April 17, 2018
For the better part of my 15-year marriage to an Air Force pilot, I kissed my husband goodbye as he walked out the door in his green flight suit worn in garrison and smashed down any concern that something bad could happen to him. He spent his days and nights flying touch-and-go's, pilot proficiency flights, and other local sorties; checking boxes for currency in emergency procedures, tactical approaches, instrument ratings, and a gazillion other odds and ends to keep him and his crew safe when the environment was inhospitable.
I saved my fear for deployments, when he wore the beige desert flight suit, and his tactical training, range exercises, mission rehearsals and Visual Threat Recognition and Avoidance Trainer (VTRAT) would be needed to get through a long mission. I would hope his emergency procedure training was so ingrained, and his reflexes so quick, that even being shot at couldn't keep him from landing with a damaged engine, failed instrument, or degraded flight control.
As my husband trained late in to the night at his permanent duty station, I laid in bed, listening to the flight patterns overhead, locally known as “the sound of freedom,” and slept soundly knowing he would walk in at the end of his flight, smelling like hydraulic fluid and the weird flame retardant fabric of his flightsuit.
Yet, in the last few weeks, there have been six aviation crashes with 16 lost servicemembers. Four of those crashes happened on training missions in the U.S. While the exact causes of the two accidents overseas is still unknown, there is no initial reporting connecting them to hostile acts.
Now, my gut has a visceral response, and I think, "This is not how you are supposed to lose a servicemember."
Training fatalities are always a possibility. Accidents happen; on the way to work, at work, on the way home, in your driveway. Military service is inherently dangerous. However, the looming growth, in this case, of aviation accidents is a stain on the world's most capable military.
According to Military Times, manned warplane accidents are up 40 percent since across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration went into effect in 2013. That was when Congress, unable to agree on a way to balance the budget after 12 years of investment in combat on two fronts and a growing pool of entitlements for the largest generation of retirees yet, implemented a law that cut everything. Slowly, the effects are showing.
Have decreased flight hours, pilot shortages, reduced funding for equipment maintenance and upgrades, and sparser training opportunities increased the lethality of friendly skies (or waters, or ranges)?
Continuous combat operations over 17 years has foisted an unprecedented amount of stress on military families. Most military families today don't know what peacetime in military service looks like. Time at home is the one break military families might have from the stress of deployments, and uncertainty, and reintegration.
Sequestration is the result of the inability of one body, responsible for declarations of war and with the power of the purse, to reconcile the cost of their legislative priorities with the willingness of the people of the U.S. to pay for it. If the national budget was that of the average American family, one might see changed transportation routines or a rebalancing of spending habits when the household budget could no longer accommodate oil changes for an aging vehicle and expired registration brought risk of traffic tickets.
Attempts to reduce the national debt without significant changes in one side of the balance sheet - increases in investment or reductions in military commitments - may inspire a different type of bankruptcy, one that will be much harder to recover from: depleting the trust of military families.
I no longer feel confident about my husband's safety in the green flightsuit.
While Congress and DoD lament the pilot shortage, more of our precious personnel assets are likely to be lost to avoidable accidents because of funding shortages. Military families maintain their commitments to service because they feel a part of a greater cause worth the sacrifice. How likely would they be to serve if they believed the folly of an arbitrary budget cut would be the reason their status changes from dependent to survivor?