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Ziemba's Boondoggle' a real pilot's story

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
Aug. 1, 2003
athletes. I always wanted to fly."
Craig Ziemba
Craig Ziemba may have always wanted to fly but after reading his book, "Boondoggle," I know that a writer also lives inside his head. You can see it in his descriptions of events such as:
Landing an A-6 Intruder on an aircraft carrier in a thunderstorm "The final approach course heading changed more than 90 degrees from the time I began my final approach until I caught a wire. That may not sound like a big deal to non-pilots, but lining up on a runway that is spinning slowly counter-clockwise away from you is a vertigo-inducing nightmare;"
The inherent dangers of war "Sandstorms over the desert dropped visibility to a mile and a half and covered all of the jets on the flight deck with fine, yellow grit, even though we are 40 miles off the coast. What a miserable part of the world this is. If you eject over water, there are sharks and poisonous sea snakes galore. If you eject over land you will be picked up by Moslem ragheads who hate your guts because you are American. This ain't Kansas, Toto."
Scene from the cockpit on a bombing run "Dropped live Mark 82 500-pounders in the Udairi range today and had direct hits on a line of tanks. I just love watching live bombs explode. The shock waves race out from the impact in huge concentric circles and the flash of the detonation always surprises me even though I expect it."
Covering his career as a Navy pilot, an instructor and five months teaching Brazilian pilots to fly A-4s, Ziemba writes with the voice of experience and maturity a perspective that only comes after you've done the job yourself.
The book is his personal account of flying high performance aircraft designed as weapons of war. With bombing runs, carrier landings, emergencies, the loss of friends, he has crafted a very readable memoir of what he calls "daily snapshots of my life as a naval aviator, the big picture of what it's like to live on the edge and to fly for the country I love …"
Presidents and Prime Ministers may issue ultimatums, but in the end it's the young warrior who implements foreign policy. … At any given time, a few select guys are strapped into a cockpit somewhere over bad guy territory. We call it the tip of the spear.
Ziemba reached the tip of the spear on Sept. 17, 1996 aboard the USS Enterprise on his second six-month cruise deployment to the Middle East. U.N. weapons inspectors had been kicked out of Iraq and war seemed imminent. He'd logged 1,500 total hours (700 in the A-6) and 225 carrier landings. His accounts of the U.S. military doing business in the Middle East are detailed and stirring.
Eventually, he would accumulate 3,700 flight hours and 340 carrier landings while, as he says, flying everything from cloth-wing Citabrias to iron clad A-6 Intruders, from nimble A-4 Skyhawks to 300,000 pound tankers. He still flies a part-time job KC-135 tankers in the Mississippi Air National Guard.
Ziemba's story is of love of family his wife, Jenny, and son, Colton including spending part of his son's first Christmas in a combat zone in the Middle East. It's also a story of love of country, and flying, of seven years in the cockpits of some of the most powerful weapons ever devised, in jets that fly so fast that life and death are separated literally by fractions of seconds.
The reader also gets a shot of his conservative Christian philosophy, thoughts that are most interesting and illustrative into his character and motivations.
Boondoggle will appeal to any reader who wants to go behind the scenes to discover the real people whose lives are on the line when politicians and writers talk about U.S. military forces.
So that's it,' I thought. I gave my 20s to serve my country in the Navy and got infinitely more in return. I've been a part of an impressively professional, dedicated, hard-charging family and I can't think of anything else in the world that I would rather have done than to be a naval aviator.
By Craig Ziemba
Southern Heritage Press, 2003
Paperback, 164 pages