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It’s been a while since the last post… I know, right? With the holidays, a new kid, a new job, moving and everything else going on, I’ve kinda let this site drop out as I continue to try and tackle the more demanding aspects of life. I seem to have a 3-day weekend here to breathe a bit, so I figured a reflection post was in order to not only take a look at the past year, but to look at the past three years since the last page of that “chapter” has been finally written…

I present the Snakeye Top Ten of my time in Savannah, GA and at the job:

Bombs10 – thousand pounds (10,000#s) of aircraft ordnance, on average, per deployment raining down on insurgents and terrorists in the desert. Adding up all four of my rotations overseas, I personally cleared a total of 40,000 pounds of bombs to drop as a JTAC – that’s quite a bit. Most of the variety are on the 500-pound order of magnitude, but 12 of them were 2000-pounders! I may not have been the pilot that “pickled” them from the jet, but I guarantee you I had more SA, knew exactly who we were going after, had to ensure the pilots had the right target through a good talk-on, and ultimately took responsibility for the bombs they were releasing. In my opinion, that almost makes the pilots and planes a pawn in a much bigger game of eradicating the terrorist threat to our nation… and I was fortunate enough to play a direct role in it.

An Army 3-star hotel9 – other roommates (on average) per TDY. When you go places to train in the Air Force, you get to stay in hotel rooms with 1 other roommate (if you’re unlucky). I shockingly and quickly found out that with the Army, you stay in field-condition barracks, hangars or tents with common use bathrooms and showers for 500 other dudes. The best I saw in this assignment was 3 other roommates crammed into a closet-sized space (while I was deployed overseas), the worst was sleeping in a bare-bones warehouse with 100 other dudes on fold-out cots; I guess all together that averages out to about 9 roommates per trip TDY or overseas. The former would be consider 4-star accommodations, while the latter is perhaps more 3-star… you still have to walk to the common-use bathrooms and showers (which made piss-bottle usage a standard countermeasure). At right, you’ll note an example of a 3-star place I actually called home for 2 weeks. Oh, the luxury!

CSU graduation8 – teen (18) classes of Grad School will be complete, totalling 36 credit-hours with diploma on wall, by the time I check into my next assignment in Italy. Grad School has been a decent time-sucker while I was at this assignment. From pulling all-nighters in between missions over in Iraq or Afghanistan (where I completed about half my course load) to bringing my computer with me on vacation to take online final exams (yes, I had to skip out on a shore excursion while on a Carnival cruise and stay in for a day when I took Pam, Laura and the kid to Key West), I can’t believe that I’ve made it this far when I look back at all those classes. Thank God I’m in my last semester. I truly am ready to have some personal time back and start being able to do the given-up hobbies that I used to enjoy doing.

7 – enlisted JTACs that I was responsible for. I know there are only 5 in the picture below, but that’s just a snapshot in time and with the intense training schedule we had, some were elsewhere. All in all though, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys; they taught me a ton and looked out for me just as much (and I’m sure kept me from doing some stupid things along the way)… so in a funny light, who was really responsible for who? On a serious note, I shielded them from a lot and I hope that I allowed them to concentrate on their tactical job instead of the mundane paperwork I handled a lot of the time. And ultimately, they taught me the best lesson of leadership: you don’t need to be an expert in everything to lead people, all you need to do is selflessly take care of them and ensure they’re recognized, and the rest takes care of itself… they will make you look good in return.

The guys (but not all of them)

6 – ty percent (60%) gone from home in Savannah. I’m not exaggerating. I actually kept track on Excel. Assuming my time in Savannah was exactly 3 years (1,095 days), I spent about 657 of the days gone (just shy of 2 years). Never again will I complain of a high ops tempo…

5 – hours of sleep (average) per night during deployments. I’m a light sleeper to begin with, and sleeping during the day sucks. Of course, there’s been times when I stayed up for 24 or 48+ hours because stuff was going on, but for the most part I had the opportunity to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep. Account for the sun being up with daylight, people working, diesel engines and every other daytime noise right outside my sleeping area, and you’ve quickly narrowed the 7-8 hours of opportunity to about 4-5 hours of actual, interrupted sleep. You get used to it after a while though…

4 – rotations overseas to the desert, totaling to 14 months of my 3 years at this assignment. A typical F-16 pilot may see one rotation, maybe two at the most, in a 3-5 year period… I think I’ve more than earned my keep at the assignment with 4. I just experienced a 3-year snapshot. For my guys and all the guys I supported, they’ll be stuck on this tempo for the rest of their career… or until we decide to pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq…

Sacrifice bracelet3 – young Americans killed in action during operations that I participated in… a total of 4 killed in action from the Army unit I supported, and many more wounded in action. When I first joined the unit, there hadn’t been a friendly death in 5+ years of deploying. Unfortunately, that changed with Cookie last year, and we saw three more this last rotation. Though I wasn’t good friends with the guys we lost this rotation, a loss is still a loss and it hurts when it comes from your group. It certainly makes Memorial Day mean a whole lot more when you hold a mental vigil over specific faces and personalities that you once knew. Two of the guys that I am pretty good friends with were wounded this time around, one of them pretty severely: he hung onto life for 2-3 months in a coma, after having a cracked skull with mud caked between his bone and brain, shrapnel in an eye, and almost liquefied lungs from a blast… he’s recovering slowly, fighting to regain memories and trying to learn how to talk again; his life, I’m sure, will never be the same, but at least he’s alive… he was the one who I went skydiving with and helped me fly the plane home with a broken leg

Siblings2 – new additions to our family (in the form of kids)… and holy crap, is two a handful! That’s one small step for man, but one giant leap for Snakeye-kind. I kinda thought the workload would be additive, but in the time I’ve given Pam to get out of the house without the kids, I think “exponential” is a better way to describe the added workload… and Pam’s taken on 80% of it! I dunno how she does it. If anything, this assignment will always be a memorable one because we started (and more or less completed) our family in one shot. Whether or not a third is on the way? Well, not any time soon (if at all). I think Pam wants her body back for a while…

1 – year extended, to fill out 3 total years of being a ground-pounder with the Army. You don’t understand how frustrating it was, at the time, being constantly hooked into an assignment that was only supposed to be a temporary thing. What with UAVs taking over the world of flying, I was seriously afraid I’d never make it back to the cockpit and be stuck as a career ALO. Now that I’ve made my way back and am about to start flying again, I feel blessed that I was able to experience everything that assignment had to offer, from the Army experience to just being responsible for a group of great Air Force enlisted guys that truly risk their lives for their country’s bidding on a daily basis…

Other notables that didn’t necessarily make the Top Ten: one Christmas and Thanksgiving spent conducting missions in Iraq, three missed wedding anniversaries in a row, and two birthdays celebrated drinking camel milk overseas. It’s been sacrificing and eventful; it’s taught me a lot about myself and that, as a pilot, life seems so much more accommodating. I can’t wait to fly, but I know that I will never be able to directly affect US interests and the people that directly implement them like I did in this assignment.

My hat’s off to the unit and men that I worked with and supported. I hope to some day be the pilot that they can count on when they need the help of an F-16 pawn to accomplish some task of their important mission…

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