Only those with a soul to serve may handle a lance
The time was 0900.
On a cool Spring morning in May 2017, I reached New Larson Air Force Base in Clallam County, Washington. It was actually an old base from Grant County, which has been closed down since the 1960s. In this new decade, Larson has been renovated and relocated closer to the Pacific Ocean. I was told that the base was revived to accommodate for the new "Special Intervention Squadron" that formed last year, and for the bump in new military personnel.
I was among an assembly of both Airmen and Officers that disembarked three C-21A Learjets, which landed near Larson. A man wearing glasses and an Airman Battle Uniform (ABU), a non-commissioned officer according to the four chevrons on each of his sleeves, arrived and saluted us. We formed in three rows, and then the NCO guided us towards the front of a facility. Once we reached there, five people, four men and one woman, in blue Service Dress uniforms (SDU) stood waiting. We all salute them without taking a breath; then, the NCO moved to the side.
All five personnel wore Aviator Badges on their left breast.
"Greetings fellow Airmen and Officers." The first voice I heard made me stiffen from head to toe. The one who spoke was a hard-faced middle-aged man who stood in the middle of the six. He wore a silver star on each shoulder board, and under his Aviator Badge was an array of sewn-in medal ribbons.
"My name is Brigadier General Colbert Harding. I welcome you all to New Larson AFB, the home of the 314th Special Operations Wing. This is the tour and assignment group." The middle-aged man said. As a trained soldier, when you see and hear someone like that, you are involuntarily a motivated listener. His decorated body and his eloquent bass voice poured out military experience and regality.
"I will try not to take much of your time with my talking, since we need to get you into your duties, plus there is a showcase surprise at the end of this tour. Grant Country's Larson was once a highly reliable base for containing strategic bomber aircraft, radar stations, and ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles). Against the Axis Powers during World War II, the base provided surveillance and protection for the western coastal area. Post World War II, the Cold War, this same base would deter the Soviets from succeeding in a nuclear attack on American soil. And now in the 21st century, in its restored form, with national security once again on the rise, New Larson will once again fulfill the purpose of the U.S Air Force in a time of terror. Weapon Technology has advanced to become more effective against the enemy, and we continue to strive in making the airspace our greatest weapon."
The Brigadier General's patriotism was boiling. He was simply saying to defend our country at all costs. He continued,
"As you may know, The Soviets' predecessors and their allies have crossed the line into bringing their internal struggles into the West. All of this will be explained to you later, especially those assigned to Operations. While we currently have terror in the Middle East, we are going to also take this matter into our own hands. New Larson's 314th Wing Group 1 consists of four squadrons in which you all will be assigned to."
BRG Harding paused a bit and raised a hand, slowly waving it to address those beside him, "These four officers beside me are the Squadrons Leaders for Group 1. The 99th Reconnaissance Squadron is led by Lt. Col Lou Carter, 711th Special Operations Squadron is led by Lt. Col Clancy Garcia, 453d Electronic Warfare Squadron, led by Lt. Col Gordon Bryce, and 1063rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, led by Maj. Claire Keighley." He explained.
That was the reason why every single soldier that landed on Larson today saluted before Harding and the four others next to him. Even for young officers like me, we all stood before those of higher rank and authority.
"Except for Keighley's squadron, flight units from the other larger three squadrons are borrowed to form Group 1. Their skills are particularly needed for our operations." Harding added.
While listening to the Brigadier General's words, and during the entire base tour, I wondered if it was soon going to be my last day on Earth. I reminisced on the old days as if death was just around the corner. It was strange, since I wanted to fly in a plane ever since I was a child. Even though I knew that I had a big chance of crashing and burning in a plane, the specific thought of joining a war struck a nerve. Maybe because it was completely real, instead of something I've seen on TV.
I liked to watch war documentaries, watch history fold before my eyes. For whatever reason why a war is raged, people obviously get killed. They exchanged their lives for peace, or they died as innocent bystanders, but ultimately we would honor it all.
After the infamous 9-11 attacks in 2001 caused the deaths of virtually three-thousand people in America, we attacked the Middle East, a hot spot of the religion of Islam, in utter retaliation. When we did, I felt that the majority of us saw black-and-white for a long time. Many questions were raised: How do we defeat "evil terrorism" motivated by religion? Do we commit genocide? Destroy the driving force behind radicals?
"What made an American?" was another interesting question I had heard.
I think such a question asked beyond whether a person was born and raised here or not. I think it was more of a question about the soul or a question on a person's level of patriotism. On the TV, I saw ethnic-based boycotting of middle-class Muslim Americans being acceptable. Men and women would gather in front of a building, and it was like the camera would slowly pan on them and the board signs that they held to transmit their strong beliefs.
When I saw that that was happening in America, I've learned that we all seem to carry this conviction in justice. If the current conflicts all have to do with eliminating the most aggravating of crime, can you kill the mafia? Mexican drug lords? American street gangs? How do we allow the sacrifice of so many people for a cause?
Split views or discrimination, from heresy to economic values, cause tension between nations very easily. It can magnify into something dangerous.
Being born from Northern Ireland, I understood a little on how that's like. Long ago Ireland's Protestants, which ruled the Ulster Unionist Party, were disenfranchising voters that were Catholics. It all went downhill from there for decades, and my parents moved to America because of the escalating violence. I was very young at the time.
As a soldier, I had to think of only national defense and not question otherwise. I was flying to purge racism or discrimination by order of Uncle Sam.
The tour entered an intermission and the newbies of Larson have chow. In the mess hall, I sat down with the same members of my team.
I was assigned to the 1063rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron.
"This is my boy, Shamrock! Take care of him okay?"
On my right was the voice of Steele Bradley, an African American pilot from Georgia. We've known each other since college and it was a delight to see that we both managed to achieve our goals as pilots. He has a cheery character, simply a jokester, which made him easy to get along with. He would not hesitate to slam anything Irish on me. Steele's voice was directed to an Asian man that sat across from us. That man was Jack Seigawa, who was picked as my dorm mate.
Before we entered the Mess Hall, Steele had expressed his disdain about that, jokingly of course, "Shiiiit! It's like they're trying to separate us. Maybe we made too much of an impression. Military can't appreciate Ebony and Ivory huh?" He whispered to me.
"You mad?" I said to him, smiling.
"Okay, Lucky Charms! Be that way. Just don't killed, okay?"
Furthermore, Jack would be in the same Flight as me, while Steele was put on another one. We were assigned to rooms depending on who we would be working close with. It was not our decision to make, favoritism wasn't allowed.
"Hello Lt. Christie," Jack greeted me with a warm smile, "I hope we can work together well and survive."
"I hope so too," I said.
"Well, let's put it this way, paperwork will be a cinch for you," Steele said with a smirk.
"Is 'Shamrock' your nickname?" Jack asked me.
"Steele gave it to me after I had my first military physical, he's so nasty," I teased, giving Steele a side-glance. My smile stayed lifted, "but he calls me all sorts of shit, like 'Lucky Charms'. Am I right?"
The African American shrugged his shoulders, untroubled, "What? It fits. Name just might've given your ass a blessing. We are going to war after all." He said.
"Why does he call you that?" Jack asked.
I merely answered, "Oh, because I was born from Ireland. What about you?"
"Me? I am from Hawaii." He said, then Steele managed to cut into our talk. I felt his hand slam onto my shoulder.
"Listen to this Jack, tell me if this ain't fucked up. Aiden says he has no idea about the Lucky Charms cereal! Can you believe that?"
I turned my head to look at the Mess Hall's entrance doors, so that I could avoid the awkward gazes from both Steele and Jack.
"Whaaaaaat?" Even with a soft tone, Jack sounded amused.
"I think you're lyin' man! For real!" Steele said to me. Jack had to laugh and I turned back to him, clearing my throat. I didn't know how to retaliate through words, nor did I care for the cereal. I didn't want to be connected to a beaming leprechaun that passed around glowing marshmallows to kids. And besides, my favorite cereal is Cheerios; of course, every time I tell Steele that, he would say, "Naaaaaaaah!"
"Jesus, what a long line!" Said the voice of a thick-accented man nearby. Steele, Jack, and I turn our heads to see another officer sitting with us. He dropped right next to Jack.
"'Ey there!" He said. This person had a darker complexion compared to Jack and me, but Steele had him beat, and he also had a thin pencil mustache. By the sound of the accent, I guessed that he was Latino. On his uniform's shoulder boards were two silver bars, which are the symbols of a 2nd Lieutenant.
"You're Aiden, am I right?" He asked.
"Yes." I answered, nodding my head.
"My name's Mark Blasco. I'm in Flight Alpha. Nice to meet you." He looked to be another member of my team so I merely welcomed his greeting.
"Nice to meet you too. I guess you two are in the same team with me."
"Yeah! And with the MILF Major too. Ain't that some shit!" The jokester beside me crossed his arms over his chest and tightened his face.
"You mad?" Smiling, I asked that same question for the second time today. It was simple and weary, but it worked for me anytime because Steele always reacted with this interesting mix of irritation and goofiness.
"That's okay! I'm just worried that you'll flirt during missions and that your erection will get in the way of the ejection handle. Ain't easy laughing under fire, Charms."
Both Jack and Mark chuckled.
My mouth slanted, "Oh, I can't have that now. I'll have to keep that in check Steele. Also, she may not be in the same Flight as you, but she is still our commander. You get to see her plenty." I said.
"Oh, fuck off!" Steele punched my arm and I chortled,
"Ow hey! And also I thought it was 'Shamrock'? Potty mouth! And what if the ejection handle is above my head?"
"I said shut up!" Steele's fist pounded my arm again.
We all burst into laughter for seconds, which is drowned by chatter from the entire Mess Hall. After we caught our breaths, Lt. Blasco re eye contact with me.
"So anyways, wha'cha think Aiden? Team Chevalier!" He sounded like he was asking for my opinion.
"A chevalier?" I raised an eyebrow at the Latino officer. Was I still in America?
The nickname of the 1063rd was the "Brave Chevaliers." I found it to be old fashioned name, and a mouthful as well. When I first heard the name from the squadron commander, it put a lot of weight on my mind. That was because I found it very bizarre; furthermore, the planes were given the call sign "Lancer" after the Roman weapon from medieval times; thus, the entire team was also called the "Lancer Squadron".
I couldn't help but express a little bit of scorn.
"The words 'Chevalier' and "Lancer', just what the hell? I'm just curious but why not use a name like 'Bulldogs'? 'Bald eagles'? 'Falcons'? 'Sky Sharks'? The 'Mustangs'?"
Beasts and avians, like "The Griffins" and "The War Wolves", were typically chosen to compose a squadron name. I continued on,
"Lances, they were used by knights on horseback. Are they trying to say that we are knights?" I asked.
Jack rose up his hand in a thoughtful gesture and said, "Well, we are serving the United States. I heard that knights, figures of nobility, obeyed and protected their leaders no matter what. Back in the old days they had the best weapons to do their job, and I say that lots of people hold us in high esteem."
I tilted my head and let out a hum as I carefully listened. Wasn't that the same as us soldiers, members of the military who engaged in national objectives?
The Hawaiian continued his conjecture,
"As for lances, they were heavy but flexible weapons used by armored soldiers to charge and strike at an enemy, and by foot soldiers to guard against approaching enemy lines. Because of their range, using the lance instead of a sword provided more safety. I think that this squadron stresses on defeating the enemy effectively by using safe, fast, and powerful methods. That's my opinion."
"To keep 'em running huh?" Steele said.
I wasn't entirely convinced. Despite it being long and so 15th century, "Brave Chevaliers" did seem like a strong name.
Then Mark added, "The words safe, fast, and powerful seem like they fit. Especially with what I hear 'bout this new fighter."
"Yeah Aiden, I heard the shit was like Gradius."
I looked at Steele confused, but his face showed me that he was genuinely excited after what he had said. Gradius was a video game about a white space fighter, a sci-fi fantasy. Maybe the sun was getting to my college buddy.
"Y'know, Vic Viper!" Steele added.
I was still very skeptical and I had my reasons. Starting in the 1980s, there was a video game boom of shooting games, from first person to scrolling shoot'em up types. Steele was into that kind of stuff; he was good at the spaceship shooters, while I was more into first person shooters such as "Call of Duty" and "Perfect Dark", but I can't imagine hell demons, aliens, and big robots appearing at this age. Was he trying to bring up Gradius in an attempt at a good joke?
I thought it was a terrible attempt.
"Vic Viper and R-Type is the kind of stuff made to entertain us, not real life." I flatly stated and closed my eyes, slipping a spork full of sliced fruits in my mouth.
"We'll see after lunch." Jack said, raising a spork full of mashed potatoes up to his mouth.
"Hopefully, it's something that'll really help. Something stealthy like a snake ya know? That'll make the Ruskies not know what hit them. Just, anything that won't get me shot down easily is good, especially if we have to fight over the Pacific." Mark said, grimacing.
"You and me both man. I know I can't go in no fuckin' salt water." Steele said.
I let out a chuckle.
"I don't think Mark will have to worry about getting shot down. He would probably drive his jet across the Atlantic." I said.
"HA!" Mark slammed the table with both hands, and his facial expression quickly changed. I was met with an open wide smile, "oh shit, I saw what you did there!" He let out a hearty laugh.
So far, so good. It looked like we're going to get along fine.