The Bullet of Dependence: The Combat Pilot’s Greatest Calling
The heroic warrior is an ancient and enduring figure in our cultural imagination –
- David pitted against the physically imposing Goliath
- Alexander the Great astride Bucephalus,
- Joan of Arc at the head of the French army
- Nelson aboard his flag ship at Trafalgar
- Washington shivering at Valley Forge
- Jim Bowie defending the Alamo
- Grant taking Lee’s surrender at Appomattox
- Sergeant York in the Argonne
- Patton leading the 3rd Army into Germany
- John McCain in the “Hanoi Hilton”
One of my favorite icons of a great hero is the combat fighter pilot. The successful ones are the most skilled pilots to ever fly. Comic artist Charles Schultz drew upon this image to create a romantic hero, the WWI Flying Ace, for his ever- popular cartoon character, Snoopy. Lying atop his doghouse, Snoopy dreams of flying his Sopwith Camel into the sun to confuse his arch enemy, the Red Baron, in their solo duel for supremacy. As Snoopy and the Red Baron battle, they are each determined to prove their prowess and skill. It is a battle of the best against the best. Even when Snoopy is shot down he shakes his paw at the sky and throws out his immortal words, “Curse you, Red Baron, until we meet again!”
Snoopy’s WWI Flying Ace is a lone hero but real combat pilots know that they are totally dependent on many others if they are to fight successfully. First, they depend on the machine they fly. A combat airplane is an astonishing creation. A modern fighter is costly and extremely complex with mechanical, electronic and computer systems that ensure its dependability and efficiency. (How about one billion per plane?!?!) The pilot trusts his life to the engineering of his craft each time he flies. It is an amazing feat to lift tons of metal into the air, maintain its supersonic flight and equip it to engage in overpowering warfare. A combat pilot is nothing without his aircraft.
A combat pilot flies because he has received orders. He has a specific mission, has been given “war plan” guidance and is briefed on how that mission is to be accomplished. These orders come from his commander who expects him to carry them out to the best of his ability and regardless of risk!
Although a pilot is in total charge of his plane, he is not alone. Unless he is in a single seater, he has his flight crew. Even solo pilots communicate with others who can help them “fly” their mission. Every pilot also has his ground crew. He and his support personnel must draw on all the resources of the military to have the knowledge, the equipment and the tools they need to keep the aircraft “in commission.” The plane must be “combat ready” for every mission it is tasked to perform and be ready at a moment’s notice!
When pilots enter combat they either go solo, in a flight of two or in a formation. Tactics have changed radically over the last 100 years and are still changing. From the solo warriors of WWI, to the massed bombers of WWII, to the unmanned combat aircraft of today, air warfare is still developing. When engaged as a flight of two, the lead pilot must trust his wingman to aide him in carrying out the mission, protecting his rear (6 o’clock position) and returning safely. Flying in formation is more than exciting public relations as done by such crack teams as the Thunderbirds (Air Force) and Blue Angels (Navy). It is the craft of the combat pilot to fit his airplane into a seamless, deadly aerial ballet with his friends and against his foes.
Combat pilots must spend many hours perfecting their tactics. The science of warfare has been continuously taught for centuries from military academies, to special schools within the military … from veterans to recruits … and, most significantly, from combat experience itself. The true warrior never stops learning. From ancient China and Assyria to Greece and Rome, from the Crusades to Renaissance Europe, from our American Revolution to the modern military, the study and teaching of the rules and ruses of armed human conflict have been a discipline of scholar and warrior alike. No combat pilot flies and conquers successfully without the radical discipline of combat tactics becoming as natural as breathing. The skill demanded is ever changing and never ending. The “combat zone” demands risk, skill, tenacity and courage whether one is in air combat, bombing a target, conducting a chopper rescue or flying a critical cargo!
True Cross Disciples are the combat pilots in the “spiritual combat zone” in which all of us live. They are not alone in living the Christ Life, even though they are the first line of offense/defense against the enemies of the Gospel of Jesus. The Church, other Believers, and the Holy Spirit guide and encourage them as they lead the battle to study holy, to think holy, to be holy and to act holy. Cross Disciples have a Commander Who has given them orders. Christ Jesus has set the bar and the standard by His Own mission assignment from the Father. As our Head, He took up His own Combat Cross and told us to “follow Me … and I will make you …” what I want you to be (Jesus in Matthew 4:19).
The ultimate aim of every Christian should be evident. We must walk the path of discipleship until we are “spiritually combat ready” to take our place in Christ’s Church as Cross Disciples. We do not sustain ourselves alone. We do not train alone. We do not disciple ourselves alone nor do we go into combat alone. But all true Cross Disciples must decide they will, if necessary, die alone for the cause for which they live. Our Lord Himself has demonstrated the war plan and, if we love Him and value His lead, we must follow. There is no other way to truly be His Warrior!
“For we who are alive are always being given over to death (ordered into combat) for Jesus’ sake, so that His life (of cross-resurrection promise) may be revealed in our mortal body!” II Corinthians 4:11. HDM