I know that you said I don’t have to thank you, but I will always have an appreciation for you guys at TQ and the military medical system as a whole. Both of my sons know the story and always ask about you guys and even at 6 and 7 say that they thank God that you guys were there for me and my men. They know and understand that I wouldn’t be alive without you guys. My seven year old built a CH-46E Sea Knight with Legos and it looks pretty good. Take care and thanks again.
I remember reading that and bursting into tears. I got on my knees and thanked God that he and his family were grateful that he was alive, despite his having lost both his legs. Not only was he grateful that he had survived, but his kids were so glad to have their dad back with them. His email was an unexpected gift that helped relieve the weight I had felt about the missions we had flown. Sgt. Kriesel was grateful, and so was I.
That is what Marine Air is about—supporting the guy on the ground, whether through assault support or close air support. It certainly is not about us. It always has been and always will be about supporting the guy on the ground. It is clearly understood that when a pilot screws up—whether because of a bad decision, lack of attention to detail, poor planning, headwork, or situational awareness—many times it is the Marines on the ground who pay the price for the pilot’s mistakes. The driving force is the fear of failure and the thought of possibly letting someone down. People are relying on you to protect or save their life. Failure is simply not an option. If that doesn’t motivate a pilot, then Marine Air is not the business that person should be in.
Now, years later, I can say with certainty that the challenges of serving in Iraq combined with the lessons learned at the Naval Academy—along with the accompanying hurt, pain, adversity, and emotions—have built me into a much better person. I would not trade these experiences, the good and the bad, for anything. It was a gut check and trial by fire, a life experience that I will never forget. The lessons I learned are applied to every facet of my life every day.
The American way of life is not possible without the sacrifice of the few. Edmund Burke wrote, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Those that sacrificed did something and are some of America’s bravest sons and daughters. I can only hope that the families of Ron and J.P., the crew of Morphine 1-2, and others that made the sacrifice knew that when things sucked over there, they were the ones that I thought of, that kept me going. I know that there is nothing I can say or do to make their families’ pain go away, but I hope and want them to know that there were people over there who found strength and drive in themselves at the very thought of their son’s and daughter’s sacrifice. I will forever remember what my passengers in the back of the CH-46 did for our nation and how humbling it was to have served them.
“Evacuating the Injured” by Rocky Checca is adapted from In the Shadow of Greatness: Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice, and Service From America’s Longest War, edited by Joshua Welle, John Ennis, Katherine Kranz, and Graham Plaster. Reprinted by permission of the Naval Institute Press.