A Veteran Fighter Pilot on Memorial Day
- My first thoughts are of my lost squadron mates, particularly my roommate Jim Cumiskey. He died when the wings came off his airplane during a bombing pullout over South Vietnam. It’s remarkable how many of us were willing to take the risks of flying an airplane that was literally coming apart while we using it. The F-100 had a series of wing fatigue failures that were eventually fixed but at least five men died because of that.
- Later it was engine explosions in the A7 that killed a number of pilots and still we continued to fly and take our chances because the mission required it. Most recently the F-22 oxygen system has killed at least one pilot and several men are now refusing to fly the $150million plane
- Men have been fighting wars since the beginning of time and most recently we have been dealing with prolonged wars in Asia. It took me about six weeks in Vietnam to realize how futile our efforts there were. We were so hampered with certain rules of engagement that there was no way we could be truly effective, I remember one incident when I was flying a spotter mission and got shot at and hit. It took almost an hour to get clearance to call in air and artillery to shoot back and by that time the Viet Cong had already left the area.
- I lost twenty percent of my squadron in Vietnam. Doing dangerous things on a daily basis brings you together and bonds you to your squadron mates in a special way. When you come home it’s like you were yanked out of that support system and put into another that is now unfamiliar. There is so much adrenaline pumping through your veins that it is hard to give that up when the fighting is over. That’s why so many veterans have such a hard time adapting when they come home. I was fortunate enough to come home to an ongoing assignment to teach new pilots how to be fighter pilots. It kept the adrenaline flowing and even though I was at home with my family, I was able to slowly adapt. When I eventually did leave the service it took me awhile to give up that rush. I taught stunt flying and performed in aerobatic contests for a while but slowly was able to let go of that addiction to speed.
- While I remember the men who died serving our country, my heart goes out to those who are newly returning. They have such a difficult adjustment to make and many of those who were wounded, either physically or emotionally, are having difficulty getting the health care they need from the VA. While I experienced loss and grief when one of our pilots died, it was nothing like the visceral carnage that the men on the ground experience in combat.
- Another aspect is the effect all of this has on the families of the veterans. Dealing with normal life after living in war creates a challenge for the people that the veteran lives with. That’s why after three divorces I decided I didn’t want any more war and I began to study everything I could about love, sex and relationship. Having a loving relationship that works is the most important thing I think we can do here on this earth.
- That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be strong and be able to protect ourselves. We all must have some of the warrior in us and keep that warrior strong to protect us from bullies. That doesn’t mean that we become bullies and use our strength inappropriately. There is a big difference from being a warrior and being a soldier. A soldier simply does what he is told. A warrior does what he knows is right.
- Part of a warriors work is to take care of his family. Most warriors get extensive training in the art of war and no training in love and relationship. Not just warriors, almost all of us are in that situation. When relationship is such an important part of our life, why is it we get so little training in that area and seem to have so much difficulty there? Newly returning Vets are spring-loaded for relationship challenges and may be in crisis and not even know it. Couples counseling can help. Communication about these issues is very difficult for men and the presence of a coach or counselor can help a great deal. Why would anyone want to suffer that way? Divorce is as devastating as a wound in combat and yet people don’t seem to want to get the training and coaching required to have a harmonious and fulfilling relationship
- That’s why Judith and I started Top Gun Love. Like Top Gun Pilots who get lots of training and practice and are committed to being the best, we want people to get the love and relationship training and practice they need so that they can live a joyful and fulfilling life. We are in the process of finishing a book on how the hormones we have make men and women experience relationship in very different ways. We offer coaching and webinars to help people learn effective ways of dealing with each other. You can find out more at our web site topgunlove.com or find us on Facebook, topgunlove.