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New Here? Read the blog from the beginning (it's worth it!). Start in the July 2005 archive.

The dates in the posts are when things actually happened. Since I had no Internet in Basic, I'm entering my blog now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue

Think back to how you felt on September 11, 2001 as you watched the twin towers collapse, killing thousands of Americans. What emotions did you feel? Anger, fear, sadness, vulnerability, disbelief? If you are like the majority of Americans, you felt that innocent civilians had been murdered by extremists and that they had to be punished, and prevented from commiting future attacks.

My friend Mike sent me a song, written on September 12, 2001, that captures how many of us felt that day:

Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (click here for other formats).

As the song suggests, we have indeed gone out and lit up their world like the 4th of July.

Since that happened, though, for many the memory of 9/11 seems to have grown hazy. In some ways, that's a good thing. It's important that we, as a country, get back to our lives. After all, the terrorists very goal is to disrupt our lives to the point where we are willing to give them whatever they want just to be left alone. In other ways, though, that is very, very bad. There are many people around the world who live in poverty and are led to believe that the best way out is to attack and kill innocents. They have not gone back to their ball games, malls and "reality" TV shows. For them, the only reality they know is minimal living conditions and radical preachings to the effect that the United States and Israel are the root of all of their problems (this may seem a familiar historical pattern to some).

We also forget that some of us are not surfing, shopping and going to the movies. Many Americans are overseas, away from their families, and in harm's way to protect the liberty and freedom that we all enjoy.

Don't forget.

  • Don't forget the thousands who have lost their lives to terrorist attacks.

  • Don't forget the hundreds of thousands of Americans deployed abroad to protect those at home.

  • Don't forget - speaking of the American withdrawl from Somalia, Osama Bin Laden said "Clinton appeared in front of the whole world promising revenge, but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal…The extent of your impotence and weakness became very clear." Don't forget - To extremists like bin Laden, to withdraw from conflict is to show a weakness that is to be exploited.

Some people may see "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" as a reactionist position to the events of 9/11. While couched in patriotism, which can be used to motivate both noble and vile acts, the message is nevertheless dead-on: As a free society, we cannot tolerate people or groups who kill innocent Americans to obtain their political goals. We cannot tolerate regimes that support such groups. We cannot leave countries like Afghanistan and Iraq who would become breeding grounds for extremists until the people there are able to provide for their own security.

Just before leaving for Basic Training, Mike sent me this song to wrap up this blog post...

Have you forgotten?


Friday, July 15, 2005

Fit to Fly?

Well, I'm in.

The Army Reserve now officially knows me as SPC (Specialist) Johannsen. I am assigned to training to become a Psychological Operations specialist. While that's a great way to serve my country, it's not what I feel I was born for... my true calling is to be a military pilot.

To that end, I am working with an outstanding Warrant Officer Recruiter. His job is not to get me into the Army Reserve, but rather to move me out of the enlisted ranks and into the Warrant Officer program as an Aviator. There are many steps along the way, but one of the big ones is getting an official answer to the question: "Am I fit to fly for the military?" That answer comes in the form of a Class 1a Initial Flight Physical.

The closest installation that is able to perform the Class 1a is Fort Irwin, in the desert north of Los Angeles. The trip up there is a long one, but the recruiter picked me up at 4am for the long haul up there.

As we drove through the gates, still bleary eyed from 3 hours sleep and an early rise, I spied an expansive landscape where up to 8000 soldiers come for battle drills, swelling the ranks of Fort Irwin for 2-3 weeks at a time. As we drove toward the medical complex, I saw a reminder of exactly why I was there: 5 Blackhawk helicopters stationed for Medivac duty right next to the hospital! My thoughts wandered ahead more than a year, to a future in which I sit at the controls of a Blackhawk, easing the mighty bird into flight.

You might imagine that a military medical facility would be slow, inefficient and bureaucratic. Maybe some are, but Fort Irwin was a model of friendly service and efficiency. The many tests that are required were carefully scheduled ahead of my visit, and a knowledgable receptionist guided me through the entire process. Lab work, hearing, vision, EKG and a visit with the flight surgeon were planned to minimize time spent.

In spite of the careful planning, there was a hickup in the scheduling. I didn't find out until I was sitting with the flight surgeon, the person whose time is most in demand - and who has authority over whether or not I will be permitted to fly for the Army. Images of old war movies and tales from friends and relatives conjured up fears in my mind that I would have to repeat the arduous trip some other day because one thing did not get done the way it should, when it should. My fears were quickly vanquished - the Flight Surgeon himself called over to the other station where more tests needed to be done, and allowed me to walk past receptionists and nurses right back into his office, at my convenience, to complete the physical.

I did have a few concerns going in. I'm right at the upper height limit for helicopter pilots. My vision measures within required standards, but still isn't perfect. There was a slight hesitation, but then the Flight Surgeon smiled and said "everything looks good!".

I am Fit to Fly!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Blackhawk Calling

There's just something about a Blackhawk helicopter that I always found fascinating.

After finishing college (in the post-Top Gun era) I seriously wanted to be a fighter pilot. Not just because of the movie, of course, but because I love aviation and I want to do my part to help protect our country. I thought seriously about it, but instead opted to travel the world.

Years later, terrorists brought down a symbol of our freedom and killed thousands of our citizens in a single, well-coordinated attack. Again, my thoughts turned to becoming a military pilot. Unfortunately, the services told me that I'm "too old" to fly for them. Instead, I joined CAP.

While I was helping to watch over the homeland, we first first invaded Afghanistan, then Iraq. Whether you support or oppose our rationalle for going to war in Iraq, the fact remains that we are there now and have an obligation to leave behind a stable democracy. It is also still true that there are well-funded, well-organized groups in the world that would like to strike us again - if possible with weapons of mass destruction. We did not find WMD's in Iraq, but they are still quite a threat worldwide.

Many families carried the burden of our foreign engagement. As a result, fewer are willing to enlist or reenlist. This created an opportunity for me, both to (hopefully) fulfill my desire to be a military pilot, and to serve the country. Even though the age for direct admission to flight school is 32 (it used to be 29), age waivers can and are granted to otherwise well-qualified candidates.

The trick is, age waivers can only be granted for people who are already reservists. Luckily, I found an Army Reserve job I would enjoy doing even if not ultimately accepted to flight school - Psyops. Psychological Operations. This job involves understanding foreign cultures, and attempting to influence them to be pro-American, or at least less anti-American. It's like marketing, except the "product" is "not attacking the United States".

This blog cronicles my quest to become an Army Aviator in the Army Reserve. It is worth reading if you want to know what Basic Training is like (stay tuned for that...). After I describe Basic, in all its glory, I'll document my experience at AIT - Advanced Individual Training. Then, with luck, my application to flight school will be accepted, and I will be able to describe that experience as well. There may be things that I am not able to share, but even so, I hope that reading about my experiences will inform, and perhaps inspire.



PS - If you're interested in reading about how to become a civilian pilot, I have started a blog you might want to read

... try it on your PC! ...

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