On the last day of flight ops, I was one of the lucky ones…I had a seat on the last COD off the ship. Or so I thought.
As I sat in the Air Transportation Office (ATO) trying to figure out how to put on my cranial, a couple of officers came in and began to talk to the Sailors behind the desk. They didn’t look at me. Without knowing it, I was witnessing the beginning of what would become a rush – the first little leak before the dam breaks.
Soon, more people came in. They avoided eye contact too. Something unseemly was going on, and I wasn’t in on it.
Early on, there were lots of smiles. Some tried to joke with the ATO crew, transparently trying to “get on their good side.” Some tried to find a common acquaintence. “Do you know Maverick? ME TOO! Hey, can I get on the COD?”
But as the seats filled and time got short, so did the tempers. Jokes and smiles were replaced by, “Do you know who I am?” “Life as we know it will end if I don’t get on that flight.” “You really expect me to ride the ship ALL THE WAY IN?”
As the numbers in the small office increased, so did the desperation. Then the frenzy really began. The noise level increased, and the crowd began to take on a mob mentality. The ATO counter looked like the floor of the Stock Exchange on a heavy trading day.
I knew I was doomed to be bumped. I was junior. I wasn’t a member of the crew. And I didn’t know Maverick.
Then, like Marshall Dillon striding into the Long Branch Saloon, the Senior Chief entered the fray. Coolly, mercilessly, he looked at the passenger list and passed instant judgement on each person in the room. You go. You don’t. That’s it.
And just like that, it was over. The noise stopped. The defeated ones slumped their shoulders and exited the space, leaving the rest of us standing alone as the dust settled.
Later, as we flew off on the last COD, I had the urge to look out the window and think about those left behind, but I didn’t.
I didn’t have a window.