A fighter pilot’s reputation precedes him everywhere he goes in the military. The Air Force fighter world is not large, and within each particular airframe the population is even smaller. In the F-16 world, which is the largest of the fighter pilot communities, there are seven operational bases to which a pilot could be assigned as of 2005 (base closures are reducing that number). Due to the constant turnover of pilots, by the time he is at his second operational assignment he will have met nearly half of the F-16 world. Read more
A Christian fighter pilot’s priorities should serve as a guide rather than a list of rules engraved in stone. Even if he has his priorities “set,” there are times that sacrifices must be made, and situations in life may require temporary adjustments to priorities to achieve a required goal or fulfill obligations. With that in mind, I suggest the following thoughts when setting personal priorities: Read more
It is possible that a Christian who adheres to Christian priorities may be persecuted as a result, though in the modern Air Force blatant personal persecution is rare; I have never experienced it in my short career. What is a Christian fighter pilot to do in the face of persecution? Read more
Christian fighter pilots are military officers, and there are things that pilots will do simply because they are the appropriate thing to do due to their professional position. A pilot’s presence may be “expected” at the annual Air Force Ball, the wing Christmas party, or an enlisted promotion ceremony. Each of those events has its own unique structure and traditions. The pilot’s cost for such an event will probably be significantly more than the cost to younger personnel because officers generally make more money and are subsidizing the attendance of younger troops. While some less socially-inclined pilots may view such activities as an “inconvenience,” there are generally no moral arguments for avoiding them. On the contrary, they often give a Christian pilot the opportunity to interact with many officers and enlisted whom he rarely sees. Still, he must decide if the activity is appropriate for his attendance. In my experience, wing and group functions tend to be more formal and controlled, while many squadron parties I have attended have been raucous and out of control.
The Officer’s Club
Another frequently mentioned part of officership is the Officers’ Club. The O’Club is a “tradition” that spans decades. Read more
What would God think?
Ultimately, the degree to which a Christian chooses to participate in “traditional” fighter pilot activities must be based on several things. First of all, a Christian must consider God. This is essentially the “big brother” question that is asked every day in the Air Force. During a fighter pilot’s combat or training sorties he will be forced to consider what his leadership will think of his decisions and their potential outcomes. If he feels that his leadership would support him, perhaps even if he fails, then he’ll probably execute his decision. If he decides that he may not be able to “answer the mail” about his judgment, then he’ll probably forego it or choose to accept the potential negative consequences. The Christian’s leadership is God. Would God be pleased by the actions that a fighter pilot takes and the activities in which he participates? Do they glorify God? Are they edifying? In the now famous words of the Christian youth movement, what would Jesus do?
While this sounds like a canned Sunday School question that prohibits virtually any fighter pilot activity, remember the New Testament: Jesus ate with prostitutes, traveled with fisherman, and contended with the religious elite—all things that the religious authorities of the time (mistaken though they were) considered inconsistent with the character of God.
One of the more important (and unfortunate) things that a fighter pilot will discover in his military career is the preeminence of paperwork. One day a pilot may go out and save the world, but unless it’s documented on an official Air Force form, it’s as though it never happened. Like it or not, an officer’s career may live or die based on his Officer Performance Reports (OPRs), which are evaluations of his professional career. A pilot’s supervisor will be required to complete a report on him regularly; normally, every 12 months, but depending on the circumstances, from every six to 18 months. Pilot training and other formal courses create Training Reports instead of OPRs, so a young pilot could be well into his first operational assignment—more than two years after being commissioned—by the time he receives his first OPR. The first time one is coming due, a predictable thing will happen: his supervisor will ask him what he’s been doing for the past 12 months. In a perfect world, the leadership would monitor their subordinates’ successes and failures and document them accordingly. Unfortunately, in the real world the leadership will be so busy that unless the subordinates are being derelict they’ll likely go unnoticed. For that reason the leadership will ask those below them to provide bullet statements of the things that they have accomplished since the last time they received an OPR or training report. They’ll use this information to fill in all the “white space” on the report. Read more
From my arrival in Qatar in February until my departure in April, I spent approximately 70 days in what was classified as a combat area. During my entire stay I never experienced fear for my life, either in the air or on the ground. Our base was on a peninsula in the Persian Gulf, relatively distant from the fighting in Iraq and low even in potential terrorist threat. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, a small civilian aircraft had approached the airfield undetected, much to the chagrin of the Patriot batteries ringing the base. During the war, the presence of a light aircraft near the base was the cause of the only increased threat condition during our stay. The base rapidly went from MOPP 0, a protective posture where no chemical protection gear is worn, to MOPP 4, where full gear—heavy overgarments, boots, gas masks, and gloves—is required. Whatever it was that approached the base turned out to be no threat, and there were no further reactions while we were there. In fact, a few days before I returned home they brought the base out of “lock-down” and allowed us to leave the base to see the local area. So our home was a fairly safe one, particularly when compared to the airbases further north that came under fire from SCUDs and other missiles and were in a MOPP 4 fairly frequently. Our route to and from the combat area was also a safe one. While we flew along the gulf we were in range of several other neutral countries, but we could virtually walk along the Navy sea craft from Qatar to Iraq.
The true threat only began once in Iraq, and even then the threat was minimal. Read more
One of the first and more dramatic examples of the fighter pilot culture that a new pilot will face is that of the traditional Naming. Done professionally and respectfully, a traditional “rite of passage” Naming could be considered a source of comradery and esprit d’corps. Unfortunately, the Namings in which I have participated have been more akin to fraternity initiations than events that call on the history and pride of a unit, the Air Force, or the country. Read more