Can you describe a moment you almost “lost it” in the military?

Mudassir Ali
Feb 25, 2020 01:37 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 25, 2020 01:38 PM

“Can you describe a moment you almost ‘lost it’ in the military?”

I retired after exactly 20 years and 21 days in the U.S. Army. During that time, only one stands out: a training flight at COB Speicher sometime around November 2006.

It was a result of a hellacious training cycle which started shortly after we arrived at the sprawling, former Iraqi Air Force training base not too far from Tikrit. From 20 August to 30 Nov 2009, I had logged 190.4 flight hours doing crewchief and medic progressions – academic and performance training on basic and mission skills. Six-hour flights – three during the day, break dinner, three at night for the night vision goggle (NVG) portion… in heat that could best be described as taking a fan, sticking it in an oven, and standing a foot from it wearing thermal underwear, flannel shirts, and a good winter coat.

Miserable, yet the flights had to happen – the unit we relieved had left a handful of crew members behind so we could properly pull MEDEVAC coverage.

I did not note the actual day this happened in my Excel flight log – I neglected to include any noteworthy remarks. However I do remember the two crew chiefs I was training: H and G. Bright kids – H was a diminutive yet determined Mexican, and G was a huge Dominican with a goofy fondness for outrageous humor. However, H had been in progression for a while due to an aberration in lining up the concurrent training of backseaters and pilots – namely one in particular: Charlie.

Charlie was the type of person who could manage to get under ones’ skin just by opening his mouth. An overabundance of schooling with little emphasis on common sense, this guy was… well, for those who have served, he was the epitome of “THAT guy.” A poor communicator, a horrible leader, and a pilot who served best as a source of inspiration for anyone being able to graduate flight school, Charlie was… special.

The moment in question where I almost “lost it” remains laser-etched into my mind. I was hot and seeking shade near the right side flare dispenser. The auxiliary power unit (APU) was on, the engines were off, and the pilots were in the middle of their flight controls and stabilator checks, where they verify free movement of both systems. The pilots were talking almost continuously on the internal communications system (ICS); Charlie was rattling off steps in the checklist and a “stream of consciousness” type monologue of extraneous verbiage while the instructor pilot (IP) constantly asked for clarification and Charlie’s justification for the steps he was performing.

Wow… 12 years ago… almost to the day. (COB Speicher, Iraq. Source: author.)

H had her role as well, but patiently waited for a break in the conversation from the cockpit as she stood on the left side of the aircraft by the tail. At the first opportunity, she chimed in to verify the movement of the tail rotor blades and the stabilator.

Charlie: “I wasn’t moving anything.”

H (confused): “Um, yeah… you were.”

Charlie: “You’re wrong – I wasn’t moving anything.”

Me: “She was waiting for a break. They moved.”

Charlie: “My feet were flat on the floor and I wasn’t doing anything.”

Mind you, he had verbalized each step in a rapid-fire manner with seemingly no break for anything else, including a breath of air. The only way the IP could get a word in was probably to make a hand gesture or merely talk over Charlie.

IP: “Wait… why are you disputing what your crewmember is telling you?”

Charlie: “As her Platoon Leader, I have to make sure that she’s doing her job correctly.”

I looked at G. We both shared the same incredulous look and unspoken comment: “What the fuck?”

The IP proceeds to firmly remind Charlie that it is not his job to do so – that would be my domain. They talk a bit more about roles in and out of the aircraft and the IP poses the question: “Why are you questioning H?”

Charlie: “I was calling her bluff.”

Crew coordination is a complex theory where one learns how to effectively work as a crewmember in the very fluid and dangerous world of aviation. A two-man crew on an Apache or Kiowa can have serious problems just as easily as the 5-man crew on a Chinook if their ability to communicate is not built on standardized procedures, clear understanding of what is meant or about to happen, or – most importantly – implicit trust in the other crew members. For me, there is no “bluff” to be called.

I had HAD it. The heat, the seemingly never-ending flights with Charlie, his overcompensation…

I stood up and started walking forward towards the open pilots’ door where Charlie sat. Between the door and I was the right main landing gear tire… and the wooden chock blocks, joined together with a thick rope.

The IP, sitting the co-pilots’ seat on the left side of the cockpit must have seen me moving quietly past the open cargo door and probably saw the expression on my face because he immediately started repeating “Hold on, hold on, hold on,” to no one in particular.

I cannot say why the chock blocks were part of my crucial observation as I made my way to the door. No, really, I can’t say it – I still mull over terms like “probable cause,” “motive,” and “intent to do grievous bodily harm with large wooden blocks” and to this day, I view that moment as the closest I ever got to going to Ft. Leavenworth.

However, the chocks stayed put and I positioned myself uncomfortably close to Charlie as he looked at the IP who had proceeded to verbally tear him a new sphincter. I don’t remember what exactly was said – I was probably as pissed as I can remember while performing duties as an instructor. I do remember that Charlie must had seen me in the reflection of the IP’s helmet visor; during the dressing-down, he refused to turn to look at me.

IP: “…And don’t you EVER dispute what SGT Bennett tells you! You have a fraction of his time and experience… He is conducting his training and he is doing an excellent job! Is there anything you wanted to add, SGT Bennett?”

Never before had I heard an IP so effectively curb a pilot; in doing so, the IP had effectively taken the angry wind out of my sails. “Only one thing: every time you do something like that, Charlie, you set my training back hours. I have to de-brief this as an example of how not to do things so that they have the confidence in other pilots and crew members.” There was a lot more I could have said, but to belabor the subject would be to stand even longer in the Iraqi sun and probably piss me off even more.

Now that I think of it, that flight may have been terminated at that point by the IP. Charlie had been through seven other IP’s during those three months and more than likely a discussion was approaching about his future as an aviator. Oh, he flew more after that event but never did fully get the hang of working as a functional member of a crew and left our unit a few months later.

Of course, there are other events… but those will have to wait for another time or a separate blog post, because getting punched in the face (accidentally on purpose, by mistake) is always a fun story…

(Names have been changed for obvious reasons…)

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