Knowing war, finding peace
At 500 pounds, it wasn’t a particularly large bomb. Some weigh a ton, or much more.
Each MK-82 bomb had been upgraded with a laser guidance system in the nose. The so-called “dumb bombs,” once guided by nothing but gravity, were no longer so dumb.
On that April morning in 1999 at Gioia del Colle Air Base in Italy, U.S. Air Force Airman Nicholas Kraska helped affix the bomb to the right wing of an A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft.
The munitions crew had been undermanned, so he stepped in to help out.
Later, when the plane returned from Kosovo, it no longer had the bomb. It had been used.
Kraska, an Air Force Guidance and Control Technician stationed at the air base in the ankle of Italy, knew it was a bad day for something, for someone.
He could have asked the pilot what happened.
“It’s not something pilots are going to talk about,” Kraska said. “I didn’t want to know.”
When the plane comes back and the munitions are gone, you don’t typically ask questions.
As part of his job, Kraska had to watch videos of bombs and missiles hitting targets whenever a pilot experienced problems during a mission.
“One particular video I had to watch showed some Yugoslav soldiers milling around outside of a building, and then there is an explosion, and then there’s nothing,” he said. “You are watching people do an unnatural act.”
The Kosovo War, which lasted from 1998 through mid-1999, had essentially been a civil war within the former Republic of Yugoslavia. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which including the U.S., provided air support for the rebels.
When Kraska left the military, he left behind some baggage—the high-stakes, high-stress environment.
“I worked on an aircraft that’s main purpose is to kill people and destroys ground targets” he said. “There is a bond there that most people, in my opinion, cannot understand between the people you serve with in the military.
“The pilots trusted me with their lives every time they flew a mission. I had to be perfect every time, every day when I worked on an aircraft. I don’t think that people in general have to worry about other people’s lives on a daily basis.”
Today, Kraska’s efforts still affect more than 25,000 lives on a daily basis, although with different stakes.
As a senior data analyst for Spectrum Health, he monitors and identifies critical workforce trends. At any large, successful company, people with these sorts of analytical skills are invaluable, examining everything from payroll to employee demographics.
A Grand Valley State University graduate, Kraska, 41, worked at Davenport University for nine years and for the Veteran’s Service division at the State of Michigan before joining Spectrum Health.
These days, as he analyzes data for the future, his work space is decorated with connections to the past. As part of the lead up to Spectrum Health’s Veteran’s day celebration, there’s a 30mm shell casing from an A-10 aircraft, as well as sets of military fatigues worn by Kraska and his father.
His father served in the military. So did his uncle, Delbert, who came home from Vietnam strung out on drugs, Kraska said. These are the true spoils of war. It had been a “coping mechanism” for his uncle, much as it had been for others who fought in Vietnam.
His uncle eventually beat his addictions and had a family. He died in 2001, at age 53, too young.
Life goes on, but it’s still important to remember—through stories, through objects, through people.
Kraska’s workspace, however, is not a monument to armed conflict.
Rather, it’s a measure of respect for those who served, for those who knew the reality of their actions. It’s a sign of respect and appreciation for sacrifices made.
“There is a bond there I think most people will not understand,” Kraska said.