CHAPTER TWO: Flow
Many years ago, I was sent to Africa on a mission with my Special Forces team. We flew there on an Air Force C-130 transport plane. A C-130 is a turboprop that is not intended for transatlantic flight, so we had to stop over in the Azores for the night on the way over. It was not a comfortable flight, given that the seating is designed for paratroopers loaded down with gear for a short flight not for air travelers flying four-thousand miles. But we were soldiers. And we got there.
When the mission ended and we were ready return to Fort Bragg, I was told to have my team at the airfield twelve hours before the C-130 was scheduled to return just in case something went wrong. Even if I hadn’t been told that, I probably would have done it anyway because something usually did go wrong if it could. That’s Murphy’s Law.
About an hour before our plane was scheduled to arrive, the guy from the embassy who was responsible for transportation drove out to where my team was waiting with our gear to tell me that our C-130 had been scratched. He couldn’t call me because this was a long time before cell phones, so he had to come and tell me.
“So, what do we do now?” I asked him.
“Stand by,” he responded. Which is exactly what I knew he would say. If he had known what was going to happen next, he would have already told me. After he drove off, I cursed the Air Force (as soldiers often do) for jacking us around and the military in general for the hurry-up-and-wait that constantly afflicted us.
My team sergeant, who had been reclining on his rucksack with his patrol cap over his eyes laughed at my frustration and said, “what the hell are you pissed off about Captain? We get to kick back a little while longer and it isn’t raining. They can’t leave us here forever. Besides, what’s the point of getting mad at something that is outside of your control?”
“You’re right,” I replied, laughing at myself. “No point at all.” And I sat down next to him and went to sleep.
And he was right. I had been in the Army long enough by then to know that Chaos was the predominant state of nature for a soldier. And when confronted with Chaos, the only thing you could do was act like one of Snoop’s dogs by hunkering down and waiting for a recognizable command.
Which in that case came about eight hours later when the embassy guy came back out to tell me that our aircraft was about an hour out.
“Sorry for not telling you sooner,” he said. “But I just got the word.”
“That’s okay, we got some good rack time in. Same crew that brought us out?” I asked.
“No idea Captain,” the embassy guy replied. “All they told me was to have you guys ready to load up.”
“See,” my team sergeant told me when the embassy guy had left. “We’re only nine hours behind schedule. We’ll be in the Azores by tonight and the men can call home.” Which was a good thing because nobody had spoken to their family in two months.
But that’s not what happened, because it wasn’t a C-130 that showed up to take us back home. It was a C-5, which flies almost twice as fast and twice as far as a C-130 can. Once it fueled up, it took us straight back to Fort Bragg in half the time without having to lay over in the Azores. So we ended up getting home a full day early rather than nine hours late. Plus, as I was to learn (never having been on C-5 before), unlike the C-130, it had an upper deck of airline-quality seating that was every bit as comfortable as a 767. They even fed us regular food instead of the MREs we would have been eating on a C-130.
As we settled into our seats for the flight, my team sergeant smiled at me and said, “see Captain, if you just go with flow, sometimes you get a better deal than you thought you were going to get anyway.”
He was a man who always went with the flow, and that rubbed off on me.