The Anthrax Vaccination Inoculation Program (AVIP) became the most tawdry, disgusting, and despicable operation I witnessed in my thirty-four years in the military. Every agency meant to protect the troops from such a travesty defaulted on their duty and sold out the troops entrusted to them…If a foreign power had done this to our troops, we’d have gone to war, but our government did it to us with impunity, and we did nothing.
This aurora borealis brought deep wonder to me as well, flying high above the Arctic. I could almost sense these long, colorful, ribbons of glowing light as the flowing robes of God passing before us.
I had hired this pilot, mentored him, and protected him when others at the upgrade meetings expressed doubts about him. He was my golden boy. He had taken every accolade in his pilot training class – best everything: flying, academics, leadership, everything. He knew the airplane exceptionally well and flew very well. Yet, still, rumors about him persisted. I finally told the training committee that I would give him his upgrade recommend ride myself to end all this nay saying about him. Now I sat, stunned and apoplectic. Dr. Jekyll had turned into Mr. Hyde before my eyes.
When it came time to depart two days later, the copilot’s Nicaraguan girlfriend and mother showed up at the terminal where we were filing our fight plan. Both the girl and her mother presumed the copilot was taking the daughter back to “the land of the big BX” to marry her. I won’t guess what the copilot had promised her, or even if he had promised anything. Regardless, the mother thought this was a done deal and was there to wish her daughter, suitcase in hand, a happy life and a loving good-bye. Imagine their surprise to discover this would not be the case!
At 2:06 on the cockpit voice recorder, the aircraft is 10-degrees nose low, in a 90-degree left bank and passing through 3,000 feet. There is silence on the interphone. I asked the crew at the initial interview why no one was speaking. The copilot answered, “We were all saying our prayers.”
Out came the thrust reversers as we dropped like a rock from the sky. Passing 3,000 feet, the pilot took the thrust reversers out of reverse, or at least he tried. They wouldn’t come out of reverse! We were now a relatively heavy plane with 100,000 lbs. of cargo, on two positive thrust engines fighting against two reversed engines, to arrest our sink rate toward the ocean. The pilot gave me the plane to fly as he wrestled with the inboard throttles. I took the plane and leveled off as well as I could, but the airspeed dropped steadily toward stall speed as the nose rose higher and higher.
I walked quickly down a Frankfurt, Germany, street a block or two off the main boulevard. The command post had called to advise me of an upcoming alert, so I had to retrieve my crew from the restaurant they had gone to. But, damn, the streets were not appearing as I remembered them. I’d turn corners expecting one view but seeing another. I thought I knew this area of town, but something was strangely off. I walked faster. As I rounded one more street corner, a blinding flash of light came from the sky accompanied by a loud roar. The world dissolved around me.
As the assistant led me into the interview studio, I got weak-kneed. Rome Hartman, the 60 Minutes producer, greeted me and thanked me for agreeing to be interviewed. I shook his hand, but behind him I saw Lesley Stahl seated in a brightly lit space with a white screen behind her. Opposite her sat an empty chair, my chair, just beyond Stahl’s reach.
Rolling the aircraft into the left turn, I marveled that with barely more effort than turning my car’s steering wheel, I smoothly maneuvered half a million pounds of steel and aluminum gracefully through the air. I did so with reflexes honed over thirty-three years of flight for thousands of landings in half a dozen various aircraft. My country had trained me well to serve its needs, but now those robust reflexes would become obsolete as soon as the wheels touched down on the runway.