On the flight deck, broiling hot sun, bright blue sky, blue sea, whitecaps throwing spindrift with the wind, another day in the Persian Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom, I’m standing between eighty thousand pounds of Hornet and sixty thousand pounds of thrust at full throttle, two fighter aircraft held back against their will, straining to break free, to pierce the sky, my head on a swivel my nerves strained to the breaking point, float-coat buttoned, cranial on, gloves on, sleeves down, goggles down, muscles taut, engines screaming-screaming-screaming my bones rattle stomach pulled against my backbone teeth clenched marrow quivers in every bone in my body I’m shaking everything around me can kill me everywhere around me is constant action-action-action! my head filled with screaming jet noise my nostrils filled with jet exhaust I’m burning up my head tilted down as I gaze from beneath lowered brows thumbs up, thumbs up, thumbs up, thumbs up, engines scream and scream and scream jet blast pounds the deflectors in a steady stream of orange and red and white and blue flame the bow is up wait wait it’s down it’s down it rises! it rises! wind tears across the flight deck steam rises from the catapult wet tears stream from my eyes my heart fills with joy I smile behind locked jaw at the thrill! the noise! the excitement! the romance! noses wrenched down and they’re flung down the catapult they sink below the bow! they sink! wings bite they rise they soar they’re free! Aircraft trapping behind me, let’s go let’s go let’s go, next two aircraft taxi up, JBDs up, engines screaming-screaming-screaming my bones rattle stomach pulled against my backbone everything around me can kill me….