The Battle of Chesapeake Light

“Three minutes,” I said over the ICS to my crew chief as I pushed the nose of our helicopter over, accelerating low across the ocean for the final assault on our objective.

The bad guys had been using the Chesapeake Light platform as a transfer station for smuggling weapons and personnel between Cape Henry and the Eastern Shore. I was leading a flight of two MH-60S helicopters to insert a team of Navy SEALs and take down the platform.

I pulled the trigger on my cyclic control stick to talk to my wingman over the radio. “Two from one,” a short pause. “Okay, winds are a little off to the right. So we’ll go up the left side and set up sniper cover. You come up on the right and drop your guys. You slide out, and we’ll drop ours.”

“Roger.”

The platform grew bigger and bigger in the windscreen. My copilot, in the right seat, was now flying us toward the left side. When we were close, he popped the nose up into a quick-stop, settling in a high hover so the sniper in our right door would have a clear shot at the deck.

“Platform is clear,” he said over the radio. A second later, I saw my wingman’s helicopter slide up the other side, nose up as it slowed down and settled in low over the platform to insert the SEALs via ropes. This took only seconds, and then they were coming up and away from the platform to cover us while we made our drop. So far, so good.

Then, trouble. “Rambo,” my crew chief said, using a pre-briefed codeword to indicate he’d spotted an armed crew member on the platform.

I froze. I was mission lead. What should we do?

More trouble: We were getting shot at. I was still frozen. More trouble: Our sniper was hit. We had to get out of there, but my wingman had crept slowly forward, and was now hovering almost directly in front of us.

“Sir, permission to open fire,” my right-side machine gunner asked over the ICS. We could shoot back. Duh, Dave.

“Open fire!” I said.

“No!” said my copilot, who was actually the aircraft commander, and my instructor on this training flight. Firing the imaginary machine gun with half a team of imaginary SEALs on the deck was a bad idea. We would have been shot down because of my slow response, anyway.

Both helicopters flew away to reset and try the scenario again, this time with the other helicopter in the lead. Even after four practice assaults on Chesapeake Light, we’d both done poorly enough that our instructors determined we’d need to do the entire flight again before it could be signed off. It was a huge letdown. We’d spent hours and hours over several days studying and preparing, and we’d have to do it all over again, except much better.

For my infant daughter, learning to pull herself up to standing was only half the puzzle. She’d stay happily on her feet, until she lost her balance or got tired. Then she’d fall, usually hitting her head on the way down. If she stopped trying to stand, she’d never hit her head again. She also would never learn to walk. Instead of quitting, she learned to put herself back down again without injury. Once the fear of falling was gone, there was no longer any reason not to stand up.

Fear of failure must be the main reason why people don’t try things they would otherwise want to do. Living with failure is easier than living without trying. Just ask my daughter: Falling down means you stood up in the first place.

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