Over the course of many weeks, I’ll be sharing truths from Magnet Ass and the Stone-Cold Truck Hunters––not only the truths that came to me through the book-writing process, but also those that shined through the life of a simple farmer and war hero, who trusted God with all his heart. "Magnet Ass" and Al Milacek are one in the same. He didn't choose the nickname; it was given to him by crew members in Vietnam who often wondered out loud, "How come we get shot at every time we fly with Al?" Leaders and innovators and men and women who hold fast to their beliefs will always attract flak. The truths found in this blog and in the book, will make the journey more bearable. This is “Magnet Ass” explained as simply as I can.
Read other posts in this series: #MagnetAss
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Throughout the writing of Magnet Ass, I’m not sure I ever felt in control—maybe I never was.
As I made plain in the opening chapters, I began with zero interest in telling the story of an Air Force pilot. I was freshly unemployed and believed the best use of my time would be to look for another job, not tinker around with a military memoir. So, when Cindy suggested we spend a day at Stella’s Coffee Shop on Denver’s Pearl Street, reading and praying and listening for God’s voice regarding the project, I went along with the idea, but felt the winds of whimsy kicking up in my hair.
The first sign that a storm was about to hit at Stella’s came immediately after we had settled into our chairs and opened our laptops.
“Let’s begin with prayer!” boomed a voice much too loud for a roomful of Millennials. The voice belonged to a mountain of a man who looked to be twice my age, and was surrounded by eight other men, each with his feet up on a coffee table and a fat, King James testament perched on his donut-dusted stomach. The table groaned under the weight of sixteen feet.
“It’s a men’s bible study,” I muttered to my wife, closing my laptop with a vigorous, ‘thud’.
“Perfect,” said C, whose gift of faith can be so irritating at times. “We’ll listen in and see what God says to us through them. And we can write down what He says. Won’t this be fun?!”
Or we could just change tables, I thought to myself. But since the idea to eavesdrop on a stranger’s bible study came from someone whose superpower is looking at every situation with the positivity of Mary Poppins, I kept my mouth shut.
Mountain Man’s prayer went on and on, it’s pitch sometimes soaring to the ceiling with fervent requests, and at other times dipping low and snaking around the skinny-jeaned ankles of nearby Millennials, who by now were looking for means of escape. Eventually (thankfully) Mountain Man said, “amen”, and he opened his massive bible with the sound of a thousand waters. Then he cleared his throat and began, “In Psalm 119...”
119...119... where had I seen that number recently? I opened my Google drive, clicked on a folder entitled, “Magnet Ass”, and scrolled until I found the notes I had taken in my initial phone interview with Captain Al Milacek. When I saw the number, my heart began to pound like a drum. “They flew their missions in an AC-119K,” I whispered.
“Pardon me?” said Cindy.
“Shhh,” I said, leaning closer to Mountain Man and his merry wreckers of Millennial harmony. “I’m trying to hear what these guys are saying.”
C just smiled and wrote in her notebook. What happened next shocked us.
“When I was in the Air Force...,” said one of the men to Mountain Man’s right. C’s eyes went wide, and we both started scribbling, neither of us bothering to listen to whatever else the second man said, because we were too busy freaking out about the words, “119” and “when I was in the Air Force”. And when a third fellow chimed in with his two cents, saying, “If I was to write a book...,” we wrote those seven words down, as well, sat back in our chairs, and stared at our notebooks.
“In Psalm 119...”
“When I was in the Air Force...”
“If I was going to write a book...”
Three innocuous snippets... so terribly insignificant... so powerful in their timeliness.
I closed my notebook and said to Cindy, “I think God just talked to us.”
“I think He did, too,” she replied.
“Do you ever get tired of being right?” I asked.
C paused and smiled at the little bluebird that had swooped in the window, landed on the edge of her laptop, and was busy dusting off the screen with its tailfeathers.
“No,” she said, patting the bird on its head, “Not often.”
So it was that God took control of Magnet Ass And The Stone-Cold Truck Hunters. And putting aside all worries about unemployment, I set out to write Al Milacek’s memoir.
Over time, I’ve learned that worry is related more to my deafness than it is to my circumstances. How often I’ve missed the whispered words, “This is the way, walk in it,” because I was too busy hacking out my own path to hear the voice of the One who is willing and able to lead me. Noise is the quiet culprit of societal ills, more responsible for our shabby state of being than we may ever know. Meeting Al for our interviews at his home in Waukomis made me appreciate the sanity of a quiet man––and the sanctuary of his household. Had I not listened to Al, to Cindy, to Mountain Man, and to God, Magnet Ass would never have become a book.
Dear friends... dear readers of these words that will soon sink beneath the wave of other words... what great things are left undone because we weren’t listening when we should have been?