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Wed, Apr 02, 2003

A Fighter Pilot's Goodbye

Support From Home Makes Us Strong

By "Cruiser," 8th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron

As we stand trained and ready to execute the decisions of our President, many thoughts are focused on loved ones at home. It is their support that gives us the confidence and the moral strength to carry out our duties and hurry home. That support began giving us strength even before we left the flightline.

A Poignant Goodbye

The night we deployed, we were overwhelmed by those who were there to see us off. Our entire sister squadron and their maintenance counterpart worked 24 hours a day for three straight days to provide us with the best F-117s to take into the battle. Thanks to them, we were able to focus our thoughts on our families and loved ones in preparation for our call to duty.

My crew chiefs strapped me into their aircraft as I prepared to take it to war. Airman 1st Class Thomas Cook wished me "Good luck, sir" and Staff Sgt. Paul Wyatt said, "Be safe, sir, and hurry back. Now go make history." Their comments and actions conveyed their pride in what they do. And I was just as proud of them.

"Happy Hunting And God Speed"

We heard a sister squadron commander's voice, as we prepared to taxi, wishing us "Happy hunting and God speed," from all his troops. Those powerful words proved our fellow airmen wanted to be right there with us.

My first sight as I taxied out of the hangar was that of an entire row of maintenance troops lined up in formation along the canyon taxiway. As I taxied by, they saluted in unison, beaming with pride. The highest rank I saw out there was a staff sergeant. I knew I was sitting in the best product they had to offer. They gave us a first class launch that night.

Further down the canyon, our spouses and families lined the left side of the taxiway. Amidst the group of proud waves and blowing kisses, we focused on making eye contact one last time, which we knew had to last us for months. Emotions ran high on both sides of the cockpit glass.

The next salute was from our wing commander, standing alone at attention in front of his staff car. As we left the lit canyon area, his long proud unwavering salute sent us off to battle as if to say "Do well men, and return home safe."

Rounding the corner to the runway, we taxied by our operations group commander, his deputy and their wives. Their salutes told us, "go forth and do what you are trained to do" and "I would do anything to be there with you." The four of them followed us to the runway, where the commander spoke to each pilot individually through the headset, personally launching us on our journey.

As we took the runway and blasted off into the night, I saw the flash of the cameras and felt the weight of the stares of all the friends and families gathered there to see us off into the darkness. I could sense our loved one's thoughts and prayers as we disappeared from sight. It is those thoughts and prayers that I ask from all of you now.

See you soon.

FMI: www.af.mil

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