The loss of Capt. Jeff Kuss last Thursday has left a ragged tear in the naval aviation community. As he was memorialized by his boss, Blue Angel 1, CDR Bernacchi, I was reminded of so many other memorials from over the years. Good men and women who paid the ultimate price for doing what they loved.
What is it that drives men and women to subject themselves and their families to a profession that, though far safer than it once was, still claims bright, young, dedicated people at an over-sized rate? I don’t know any accountants, scientists or computer programmers who say they lost more than 20 coworkers in 20 years.
No one signs up for this line of work believing that they will not make it to the end. But the possibility walks with you at every step. We do it because we are certain that we won’t be the one. Because there is nothing like it and once it gets under your skin, there is no cure. The professionalism, the dedication to duty, country and craft are a thin veneer covering the real truth. The jets, the smell of exhaust, the boat, the ready room, the Gs, the speed; they are a potion we find irresistible and sustaining.
To say that Capt. Kuss died doing what he loved may sound trite, but it explains a pact we make when we strap ourselves into these wonderful machines. We rationalize the risk with the acknowledgement, a small source of comfort during those rare moments of self doubt. If it’s me, then I went doing what I was meant to do.