Article Comment 

Jay Lacklen: Cairo


Jay Lacklen



Flying large Air Force cargo jets provides a marvelous tour of diverse cities world-wide. I found few as I expected them to be. 


One of the most unexpected proved to be Cairo, Egypt. This Nile River city is unique for the advertised features such as the Pyramids, and they were impressive, but I found other memorable aspects of the city that I had not anticipated. 


Mankind''s first great city, Cairo remains perhaps the most essential human enclave. 


Laying at the nexus of three great continents, this city has been at the center of human society since our first dim history was written 5,000 years ago. Its rise under the Pharohs made it the center of the civilized world, and while it lost that accolade long ago, it has remained the crucial crossroad of human commerce and social interaction. 


Many empires have taken up temporary residence in Cairo to add to its diversity, from Alexander the Great, to the Romans (Anthony and Cleopatra), to the armies of Napolean (that looted substantial relics for the Louve Museum), to the British and assorted other conquerers over the ages. 


Cairo possess geographic diversity as well. 


The Nile river surges up from the depths of Africa bringing a narrow four-thousand mile-long strip of jungle green through the barren North African desert to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea at Cairo. 


The Nile also brought the first humans north from our origins in Eythiopia perhaps 100,000 years ago. For nearly as long as there have been humans, there has been Cairo where the first magic spark of creativity, imagination and ingenuity produced the initial city to hold the first great empire. Before humans could spread world-wide, they had to pass through the city now known as Cairo. 


My first encounter with Cairo left unexpected memories. 


Arriving at our hotel, the Mena House, near the base of Cheops Pyramid on the western edge of the city, I saw a pair of riders galloping across the desert dunes far in the distance as the sun set behind them in rich tones of red and gold. A silent stillness seemed to lie across the vastness of the desert as the day came to an end. 


The next morning, as I stepped out onto my hotel balcony overlooking a large rectangular courtyard, I sensed a morning as might have been experienced in Eden. The sunshine was impossibly bright, and the air impossibly clear and clean. The courtyard boasted grass only abundant sunshine coupled with abundant water could turn such a deep green. 


Flower gardens that surrounded the manicured lawn spoke of tropical Africa with their multitude of vibrant shades of red, yellow and violet, a riveting combination of jungle and desert that is Cairo. 


The air held the last vestige of the cool desert night that would soon become overwhelming heat that would drive me back into my air conditioned room. But for this special morning interlude, the world could not have been brighter, more pleasant or more serene. When the world weighs on me, my mind returns to this morning in Cairo where I found it impossible to harbor any negative emotions and where I thought all things marvelously possible. 


Later, a statue in the Cairo museum brought me a message from antiquity. This simple work about 18 inches high shows a man of ancient Egypt standing erect holding two poles in his hands, as if pulling an unseen cart. Beside and just behind him, a woman stands with her hand on his shoulder facing forward with him. 


I studied the pair, not grasping what they were telling me, but suspecting they had a message. Slowly it came to me. The man, larger, and in the foreground, initially seems to dominate. But the longer I studied the pair the more I saw the woman subtly begin to assume that domination. She seemed to control the scene despite occupying a secondary physical position. 


I gasped. Suddenly I saw the intricate male/female interplay the artist wanted to convey and I trembled. I had received a sophisticated message of universal interpersonal relationships from an Egyptian artist 4,000 years dead, yet alive in his work to speak to me. "I understand, brother", I thought, " by god, I understand!" 


There are many cities more beautiful, more affluent, and more modern than Cairo, but there is no city more intricately tied to human social evolution and none more important to experience.


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.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment Raymond Gross commented at 5/4/2010 3:54:00 PM:

It seems that Jay Lacklen and I have a lot in common. Both retired AF and were involved in B-52 Arc Light missions out of Guam. The dispatch printed one of his letters describing his experience on one of the B-52 missions but would not print the one I wrote telling about what I experienced. However, the Packet printed it for me.
Jay's "out of the blue" letter about his trip to Cairo brought back similiar memories of mine too. He describes a much more peaceful stay than mine was. I think mine was just as memorable although not as pleasant.
A few years after the B-52 job I retrained as a Flight Engineer on the C-141 Acft. A large cargo plane with 4 big TF-33 Jet engines. My home base was Charleston AFB, SC.
My trip to Cairo was during an exercise called "Bright Star" and we were carrying troops and cargo from Germany to a classified landing strip in Egypt. Well, we were briefed before take off about the location of our destination. A few days before , a C-141 from another base landed there and on the way to the parking ramp the pilot (driver) hit an obstacle with one of the wing tips which grounded the plane until extensive repair was made. The night before we were to land there another pilot was trying to land at night and had to make a go-a-round since the run way had no lighting . Well, don't really know how but half way around, the pilot plowed the plane into the desert which killed all on board and the Acft was destroyed. Now, a briefing like that gets your attention in a big hurry-up. So the whole crew was wide awake for the duration. When we arrived at our destination it was during the day because someone in the head shed said , " maybe we shouldn't be making night landings without runway lights". Glad of that. We did circle the field when we arrived and the remains of the crash was plain to see, just a big black spot in the desert. Not a good feeling in the pits of our stomachs. We went on in without incident and parked. Had a long wait at the plane until we had to change into civilian clothes for the bus ride to the hotel which was right at the bottom of the hill below the great Pyramids.
It didn't take long to decide what to do in crew rest. I wanted to just enjoy a nice long walk up the hill and see the Pyramids and the Sphinx. The rest of the crew wanted to go ride a camel. So off we went. About half way up the hill I was approached by an Arab who wanted me to ride one of his horses on one of his tours. After telling him no thanks many times and that I didn't know how to ride a horse, he says, "I teach, I teach" so finally big dummy got up into the saddle and away we went, on our way to see the show. It was comfortable and enjoyable while he led my horse and just walked around the big rocks as he told me about the history and all . But when we got past the Pyramids he said , "now let's go for ride in desert" and he handed me the steering thingy and told me to hold onto it. About that time my horse floor boarded it and I had the ride of my life. I thought I was going to die out there but held onto the saddle with both hands and dug my knees into the horses sides. The wind was so forceful in my face it was causing my eyes to water and I could see and barely could hear the guy yelling at me to "pull back on it", "pull back on it"! I finally figured out what he was saying and pulled back on the steering wheel. The poor old horse slowed down and finally came to a stop. He was breathing so hard I thought he would faint right there. Well, I got smart and jumped off him as the guy came trotting up beside us. He says , "are you happy" "are you happy"?? I said , "heck no I'm not happy and my rear end feels like I'm been hit with a 2x4 ". I paid him for the near death experience and went the rest of the way on foot.
We had an early alert the next morning so we loaded onto the bus and headed to our escape plane. I was glad to get the heck out of Cairo and will never go back again. I'm happier touring the old forts down on the Gulf Coast.


Article Comment Jay Lacklen commented at 5/5/2010 7:00:00 AM:


I participated in several Bright Stars. On my first, in 1983, I did the standard tourist camel ride to the Pyramids and got a beast that was running green slime on both ends and had a personality to match. The shyster guide stopped half-way back from the Pyramids to demand a second "tip", or we had to get off the camels. So, there are downsides to Cairo, as anywhere.

I don't write about war stories of what I did, I try to make observations after reflecting on what I have seen.

You might have done the same if you had expanded on that bad feeling in the pit of your stomach after seeing the crash site. That airport, Cairo West, is a difficult and potentially dangerous field, especially for visual operations at night. I believe they demanded pilots fly instruments at night after this crash.


Article Comment Raymond Gross commented at 5/5/2010 9:14:00 AM:

Hi Jay,
where were you based? I think the two acft in the incidents I referred to were from NJ.
I'm really not a pro or very organized at the story telling thing, just like to write what comes to mind about what happened back then. I interpreted the story of your mission to Nam as a war story from the past. Maybe I read between the lines too much. Some folks do that I reckon.
I think your bomber story was more interesting than the Cairo one. Not too exciting reading about the Nile, flower gardens and such. Now, if you had thrown in a fish story about a whopper you caught on the Nile or one that got away, I would have been on the edge of my seat. I think a story about something you did is ok, so what-if people think it's a war story. I can't be very thrilled reading about someone reflecting on how beautiful the sky is, etc. Different strokes for different folks I guess.
Mr. Bernie says the people around here aren't interested in our military experiences so he doesn't like to publish my stuff. It's his paper, right.
I'm proud to have served in similar past experiences with you and thank you for your service.


Article Comment lacklenj commented at 5/5/2010 10:25:00 AM:


In B-52s, Loring, Maine, Guam and U-Tapao, Thailand. In the C-5, Dover, DE and Westover AFB, MA.

I think Bernie looks for the import of our missions rather than the war story itself.


Article Comment Raymond Gross commented at 5/5/2010 5:26:00 PM:

Mr. Bernie use to print some of my letters in the voice of the people area but after I began writing my opinion about the dems and especially Obama, he doesn't print any of what I send. I did email him my first post on this page but didn't expect him to print it--probably too long. Everybody I know likes to read the stuff he use to print of mine and always encouraged me to continue . I have sent many by email that haven't been in the voice so all I can tell those who like to read my rants is , "it's not my fault". Just don't ever mention anything negative about Obama or you might be shunned too. He told me he wouldn't print anything I couldn't show proof about.
Good luck with your import stuff.


Article Comment Jay Lacklen commented at 5/8/2010 6:36:00 AM:

As my wife has point out, the museum in Paris is the Louvre, not the Louve.

Please accept my mea culpa.


Article Comment Raymond Gross commented at 5/8/2010 8:12:00 AM:

C-141 memories when you got a couple minutes


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