(Continuation of The Candid Approach 7/7. To read from the beginning click here.)
7. Develop Your Family Compass- by Chaz
Dust Storms and Magnetic Headings
Before we talk about a family compass, do me a favor, google the word “haboob.” Trust me, I would never have you search for something salacious. Or, click here for a Wikipedia picture.
You are probably wondering what that “mummy-face” dust cloud has to do with making your family stronger.
Well, bear with me. You will soon find that I prefer using personal stories—mostly military—to drive home a point.
Let me share a lesson I learned during a combat mission just a few years ago.
Flashback to Afghanistan
I was sitting in the cramped cockpit of an OH-58D. My lower back was starting to ache. Hours of insidious rotor vibration and the weight of body armor and ammunition take their toll on spinal erectors.
Our team of Kiowa Warrior Helicopters was providing route security for an American Convoy. The line of massive, tan, MRAP vehicles was rumbling down a beat up road in the middle of southern Afghanistan. What we lovingly referred to as “Indian Country.”
As the Air Mission Commander, I had just received a digital message from our Forward Operating Base (FOB). Rough weather was headed our way.
I looked out my door-less cockpit and could see the wind violently jostling the leaves of the sparse vegetation below. My eyes rose to the horizon. Past the silhouette of jagged purple mountains, a thick brown haze was invading the late-afternoon blue of the desert sky.
Our flight formation was combat cruise. I could clearly see my wingman about 300m ahead of me, a shark swimming over the terrain, searching for suspicious activity. Visibility was still good.
Whatever gnarly weather was sitting on the horizon was not on us yet.
I texted the FOB and told them that, at least at our location, the weather was manageable, but to keep us posted. We planned on continuing our support for the convoy. No scout pilot was about to tuck tail and run from a bit of dust, not with our boys outside the wire.
We had learned through sad experience that foul weather often emboldened the insurgents. Since every aircraft has weather limitations, the enemy knew the might of American unmanned aerial vehicles, fixed-wing fighters, and helicopter close air support would be out of the picture.
Our convoy’s rumbling mass of steel and machine guns was approaching a site known for enemy activity. Although the sky was darkening around us, our team did not intend to leave our guys hanging.
After a few minutes, we received a radio call with weather updates confirming that the dust activity east of our position was building. They may have said that we immediately needed to return to base (RTB). My wingman listened in on the transmissions and called me on our internal frequency, asking what we were going to do.
The timing could not have been less convenient.
Weather conditions were rapidly deteriorating.
Our convoy was just entering the most dangerous part of their route, a spot where we lost some soldiers only a few days before. We knew that sometimes even just being overhead flying at low-level was enough to deter an insurgent ambush.
I looked over at my wingman and keyed the mic.
“Hey two-six, the end of that last transmission came in a bit broken. How about we remain on station with these boys a few more minutes, at least until they hit their next checkpoint, you in?”
His reply was no surprise.
“You know it boss! We’ll stay frosty.”
Head for the FOB
It only took a few minutes and the convoy was through the rough patch of road, no enemy contact.
More urgent digital messages were coming in from the FOB. We were getting ready to be obedient scouts and RTB. Then, my copilot let out a string of swear words and motioned over his shoulder to the mountains a few miles east of us.
I looked over just in time to see a wall of dust, 20,000 feet high come spilling over the mountain, swallowing everything into its insatiable maw. What was a brown haze, obscuring half of the horizon, a few minutes ago was now a dark mass of violent wind and dust, almost on top of us.
“Lead, break for the FOB, we gotta go, go, go!”
My wingman responded.
“Way ahead of you boss, this is going to be close.”
We pulled every ounce of torque that we could spare, and started trading what little altitude we had for additional airspeed. The cyclic kicked in my hand with every gust. Altitude and torque indications were jumping up and down. We felt lucky we had used some of our rockets and .50 cal ammunition earlier—at least our birds were light.
Objects in Mirror Closer Than They Appear
We did not have rear-view mirrors. But if we did, I am sure it would have looked like a T-Rex was bearing down on us in Jurassic Park.
The FOB was in sight, but we were already starting to be taken in by the dust cloud, visual references were fading all around us. The control tower had cleared us in. We were so close, but everything ahead of us was blurring out. Dust was EVERYWHERE.
Before we let panic sink in, we remembered our instruments.
We knew the heading for our runway and we set ourselves up to descend on that heading. Our compasses kept us oriented in the right direction. Countless training flights had taught us to trust our instruments.
Since we flew doors off in Kiowas, dust was filling the cockpit, our mouths, eyes, and coating the instrument displays. Right when we thought things were spiraling into a real emergency, we crossed the berm into the FOB and gained a visual on the runway.
We pulled our noses up into a flare and landed the birds in a hurry (greasy side down–just like our Vietnam Vet flight instructors taught us). Sparks danced across the field landing strip as our steel skid shoes gained purchase on friendly ground.
In a moment, it was over.
We made it.
As I packed up my dusty gear and fought the gale to strap down the rotor blades, I had a chance to reflect on how close we just came to getting in a serious pickle. My heart was just barely returning to its regular cadence. I was thankful we all made it back.
I was thankful for my compass.
(After a haboob- you can see the dust on my eyelashes!)
A Family Compass
Many families find themselves in similarly harrowing circumstances these days. Entire books have been written about how society’s fickle norms and human fallibility have degraded the quality of families this millennium.
I hope you can visualize a dust storm of stress, obligations, peer pressures, financial challenges, temptations, and mistaken priorities bearing down on you and your family.
Don’t let yourself slip into the relative ease I felt while flying over the convoy.
I knew there was bad weather on the horizon, but the sky was blue overhead wasn’t it? Thus it was easy to get lulled into a false sense of security.
Make no mistake, your family deserves your attention and effort now–today.
Some families may already feel lost, without a solid reference to guide them toward success and lasting happiness.
Luckily, there are things we can do to stay on track—we can develop a family compass.
Challenges ARE Our Compass
There is a reason the challengemyfamily.com logo is a home nestled into a mountain and compass. Each symbol has meaning.
- Home: Represents family and the relationships that matter most.
- Mountain: Stands for challenges, things to conquer, goals that test our mettle.
- Compass: Symbolizes the constant effort to stay on track.
A compass gives us a heading, we reference it frequently so we do not lose our way.
Challenges keep us on track toward our goals. We challenge ourselves frequently to ensure continual progress.
By working toward goals together as a family, we build trust and shared understanding. Even if the goal is as simple as sitting down for a family dinner rather than having an “every man for himself” meal, that challenge will pull you closer together and help you stay the course.
All aviators know they must trust their instruments. So should you. Make some audacious goals, accept challenges, follow your family’s compass, stay on track. Peace and happiness await you.
What is a goal you have accomplished that you are proud of?
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