E-Mail number 32 in my inbox was titled Unbelievable. It was from Comdr. Chip King, the blue-eyed, square-jawed Navy pilot who allowed me the privilege of filling two Glad bags with my hurl in the backseat of his F-14D Tomcat (SI, Sept. 20, 1999).
We've kept in touch. He occasionally does flyovers at sports events I'm covering. Our kids are the same age. He's funny. But this e-mail was a little different. It came on Oct. 8, from the Afghan front.
It was like the Super Bowl of the World, truly amazing. I don't think I will ever forget this experience. And to be the Commanding Officer and overall lead—what an honor! As we were flying at 32,000 feet, 200 miles south of Kabul, we saw the first TLAMs [Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles] hit....
Just to add to the excitement, 100 miles from the target, we were informed that our backside tanking [midair refueling aircraft] wasn't there. I determined to continue. If [I'd] decided to abort, we wouldn't have had enough fuel to make it back anyway. Plus, it gave them an extra 20 minutes to find us another hose.
How is everyone in the States? It's my hope and belief this will help give us our confidence back. It's a hell of a lot different when someone is shooting at you, though. When we got back my RIO [navigator] looked like you did after your flight.
O.K. You know you're in a new kind of war when the first pilot over Kabul e-mails you the next morning. It's not exactly spam. It's chilling and emotional and uplifting. I wrote him back.
He answered—and keeps answering. Each day I get an e-mail from King, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the Arabian Sea. He commands Fighter Squadron 213, the Blacklions. I ask him questions, and if the information isn't classified, he answers.
During raids over Kabul, "the whole sky looks like the Fourth of July," he wrote. "[The missiles] look like corkscrewing bottle rockets.... If I'd been sitting on a lump of coal, I could've made a diamond."