Related Spouse Articles

Military Life 101

  • job fair
    Military Spouse Employment 101
    Military.com
    While the military will always throw a monkey wrench in any best-laid plans, your career doesn't have to be one of them.
  • (Photo: U.S. Department of Education)
    Military Spouse Education Help 101
    Military.com
    Good news for you: Being a military spouse can actually make some parts of going back to school easier.
  • (Photo: U.S. Navy)
    Military Life 101
    Military.com
    Military life has a lot of nuts and bolts. You know, the little things that make up just an ordinary day.
  • stack of one dollar bills
    Military Spouse and Family Benefits 101
    Military.com
    Don't know exactly how to get your military spouse and family benefits or want to know more about what they are? Read on.
  • Movers at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, load up a truck with household goods. Jose Ramirez/Air Force
    Military Spouse and Family Moves 101
    Military.com
    Whether you're an old pro or new to the military moving game, there's stuff to learn about PCSing. Here's our easy PCS 101 guide.
  • (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Sullivan Laramie)
    Military Family Deployment 101
    Military.com
    Preparing for deployment can seem like an uphill battle. But we've been there. Here's what you need to know.
  • Military family
    Military Family Life 101
    Military.com
    Military life is not easy, but we've got your back. From marriage to kids and parenting, we have the resources you need.

Overcoming Fear of Flying (Maybe)

airplane landing

I hadn't flown in a commercial airplane for 17 years. Yes, both my husband, Dustin, and my dad are Navy pilots. But after 9/11, I honestly thought I'd never fly again.

In 2010, I flew in the Air National Guard's KC-135 because Dustin volunteered me to do it. I think he hoped it would end my fear of flying. It didn't. I never felt like the KC-135 left the ground, probably because it doesn't have passenger windows. Even when I watched a mid-air refueling, the whole thing seemed surreal.

But a commercial airplane with lots of windows and piloted by someone I don't know? No way.

Then, two weeks ago, Dustin asked me to fly with him to Washington, D.C., for our anniversary. I said yes even though backing out last minute remained a viable option. For me, at least.

The day of our flight, I followed Dustin like a lost sheep through airport security. Which is to say, Dustin helped me place all my belongings in the proper plastic bins bumping along a conveyor belt. None of it seemed real. I still fancied running out the terminal.

Then, it was time to board the plane. "We're just going to walk down this hallway and find our seats," Dustin said. It all looked so easy. Inviting, even. Sure, I thought, I'll walk down this hallway -- and then maybe I'll run back out.

But Dustin held my hand and talked to me about aerodynamics. More than once he said, "All those times I went to work in Pensacola, I was flying a single-engine airplane. You never worried about me, right?"

I couldn't answer. My face was cold with fright. Also, every fearful flier knows that the process of realizing airplanes are safe and the process of getting our feet inside one are managed by two different parts of the brain: the mature, 36-year-old part, and the one that defaults to the fetal position. Before I could change my mind, however, we were rumbling down the runway.

"You did it," Dustin said once the wheels were off the ground, as if the whole thing were over. It was just beginning! For one hour, I panicked over every noise ("The engines sound different") and Dustin reassured me ("They're pulling back on the power to make our descent"). When we landed in D.C., he said, "There, now you're not afraid anymore."

What? It doesn't work that way, Dustin. In five days, I had to fly back home -- alone. I put this out of my mind while I enjoyed time with Dustin. On the last day, I started looking at Plan B's: Take the train. Hitch a ride with friends. Take a bus.

Dustin was confused. "Why not just fly?" he asked. "You've already done it. You're cured. What's there to be afraid of anymore?"

I could only shake my head. “Dustin, Dustin, Dustin.”

Dustin is an engineer, a numbers person. He understands things like risk and probability. Indeed, after I was pregnant with our first son, I said, "I think we're on a roll of having all boys."

Dustin is the one who famously said: "One son does not make 'a roll.' Besides, our chances of having a boy are 50/50 every time. The probability doesn't change." He flipped a penny multiple times to prove the point.

So, I applied the same logic to my fear: The general population's risk of dying in a plane crash is about 1 in 2 million. That must reset with each flight, right? Or -- cue the ominous music -- are my chances getting better (worse?) with every flight? Is one safe flight "a roll"? Or do my chances remain the same every time?

This is how a words-person who is afraid of flying thinks about risk.

Sitting beside me in the airport terminal, Dustin looked stunned as he contemplated my logic.

"You're going to get on the plane," he said dryly, "and you're going to be fine."

Easy for him to say. He'd be watching my plane take off from the comfort of the ground.

We said goodbye outside the line for security. Streams of mascara made tracks down my face. My stomach was in knots, and I was breathing too fast. Dustin waved until he couldn't see me anymore, and I realized he fully believed I'd get on the plane.

I followed other passengers onto a bus that was waiting to take us to the CRJ-200. I was still crying, and everyone saw. We exited the bus, and there was no pleasant "hallway" to distract me from what I was about to get into.

I turned to the man beside me, my hand at my throat, and said, "I can't do this; I'm going back."

To be continued next week ...

Related Topics

Sarah Smiley

Military News App by Military.com

Download the new Military.com News App for Android on Google Play or for Apple devices on iTunes!

Contributor

Navy wife Sarah Smiley is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of Going Overboard: The Misadventures of a Military Wife (2005) and I'm Just Saying (2008). She has been featured in the New York Times and Newsweek, and on Nightline, The Early Show, CNN, Fox News and other local and national news outlets. Her liferights were optioned by Kelsey Grammer's company, Grammnet, and Paramount Television to be made into a half-hour sitcom. Visit www.SarahSmiley.com for more details. To contact Sarah, you can also visit her Facebook page.

© 2016 Military Advantage