I want to share with you a special email I received yesterday from a friend of mine who works in the private aviation sector. You may remember her from a couple years ago, she was frequent in the comments under the moniker, Sassy Suspect. In the real world, she goes by Jessica and she's a smart, funny, ball of fire who I enjoy calling my friend.
To my friends and Family on this holiday weekend,
I hope this email finds you all in wonderful and blessed health. The company I am with has recently begun flying military charter flights. I thought I'd take a moment to remind us all to remember what a wonderful country we live in and how truly blessed we are and to never forget all the men, women, children and families who make sacrifices for our beautiful country.
I left this past Tuesday for Fort Hood in Kileen Texas. 320 troops boarded our 747-400 en route to Afghanistan. The crew and legs I was assigned were to take them as far as Hahn, Germany. A second crew met us in Hahn to refuel and take them on Afghanistan for 12 months of duty. The soldiers boarded one by one quickly filing in and filling each seat, as we reminded them that the butt and not the barrel of their rifles needed to face the aisle. They listened to our commands (something flight crew is not used to).
We tried to keep the mood light. During our demo I got caught in my life vest and a soldier said to me, "I didn't realize it was going to be that kind of flight." Insert my red face rear galley. One soldier told me he spent the previous day at Chuck E. Cheese. I replied, "Sounds like fun, what did your children do?" Many other cheesy jokes followed during our 9-hour flight as the soldiers tried to keep a jovial attitude even though they would miss milestones in their children's lives and only be able to look and hear their wives/girlfriends/lovers through a computer screen for the next 12 or 13 months. Our leg was complete at 2130 CEST. We said our goodbyes and then headed to the hotel.
Day 3: Hahn, Germany to COS Fort Carson Colorado Springs, Colorado
We met the plane at 0600 CEST and the soldiers were transported to the terminal as we changed crews, refueled and restocked. The soldiers boarded at 0715. We stood at our doors said hello and their light, fun and down right giddy moods were contagious. The hardship, fear, terror, anger, longing and camaraderie was hard to ignore as I tried to magine what life is like on the inside of their fish bowl. Mid-flight, I walked around the plane and tossed the soldiers that were awake small bags of Hairbo gummy bears I picked up in Germany. This was received with the look of surprise like a child finding a unexpected gift; it's the little things in life that can put a smile on someone's face, right?
The plane's wheels touched U.S. soil at approximately 0957 MST and a roaring round of applause went through the forward, main, rear and upper deck cabin. 302 U.S. soldiers were returning home. The mood of the plane was electric until moments later when the Chaplin spoke over the P.A. system asking everyone to bow their heads to remember the 19 fallen soldiers of the 1st Brigade (Raider Brigade) Combat Team. We had a few moments before the doors opened and I chatted/continued to joke with the soldiers. One of the three soldiers sitting in front of my jump seat told me, "The only good thing, and this is THE ONLY good thing about deployment is the first time I see my wife. That first kiss is like falling in love all over again." Three or four soldiers around him nodded their heads and grunted their agreement.
The soldiers filed off the plane in the same manner they filed on, single file militant style. As they walked by me getting stuck on the bulkhead I said, "Welcome home," they replied, "Thank you." It was one of those moments in life that grab your heart strings and pull you under water making making you grasp for breath as a tight knot forms in the back of your throat. These individuals have sacrificed, gave up their lives for us; it's hard to imagine what they have experienced. Looking each one in the eye I replied, "No, Thank you."
Happy Fourth of July Everyone and God Bless America Land of the Free!
- - - - - - -
Some letter, isn't it? As I was reading it, Coven's One Tin Soldier was playing on the radio. I'll leave you, then, with those lyrics.
Listen children to a story
That was written long ago
'Bout a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley folk below
On the mountain was a treasure
Buried deep beneath a stone
And the valley people swore they'd
Have it for their very own
Go ahead and hate your neighbor
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of heaven
You can justify it in the end
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgment day
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away
So the people of the valley
Sent a message up the hill
Asking for the buried treasure
Tons of gold for which they'd kill
Came an answer from the kingdom
With our brothers we will share
All the secrets of our mountain
All the riches buried there
Now the valley cried with anger
Mount your horses draw your sword
And they killed the mountain people
So they won their just reward
Now they stood beside the treasure
On the mountain dark and red
Turned the stone and looked beneath it
Peace on earth" was all it said