Stay Terrified

Transmitted through my helmet’s CEP’s, the phrase “tail’s hit” will forever be connected to the word “fear” for me.

Immediately I wondered whether my formation lead’s pilot meant that the tail of his helicopter was hit or that his tail gunner–the human–was hit.

And immediately I began to scan the monochromatic green terrain one hundred feet below for shooters.

And immediately I was overwhelmed with the reality that they could be anywhere and if they weren’t presently firing, I would likely not notice them.

And at the occurrence of that precise thought I became afraid.

I felt fear for the first time in my life.

Eventually, in a matter of seconds I mean, it was clear that the tail gunner was the victim of the “hit” and our direct action mission was aborted in favor of flying him to the nearest ‘cash.’ (Combat Support Hospital.) He lived.

But me? I was incapacitated for a little bit and I had an overwhelming desire to cry. Let me repeat that first part: I was incapacitated for a little bit. Luckily, I was the inexperienced co-pilot at the time.

Years later, I was the instructor pilot on a night sortie at the schoolhouse, and one of our other Huey’s had stopped checking in with HUB–or on any other radio or frequency we all tried. (That usually means the crew had crashed.) Soon after, my student was on the controls and hover taxiing to hot refuel at Andalusia. He was all over the sky, as they say. Too high, over-correcting to too low. So as my aircraft commander did for me in Iraq, I took the controls without comment. The student was clearly going through the realization that his friends might be dead–that we might later die on the job–and he didn’t need any more input. (They lived.)

Dr. Ford (et al): Stay terrified–it lets me know that you’re not a leader, that you’re not worth following.

Or you could apologize for lying. Or you could forgive.

But I can’t/won’t/don’t want to join you in your fear. I’d be trading in every ounce and moment and piece of hard-earned experience I have for nothing–no reason, no action, no sound, no light, no nothing–for darkness. In other words, I’d be exchanging it all for fear.

And I am not afraid.

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One comment

  1. noelleg44

    I think the operative work at the end of your piece is forgiveness – not retribution, revenge and destruction. As you can see, retribution and revenge can ruin your life.
    As for the first part, you have to let your students try and make mistakes, then take over and model correct action – especially, as in your case, there could be some loss of life if you didn’t!

    Liked by 1 person

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