Episode 92: Air Force One Pilot Mike Grenke Shares Steadfast Wisdom


Welcome back to the Main Thing Podcast. Today’s special guest is someone who had the honor of flying Air Force One, for President George W. Bush. 

Mike Grenke is a retired Air Force pilot and Lieutenant Colonel with 21 years of service. He started out flying the KC-135 in the Air Force and then transitioned into flying the nation’s leaders in Gulfstream III/IV/V before finishing his career flying Air Force One. Today, Mike is the Chief Pilot for LAW Aviation, working in a small flight department that flies a Global 6000.

Mike is married to Tammy Grenke and has 2 daughters Courtney and Ashley. He is the proud grandfather of Reagan and Cayden. Mike is an outdoor enthusiast who likes biking, hiking, hunting and fishing. He comes to us today from his home in Ohio.

Fasten your safety belt and put your seat in the upright position. Get ready for take-off. Over the next 9 minutes, you will discover why Mike Grenke is one of the wisest people I know.


Resources

Mike Grenke on LinkedIn

Episode 51 featuring mutual friend Scott Rider

The Poem Mike Read: “Just A Weaver”

My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.

Oft times He weaveth sorrow
And I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
And I the under side.

Not til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

Author: Benjamin Malachi Franklin

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Credits

Editor + Technical Advisor Bob Hotchkiss

Brand + Strategy Advisor Andy Malinoski

PR + Partnerships Advisor Rachel Bell


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Content You’ll Enjoy in This Podcast Episode

[00:01] – Intro

[01:20] – Brief bio for Mike Grenke

[02:26] – Welcome and Opening Dialog

[02:44] – How we know each other; Scott Rider, inspirational leader, friend

[03:35] – Mike’s background as an Air Force Pilot

[06:50] – Presidential Pilot duty; flying President Bush in Air Force One

[08:18] – Mike’sMain Thing is revealed; powerful quote from WWII Admiral Bull Halsey

[09:14] – Leaning into wisdom as we navigate life’s challenges

[10:22] – Mike’s wife Tammy; her health journey

[12:54] – Some meetings are more important than others; pivotal decision; wise counsel

[14:10] – Tammy comes back home; faith

[15:00] – Finding comfort and joy amidst hardships; Mike shares a treasured poem

[16:08] – Discerning the Lord’s pattern; the real Superhero in Mike’s story – Tammy

[17:07] – Thank you; so long for now

[17:30] – Outro

[17:48] – An opportunity for you to help us keep the wisdom flowing


Transcript

0:01:00 – Skip Lineberg

Welcome back to The Main Thing Podcast. I’m your host, Skip Lineberg, coming to you today from Parkwood Studios. Today I’m especially excited to bring you a special overnight air delivery of wisdom.

You see, today’s special guest is someone who had the honor of flying Air Force One for President George W Bush. I’m so excited for you to meet, in just a few moments, mike Grenke. Mike is a retired Air Force pilot and Lieutenant Colonel with 21 years of service. Mike Grenke started out flying the KC-135 in the Air Force and then transitioned into flying the nation’s leaders aboard Gulf Streams III, IV and V, before finishing his career flying Air Force One for President George W Bush.

Today, Mike is the chief pilot for Law Aviation, working in a small flight department that flies a global 6000. He’s married to Tammy Grenke and has two daughters, Courtney and Ashley. He’s the proud grandfather of Reagan and Caden. Mike is an outdoor enthusiast who likes biking, hiking, hunting and fishing. He comes to us today from his home in Ohio.

Fasten your safety belt and put your seat in the upright position. Get ready for takeoff. Over the next nine minutes, you will discover why Mike Grenke is one of the wisest people I know.

Mike Grenke, welcome to the Main Thing podcast. It’s such a pleasure to have you on today.

0:02:32 – Mike Grenke
Thank you, Skip, i’m glad to be here.

0:02:34 – Skip Lineberg
Mike, i want to start in a little bit of an unusual fashion, because you have such a tremendous story to share. I just want to go ahead and take care of a bit of housekeeping, which is how we’re connected, how we know each other, through a fine gentleman named Scott Rider. Would you like to tell our listeners a little bit about your relationship with Scott?

0:02:53 – Mike Grenke
Sure, Scott and I met. we went to the same church. I didn’t know we went to the same church, but I was going through some struggles and the pastor introduced Scott to me. I thought the Lord had brought him into my life for a certain reason, but it turned out later on, as I got to know him, it was for another reason. He’s an incredible athlete, as you know. We ended up really good friends and we actually did a couple big bike rides together.

0:03:23 – Skip Lineberg
You said it, an inspiration, a great friend. He’s a champion for Parkinson’s awareness and finding a cure for Parkinson’s. I just have such respect for Scott. Mike, you are one of the wisest people I know and I don’t want to waste too much of our precious nine minutes of wisdom here. Before we get to the story, Mike, you had the honor and distinction of being an Air Force One pilot. I wondered if you would just kind of start with that story, if you would as your career in the Air Force, what you did leading up to and how you became selected to fly for a US President.

0:04:03 – Mike Grenke
Okay, i wanted to be a pilot all my life, even as a young boy. I tried different academies and that didn’t work out. So I ended up going through ROTC at the University of Maryland and five of us got selected for the same pilot training class back in 1987 to go to Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. And there’s two things I remember from that experience that vividly stick out in my mind. What I remember to this day is when you get there, they you know there’s a new class every six weeks. They bring you into the base theater and the graduating class is in the front of the theater, and you’re in the back of the theater. The Colonel up front said, “You guys in the back are going to find out it’s a long way from the back of this theater to the front of this theater.” And it was. There were 32 of us that started and only 16 of us that graduated.

And one of the other things that happened in that journey is when you go to the flight line, you’re, you’re just starting out flying and you know you’re getting excited and everyone’s super excited. The guy stands up there with a guy in charge of evaluation And he stood up there with these two bags and he said you guys are getting ready to embark on a great adventure. But he said these two bags represent one’s your bag of luck and one’s your bag of experience. He goes your bag of luck is full right now And before your bag of luck runs out you got to hope your bag of experience has enough in it to get you out of whatever situation flying wise that you find yourself into. And that’s stuck with me. And out of pilot training I got the 135, the KC 135 refueling tanker, which was the absolute last choice I had. I was devastated, did not want to fly it, but things worked out And I ended up flying those for a while.

There was a situation with my wife’s father … my father-in-law. He was killed in a home accident, and we were trying to find our way back to Maryland so her mother could live with us. And one of my buddies from pilot training sent me a Christmas card that year saying he was flying these planes out of Andrews, these blue and whites. I’d never even heard of them. And I was like you do what? He goes, “Yeah, you fly these DV’s – distinguished visitors – all over the place. It’s awesome. So I applied for it and got selected. I started out flying senators, generals, first lady, secretary of defense, secretary of treasury, CIA director, FBI director, all those kind of people. And from that pool a little bit of luck, a little bit of who you know, a little bit of skill, I guess. I was selected for the Presidential Unit in 2000. And right after 2001 … after 9/11. And actually, the first time I flew on Air Force One was when President Bush went up to New York and stood on the pile in the rubble of 9/11 and said his speech.

0:07:03 – Skip Lineberg
That moment’s imprinted in all of our collective memories as Americans. That was an honor, wow!

0:07:08 – Mike Grenke
I’m sitting here in my office right now looking at a picture, to be honest, that I got from him. It was kind of a crazy realization of the Lord’s providence in your life. I can’t tell you how low I was when I got a tanker. It was the lowest of low, just not a plane I wanted. And then, to finally get this point, when you’re at Andrews, everybody wants to get in the Presidential Unit. I mean there’s like eight guys in there, so there’s several squadrons of people flying the other planes. So it was an exciting moment.

Then comes the realization “Okay, now I got to live up to this.” And started training and ended up flying several planes at one time a Gulfstream III, a G5 and the 747 at the same time. So it was fun, it was busy. We did a lot of neat things. I went into the Iraq several times with the President. Flew over Hurricane Katrina after that happened, with him in the cockpit. Flew with John Glenn and Neil Armstrong in the cockpit after one of the shuttle funerals. The second shuttle that blew up.

0:08:14 – Skip Lineberg
Mike Grenke, what’s the main thing you’ve learned in your lifetime so far?

0:08:24 – Mike Grenke
Skip. The main thing I’ve learned in my lifetime so far is there are no superheroes.

0:08:29 – Skip Lineberg
Oh wow, There are no superheroes. Mike, would you tell us more about that?

0:08:34 – Mike Grenke
And it kind of stems from the fact that I heard a quote once from Admiral Bull Halsey from World War II, talking about the Men of Iwo Jima. He said there are no extraordinary men, just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with. It really struck me. We see people like Scott Rider, for instance, and we think, man, that guy … you know he’s a superhero, but he’s not. He’s an ordinary guy that was dealt this incredibly unfortunate hand late in life. And he was able to overcome it and thrive with it. And as things transpired in my life, I realized that my father-in-law was killed in their house when a hot water heater exploded in their home. And it was kind of a brutal way to go.

And, like I said, we were moving back to Maryland, my wife’s mom moved in with us. It was awesome, but after like 10 years she ended up getting stage three stomach cancer. We had to feed her with an IV tube around the clock. And it was a three-year battle.

There’s just these things that come through your life and the journey from the back of that theater to the front of the theater that you seem like you’re overwhelmed with. Then you kind of have to kind of rely on that bag of experience. Back where you’re young, it seems like everything is going well, and I guess you feel like you’re lucky. But then as you get older I don’t know if it’s how life works, but it just seems like now that luck starts to run out and things start happening and you have to deal with them. And if you think that you have to be a superhero to deal with them, you really don’t.

My wife has a rare blood disease, and she would routinely get treatments for it. She has this rare disease called acute intermittent porphyria. She would have an attack. She would go in, she’d get a central line put in, and get a treatment a day. She’d come home, go back over the course of a five-day treatment, and she’d be fine. We’d been doing this since she was 18.

During the COVID era, she had an attack, and she happened to get COVID at the same time, so they wouldn’t let her go in and out. They made her be admitted to the hospital. I wasn’t allowed to be with her for the first time. She’s had this disease and probably had 100 treatments. And in the beginning she was hospitalized quite a bit. When my first daughter was born, she was hospitalized for about 15 months on and off. So gosh, this is the first time I wasn’t able to go with her due to the COVID rules. So she went in. We kind of just hugged there at the door, because it was like 90 degrees heat. She went into the hospital and – little did I know – they couldn’t get a line in her arm like they usually do. So they tried to put a line in her neck at like 1:00 in the morning, and they ended up putting it in an artery instead of a vein.

0:11:33 – Skip Lineberg
Oh no, oh Mike.

0:11:35 – Mike Grenke
She called me the next morning and said, “Every time they put medicine through this line, my left side goes numb.” I start telling the doctors hey, there’s an issue here. This goes on five days. She ends up having a stroke, a massive stroke, and she’s on a ventilator for 31 days. There’s a lot of challenges . The doctor called me and says, “Hey, your wife’s taking a turn for the worse, and we don’t believe she’s going to make it.” I’m like, okay Mike, what are we going to do here? So I kind of went into that Air Force mode. We’re going to do something.

0:12:12 – Skip Lineberg
Situation response plan.

0:12:15 – Mike Grenke
He goes, “I’m going to hand you to the surgeon real quick.” And you can hear there’s a lot of chaos in the room. And the surgeon says something like, “We’re in the ICU room, she’s not going to make it to the OR. I’ve got to open her up right now. Do you want to know the risk?” And I started to respond, but she said, “It doesn’t matter. If I don’t open her up, she’s not going to make it.” I said, “Okay, do what you gotta do.” And so that was that.

And I called the head of the hospital who, now that this is after they’d found out and they’d removed the line and put a stent in, and I said, “You’re not going to let me see my wife? She’s not going to make it.”

So they let me come in. My daughters came, too. And that was the first time I got to see her. Like a week later, but at some point, at like the 30 day point, they came and said you know, we need to have one of those meetings. I was doing a “Caring Bridge” at the time, and I wrote, “Some meetings are or more important than others.” And we had the whole …you know … do you want to continue care?

After I got out of that, it was a Friday, I actually called President Bush’s doctor, because I had his information. He wasn’t his doctor now, and he’s retired, so I called him. He’s a man of faith, as well. Dr. Tubb and I had a good, long talk about it. He said, “Mike, you don’t have enough information right now to know if you should continue care.” So we did.

0:13:37 – Skip Lineberg
Mike, you were seeking wise counsel.

0:13:39 – Mike Grenke
Yeah. So that Monday I said yes. And I think like a day or two later she woke up, and it was a long road. This was in July, i think. She finally came home on November 11th of 2020. And that was a couple of stints in rehab and back in the hospital. And she came home, but she had limited use of the left side of her body. Since that day, we’ve had 24/7 care here at the house.

So I’m still doing my job as a pilot for a Fortune 500 family here where I’m located. So it’s been one of those things where, as we’ve transitioned from the back of that theater to the front of the theater, the colonel was right. It’s a long road. You have to deal with these things. I’m a Christian, obviously, and so my faith plays a big part. I really don’t know how to get through something like that without friends and your faith. People like Scott that you see have had something dealt to them. They continue to thrive. And my wife, she’s one of those people. She’s never gotten down, never questioned the Lord or anything about what happened.

0:15:01 – Skip Lineberg
As we wrap up here, i just want to ask you, amidst all the hardships in your life And I know you’re not, you’re not a dramatic guy, you’re not dramatizing those hardships, but it’s reality And amidst the season of hardships that you’re navigating through, where are you finding joy or comfort in this year, in 2023?

0:15:23 – Mike Grenke
Well, if I could, i’d like to … I heard this at Truth For Life once, on a broadcast, and it’s stuck with me … read a short poem and kind of expand on that.

0:15:34 – Skip Lineberg
I would love it, please, i would love it if you would.

0:15:38 – Mike Grenke
It’s called “Just a Weaver.”

“My life is but a weaving, between my Lord and me. I cannot choose the colors. He worketh steadily. Oft time, He weaves his sorrow, and I in foolish pride, forget He sees the upper and I the underside. Not til the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly, shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why. The dark threads are as needful in the weaver’s skillful hand, as the threads of gold and silver and the pattern he has planned.”

Tam is getting some more strength, so I don’t think her journey’s over. We’re going to figure out what the Lord has for the rest of this weaving of our life pattern or whatever. The funny thing is, Skip, we talked a lot about Air Force One and stuff like that. At the end of life, if you were to run into somebody that knew me, they’re not going to say, “Hey, yeah, i remember him. That was that Air Force One pilot.” They’re going to say, “I remember him. He was married to that awesome woman, Tammy. She was a superhero.”

That’s what they’re going to say. Because she’s the real superhero in this story. She’s an inspiration to me. She’s an inspiration to the aides that she comes in contact with. I’d hope I could have that attitude if our situations were reversed. But I question that.

0:16:52 – Skip Lineberg
You and me both. I’ll tell you right now that, as listeners hear her story and yours, you guys are both inspiring people. There’s someone that’s going to be encouraged by these stories, and I’m just honored and blessed to have had a chance to record it with you. Mike, thank you so much for coming onto The Main Thing, and sharing your wisdom: “There are no superheroes.” I can’t thank you enough, Mike.

0:17:19 – Mike Grenke
Well thank you, Skip, for having me and wish you well in the future, and your son. I know it’s coming close to graduation, so wish you both well.

0:17:28 – Skip Lineberg
Thank you … and so long for now.

0:17:30 – Mike Grenke

So long

[Transcribed by https://podium.page]

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