I have learned an important truth in my life in the Air Force, and as an airline pilot of 25 years. It is not what our job is, or what we do, but the relationships we build….the “immortal” in people we touch ….that fulfills us and redeems our time here on earth.
My first, fulltime job, after pilot training, was as a T-38 instructor pilot, primarily to foreign students. Mostly, I trained Saudis and Iranians (pre-revolution days). Being single at the time, I was free to spend lots of extra time with these students, developing friendships, even learning to speak some Farsi, and gaining an insight into their lives and culture in Iran. As I headed off to SOS, one of my Iranian students gave me his prayer rug to use. Midway through SOS, I learned that this student (Abbas) had been killed in a training accident, having his “buddy” ride with a graduating student pilot. I was sick, not being able to be there, and began to understand the grief that my Iranian students were going through. He was literally 10 days from going home, after having been in the US for almost 2 years.
That next weekend, on Saturday, I flew from Montgomery, Alabama to JFK, New York, to have 2 hours with my students who were on their way back to Iran. I took the prayer rug to give to them to return to Abbas’s parents. It was bittersweet seeing them, and their joy over going home mixed with anguish over the loss of one of their fellow students/friends. Yet, the Lord had prompted me to go, knowing that it is in relationships that our life has meaning and fulfillment. Two hours later, I returned on a flight to Montgomery, with a heavy heart, but one of gratefulness for having seen these students with whom I had invested so much.
It’s hard to believe, but 3 years later, while flying F4s at Spangdahlem, Germany, I received a letter from Pakistan. One of my former students from Iran had escaped the country with his wife, and fled to Pakistan. Two weeks later he knocked on the door of my home in Germany to solicit help in receiving asylum in the US. After visiting consulates in Germany and contacting former commanders, now generals, I had exhausted my resources. A month later he returned, this time with his wife, and still wanting my help. This time we visited the embassy in Luxembourg yet again to no avail. He and his wife returned to Austria to live with friends. A year later, in the US, I received a letter from him that he and his wife did get into the US….she was in university, and he was pursuing flying. Amazingly, a number of years ago, he got hired by the Trump Shuttle, which was bought by US Air. He is still flying for them.
Relationships…….we can only imagine how God can use us as a link in the chain of an individual’s life.
I have been blessed with great jobs, great work, but way more than that, it has been my joy to invest in people, and see their lives changed for eternity.