It’s Better To Be Lucky Than Good

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Here is yours truly back in the day. Oftentimes calling on
a higher power is the only way to get you out of a jam.

What is luck exactly? Entire industries turn on it, and not just casino gambling. People in suits make zillions in the stock market. However, there is not the grand gulf between that and dog racing, as we might let ourselves believe.

Personally, I’m not convinced that luck is a real thing. I see stuff in the world around me that simply defies explanation in the absence of God. I subscribe to the worldview that an all-powerful benevolent Creator spoke the universe into existence and remains intimately involved in the affairs of men. Lots of people disagree with me these days. However, I have had five people die in my arms. When finally, I’m staring into the really bright light myself, I’m not expecting to be doing that alone.

God and I talk all the time. Sometimes, it is likely fairly tedious on His end. More than a few times I have fallen asleep in the middle. Other times, I am pretty activated about something. What follows was the latter.

Alaska is the prettiest place in the world. However, some of the
flat bits can make for tough navigating in the dark at nearly 200
miles per hour and 30 feet off the ground.

‘Twas a Dark and Stormy Night…

I was the air mission commander for a 15-ship air assault flying a CH47D Chinook helicopter. Each of those 15 aircraft carried 33 combat-equipped troops. That’s an entire infantry battalion in the air at one time. As I was AMC, I had the grunt battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel, sitting in my jump seat. It was wintertime, and the snow was falling generously. We were flying under night vision goggles across the Alaskan muskeg.

For reasons that have been lost to history, I was also navigating. I literally have no idea why that was. Typically, as AMC, I would be flying the second aircraft while some wily superhero warrant officer would be serving as map jockey in flight lead. However, this evening, it was inexplicably all me.

This part of Alaska is monotonously flat, and NVGs aren’t just homogeneously awesome. Your field of view is like looking through a pair of toilet paper tubes. The resolution, while hugely better than what might be the case without them, suffers in a land devoid of much contrast. We were flying loose trail nap-of-the-earth at about 155 knots or around 180 mph.

These were the days before GPS and moving map displays. We had a Doppler navigation system that was, no kidding, designed to help astronauts navigate around the moon. It worked okay, but it was neither user-friendly nor terribly reliable. My primary navigation aid was a standard 1:50,000 paper map. I had it carefully folded and had rehearsed the route exhaustively. However, now, with 14 fat Chinooks breathing down my neck, the infantry colonel all up in my personal space, and the weather getting worse by the minute, things began to look bad for the home team. It seemed I was lost.

In my defense, everything looked the same. There weren’t a lot of trees, and the topography was as flat as Chuck Schumer’s personality. Once I misplaced our specific location on the map, things got nothing but worse. With each passing second, we were hurtling someplace at 180 miles per hour. I was clearly doomed.

It’s a nerve-wracking experience to have 14 of these things
following closely behind you filled with guys watching your every move.

Had it just been us, then that’s not a big deal. So long as nobody is shooting at you, just fly around in circles looking for landmarks or even find a handy spot, land, and figure it out at your leisure. Helicopters are pretty awesome that way. However, in this case, the grunt boss was drooling over my shoulder, and there was an absolute sky full of carbon fiber and aluminum throbbing along behind me. Additionally, those beasts drink a lot of gas, and we were on the clock.

When the situation gets dire, the human animal falls back to its foundations. There, by the sickly green glow of the cockpit lights, I just said a silent prayer. Paraphrased, it went something to the effect of, “Lord, if you will get me out of this, I will never waste money on some stupid gun again. I’ll become a missionary. I’ll grow Baptist preacher hair and go to seminary. I’ll do anything. Just please don’t make me fly around in circles out here in the hinterlands with 584 guys thinking I’m an idiot.” And then, miraculously, there it was.

We came up a little ridge at maybe 30 feet above the ground and were greeted with an expansive open space, the geometry of which perfectly matched the diagram I had on my kneeboard. My buddy Rus, in the other seat, shot a textbook approach to the far end of the landing zone, leaving ample space for the following 14 aircraft to do the same. In no time, the entire infantry battalion was out wreaking mayhem, and we were burning for home.

Once we got back, everybody from the clerk at the shopette to the post commander thought I was awesome. They wouldn’t shut up about it. I had hit my LZ time within 15 seconds of what was briefed. All the while, on the inside, I really knew the truth. God was actually flying that airplane that evening. I was just along for the ride.

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