Monday, December 13, 2010

A Most Gracious Lady

It is that time of the year again. This morning I received my first "Twelve Days of Christmas" gift from my darling wife. One of her delights is presenting our grandchildren, our mothers, and me with gifts each of the twelve days leading up to Christmas. She is already collecting those gifts for next year and beyond. She has cardboard file boxes labeled with each name. We have ten grandchildren, so there are thirteen of us she prepares for.

I've never known anyone who enjoys giving more than Diane. She is rentless in her approach to this project which she doesn't accomplish in a vacuum. She continues to work long hours as a surgical nurse, teaches a class at the prison on Monday nights, sings in the ensemble at church, teaches a children's Sunday School class, cooks, cleans house, and remains a great example of a wife, mother, and Pastor's wife.

I often hear a man complain about his wife's laziness, but I'm telling you my wife still has enough energy for any two people. She can work me into the ground any day, and she seldom complains.

Her gracious spirit is recognized by those she welcomes into our home, and into her life. Her children know that she cares deeply for them, and the grandchildren never doubt her affection for them. Those quasi family members who've been unofficially adopted into our family also quickly recognize her gracious spirit. She has such a capacity for giving of herself to others, that only the most self-centered of people do not appreciate her.

During this Christmas Season, I'm most thankful for the Savior given so that I might enjoy eternal life, and live my life on this earth to its utmost. I'm thankful, secondly, for the life partner given to me that I might not walk alone through the days of my life, but have a soul mate who genuinely cares about me. My wife, Diane, is beyond an individual, she is a vital part of me.

I wish for each of my friends that they could find such a life-partner with whom to share their walk through life. If your spouse is such a partner, tell her/him today that you love and appreciate him/her. I assure you, it is a great and rare treasure to share your life with a person of graciousness.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Those Who Serve and The Families Who Love Them Deserve Our Gratitude

Today I received an email which touched my heart. I do not know if the event actually happened, nor do I know the author of the piece, but it reflects the high esteem with which those currently serving in our military are held. Such has not always been the case. As we returned from Vietnam, many of us were called horrific names, and treated with disdain by large segments of society. However, that treatment has not diminished our pride at having served, and our love of America and what she stands for.

The events of 9 -11 have re-invigorated the national pride in, and appreciation of, those who selflessly serve in "Harm's Way."

As I read the following piece, I was reduced to tears and reminded of the Graciousness of our Dear Lord in us this ",,,land of the free and home of the brave."

Recently I saw a young person acting in such a way as to be disrespectful during the playing of the National Anthem. Unfortunately, I expressed my anger to the young man. I had to apologize because he obviously was ignorant of the real meaning of that song of liberty and why it holds such an important place in the lives of those who have served. I should have gently shared with him my personal feelings about the flag and what it represents without remonstrating against him.

Three things I will not tolerate disrespect toward: (1) My God. (2) My Family. (3) My Flag.

Children and youth need be reminded continually of the cost of their freedom. The following account could very well have occured, I hope it did.

An airline pilot writes:
My lead flight attendant came to me and said, "We have an H.R. on this flight." (H.R. stands for human remains.) "Are they military?"
I asked.

'Yes', she said.

'Is there an escort?' I asked.

'Yes, I already assigned him a seat'.

'Would you please tell him to come to the flight deck.
You can board him early," I said..

A short while later, a young army sergeant entered the flight deck.
He was the image of the perfectly dressed soldier.
He introduced himself and I asked him about his soldier.
The escorts of these fallen soldiers talk about them as if they are still alive and still with us.

'My soldier is on his way back to Virginia ,' he said.

He proceeded to answer my questions, but offered no words.

I asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said no.
I told him that he had the toughest job in the military and that I appreciated the work that he does for the families of our fallen soldiers.

The first officer and I got up out of our seats to shake his hand.
He left the flight deck to find his seat.

We completed our preflight checks, pushed back and performed an uneventful departure.

About 30 minutes into our flight I received a call from the lead flight attendant in the cabin.

'I just found out the family of the soldier we are carrying, is on board', she said.
She then proceeded to tell me that the father, mother, wife and 2-year old daughter were escorting their son, husband, and father home.
The family was upset because they were unable to see the container that the soldier was in before we left.
We were on our way to a major hub at which the family was going to wait four hours for the connecting flight home to Virginia .

The father of the soldier told the flight attendant that knowing his son was below him in the cargo compartment and being unable to see him was too much for him and the family to bear. He had asked the flight attendant if there was anything that could be done to allow them to see him upon our arrival. The family wanted to be outside by the cargo door to watch the soldier being taken off the airplane.. I could hear the desperation in the flight attendants voice when she asked me if there was anything I could do.. 'I'm on it', I said. I told her that I would get back to her.

Airborne communication with my company normally occurs in the form of e-mail like messages.
I decided to bypass this system and contact my flight dispatcher directly on a secondary radio.

There is a radio operator in the operations control center who connects you to the telephone of the dispatcher.

I was in direct contact with the dispatcher. I explained the situation I had on board with the family and what it was the family wanted.
He said he understood and that he would get back to me.

Two hours went by and I had not heard from the dispatcher. We were going to get busy soon and I needed to know what to tell the family. I sent a text message asking for an update.

I saved the return message from the dispatcher and the following is the text:
Captain, sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. There is policy on this now and I had to check on a few things. Upon your arrival a dedicated escort team will meet the aircraft.
The team will escort the family to the ramp and plane side. A van will be used to load the remains with a secondary van for the family. The family will be taken to their departure area and escorted into the terminal where the remains can be seen on the ramp.

It is a private area for the family only.
When the connecting aircraft arrives, the family will be escorted onto the ramp and plane side to watch the remains being loaded for the final leg home. Captain, most of us here in flight control are veterans. Please pass our condolences on to the family. Thanks.'

I sent a message back telling flight control thanks for a good job.
I printed out the message and gave it to the lead flight attendant to pass on to the father.
The lead flight attendant was very thankful and told me, 'You have no idea how much this will mean to them.'

Things started getting busy for the descent, approach and landing. After landing, we cleared the runway and taxied to the ramp area. The ramp is huge with 15 gates on either side of the alleyway. It is always a busy area with aircraft maneuvering every which way to enter and exit. When we entered the ramp and checked in with the ramp controller, we were told that all traffic was being held for us.

'There is a team in place to meet the aircraft', we were told. It looked like it was all coming together, then I realized that once we turned the seat belt sign off, everyone would stand up at once and delay the family from getting off the airplane. As we approached our gate, I asked the copilot to tell the ramp controller we were going to stop short of the gate to make an announcement to the passengers. He did that and the ramp controller said, 'Take your time.'

I stopped the aircraft and set the parking brake.
I pushed the public address button and said, 'Ladies and gentleman, this is your Captain speaking I have stopped short of our gate to make a special announcement. We have a passenger on board who deserves our honor and respect. His Name is Private XXXXXX, a soldier who recently lost his life Private XXXXXX is under your feet in the cargo hold.

Escorting him today is Army Sergeant XXXXXXX. Also, on board are his father, mother, wife, and daughter. Your entire flight crew is asking for all passengers to remain in their seats to allow the family to exit the aircraft first. Thank you.'

We continued the turn to the gate, came to a stop and started our shutdown procedures.

A couple of minutes later I opened the cockpit door. I found the two forward flight attendants crying, something you just do not see. I was told that after we came to a stop, every passenger on the aircraft stayed in their seats, waiting for the family to exit the aircraft.

When the family got up and gathered their things, a passenger slowly started to clap his hands. Moments later more passengers joined in and soon the entire aircraft was clapping. Words of 'God Bless You', I'm sorry, thank you, be proud, and other kind words were uttered to the family as they made their way down the aisle and out of the airplane. They were escorted down to the ramp to finally be with their loved one.

Many of the passengers disembarking thanked me for the announcement I had made.
They were just words, I told them, I could say them over and over again, but nothing I say will bring back that brave soldier.

I respectfully ask that all of you reflect on this event and the sacrifices that millions of our men and women have made to ensure our freedom and safety in these United States of AMERICA .

Foot note:
As a Viet Nam Veteran I can only think of all the veterans including the ones that rode below the deck on their way home and how they we were treated.

When I read things like this I am proud that our country has not turned their backs on our soldiers returning from the various war zones today and give them the respect they so deserve.

I know everyone who has served their country who reads this will have tears in their eyes, including me.

Please pray for those you know in our military services.