Ship duty was hard. He knew nothing and yet was expected to be expert at everything, so he spent lots of time reading, asking questions, making mistakes and learning. He went on patrol in the north Atlantic and down to Cuba and in the process got to be a pretty fair sailor. By the end of his first tour, he'd been promoted to LT(jg), and had qualified as Underway Officer of the Deck, a big deal since it meant he could skipper his nearly 300-foot-long warship on the high seas. Not bad for a guy who didn't know port from starboard two years earlier.
But then an old ambition resurfaced. "Dad, I want to fly," he said. Such a proposition from a ship-qualified junior officer could be a career stopper. No matter. He spoke with his captain, a sailor through and through, and, bless him, the man gave his endorsement. The application was submitted and the fingers crossed. Weeks passed, and then came the response: Report to NAS Pensacola for flight training.
For the next year and a half, Michael endured an unrelenting series of tests from the Navy, Marine and Coast Guard instructors that challenged to the extreme his mental, physical and psychological capacity. There were days of despair-particularly the one when he got what turned out to be his one and only "down" chit-interrupted by days of relative equanimity and even some days of fun. But the constants were hard study and worry.
As he neared the end of his fixed-wing flight instruction, Mike applied for rotary wing training, a prized slot in the Coast Guard. And he got one. So, for most of 2003 he spent days going up and down, forward, backwards and sideways over the pine flats of the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama. In the process, he became a heck of a pilot, skillful in ways I could only imagine.
And then one day last November, a fine group of well-turned out young men and women gathered with their families and friends in a hall at Whiting Field. One by one their names were called and they marched up to center stage, where they received the Wings of Gold of a naval aviator. LT(jg) Michael Garvey USCG was one of those called, and I pinned the wings on his tunic. My hands trembled. It was wonderful. Mike is now on duty flying HH-65 Dolphins out of Air Station Miami.
In her letter in late 1999, Mary O'Connor wrote Mike that he had been "a few days too late for Kieron to help you." Not long ago I corrected that misapprehension, writing Mary and Brian O'Connor that their son had been helping Mike all along. Blue Angel number three remained on duty doing exactly what was asked of him, inspiring and leading by example. I told them that thanks to their son, there's yet one more naval aviator. I enclosed a photo of the "winging" ceremony at Pensacola and of Mike smiling in dress whites, his gold wings burnishing on his chest.
Again, Mary O'Connor wrote back. She said the family was "touched and honored to know that you credit Kieron with some influence in Michael's wonderful achievement." She said that the photos had been framed and placed in their "gallery" of family and friends.
And, she wrote, "It is comforting and inspiring to know that we are protected in these dangerous times by such fine young people as Kieron and Michael." It is indeed. God bless them all.
Bill Garvey is the editor in chief of Business and Commercial Aviation magazine.