A fighter pilots "Dinner speech"

Great COC Dinner speech by CDR "Beef" Wellington, former USN VFA-203 "Blue Dolphins" C.O.

Two days ago I closed out my career as a Naval Aviator. The realization is just now starting to hit me, as I'm sure it will the rest of you someday. What follows are my remarks at my farewell dinner. Several of the guys in my squadron had asked me for a copy of what I had written and because it had been jotted down on the back of a cocktail napkin in my weird-assed hand writing and because these things came from my heart, I debated for a while whether or not to do write it down, but the response from all the guys and their wives was so humbling and overwhelming, I thought ... why not.

Being an F/A-18 pilot and an airline pilot at the same time gives you an interesting and different perspective. Unlike others, at my airline (NWA) they do not have a history of hiring Single Seat Naval Aviators and as such we are definitely in the minority. On every trip when you first sit down next to a guy, the first volley of questions in getting to know each other always includes "what is your background?" Based on 3 years in the airline industry, I have recently decided to flat out lie and stop telling guys that I am a Naval Aviator and an F/A-18 pilot. You might be asking yourself, why would anyone do that? There are 3 reasons.

One - Because everything that the uninformed population knows about Naval Aviation they got from the movie Top Gun. A credible and reliable source of information if there ever was one.

Two - Because when I tell guys that I am an F/A-18 pilot, the machismo and bravado that immediately comes from the left side of the cockpit becomes somewhat intolerable and I am forced to sit and listen to stories for the next 4 days that go something like, "Mike, did I tell you about the time when I landed my C-5 on a 15,000 foot runway with only 30,000 pounds of fuel in the tanks, with the weather at mins, and oh, oh yeah, did I say it was at night." You gotta be $hittin' me!

Three - Because, in their state of curiosity, invariably questions get asked about what flying the F/A-18 is like and what this business of Naval Aviation is all about. It is in my futile attempts to answer these questions that I have finally decided that it is impossible to do so. How can anyone possibly explain Naval Aviation?

How do you explain what it has been like to have seen the entire world through the canopy of an F/A-18 like a living IMAX film?

How do you explain what is like to fly an engineering marvel that responds to your every whim of airborne imagination?

How do you explain the satisfaction that comes from seeing a target under the diamond disappear at the flick of your thumb?

How do you explain cat shots - especially the night ones?

How do explain the exhilaration of the day trap?

How do you possibly explain finding yourself at 3/4 mile [on final], at night, weather down, deck moving, hyperventilating into your mask, knowing that it will take everything you have to get aboard without killing yourself?

How do you explain moons so bright and nights so dark that they defy logic?

How do you explain sunrises and sunsets so glorious that you knew in your heart that God had created that exact moment in time just for you?

How do you explain the fellowship of the ready room where no slack is given and none is taken?

How do you explain an environment where the content of a man's character can be summed up into two simple 4-word phrases - "He's a good $hit" or "He's a f--kin' idiot."

How do you explain the heart of maintenance professionals like Rudy and Frank whose only enjoyment comes from taking care of our young sailors and providing us with "up" jets to execute our craft?

How do you explain the dedication of our young troops who we burden with the responsibilities of our lives and then pay them peanuts to do so?

How do you explain the type of women who are crazy enough to marry into Naval Aviation, who endure long working hours and long periods of separation and who are painfully and quietly forced to accept the realization that they are second to the job?

The simple fact is that you can't explain it; none of it.

It is something that only a very select few of us will ever know. We are bonded for life by our proprietary knowledge and it excludes all others from our fraternity. As I will, no matter where you go or what do, you should cherish that knowledge for the rest of you life. For when I am 90 years old sitting on my porch in my rocking chair and someone asks me what I have done with my life, I will damn sure not tell them I was an airline pilot, but rather I will reach into my pocket, pull out my Blue Dolphin money clip and tell them I was a Naval Aviator, I worked with the finest people on the planet, and that I was the Commanding Officer of the Blue Dolphins."

This says it all.