Just back from San Diego and a gathering of around 400 of my closest friends, the annual reunion of the Red River Rats. The "Rats" are an organization of military aviators who have been downtown to see the elephant. We were formed at the peak of the Rolling Thunder campaign, bombing North Vietnam out of fighter bases in Thailand. Three of the senior leaders concluded that the three wings from which much of the campaign was being waged needed to talk to each other to devise tactics, develop some understanding and esprit and possibly enhance our survivability. It apparently worked.
Membership in the organization was originally limited to guys who flew combat missions into the valley of the Red River of North Vietnam, the heavily defended area around Hanoi. Now we've expanded to include warriors from Kosovo, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. We've got a number of the Fighter Chicks in the group, a lot of active duty guys, many folks who are military aviation supporters and all of the Nam-POWs (the Vietnam POW organization) on our membership rolls.
Practice reunions were held each year of the Vietnam War and the "First Real Reunion" was in 1973 when the POWs were released. Since then we gather every year for the national reunion, a four day event in which we resume friendships forged in fire and refuse to act our age. Local Rat Packs have social gatherings throughout the year. Next weekend the Seymour-Johnson AFB area Rats will be gathering at the annual Blue Angels exhibition and air show. They will sponsor a "Pig Pulling" BBQ of one or more whole pigs and host a bunch of the wounded warriors from the nearby facilities.
It's more than fun and games however. The Rats have donated more than $2 million in scholarships to families of POWs and military vets and are very active in supporting the returning warriors from the current conflicts. Rats contribute time, money and support at major military medical facilities such as Brooke Army Medical Center and Walter Reed Hospital. After Hurrican Katrina, the Rats didn't wait for Ray Nagin to start begging, but sent $100,000 to the recovery effort to help support our friends in the area.
Learn more about the RRVA (Red River Valley Association) here:
River Rats Home Page