“So There I Was…”

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Early 1900s Body Armor Test

…Those four words are how every pilot starts a story.

So there I was, tightening the velcro on my flak vest.  One of my crewmembers pointed out to me the warning label the lawyers wrote on the inside in case it failed to perform as advertised. It said something about this piece of equipment not being rated to stop ballistics or projectiles. Good to know.

This same crewmember had absolutely no expression on his face. I guess that’s to be expected. Without getting into the gory details of it, a few days prior he made a drunken mistake which was likely to end his marriage. The crazy thing was, he wasn’t the only one having problems back at home.

One of the other guys had been living with the mother of his son of a few years. I had the impression it was one of those stay-together-for-the-kids agreements, and it wasn’t working out too well. But who am I to judge?

The night before he had given her an ultimatum, saying “I’m all in if you are”. I guess she wasn’t. It must be hard being with someone who is gone all the time. I can’t imagine having to watch after a kid on top of all that.

And then it hit me. I wasn’t the only person in the crew who has to shut up and put on their game face. I could go on and on about the rest of us and our situations, but I think you get the point. Every one of us had something going on back home: bills, debt, family, continuing education, homework… but in the moment, none of it mattered.

Over and over again I find myself saying I have the best job in the world. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not because of the speed. It’s not because I get to fly a multi-million dollar piece of machinery low to the ground, dodging hills and mountains in order to stay below the radar. It’s not the freedom experienced by saying goodbye to planet Earth for a while, or surfing on the clouds. None of these factors detract from the enjoyment and satisfaction I get, but not one of them can beat the people I get to do these things with.

For every new mission I go out on, I get assigned to a new crew. The one from this “So there I was…” happens to be one of the best crews I’ve been a part of. Outside of the military, it is rare to see a person’s true colors in the same light we do. We sometimes work 24 hour days, then have 12 hours off to sleep, eat, and contact home (some of us use this time to blog for BattleLand) before the cycle repeats.

With such little alone time it’s hard to hide what is really going on in a person’s head and inevitably, their best and their worst traits bubble to the surface. With this crew there were very few negative traits, drunken mistakes aside, and we worked exceptionally well together.

Every time I see those flak vests, I think about that crew and the revelation I had with them. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, as long as it’s with good people. With that thought, its easy to push the problems back at home aside, and focus.

The other cardinal rule of “So there I was…” is the story only has to be 10% true. I’m glad to say this one is fully non-fictional.

– Officer X is a young, gay military officer who is currently serving on active duty despite the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on open service. He is a pilot and regularly flies throughout the world both in and out of combat. His views are his alone and do not reflect the opinions of the U.S. military, its branches, or any organization. Follow him on Twitter @TIMEOfficerX or email him