In that prior war dubbed ‘Desert Storm’ you die

Nameless, yet we’ll call you Rashid

Brave fighter-pilot of the Iraqi airforce – pushing your MiG-29

to the limit against your invader, high over Kirkuk

In this dogfight with an American F-15 – it can be over in seconds

For either one

- and your onboard camera rolls to keep the images

that in this desperate match you may also see.

Cesar Rodriguez is the name of your foe, Rashid:

Hispanic American and a case, of how any career

may blossom in that great democracy

by skill and application.

From your camera,

later salvaged from the wreckage, its final image shows

One AIM7, which they nickname the "Sparrow":

- for Cesar and other taxpayers one cost $US 125,000

- now it looms into your canopy.


In the distant background corner of this image may be seen

Cesar - in his F-15

- he turns away below

from the launch of his Sparrow at you;

It seems like you, he is a family man ?

It seems, as a fellow flyer, he can respect you.

- it is never personal – neither of you knows the other.

Like you I’m sure he saw good prospects, in a flying career.

And in 2007 – sixteen years later - Cesar Rodriguez retires, a USAF colonel,

with the honour then unbeaten in these times and technology

of three combat kills,

air-to-air, Rashid.

including you.


But then, this Sparrow came to you, 225 kilos of high explosive

Converging at 1500 metres per second – faster than your blink:

- this last image frozen at 20 metres from your face

– so between this final image and your death

You had but twelve milliseconds:

Not time for your eye and brain

- to register, to recognise,

to fear your end.


© Geoff Bolton

 {The March 2009 issue of Atlantic Monthly interviews an F-15 fighter pilot, Cesar Rodriguez,

since retired from the US Air Force, with honour for his record of three single-combat kills.}




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