June 7, 2011 8:57:00 AM
A May vacation to Spain via military space-available transportation presented two revelations I had not anticipated or sought. I thought relaxation and sightseeing would be my most stringent tasks, yet events impinged.
As we drove across southern Spain from Cadiz to Seville, I saw in one Spanish valley the probable energy future more clearly than I ever have in America.
On the right side hill, a hundred thousand vividly yellow sunflowers turned their face to the sun. On the left side an acre of computer controlled solar panels did likewise and for the same reason, to harness the sun.
On another ridge line a dozen gargantuan windmills with arms as long as a football field turned not to the sun but to the wind to harness its flow for power generation.
Spain must place itself farther along the natural energy production learning curve because they have no oil or coal of their own. The alternative energy imperative arrives first for those most at the mercy of foreign, fossil fuel-generated, energy, and in Spain alternative methods are all around you.
Another obvious facet of the energy future is the size of motor vehicles. I saw almost no personal transportation trucks in Spain, only commercial diesel models. Cars are about half the size of American counterparts.
When I look down any given row of vehicles in American parking lots, nearly half will probably be large SUVs or pickup trucks. This holds true even on Columbus AFB. I can''t imagine there are many farmers or ranchers parking in the student pilot parking lot, yet half the vehicles are, apparently, needlessly large behemoths that carry more self-image than cargo.
While my libertarian streak insists that we are free to drive whatever we want, for whatever reason, my more progressive side realizes we almost wrecked the Gulf of Mexico drilling on the dangerous edge of technology to feed the monster trucks in our parking lots. We may also be "fracking" our clean water supply to break loose shale oil. What environmental price must we pay for the ego-mobiles?
If we double our supply of oil in the future from extreme, potentially environmentally catastrophic, methods, will we free ourselves from oil imports, or merely allow a further explosion of gargantuan vehicles in our parking lots? Can we ever produce enough oil to slake this thirst for ostentation?
A second, sobering, event grasped me on the trip home. The final leg on such journeys is provided compliments of the C-17 operation that flies, usually empty, from Andrews AFB, MD to Jackson, MS. These are just completed AME, or Aero Medical Evacuation, missions from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq delivering patients to military hospitals in the Washington D.C area.
As we waited for the flight to be called at Andrews, we heard that the mission had been re-cut to first go to San Antonio, TX, then to Jackson. While this would delay our return, I quickly realized it would do something else. San Antonio is home to the military burn center, and that is probably why this mission had been redirected there.
Boarding the flight we found the center of the cargo floor arranged with litters attached to vertical poles. On these litters lay wounded soldiers, some moderately wounded, and some far more badly mangled.
An AME doctor pulled us aside as we sought positions on web seats against the sidewalls and suggested we probably did not want to sit toward the back of the plane. The soldier on the aft most litter could not really be seen, but the flight nurses spent most of the flight working on him with swabs of some sort. All I ever saw was the top of his head that never moved.
Spending a two-hour flight beside wounded soldiers shamed my somewhat cavalier attitude toward Memorial Day that began as we landed in the early morning in San Antonio. The soldiers lay on their litters silent and uncomplaining after being significantly wounded in wars many Americans have forgotten.
Wars are all bugles and flags going in, and forgotten, crippled soldiers coming out at the end.
Jay Lacklen is a retired Air Force Reserve pilot, who flew missions in Vietnam and Iraq. Presently he is simulator instructor at CAFB and is writing a book about his experiences in the Air Force.
1. Lynn Spruill: A watershed moment LOCAL COLUMNS
3. Susan Estrich: Rupert is right NATIONAL COLUMNS
4. Leonard Pitts: We could have predicted Cake Wars II NATIONAL COLUMNS