Last one I’ll share. There are more, but I’ll leave it at these:
So, I guess sleeping through the night is a thing of the past now.
There are too many emotions, too many memories, too much pain to sleep. Didn’t see that last part coming. I mean, I’ve lost friends in combat to death’s heartless and seemingly arbitrary embrace. Those deaths left me numb and clinging to the denial stage of grief.
But Kage. Not with Kage.
I LONG for numbness. Instead, it’s a serrated knife to the gut. Physical pain that coils me up and chokes my throat and it’s only Sara’s arms around my shoulders that bring me will to even reopen my eyes.
I don’t know how his wife, Hannah, is remaining so elegantly composed. God’s grace I guess, what else could it be.
I have to admit something. And forgive me for doing it, but there is a phrase that is appearing in newsfeeds and broadcasts that angers me deeply.
“He died on a routine training flight...”
Routine? ROUTINE? ROUTINE?!!!
How dare you. I know there are strategic implications in all this. I’m no neophyte. I was just in Europe a couple months ago for NATO exercises. Got it, things with Russia are tricky. Calling it routine really alleviates some of the baseless conspiracy theories. But how about this, let’s call it a “training flight.” Done. Kaput. Fini.
KAGE was the consummate aviator. He had his private pilots license within months of his drivers license. He earned his spot on USAFA’s flying team, went to Chile to serve God for 2 years, then came back and earned a spot on the flying team again. He was top stick of his basic flight training class. Top stick in fighter training and he flew as a recreational pilot on the side in weather conditions that would have me shaking in my boots. He packed more takeoffs and landings and aerobatic maneuvers into his short career than I have in more than a decade.
Nothing KAGE ever did was routine. He was articulate, precise, deliberate, and razor sharp in everything he did and I have no doubt he did not see his last flight as routine. He was passionately and tenaciously honing his skills to be the absolute best weapon in America’s Arsenal.
While he and I were both separate from our wives, before he died, he called me and we had a nice long brother chat. We made fun of politicians, laughed about mutual friends, talked about my kids and my dog, shared ideas about how to have a long distance video date with his wife. Then he said something I’ll never forget.
“You know Chaz, every time I strap into that cockpit I think, ‘this could be it. This could be my last flight.’ I am pushing the envelope like I never have before and I’m flying with some of the greatest pilots I’ve ever seen. You know what, if I do go down in some big ball of flame, I don’t know, it’s kinda copacetic. I’ve done about everything on my bucket list, even found Hannah.”
I laughed and brushed it off, said he was gonna be awesome as always.
But I hung up feeling worried about my kid bro. I knew he was giving all he had and that he cared immeasurably about not letting anyone down.
I read this comment at the bottom of a news article. It speaks to me.
“My brother is a commercial airline pilot (Jet Blue). Those flights are essentially 99% routine, slightly less predictable than that but nevertheless, it is safer than any other form of travel, statistically. Fighter pilots are not comparable to that really at all. Although their training is something that most people cannot imagine without going through it, they are test pilots on every flight. They do limit the unpredictable, but at those speeds, dynamics, environments, unknown variables that are trained for even without any warning when they occur, it's unbelievably dangerous...It's honestly a new reaction, and experience not-had-yet, every minute. It's danger level is basically infinity. My father was an aerospace engineer at GD for 35 years. F-16, F-111, Atlas. Those pilots have 4 years college before they fly a fighter (generally speaking). They're the best of the best. Razor sharp. Crashes aren't accidents. My dad would say "There's no such thing as problems; only unresolved details." I don't know what unresolved details were involved here, but I do know that pilot couldn't fly that craft another foot before ejecting. And likely the last thing he thought was "What can I do to keep everyone safe before myself?" Heroes defined.”
I watch the sunset then, hours later, I watch the sunrise. Then I come out of my room and find my boys laying on the ground staring at a picture of their beloved uncle KAGE, their Eagle driving fighter pilot. Their little shoulders tremble as they weep.
Nope. There was absolutely, positively, no way my brother’s death was “routine.”