After having spent time on the ground with the joes in Iraq, I cannot help but use that as a reference point every time I travel someplace with the military. It’s kind of a mental trap, I know.
The world stands to benefit from the research that so many are conducting in Antarctica, and the scientists down there cannot do what they do without the logistics and transportation support that the Air Force is providing. I suppose the National Science Foundation could contract it all out, but I don’t know that that would be any cheaper, and the nation wouldn’t have a corps of air crews capable and experienced in operating in this kind of environment.
These Air Force airlift guys made their choices about which branch of the military they wanted to serve in, and most, if not all of the men and women I’m with here have flown countless missions into the box in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ground crews have done their time at the ‘Deed in Qatar and at tougher places down range.
One pilot told me he flew the mission to whisk Iraq’s interim governing council off to the big international donors conference in Madrid in 2003; he was sure he was going to get shot down lifting off from Baghdad International, and even more sure they were going to light him up when he ferried the Iraqi politicians home a few days later. And while on the ground a few days in Madrid, he and his crew were wined and dined and stayed in a fine hotel. It is good to be a pilot sometimes.
But I believe they are speaking from the heart when they express appreciation and respect for joe on the ground. They know their jobs are very different, and that while they’ve got things to bitch about, they’ve got it very good indeed compared to Pfc. Snuffy manning a traffic-control point in Dora or Ghazaliya or Mosul.
That said, part of me feels a little guilty when on an off-day here I tag along with the pilots on a wine-tasting tour of New Zealand’s Waipara Valley. I was invited by McChord’s Deep Freeze commander, Lt. Col. Jim McGann, and it was a great time. The Kiwis are terrific hosts, and McGann does an enthusiastic job of making sure that his troops get out and shed their $93 per diem on the local economy, and then some. That’s about $150 Kiwi, and it goes a long way.
McGann, who lives down here about five months during the Deep Freeze period, says he rarely encounters anyone who gives him static about the war or U.S. foreign policy. And given the current shape of things in some places around the world, it’s a good time to be keeping the friends we’ve got.