Just returned from Colorado…
Went out to the Air Force Academy last week to attend the Change of Command and Retirement of a friend of mine; or more accurately I suppose, a former friend of mine…
I received an invitation to attend his Change of Command back in July. I had met Mike in 1977 when he attended UPT. Then I caught up with him again in June 1985 when he came to T-38 PIT at Randolph. Having met him before I requested to fly with him in his T-38 check out.
After he completed his training and perhaps 6 months or so “on the line,” I hired him as a T-38 Flight Examiner in Stan Eval.
One day I walked back to his desk and asked him to grab his hat and follow me. Without question, he complied – never once asking me where we were going. I then took him to the Education Office and told him he was enrolling in a master’s course. He thought for a moment – for hardly any time at all really – then followed me into the office and enrolled at Webster’s with me (Webster’s University at Ft. Sam Houston). I was taking courses and was a bit overwhelmed with all the ‘shoeclerks’ in the course – and wanted someone I could relate to with me. Mike filled the bill…
It wasn’t long before Mike was picked up by HQ. ATC Stan Eval, and he was “on his way.” I eventually retired, and he went on to the Pentagon. From there his career really took off. It was both astonishing and fun to watch. Then came the ‘stars.’ Who knew? When Mike came to Randolph in 1985 he had been an assistant football coach at the Academy, a T-38 IP at Williams AFB, AZ, then a physical fitness coach and T-41 IP back at the Academy – not exactly the “fast track” to general!”
We stayed in touch through the years – more often through the occasional Christmas card, then emails. He even once gave me a tour of the White House when he was George Bush’s “horse holder.” That was cool!
I know it can be difficult to be my friend at times – I know it! I struggle with ‘Bob’ also, every day. For whatever reason I tend to ‘subconsciously’ test friendships. I have seen this “character defect” in myself many times in the past, and I have my theories to why I do it…
Four years ago I received an invitation to Mike’s Change of Command when he took Command of the Academy. I wasn’t able to attend and so it was very important to me to attend this year.
I RSVP’d to the invitation, then sent an email to Mike, telling him I was looking forward to seeing him – to how proud I was of his career. (I know his email is ‘good;’ I have received prior emails from him using the same email.) I was really looking forward to seeing him.
When we got there we had seats in the front row. It was a great Change of Command – and it was great to see Mike, and Paula, and his 2 sons – albeit from a distance. I thought I would be able to catch up with him at the reception.
At the reception Chris and I stood in line for over an hour, waiting to see him. Then we learned that he was not there – that the reception was just for the new Superintendent! Well, crap! I suppose I also knew this, but the “age thing” bit me in the ass!
As we walked out I made “light of it,” but it really cut me. For all these years I have “carried him in my heart…” – it smarts. And I felt somewhat the “Village Idiot.” For a month or so I had talked to folks about heading out to Colorado to see Mike, and how proud I was of him… I even sent him a ‘follow-on’ email telling him so before we left. (On Friday, before we left Colorado, I called the Superintendent’s office to ask if his email was still “good.” It is.)
And so with this, I will delete him from my email, render a prayer for him and his family, and “let him go.” I don’t regret the trip out there at all – I had the chance to visit with my four Colorado grand kids. But I will admit, there is an ’emptiness’ in my heart this morning… and it does, still hurt.
(PS: Ever to make light of things, I hope the Lt. Colonel in charge of invitations didn’t get his ass in too much of a sling for not taking me off the A-list in the first place…).