Category Archives: Decisions

A Civilian Decision Point Story, Part 2

By CRAIG RICHOLDS, special to The Daily Damn

Part 1

The following is the second of a two-part story. The events described actually happened.

***

I don’t lead men into battle, I feed numbers into equations. Risk for me is navigating rush hour traffic.

Lucky for me I’m the junior person in the room. I’ve got a lead engineer, but his eyes are locked on the speaker phone connecting us to the airbase in crisis. His mind is on an endless loop; locked down for who knows how long. There is also a safety officer, but he is busy flipping through rules and regulation books looking for an answer we all know isn’t there. Finally there are a half dozen enlisted men in the room, all experienced aircraft maintainers. But they, like the unit on the phone are conditioned to respond to leadership and not deviate from procedure; they’re looking at us for the answer.

Gripping the chair to keep my hand from shaking and I open my mouth again, this time doing my best to sound confident.

“Sarge, you got a 3T and a cable sling?”

I’m referring to a large forklift and a thick braided steel cable. They should have both on hand and I’m praying they do.

“Yes sir, and a flatbed truck!”

This reply came a few seconds later.

“The plane should have dragged you a clear path through the minefield. I want you to take the cable, hook up to the jet, and drag it out. Once you’re clear get the pilot and get the hell out of there. We can make the paperwork right later.”

“Yes, Sir, we can do that! We’ll get back to you!”

With that the lines clicks off and suddenly we’re alone a room here in the states, not half way across the world at an airbase soon to be under fire.

“We don’t have any procedures for that!” the safety officer has finally come up from his book.

“Can we even authorize that?”

My lead engineer is slowly blinking his eyes, his brain finally sputtering to life.

There’s no word from the aircraft maintainers. They’re just smiling and glad that someone took charge of the situation and gave the word to act.

I have no words for my superiors and begin to pack up my things for the evening. I have traffic to navigate and my mind is on a squad of airmen who are running through a minefield to rescue a pilot because I told them it was ok.

And that’s my giving a damn.

###

Happily married with a newborn daughter, Craig has two degrees in aerospace engineering, done research with national space administrations across the globe, designed lunar orbiters and landers, worked with NASA on the space shuttle, and now supports the American war fighter by maintaining Air Force fighter jets.

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A Civilian Decision Point Story, Part 1

By CRAIG RICHOLDS, special to The Daily Damn

The following is the first of a two-part story. The events described actually happened.

“Sir, the aircraft is in a minefield.”

“Shit.”

“And Sir? We suspect there is a mortar team nearby setting up to hit the aircraft.”

“Fuck.”

Whenever a United States aircraft has an accident anywhere in the world, my office gets a phone call. These sorts of things don’t happen often. But when they do, the universe sees fit that they happen on a Friday afternoon 30 minutes before I get to go home. It would almost be comical if these things didn’t also end up costing the American military millions of dollars. Today, there are lives in the balance as well.

So far, the pilot is alive and is remarkably calm considering his fighter jet’s brakes just failed and he ended up running of the end of the runway. Technically, he’s supposed to eject when the gear collapses and his airplane is about to turn into a lawn dart, but this one was a cool customer and he chose to ride it out. Good call, it probably saved his life considering he would have parachuted down into an active minefield. One would think a cluster of mines at the end of a runway would be a high priority, but that’s not really important at this juncture. What is important is that rebel fighters have probably had their eye on this minefield for a while now hoping to launch a mortar strike on the poor crew sent to clean it up. Now they have a jet worth more than I’ll ever make in my lifetime lying helpless in their sites.

“Sergeant, don’t you have air support to kill that mortar crew?”

“Negative, Sir, we’re scrambling but there’s no way we can get something on station without compromising base security.”

The region this jet has gone down in isn’t exactly pro-American. I know for a fact we have helicopter gunships patrolling the bases entrances for anyone who might want to attack us where our guys eat, sleep, and do everything else when they’re not out on patrol. I know because they often do try, and they always fail. UH-60 gunships aren’t as menacing as their Apache attack helicopter brethren, but they get the job done.

I don’t have the authority to move those helicopters and even if I could I wouldn’t. Pulling those gunships away from their posts could compromise the entire base. What I do have the authority to do is override safety procedures and that’s exactly what I’m being asked to do. We like to believe that military acts exactly like they do in a Michael Bay movie, rapidly assessing a situation and taking whatever action needs to be done. The truth I’m sorry to admit is that we have mountains of paperwork and procedures. These procedures are meant to minimize risk and save lives and hardware, but the take time, and right now the more time we take the more the risk spirals upwards. I have the authority to toss those procedures out the window and tell a unit exactly what needs to be done. But I’m not a soldier, I’m an engineer…

***

Come back tomorrow for the harrowing conclusion of this story, exclusively on The Daily Damn.

Part 2 (available after Midnight Pacific / 3am Eastern on December 7th)

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