24 August 2014

A little R'n'R: Col "Sideshow" Curtis

In one week's time, I should be knee-deep in post-race libations with several friends following my fourth race in the series - the Virginia Beach Rock'n'Roll Half-Marathon. It's a flat course, and I have never done a R'n'R race, so it should be interesting to see how they operate.

Why VA Beach? Well, it goes back to a gentleman called Sideshow - whom I met in 2006, when he took over as the Executive Officer (XO) for HMM-264 for my first deployment. He is a Cobra pilot by trade, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1982, took a break for college, and was commissioned in 1990. He currently serves as the Commanding Officer for the Expeditionary Warfare Training Group, Atlantic (EWTGLANT) in Norfolk, VA.
The man, Colonel of Marines, "Sideshow" Curtis
Sideshow was not only my XO, but he became my mentor and eventually, my friend. He watched over me, and when things got rough, noticed and asked the right questions without pushing too far. While we never got to fly together, he taught me about what it takes to be a professional aviator, and not just a pilot. He has a tremendous sense of humor and we ended up keeping a "zing" tally on his whiteboard throughout the float. (For the record, I won.)

Towards the end of that deployment, on May 25th, while conducting joint training exercises in Jordan, Sideshow and then 1stLt R. Voltin were out with a Huey, fully loaded with ammo and rockets, waiting for their turn to shoot on a range. Both aircraft were spinning on deck, position lights on, on the perimeter of the firing range, while the Harriers completed their training overhead. From the thousands of feet above, a Harrier pilot mistook the helo lights for sparkle, and dropped his 500 lb. bomb on the two birds, where it exploded just aft and to the right of the Cobra. The Huey, which was situated on the left of the Cobra, was also rocked by the explosion and suffered damage to its airframe but it was the Cobra which was immediately engulfed in flames as the ordnance began to cook off and explode in place.

The Huey crew grabbed the two Cobra pilots, and charging full speed back to base, called for emergency transfer. I was walking back from our operations ready room when I saw the explosion and knew something was wrong; I turned back with another pilot and as soon as we entered the spaces, we knew. All hands were on deck, executing the mishap drill as two Phrogs, out for their own training flights, hit the fueling station to refuel and prep for immediate casevac to Amman. They executed the transfer on the line and our flight doc, along with a recon doc, took charge of the two pilots and the Phrogs (one piloted by our CO) went off as fast as they could to Amman. (1stLt Voltin's story is here.)

Upon our return to the United States in early July, Col. Curtis was there to greet the squadron on the flight line. He had suffered burns across his arms, head and hands, but, swathed in bandages as he was, he was there to be our XO and welcome back the unit. I will never forget seeing him that day; that kind of leadership is rare, as is the tenacity it took to recover.

Following that, he deployed again to both Iraq and Afghanistan before being appointed to EWTGLANT. He's kind of a bad-ass.
The FECC Highland Games (FWD)
With EWTGLANT SgtMaj Herman, leading a boots and utes run in VA
 In 2010, when the Pumpkin Noodle was born, he was among the first group to receive a phone call and he and the family wanted to come to the hospital and visit. When he didn't get a call back from me, he called K. and upon learning my condition, raced to the hospital. Not only did he stay until I was airlifted out, but he also took the Pumpkin Noodle home, when she was two days old, and he and his family cared for her until the rest of our families arrived and she was able to come down to Wilmington. 
When the Pumpkin Noodle was just two months

He has remained a steadfast friend, whose loyalty one could not measure, as well as someone who always tells me the straight story, unvarnished and whose family I love with all my heart. When K. left last year, Sideshow was there to help me stand back up. We have spent three Thanksgivings with them and this race was intended to be our first race together - alas, a torn hamstring sidelined Sideshow, so he'll be providing the pre-race dinner, race course support and post-race alcohol.

At his eldest daughter's wedding, July 2013
Photo booth with the man-cub,
also on his way to being commissioned
And a few more pics, just because he's that awesome. Much respect. 

In not a small aside, the Curtis's were assisted by the Semper Fi Fund when he was injured, and Sideshow is a huge proponent of what they do, speaking at a fundraiser in 2012 and participating in activities. Full circle.

(I will also have good company in the form of Capt S. "Peter" Martinez, with whom I also deployed twice and who now flies with HMM-774. Sadly, my two Navy friends, LtCmdr A. Alvord and Cmdr M. Lenox, are not currently in Norfolk, the former is on her way to England for her next duty station and the latter is on deployment with his fighter squadron.)