HOW TO BE MARRIED TO A MARINE FIGHTER PILOT--A Marine Corps pilot's wife: F-4s, F/A-18s and aviators from my perspective.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Know Him Too Well

He’s never invited to our table, on base, in housing, with the kids.
He is not welcome to knock on my door, nor my neighbors’ doors
Nor my friends’, nor wanted on a visit to anyone I know.

Yet he sneaks in anyway
Or blows in on a scrap of paper
Or on the evening news
Or in a chance phone call
An email
And he still knocks with the fist of the uniformed
The warm hand of a rabbi, priest, pastor.

Dear God. No.

If he announces his visit ahead of time,
We fight like muddy Marines in trenches,
Like top guns on ACMs over the Mekong,
Like sailors refusing to give up the ship,
We struggle to our last breath
To prevent him overrunning our position.

He dresses in flames and blood, sometimes in mystery
Often in black as tears or red as sobs or gray as grief.

I try not to think of him.
I never remember when he ends his visit.
Even when he has come and gone, he lingers.
And his specter follows me all the days of my life.

When my guy goes out the door,
He sits with me
With the ghosts he came for, before.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Aviator Brief XXI: Dark Waters #2

What could go wrong, would go wrong, and ejections were no exception. Jack Hartman on the USS Saratoga was on the catapult to launch. The bridle connecting his jet to the cat broke on one side and the catapult flung him and the plane from zero to two hundred miles per hour in six seconds--twisted sideways with one wing forward. He knew the plane would never fly, so he ejected.

His plane crashed in front of the carrier.

He floated down to the sea surface directly in front of the bow of the ship going twenty-five knots. The aircraft carrier ran over him. The last thing he remembered while underwater was the sound of the screws, with blades twice the size of a Volkswagen. No one could figure out how he was spat out by the wash without the parachute or parachute cords tangling in the blades.

It wasn’t always enough to be good--sometimes an aviator had to be lucky.

What could go wrong, would go wrong. Yep. My life resembled that.

Give Andy a cross-country or a TDY or send him overseas and that was when the car wouldn’t start and our dog would bite me trying to get through me to the tow truck driver. Thank goodness for neighbors to drive me to the hospital to have my artery repaired--and clean up the half inch of blood in the entryway while my three little girls watched with wide eyes.

Three weeks into his year overseas, I’d discover I was pregnant with our second child--and then six months into the pregnancy, I was put on bed rest for two and a half months. Have you ever tried being on bed rest with a two year old? What could I do? I called my mom. Thank you, Mom. My mom didn’t wrap my two year old in duct tape and I didn’t wrap my mother in duct tape either--though we were both tempted. What do women do without a mom close by and willing to put their life on hold for months on end?

He left one weekend and my cat fell off the headboard of our bed on to my face and I drove myself to the ER holding a pad over my eye to hold my upper eyelid together.

Ask any spouse with a partner in the military and I bet they have stories of their significant other gone and things gone wrong. What did we do when that happened? We dealt with what we had to deal with. We asked for help from the other people in our lives. We hoped we’d survive even when we were deep underwater and heard the screws turning.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Military Writer’s Society of America has an award each month called The William E. Mayer Prize for Literary and Artistic Excellence. I thought I’d give it a shot back in December. The word prompt was “Deceit”. Sometimes I struggle with my writing. This wrote itself from my heart.
I wanted to marry my love. I had no intention of marrying the Marine Corps--so love mixes with anger and anguish.
I’m still glad I married my guy--now 36 years! I’m so proud of him and so proud to be a Marine’s wife. That doesn’t mean I don’t remember being mad about it all.


You lied. 

Even the uniform all starched,
And pressed with red stripe
For the blood of others,
While you promised forever,
In sickness and in health. 

True blue. 
You led me down the path
Of believing while I
Scattered rosebuds where I may. 

No more.
Only Decembers and Januaries
Gripped by cold.
Gripped in cold empty arms.
My white knuckles tighten. 

You take up arms,
You swore,
To hold me in your arms.
Gunmetal arms, mortars, bullets,
Rotors and turbine jet engines,
Take you from me.

I swear. 
I have issues with
Not being issued,
Being left behind
With our children
Who cry
Their worry. 
I worry. 

We miss you.
I miss you. 
Come home.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Aviation Brief XXI: Dark Waters #1

An A-4 pilot flying out of Iwakuni, Japan had a night hop over the Sea of Japan. Next thing he knew he was being picked up out the freezing water by SAR--Search and Rescue. He remembered nothing of a crash or ejection, but his plane had disappeared. Pilots hate mysteries. What they don’t know can, and often has, killed them or others. With any accident, there is an Accident Investigation to figure out the cause of the mishap.

 In an unusual step, they had the pilot hypnotized. Under hypnosis, he remembered going to join up on lights below him, but instead of his wingman’s lights, they must have been reflections on the water. His plane flew into the sea before he realized he needed to eject. He came to, in absolute Stygian darkness, in a cockpit filling with icy water. He tried to manually open the canopy, but the pressure outside wouldn’t allow it. The ejection handle wouldn’t have helped; the water would have held the canopy on and he would have been rocketed into the plexiglass. So he waited in the black cold until the cockpit filled, then he opened the canopy and swam up to the surface, one hundred feet above the plane. He kept his cool to live to fly another day.

Some days I feel like I’ve crashed into a night ocean and I’d do anything to find my way to the surface--any surface. The glimmers of light I followed had fooled my heart to believe everything would be okay if I just continued on my present course and joined up with the others going my way. Or who I thought were going my way.

To carry the metaphor further--it’s dark down here. Dark and cold. And there is so much pressure from outside forces to stay where I am but if I do, I know I’ll die. Panic wants me to claw the canopy bloody, or pull an ejection handle that would rocket me into unforgiving plexiglass.

Sometimes we have to wait out the worst of circumstances until we can do something to change where we are in life. Whether it is with a spouse, a friend, a boss, or life’s circumstances, we can’t control everything but we can control how we react to the dark, cold waters. Then, once the cockpit fills up and we can slide the canopy off, we have to swim to the surface and inflate our personal survival raft.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Aviator Brief XX: Quick Change #3

When the Change of Command ceremony was held without a marching band or printed programs, presided over by the frown of the Group Commander, and with the outgoing CO conspicuously absent, did Duke Lynne, the brand new CO, feel any need to knock wood, cross his fingers, or light a candle in the base chapel?

Duke had been on the schedule to fly well before the emergency change in squadron leadership. What better way to celebrate, or mourn the ouster of a friend, than to launch into the sky? The flight of two prepared to take off on their briefed, low-level navigation mission. Unfortunately, Duke’s plane did not cooperate in the celebration. It broke in the chocks seriously enough that Duke and the plane were grounded.

The FNG pilot in the other plane asked if he could continue, flying the briefed mission solo. Duke saw no reason both should suffer from his bad luck. He cautioned the new lieutenant, on the radio, to stay above 5000 feet--although the original brief had been down to 1300 feet above ground level.

Perhaps the radio was broken, too.

The FNG lieutenant returned and landed--miraculously--at MCAS El Toro in an A-4 that had its canopy and tail sawn almost in half by 90 to 100 feet of high tension wire. No ceremony was held for Duke’s ouster.

His tenure as a CO? Six hours.

Sometimes shit happens through no fault of our own. In the Corps, the final responsibility rests with the Commanding Officer. I hope Duke went on to live a long and happy life regardless of his tenure as a CO of a squadron.

I know I have not been a perfect wife or an infallible mother. I wish I could have been better at either task. But no one gave me a training manual! I never had the equivalent of carrier quals. Flying the ball in a marriage with teenage daughters is landing without an LSO, the ball, or a hook on a pitching deck in a howling gale at night.

So I am working on accepting that I did the best I could--just as my dysfunctional parents did the best they could. Each day I try to make the world a bit better for someone else. I can’t fix what I did. I can live each day forward while hoping I am not trailing high tension lines.