Tuesday, January 17, 2006

From the book - My Crew's First Combat Sortie

...Everyone knew we were getting close. (To the beginning of combat operations) We're carrying our kevlar helmets and gas masks now, and two days ago they changed the screen that greets us when we log on to these computers. The familiar admonition to inspect our gas masks became a reminder of the provisions the Code of Conduct - the code that guides the actions of American prisoners of war. I'm not sure which is more sobering.

So we knew it was coming, but before our mission briefing last night they told us to sanitize our uniforms - remove all identifying patches, wedding bands, photographs and personal information. When they told us that, we knew the time had come. On the bus that carries us to the jet a crewmate asked if anyone would mind if he said a prayer. The idea was welcomed, and he led us in asking God for a quick victory, for safety, and for His protection of our brothers who would be committed to battle on the ground. And then we stepped to the jet.

And while it was the longest sortie we've had together, it went by faster than any I have flown. From launch until mission complete we were at it without pause. I remember looking up from my console to see our pilot walking down the aisle, passing out bottled water and cokes to anyone who needed them. That's the way we work. The Aircraft Commander is content to play flight attendant (while the copilot has the jet) if it helps us do the job, and everyone else is the same way. When we get busy the delineation of tasks becomes fluid. We back each other up without a second thought. The concept of "his job, my job" does not exist.

As we bent together under the same task we experienced what few people ever will - and for this I will always be grateful to the Air Force - we reached a point where we achieved as a team far more than anyone could expect this assortment of individuals to achieve.

Different management seminars and self-help books will call it different things - synergy, camaraderie, esprit de corps. I don't know how to name it, but I can pinpoint its source. The thing that enables us to accomplish so much together is love. Love of our crew, of the men who would soon be fighting on the ground, love of our families and love of America. I can't say that's what motivates a professional ball team or a sales group. I can only speak for what happened to us last night, and I can tell you for that long - and short - moment we were happy to be working so hard, happy to be there, with all the sacrifices that entails, happy for the chance to give of ourselves for something larger and more important than we are. If that's not love I don't know what is...

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