Here in New Mexico I’m looking out the window and watching the CV-22 Osprey and the C-130 Shadows used for our Special Forces doing touch and goes on the runway. I just returned from a retirement ceremony of a friend of mine. He’s a Major and a great human, father, husband, son, and patriot. It’s Friday before a three-day weekend and a beautiful autumn day. It made me think and start reflecting on all the great men and women I have had a chance to work with since I was a young Airman in 1975… and, my life.
Bear with me while I ramble on.
I’ve worked with some great leaders. Number one on this list is Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt) Willie A. Bell.
Chief Bell was my Fire Chief who I served with from 1977-78 at Castle AFB in California. He was a leader who had the respect and admiration of everyone – both his subordinates and leadership. As firefighters we would have followed him into hell with water pistols. His honor and integrity was his most outstanding traits. He demanded our best always and he stood up for his men. No one of any rank was allowed to give us shit. I remember one day a rookie firefighter was on his first airfield fire patrol when he saw a fuel spill under an aircraft. He called it a class III fuel spill. We rolled all the crash equipment. When we arrived on scene we saw that, while technically a Class III fuel spill, those of us with more experience would have called the spill a Class II spill. Airman (Amn) Gordon was standing there while the Maintenance Squadron Commander, a Colonel (Col), was pounding his finger into Amn Gordon’s Chest yelling at him. CMSgt Bell walked up, pulled Amn Gordon back and then stepped up into the Cols face. He calmly asked what the issue was. The Col started yelling about declaring it a Class III fuel spill. Chief stood there silent and calm until he was done. When the Col was finished Chief raised his radio and said, “This is the Fire Chief. I declare this a Class III fuel spill. Foam the area!”
We discharged foam all over the area, on the aircraft from our crash trucks. Then the Chief turned around to the Col and put his finger in his chest and said, “Don’t you ever fuck with my men.”
After we returned to the station Chief called Amn Gordon into his office and calmly told him that we probably could have called it a Class II fuel spill, but he was correct: by definition he had made the right call as a Class III. Then Chief told Amn Gordon, “When in doubt, ring them out”.
There were only a handful of successful Black men in the U. S. Air Force in those days. He retired after thirty years of service shortly after I left Castle AFB.
I loved the Fire Service and had the opportunity to see a lot in the eighteen and one-half years I was a firefighter. At Chanute AFB I had the opportunity to work with my favorite Rescue partner.
Dave Donan is still a great Fire Chief and a retired CMSgt. When I met him he was Staff Sergeant (SSgt) E-5 Donan. I was a Technical Sergeant TSgt E-6. We were posted to Rescue Squad -3 together.
We were very different people but on duty we were one mind. People would marvel at the way we worked together. On a scene we hardly talked. I knew what he needed and he knew the same about me. Either of us could put our hand out while as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) working on victims of a mishap and the other one would lay in our hand exactly what we needed. No matter the carnage. We went about our jobs quietly and confidently working together as a perfect instrument of the Fire Rescue Service. I could walk into a 100,000 square foot building with hundreds of rooms and walk right up to Dave and he could do the same to me. We knew each other so well that by knowing the nature of the emergency and listening to what was happening, I knew what Dave would be doing. Every day is a true pleasure to get up and go to work with a partner like that. It did have its pitfalls though.
Dave had the raunchiest farts in the world and he liked nothing better than to gas me in the truck. The bastard! Dave and I also were fire instructors together at the Department of Defense Fire Academy. It was always a pleasure working with Dave. A true professional.
During my firefighting career I had the pleasure of delivering three babies into this world. The last one was the most memorable.
At 02:30 in the morning we were dispatched on a call of “baby not breathing”. We hauled ass to save the baby. When we arrived at the house the father was in shock in the front yard. I had two rookies in training on the truck with me and I was thinking how much I wish Dave was with me this night. I ran in the house and called out. I heard the mother’s voice upstairs. I raced up the stairs and my rookies followed, bringing the first aid kit and oxygen with them. They were going through their EMT training so I was the only EMT that night.
I found the mother in the bathroom and discovered the father had called and in his shock, “baby not breathing” was actually “baby’s coming”. Mom was on the floor in the bathroom. It was apparent that the baby was about to deliver so I sent a rookie to get the OB kit off the truck. I heard the ambulance siren in the distance and was relieved. Then I heard the ambulance siren fading and knew they were lost. I had one of the rookies talking to them on the radio.
The bathroom was small so with momma leaning up against the bathtub with her arm over the toilet seat, and me hunching up under the sink she and I (more her) delivered Chad into the world. My rookies had just been through the child birth part of their EMT training. While I was delivering the baby I could hear them talking and one of them said, “Wow, just like in the movie!” I smiled to myself and kept calming the mother. After Chad made his grand appearance I laid him on mom’s chest and I cut the umbilical cord. Finally we were able to talk the ambulance to the residence and I had the rookies bring in a stair chair off our truck so we could get mom down the stairs to a gurney in the living room. I carried little Chad in a blanket to the ambulance to keep him warm – it was a cold night in Illinois. When we picked up mom to transfer her to the ambulances gurney, her placenta plopped out, onto the floor. I couldn’t help it as I looked at the two shocked rookies, I said, ”Just like in the movie?”
After getting mom in the ambulance and finding dad still in shock, I told my rookies to take the placenta with them to the emergency, room, clean up the blood in the bath room and put the towels in the wash so mom wouldn’t come home to a dried mess. I rode in the ambulance to tend to mom and dad while the ambulance crew cared for the baby. It was a night to remember.
That morning after our shift we went to visit mom and gave her a little outfit for Chad. It had a fire truck on it and said “Catch Me If You Can!” We also gave her a card we had signed and a picture of us in front of our Rescue Squad. Then the rookies went home and I went to take care of the birth certificate. Since I had delivered Chad I had to sign the certificate and give the time of birth.
It had been just another good day at work.
I also had the displeasure of removing many deceased people from car wrecks, suicides, wrestling down overdosed, and drug crazed people. But I also was able to save many and reduce their pain.
The scales are balanced.
I’ve done things, been to war and have my demons. But I have lived a life of honor and wouldn’t change a thing.
I have trouble when I hear people brag about what they have accomplished in civilian life. They have no clue! I smile and nod but think, “You ain’t shit, buddy!” They brag they have a college degree and I smile. I have five college degrees, thanks to Uncle Sam, but I don’t brag. I have a Masters degree from the school of life. A damn good life. A hard life… but still…a good life.
They have no idea. God Bless our veterans who know what I’m talking about.