Thursday, September 09, 2004

Some Gave All

September 11, 2001.

I was a wet behind the ears Naval Flight Officer, eagerly anticipating my first extended at-sea period as a carrier aviator. I slept in late, because as junior officers (especially junior aviators) are wont to do, I spent the previous night celebrating my last night on dry land for the next six weeks, with exceeding and determined vigor. I peeled my carcass off the Navy issue wafer thin mattress and switched the TV on. A curious clip was playing on CNN, showing a commerical airliner slamming into a building that appeared to be one of the duo that made up the World Trade Center. My immediate thought was that it was some sort of training video showing a what if scenario. Surely it couldnt be real..As my brain continued to mull over the plausibility of the scenario, I headed off to the shower. As I traversed the labyrinthtine metal corridors of the aircraft carrier, I couldn't help but notice the sober atmosphere, people with somber looks on their face, tension you could cut with a knife. It began to occur to me that maybe the proverbial excrement had indeed struck the fan. I hurried through my shower, tossed my flight suit on and hustled down to our squadron ready room. As I walked through the door, I saw my squadron mates watching the TV intently. My brusque, "Is this for real?", was answered with head nods and terse affirmations. My heart finished it tortuous crawl into my throat with a sickening plunge into my stomach.

Instead of turning south and heading for the Puerto Rican operating area we spent a week guarding the East coast. Our squadron's planes were still ashore, as they had no role in air defense. My buddies in the strike fighter squadrons were flying Combat Air Patrols within spitting distance of the East coast, a scenario that even the most pessimistic of us could hardly have predicted. One of those friends, a nugget (first cruise aviator) like me, was launched with orders to intercept a commerical airliner. Can you imagine being on your first cruise, being ordered to intercept a commercial airliner, knowing what horrific service you might be ordered to perform for your country?

Five months later I was flying combat missions over Afghanistan. I spent anywhere from 6-8 hours in the cockpit at a stretch. We were supporting the heroes on the ground as the mercilessly ground down the Taliban troops and then began to extract the terrorist snakes from their holes in the mountains. Words can not do justice to the pride I took in being able to help those brave soldiers.

September 10, 2004.

I have come full circle. I now have over 800 flight hours, with over 100 of that in combat. I have two cruises under my belt, am a designated tactics instructor, and left my squadron with excellent fitness reports and most importantly, the respect of those men and women I had the honor to do two combat deployments among. Now that I am on shore duty, I help train operational squadrons as they prepare to deploy. Although I would prefer to still be flying missions over Iraq, I still take pride in the fact that I am helping prepare those heading to the front lines.

My third daughter was born yesterday. As I held her for the first time, tears came to my eyes as my thoughts turned to all those fathers who would never hold their daughters again, to the mothers in Russia whose children were brutally murdered by sadistic and cowardly terrorists, to the men that continue to patrol the streets of Baghdad to help secure a promise of a brighter future for Iraq. I thought about my Naval Academy classmate who was killed in the Pentagon attack, whose older brother died years earlier in a training accident during flight school. I can't help but think of that famous quote, "All gave some, some gave all." So many have given all in our struggle against an enemy who desires nothing less than the total destruction of our way of life and all that we stand for.

Call me melodramatic if you will, but I see this struggle against terrorism as nothing less than a war for our survival. What else can you call a war against enemies with their goals and methods? If anyone thinks this should not be the central issue of this Presidential election, they need to take their head out of the sand and survey the horizon to see the coming storm.

Tomorrow we remember a day that has become my generation's Pearl Harbor day. Who can't remember what they were doing, where they were, how they felt? In light of that, I offer the following amazingly inadequate words of thanks. To my brothers in arms who stand the watch while I enjoy my time with my new daughter, I salute you, your bravery and dedication are an inspiration. To those men and women that gave all, my greatest respect and admiration goes to them and I offer my deepest sympathy to their families, who most certainly gave all. To the families of those innocents who died on that day 3 years ago, I offer my prayers and a shared hope for a better tomorrow. God bless.