Air Force Capt. Forrest "Cal" Lampela was about to put the aircraft landing gear down in Shannon, Ireland, eight hours into a flight. If all had gone according to plan, he and his C-17 Globemaster III crew should have been more than halfway over the Atlantic.
He couldn't see the runway because of dense fog, catching a glimpse of it from only 100 feet above the ground — the absolute minimum altitude to which the large transport aircraft can descend before its pilot must either call for a landing or to abort approach.
Somewhere below, an ambulance stood by, waiting to pick up a sailor who had been wounded in combat and was in critical condition.
"I was a little bit afraid of where the ambulance was going to be because I didn't want him to try to run up on the jet while we still had engines running, because the fog was that bad," Lampela said.
He recalls it as "the most challenging landing that I've ever done." But on top of dangerous, foggy conditions, Lampela and the crew, call sign Reach 445, had just entered a country where they had not received diplomatic clearance before touching down.
An Army recruiter who previously served as a medic in Afghanistan had his Silver Star upgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross after he saved the lives of three of his fellow soldiers while under enemy fire in Afghanistan in 2008.
He's an Oklahoman and an Air Force vet, an actor and martial artist. The intensity of his badassery formed the basis of one of the earliest and most ubiquitous internet memes. He's a fictional member of Delta Force and a Texas Ranger, his beard a source of such virile endurance and strength that it makes Samson's biblical mane look like a bouquet of hobo pubes.
Now, Norris will live forever as the ultimate instrument of righteousness: an M1 Abrams tank.