Thursday, July 24, 2008

D-196: Hell is in Fallon, NV

The Army doesn’t debrief missions; well, the convoy commander debriefs the intel guys, but that’s all. I hate debriefs, but these guys repeat the same mistakes time and again; mostly trivial slip-ups, like taking a wrong turn or smashing a truck into a cement highway divider, but perhaps they ought to consider taking a moment to talk a few things over anyhow.

In the Navy, at least in aviation, the debrief is the longest, most excruciating phase of every event; often taking more time than the mission or exercise itself! Every unit has its own flavor of unnecessarily long debriefing checklist, and we go through each item, line by line, giving each blowhard a chance to stand up in front of a group to pop off at the mouth, proving how smart he is or pointing out why the missions’ failures were entirely your fault and not his. The mother of them all is in Fallon, Nevada; where every detail of flight is debriefed, mercilessly sucking the soul out of the hapless aviators, leaving something ashen and frail in their stead; skeletons in flight suits, with barely enough strength to hold themselves upright in their chairs.

If hell is in fact a personal journey, as famously suggested by Dante, than I am quite certain that my hell would be a Fallon style debrief of my life. I am going to quit watching porn; just to hedge my bets.

In my hell, the single vending machine in the hall of the NSAWC building steals my last dollar, and some nerd with a Top Gun patch is yelling “Let’s go! Hurry Up,” in the infuriating way that small men who lack influence shout at people to complete a task that they are already executing, making everyone want to stop dead just to spite them.

I am already tired, hungry, and sweating as I descend the stairs into the dark belly of a Fallon debriefing room; the room looks and smells like a small movie theater, with a large screen in the front facing ten or twelve rows of stadium style seating, but nothing entertaining will occur here. My mood slips a peg lower as the cinema parallel reminds me of yet another thing I would rather be doing.

I choose a seat toward the back, nestled comfortably between the crew of the EA-6B Prowler and the SH-60 pilots; we form like Voltron into a protective armor of Airwing “Fat Kids,” as the fighter jocks race for positions in the front row, anxious to call out their shots and congratulate themselves for achieving such high levels of success in spite of the pitiful support from the Hawkeyes and Prowlers. The Helo guys are not even acknowledged.

The Rhino pilots settle into their seats in their best slunk-down, too-cool-to-care, Tom Cruise impersonation; cherishing every moment of their “fighterdom,” before they are inevitably recast in the role of “Airwing Tanking Platform.” One of them is recounting some old tale of his glory in the Tomcat; even the other fighter guys look bored.

“Okay, let’s get started!” The Top Gun AIC instructor shouts from the front of the room.

At this point, all the other Aviators fade away, like a desert mirage in an old cartoon, and I am suddenly aware that I am dead. I am alone in the stands; the Top Gun Instructor is still standing up front, a broad Cheshire Cat grin on his face.

“I knew it, you are the devil.” The satisfaction of discovering this truth dissipates instantly. The devil just keeps smiling and calmly shrugs, raising him palms upward.

The debriefing begins; we are watching my life in real time. The camera angle is my eyes, in the first person, like a game of Halo, except I am usually armed with Miller Lite bottles and Camels instead of Plasma Rifles and Needlers. We fast forward through all the good times with the sound muted; at all of my life’s lowest, most miserable, embarrassing points, the devil hollers:

“Stop tape!” We re-watch the incident, sometimes working the tape in slow motion to capture all the particularly horrible moments.

He turns to me with a serious, instructional face; “Okay, what did you do wrong here?”

I sigh audibly; he knows damn well what I did wrong. I shrug and roll my eyes, “I don’t know; it looks like I’m peeing in someone’s closet.”

“Right, okay, and why… um… why exactly did you do this?”

“Well, I guess I was pretty drunk, that looks like a dorm room doesn’t it.” I reply sarcastically.

“Okay good, good… sooooooo” he drags out the word in an effort to make me jump in with the answer he wants to hear, I will not. “So, what do you think you could do better next time?”

He crosses his arms and bounces up and down anxiously awaiting my response and with it his chance to talk more – these Top Gun guys are the same in hell as they are on earth.

“I guess, maybe not drink so much next time” I answer, my voice dripping with boredom.

“Okay, good, great. Well, what does TACMAN say?”

“What?” I ask incredulously, “There’s a TACMAN for life?”

“There is a TACMAN for everything in hell,” his eyes glow red and he queues up his theatrical, maniacal devil laugh.

We run this routine until we have reached the end of the tape of my life. Relieved that it is finally over, I stand up, stretch, and rub my weary eyes with the backs of my hands.

When I look up, I am standing in front of the vending machine in the hall, the anger of just having had my dollar stolen still fresh. The devil is standing at the door of the briefing room, yelling “Let’s go! Hurry Up,” at the crowd of somber looking men and women in flight suits who are already filing in.

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