Hovering Over Send Chapter 3

  • Published
  • By Col. Daryl J. Hartman
  • 911th Airlift Wing Operations Group
I love Germany. I don't speak German. I don't drink beer. I don't like their politics. But, I love the food, the Autobahn, the cars, and, best of all, it looks a lot like western Pennsylvania. Although with a name like Hartman, I think it might be something genetic. So, when I found myself activated and deployed to Ramstein at the beginning of OIF, I wasn't really too upset. We were told to expect to be deployed for a year so I settled in for the long haul.

Delta squadron had been around a long time, at least since the Balkan conflict, and it had originally been at Rhein Mein. But when they got the boot from Frankfurt the squadron moved south to the slower pace of K-Town. It didn't really matter though, it was still Delta squadron. Hanging out at the CQ, looking for rides into town or deciding which restaurant within walking distance in Sembach needed your business, yellow fields of rape and slowly spinning windmills, it's not a bad place to be.

Eventually we became a fixture at Ramstein. We were included in all of the wing events, attended all of the meetings, and relearned why we left active duty. My favorite meeting was the weekly OG staff meeting. It's probably because operators all pretty much think alike. We talked about the standard overdue OPR/EPR issues, crew misbehavior (It made me really appreciate our more "mature" crew force), flying schedules, and some issues I didn't really understand or care to understand. Around April we started to hear other squadrons talk about floats. I learned a long time ago to not ask questions about things you don't want to be included in so we, basically, ignored the whole thing. We had been flying 9 out 10 aircraft every day for months and we didn't need any distractions. But eventually, expectedly, we couldn't avoid it any longer.

Since his father was a retired Guardsman, the OG, uncharacteristically, appreciated the Guard and Reserves. He understood our desire to hack the mission and get the job done. He let us manage the schedule which consequently made him look good. Smart guy! Well, as we sat around the big table in the OG conference room, he finally asked the question I knew he would eventually ask, "How's everyone doing on their floats?". We had done a little due diligence so we had discovered that every year there was a parade on base that coincided with some sort of German holiday. Every squadron built a float that had to comply with the base "Float Operating Instruction" which included basic safety requirements like brakes, fire extinguisher, ventilation, steering radius, and visibility. We, of course, had no intention of participating. Our ops tempo was staggering yet the active duty still took "Goal Days" so that they could have 3-4 day weekends while we ran the 7 day marathon every week. But I digress.

As we went around the room, each squadron dutifully described their progress and challenges in constructing their float. Eventually the OG turned to us and asked, "What about you, Delta?". Well, without pause, Tim Costa, 757 AS Squadron Commander, explained how our sheet metal guys had figured out how to fabricate the large metal cylinder required, that we had plenty of black paint, and we could incorporate all of the safety features. But then I interrupted. Comedy is all about timing after all, and I said, just like we rehearsed, "We just can't figure out how to write "Eat Me" in German".

Crickets chirped, you could hear a nasal drip for what seemed an eternity and finally with all eyes turned on him the OG said, "OK, good luck, who's next?". They never asked again and we never offered.

I think what separates us from our active duty brethren are our priorities. I heard lots of lip service about the mission and I hear it today as well, but the whole system appears to revolve around the next job and the next promotion or you'll be out on your ear. Traditionally the reserve system is about the mission, your family, your community, your employer and how you can support them all. I pray we aren't heading down a road that makes us less effective/efficient and more careerist.