I know it is completely cliche to write a post about the last year on New Year’s Day, but I am nothing if not socially trendy. So here we go.
As I look back on the year, my first thought is simply that I don’t know where the year has gone. I started the year deployed to Kuwait where I was able to fly to Iraq, Iran, Oman, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Qatar. As much as being away from family while you are deployed sucks, being able to just fly and not worry about all of the other stuff at work is awesome.
On the way home from the deployment we got to spend some time in Greece, Northern Ireland, The Azores, Canada, and Minnesota before making it back to Reno. It was so fun to decompress on the way home and make some good memories. I also had one of the scarier events in my career when one of the panes of our windshield shattered halfway across the Atlantic. In hindsight it was not as big of a deal as it seemed at the time, but it was still not very comfortable.
A few days after getting home I was lucky enough to go with my family to Hawaii for the first time. It was nice to just relax on an airliner for a change after the deployment. It was also some much needed family time after four months away.
A few days after that trip I was back on a plane heading East to Ohio for my flight physical as I continued the process to go to Air Force Pilot Training. Even though I am pretty healthy it was quite the nerve wracking trip as a bunch of doctors and nurses would determine my Air Force future. Fortunately, everything went off without a hitch and my package was submitted a few weeks later.
Before I knew it, I was back to work and trying to get caught up after five months or so away from the office. It didn’t take long for me to miss the flying from the deployment, but it was still good to be home and settled again.
Spring training for the MAFFS season ended up being a weather mess in Colorado Springs with some unseasonably late snow that delayed a lot of the training. We ended up getting almost all of it done, but as luck would have it, we didn’t get called out at all this year to fight fires. As much as we love doing our jobs, it was a needed break for everyone after the crazy fires we had last year. Here’s hoping our Aussie brothers and sisters get some relief from their fires soon.
I had a fun little trip with a great group of guys down to Mississippi to drop off a plane for some upgrades. There was nothing special about the trip, but sometimes it is fun to just have a simple trip with great people that equals a great time. It would also prove to be my last trip before leaving Reno.
In late July I gave a checkride, not realizing that it would be my last flight on the C-130 as a navigator, and possibly my last flight ever on a C-130H. Just a week or two later I got word that I had gotten a fallout slot at UPT and within a week was headed to Del Rio, Texas, and Laughlin AFB. It was a whirlwind of events that included packing everything we owned, and driving halfway across the country.
It bears mentioning at this point how lucky I am to have the family I do. My wife has come with me all over the world pursuing my dreams. She has done it all with minimal complaint and always with the utmost support. My kids are also amazing troopers as they have had to change schools, make new friends, find new dance studios, and they have done it all with a deep love for me that I can never fully repay.
Pilot training started off as rapidly as advertised, but due to some unique circumstances I ended up with almost three weeks off about a month in. Things started to pick back up through my simulator checkride before I once again had a long break in training. During that time my class and I have stayed busy studying and practicing in the simulators, but all of us are anxious to get out and actually fly the T-6.
Barring any crazy unforeseen circumstances, which can happen when it comes to flying, we should all be flying next week, and may be wishing for a little more of a break. I am super excited to get up in the air again, and continue on this long journey of becoming a better aviator.
It has been more than six months since I was last able to fly, and it pains me a little every time I think about that. I often think about what my passions are, and what the most important things in life are to me, which is pretty much standard for everyone at this time of the year.
I count myself incredibly blessed that I actually get to do what I love most for a living. I get to spend my time in the air doing something that is completely unnatural for a human being to do. I can’t think of anything more liberating and calming than flying is for me. It is where I feel most at home, and it is where I feel most like myself, whatever that may be.
As I look forward into the new year many of my ambitions will be dictated by the Air Force and the rigorous training schedule of UPT, assuming there are no more delays. Sometimes I get disappointed when I think about that because I would love to go to Airventure, or the Reno Air Races, or any number of other awesome aviation events around the country, but they will all have to wait for future years.
So now I am trying to focus on the other awesome things that I will get to do. I get to spend the next three months or so flying the T-6 Texan II. I don’t particularly enjoy pulling G’s, but it will still be so much fun spending pretty much every day at the controls of an extremely powerful and nimble aircraft. It is an opportunity that not everyone gets to have, and I count myself blessed that I get to experience it.
Then I will move onto the T-1 for about 5-6 months after that. While it may not seem exciting to spend so much time learning to fly what is really just a business jet, it is more time I get to spend in the air, honing my craft and learning the skills I need to safely operate in the air for years to come. It is also a good reminder to me of all the different skills that there are to learn in aviation. You should never pass up an opportunity to broaden your skill set because you never know when those skills may come in handy.
A year from now I should be back in Little Rock, Arkansas for my C-130 specific training. I can’t wait to get back to my beloved Herk, but it remains to be seen which version of the old girl I will be training on.
The National Guard is set to announce this month which two units will be converting from the C-130H to the C-130J. That conversion will then take place over the next few years. It is hard to tell what will happen when it comes to the politics of such a decision. There are about 10 different units that could make the change, and Reno is one that makes a lot of sense from a practical perspective.
Ultimately, I have no say in the decision and will simply play the hand I am dealt. If I did have a say, I would hope we stay with the H. Having flown on both, I really enjoy the crew dynamic of the H better. With all of the new modifications they are making to our old planes, they get much closer to the performance of the J, and once they do all of the avionics upgrades, they will be closer in that arena as well. At the end of the day it is probably mostly a nostalgia thing for me. It is the plane I grew up on, and I hold on to tradition as long as I possibly can. They are both incredibly capable planes and I will be happy to fly either one.
It’s funny as I think about my love for the Herk now compared to how I felt when I first joined the Air Force. I really thought I wanted to be on the F-15E and go fast and pull G’s, but a bomber would be an adequate place to land if I couldn’t get on a fighter. I clearly remember thinking that as long as I didn’t end up on the C-130 I would be happy with whatever I got.
Now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
It has been a fun year of flying, and even fun with some of the time I haven’t been flying, but this year will be even more fun as I finally fulfill my dream of becoming an Air Force pilot. I am having to delay some of the other things I would like to pursue in aviation, but that is part of the deal. You can’t do everything in aviation all of the time, because it just isn’t possible. You have to enjoy where you are at right now, and then keep working to experience as many of those other things as possible.
So wherever you are in your life as an aviator, because it is a life and not just a job or a hobby, keep enjoying the moments you have, and always look for new ways to spread that joy. It is a great aviation family we are all a part of, and I look forward to getting to know more of you, and enjoy watching your adventures in the coming year.