Me and Abilicious

Me and Abilicious

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A City with a View

             As I saw Columbus Air Force Base disappear in my rear-view mirror all I could think of was which type of hand towel holder I would put in my new bathroom. Not that I consider Columbus a zit on the history book of my life. I was fortunate enough to meet amazing people and form incredible relationships in just a year and a half that will have a lasting and positive impact on the rest of my life. I cannot express how thankful I am for those friendships and I look forward to fostering them as time goes on. It's just that Columbus is a zit. Flat and swampy. I love hiking, and I knew of trails in Columbus. But the visuals of tree, swamp, tree, tree, swamp and tree can discourage even the heartiest of outdoors-men. We often drove 45 minutes to Starkville to have fun. Stark-ville.

a : barren, desolate
(1) : having few or no ornaments : bare <a stark white room> 
(2) : harshblunt <the stark realities of death>)

Whoever named the town was brutally honest. 

           Little Rock is a breath of fresh air. There's more than one main road and they have multiple Targets and Starbucks - neither of which do I adore by any means (Target is too red and I only drink coffee on the occasional weekend), but they are signs of even greater things. My apartment sits next to the Arkansas River and on a road that's part of the River Trail that makes a 15 mile loop. The trail stays next to the river throughout the loop, but on the north side there are some single track dirt trails that run along the bluffs that overlook the river and downtown Little Rock. I found the trails on accident when I went running earlier in the week. They make running enjoyable:

                 Of course being in Little Rock means I've started doing something again. Classes for the C-130H program began last Tuesday. The first test is this Tuesday. They waste no time in turning on the firehose of information. Which means we got these,
along with CDs of extra information and study guides. But we also got some new fun stuff like a heavy duty backpack, flashlight and safety belt (for being safe).

                 Since we all came from SUPT (Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training) this schoolhouse can be considered a graduate program. The benefit is that you are no longer treated as a newb student pilot (sadly it feels like I brain dumped everything from SUPT so that might still be a regretfully accurate title). There's no hand-holding through the program so you don't get babied as much. Unfortunately that means there is no hand-holding in the program so you don't get babied as much. Through SUPT we were told what we needed to know, how to study to know it and given constant tests and quizzes and embarrassingly public shotgun questions to ensure we were learning. It entails zero fun and little free time. Here they only tell us what we are responsible for knowing and the learning is left completely up to us. It's freeing but a little intimidating at the same time.

                   The first day the instructor jumped right into painfully detailed information about the engine and propellers. Things like Temperature Datum Control Valves, an assortment of fly-weights, pistons, springs, back-up systems, back-up system back-ups and Turbine Inlet Temperature (which, given the Air Force's proclivity for acronyms, offers an endless supply of jokes and cautious laughter (it is a PC Air Force after all (but all of our instructors are crusty old retired dudes so they don't care))). 

                Overall, it seems a little more laid back than SUPT but with an extra dose of responsibility. There's no formal release here so, once academics are over, there won't be any mandatory 12 hour days. Not to say there won't be long days. To save money (and probably lives) most of our training is accomplished in simulators. We become fully qualified C-130 pilots before we ever touch the airplane. There are only 4-5 simulator machines, though, and with multiple classes vying for those sims all the time that means they run 24 hours a day. Most sims require a 3 hour pre-brief followed by a 3 hour sim and topped with a 1 hour debrief. That means your show time for a sim could be 9 pm and you wouldn't be headed home until 4 in the morning. It's dastardly but necessary.

                 If you're reading this then pray for dedication to things that matter. Obviously I am here to learn how to fly the 130 and I want to do that well - better than I did at UPT. But I'm only here 6 months and it would be too easy to shove aside things that matter always, regardless of where you are, in the name of, "I've only got six months to learn this stuff so I can sacrifice anything else for that long." Mostly that's relationships, whether with people or with the Lord. "Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much." This is mostly related within the context of talents and material possessions but I think it can also relate to how we use our time. If we are dedicated to fostering friendships when we are busy then how much more will we be able to foster those same relationships and others when we have more time? Not sure how to end this poetically so I'll just stop.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What's to talk about?

And then a year passed. Not much happened. And right now I'm stuck in the less enjoyable Air Force. It's not the Real Air Force, or so I'm told. I often hear rumors of The Real Air Force and how where ever I am at the moment is not it ("Ya this place is frustrating but don't worry. It isn't the REAL Air Force"). Some friends of mine have gone to places they heard was the Real Thing only to find that, alas, it was actually somewhere else. Maybe it's mobile. I hope I get there one day because it sounds rather like heaven. Everyone loves their job all the time and things are much, much simpler. Things like out-processing. Which is all I'm doing right now.

I'm supposed to start C-130 training in Little Rock on January 22nd. I'm supposed to PCS to Cheyenne in August. I have the orders to go to one of those places. Apparently, if this were the Real Air Force, I'd have the orders in hand which made more since chronologically. Alas, this is not the Real Air Force. Out-processing from a base involves taking a checklist around to a variety of offices to get stuff signed and retrieve paper work. Some of these offices require orders. Some of these offices won't let you out-process until you are 3-5 (or fewer) days away from your final out-processing date (the day you leave the base). The only way you know you're final out-processing date is by looking at your orders. Here in-lies the rub.

I was, at first, going into these offices and when they asked for my out-processing date I'd say that I didn't know because I didn't have my orders but that I was sure it was soon because my class starts in a couple of weeks. This got me no where. But I'm a quick learner - these instances. Now, when asked the same question, I reply confidently with a satisfactory date (after some quick mental math). It might be lying but it could also be the truth. And that's been 2013 so far. Also I moved a sleeper sofa out of my house onto a moving truck all by myself. As for 2012...

I feel somewhat guilty for not conveying what this past year has been like so, even though it will be impossible to report everything, I'll give it a go. Firstly, I distinctly remember 2012 as being a year in which I threw-up considerably less than 2011:

This past year has been the busiest and most trying year of my life. All the way through college I became accustomed to succeeding well at anything I applied myself to do. Pilot training, however, has been a great lesson in humility for me. A good lesson but a hard lesson. Overall it felt like I was running a hurdle race and knocking every hurdle down on the way to the finish. It's not how anyone dreams of racing. I finished, but it wasn't pretty. In fact at times it was Ugly vomited into sick bags (literally; and lots of it).

Like I said, though, it was a good lesson. I had to separate myself from my pride because really I had no achievements of my own to stand on. I've been able to hide past failures but these were very public and embarrassing. I couldn't hide from them. Those around me were encouraging but sometimes that made it worse. I dreamed of being lauded for my excellent skills, not of being patted on the back and told, "it happens to everyone. Shake it off and don't worry about it." It was quite frustrating. While coming up short I can't ever remember thinking, "well God's just trying to teach me something," but looking back it's always obvious He was.

It's always good to be brought low. It makes you realize that you always have been low, you just thought you were a big deal. It's not as if God thinks, "ooh, well this guy's getting way too good at life. Time to chop his legs out from under him before he gets any better." It's more of God drawing the curtain back from our eyes, revealing how inadequate and self-insufficient we are and always have been. And in addition to that God often keeps us from our selfish desires in order to give us what we really want. It would be a long, tedious explanation if I tried to go into details into the selection process the Air Force has for pilots (it actually wouldn't be that bad; I just don't want to do it), but if pilot training went how I pictured it (leaping gazelle-like over every hurdle and finishing in first place, all the while holding a gorgeous girl in one arm and an unspilt glass of scotch in the other) I would have ended up somewhere I didn't want to go, flying an airplane I really did not want to fly. But since I completed the race the way God desired I'm heading someplace I really want to go and will be flying an aircraft I am very excited about. That's the big picture of this past year. The details are fuzzy, though. 

Pilots are professionals. Professionals at finding something to complain about, and I could go on and on if I wanted (unless, of course, I was in the Real Air Force). But we really are incredibly fortunate. Just in the past 1 1/2 years I've been allowed to do things only a select few get to do in their lifetime - and get paid to do it. The risk, the pain and the vomit were definitely worth it (the vomiting, though, at the time, was not worth it). Back in Febuaryish of 2012 my wingman (as in the an actual wingman, not as in the guy who helps you pick up lady-friends at the bar) and I finished our required maneuvers quickly during a daily ride in T6 formation training. There were towering pillars of clouds in our practice area and we had 15 minutes left before we needed to head back to base. Our IPs took control and started playing chase in and out and around the pillars. Yankin-and-bankin and splitting the uprights. I was having so much fun I couldn't stop laughing. No way in the world I was getting paid to do that. Every retired Air Force or Navy pilot I talk to always, always tells me they would give up everything they have just to go back to the beginning where I am. The beginning where you know so little and only have everything to learn. I didn't understand that when I was throwing up and coming up short. But it's the days you can't stop laughing that you remember. It's those days that make them want to come back. I'll probably be there one day. For now, though, I'm grateful I don't keep a sick sack in my pocket all the time - just in case.