on the planet. We, as humans, seem to feel the need to share our experiences with one another, as if by doing so we can create a connection that wasn't there before. Moreover, we actively seek out the stories of others. We read books, watch movies, surf the internet or become addicted to reality TV because we are fascinated by the experiences and imagination of other people. Stories carry the essence of humanity.

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to take a class titled "The Literature of War". Besides being one of the best lit classes I'd taken, that class helped me define why I felt the way that I did about stories and storytelling. In it, I learned that within the literary canon, the stories of wars and warriors have always had a unique niche. Soldiers' Tales, as they are often called, seem to resonate with an authenticity and credibility seldom seen in other genres. (Genre? How the hell do you pluralize that, anyway?)

With the explosion of the Internet, Soldiers' Tales have taken on a new dimension, mainly in the form of milblogs. GIKate, of "My American-Iraq Life" (see sidebar) is an excellent example. Her blog is a classic Soldier's Tale. It's raw and authentic, and it serves as a vehicle for her stories about her experiences both while deployed to a combat zone, and after she's returned.

So, this is my story. Or a piece of it, anyway. GIKate and others like her have inspired me to join the ranks of the Information Age Trench Poets and tell my stories here.

I'd like to say "I hope you like them", but that's not the point. The point is that I tell them.