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!
I listened to music on my car radio but decided to catch the nine-a.m. news on WCBS in New York as I approached the Philly airport. I listened through the static crackle and could almost make out the voices, but something wasn’t right. CBS was transmitting a very tenuous, scratchy report from an on-scene reporter in New York City about some sort of plane crash. I could not quite make out all the reporter was saying, but my reptilian brain stem went on alert. I slowly pieced together that some sort of aircraft had crashed into a skyscraper in the city.
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 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.