There Are Some Fates Worse Than Death: Mike Drowley at TEDxScottAFB

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[Music] I'm lieutenant colonel Mike trolley and today I'm here to tell you who I am now in standard air force presentations and briefings I dazzle you with PowerPoint skills I'd have a nice overview telling you what I'm valuating on talking about today and for my biography I'd go through what my assignments were the schooling that I've had the awards that I've won but instead today I'm just going to simply tell you exactly who I am I'm a marine riflemen I'm an Army infantryman I'm a Navy SEAL now some of you are probably looking at me right now going no you're not you're in fact none of those things you obviously have a flight suit on you're wearing some sort of scarf your hair looks amazing you sir are a fighter pilot [Applause] but I'm going to argue that last point with you for just a second I am NOT a fighter pilot I'm in fact an attack pilot I Drive the a-10 warthog and being an attack pilot means that I stand for something that is bigger than myself to me I am all those people I have an extreme amount of empathy for that infantryman that's being shelled by artillery for that marine riflemen that's standing out there by himself guarding a hill for that Navy SEAL who's about to kick down a door for a building where he has no idea what's on the other side I try and put my shoes myself and those shoes of every single one of those people that's what makes me an a-10 attack pilot and it sounds funny to say but empathy is probably one of the greatest skills that I have to be able to do that mission so for me there's three world three words that can stop my world in a heartbeat those words are troops in contact and what troops in contact means is that friendly forces are receiving direct and effective fire that somebody else is trying to hurt my friends that are on the ground and when I think of troops in contact when I'm in a training scenario trying to prepare for the real fight sounds a little bit cheesy but what I think about is that opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on d-day when the boat drops friendly forces try and storm the beachhead they're taking that constant and incessant fire that's what I try and think about those forces are going through on the ground every second and my world counts to be able to protect and help those guys out on the ground and so when I hear troops in contact that mental clock that opening scene starts ticking it starts ticking through in my mind it was on 16 August in 2002 that I heard the words troops in contact for the first time in a combat situation come across the radio I was doing a night support for a team that had just captured a high-value target they were making their way up out of a valley with the high-value target we're trying to get to a safe house the weather was not phenomenal that night it was stacked up several thousand feet and an overcast deck above the weather everything was nice it was like flying over a blanket of snow there were stars out the moon was out but talking to the team on the ground beneath the weather deck they anticipated that the clouds were about a thousand feet above the ground they were right in the middle of a valley there was blowing with wind there was dust there was very intermittent rain storms that were going on and as I was taking in and talking with them about their situation the vibe that I was getting is they did not feel like things were were going well there was indicators out there that were putting them on edge certain things that they were seeing in the town led them to believe that others were aware of their presence so as this went on I checked in with my controlling agency and said hey I'd like to try and execute a weather letdown to get below the weather just so I can get eyes on this team so if anything happens I can be ready for it I can be there to support them and as I was doing that coordination all of a sudden those words came across the radio troops in contact we're taking direct fire and the thing that was amazing to me is I could actually hear the gunshots and explosions going off in the background as the team member tried to talk to me and tell me that he was under fire at the time that was all I needed I then told the controlling agency I am now going to execute a weather let down and I'm going to get down there so that way I can help my buddies out so executing a weather let down it's not the funnest procedure in the world when you think about it at the time it's 2002 we had no real imagery of the country we had no real detailed maps all I had was a Russian map from when the Russians fought in Afghanistan no English written on it no no numbers that I could recognize but that's what we use to orient ourselves I had a GPS point that I would start at I would hold a very specific heading reduce the power for an allowed amount of time and then when that time expired hopefully I had broken out of the weather and if it hadn't then I'd execute a max recovery climb and try and get away from whatever terrain lied on the other side so I got in my start point I told my wingman to hang tight and now I started executing my weather let down reduce the power try to hold that exact heading and now I entered the cloud deck it's very turbulent I'm getting bounced around all over the place and as I'm doing this I'm doing probably one of the quickest instrument cross-checks I've ever done instrument instrument instrument outside instrument instrument instrument outside and as I'm doing that a little mantra starts as I'm going through that and it's please let this work please let this work please let this work and after what seems for an eternity it only turns out to be 10 to 12 seconds I come shooting out of the north end of the valley beneath the weather it was about a thousand feet about the ground and I asked myself that eternal question why didn't I listen to my mom when she told me to go work at the local grocery store and the reason came cracking across the radio again as the troop started saying we're taking more and more fire we need help now so I enter a high G turn I tell my wingman just to stay to stay up high there's no way I can fit you down into the fight right now the Gees really crush you down into the seat the nvg sag on your face is you try and turn around and now I'm trying to look back into the valley and what spreads out before me is probably one of the most amazing firefights that I've ever seen in my life there's an infrared beacon that's going off that's showing me where the friendly position is and then there's tracer fire going back and forth off to the east and from the east into the convoy that I'm trying to get into support and then halfway up on the mountainside just at the bottom of the clouds there's a flash with a corresponding explosion on the ballot for of some sort of mortar team that's trying to hurt my friendly forces down there so I'm now cruising into the into the valley of 300 knots which is pretty fast for an a-10 I'm trying to get in contact with the friendlies the team member is having trouble talking to me because he's pinned down so heavily by fire that he's hiding behind the truck and he's only able to pop up every once in a while to try and get line-of-sight with my jet so that way I can hear so as this is going on I'm asking one question are you firing to the Easter you've taken fire from the West which one is it where are you firing to where are you taking fire from and what I get back is we are taking fire from the east so I put my gun cross on the treeline I close within about six thousand feet and then I hammer down for two seconds which rips a hundred rounds into that tree line and as I come off I get a blinding effect from my gun the 30 millimeter shooting off that which gains down my envy jeez I almost have to do a pitch back a high G pitch back to keep from hitting the sidewalls of the mountain which puts me back into the weather and what greets me on the radio is probably the worst thing a close air support an a-10 pilot can hear on the radio in that point that's complete silence a thousand things are racing through your mind at that time did I just shoot my own friendlies have the guys been overrun did the guy just get shot who was on the radio you have no idea what's going on in that time frame and then finally as I'm back up into the weather I get the radio called probably the best radio calling a temp I like get good hits keep it coming so I rap that jet back around I exit back out of the valley try and get below the weather again and then it's another high-g maneuver down to get back down so that way I can support those friendly forces another gun run on the treeline back up into the weather coming around and all I keep getting on the radios keep it calm and keep it coming and it's amazing because the tracer fire is not stopping it's not slowing down usually once you show up and you do one flyby it's broken contact and you get to go home but this day the enemy had something going and they knew that it was a good thing and now they were trying to do as much comm much harm that they could to those friends of mine that were on the ground I did two more passes on the treeline broke it back off and now switched up to the mortar position when the friendly forces finally started to break contact and now make their way out of the valley I gathered back up my wingman we provided support for about 45 more minutes and then finally we were able to exit out and go back home once they made safely made it out of the valley and we're now getting back to their safe house when I think about that day and what I executed to help those guys out I'm asked the question every now and then how could you do that how could you do a weather letdown with a semi reliable Global Positioning System semi reliable Russian map in to weather in mountainous terrain to try and help those guys out and the answer is always pretty easy for me it's because there are fates that are worse than death out there and in my world letting something happen to my brothers and sisters on the ground is one of them it is something that I have sworn that I will never let happen it is what I have built my entire life my mission credibility my whole purpose for being is to protect those forces on the ground you fast forward to 2003 and you asked who I am and the first scenario is that I am an attack pilot in 2003 March 23rd I would answer I'm a mission commander I'm a Strike Eagle pilot I'm a viper pilot I'm an hh-60 rescue helicopter crew because on the 23rd of March it wasn't a very good day for our friendly forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom an M c-130 convoy train of M c-130s that were going up to do a special operations in Phil were shot up pretty badly the convoy that PFC Jessica Lynch was on had taken heavy fire and POWs resulted from that convoy and then there were two aged 64 attack helicopters that were shot down one right outside of Baghdad that's the role that I found myself in in the 23rd of March I was supporting a Special Operations mission when I heard the comm come over guard that an attack helicopter had been shot down if you want to talk about something that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck it's a crew who's screaming over a distress frequency that they've been hit they don't know where they are they're going down and you're helpless to do anything about it I asked for relief from my special operations mission and was given that so that way I could pick up the mission commander role to now go and try and do a search and rescue mission for these helicopter pilots that had been shot down I got an initial set of coordinates from where we figured their radio beacon and initially gone off and we could hold about 70 miles south of Baghdad that was our one safe area where we felt like we weren't going to take any kind of enemy fire as we checked in to hold my wingman and I must have been doing the same thing at the same time we were scrolling up our navigation system to see where that down location was and as we looked up where our system tells us this is where those coordinates are there's nothing but threats going up in the air anti-aircraft artillery fire surface-to-air missiles explosions it was like a wall of enemy threats that was up to the north I remember going to myself I go back to where I'm holding the container goes back showing me there's your whole spot back up to the objective threats back to where I am back up to where the objective is and from a wingmen all the scent I hear is that where we're going I got up let's lock it up it's time to go to work so at this point everybody wants to help out we have f-16s checking in we have Strike Eagles checking in we have rescue helicopters who are ready to go and on these rescue helicopters there's pair of rescue teams there's about 14 to 20 servicemen that are on that helicopter ready to go anywhere and do anything that I tell them to do to go pick up those friendly forces and so my wingman and I try and make our way up north and immediately we start receiving anti-aircraft artillery fire surface-to-air threats are coming up at us we've gone no more than maybe ten miles north before we start taking all of this fire and as we try and make our way up there I'm trying to make contact with that helicopter crew and I'm getting very broken in limited comm something's keying the mic somebody's trying to talk I hear that somebody's hurt they think there may be getting close to captured and I'm like we've got to do this now we've got to get up there or else they're going to get captured that's all there is to it and from the ground the helicopters that are loitering and waiting for me to make the call are saying the same thing we got to go we've got to get up there now I'm like all right this is it time is of the urgency we got to get moving we're going to start going I'm going to try and clear a path for you and I start push it up north and train shots with as many threats as I possibly can and all of a sudden there was a third person moment that I have where as I'm sitting there cruising up north my wingman splits off and his own threat reaction and I remember seeing a fireball from a threat feet away from his aircraft in his a10 just squirting away from it and that's when I thought I'm about to kill 40 Americans if I send everybody up there I'm going to kill more people than I save today I remember it's the worst call that I've ever had to make in my entire life I called back to the helicopter crew and I said abort and that's like cursing on the on the radio it's like swearing in church I get that what back I said abort I'm going to lose more of you than I can save today and it's the worst feeling to go I can't make it happen and I'm about to leave two Americans behind I learned shortly thereafter in that silence of radio chatter that I had initially heard from the time that I said let's go do it that crew had been captured they spent 18 days in captivity before they were repatriated as prisoners of war but the one thing that kept going through my mind again was there are some fates that are worse than death and one of those fates is me sending 20 Americans into what would be certain death as being the responsible mission commander and that's my rule now after I got to do those two operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom I got the opportunity to go to the weapons schools and instructor pilot and I finally had time to reflect on the missions that I had accomplished and as I was uh thinking about those missions something smacked me score in the face and that was an incongruence that I was living with in my life as weird as it sounds it happened to me one day when I was stepping out to my jet a crew chief that was standing there was kind of looking tired and it irritated me I was like hey let's go we got to get launched we're going to step out it's time to get going and when I came back I was doing my post flight I think he could still tell that I was irritated that he was not completely with it for the day I remember he walked up he was like you know what sir I'm sorry I didn't get a lot of sleep last night I'm taking night classes my wife just had a brand-new baby and all of a sudden it hit me I was like I'm all about service when I crank up that jet service leadership I am about the guy on the ground who's getting shelled I'm all about that Navy SEAL who's about to kick down the door but in my day to day life am I about the airmen who's about to deploy for the first time am i all about that NCO who's studying for his next test am i all about that captain who's getting ready to head into his first combat mission and that's when it hit me that service leadership isn't just an AFSC it's not a specialty code it's not just a job doesn't happen when you turn on the motors doesn't end when you come back and pull them to the chocks it is a second-by-second minute-by-minute service that you owe each and every one when you are in a leadership role so when people ask me who I am I still believe I'm intact pilot I still believe I am a mission commander and now my answer is pretty darn simple I say I'm lieutenant colonel Mike trolley and I'm an airman thank [Music]
Channel: TEDx Talks
Views: 1,045,837
Rating: 4.7911077 out of 5
Keywords: tedx, Warthog, service to others, support, A-10, tedx talk, mission commander, marine, United States, army, ted talks, english, attack pilot, ted x, TEDxScottAFB, Mike Drowley, Drowley, Johnny Bravo, USAF, fighter pilot, global issues, United States Air Force, military, ted talk, navy, tedx talks, Air Support, service, leadership, ted, pilot
Id: 5WtQqKrbmKc
Channel Id: undefined
Length: 15min 49sec (949 seconds)
Published: Thu Jun 21 2012
Reddit Comments


This was gripping, thank you OP!

👍︎︎ 11 👤︎︎ u/ratshack 📅︎︎ Dec 04 2018 🗫︎ replies

Wow a TEDx not a intro into a MLM?

👍︎︎ 14 👤︎︎ u/TrialbySnu 📅︎︎ Dec 04 2018 🗫︎ replies

Seems a little harsh man, watching someone speak about A-10's can't be all that bad...

👍︎︎ 9 👤︎︎ u/ultraguardrail 📅︎︎ Dec 04 2018 🗫︎ replies
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