Above my desk is a piece of art, commissioned when we lived in England. It depicts an airplane -- landing gear up, ramp and door closed, captured in flight. In the background is another, different aircraft, in a slight right bank, as if it is about to break formation.
The first aircraft, the one in the foreground, is a Lockheed MC-130E, Combat Talon, painted in its Vietnam era black and dark green camouflage. The other is a Douglas A-1E Skyraider, also in the color scheme of Vietnam. Both are on this picture to remind me of the history of the 1st Special Operations Squadron and my time in that unit.
Back when I was in the 1st SOS we were one of only five remaining squadrons in the Air Force with a direct link to the heritage of the massive force that had existed only a few years prior. There were, at one point, hundreds of aircraft and thousands of men who lived to do those things the regular Air Force couldn’t. They flew aircraft left over from World War II, from bases most people didn’t know about. Whether they were gunships, or transports, helicopters or fighters, they shared common traits: commitment, audacity, and courage. Many came home, but many did not. At one time the Tomb of the Unknowns, at Arlington National Cemetery, honored the remains of a pilot from the 8th SOS, until DNA testing was able to reunite him with his family.
Since that time long ago, Air Force Special Operations has grown and expanded far beyond what any of us would have imagined possible back in 1980. It is a natural byproduct of war. When there is a conflict there are those who must place themselves in harms way and special operations draws those who seek to be the first called.
I guess we’ve really been at war since I came into this fraternity. I think of my journey and the changes the world has brought, and I miss the rush of air past the window as we flew down a canyon with our wing tips just feet from the walls on either side and the ground rushed past us in a dark and formless blur.