Perspective from 38,000 feet

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Steven Vautrain
  • 439th Airlift Wing, commander
I wrote this article aboard a C-5 on the way back from the AOR on my first downrange mission as a brigadier general. While cruising at 38,000 feet over Eastern Europe I had the opportunity to reflect on some thoughts I had while watching the offload and onload of our aircraft.

It was the middle of the night, but the airfield was busy, and loud. Fighter aircraft were taking off on attack missions, troop helicopters were loading ground troops for night operations, attack helicopters were circling the base to provide protection, and cargo onload/offload operations were occurring in several places across the ramp. Those cargo operations are essential to keep all of the other pieces of this machine in motion.

During times like this I think of the aircrews who fly our C-5's, the maintainers who keep these monstrous aircraft in the air, the aerial porters who load them, the security forces who protect them, the finance people who keep the pay flowing, and all the myriad other people who ensure that our primary mission of providing Global Reach for America does not fail. Whether it is providing valuable supplies to our troops in the field or delivering lifesaving supplies to suffering people anywhere in the world, the Patriot Wing does it better than anyone else.

None of these duties are easy. Missions are changed at the last minute, airplanes break, cargo is mislabeled, vouchers aren't paid, and Murphy's Law is always present. It is a sign of professionalism that our people tackle these problems and press on. There will definitely be griping (it's a military tradition), but we pull together to make sure the warfighter is supported and the relief supplies get through.

Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal of our mission. Answering the alert call after two hours of sleep, trying to replace a leaking windshield on a cold rainy night, pushing 10,000-pound pallets when your back aches, listening to a driver complain about the speed limit while you stand in the freezing cold writing a ticket, or fielding your tenth phone call of the day complaining about DTS, it's easy to become frustrated and wonder why you come back to work every day. When that happens, think of Marines fighting for survival to defend a FOB and their platoon, or the mother of a child shivering in the remains of her home after a tornado, and you may gain a better perspective. We all face hardships. How you deal with them is a reflection on your character.

What makes the Patriot Wing great is not the numerous awards that we have won. They are an indication of the wing's excellence. But it's the people who make the Patriot Wing great. We pull together to accomplish the mission. Hard times build camaraderie and camaraderie builds lifelong friendships. Keep things in perspective. It's hard to believe now, but years later you'll probably sit back over a beer and laugh about what seemed like an insurmountable problem at the time. The problem will be gone, but your friends will still be there. Look out for each other, make the best of bad times, and remember that your job is important, no matter how you might feel at the moment.

Thank you for your service. Thank you for your support. Thank you for all you do.