September 17, 2011

The Price of Freedom

This morning I was driving up Glenwood and saw a familiar shape taking flight just above the treetops.  The silhouette of a plane miles away looked a little bit like a cross, almost an "X".  While I was in the Air Force, and I spent some time training in aircraft identification, I was never very good at it.  Anyone who was a Forward Air Controller can easily pic up the silhouette of an A-10.  If it is close enough, the engine makes a very distinct whistle that catches my ear every time.  It is like always noticing a VW Beetle (if you ever owned one) whenever one drives by.

The sight and sound of an A-10 always draws my attention and I feel their presence oddly comforting.  I'm glad that I moved to Boise since we have a Air National Guard squadron of A-10s here at Gowan Field.

When I saw the Warthogs just above the treeline, they were actually probably very high off the ground.  If you aren't familiar with Boise's topography, most of the city is down by the river and as you extend South, towards the airport and the highway, the land rises high up to what is called "the Bench".  From my vantage point they were probably about 8-10K AGL.

Anyway, the juxtaposition of the plane against the treetops reminded me of a TDY to Turkey.  That TDY has about 2 months worth of stories, but I was just reminded of one.

We were sent to the tiny town of Polatli, Turkey to directed simulated Close Air Support strikes with Turkish F16s and F4s.  Five of us went, all Forward Air Controllers, and we partnered with our roughly equivalent Turkish counterparts.  I say "roughly" because they were organized very differently.  It literally took three of their guys to do what one of ours did, because of their organization.  Their team of three was one driver, one radio operator, and one controller.  After several days of working different sets of aircraft onto simulated targets, we were invited to meet with the local garrison commander.  Polatli is the home of an Air Defence Artillery unit and they used all of our simulated missions as simulated target practice on their end.

After a brief tour of their military museum we were brought to the commander's office for a chat.  I don't recall his rank, but what he had to say left both a good and bad impression on me.  First he regaled us with informing us most of his service was in the Turkish Special Forces and that he was the originator of the "clock" as a spatial frame of reference.  Aviators all over the world owed this man one of the most useful terms they use on a regular basis.  Every movie where one pilot says something like, "He's on your six!" or "Check out your three o'clock high"....all thanks to this guy.

Oh wait, I should mention that everybody gets it wrong.  The clock method this guy invented always had 12 o'clock be north, instead of the nose of the plane.  3 o'clock is always East....etc.  Wow.  So instead of a relative reference point, you have to know where North is and then figure out the clock position.  I guess in Turkey it is easier to do that at 500 MPH than it is anywhere else.  It was difficult to keep my mouth shut when this guy was telling us of his invention.  I'm sure I only managed because my supervisor was there telling me to STFU.

That was the bad impression.  The good impression came next.  As we were close to finishing up our meeting, some aide came in and started to report something.  The Commander had our interpreter relay everything that was being said as not to be rude.  Evidently there were some families in town who claimed to have their windows blown out by the low flying jets from our training missions.  Now we did have some of our jets showboating a bit and some did come in very low, but never over town and they never went supersonic.  The Commander told the aide to look into it and if it looks like the exercises caused the damages, then the Army would replace the windows.  If it looked like the jets were not to blame, then the villagers can replace their own windows.

"Tell them, it's just the price of freedom".

I think a lot of Americans don't remember or realize that there is a price for freedom.  I'm not going to get on my soapbox and rally on about this, but you can take it however you want.

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