26 March 2014

So Long, Ol' Gal

We may never uncover the manner of your passing.

But we know that your going has uncovered the face of the people who surround you.

For showing us who we really are, we have seen that in your final known moments that you have bequeathed unto us more than we are prepared for.

Till we meet at His feet, may you find green pastures and restful waters.

14 March 2014

Yeah? You And Whose Army?

I am loth to speak of the recent disappearance of MH370. The barrage of pseudo-intellectual drivel and vitriol shows to me once again, that we are simply not ready for public opinion serving as an influence towards government policy and practise. We have in overwhelming volume, public opinionatedness in guise of public opinion.
As we speak, much of the accusation has been proven wrong. Ravenous snarling at MAS for having sent families of the victims to India, engines that talked to ground stations 4 continuous hours after being declared as missing, taking the authorities to task for not deploying our submarines for search and rescue, after condemning them as being unable to submerege at at that,  dissing the Director General of the Department of Civil Aviation, and what have you amidst all that you have not, are acts of open burning amidst the haze of misinformation following a tragedy. The very amplitude of ridicule makes evident that we live amongst way too many charlatans passing off as moulders of social and political thought.
Let me speak of Search And Rescue. Of the 18 years as an active duty pilot, one of the greatest consumers of my standby time was serving as SAR crew in various squadrons throughout the country.
I was a mere copilot not yet into my second year in my first flying squadron in Butterworth when dear Major David  ditched inadvertantly while attempting a night rescue at sea. His copilot, one of his crewmen and four combat rescue personnel were lost in the incident. That was my first direct involvement with search operations, and in the air force we have the wealth of experience we do not desire when it comes to SAR. Even one friend lost is a friend far too many to lose. The media frenzy and condemning of an aircraft that has saved countlessly more lives than it has been blamed for taking are just one of the many ills that accompany the territory we operate in as an air force. Throughout my remaining years, I gained greater familiarity with SAR through the various incidents we SAR pilots face, actual and in SAR exercises with neighbouring countries' military arms.
This was every day life in service, and now, in this civil incident, the rigours of what follows an air mishap is in the public's eye and many prove graceless in facing matters that they cannot grab and bend with their own hands because we have all become accustomed to being know-it-all critics even when it comes to events outside of our circle of experience. We have forgotten how to trust, to let someone else who has the burden of responsibility by office, to do his work while we wait. Too much conspiracy, too little faith, and the sinking inability to acknowldge the constricting finity of our personal prowess are rapidly eroding our civility.
A layman who has not been on a search operation cannot imagine the weight of the yoke that lays on the shoulders of the SAR Mission Coordinator nor the trickle down psychological burden on the minds and hearts of all those involved in the search. The first truth that all in the mission must acknowledge is that despite all that you possess and all that you can deploy and all that you think you may know, none of these that you put your trust in will guarantee results.
What will then? Persistence. Absolute and blind persistence, against all hope, against all the unwarranted and unfriendly words hurled at you as you return time after time at day's end empty handed, in searching and searching again, in the same area even, till something yields.
On that long and injurous road there will always be some wiseass trying to prove that he can do the job better than you. Shamans, bomohs, politicians, pilots and even senior officers who will try to commandeer the operations according to their unenlightened wisdom and "talk" with the SAR MC. Everyone wants success. But worse, everyone wants the bragging rights should such a sorrowful event break into sunny skies and tearful reunions, so as to say, " I told them to. I told you so."
SAR is not merely a jigsaw puzzle. It is a jigsaw of contradictory messages. That's actually common. Even in the most straightforward incidents of SAR, such as a fighter pilot eject shortly after departure, the muddle can get confusing. You can have an incident so close to home base, yet be so far from finding your friend in timely fashion so as to allow the abatement of anxiety before it cuts raw. Yet in these instances even, you will be the red carpet roll out for snake oil salesmen and witch doctors who will tell you they had a vision of an enormous hand reaching out from the sea to slap the aircraft into its deadly waters or into a mountain or wherever their infusions inspire them to make such wild claims.
The worst transgressions in SAR are interference and speculation. Just log on to facebook or the online news portals and watch the most irresponsible orgy of mudslinging imaginable amidst a time where sacredity, reverence and surrender should be the prime movers of what not to say rather than the airing of gracelessness that it has proven to be.
I do not know if reality tv is to blame for the current attitude I see with regard to the criticism of our leaders, however they may have been elected, but it does not paint a pretty picture of Joe Public nosing in where he cannot lend any improvement to the situation.
The truth is very simple, and I repeat, a layman who has not been on search operations has no idea of the enormity of the burden upon the SAR Mission Coordinator. None of you who fall into this category has any idea of the barrage of information and misinformation that has to be dealt with and verified before they are taken as leads along which to launch a search. None of you have any time frame estimation on these workings. You just think you have the right to know and to know yesterday. If anything is not forthcoming, you scoff at it as the witholding of information. In these circumstances, disseminating information that isn't verified is the worst thing thing to do, indeed smacks of utter irresponsibility. Better to hold fire till evidence vindicates the information. In this age of instant gratification, the idea of waiting for information may be utterly impalatable and alien, but wait you must. There is nobody's hand that you can force, and you cannot secure a better way forward should matters be in your hands anyway. Hence, the question is, you and whose army?
The individuals at the helm are not pulling things out of a hat. SAR Manuals have been promulgated and ratified, and upon DISTRESFA, the final stage of the SAR phases, adhered to. There are methods, search patterns, Most Probable Points to figure out, assignment of assests and what not, all of which have already been determined. Nobody is doing anything by memandai mandai. Interference and speculation not only disrupts the SMC's work, but serves to mask the emergence of truthful and valuable leads. He must follow through with his plans, and wait for results before reassessing the plan and formulating a new plan based on the latest data. The questions you think they have not considered have been pored over and over and yielded naught. Do not be so presumptuous as to think you are better than the trained professionals who are giving their all into a meaningful resolution to this void.
What we all need to learn is a bit of respect. You cannot get respect for your opinions with the way you insult the leadership of the day  based on information you neither have nor can verify. I really don't care about who it is who heads which ministry, but down on the ground is the working man and woman who are making sacrifces in the interest of matters bigger than you have the misfortune or gumption to handle. When the east coast towns went under the floods, these are the examples of the working people who went out dutifully to rescue flood victims to higher ground while their own homes were being ravaged by the wicked waters. Yet, there was no sparing of bloodletting on the social media.
In essence, you don't have to like the people who have to face the crowd, especially if you think he has not been legitimately elected, but taking a swipe at everyone because your personal preferences did not come to fruition in GE13 does not extend you the rights to tarring all and sundry with the same brush. In real life, rarely does the spokesman reflect the labour of the man at the end of the line anyhow. On closer look, in this national tragedy, I do not see the critics convincing anyone they can do a better job themselves should this cartload of misfortunes fall into their laps. The very brand of their criticism itself casts a long shadow on their capabilities were they to trade places with those who have to suddenly face this unprecedented dilemma of global proportions. And you would send offensive submarines out for search and rescue? Why on earth speak of things that you have already condemned as being incapable of submerging? So now they are deployable because it's the "current" thing to say? Make up your mind one way or the other, but this switching of sentiments proves you as being no better than the office bearers you seek to usurp. If all you can do is jeer at things you cannot rectify, exactly what does that make you? A better citizen?
Spare a thought for the many on the ground, in the air and on the waters who are attempting to literally spin gold out of straw. Spare us all the hypocrisy of calling for prayer with your right hand while you condemn the very avenue by which those prayers have a hope of being answered with your left.
That, or volunteer your eyes to the search parties.