A Sense of Duty

by Scott Anderson


Part 1

16th June 1996

A man walked down the stairs dragging on a jacket, while he fumbled with his collar.

“Katie hon., where’re my keys!” The man calls out, as he arrives in the kitchen,

Pausing to greet his daughter by ruffling her hair, as she sat at the table.

A voice from the family room calls back out in a wearisome voice “ They’re by the coffeemaker Tom, where they always are.” Katie says well used to these afternoon rituals. Found as they were on the tail end of Toms day’s off

After greeting his 12-year-old daughter, he asked if she was feeling better, before he headed off with his coffee in one hand, and his briefcase in the other.

“You’ll be fine Tomorrow Samantha, just in time for your math test “ Tom says to his sick daughter.

“Aw dad I hate school,” Samantha replies with all the enthusiasm of one told to polish a cathedral.

“I know you do Samm, but we all have to do things we don’t want to do: yours is school.

“But it sucks dad” she retorts.

Mornings in the Carlson household are often confusing, as Major Tom Carlson, U.S.A.F,

Has a distinct lack of domestic abilities. Catching his wife at the door, he gives her a quick peck on the lips “ got a bunch of new pilots coming in today, so I might not be home till Tomorrow, depending on if I get any in my group... Man I hate Grads” Tom says as he hugs his wife.

“Well just be careful and come back safe. I’ll watch over Samm... O.K. you get going you’ll be late.”

She says as she breaks Tom’s embrace.

As Tom runs out to his red, gas guzzling Ford 4x4 (he refused to have it converted to a more economical alcohol, or fuel cell) his wife calls out “I love you Tom”

He responds with a wink and casual “ I know”, as he starts the engine and drives away,

Heading towards the wing commander’s office 10 miles away on the far side of Paterson air force base.

The drive, while necessary, is very bland... houses, shops and open ground followed by barracks and hangers

Followed by the Flight contingent buildings. Pulling into his designated spot he shuts off his engine, before he heads to his office.

“Afternoon Sergeant Sanders. Any messages?” he calls to the young female secretary who serves his squadron.

“Just one sir “ she answers “Colonel Jackson wishes to see you about your... squadron.

“Thank you Tina, “ he returns.

“Ah well,” Tom thought to himself as he placed his briefcase on his midsize steel desk “best get this over with.”

As Major Tom Carlson left his office and began the walk to the wing commander’s, he recollected over the many times he had been forced to make a similar walk; first as a grad from the academy for disruptive behavior (that incident had nearly got him court marshaled), then after the gulf to account for the unauthorized release of weapons from a junior pilot in his squadron.

Tom shook his head. If it were not for his cool head under fire, he would have been out of the force long before he got where he was now.

As he approached the Colonel’s large office, Tom heard what was to most of his men and friends ‘music’... the sound of an Jet taking off from the nearby airfield, looking up ...he observed, the pilot perform a low altitude roll while still in landing configuration.

Smiling to himself he realized that the only pilot other than himself with that kind of arrogance was his friend and squad mate Lt. Tony Faria.

Returning his mind to the ground Tom headed in to the colonels office.

“Major Tom Carlson reporting as ordered, Sir” he stated as he entered the Colonel’s office proper saluting... as though it was an inspection

“Ah... Tom... come in, have a seat, no need to be so formal now, is there? ”The Colonel said smoothly, his easy demeanor putting Tom on edge, it being much different than the Major’s other visits to Jackson’s office.

“Well Major, I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called you in,” the Colonel leafed through some papers in a thinly disguised attempt to get Tom to ask “Why sir “.

After a few moments Tom Carlson takes the bait “ Why sir what can I do for you? “

“Well as you know it’s that time again. New pilots straight from the academy and your going to get three, to replace lieutenants Smith, Richards, and Card., they’re due in around 1700...”

“I assume you’re going to take them on one of your induction flights, Major?”

“Uh. I... how?” Tom sputter’s “What I mean is.... Yes I’m going to take them on an extended duration ACM and M.A.R flight Sir”. Tom hastily replies.

“Hmm very well just file a flight plan with ATC before 1630 Dismissed” the Colonel replies.

As the Major hurries away from his superior’s office, his mind turns his duties...

Repair orders, socializing, preparing for the new pilots, duty assignments, anything else he’s called on to do.

He finds himself walking over to his squadron’s ready room.

Upon his arrival, the sound of laughter can be heard,

Entering the informal home of 124th, the cause of the mirth became clear

As the squadron’s crew chief Laura Anderson, teasing, and goofing around as usual to the delight of his unit.

Calls out to him “Tom! Hi, what’s up” then she walked over and gave the Major a fond embrace

“So who’s shipping out then? “ Laura says, as she releases Tom from her hug.

“Uh, hi Sergeant... Laura you know, you really should pay more respect to authority than you do.”

“Oh come off it Tom, you know that I do not give a rat’s ass about ranks and ‘protocol’ I’m just having a laugh, any ways, I’ve got to get to the hanger. Faria should be landing soon.”

Laura headed out as though she were partially made of springs... her energy and vigor apparent in her step.

As she leaves the ready room, Tom calls out,

“ Oh make sure you fuel up the relief F15s and my Raptor. I’ve got an induction flight to do in a bit. “

A chorus of groans and snickers emanates from the pilots assembled around the ready room, as the pilots remember their “induction flight” 10- 15 hours of mind numbing boredom, flying out over the Atlantic, refueling and heading back.

Shudders come from some of the younger pilots as they remember the twists he put on such a routine flight.

“Will do boss-man,“ Laura retorts, as she disappears from view behind a corner

Quickly checking his watch, Tom went to his desk to start work on his flight plan for the evening...

“Lets see” Tom thought as he worked on his plan for the evening.

“A long straight out trip from Colorado at 30000 feet, followed by some ACM practice at 3000’, around midnight, and then returning to base from 40000 feet around 8 am ... a lovely 13 hours estimated flight time.” Signing the form, he sent it via messenger to the control tower.

“Lieutenant Ryans, get over here!“ Tom bellowed into the open hall linking his office to the pilot’s lounge.

As the young pilot ran out at the major’s call, he was told to rush the flight plan up to the air traffic controller’s office pronto.

Tom checked his watch against the base’s clock to confirm the time. It was 1625; the pilots were due in 30 minutes.

Better get ready” he thinks to himself as Ryan’s returns panting from his run.

Meanwhile on a U.S.A.F, bus the recent grads are discussing their first posting.

“So Redford I hear you got stuffed with Major Carlson’s squad “? “Total bummer man, he’s got a nasty pilot kill ratio ... “

“Just shut up Gonzalas, just shut up ...he’s a good pilot and any way’s who’ve you got?“

Mike Redford retorts heatedly,

“ Oh some guy called Grimwood “ don’t know much about him though, must be a minor unit “Lieutenant Gonzalas returns halfheartedly,

As the half empty bus pulls onto Paterson for they’re first posting, fresh from the academy.

Pulling up to the main office building. The young lieutenants were given the standard ‘welcome to the base’ speech and told to report to their officers immediately.

Gonzalas and the other 2 pilots headed off to the far side of the base, while

The pilots Redford, Gouryo & Moore headed over to the 124th's ready room. Where an angry Major met them outside, tapping his foot and looking at his watch.

“What time do you call this? “ Tom bellows out like a drill instructor “ You were supposed to be here by 1700... it is now 1701! I will not tolerate this lackadaisical attitude towards punctuality. You will stow your flight gear in your lockers and report back here inside of 4, minutes do you hear me?”

“Yes Major Carlson sir!” the new lieutenants reply, as they hurry off to their tasks.

Barely able to suppress a laugh, Tom walked in to the pilot’s lounge where his squadron was hooting with laughter over their ‘strict’ CO.

“You really got them good, Tom!”Laura laughs out between giggles “Planes are ready to fly.”

A clatter of boots and muttered curses from the locker room as the new boys raced to avoid earning any further censure from the Major.

“Man, Redford this er Carlson’s wound tighter’n a watch spring!" Lt. John Moore commented as he headed out to meet the Major.

As the other 2 pilots finished stowing their gear, they ran back out side as per the Major’s instruction.

“Well, as this time you’re not late, I’ll only make you do THREE laps around the airfield ... NOW MOVE!” Tom ordered as his other pilots snickered inside the lounge

At his performance. With the new pilots

“Nice one boss “ Tony Faria said as soon as the fresh Lt.’s. Were out of range “So whose going up with you?”

“You, me and the new boys, so suit up “ Tom replied with a smile.

Then he went to his locker and began the laborious task of putting on his pressure suit. . Always paying careful attention to the laces that his life will soon depend on.

He straps on the vest and neck portions of the suit, the familiar encumbrance of the high G pressure suit reminding him that soon he will once again caress the sky.

Meanwhile back at the Carlson’s 1/2-acre estate Katie and Samantha are doing

The homework that had brought: over by a school friend.

Sam was complaining, using the same argument that has been played out the nation over.

"Mom, why do we have to learn this algebra junk? What good is it going to be?"

“ I don’t know … just do it, “ Katie answered in an exasperated tone.

“All right mom” Sam pouts as she picks up the pen to continue.

“Oh” Katie called out.

“ Remember Hon you’ve got your therapist appointment Tomorrow at 2 PM” Katie continues as she cleaned up around the house.

Back at the base, Tom and Tony were suited up and heading for the airfield where the others were doing their lap’s.

“Tony what’s the time man” Tom as he put his jacket and shades on.

“ Uh 1810, boss 50 min till we head out. Tony answers easily” Think they’ll be done yet?“

“They better be they’ll need to get suited up by 1900” he responds, as they arrived at the hangar and airfield, the three new pilots were coming round to began their third and final lap of the runway.

“ That’s enough you three, get suited up we leave in …40 minutes “ Tom call’s as they came in to range. After a brief check on the time.*

“ Sir... we’re not flyin’ ...tonight are we “? Moore pant’s out.

“Yes “Tom answers gently “We are, so get ready, you have 37 minutes to prepare, now get going”.

Watching them run off yet again, Tom couldn’t keep the grin off his face.

As he knew what was in store from them on this induction flight. He was brought out of his reverie, by his 2nd in command, Tony

“Earth to Tom Earth to- oh back are we, well let’s preflight the jets and set the radios, before they get back.”

Meeting them at the hanger door Laura Anderson was waiting with a hug and a smile for Tom and Tony

“The F15 fighters 102, 302, 016, and 41 are fueled up and ready cannons and dead missiles loaded Faria, Tom your Raptor is carrying live ordinance so be careful O.K.”

“Thanks Laura “Tony said, as he gave her a quick peck on the cheek “Tom you want me to take 3 of the fighters or do you want to do them all yourself,”

“Ha you take the 3 nearest to you, I’ll take my raptor and the far two let get going.” Tom Carlson replied.

Although normally the pilots do the preflight of their aircraft, but today Tom was feeling generous as he, and his 2nd were going to do them all.

“Tony make sure to set the radio channels as follows” Tom called, as he was working in his fighters cramped cockpit “tac 1, squadron, 2 base, 3 general, 4 reserved, that’s the one I’ll use to give orders we’ll let em chat amongst themselves no sense making them suffer in silence.”

The rest of the pre flight checks went without a hitch as Tony Faria, and Tom Carlson, under the watchful gaze of Laura completed their checks and began to move the aircraft out to the taxiway.

The watches of both men beeped the hour at1900.

A handful of seconds later Moore, Gourye, and Redford arrived in their flight suits.

All prepared for their first flight in the 124th fighter squadron .The major pointed out there aircraft as he climbed in to his, once sealed into the cockpit and the ground crew removed the ladders Tom began to request permission for takeoff.

“This is flight lead to control I am requesting clearance to taxi.”

“This is control you and your flight are cleared for taxi to runway 29” The young voice of the ATC officer replied cheerily.

As the sleek fighters moved out of the hangers, and down to the runway appointed to them.

“You and torture flight are cleared for take off “ She continued as they taxied onto the runway.

As the fighters of Tom’s torture flight lifted in to the air Tom gave the pilots some last minute instructions

“Keep Tac 4 open at all times I will use this frequency for flight instructions, the other channels are as follows squadron, base and general respectively.

Feel free to talk among yourselves on this induction flight.”

“Welcome to Dagger squadron boys.” He finished with an upbeat tone in his voice.

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