Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A love letter to my brother

There are some wrongs in life that can never be righted.  Some failings that you just have to own up to knowing they can never be overcome, never be fixed.

My brother is my best friend, I love my brother.  I do not mean in that BS, homophobic way so many guys say they love a family member, I mean, as in he truly carries a piece of my heart with him.  I did not always act like this was the case but it has been true ever since he was born.  When we were young our family moved around often, something like every 6 months.  The cycle was always the same Dad would move us someplace he could make money for the summer building houses then in the winter we would move back to Telluride and go on welfare so Dad could ski every day.  Moving like this made it so Grant and I were the only real constant in each other's lives.  I would estimate I have spent something like 10% of my total life in active play with Grant.

Grant is an amazing man and I look up to him in many ways.  There are the simple things, he is smart, focused, handsome, and capable.  But there are the complex ways as well, he is loyal, he is compassionate, he is peaceful.  He is a man of depth and character.

Bode Miller, one of our heroes

Grant and I took different paths early in life.  We both started as ski racers, pretty damn good ones too.  As kids I always beat him but that is unfair, I was older.  As we got older he came into his own at ski racing, now he always beats me, every time.  He beats me because he spent more years, more focused at it than me, he trained, and worked out, and watched video.  He is a better skier than me because he earned it.  But, one cannot live on beer and snow forever and we both had to make career choices.  Grant knew from an early age what he wanted to do, fly helicopters.  I have always had a love for computers.  These simple choices have made dramatic differences in our lives but not the quality of people we have become.

Grant signed up for ROTC in college and immediately started pursuing his goal to fly helicopters.  When he finally got to take the Army Flight Aptitude test he scored off the charts.  From there he was top in his class at everything.  In field tests his squadron was the only one to escape casualties, his equipment was serviced to the highest quality, his troops had the highest moral, he became the best at what he did.  Such success lead him into flying Cobras, the slender chariot of death he calls them.  It was not always easy, I listen to some of his stories in awe of the strain and effort he endured to succeed at his passion.  Dedication.  Focus.  Discipline.  These are words my brother embodies.

With the birth of his second daughter my brother was no longer comfortable putting himself in the direct line of fire flying Cobras and decided to transition to Chinook helicopters.  Then the Iraq war broke out and my brother was one of the first deployed because they needed Chinook squadrons to set up shop.  I wrote him a letter like this and stashed it on his computer for him hoping my support would somehow make it easier to endure what would be the hardest time of his life.  I do not know if he ever found it.

Lapel pins for a major in the army

As a Major, Grant was deployed for 410 days leading a squadron of 216 troops.  He experienced no casualties and only one loss of aircraft.  He tells one story that is exemplary of how my brother flew and lead his troops.  He was flying an early morning mission to drop medical supplies on the front line.  Because the war was fought almost as a guerrilla war with the enemy everywhere and invisible, they had to fly low and hot.  They had 3 aircraft that day and as they crested a hill approaching their drop zone Grant sees a lone foot solder with a rocket launcher directly in front ready to take them out.  Grant goes into a full throttle dive straight at the enemy and at something like 25 feet takes the helicopter tips it back almost horizontal to the ground and rolls on maximum lift.  The ensuing windstorm from the twin bladed Chinook blew the assailant rolling along the ground like some evil shadow sonic the hedgehog.  The number 2 craft used high caliber weapons to destroy the rocket launcher and they closed back into formation and resumed delivery of their medical supplies like nothing had happened.

It is impossible to tell how many lives Grant saved while deployed but we do know he is one of the brave few who put their lives on the line for our freedom.  His reward for such outstanding service to our country?  Well lets just say it cost him more personally than most of us will pay in a lifetime.  As you all know, one of the greatest frustrations in life is our inability to help our loved ones when they need it most but these are things we cannot address.  I was able to help build and be a part of a great support structure for him but nothing more.  He had to pull through re-entry into civilian life on his own.  Of course he did pull through but life has never been the same.  Not worse, just different in ways we cannot imagine.  Grant is a spine hardware salesman and like flying he brings dedication, focus and discipline to his job.  He is amazing at the most important part of his job, OR.  Nothing goes wrong when Grant is in surgery.  His meticulous focus and dogged demand for perfection ensures success every time.  How does one find surgeons who value this level of perfection in OR.  Surgeons who value reduced patient risk above all else and want the best partner in OR with them to make it a success.  How do we connect this amazing man with the right doctors so the right thing happens for so many people.

As is so often true with our great loves we take them for granted, we abuse them, we just do not give them the energy they deserve and often need.  In my case the wrongs I can never right with my brother come in the years after Dad died.  I often would torture Grant in all the standard brotherly ways, chest knock, spittle drop, charlie horse, face in dirt, etc.  One day when I was 14 or 15 mom came home from work and I had been torturing Grant with knuckle shots to the upper arm.  While mom was helping Grant get ready for bed she saw his arm was bruised from shoulder to elbow.  She brought Grant in to the kitchen and showed me the damage I had done.  No one said a word.  I was so ashamed.  It was like a bolt of lightning struck me and I realized I could not treat my most precious partner in crime like this, I never tortured him again but I suspect even to this day while my brother loves me the hurt still courses through his veins.  This is why they are wrongs that can never be righted...  And for that I am sorry to the depths of my soul.

Grant, Dad would have been proud of you, you represent all his values to the utmost.  As for me you are the greatest man I know, thank you for all the amazing times.

I love you - Todd