MAFFS 7 MEMORIAL
Tomorrow, the crew of MAFFS 7 will be eulogized in Charlotte by their squadron mates, remembered by their Air Force aerial fire-fighting brethren and grieved for by their families. This is a small community of men and women who come together whenever the nation calls, to help save the lives of people they’ve never met and homes they’ve never seen. They come when called, without hesitation, bringing skill, courage and fortitude to a fight against mother nature. They leave their families and friends, communities and colleges to come as a crew, laying down a line of retardant, to protect what’s not theirs. These men did not immediately think of the possible consequences, or hazards that might await them. They meticulously train in the winter and when the call comes they rely on years of experience to guide them through the dangers of low altitude, high pressure, hot temperatures, and heavy airplane flying.
Hero is a word that at times can be overused and undervalued, but what kind of person runs into a fire while all others are running away from it? Could that person be called a hero? Webster’s dictionary describes it this way; a person, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. For the 4 men who perished and the two survivors of MAFFS 7 on that fateful day, July 1, 2012 this word has never had such a more poignant meaning.
I met LtCol Mikeal a few times through the years, crossing paths on one fire or another. Most recently I had the pleasure of speaking with him while we traded places in Afghanistan; I was headed home and he was just settling in and getting comfortable for a deployment that was just beginning. We had a few nice conversations about what to expect, what the “boss” was like and how the flying was in theatre. On the last night, as we walked out the door to our awaiting plane, I wished him well, saying “we’ll see you at home on a fire, take care” never imagining that this would be the way I would remember him. I didn’t know LtCol Mikeal well, which is to say we had brief conversations on the same dirt every few years. But, what little I did know, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy, who cared deeply for his state, his country and most especially his family.
To the other men who perished that day, I never had the privilege of personally knowing them , except to say, I knew what kind of men they were. As military members, especially Guardsmen, we are all basically cut from the same cloth. We don’t do this job for money, or glory or comfort; in the beginning, I think it’s because it sounds like a job that’s fun, exciting, and even challenging as compared to office work. But, in the end, I think we all do it because there’s a purpose to what we do; a higher calling, so to speak. I believe it’s human nature to want to help one another and with aerial fire-fighting we get to, in a small part, help those in need, during a very scary time in their lives. The rewards are never monetary, just the satisfaction that you may have helped save someone’s life, or someone’s home. This is certainly what LtCol Paul Mikeal and his crew were trying to do on July 1st.
In recent days since the accident, I think of them often, reflecting on the events that transpired and praying for those they have left behind.
Lt. Col. Paul K. Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville, N.C.
Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, 36, of Belmont, N.C.
Maj. Ryan S. David, 35, of Boone, N.C.
Senior Master Sgt. Robert S. Cannon, 50, of Charlotte.