December 01, 2012
I was one of scrambling thousands, my bride included, snatching peanuts off Main Street's macadam and stuffing fistfuls of the goobers into my jacket pockets, laughing at the mad scene.
It was the 69th Annual National Peanut Festival parade in Dothan, Ala., and a cement mixer filled with the celebrated legume was leaving a miles long trail for the spectators to grab and munch before mammoth farm rigs, marching bands, beauty queens, Clydesdales, Harleys and fire engines passed by.
The day's festivities paid special tribute to members of the U.S. military and we waved, hooted and cheered as a camo-clad company of young soldiers from nearby Fort Rucker marched past, our son among them.
Four years earlier we had financed his high school graduation road trip from New England to Houston and back with a buddy. One of the many stops along the way was at Fort Rucker to see its U.S. Army Aviation Museum. During that stop, they also got to fly a Black Hawk sim, compliments of FlightSafety International. That was way cool until the screen went red and everything stopped. Sure they busted the thing badly, they exited, offered hasty thanks, piled into their Toyota and zoomed away.
Regardless, the experience evidently made a lasting, positive impression, since now 2LT Garvey, U.S. Army, is spending long days and nights learning the systems, limits and the challenges of controlling Fort Rucker's Bell TH-67 training helicopters. If all goes well, he should be wearing Army wings next year.
The peanut parade was a part of his training class's family weekend, which his mother and I attended for a couple of reasons. First, primary training can be dispiriting — flying helicopters is an unnatural act, after all — and we wanted to show our support. Secondly, I wanted to see that FlightSafety operation.
By way of background, I worked at the training outfit's LaGuardia headquarters in the mid-1980s and witnessed some of the company's significant moves then. Constructing the base adjacent to Fort Rucker was one of them.
I was in his corner office when Al Ueltschi, the company's founder, chairman and CEO, announced he was putting a center in Alabama to provide simulator training for the U.S. Army. FlightSafety didn't then do much dedicated military training, and I said I was surprised that the service wasn't already conducting its own simulator instruction.