CNN knew before the Wing did.
Trevor and I are driving around North Island looking for something called 'Skyflex,' which is one of those things that is very expensive, used only for a few jobs and hoarded in specific places by certain individuals. This is carried on with a maximum of bitching, pissing, moaning, complaining and griping with a minimum of efficiency. Most of the conversation in the truck consists of such seriously intellectual discourse as:
"Man I told you that fuckin' place was over by the Mod Hanger." I spit in sarcasm.
"Shadthefuckup. You did not." Replying, Trevor climbs from the duty truck as I follow. The truck is almost completely out of gas and we have no intention of changing that anytime soon. If we were to actually run out of gas I am sure this would amount to nothing more than another excuse to waste a large amount of time.
"This ain't the right fucking building." Observing this comes from the sight of an F/A-18 engine sitting on a large cart inside a large opening.
"Well, we're goona go in anyway." Trevor seems dead set on going in this building. We have been about five others already looking for various people that have no idea where it is the person we need is, or they have seen him ten minutes ago. Typical.
"What are we looking for anyway?" I ask as we wander past the garage door and engine toward a large number of doors on the side of another building.
"Whad that guy say? A stairwell. What the fourth door?" Trevor has no idea where we're going.
"Some shit like that." I have no idea what we're doing. I've lost track of the original point other than we went to look for some Skyflex. This is a rubber tape with some mysterious sealing and corrosion preventative qualities to which I am apparently not privy. Every time I use the substance the panel leaks like a sieve and commences to corrode instantly. I do not use Skyflex. I think it sucks. I have said as much here and on other occasions many times. Fortunately, people never listen to almost anything that I say so I now have an excuse as to why I am not at the squadron at the moment and have not been there for nearly two hours.
On the other hand, someone else thinks Skyflex works pretty well because they spent an amount of money greater than I would know what to do with in a lifetime to corner the market. The substance comes in flat cans that strongly resemble the old magnetic tape spools; these of course were promptly hidden to prevent it from being misused following purchase. This means that when it is deemed necessary to use this crap we have to tear all over hell and high creation looking for 'A New Can of Skyflex,' which is apparently the only way it can be used. The disposition of old cans of Skyflex is a topic about which I would not hazard a guess. We more than likely give it to the Army.
"You know we oughta use goddamn tar tape for the floorboards in one." I mention as we walk into a large room filled with steam piping and various pumps that seem to be rattling off of their mounts. Pipes come in from the ceiling, enter any number of random gray pumps that appear to be older radial engines and then exit again in the same manner. This is another of those random things that one sees and believes to be somewhat odd, then is promptly forgotten. "Uhh, Trev, this doesn't look like any fuckin' stairwell I've ever seen."
"I fuckin' know that." We wander some more, wasting time. The day is beautiful, somewhat strange given the weather we have had over the last few weeks.
CNN knew before the CO and XO did.
Back at the squadron I am wrestling with an ELT antenna jutting from the turtleback just over the number two driveshaft. My junior tech elected to reinstall a badly corroded antenna (the plan went to replace this right here and now,) with corroded hardware (the plan went to reuse this,) about a week ago without alerting me to as much. This should go without saying, but the plan is now find the screwball diameter and length screws used to fasten the ELT to the top of the airplane and go about our business. Next on today's playbill for the det four maintenance circus: WITNESS as the YUREI magically REPLACES, that's right boys and girls he's going to replace something, A LARGE NUMBER OF LIGHT BULBS ON THE ARMAMENT CONTROL INDICATOR PANEL! Mad cheering, many one hands clapping, trees fall with no one around to see them. Yeah, my job is pretty goddamn exciting sometimes. This is why I am repeatedly cursing my junior and the most profanely espoused person on the flightline- Igor Sikorsky. In my mind's eye I am setting the combination oven/blender/heavy paving machine to Atomic Death by Asphalt Puree and cackling as Igor beats on the glass ineffectively. This causes me (almost,) to miss the announcement over the loudspeaker hanging on the hanger eve. Great, quarters in fifteen minutes. I didn't shave this morning and have already been bitched at by the Maintenance Master Chief for as much, more expletives follow and a new face joins Igor's in the oven.
CNN knew before Maintenance Control did.
Chief will not be returning from the cruise. We are told as much by the CO in an informal quarters with most everyone gathered around in a wide circle, my neck is bleeding profusely from the abuse it was subjected to a few moments ago. Things did not look good when I looked the outside stairs at the squadron and saw a member of the Chaplain's corps standing at the top in his dress blues. Chaplains do not show up at squadrons with the exception of two events: Christmas and the far less amusing Someone Isn't Coming Home Anymore. This of course is the latter of the two cases. Apparently something happened with some system or something like that and a rotor blade dipped sharply. It is to be accepted as a matter of fact that Things moving this quickly are capable of inflicting great traumas to the human body.
CNN knew before we did.
Another memorial service is scheduled for Monday at 1000. Another round of taps. Another time I will run through the guilt belonging to the survivor. Another? Oh, you don't know about that little secret do you?
You see, when I was in school I managed to grab a glimpse of where the orders my class was going to be offered would wind up. I knew what specific squadron one set of orders was going to wind up at versus another set and I knew a week in advance. I kept my mouth shut. Normally they tell you a type unit (i.e. VFA, VF, VAQ, HSL, etc.) versus a specific squadron (i.e. VFA-22, VF-11, VAQ-115, HSL-51, etc.) This determines whether your first tour out of AVA(A1) avionics 'A' school will be shore duty or sea duty and I kept my mouth shut. Rick wanted to go to shore duty because he had recently married, had a kid on the way, and wanted something on the west coast near his hometown of Phoenix, AZ. Rick chose (much to my carefully sequestered horror,) a sea duty based fixed wing squadron.
CNN had no idea Rick was sucked up an intake his first cruise.
That guilt, of not having said anything and of not having done anything. That survivor's guilt of knowing that I caused the death of another human being through intentional inaction. I carried this with me in silence for nearly three years until after a particularly morose explanation in search of either damnation or absolution I was told that there was nothing I could have done. That who was to say that if I had gone in Rick's stead that I would not have wound up on the wrong end of an engine at the wrong time. That it was just Rick's time to go, and if he had not been there it would have happened somewhere else and torturing myself over the situation accomplished nothing. Bullshit I say to myself even now. I am here and alive because someone else DIED by MY FUCKING HAND and I sat IDLY, NO SMUGLY BY AND DIDN'T SAY A FUCKING THING.
The inexplicable nature of how it is death chooses who and when, this is the hardest thing to deal with. The nature of the beast is we pull out, we roll the dice against house odds and pray that nothing shitty happens. Something did happen. Something shitty indeed.
Chief, Rick, I'm sorry. So very sorry. Hollow words for an empty loss and I know that this is a shallow sort of epitaph. I hope that you find peace, let go of what you have left behind. None of us here will for some time to come.
CNN knew before the family did.
Sorry again, Phase Maintenance