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Band of Brothers

April 13, 2013

I’ve got my own brothers.  Three of ’em, all older.  Each of them are unique and well turned out.  They’re good guys.  With our upbringing, circumstances, kids, households and tribulations much in common, we’ve developed a fondness and respect for each other.  It feels rich and satisfying.  It’s a bond.

In my job as a pilot, I’ve been just as lucky.  People I’ve known as classmates, former students or co-workers I now consider brothers, too.  Male and female, our fellowship is just as strong as my ‘real’ brothers.  At this locus in our careers we have all been through a tremendous amount.  Job interviews.  Ground schools.  Flight checks.  Ramp checks.  Relocations.  Picture-postcard layovers shared with family.  Nightmare layovers rationed with louts.  Delays.  Working holidays far away from home.  Aircraft mechanical ‘issues’ small and large.  Furloughs.  Company liquidations.  Accidents.

With my return to flying these past few months, I was again awash in this hearty stock.  Guys and gals in my ‘new-hire’ class hailed from every point of the compass with experiences just as diverse.  As we went around the room that first day, each of us rattled off our curriculum vitae.  Those details of our lives–our backgrounds up until that point–had umpteen shared threads.  During classroom breaks or over lunch, we’d fill in the blanks of our stories, punctuating each with wit and charisma.  By the time we were all finished with training and blessed to go ply our trade, we had woven a substantial bolt of new fabric together.

It was yet another ream I would get to luxuriate in, like wrapping a soft blanket around oneself on a brisk evening.  This warm, comforting feeling I have had the pleasure of enjoying ever since I started flying.  There is something about moving along through the air at fatal altitudes and airspeeds, carefully managing the threats this endeavor presents, that just begs for commiseration. As if to say, “Wow, I just got away with that!  I cheated death–again!  Can you dig it?

Oh yes I can.  And so can my pilot friends.  Okay, so maybe not everything we do in the pointy end of an aircraft is dodging the Grim Reaper’s scythe.  But what still amazes me is how this bond we each have with each other manifests itself in completely non-aviation ways.

For example, help.  I was remodeling our home a few years ago.  Out came friends to demolish the old stuff, put up the new stuff, paint, lay tile, install lights, sump pumps, landscaping.  Even offers to babysit my kids while I tackled something messy.  When I needed a job, they penned letters of recommendation.  Or better yet, supplied a job offer.  It has happened several times to me.  And I am eternally grateful.

Sharing of information is common, too.  Gouge on checkrides, or crash pads in New York City or where to rent a condo at Disneyworld.  Advice on how to bid successfully for days off from work pays real dividends to one’s quality of life.  Guidance provided.  Want help planning my retirement accounts?  Another friend stepped up.

This does not mean I agree with everything my pilot friends say or do.  Or believe in.  I strive to leave those thorny subjects like religion and politics out because we each have the right to think and do as we wish.  Not because I don’t like a raucous debate.  It’s just not worth the hard feelings that could corrode that foundation of respect.  Frankly it helps keep my mind open to new ideas.

There’s an old joke among pilots:  How do you know if there’s a pilot at a party?  He’ll tell you.

Yeah, pilots tend to be big mouths.  We’re a proud lot, fur sure.  Opinionated too.  Full of crap sometimes.  But we are also fiercely loyal.  And exceedingly generous.  All of those examples of help proffered have been free.  No strings attached.  No debts to be repaid.  Nothing expected in return.  “Just pay it forward“, whispered my conscience.  I will.

And just this evening I had a friend call with another preposterously open-handed offer.  One of those, “Really?  Are there really people like this anymore?  And why are they calling me?!”  I’m stunned and amazed.  Dunno if I or my family deserve it.  I suppose philanthropy exists in all of us if we count our blessings.  I’m certain that this friend and his family have happily run out of fingers and toes counting theirs.  They are just paying it forward.

Ernie Gann, the great American writer, penned a novel called Band of Brothers.  In the book, several airline pilots–each with disparate backgrounds–come to the rescue of one of their own–a fellow unjustly imprisoned over an aircraft accident he did not commit.  It’s only a little far-fetched, the ending of the book.  But what is not far-fetched at all is that bond, that connection, that band that connects us all.  Like Lou, Todd and Tom, they are brothers to me, too.

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