Historically, adversity brings out the best and the worst in humans. That’s certainly been true throughout America’s history.
Lately, we’ve had plenty of adversity on our plate, a sad reality that presents the opportunity for individuals to show grace and generosity — which they did.It started with a storm named Harvey that blasted into southern Texas bringing rain of almost biblical proportions. The water rose, residents were stranded, and homes were destroyed. In response, an ad-hoc collection of volunteers known as the Cajun Navy saddled up and set to making things right again.
I have no doubt many folks were first exposed to this non-military nautical force when they saw images on their local news channel showing dozens of pick-up trucks each pulling a boat trailer, headed west, into the worst storm damaged areas.
They may have thought it was a joke, or a prime example of fake news. It was neither. The Cajun Navy is a real thing, and it’s powerful.
The sentiment behind this loosely arranged volunteer organization is simple: We are all capable of changing the world. So let’s do it.
Areas flooded by Harvey’s rains became inaccessible via normal means. Thankfully, the good men and women of the Cajun Navy, and others like them, leapt into action using their own equipment, their own money, and on their own time, to help complete strangers rise above the flood waters to safety and to start the process of rebuilding their lives.
Weeks later and a thousand miles away, Hurricane Irma whipped through Florida from bottom to top. The wake of the devastation was wide and long, but no where was it as extensive as it was in the Florida Keys. A string of islands only partially connected by a slender two-lane road, the Keys are a treasure, and like so many gems of great value, they are vulnerable and fragile.
The airports of Key West and Marathon Key are large enough to accommodate military aircraft tasked with bringing supplies to those stranded by the storm damage. The people scattered along the remaining islands aren’t so fortunate.
Thankfully, organizations like AERObridge, working with volunteers from all over the map, have been able to attract pilots of general aviation aircraft capable of flying into the smaller private landing strips to deliver aid.
Make no mistake, this is real aid. Necessary supplies are making their way to truly needy people thanks to the efforts of pilots flying aircraft no more exotic or complex than those you’d see at your local airport. Single engine Cessnas, Pipers, and Beechcraft mix with light twins as they all fly into tight spaces like those found at Summerland Key, where the runway is only 27 feet wide and sits a scant four feet above sea level.
Some of those involved in these efforts have faces and names you’d easily recognize. They’re well known aviation advocates, in many cases men and women who earn their living in the front seat of an aircraft.
Others are anonymous. People you’ve never heard of but with whom you share a great deal in common. They’re private pilots with the will and the ability to help, so they do.
Some have a few hundred hours of flight time in their logbooks. Others have several thousand. It makes no difference. These are the people who make the world go ’round. They pitch in and make the lives of others better not because they’re assigned to do it, not because they’re paid to do it, not because they’ve been coerced into doing it — they help simply because they can.
We all owe them a debt of thanks. Whether we’ve directly benefitted from a Cajun Navy member pulling us out of a flooded house, or a GA pilot who dropped in to deliver water, insulin, and food, to our neighbors — or not — every single one of those volunteers deserves a tip of the hat and a big Texas-sized Thank You with a heaping helping of Southern hospitality.
I do not limit these offers of thanks to just those directly affected, however. I include members of Congress and their staffers in that suggestion. For while FEMA does its work, and while both state and local governments mobilize to provide services as well, it is the American people putting their skills, their assets, and their time to work for the benefit of others that makes this a truly great country.
There is something uniquely American about the initiative taken by these people. They don’t wait for instructions from a federal authority when disaster strikes. They aren’t frozen in fear or locked down by indecision as people drown, or starve, or suffer from dehydration. They act. They act quickly and selflessly, and they ask for nothing in return. Nothing but to be free to continue to act as their conscience directs them in time of need.
There may be no better example of why the privatization of ATC services would be a bad idea, than that provided by these two storms that adversely affected tens of millions of people across several states.
The Cajun Navy has no governmental authority that can inhibit their ability to help when the circumstances require it. Aviation on the other hand, may.
It would be a tragedy that would be measured in completely preventable human suffering if even a small percentage of those pilots and volunteers delivering aid felt they couldn’t, or shouldn’t, get involved. If a single load of desperately needed supplies was left on the ramp for the lack of an aircraft to deliver them, America and all Americans would be poorer for it.
Our current population, coupled with our current ATC system, provides the capacity to deliver exceptional and almost immediate emergency services to every man, woman, and child in this country in times of real trouble. That matters and should be taken into consideration.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If nothing else, these past weeks of meteorological strife have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, the American system of ATC ain’t broken. Thank goodness.