The Hard, Right Decision
June 28, 2012
It was 1986 and I was, at least in my mind, a hotshot military pilot. My buddy and I had bought sport bikes and spent our free time tearing up the German countryside, doing wheelies at 60 mph and racing fast cars on the autobahn.
We flew hard and played harder, and I never worried about what my wife and four children would do without me. After all, I was invincible -- even though friends kept saying my motorcycle was going to get me killed.
Less than a year later, I was back at Fort Rucker, Ala.
"Want to take it for a ride?" said the Soldier selling a 750 Honda sport bike.
"Sure," I responded in an even, steady voice. This was no time to let him see how eager I was to get this screamer on the road. I had just returned from Germany and was assigned to the flight school as a training and counseling officer. I had left my bike in Germany because it was illegal in the states and, as a result, hadn't ridden in months.
As I mounted the bike, the kids gathered around to look at daddy's potential new toy. My wife stood off under the carport, arms crossed. She saw it in my eyes -- the decision to buy had already been made.
The engine roared to life and I carefully pulled out of the driveway and headed out of military housing toward the road leading to Lowe Army Airfield. It was a quiet two-mile stretch of curvy country two-lane I had been longing to try out on a fast bike. Within seconds of turning onto it, I was at 110 mph.
I don't know if it was coincidence or the sound of a sport bike in full-throated roar that attracted the military police. However, just as I turned near the entrance to the airfield and was about to pour on the power again, I spotted a patrol car rounding the corner and heading my way. I eased it down and smiled at them as they drove past, trying to stare a hole through my dark-tinted helmet visor. They knew.
That was a close one. A reckless driving charge could have cost me my license and maybe even my career, as the Army was starting to come down hard on stuff like this. I began to think about other close calls I'd had. There was the time I barely missed a Mercedes that pulled in front of me in Nuremberg, or the time I laid down my bike when I braked too hard trying to round a curve on a rain-slicked road. My helmet and leathers saved me that day.
I thought about my wife and children. My oldest son was playing sports now and my daughter was turning into a beauty; they needed Dad in their lives. I even thought about my flight school Soldiers. Who would keep them in line?
As I pulled into the driveway, the kids stopped playing and ran toward the bike. My wife remained on the porch leaning against the support pole, arms still crossed. The Soldier selling the bike, confident of the sale, walked up.
"So, what did you think?" he asked.
"Great bike," I responded, as I dropped the keys into his outstretched hand. "But sorry, no sale. This thing will get me killed."
My wife stood up straight from where she had been leaning against the pole. The kids fell silent as I walked into the house, not looking back.
More than 25 years later, I'm still flying and playing hard. Luckily for me, I learned early on when challenging myself and just being stupid needed to take separate roads. That day, I made the right choice that my Family came before my fun. While rocketing down the road on a fast bike gives a few moments thrill, the joy of watching your children grow up lasts a lifetime.