A Slice of Turkish Humble Pie
It was my first deployment in one of the most unforgiving peacetime environments in the world – my first operational fighter squadron. The weather was bad and our formation of four jets was forced to fly a pretty complicated instrument procedure into our deployed location at the far end of the Mediterranean. While each pilot was flying his own approach, we were also charged with maintaining a position two miles behind the jet in front of us by cross checking our radar. I took pride in flying a smooth jet, but I became saturated in the bevy of tasks that afternoon and my usual precision seemed to unravel into out-and-out flailing.
I was weaving left and right of course and it seemed like I was moving the throttle continually from stop-to-stop. It was without a doubt one of the worst approaches of my life and while I managed to get back on the ground safely, the effort really made me question my own faculties. I was brand new in the unit, trying to establish a little credibility, and those moments of seeming incompetence were weighing heavily on me as we touched down.
As soon the van picked up the four of us, the other thee pilots jumped into an animated conversation. “I got to tell you boys, that was one of the worst approaches of my life. I was all over the sky and never did settle into a smooth rhythm — It was mighty ugly!” Bill “Blaze” Binger said it so matter-of-factly that the weight of guilt I was feeling began to lighten. If someone with his experience and reputation could fly a bad approach, then maybe I could cut myself some slack. I knew it really was a one-off, but if he hadn’t made light of his own performance, that approach would have haunted me for months beyond.
That night, I thought back on the fact that Blaze had been right behind me throughout the approach. He could have seen my every bob, weave, and change in airspeed with his radar, but there wasn’t even a hint of sarcasm in his voice. To this day, I don’t know if he was really talking about himself, or if he was trying to let me know that even the best fall short every now and then.
Whether you’re looking at yourself or someone else, when your own standards are high, even small failures can seem disproportionate. If Blaze’s words were directed at himself, then he set the bar high for honesty. If they were directed at me, he re-enforced his commitment to my growth by letting me know that everyone has a bad day. Somehow he managed to accomplish both that afternoon.