One More Mission

Author: Vivian Cumins

Captain Drake Mitchell, a seasoned pilot for American Airlines, was a man of unwavering patriotism. His love for the skies and his country was deeply embedded within his soul, so when he received a call that the United States Air Force needed a volunteer pilot to transport 200 troops to Kuwait, he did not hesitate.

In preparation for the flight, Captain Mitchell assembled a volunteer crew of experienced aviators and attendants, all driven by a sense of duty and camaraderie. Each team member knew the flight would be long and daunting, but their sacrifice was nothing compared to those of their passengers, some of whom would not be returning home.

The crew greeted each passenger with warm smiles and words of encouragement. For some of the servicemen and women, this was their first deployment; for my husband, this was routine, though that did not make it easier. As he settled in and buckled his seatbelt, Captain Mitchell came on over the intercom to recite what everyone thought would be the normal greeting from the cockpit. What he said came as a surprise to all of them.

“Welcome aboard,” he said. “My name is Captain Mitchell. It is my distinct pleasure to be your pilot today. This is a volunteer crew – when we heard that the Department of Defense needed a commercial airline to fly a bunch of Airmen to Kuwait, the men and women of this crew raised their hands without hesitation. I, myself, was in the Air Force. I flew the C-141 Starlifter. I am honored to fly one more mission with you.”

The crew catered to the needs of every passenger as if they all were in first class. When they landed in Rome to refuel, due to political reasons, only non-military members were allowed to exit the aircraft. Every flight attendant disembarked the plane and returned moments later with enough pizza and beer to feed all 200 passengers. With their bellies filled and their spirits lifted, the passengers were ready to commence their own mission.

My husband, Senior Master Sergeant Donald Edward (Eddy) Cumins, Jr. returned home safely from that 6-month deployment and went on to retire in 2011 after faithfully serving for 20 years. He will forever be my hero for his bravery, dedication, and sacrifice for our country.

To the men and women who shared that flight; I pray you made it home safe and sound to your loved ones. Thank you and your families for your service.

To the volunteer crew of American Airlines – thank you for your selfless, brave contribution and for honoring our military heroes. To Captain Mitchell – thank you for your service and for flying just one more mission.

(Note: The name of the pilot in this story is fictitious; his real name is unknown.)

Fueling the Frontlines

Author: Master Sergeant Eric Henderson (Retired)

It was September 2010 and we were flying out of Manas Kyrgyzstan. It was a very early morning to get into the area of responsibility (AOR), which was Afghanistan, and it was a very routine sortie (mission) of aerial refueling F-16s and A-10s. The morning was boring and uneventful until there was a weather recall for the aircraft flying out of Kandahar and Kabul airfields. They were being recalled because of high winds at the respective airfields.

So, here we were in the tanker (refueling aircraft) hearing the fighters being recalled – then we heard one of the Vipers call in and say, “I’m not leaving the guys I’m supporting because they are chasing down indigenous personnel!” The ‘indigenous personnel was the Taliban.

Again, the call goes out for this two ship of F-16s to recover and land, but this time, the flight lead says, “I’m staying on station, and Petrol 35 is MY tanker and we’re staying put!”

We stayed on station for another 90 minutes, supporting the two F-16s. No weapons were dropped because it was a populated area, but I can only imagine that the Taliban, hearing F-16s overhead, made them want to keep their heads down.

The radios were quite exciting at times – we listened to the play-by-play between the F-16s and the ground troops they were supporting.

Our crew never heard about the outcome of what transpired that day; what started out as a very “ho-hum” morning, ended up being an out-of-the-ordinary tanker sortie over Afghanistan.

United in Service: A Military Family’s Story

Author: Becca Robinson

My husband, Keith, joined the United States Army in November 2006 on his 30th birthday. During that time, the United States was at war with Iraq. We had only been married eight years, and we had three children, all under the age of 11.

After bootcamp and training, we moved to our first duty station, Fort Hood, Texas. After being there only one month, my husband deployed for the first time. This was the first of four 12-month deployments. Every deployment is scary – every single one of them – but the first one is the absolute worst. I will never forget the day he left for that first deployment. 

Never had I ever felt more fear than I did the day my husband left me and our kids for his first deployment. I never imagined I would experience something like that. I heard my dad, uncle, and other family members talk about leaving their families to go to Vietnam, and I heard my grandfather talk about being in the Korean War, but I never imagined that I would ever have to watch my husband leave for war. I was naïve; up until then, I had lived in a protective bubble – oblivious to what was happening in the world around me. I knew there was an ongoing war – my brother and my cousins had already been deployed. But none of them talked about this part of their lives with me, so I didn’t fully comprehend it.

The day my husband left is burned in my memory forever. That day – D day as we call it, my children and I clung to him as if we would never see him again. I felt sick; it was gut-wrenching. I can’t begin to imagine what Keith was feeling. He must have been terrified of going to war and tormented about leaving his family. Over the years, he’s confessed that was the scariest and worst day of his life. Funny, he never showed that side of him. He is so brave.

Once we said our tearful goodbyes, the kids and I sat in the parking lot and cried. We were lost in our sadness, but then it hit me; I had to be strong for my children. They needed a different mom now; Keith needed a different wife. I needed to pull myself together and find a distraction for us for the next 365 days. I dried my tears and drove us to the movie theatre where Shrek 3 was playing. We had made it just in time. I loaded the kids up with soda and snacks. We watched the movie, ate junk food, and laughed. We needed that – it had been a tough month leading up to Keith’s deployment. Our laughter and mood were short-lived, however. Once we pulled into the driveway and walked inside our home, reality hit all of us. We did not know if we would ever see my husband again. We all slept in the living room together that night.

Our lives were never the same after that day. Each deployment after the first was frightful and changed every one of us. Keith missed holidays and birthdays; he went through so much – I am certain we will never fully understand. He may never be able to tell us the full story.

Deployments and military life are difficult, but we have learned so many valuable lessons. For one, our family loves each other very much and we never take that love for granted. In some ways, we are lucky and blessed to have survived so many hardships. We are stronger together for it and have an incredible bond.

Currently, Keith is on his fifth deployment. He’s been gone for eight months. I have no idea when he will be home; I am hopeful it will be before the holidays. This is our first deployment as empty nesters. I miss my best friend so much. The house is quiet. Completely different from the past four deployments when our children lived at home. 

Speaking of our children…

Our twins are 25 years old now and are both enlisted in the United States Air Force. We are fortunate to be stationed at the same duty station as our son, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters. Our daughter is stationed 3 hours from where we live. Our oldest son is 27 and is living in our home state. 

Military life is not for everyone. But for our family, I can’t imagine any other life. I don’t know who we would be today if Keith had not been so brave and joined the Army at the age of 30 during wartime. As a military family, we have endured our fair share of trials and tribulations. Our lives are far from perfect. But I don’t think any of us would have wanted any other type of life.

On this Veterans Day, I want to say thank you to all Service members. I have incredible admiration for all the men and women who serve. I also want to say thank you to the families of those who serve.