We take them for granted.

We shouldn’t, of course, but we do.

We see them throughout our community, those young men and women in fatigues, some wearing green flight suits, which they refer to as “bags,” because of their rather shapeless nature.

We notice them, but we don’t pay particular attention because we are so used to seeing them. They are a part of our everyday lives, they are woven into the fabric of our community.

Sometimes we thank them for their service, because we do, after all, appreciate them, but we don’t stop to consider what we are actually thanking them for, unless we ourselves have been in their boots or have a family member currently serving in the military.

We take them for granted.

They fly over our homes virtually every day, rattling our windows, drowning out our conversations and shattering the peace and quiet of our day on the plains.

But we really don’t notice them. Visitors look up and marvel as they fly over, in ones and twos, in their shiny jets and turboprop aircraft. To those not accustomed to it the sight of Air Force planes overhead is something of a marvel. To those of us who live here it is just another part of daily life.

We know them. Many of us work with them, live next door to them, go to church with them or share moments with them at our kids’ shared activities.

And when we get to know them we learn they are fine people, hard-working, upstanding, honest, ambitious, true assets to our little Oklahoma town.

We take them for granted.

We don’t mean to, but it is just human nature. Since 1941 the air base south of town has been part and parcel of life in Enid, first as an Army airfield and later as an Air Force Base named after our own local hero, Lt. Col. Leon R. Vance Jr.

We see them go to work in the morning, come home in the evening. We know the base’s mission is to train pilots, as well as air traffic controllers, but we don’t really know what that entails. Certainly a lot of flying, but that’s all we know.

We take them for granted.

We don’t think about the fact that a pilot training slot is a highly coveted prize in the U.S. Air Force. These young people we see eating next to us in local restaurants wearing their baggy flight suits are the best of the best, the top of their class, they have had to live up to some high standards simply to earn the right to be assigned to live among us for the 54 weeks of their training.

Then they face a rigorous academic schedule before they even get a sniff of an airplane. And as demanding as their classroom work is, the training pressure is increased exponentially when they step for their first training flight.

Flunk a test or blow a standup emergency procedures quiz and you’ll get a bad grade, or be embarrassed in front of your peers. Fail in the airplane and it could cost you your life.

We take them for granted, these young men and women who are risking their lives, and the lives of their instructors, and hey, don’t forget this, our lives as well to a lesser degree, every time they buckle in and fire up their aircraft. Those are our homes, schools, churches and businesses they are flying over, after all.

This is a no-kidding dangerous business they are getting themselves into, not only when they are going through their training here, but also given the fact that within months of completing undergraduate pilot training they could be flying missions over Afghanistan where, oh yeah, by the way, we are still very much at war.

We take them for granted when we look up and see two of the swept-wing T-38 jets flying overhead, their wingtips mere feet apart.

We see the beginning or ending of a formation ride, not undertaken to show off, but to teach the basic fighter pilot skill of flying in close contact with a wingman, an essential factor in air combat.

We take them for granted, because nothing ever goes wrong, or hardly ever, anyway. It wasn’t like that in the old days.

Go back through the archives of this august publication and it is easy to find numerous reports of aircraft accidents, many involving fatalities. Planes used to go down on a regular basis back then.

But we have been spoiled. In recent years Vance Air Force Base has had a virtually spotless safety record. Nothing bad ever happens anymore, it seems.

Until it does.

We don’t know what happened in the recent accident at Vance, that will be for the investigators to decide. What we do know is that two fine people died in the Nov. 21 crash, a 47-year-old instructor pilot with a wife and two sons and a 23-year-old student with a young wife.

And we are reminded once again what these people are doing. They are risking their lives every day in defense of our great nation.

And we take them for granted. We should be ashamed.

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Mullin is an award-winning writer and columnist who retired in 2017 after 41 years with the News & Eagle. Email him at janjeff2002@yahoo.com or write him in care of the Enid News & Eagle at PO Box 1192, Enid, OK, 73702.


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