Do you know how big your family is?
Seems like a silly question, right? I mean who doesn’t know exactly who is, and isn’t, in their family?
Well I suppose, but as I started to make my way in the world I noticed that I sort of picked up new family members as I went along. Take my years in the Air Force for example: When I first got to boot camp I was a scared and lonely kid a long way from home feeling very much like I was the member of a family of one. But when I finally got assigned to a unit, and met some of the guys there, and then sort of connected with them, well all of a sudden like my family started to seem a little bigger.
I was stationed in Washington DC and my unit had about a 150 guys in it. But of that number I traveled, and worked closely with, about 20 of them. We boarded planes together, we ate together, we played together – heck we even fought together. After a while these guys felt for all the world like they were my brothers.
Even the ones who were nothing like me…
There was this one guy named Ricky Floyd – Ricky was a big corn fed boy from Iowa. And by big I mean like tree trunk big. He was huge. And as a huge guy he was always in the way of something of someone. If we were sitting in webbed seats in the back of a transport plane he’d be nearly impossible to get around. And if you were behind him in a chow hall line there was little chance you were going to get much.
But even as a bit of an oaf, from a state I’d never been to, and speaking the likes of which I ‘d never heard before, there were times when there was no one I’d rather see coming than big Ricky Floyd.
My unit flew to Germany for about a week long deployment one summer and, during our stay, found ourselves in one of those disco type night clubs I’d only ever seen on TV. The girls looked amazing, and the young men all looked kind of edgy and angry – which, apparently they were.
When a group of young German men figured out there was a smaller group of young American men in their midst they began feeling rather territorial and encircled us. I guess in retrospect I kind of understand – that was the 80’s and they were, after all, a country occupied by the US. And on that night I think they decided to show some US GI’s how displeased they were with that circumstance.
Me and my guys (there were about five of us or so) were a long way from the door when the group of at least twice as many Germans formed a ring around us and started to close in. They place was crowded enough, and dark enough, so that most people wouldn’t be able to see what was beginning to happen.
But the one person who did see it, and figure out from across the room what was coming, was big Ricky Floyd. I was never so happy to see anyone as I was when I spotted Ricky plowing through the crowd like a battleship’s bow through water.
And when Ricky got up to the ring of guys who’d encircled us he picked two of the biggest ones, wrapped his huge arms around them, pulled them in close and hugged them like long lost brothers of his own. He had a big smile on his face – which I think intimidated them almost as much as his size – and when he set them back down he rubbed their hair playfully and pointed them back toward where they’d come from.
And just like that our brother had saved us.
I was thinking about all this yesterday as I sat in a military briefing room among another band of brothers. But this time it wasn’t mine (I’m almost 50 now and haven’t seen most of mine in over 25 years) this time they belonged to Loretta’s youngest boy.
My wife Loretta’s son flies fighter jets for the US Navy, and is stationed here in California. Two days ago we learned that we’d be able to see him fly from the actual runway itself. And so yesterday we piled the dog in the car and headed south to see the boy fly.
At about 1:30 yesterday afternoon Loretta and I watched, from about 40 feet away, as her son did touch and go landings in a Navy fighter jet right in front of us.
The planes were incredible – they are massive machines that fly faster than the speed of sound.
The sound was deafening – it’s the sort of sound that, even with ear plugs in, is so overwhelming it sort of confuses you for a second.
And the energy was nearly unbelievable – the sheer force those twin jet engines put out as the pilot throttles them so as to take off again leaves me without the right words to convey it. It’s like you feel the aircraft pushing you away every bit as hard as it’s pushing away the earth beneath it.
But I’ve got to tell you this: As amazing as yesterday was – it was incredible not only for what I hadn’t experienced before – standing next to fighter jets doing touch-and-go’s – but also for what I had experienced before.
You see, prior to going to the flight line Loretta and her daughter-in-law and me got to sit in the pilot’s briefing room prior to the flights.
And as I sat there I got to see a band of young men – brothers all – who were there not only for themselves, but for each other.
Now my politics will not match everyone’s who read this – and many of my readers and I would disagree on just when and where these boys should be sent in the course of their duty. But I will tell you this – when they go there I want them to know I deeply appreciate that they are they for me, and for us, but I also know they’ll remember they’re there for each other too.
And I like that.