The largest hangar at the Juneau Air Guard compound served not only as a general briefing room, but a lounge as well, in the off-hours. There was a wide-screen TV mounted on the south wall, seemingly fighting for room amongst the photos, plaques and commendations accumulated over the decades of this unit's history. Stood down for the night, the full-timers - Twelveclouds, an older, delta-winged veteran by the name of Wright, and a taciturn C-130 transport known as "Shafty" were settled comfortably while taking in this night's broadcast of "Live with Lindsay", a news/commentary show centering on topics of interest to the aircraft community.
The show's eponymous host, Lindsay Perlman, was an immaculately turned-out helicopter of Agusta lineage, with eyes like flawless blue diamonds and gleaming, perfectly-capped teeth that always showed "just so" in her well-trained smile. After the second commercial break, the show segued into its first guest segment, and the worthy whom Lindsay would be interviewing tonight made the three viewers sit up a little as the hangar's doors slid aside and two more entered. Twelveclouds acknowledged Eliza and Bravo with his usual curt nod and turned his gaze back towards the screen. "Look who's on Lindsay tonight."
The F-8 blinked as she raised her eyes to the screen. "That's Col. Woodman. We were just talking about her the other day, remember?"
"Yeah." The Hornet mix beside her drew up and took in the whole picture. Lindsay he knew --the Agusta AW-139 with her pristine livery and 100-watt eyes and flawless teeth, her show's set in its tasteful tones of royal blue, the low mohagany table with the arrangement of fresh flowers -- and opposite of her, an F-111 Aardvark, in her own way as beautiful, though, in Bravo's opinion, more authentic. Col. Blanche Woodman might have had a subtle wax job applied by the makeup people, but her 80s-vintage woodland camouflage made it easy for viewers to imagine her soaring over the forests of west Germany during her active duty years, which coincided with the final decade of the Cold War.
"Heard she took down a MiG once." Twelveclouds chortled. "She was doing recce and was unarmed, so she just outflew him. Maneuvered the bastard right into the ground."
"Shhhh!" That could have only come from Wright, a major who was the only one present who could pull rank and senior years on the younger Tomcat. Bravo hadn't yet formally met the F-102, but Eliza had already informed him of the "Deuce's" soft-spoken but decisive nature. He watched with well-masked amusment as the mercurial F-14 hushed up. Twelveclouds might have indeed chased a few MiGs and Flankers in his time, but an interceptor who had regularly played nuclear chicken with Soviet bombers was no one to backtalk.
All five eyes turned back to the screen. The Agusta was just concluding her standard guest intro before the camera view went to the Aardvark woman, who, however well-groomed, still retained traces of a military clip in her speech. She and the host went through some preliminary small-talk, primarily concerning the setup of a new experimental farm and agricultural institute that the retired colonel had helped establish. The F-111 was comfortable enough with the host to relate to her on a first-name basis, as it was definitely far from her first time at the mass-media rodeo.
Bravo raised a brow. "Where did she say that farm was, upper Midwest someplace?"
"Yeah. Right in the corn belt." the F-102 nodded. "When she was posted at Ramstein, she started taking an interest in what the local farmers were planting and how their crops were doing, because patrol flights over the same patch of west German dirt get kinda... boring otherwise. I was stationed there earlier, I should know." he added with a chuckle. "Good for her that she was able to turn that interest into a whole new vocation after she retired from the air force."
The Hercules cleared his throat. "They're gettin' to the subject now."
Wright's eyes homed back to the screen, and all chatter ceased momentarily. The host presented her opening question. "So, Blanche, the last time you spoke with us, you mentioned your efforts in reaching out to children of military outmode stock, especially those who are troubled or struggling to find a place in a world where their models are no longer called on for service. To be literally "obsolete at birth" would be a heavy burden to bear, and I would assume that would go double for milspec people."
"It is indeed." Blanche nodded. "This last spring, I worked with the Everlight Foundation to prepare a report on the status of outmode juveniles, which we presented to a congressional committee this past week. We are also at work on a proposal to establish programs for counseling, training and alternative careers for the coming generations of young people who will find themselves in this situation. I've had the privilege of meeting and working with many great people in this effort - parents, teachers, youth leaders and the children who need to know that they CAN do many other things in life besides what was seeded in their genes."
"Speaking of that subject..." Lindsay broke in, "It sort of reminds me of a guest we had on an earlier show, a certain cropduster-turned-racer, who certainly didn't let HIS genes get in the way of seeking a new course in life. Anyone who hasn't heard of Dusty Crophopper by now would have to be living in a cave in the Himalayas."
"And he's even been through there." Blanche concurred. "It's exactly the message we want to get out into public consciousness, that the hardware that makes you up doesn't decide your path in life so much as the "software" behind your eyes. There are more choices out there."
The discussion continued along that theme, with variations and elaborations and codas, until it was time for the next commercial break. Wright jammed a button on a floor-mounted remote, muting the widescreen as it went over to an ad extolling the glories of adult drip pans. "Like hell they don't put up the volume when commercials come on. It's deafening."
"And you see what they put on these days? Things the FCC wouldn't have allowed back in the day." Twelveclouds rolled his eyes. "And sometimes even during the times kids are watching! It's a damn scandal every minute!"
"Makes me kind of glad that TV reception is lousy on carriers." Bravo smiled wryly.
"My son and daughter-in-law don't even watch television. Or let the kids." Wright snorted.
"Oh. " Eliza spoke up. "So how are your granddaughters, Major?"
"Good," the F-102 grinned. "Athena is doing well in school and junior drill, and Tanith just got her first visit from the tooth fairy." He noted that Bravo's eyes had gone over to the low desk in the northwest corner, which was the Major's domain and had several family pictures, including what looked like school pictures of two bright-eyed, adorable little girls, silver and delta-winged like their grandfather. "We're doing everything possible to give them the best chance in life, even if the military isn't in the cards for'em. Fortunately, they're very smart and get on well with other kids and should do OK in the future."
"Oh, of that I'd have no doubt." Bravo turned back. "It's the older kids now, that everybody's concerned about. I hope that by the time these six months are up, I might do some good at that place."
Twelveclouds whuffed. "I know exactly who you're talking about. That Wendy kid. Good freaking luck with her, you'll need every bit of it."
There was a chortle from the C-130. "Said the guy whose nickname was "Captain Hotdog" and who topped off his great pranking career by smuggling a live tractor calf onto his carrier."
"Oh, shut up Shafty, I didn't ask YOU." the F-14 hunkered down and hunched his wing gloves as the Hercules looked on smugly.
"Yeah, but I bet the new Wrench on the block is just dying to know the full story." Shafty teased. With his size, he could easily get away with it.
"Burn in Hell."
"After you, buddy."
Eliza nudged Bravo lightly, whispering. "Just an average night here."
The young fighter's reply was a nod of understanding. Despite their caustic interplay, there was no real acrimony between the "old dogs", just a mutual understanding of how far one could go. His attention turned back towards Eliza. "They made some changes in Wendy's environment and routine, after I strongly suggested that it would be the best way to avoid an unpleasant visit from the FAA in the future."
"What did they do?"
"They set up a new segregation unit, modelled along the lines of how the Navy handles such cases in the brig. An open stall with solid walls, and an exercise lot with embankments. Got rid of the muzzle, too."
"Oh, thank the Maker." the Crusader looked relieved. "Now if they can work through her trust issues, that would be getting somewhere."
"That's where the real fun will begin." Bravo concurred. "Of course, she isn't the only one I have to work with, but I could tell they're at the end of their rope as it is, and open to anything that might make a difference, even if the rules don't agree. I know all about bureaucracy by now." his control surfaces twitched in deferred frustration. "But reaching the right ears with the right words can get stuff done. As well as a creative re-interpretation of said rules." Eliza said nothing right off, but her eyes lit in a knowing way. The commercial break was over, and it was back to Lindsay and Blanche on the screen.