I believe in black clouds.
My official job title while I was in the Marine Corps was “Crewmaster.” That means I was an enlisted aircrew member who took part in logistics and combat support missions on the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft, the C-130, also known as the “Super Hercules.” I could spend hours describing the various aspects of my job, but in summary the Crewmaster is responsible for nearly all aspects of aviation on the Super Hercules, short of actually flying the plane.
The community of Marine Aviators, including Pilots and Aircrewmen, is tight knit. Everybody knows everybody, and many of us receive a nickname, or what we refer to as “call signs.” My call sign was Black Cloud; a nickname I received because nearly every time I set foot on an airplane, something went wrong. Usually, these were relatively minor issues, such as erroneous alert messages or radios that weren’t working properly. But sometimes I brought bad luck in more serious ways. Once, a liquid oxygen leak trapped our crew in Louisiana for a week until a specialist could be flown out to fix it. Another time, a broken electrical component trapped us on a Spanish airfield for two weeks until replacement parts arrived. In both cases, there was nothing we could do to fix the problem right away; this was a true exercise in patience for me.
For some reason, severe turbulence only seemed to strike my plane. Once it was so severe it threw me into the ceiling 10 feet above my head. I have experienced everything from oil, fuel and hydraulics leaks to doors stuck in the open position while in flight. To fix that door, we had to remove it, replace various components, and test them over and over again until the airplane’s computer recognized that the door was working properly.
A true “black cloud” of misfortune hung over my head throughout my career, and that bad luck has continued to follow me into my civilian career. Most recently, a sewer backup flooded my apartment, forcing me and my Fiancée to find an emergency apartment.
All of that luck, nearly entirely bad, sounds like a perfectly terrible story. What on Earth, then, lies within that story to believe in? I believe in my personal Black Cloud because without it, I would not be the man I am today. At 26, I have been a Sergeant of Marines, I am excelling in Nursing School, and I continue to act as a role model and mentor to those around me. For better or worse, my experience in unfortunate circumstances has grown my patience, my compassion, and my ability to solve problems. It has developed me into the man my Fiancée agreed to marry, and it continues to guide my daily thinking and decision-making.
Let me close with some advice: Black Clouds are depressing and often scary. They bring about catastrophe. But Black Clouds also bring the rain that allows us to grow, and later to thrive. Embrace your Black Cloud. I have, and I am grateful for it.
I believe in my black cloud.
Jeremy Hoffman is a junior majoring in nursing at Penn State.