Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

War College

An air show pilot’s experience at the National Security Seminar

During the week, Stephanie made sure I wasn't left to my own devices for too long. This was a big deal, because I never knew if I'd find my way back from the ladies' room. The hallways of Carlisle Barracks are a beautiful and confusing symmetry of corners, angles and squares. I started to sight off the by-then familiar paintings of Civil War battles, plaques of famous generals and framed quotes from Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz like, "The enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan." Now, doesn't that sound like aviation?

Our big outing wasn't mandatory, but was certainly de rigueur: Gettysburg. During my tour of this extraordinary place, I found myself wondering why I had been to Normandy and not been here. The site is stunning. Battle markers are placed at the spots the battles were fought; each state has their own version of their memorial to their fallen soldiers. The park service has done an amazing job of maintaining the entire area of the battle much as it was in 1863, and considering the great number of casualties, it's no wonder there are rumors of ghosts in the movie set-perfect town of Gettysburg.

So, was it a week of propaganda? I didn't think so. The military is like a parallel universe to the civilian world. When we think of the military, there's often a sense of "them" and "us," which is understandable for my generation, who saw firsthand the ugly hand of the law during the Vietnam War.

Since then, I've flown many times at military bases around the world. Being a dove and not a hawk, I was conflicted at first about my role there and wondered if I was going straight to hell for going over to the dark side. After a lot of thought and experience with the military, I've come to the conclusion that while I may not agree with everything they do, when the manure hits the fan, I want them to defend me. Therefore, I have to support them even when I disagree, and place some degree of trust in the politicians who give them their marching orders.

As an air show pilot, I owe a lot to the military. My career in air shows has taken me around the world demoing military airplanes to sell to foreign governments, and I've flown many air shows with the U.S. Airforce Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Without them I'd still be just a dusty barnstormer. This year, the Sequestration has hit the air show industry hard. Along with the cancelation of the jet teams, a lot of air shows have been canceled, so it's been a sad and difficult year.

To some extent, each of our lives is affected by the military. I think the National Security Seminar at the Army War College is a genius idea and exceeded any expectations I might have had. We were able to be together on a first-name basis in open discussion with some of the brightest minds, the best strategists and scholars, to get a better understanding of important issues. Maybe it was propaganda, but the civilians I spoke to all came away with a stronger faith in our military leaders. And, because we all know that peace is patriotic, there just might be hope for us yet.


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