A different perspective

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeffrey Johnson
  • 341st Operations Group
What are your chances of surviving the next four months as you go about your daily routine and accomplish our wing's most important mission - nuclear deterrence?  Is it one in a hundred, one in a thousand or even one in a million? How would you like to be faced with a 50 percent chance of not surviving the next four months?  More often than not, many consider life too challenging, too hard, or in general, just a rough time.  I propose to you that life is a matter of outlook. Do you appreciate what you have, including a great opportunity to serve our country and great odds of surviving? Or do you look at where you are, think you have it bad and feel sorry for yourself for not having it all? Simple perspective can change your attitude and can truly change your life. It can happen by the time you get done reading this article, if you so choose.

In 1990, I didn't realize how good my life was as a missileer at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.  I thought I was overworked, pulling too many alerts and suffering through the monthly required tests. One day, it all changed. The way in which I looked at life, the Air Force and my career changed forever.   During a visit from my parents, my wife and I took them outside of the front gate to the base museum.  After about five minutes of looking at the photographs and history displayed in the museum, my father blurted out, "This is my old unit during World War II.  I was in the 44th Bombardment Group, in 8th Air Force out of Shipdham Airfield, England. We flew B-24 Liberators."  He recognized several people in the photographs and started to label them as good guys or the latter, just as you would characterize co-workers today.  That trip and discussion during our visit to the museum not only revealed to us that we ended up in the same unit (he was in the 67th Bombardment Squadron and I ended up in the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron), but provided an opportunity for him to open up about his five-month period of flying missions over France and Germany out of England from January to May of 1944.

Over the next few days, my father and I talked for several hours about his military journey from enlisting in the Army Air Corps and receiving a field commission by passing the pilots exam, to his exploits in England during the Daylight Bombing Campaign in the European Theater.  He flew his 30 required missions out of Shipdham Airfield, England, from January 1944 to May 28, 1944.  Several of his missions involved bombing the French coast and inland France which had him wondering why the United States was hitting France so hard. That is until D-Day happened 10 days after his last bombing mission.  The daylight raids accomplished by these heroes from 1943 to 1944 were as dangerous as you could get and nearly half of all the bombers that took off did not return.  In other words, they had a 50 percent chance of returning home safe throughout their time flying these bombing missions.  My father wrote home to his mother after about five missions and relayed to her that he was proud of what he was accomplishing for the nation but that he had resigned to the fact he was probably not coming home. At 50 percent odds, he felt it necessary his mother understand her son's perspective.  When he did complete his last mission and returned to U.S. soil, he never forgot those five months of not knowing whether he was going to survive. He appreciated everything he had and achieved from that day forward.

This discussion really made me reflect about how fortunate I was at the time with a wonderful opportunity to serve in the Air Force, a wonderful wife and a healthy son.  Whenever I begin to think I've got it bad or things aren't going my way, I think about those heroes with a 50 percent chance. This helps me frame my perspective.  I know my odds of not only surviving, but thriving the next four months is closer to 100 percent versus 50 percent and life automatically looks better.  What are you chances the next four months?