|Minnesota Air National Guard F-16 pilot Lt. Col. Eric Chandler shows Army Pfc. Kyle Chandler around the aircraft while deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. PHOTO: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Axelson|
In 2012, we were in Afghanistan. Flying operations took place around the clock. Manpower was stretched thin. At any particular moment, there might be only one pilot who had a “day off.” One day, I was off. The only thing worse than flying in Afghanistan is not flying in Afghanistan. Having time off just made time crawl.Chandler has pledged to run the whole length of the 275-mile Superior Hiking Trail as a fund-raiser, with proceeds going directly to the Wounded Warrior Project. (Click here for a link the "North Short Schmo" fund-raiser page.) He reports that he's already completed 15 trail segments, and he has 250 miles to go before October 31.
Then I learned a Wounded Warrior was going to tour the flight line. A memo went out looking for pilots to volunteer to lead the tour. I tried to hide initially. Then I finally raised my hand to help.
I gave a tour to Private First Class Kyle Lynch. I went over to a room in the maintenance facility and he was standing up wearing a Wounded Warrior t-shirt and shorts. Somehow, he brought it up and I said, “Well, I wasn’t going to ask, but ... what happened?”
He was in a firefight and thought a hot piece of brass fell inside his body armor. It had probably happened before. But then he couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t hot brass. He caught a bullet in the chest. He was at Kandahar recovering and was about to go back out to his unit. Get shot, heal up, and go back to the fight. There’s a war on. Remarkable.
We walked around and looked at some jets. We looked in the cockpit. We looked at the 20mm cannon that was opened up for some maintenance. He wrote the name of his unit on one of the bombs. We parted ways.
It was one of the best days of my life. I tell my kids to conquer their fear. For years, I couldn’t take my own advice. When I finally volunteered, it was gratifying.
People who thrust out their chin and say they have “no regrets” are either stupid or lying. I have regrets. Here’s one: I should’ve helped at the hospital every day I had two legs to walk on.
Onward and upward!