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.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Aviator Brief XV: Swim Quals and Sea Monsters

      Trigger dreaded swim quals. Raised in inland Texas, comfortable on horseback, roping calves, and comfortable training pilots from his rear seat in the airplane, he could barely manage to keep his head above water even in a pair of swim trunks, much less in a flight suit, g-suit, seat harness and flight boots. 

      Pilots and RIOs were required to pass a swim qualification--recreating what they’d have to do if they ejected over water and their life raft failed to inflate properly. Aviators had to jump into the practice pool fully clothed, take off their flight boots, and tread water for a period of time without drowning. Since the military invested a lot of time and money on aviators by the time they got to swim quals, there were rescue divers in scuba gear in the pool watching to save any who might be in trouble.
     Taking off his boots required the longest time with Trigger’s face underwater, so he thought he’d outwit the hardest part by loosening the laces until they barely stayed on his feet on the pool deck.
When ordered, the aviators jumped in. Unfortunately, leather became sodden and sticky when wet. Trigger tried to remove his boots without submerging, only gasping on the surface, his lower lip barely clear, while tugging frantically. He must have struggled too much. The ever-helpful rescue diver on the bottom of the pool came up and helpfully tugged on the boot as well, pulling Trigger’s lower lip and head under. He gasped in a lungful of chlorinated water. He clawed his way to the surface. Snatch always laughs and says Trigger's eyes were the size of a ship's steam gauges.
     He did not pass that round. Rumor had it he took three tries before barely succeeding.
     Trigger was even less fond of the parachute drop. A motorboat would tow the aviator up in the air over the ocean--think Acapulco parasailing--and then disconnect the parachute and aviator from the towrope. The aviator would then float to the sea, and into the sea, where he would practice disentangling or cutting himself from his parachute without drowning.
     As much as Trigger disliked the intimate contact with water, he feared what lurked beneath the surface more. He knew, just before his toes touched the water, a great white’s open maw filled with razor sharp teeth waited. He called the parachute drop, ‘Trolling for Sharks’.

      Life is a lot like trolling for sharks. I took the leap: I’m here, I married, I had kids. But taking the leap with a parachute isn’t enough; just when I think I am ready for what comes next, it occurs to me to worry about what might lurk below the surface, circling with teeth. The fear is worse than what lies ahead of me. When the dread hits, the dread of the future, my guts turn to water and I forget to climb into the life raft once I settle into the ocean.

    I have to focus on today. To live for this day, this task. Tomorrow will come, but worry will not help me swim to the raft unencumbered by parachute or shroudlines.

No comments:

Post a Comment