In honor of Military Appreciation Month, the Modern Military Training editorial team is speaking with military heroes that had their hearts set on serving our country and sacrificed, in some unimaginable ways, to serve. These men and women, both active and retired, have been dedicated to training, serving, and fighting for our country. This month, we tell their stories.
In this podcast, we spoke with Chris Stricklin, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and author of Survivor’s Obligation: Navigating an Intentional Life. As a survivor of a near-fatal F-16 seat ejection, Stricklin shares his perspective on his nearly-missed tomorrow, and how that changed his life forever. While some may face survivor’s remorse, Stricklin advocates for becoming vulnerable and living life intentionally for all of the ones who did not get a chance for a tomorrow.
Stricklin dreamed of being a pilot. “Growing up in Alabama, my father had a passion for flying but never had the opportunity to bring it to fruition. He passed along that passion for flight to me, and during my childhood, developed opportunities for me to experience flight in both rotary and fixed wing aircraft. As I looked to the future, I wanted a career that allowed me to slip the surly bonds and to make a difference as well,” he shared with us. As a kid, he cut out an advertisement from a Popular Mechanics magazine that said, “Life begins at Mach 2” and taped it to his wall. It was the first thing he saw in the morning, and the last thing he saw every night. He dreamed of what it would feel like to take an aircraft past the speed of sound.
He soon found out. By the age of 29, he realized his goal and was a combat-proven instructor in the F-15. In fact, he recognized his achievement much earlier than he expected. “This is a photo of a snapshot in time for me. It is Friday afternoon in Key West, FL. As I pull my F-15 into a climb over the crystal blue waters with contrails coming off my wings, I realized I made it. As a young fighter pilot, I was on top of the world. After a combat tour in the Eagle, and recognition as the Instructor of the Year at the Air Force school house, I had achieved success as I had defined it. I was only 29 and this moment frozen in time was the realization that I wanted more.”
That moment kicked off a chain of events, during which Stricklin would realize that it wasn’t only about this singular goal; happiness was more about the journey than the destination, the adventure on the path not the finish line.
Joining the Air Force Thunderbirds was one of the defining moments along this path. In 2003, Stricklin faced a moment where every minute of training and preparedness kicked in. During an airshow performance, Stricklin was forced to perform an emergency seat ejection in his F-16C while performing a “Split S” maneuver. He had performed this maneuver successfully hundreds of times before, in training and simulation environments. “As a member of the Grasshopper Club, I was prepared for my split-second ejection decision because I had simulated this and many other similar scenarios hundreds of times over my career. Consistent and thorough training had prepared me for my life-or-death decision to give the technology a chance to save my life. And for that I am thankful,” he told us.
Due to the sink rate of his aircraft, and proximity to the ground, Stricklin’s seat ejection fell well outside the published ejection envelope, making his chances of survival minimal at best. Yet, Stricklin managed to steer the aircraft away from the crowd with less than a second to eject before impact.
He walked away with minor physical injuries, but a new mission and perspective on life. Stricklin continued his military career, earning more than a dozen medals and six promotions before retiring.
Stricklin now helps others in their journey to live intentionally and achieve their true potential. He shared his experience and his advice for others in this Modern Military Training podcast. Listen below.