This is part two of a three part series I wrote for the the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Newsletter. In August of 2014, I attended a presentation by an Air Force Reserve Helicopter pilot. The story changed my outlook on things significantly. I wanted to tell the cadets that life is a journey but not with the same old stories. The significance of this story for the cadets won’t be the same as it was for me but maybe someday they will remember what I wrote and it will make sense.
After flight training Spanky was assigned to a squadron at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas. While the terrain was dusty and rocky, the experience would serve him well later. He described the many years at Nellis as a lot of training and preparing for various missions while occasionally getting called out to help find a lost or injured hiker.
Fast forward to the year 2005. An assignment to southern Afghanistan offered a change of pace from Nellis. However, the action was in the northern part of the country. Most days were still occupied with being on standby or flying training and support missions. To remain sharp, Spanky knew that while he was signed off on the various objectives of his job and therefore “qualified”, he wasn’t proficient. He would identify tasks that he hadn’t practiced in some time and critique his performance and look for ways to become more efficient and precise. Spankys crew included a co-pilot, two para-rescumen (PJ’s) and two gunners. One of the gunners served two tours as a door gunner in Vietnam. He was calm. The other door gunner was young and was described as a nervous gunner. Besides keeping his skills sharp, he needed his crew to be a team despite the varous levels of experience. Applying recurrent training techniques helped him realize that if a life is on the line, the injured don’t want to wait for help. Days turned to weeks and then months.
In the summer of 2005, Spanky and his boss were notified a Chinook had gone down and 15 to 18 people were on board. That is all they were told. They actually learned more from watching the news. They flew five hours north to Jalalabad. The terrain reminded Spanky of the mountains in the southern Nevada desert only steeper. Things were about to get interesting.
At Jalalabad, Spanky and his boss were flying a two main formation. Their task was to search for possible survivors of Operation Red Wings and the Chinook crash. This was the week Spanky’s boss was flying lead. His boss would fly low and slow 100 feet above the trees in the hopes that survivors would show themselves for a pickup. Spanky was flying higher to provide cover. He was glad it was his bosses turn to fly lead.