“Don’t even dream about messing with me”

Today I had the opportunity to visit an air base here in California, operated by the US Navy. I couldn’t help but compare it to what I remember from military service in Israel. The first thing I noticed was that it was enormous; I was told that it was 20 square miles in area.

Of course everything was neat, clean and well-maintained. Yes, neater and cleaner than what I remember. The guard at the gate did not appear to be reading a paperback when we arrived, nor was there a radio playing. In a ready room where pilots wait before missions (it’s a training base) there was a book about the Israeli Air Force on a coffee table.

The officers that showed us around happened to be military doctors, so perhaps they were especially concerned with the welfare of the men and women for whom they were responsible, but they pointed out detail after detail that showed how much the Navy cared about their people. Of course they also mentioned how many millions of dollars were invested in training the pilots, but they stressed that everyone got the same level of health care. You could tell that they were proud to be part of it.

The aircraft we looked at, F18 Hornets, being designed for landing and takeoff from carriers at sea, had overdeveloped landing gear like the incongruously powerful calf muscles on pretty ballet dancers. With their huge twin engines they looked very, very businesslike. If they could talk, they would have said: “don’t even dream about messing with me”.

The hangars had the familiar smell of hydraulic fluid, solvent and jet fuel.

It was Sunday, so there was very little activity. I didn’t get to hear the unbelievably loud noise of fighter aircraft taking off.

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