Freedom Flys

Commercial planes taking off and landing does not stir the soul the same way military jets do.
There is something to be said with the roar of a military jet.
The sound of pride, of freedom, of sacrifice.

F-18s scream over head. Humans gather at the turning point to watch gray metal leave the earth and return.
Bombs strapped to the underside of the wings.

Nighttime sorties flare red and blue.
Tight formations over the deck — out across the ocean.
Precision in air — synchronized landings.
Practice for the inevitable not to happen.

I am protected.
I am in awe.
I am free.

My Day in Infamy

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” ~ President Franklin D. Roosevelt   

These words ring true for all veterans of all services from 1941 to this day. For me, this date will always be a sacred date — not only because it plunged our country into World War II (which my grandfather and father served in) where so many military and civilians sacrificed their lives, but because 46 years later (to the day) I entered  the United States Air Force.

I didn’t chose that date to enlist, it just was the way the courses of events occurred.

I am grateful that my enlistment date is December 7th. I somehow feel more connected to the men and women who served and sacrificed so much for our country.

There are few days of the year that I hold dear to my heart and December 7th is one of them. My grandmother lost a brother in the US Army Air Corp. I don’t know the whole story other that he was on a bomber and none of the crew were ever found.

My grandfather (my mom’s father) served in the Army and my father (served in the Merchant Marines (part of the coast guard). They were both blessed to come home — for that I am grateful.

I’m always touched when I see the sacrifice of the service members on that day. The grainy black and white photos, static recordings of announcers breaking into a football game to announce the tragedy, the slow still movies of the destruction of one of our bases by what was (at the time) a formidable air force.

I watch the dedications and the photos of the memorial we placed at the site of this tragedy. I feel drawn to it, like a moth to a light. It is something I wish to see in person one day. To touch the water, to breath in the air, to be for one brief moment part of the military past.

During one of the spots on tv, I watched older former service men stand on a deck saluting those that did not make it that day. One particular sailor caught my attention. His hand shook slightly while he saluted. I wondered where he was that day. Was he sleeping as were so many? Was he on duty? The old sailors faded into a new modern more colorful guard that stood behind them. I was hard pressed not to cry along with the sailors of 1941.

I love our military traditions — the respect we feel to honor the past and to those who sacrificed their lives.

The speech that Roosevelt gave before congress has become part of the American fabric, as was the attack itself. It lasted 7 minutes and like his opening line, his last was just as memorable:

“…But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. . .”

I shall never forget.

 

Veterans Day

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day. A day that came into existence by a proclamation from President Wilson in 1919 and became law in May 1938.

President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

There’s something to be said about a uniform. When you step into your first set of BDUs (Battle Dress Uniform) — the feel and weight of the fabric. It’s like pulling on a new person.

It makes you stand taller, it makes you feel confident in everything you do, it makes you proud.

No matter when you stepped into your first uniform, regardless of branch, regardless of rank, you are forever changed. You are forever a member of a unique family.

I served along side other patriotic souls as we served our country. I’ve been stationed in several countries world wide, in times of peace and in times of war. It wasn’t always easy to serve, it wasn’t always easy to follow orders, but I like to think I went above and beyond the call of duty to complete the objectives as given to me.

  Rist, Richard (Hollywood, FL) 1-31

 

When I was in the service it wasn’t as recognized by civilians as it is today. Now people thank those in uniform for their service. I always smile and stand a little taller, when I hear someone thanking a person in uniform as I walk through the airport. I am  proud that 11/11 is recognized wide and far.

Once you raise your hand and take the oath, once you go through the training, once you don your first set of BDU’s and step out onto foreign soil, you are part of a

family forever more. I am honor to be part of that family — I am proud to have served my country and defended our freedom.

I am humbled and speechless to my brothers and sisters who never returned from battle. For the families that paid the ultimate sacrifice  to defend my country.

Thank you to all that have served, to all that are serving, and to all who will serve.

Aim High!!

Two US Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcons conducting tactical training exercises. (Department of Defense/Jacob N. Bailey, US Air Force)

Two US Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcons conducting tactical training exercises. (Department of Defense/Jacob N. Bailey, US Air Force)

 

Flash Backs

Memories are a funny thing. They are ever present or lost in the web of neurons. They come back quickly and in some cases, unexpectedly after years of being forgotten.

I was in the military when I met a airman who impacted my immediate future. I had come to admire her, her strength, her courage, her. She was strong and full of conviction of doing the right thing at all times, even when it was difficult. On the eve of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” she showed me how to honor yourself and be who you are.

I don’t remember her past any more, but I do remember a couple important pieces. Like the permanent scar on the side of her face courtesy of a bar fight prior to entering the military. I have the impression after all these years that her life was rather difficult prior to entering the Air Force, although the details of her past, were never known to me — or maybe just forgotten amoung all the other memories and facts cluttering the gray matter.

A-10 Warthog Alconbury England

She made me laugh, she talked me through some painful events, and unbeknownst to me at the time, helped me come into my own.

I haven’t thought about her for more than 20 years. She came crashing into my thoughts as I watched a woman in the crowd having a good time, laughing and dancing with her friends. In the blink of an eye, I was slammed back into the military talking to my friend. Sitting in camp chairs drinking cheap beer and wondering what the rest of our lives would bring us.

I don’t know how or why this dancing woman brought my friend back to me; the similarities of the way she looked or dressed or maybe it was the carefree laughing with her friends, but it left me feeling odd and unnerved for the next couple of days. Thoughts of our time in the military floated in and out of my mind at unexpected moments: playing softball, or hunkered down in the vault culling through military reports. Deep dark discussions about life, the military, and the war we were supporting, but didn’t necessarily agree with.

We had toured England together along with our friends. Driving the back roads in the cover of darkness or finding London night clubs in our down time.  She taught me how to play darts, which I still am bad at, in local pubs. We hung out together on tarmacs at day break in a hurry up and wait mode before deploying to the desert. My first adult friendship.

Back then, there were no easy ways to stay in touch. Pen and paper or corded wall phones were the only ways to communicate long distance and it was difficult to find time when working rotating shifts and deploying to combat zones, and eventually leaving the military.

We knew each other when it was safe for a brief moment in time.

I don’t know why she came to mind. Why now? What makes me think of a long lost military friend after all this time?

I wonder what happened to her. A few years after my discharge I heard a rumor that she had passed away due to a brain tumor. I would like to think it was not true, that is was just a rumor. Her life would have been too short. She was a beautiful person and the world is less bright without her in it.

Memories — they have a timeline of their own. I do still wonder, why those memories choose to come to the surface after all this time and I wonder where she is now.

Army Air Force Siblings

army_air_forceMany people are unaware that the US Air Force was born from the Army. It evolved over many years until finally on September 18, 1947 the airborne unit of the Army grew up, spread it’s wings, and flew away. Like many family members, there is a love hate love relationship. The siblings I grew up with joined the Army at one point, but I chose to Aim High!

Now, many years later I found myself on a a beautiful fall day sitting across from my friend discussing our past military experiences: Army vs Air Force. This conversation, however, unlike past rivalry jabs, was different. I’m not even sure how we started, but we talked about why and how we each joined the service and it turned a little deeper than I anticipated.

We swapped stories of looking to do something more, to learn more, to be more than what we had experienced to that point. It occurred to me that they were highly similar as they were vastly different.

For me it was a way to escape a small town and discover what I wanted beyond the vague “I want to travel” dream that had intrigued me since I was little. It was a way to move on, move to a different part of the world, to learn, to grow.

I learned that we joined the service at relatively the same time and just as oddly,left the military within 6 months of each other. We discussed the survival tactics of escaping from small hometown life to the wars we participated in. The tours while different supported the same efforts: diving for cover, sweating it out in a charcoal suit in the summer desert, the claustrophobic gas masks. I saw more deserts in the nine years I was in the Air Force than I ever thought I would. The memories from Korea to Britain to Saudi Arabia to Turkey came back in an instant — like it was yesterday. There was no finger pointing or jabs just two military vets learning, comparing, listening.

It’s not often that I have the opportunity to have a conversation with someone who not only understood my experiences, the complexities and feelings, spoken and unspoken, of military life and identified with it. I didn’t have to add or remove details of military service. The terms and tours were understood.

I don’t often speak of my military experiences nor do I don’t know many vets. It’s at the rare times like these that I find myself remembering things I had long ago forgotten.The images and the feelings just pop into my head. My service to my country started out as an escape for me and transformed me into the person I am today. I grew up, I grew wise, I grew.

I am grateful to have had the chance to serve my country, grateful to have met many people — foreign and domestic — to have seen the world. I am grateful that I had the chance to exchange military thoughts, memories and, I think, deepen our friendship forged through military service. One more great benefit that the Air Force has given me.

The sibling rivalry between services will always be there, but this past weekend I learned that the bond between vets have no boundaries.

Thank you for all that have served, are serving, and will serve.  Aim High!