90. Navy Pilot’s Wife

90. Navy Pilot’s Wife

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Happily Ever After

Navy Pilot’s Wife

You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.

~Frederick Buechner

When you are a navy pilot’s wife, every phone call makes you stiffen, and every knock at the door brings a lump to your throat and a knot to your stomach. The dangers of combat are obvious, but even routine flights have inherent dangers. Flying is a perilous business, and families of pilots face that on a day-to-day basis.

It was a difficult six months when my husband was deployed as a helicopter pilot in the Persian Gulf region. We had two daughters, and I was pregnant with our third. Dennis and I e-mailed each other as much as we could, trying to support each other from opposite sides of the world. I faced the challenges of being a temporarily single parent back home, and he faced the challenges of long, hot flights over the Persian Gulf.

We talked about everything except the dangers he faced. He didn’t bring it up because he didn’t want to worry me. I didn’t bring it up because I didn’t want to burden him with my worries. But the dangers were real, and we both knew it. I knew he was a good pilot, but that didn’t stop the nightmares I had of him flying in slow motion, the sand whirling around, the smell of burning fuel and the sound of clicking rotors as his helicopter plummeted to the ground. I never told him about the nightmares, but every time I had them, I awoke shaking and sweaty, with the taste of sand in my mouth.

During spring vacation from school, the girls and I took a trip to South Carolina with my parents. For the first time during Dennis’s deployment, I relaxed and let go of the constant worry. He would be home in another month, and all was well. Truthfully, I was relieved to be out of our house, where I had to wonder if every knock on the door might be that of a Navy chaplain.

We were walking in from a bike ride when I heard my cell phone ringing. I ran to answer it but could only hear a lot of noise on the other end. “Hello?” I said, then yelled, “HELLO?”

Then, on the other end of the line, I heard, “Sarah? It’s me. I’m okay. I need you to know that it wasn’t me and that everyone got out okay. I’ll call you as soon as I can...” and then the phone went dead.

What was he talking about? I had no idea, but I felt my throat tighten and a sandy taste filled my mouth.

“What’s wrong, Mom?” my daughter asked.

“I’m not sure, honey,” I said, and I walked to the TV and turned it to CNN. The scroll line at the bottom of the screen said: “NAVY HELICOPTER CRASHES.”

I got a chill and started to shake. He was okay. I took a deep breath and patted my pregnant belly. “Daddy is okay.”

I didn’t find out the whole story until later. My husband had been the pilot of one of two helicopters set to fly in formation. He took off first, and, when he turned to spot the other helicopter, he saw it on the ground in flames. Everyone had gotten out of the aircraft, but he didn’t know that at the time. He landed nearby and found out that his squadron mates were okay. When he saw a news crew pull up, his first thought was how scared I would be if I saw video of the crashed helicopter on TV. He remembered he had his cell phone in his flight suit pocket, and, just moments after the accident, he called me. Amidst all the chaos, despite how close he and his fellow pilots had come to disaster, he was thinking about protecting me. His selflessness touched me and brought us even closer together.

I haven’t dreamed about helicopter crashes since.

 

~Sarah Monagle
Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul

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