“I’ve always wanted to fly. I majored in Aviation at the University of Oklahoma, and after college started my own flight school in Texas. Things were great until another flight instructor moved in on my turf, and we ended up splitting the small pool of students. To feed myself, I took a job working at Circuit City selling televisions. After some soul searching, I knew I wanted more, which is why I joined the military. Why the Navy specifically? Have you seen Top Gun?
“I think we all crave experience – it’s part of why we take pictures- to prove to ourselves and everyone else, look, I’ve really lived. I joined the Navy because I saw it as the best path to those kind of wild experiences you can’t get by living an easy life.
“I was crushed when they told me I got helicopters instead of jets. But the first time I flew in a helo, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced.
“My ten years in the Navy have been incredible. From the stress of flight school, never knowing if you’re good enough until that one day when you’re flying in close form. Or the first time you hover in a helicopter, and you realize the true meaning of the word balance. Or getting to the squadron and meeting some of the best friends I’ve ever had, drinking and singing karaoke, then getting noodles and watching the sun come up on the beach in Guam. Or being in the desert, dead tired from having been called on a MEDEVAC in the middle of the night, watching the sun come up over the empty land all the while telling the stupidest jokes you could think of just to stay awake and get the bird home safely. Or the adrenaline rush from being on Search and Rescue (SAR) duty and having to rush into work on a weekend to rescue a hiker who broke his leg. Or pushing myself harder than I ever thought I would when there was a fire, and my helicopter and the water I was dumping from the fire bucket was the only thing stopping a horse ranch on one side and a neighborhood on the other from burning down. Or losing an engine as I was coming into a hover to drop a swimmer to rescue a guy stranded in the ocean, and praying so hard that I didn’t have to put the bird in the drink. Or participating in an extreme cold weather survival training with the Norwegians just above the Arctic circle. Or meeting my wife, while she was an Army nurse at Walter Reed and I was stationed in D.C. Or a million other moments that would fill ten books if I described them all.
“Each moment a memory, full and perfect, and worth every bit of administrative or bureaucratic nonsense that comes with working for the government. I’ve loved every minute of it, and am filled with wonder that I can have lived so much already. Am I really only 33 years old? I can’t wait to see what we get to do next.”