Wednesday, May 25, 2011

One Other Time

I was thinking today that we've had relatively few close calls as a military family.
Maybe it's because we're Air Force.
Maybe because my husband flies and is not on the ground.
He's been able to call and email on deployments.
We've never gone days without knowing he was safe.
That must be rare these days for military families.
I do remember one other day that rocked our world as a military family.

It started early one evening in 2002 with a simple call from my husband.
He sounded flustered.
"They're bringing me back. My jet's broken in Gila Bend. Can you come get me?
"Yeah, I can come get you. What happened?" I said.
"It was a mess. My wingman bailed. The jet's broken. Can you come get me?"
"Okay. When?" Weird.
"Two hours."
Enough time to put the boys in the bath.

As I was drying the naked bodies of my 12 month old and 3 year old, I got another call.
This one was from Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona.
"All Dragon pilots are accounted for."
"Okay. Thanks." I said. I sat there a bit confused for a minute. I hadn't
been through this drill in a while.
"All Dragon pilots are accounted for." It took a minute for me to remember what exactly that meant. It meant that something had happened and the squadron was calling families to reassure them that their pilot is safe.
I turned on the news.

"Two A-10's have collided from Davis Monthan Air Force Base and one pilot has been rescued. The other pilot has not yet been found."

Lord Jesus, No.

I knew Preston was safe. I talked to him. What about the other pilot? Where was he? I remembered his phone call.
"My wingman bailed."
"My wingman bailed."
What did that mean?
I sat on the couch completely paralyzed as my little naked boys ran around the room.
I always assumed that in tragedy, I would lean into the Lord.
I couldn't even pray.
I was terrified of what this meant for my husband.
Had it been his fault? Oh, I hoped not.
Who was missing? We were friends with everyone in the Dragons squadron. My husband was flying with some of his best friends. The wives were my closest confidants. Who was waiting for a phone call that hadn't come?
What if the pilot didn't live? Would my husband forever more carry this burden on his back that no one could lift?

I had received a phone call that said, "All Dragon pilots are accounted for." How could that be if one pilot was missing? Was Preston flying with another squadron? We had three A-10 squadrons on Davis Monthan and they didn't usually fly together.
I didn't even want to call the squadron back to clarify. I really didn't want to know. Information would come eventually and I didn't have the strength at that moment to face it.
So much for handling tragedy well. I wanted to crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head. How was my husband going to survive this? He was safe. Someone was missing.
I kept watching the news waiting to hear about the other pilot.
Find him. Find him. Find him.
Search and rescue was still looking.

It was time to load the boys to go get my husband. I had no idea his state of mind.
The phone rang just as I reached for my keys. Davis Monthan AFB.
"Michelle, it's Beau." One of our best friends. So good to hear his voice. He wasn't missing. I tried not to cry.
"I just thought that maybe you hadn't heard from Preston and I wanted you to know that it's not him. He's safe."
"I know, Beau. I talked to him. Who is it? What happened?"
"It's the other squadron, Michelle. No Dragons were involved."
I'm confused.
"What happened with Preston then? He told me his wingman bailed. I have to go get him. Isn't he the pilot they found?"
"No. His wingman broke on the flight line and bailed out of the flight. His wingman didn't fly. Preston's jet had a maintenance issue as he was flying and he had to land at Gila Bend. He probably doesn't even know that someone's missing."
Thank you, Jesus. But someone was still missing.
"Do you know who it is, Beau?"
"You know I can't say."
"Thanks for calling. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
I drove to get my husband listening to the news. They were still looking for the pilot.
By the time, I picked him up, he had heard about the crash. He assured me that he would have picked different words to use had he known what had happened.
I was so thankful he wasn't involved.
Who was waiting to hear? Who's daddy was missing?"

Later, we heard the news. The pilot hadn't survived. He had a wife and two small children. Their lives would never be the same.
All I could do was think about his wife over the next few weeks. How did she tell her kids that their daddy had died? I couldn't imagine.

I know that more people have lived through that moment than I wish. Many a spouse has received a knock on the door. Many children have been told that Daddy or Mommy isn't coming home.
Freedom's not free. Not for those families. Not even for my family. We all have made some sort of a sacrifice.
I'm so thankful for these men and women that are fighting for our freedom every day.
I love hearing the jets flying overhead.
Jet noise...the sound of freedom.
I hope we never become numb to the sound of someone else defending our freedom.

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