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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Expect the Unexpected Part 2: Flight Suits

The green Marine flight suit with its multiple pockets, zippers and velcro served many practical purposes. Velcro allowed for squadron patches and nametags to be changed out as needed when changing squadrons or when the guys wanted to "look good at the field" of an O' Club away from home. Some favorite nametags: "Dick Gazinia" "Hugh Jardon" and "Roger Ball".

The Marine Corps, frugal to the core, issued one or two new flight suits a year. Lenny "Toad" Bucko, a Marine fighter pilot who flew the MIGs out of Tonopah for Red Flag, attached to the Air Force for the tour. He remains awestruck with the number of gadgets and flightsuits he found in his locker when he checked in. "Five!" he said. "And they told me to just let them know if I needed more," confirming rumors the Air Force got the good stuff.

Flight suits had front zippers that zipped both ways, allowing aviators to "take a leak" while strapped in the seat. A few intrepid souls used them to continue on their quest to "look good at the field" by ball-walking at the O'Club--unzipping from the bottom, pulling out the family jewels, rezipping down, and then talking to women as if nothing was unusual.

My guy's multiple pockets carried a variety of items, all accessible with the g-suit on. The outside sleeve had narrow pockets for US Government black pens, and a zipper to a compartment underneath for a pad of paper. The baggy side pockets on the legs held the most important items for survival.

He kept flint and steel; firestarter--a rectangle, the size of Double Bubble pink chewing gum, of a waxy substance that pulled apart into cotton ball shreds; a signaling mirror--an ingenious 3 by 4 inch mirror with a hole in the center to allow sighting on an oncoming ship, plane or helo; Charms--yes, the candy; bottled water, a survival knife, a shroud cutter switchblade capable of cutting through fifteen shroudlines at a time, a survival radio, a pen gun flare, a green flashlight with an optional red plastic lens to keep the light from affecting night vision, and a foil space blanket (thank you, race to the moon!).

And he always had a John Wayne key, also known as a P-38 can opener, in his flight suit for ready access to the C-rats in the raft. Everything had a lanyard attached. Even if he dropped some lifesaving item, he still had it attached to his suit.

He never expected to eject. He never had to. But he was prepared if it should happen.

There are times when my purse resembles the pockets of his flight suit. I always carry a small flashlight--in the old days I had a mini Maglite, now I've converted to an LED with my iPhone (the flashlight app) for backup. I carry gum and breath mints, a Kind bar, aspirin and migraine meds, my Kindle with 1500 books on it, extra pens (though the black US Government pens have disappeared into the junk drawers of time), reading glasses, sunglasses, a glasses repair kit, money (sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes just plastic), a glass nail file, nail polish, Jelly Bellies for my grandkids, hand lotion, my moleskin notebook, Tide-to-Go, and sometimes a bottle of water.

There are always unexpected events in our lives with our children, our spouses, our friends: a car accident, an illness, an estrangement. My purse and his flight suit won't protect us. We have to keep our mind and hearts just as prepared.

I am expecting the unexpected and I'll be ready.

Also published as a column in the Military Writers Society of America's monthly magazine, Dispatches. MWSA Column