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Monday, June 1, 2009

Law Enforcement Notebook

Frank Lombardi

The Good Old Days

We are spoiled brats. It’s true. We get mad when people say that to us, but let’s talk honestly. I think they say it out of jealousy, and they have a right to be jealous. Most of them don’t get to wear a gun and play cops ‘n robbers, or save a life, AND play pilot all in a day’s work. Still, we complain. We complain about what we have and what we don’t have. We complain about how things have gone in the past, and where things are going in the future. Yet, in the future when we look back at these times, none of this will be remembered with the same pessimistic view we have now. Funny how that works.

I’ve been becoming nostalgic lately for a reason. After a lengthy bidding process, delays, cutbacks, re-bidding, and then construction problems, renovation work is finally being completed on our main base of operations.

Anyone who works for the government on our level is probably familiar with this process. It just seems like there should be a much easier way. But it’s the government. No explanation necessary. There is lots of speculation whether the upcoming changes will be good or bad, but change is inevitable. I suppose it is all in the interest of "improving" one of the county’s facilities that houses some of its most expensive assets — its helicopters. It’s normal for some of us to have a bit of jealousy over how the other guy lives when we go to another agency’s aviation facility. We always want what someone else has. Bigger hangar. Pristine epoxy-painted floors. Higher-tech radio room. More state-of-the-art equipment. Better living quarters. We just want upper management to acknowledge our importance. We just want to be shown some love.

In reality, what we tend to gripe about really isn’t that bad. In fact we grow to love our low-budget, seemingly dysfunctional environment, and better yet, we make it work safely and effectively, and make it appear to others like a well-oiled machine, worthy of their own jealous thoughts.

Aviation Base. This is the term we use to describe our operation both professionally when we answer the radio, and affectionately when we are talking about "trailer life." Oh, did I mention that the pilots’ ready-room has, for well more than 15 years, been a trailer inside the hangar?

I’ve always wanted a club house as a kid, but apparently it took me until adulthood to finally have one. I’m sure that conjures up a colorful picture in your mind — and I haven’t even told you about the helmet-wearing deer head complete with black visor and antlers that adorns the side of the trailer. That trailer has been home to some of the most salty, yet seasoned, highly professional, yet crazy police aviators in the trade. Inside, stories abound about days of old when work was a flying club, and no one had a care in the world. When "real pilots flew under wooden rotors, and the only things you really had to worry about were blade fires and woodpeckers."

Well the aviators who told those stories are all but gone, and with the renovated floor plan almost complete, our trailer will soon be gone as well. Lately, I’ve found myself sharing my own "back-in-the-day" stories. You know, back when real pilots flew with nothing but a loran and a paper road map, and virtually any mission task could be accomplished with little more than a Bell JetRanger and a spotlight.

I agree with those who say there seems to be a special, almost traditional camaraderie found in public service. I prove it to myself every time return to work, and I’m met with the lingering smell of jet fuel and oil. I always smile and realize how much I’ve missed that smell and everything that goes with it. I don’t think there is an agency out there that doesn’t have their own version of a club house with a motley crew of aviators handling jobs today that will become stories of legend tomorrow.

These days we are expected to do our job safer and more efficiently with higher-tech equipment, like global positioning systems, infrared cameras, microwave downlinks and digital moving maps. All these things are more expensive to operate and maintain than they were yesterday, yet we must do so with continued small budgets that never seem to be on par with the advancement of technology. We may do this begrudgingly at times, but we all know in the back of our minds, as cliché as it is, that some day these will most certainly become the good old days.

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