“That guy is having fun… and I’m not.” That observation of seeing a low-flying F-111 while working on the family farm neatly sums up why Air Commodore John Oddie joined the RAAF.
Oddie’s newly-released autobiography Flight Command – From the farm to the frontline, gives a rare and thoughtful insight into the life of ADF personnel, and provides a real sense of what drove John Oddie: family, mateship and the willing determination shared by all ADF members. This is thrust at the reader from the very beginning as Oddie recounts a ‘ramp’ ceremony during his time in his last operational role as Deputy Commander of Task Force 633, during Operation Slipper, in 2011.
Growing up as farm boy who “didn’t know the difference between a MiG and a Mirage”, Oddie would find his place as a RAAF helicopter pilot on the UH-1B Iroquois in a career that would see him flying Chinook helicopters in Cold War Germany as well as the Middle East and later commanding ADF relief operations in Banda Aceh following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
It was a far from ordinary career, and Oddie’s book is a far from ordinary military autobiography, due to family playing a significant part in the telling of Oddie’s story. It is hard for people who have never served in the defence force, or who are not part of a defence family, to understand the hardships that military personnel face. However, in Flight Command it is almost as if the author is sitting down with the reader and casually explaining his life before and in the military, and going through the ups and downs along the way, “to someone who had an acute operational risk realised. It reinvigorated my feelings about what risk meant in the military, in the family and in society.”
Flight Command is an engaging story of the life of an interesting man and his service in the ADF. There is humour, sadness, many anecdotes and some serious stories with life-changing meanings.
Oddie’s stories are brought to life throughout the book with well-written detail, so much so the reader feels as if they were there in some of the situations sharing the experiences with him. His sense of humour gives us a connection that is lost in other books of this kind, lines like “helicopters flew very low, had negligible airspeed, carried very little fuel and had marginal power. Nothing dangerous here!” give a sense of who John Oddie is.
This book succeeds in bringing readers in and making sure they understand what they’re reading. The stories are written in a way that capture the imagination and get the reader believing they were with Oddie on his journey, so much so you can almost smell the avgas.
Flight Command is perfectly summed up in the foreword by former Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal (ret’d) Angus Houston: “Reading this book we not only learn about John’s career but a great deal about the nature of a life of service.”
This is a beautifully written book and definitely worth more than a flick through.
Published by Allen & Unwin, Flight Command sells in bookshops for $32.99.