The news of sexual assaults (mostly against women) – in the military, in civilian life – has been spreading across the digital and print media like the raging fires in California. Most of us have seen the articles. Most of us probably know someone who has been affected (either claiming sexual assault or being accused). Most of us are probably tired of all this negativity, however true and shocking, despite our own personal experiences. I have been deeply affected by my own encounters (tip: read my memoir when it comes out in 1-2 years), but I wanted to step back and remember all the good times I’ve had in my male-dominated career. And, let me tell you, there have been many.

Hey, Cheater, remember the first time I signed for a bird with you and we flew up and down the coast of North Carolina? It was just the two of us, a pair of knucklehead boot Captains, taking a Cobra out for a spin because we could and the flight schedule proclaimed, Go Forth And Fly! It was one of the most crystal clear moments of my aviation career where I thought, as I looked across the sparkling blue ocean, Fuck yeah. This is what it’s all about.

And Koko, thanks for being my copilot when we flew along the east coast as Dash Two with Quirk in his Huey as Lead. I enjoyed every minute of our airshow duties, and I appreciated the teamwork and communication between us – no egos involved – as we navigated our way home with a broken EGI.

Jaws, I’ll never forget our trip through DC, dodging the ADIZ and trying to avoid having a pair of F-15’s escort us out of their airspace. Ducking and diving at two hundred feet above the Potomac River and bunting over the many bridges of our nation’s capitol still registers as some of the most fun I’ve had while flying… and I’m including combat. Also, not sucking a bald eagle through either engine was a bonus.

Sly, I appreciate you taking the time to take me up in a test bird to show me how you performed all the maneuvers. I was eager to get it right, to learn, and it massively helped that we were peers. You handled my questions beautifully and without judgment. I can see why you’ve ended up as an instructor pilot in Cali.

Unabomber, you may not remember, but I loved being your combat copilot in Afghanistan. I remember manning up in the world’s coldest rain and I was sopping wet by the time you strolled up in your Gore-Tex, practically laughing at me. I didn’t care. I wanted to do our mission no matter the weather. You said nothing, but I know I gained your respect in that moment and I was beaming on the inside.

Scrappy, I almost killed you during my night Section Lead pre-check. I don’t know if you knew how close to the ground we flew as I bore-sighted too long on the Master Arm switch in a dive (I’m not sure I knew how close we got…), but all I could think when we were flying home is that I failed. I bombed it. I was never going to get another qual in the Cobra. During the debrief, where I was normally raked over the coals every single time, you stayed cool as a cucumber, telling me you had been in much worse scenarios and to just not do that again. I have never had a more realistic debrief than that one. I’m convinced it’s why I passed my Section Lead check later that week.

To all my enlisted Marines, thank you. I genuinely appreciate your hard work and dedication day in and day out – on deployments, detachments, at home, or overseas – often without compliment or notice. Pilots are lucky bastards because we don’t have to fix our broken aircraft. We don’t stay late to correct maintenance paperwork, join the night shift to make sure there are enough birds on the line for the next day’s flight schedule, or stand outside in the CALA when it’s freezing, roasting, raining, or windy. I always envied the close bonds I saw in each shop – Ordies, Avionics Marines, Plane Captains and Crew Chiefs, Flightline Marines, S-shops and the little shops – and wished our Ready Room was less full of bristling masculinity and more full of that band of brothers mentality I tried to seek out in my career. But I was wrong. Turns out, that bond was there all along. I just had to look harder.

I know I’m not doing my positive memories justice, or even accurately portraying life in a squadron when egos aren’t raging, but I wanted to write all these good things down. I want to show that there are perks to working in such industries as the military, that there is genuine camaraderie, that there is fun and laughter and even joy. The world may be harsh and going to shit right now, but it’s not all bad. Look for the silver linings. Take pride in a job well done. Know that you made a difference to someone. Semper Fidelis.

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