Bleed Red, White, and Blue
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” we heard come through the TV in my parents’ living room. My whole family erupted in cheers.
“The f***ing commies may have been the first to the moon, but we are the first to walk!” my dad shouted to the room while holding up a beer. We all cheered in agreement. The whole nation cheered so loud I was convinced that Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins had to hear us all the way up in space. That night, no one was more proud of their country than the Americans.
That was the day, hell, the moment that I knew I was going to serve America in any way I could. Even though I was only nine at the time and was awake way later than I should have been, I knew nothing had been and never would be as obvious as the decision to join military. I started in the Air Force Academy in 1978 and after 11 years of training I became the proud pilot of an F-16 Fighting Falcon. After about a year of flying, I was called to help fight in the Gulf War.
“Fighter Wing, report to the CAG!” we heard over the loudspeaker in the Officers’ Quarters. All 18 of us in the Fighter Wing stood up and walked together to the Commander Air Group, wondering what this could possibly be about, but knowing it couldn’t be good.
“US invaded the nation of Kuwait,” the commander said once we had gotten into the room. “Invasion takes place here, so we will eliminate hard targets in the area and soften up for the invasion. Since we aren’t sure what radar covering they are going to have, we will swoop in low over the water. That means we are going to be coming in hot over the water, so, new guys, that means hands off your c***!” The room chuckled before returning our focus to our notes. “Go low over the waves, pull when you hit the beach and climb to 300 ft, gun the afterburners when you hit radar cover. Hit these SAMS, continue through the desert until you are out of radar range then turn around and take the same vector to clean out any stragglers,” the commander said, pointing all over the map to emphasize his point.
“Are we expecting any other kind of resistance?” I asked the commander.
“Light anti-air, probably no aircraft but heads up on the display. Take care, these birds are more expensive than you are, bring ‘em home. Any questions?” he asked. No one answered. “Alright, good hunting,” he said, ending in the way all meetings about Air Force strikes do. We all got up to get into our flight suits and get ready for takeoff.
“Ready?” the commander asked me when I got to the top of the USS Eisenhower in my flight suit.
“Yes, sir,” I said, grinning as he helped me into the F-16. This is where I belong, on this plane, fighting to serve my country alongside those who have become my family. The commander shut the door, and I focused on making sure my baby was in perfect condition.
Once everything was checked, the cable was attached to the back of my plane and I was pulled backward. I took a deep breath to steady my mind. I needed to focus if I wanted to do my job right.
“Badger to tower,” I said, using my call sign. “Requesting final permission for takeoff for Operation Desert Sabre.”
“Tower to Badger, takeoff confirmed. Knock ‘em dead, sir.” I nodded at the words of encouragement and looked to my left to be guided by the guy in neon. Once I got into position, I saw him kneel down and hold onto the handle on the deck, indicating that the cable was detached, and I was clear to go. I took a deep breath and gunned the F-16 forward. Don’t get me wrong, I love being in the air, but nothing in life compares the speed fighters have to get to in order to reach 150 miles per hour in the span of 1,000 feet.
“Woo!” I shouted as I felt the wheels lift from the carrier and I tilted up toward the sky, clearing the airspace as fast as possible for my wingman.
“Lion to Badger,” my wingman said, his transmission coming through into my ear. “Let’s get those SAMS,” he said. I grinned to myself as I checked my compass to make sure I was headed in the right direction. My eyes focused on the incoming land, ready to take out the Surface-to-Air Missile Sites. Lion and I were the first ones to come in for the strike and are therefore in the most danger. But it doesn’t bother us; we love the adrenaline.
We came in, staying close to the waves like the commander told us. Luckily, the Kuwaitis weren’t as ready for us as we had anticipated, and Lion and I took out some of the SAMS.
“YEAH!” I heard Lion shout over the transmission.
“America!” I shouted, my signature comment whenever we succeeded in taking something out. However, our mission wasn’t complete yet. Lion and I flew over the desert, getting out of radar range and came back. As we traveled back, I noticed that the rest of the SAMS were taken out, but we didn’t get as many of the light anti-air as we wanted to.
Of course, when I signed up for the military I knew that death was a possibility. I guess I had assumed that if I even had time to know it was coming, I would panic. However, Lion and I were both quite calm as the ammo ripped through the canopy of our fighters, inhibiting out ability to continue flying and to eject. The two of us nose-dived to the ground.
“I proudly served my country as a pilot of the United States Air Force,” I heard Lion say over the transmission. As the land rushed up to my face my only thought was of nine-year-old me watching the moon landing. If I could, I wouldn’t change a damned thing.
It’s been a year since my son died in Kuwait. We never got his remains. All the Air Force knew was that his jet went down and caught on fire. There was so much debris they couldn’t tell his remains from the other three members of his fleet. He may not have even died in the crash. The only thing anyone knows is that he went on a mission and never came back. Even though it causes me pain, I know he died. While I will never be the same without my son in the world, I still feel his spirit here, watching over me. And I take comfort in the fact that he died for his country. That is all he has wanted since he was nine. I think of him every time the flag raises and smile with pride anytime I hear “land of the free and home of the brave,” knowing that those words couldn’t apply to anyone more than they could to my son.