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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


 Happy Thanksgiving!
With warmest wishes to you and your family...
May your life be filled with gratitude. 
T.H.ursdays with Tom Hill

A beach appears in the distance. Our flight is low to the water as we approach from the east. The formation of F-15's is spread out so it maximizes our look ahead while allowing us to keep track of each other with a glance. We scream over local fishing boats. I'm not sure but I think they're from the little villages just off the beaches up ahead. In the pre-flight brief, someone thought the land ahead was the same Philippine beach used in the movie Apocalypse Now. 
I'm concentrating on the dozens and dozens of tasks inherent to a low altitude training flight when a thought creeps into my head: I am terribly impressed by all this, how cool it is. I think how fortunate I am to be there doing this exact thing. As far as I am concerned, I am the luckiest person in the world. There is much to be thankful for.

This event was more than 20 years ago. We had just finished a big exercise in the Philippines with other Air Force units and an Australian contingent. The flight up the beach was a final training flight before heading home. The interchange for the month was fantastic. 
The events memorable, especially with our international allies. Flying over that beach was icing on the cake. We left a couple days later, returning to our base in Okinawa. Not two weeks after that, Mount Pinatubo erupted, devastating the area. As I watched the aftermath on television, I thought again how lucky I had been to be there, and how lucky I was to have left before things got serious - to have those opportunities and then not to be there two weeks later, an eye-blink in geological terms.

First Snowfall of the year

Our Flight Surgeon was sent to Cebu Island to support the US recovery effort following the volcano eruption. He returned weeks later with stories colored with the perspective of his pre-Flight Surgeon days as an ordained minister: the abject lack of resources, the sea of people, the misery, the constant and steady relocation process. We all listened, spell-bound, beers in hand, as he told of his experiences.

In the coming months we got more stories from comrades who where caught with their families in the middle of the craziness - the ash showers, the convoy drive from Angeles City to Subic Bay, the personal losses - all things I couldn't really fathom because they sounded so biblical and incredible.

I'm thinking of all this now because the region was hit by another gigantic natural event, a typhoon, a few weeks ago, and because it's Thanksgiving. As much as I might feel separated from events around the world as if they're on another planet, these events are a great reminder to me that it is only through small differences in circumstances that I don't have firsthand experience of such calamity.

I've been through plenty of natural "events," though none caused the damage I've seen on the news lately. Over the years, I've lost family and friends due to disease, crime, and chance. There is no explaining or justifying how things happen. I have my health. I'm blessed with great relationships. And, I feel fortunate I am able to embrace the fact that, by luck, I'm not one of those on the beach searching for relief. I am thankful.

I'm not suggesting I should regret my set of circumstances. Far from it. I only embrace the accident of my good fortune when I feel a little put out by some minor thing. It helps to always know that whatever my situation is, it could easily be worse. It is only through a crazy set of circumstances that it's not.

On this day, Thanksgiving Day, I remind myself how little would have to change to make my life a completely different story, and I take time to reflect and be thankful for my happy destiny.




  1. Thank you, Tom, for such a poignant post!

    My girlfriend is a Filipina, and we toured that beautiful place all last February. To think it sucked up an spit out in such a devastating calamity...well, it boggles the mind.

    We did a short video about the disaster, and I would like to share that here:

    Thanks, and Happy Thanksgiving, all!


    1. Happy Thanksgiving Eric! And thank you for sharing your video. I'll post on tomorrows blog too.
      It would be hard for me to be away and return to see Seattle wiped out. Thanks for your comment.

  2. This is... True.

    I drowned myself once, I lost myself on a crowded beach once, I was "crushed" on the sand by a drunk man next to the sea (almost got drowned again) when I was young, I suffered a horrible bike accident that almost got pulse... There were many things that could have changed my life.

    But none of those was my mother's fault. Don't get me wrong.

    And... I indirectly lost a lifetime opportunity. But it may come in my future. It wasn't under my control. This may sound crazy, but trust me, things would've been soooo different. Karlene, you will get knowledge about this story.

    All this... Taught me lessons. Now I never get lost, and if I do, I know exactly what to do; I can't get drowned (I became the best swimmer in my class and won a championship); I can't get crushed on the sand, because I don't put myself in to silly moments.

    The lost opportunity... Inspired me to become an ambitious person. Who believes that everything is possible if we work HARD. Inspired me to think big and think global. Made me more creative and enriched me with ideas. AND... Made me win a robotics championship.

    The lost opportunity was under control of a very close person from me, but that person made lots of mistakes. I learned from that person's mistakes and enriched me with things that I find very useful in my life.

    And my mother taught me the resilience and how to extract all the lessons from these unfortunate moments. She taught me greatness exists and, the best of all, how to achieve it. And to achieve greatness, there is no secret. HARD WORK.

    I would like to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to you Thomas, and to most dearest person I have ever met, Karlene.

    Thomas, never stop posting these. We must spread the word.



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