As many of you know, Southwest Airlines just had a major in-flight incident with one fatality. Pilot Tammie Jo Shults is credited with bringing the bird down in relative safety, and saving the lives of the remaining passengers.

It is no joke when a turbine blade lets go, as seems to be the case in this situation. The real wonder is that it doesn’t happen more often- a jet engine is a mass of rotating assemblies, all of which must work perfectly or bad, catastrophic things will happen in the blink of an eye. As the photo above illustrates, the engine “grenaded,” and shrapnel flew everywhere. A chunk hit a window and an unfortunate woman died as the result.

It could have been one hell of a lot worse. But it wasn’t. Why? An ex-fighter jock sat at the controls of the 737, and she immediately acted and got the situation under control. Under  extreme pressure, she dropped the bird to the deck and landed it safely with one dead motor and a compartment full of freaked-out passengers.

The news is full of accounts about her calm demeanor and professionalism.

I’m not surprised by her behavior. I’ve known some of those people, dead-steady professionals who seem to get cooler the worse the situation gets.

I admire such people.

There was the dude who taught me how to clear houses. He learned his trade on the mean streets of Ramadi, he emerged unscathed from a hell hole where many died. I’ll never forget what he told me- “Remember, when you’re going through the house and dudes are dropping from ceilings, shooting from closets, throwing grenades and people are screaming at you from all corners- relax, dude. Take a minute and light a cigarette. Shoot anyone who gets cute, but get on the radio and call for backup. You have time- the defenders don’t.” I don’t know what ended up happening to him, but when he spoke, I listened. His most important lesson was the value of calm. I didn’t forget. Thanks, (name forgotten).

There was another guy who was relaxed, cool as a cucumber. He knew everything about the infantryman’s trade, and was glad to break things down and explain the reasons for everything that was going to happen. Riding or walking next to him, you felt bulletproof, immortal. When we got dipped in shit, I heard his voice on the radio- clipped, calm and professional, and I knew we were going to mess up the bad guys. As we advanced under fire and rugged terrain, his voice propelled me forward, steadied me. He would make sound decisions on the fly while coordinating between hundreds of men and aircraft. At the end of the day, he thought it was no big deal. But it was.

Then there was Matt, the guy who taught me about explosives. Another Iraq veteran, he had spent his tour breaching one structure after the next. Rolling a high-rise? Matt would stay up all night making water-impulse charges, or doorknob-donuts. Attacking a walled compound? Matt would creep up to the walls with a satchel-charge. Think a bomb was in your path? Call Matt. He’d have a look and come up with a solution. I remember Matt well, a regular guy in a field in Missouri. His hands would turn purple if exposed to the cold, he hid this for fear of being ratted out to the medical people. I’d watch his purple hands knead C-4 to make an improvised Bangalore charge, and he would talk. About his close calls, his raids, his life. All in a calm, reminiscing tone, none of it was a big deal. I never served in combat with him, but I couldn’t see him acting any different when the lead was flying.

These people had courage. The real deal. They weren’t pilots, but I can see each of them acting just like Captain Shults. Calm, professional, and doing the right thing at the right moment.

We ask one hell of a lot from our combat servicemen/women. And we should. There are no good excuses when lives are on the line. Sometimes these demands pay highly visible dividends such as in this incident with Captain Shults.

But don’t be amazed when one of the alumni of the school of hard knocks pulls off some shit like this.

Courage and quiet professionalism= people who go home alive.



2 thoughts on “Courage

  1. And i sleep peacefully at night knowing there are people like this out there who will look after me in an emergency (possibly while i run around like a headless chook).


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