Provided by COL Retired Doug Moore – DUSTOFF Hall of Fame and Army Aviation Hall of Fame Inductee
You’ll see them walking through a military medical facility or through a busy airport terminal. All have tell-tale signs of what they’ve been; a brisk, young-old look of efficiency, regardless of age. They stand tall, look confident, and smile a lot.
Their heads are on an eternal swivel and nothing passes their close scrutiny, whether it’s a pretty woman or a passing aircraft. If you look closely when they’ve seen an aircraft flying by, you’ll see a longing in their eyes because they’re remembering the old days and wishing they could be sitting in the front seat again. And when you see them standing alone, there’s often a faraway look; the expression of men who’ve seen the face of war far too many times.
When a group of them get together, they become loud and boisterous and often speak a coded language that others do not understand. They talk about VORs, ADF, engine EGT, and the difficulty of getting into a tiny landing zone when the weather was hanging in the trees and the clouds were filled with mountains.
They remember the old Huey helicopters, the “B” models that were their work horses for such a long time. Then the “D” and “H” models with more power and lift needed to get them out of tight landing zones without having to pray all of the time.
They’ve experienced the loneliness of the sky and felt the rush of danger far more times than they can remember. They have great respect for something called turbulence and understand what it can do to a flying machine. They know what it is like to fight for self-control and what it takes to discipline one’s senses when the sky around you is filled with enemy tracers.
They understand why someone once quipped, “Flying is hour after hour of monotony and boredom, punctuated by a few seconds of stark terror.” While they may chuckle when someone makes that comment now, it does not amuse them because it reminds them of buddies who did not make it.
These men are rugged individuals and masters of their own destiny, but they easily bond with others who have shared common experiences. In the past, they were often accused of being overpaid and oversexed, but they have an air of confidence about them knowing their country once entrusted them with flying equipment costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless numbers of lives.
At times, a few might even appear to be reverent because they’ve watched the Asian sky turn purple at dusk and seen snow crawling slowly down the mountainsides in Germany. They’ve seen the mighty Mekong meandering its way through a vast rice paddy called “The Delta” in Vietnam and have seen up close the incredible beauty of mystical mountains with names like Rainier and Fuji.
They’ve watched stars and satellites streaking across the night sky when most everyone else was asleep. They’ve felt the palpable force of the heavens and marveled at sun-streaked evenings, pitch black nights, towering cumulus clouds, and horizontal rain.
They’ve learned to accept the challenges of everyday life; realized a complete removal from earthly attachments; and reveled in a sense of being totally suspended in space.
Only pilots get to experience mind-boggling moments like that and that’s why they stand tall and smile a lot, even when no one else is watching.