Canyon walls framed the stark desert mountains in front of me, highlighted by the late afternoon Nevada sun. All was silent save the soft sand sifting around my feet and the whisper of wind in the golden desert brush. I’m captured by the beauty here. Where am I? In Las Vegas for Red Flag, of course. But it’s Super Bowl Sunday after all the meetings and most people are sitting in front of their TVs so I’m free to run on lazy winding trails north of all local civilization.
Once again, I’m flying at night. I leave my painfully bright taxi light on so other aircraft can see the shadow of my landing gear. Otherwise they might not see me at all. Ten minutes later, flying circles in the sky in the sanctuary of my allotted hold airspace, I’m sure no one can see me. I’ve flipped all the switches that enable my stealthy quality and over 70 aircraft pass by en route to their holds, oblivious to my presence.
At the appointed time, I “push” across the W115 longitude line and into “hostile” airspace. My preplanned flight path, loaded into the jet’s computers via data transfer module and flown entirely on autopilot, takes me generally westbound away from the luminous orb of the rising full moon. Approaching my target, I focus all my attention on the photo in my hands and the display on my screen, matching the two, and guiding in the bomb. The jet banks hard after my target attack and turns aggressively to exit the band of threat radars and missile systems. Through the night vision goggles I watch as the earth appears to rise around me. This flight plan drops my Nighthawk to just above the stark desert ridges during egress. In my green-and-black night vision I marvel at the detail of shrubs, rock cliffs and dirt roads illuminated by the sun’s twice-reflected light. Deep shadows stretch westward from every serrated ridge – moonshadows.
Crossing the W115 line eastbound, I climb and slow, rapidly flipping switches so that I can talk and be seen on radar, and hence hopefully not have a mid-air rendezvous with any aircraft besides the tanker I’m scheduled for. All goes smoothly and I arrive in the refueling orbit just beneath the formation of converted Boeing 707 tanker aircraft. We circle constantly in the cramped airspace while my jet quenches its thirst in preparation for our second mission of the night – targets of opportunity that have only recently presented themselves.
Nearly three hours after take-off, I feel the powerful deceleration as the drag-shoot deploys during landing roll. Back on earth, we have paperwork to fill out, tapes to watch and a series of debriefs during which I fight to maintain consciousness, sated with still more memories of God great earth from various unusual perspectives.
But that’s not all! For years, it was like the puzzle pieces of my life floated aimlessly in space, bumping against each other but never fitting together: sports, writing, flying, church activities, etc. Then, just like Jesus reached out His hand and calmed the wind and waves, He raised His hand to the puzzle pieces and said, be still. And they wafted down, settling gently on the floor, perfectly meshed. For the first time ever, I saw the picture they expressed.
Or like a cacophony of musicians, each playing their own melody in their own key and time. Until the conductor steps before them, raises his baton and majestically gives then his cue. And the dissonance resolves into harmony more intricate and beautiful than ears can appreciate.
All this was affected by the advent of a man in the life of our intrepid adventurer, about whom you have so patiently read these past years. Yes, I’m now engaged to one Richard J. “Sandi” Douglass, fellow fighter pilot (F-16s for now), fitness aficionado, musician, and fellow christian. Ah yes, it seems that my life is never dull. And I so much enjoy being able to share it with you all. Thanks for “hanging with me,” as we say. And stand by for more adventures – I have no intention of the proverbial “settling down”!