(You can read part 13 here)
Dedicated to SOFREP’s own sister Suzanne D. for her extraordinary personal generosity in my family’s time of desperation.
Our jump master stood and banged his hands together several times and called out sharply: “ATTENTION EVERYONE, HEY, ATTENTION!!” He stood in the center of our aircraft with his arms outstretched, expression grim and sour, and waited until all jumpers eyes were on him.
He touched the thumb of his right hand to his right cheek just next to his mouth, fingers were extended and joined. He paused. At this moment I imagined myself in his position, and, to breach the palpable tension, I would wiggle my fingers and hollah: “NANNY NANNY BOO-BOO!!”
Or… maybe not.
He slowly rotated his hand over his nose and mouth turning his head from side to side to ensure both sides of the aircraft could see him. This was the signal to swing our oxygen masks up and lock them in over our faces and begin breathing pure oxygen for the next 30 minutes.
I glanced around. The aircraft was schmeared in a low ruddy light to preserve night vision; this drop was night-time High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) drop, at an altitude above breathable air. I postulated that some of the officers in my old unit headquarters could sustain respiration at this altitude without the O2, as they were used to sitting in offices with rarified atmospheres all day due to the many oxygen thieves.
That made me grin. DON’T grin asshole, not with your mask on. Never move your face with the mask on lest IT happen. I sat still and waited… waited…
And then IT happened.
Slowly my nose began to itch. Mother of Perl, it’s happening. There exists an axiomatic truth, that once you are in a position where you cannot scratch your nose, it will begin to itch: The propensity for your nose to itch is inversely proportionate to its proximity to the scratch impediment.
The immediate action drill, in this case, requires that you do not attempt to quell the itch, as it would only make it worse. I leaned forward and began to look around for something shiny to take my mind off the itch. I looked straight across the aisle at Sam Booth Foster. He had a horrified look in his eyes.
Poor bastard, I thought, his nose itches too.
I jarred myself awake. I squinted at the 45-watt bulb hanging over my head. It had been a dream. I remembered thinking about the brothers jumping into Gibraltar as I drifted to sleep last. They would have landed by now.
I learned once I got back to Bragg that one of the brothers, ‘Crapshoot’ had landed in the ocean and had to get picked up by a fishing troller. I remember thinking if anyone would have been that far off the drop zone, it would have been Crapshoot.
I chuckled as I also recalled how he had broken wind one too many times in tight quarters and, the brothers began to call him ‘Crapshit.’ Heh… can’t bleed around sharks.
Filtering through my window came the distinct ‘wop-wop’ sound of helicopter blades slapping the air. I strained to decipher make and model. Well, clearly it was not a U.S. helo I deduced as I looked back at my window. “Judas Priest there isn’t even any glass in my ‘window’; it’s just a pneumonia hole.”
Awake five minutes and already annoyed. Something I actually do better than anyone else, I gloated, was to kick myself in the balls. I rolled off my mattress and jumped down the four inches to the floor. I bellied up to the window and craned toward the louder wopping sound.
Ah nice; it was a Puma, a decent British contraption designed to shake itself apart. From a position in the sky that was very near my motel, it descended, reared back in a hard flare, and disappeared behind the building horizon in a cloud of dust. Thinking it very interesting, I packed and left to have a look, as my next departure time was not for a couple of hours.
A quick traverse of a few alleyways revealed the helo had set down on an athletic field. The rotor wound down and the APU kicked off. The flight crew milled about. I crept up to strike a conversation with the pilots, knowing they were well-educated and likely spoke decent French—not that I did.
The pilots were friendly and engaging. They spoke of an interview they came to do for a news station; the camera and reporter had yet to arrive. After roughly a half hour of cheery banter and a handshake, I was invited to take a quick fly over the city. I looked at the Puma and flashed back to a time I spent with the British Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) flying at night over the Scottish Firth of Fourth waterway.
We wore British dry suits and buoyancy devices. The Puma (Brits pronounced it ‘Pyoo-mah’ haha) screamed over the Firth. Suddenly the helo climbed sharply and then quite unfortunately transitioned to an absurdly steep dive. My bro Chill-D and looked at each other with concern:
“I dunno Chill… since when are there hills in an open body of water?”
I twisted around from where we were sitting with our backs to the pilots. I pulled myself up and looked into the cockpit and my eyes went to the instrument panel. To my horror only roughly one-third of the instruments were present, the rest were only open black holes in the panel. I quickly sat back and tried to pretend I did not see it. How were they night flying with most of their instrumentation missing?
“What did you see, G?”
“You don’t want to know, Chill!”
“I don’t know about you G, but right now you couldn’t hammer a needle up my ass!
“Thank for sharing that, Chill” I added to my doleful gaze at him. Glancing over to one of the SAS commandos flying with us, he grinned and winked at me. Badass!
“Yes Sir, I would love to have a spin over your fine city”
The rotor began to spin up. I didn’t get a flight helmet but was offered earplugs. I buckled in and felt my amygdala squirt a dose of cortisone in my veins. “Ahhh… that hit made me feel powerful; very very powerful,” and we lifted off smartly to an altitude of about 1,500 ft above ground level.
We flew a lovely course over the city with both side doors open wide for a breath-taking view, making wide lazy turns at the four corners of our loop over the city. As we slowed and began a gentle descent back onto the athletic field I spied the hovel of a motel where I had passed the previous night. I grinned and shouted:
“I CAN SEE MY HOUSE FROM HERE!” The pilot gave a puzzled glance back, as I just smiled and waved.
As we touched down a load crewman ran up to the pilot’s window which slid open. After a brief chat, the pilot slammed his window and pulled pitch hard. I had just unbuckled and was standing up when I was slammed back into my seat. Seems like we may have pulled a full G (a unit of measure of gravity) climb to an undetermined altitude.
The helo picked up speed and banked hard, harder, hardest on its side. It was parallel to the ground as I fought hard to get my seatbelt buckled again. The bird rolled from one hard banking turn to another. All I saw was brown-blue, brown-blue, brown-blue and we flip-flopped a sequence of hard alternating hook-turns, each of which likely exceeded a full G of gravity on the body.
I postulated that I would certainly die with the arrival of the eventual destruction of this over-burdened machine. I praised my lack of breakfast as I became consumed by vertigo. My ears compressed and depressed. Sputum formed on the corners of my mouth. My legs squeezed tight to contain my backpack between them.
Now the Pyoomah made an extraordinary ascent for many seconds. My Lord but we were grabbing some high-up real estate. But why… why would we be climbing so high? Surely we are not going to…
And then it happened.
The helo slowly summited and then end-overed into a kill-ourselves dive. I flew out the door momentarily maintaining my stationary point in the space-time continuum as my seat belt stretched farther and farther out. The Puma was out in front of me now and getting farther and farther… but the seatbelt was stretched grotesquely to the very limits of its tinsel.
Finally, the belt could no longer endure the strain, and I was rudely sling-shot(ted?) (slung-shot?) back inside the Puma and slammed hard back to my seat. We reached terminal velocity as we hurdled to Earth like a… like a Puma going waaay too fast maaaan! I went temporarily blind as we slowly pulled out of our dive. We were flat and stable again and after a snappy hook turn we flared and touched down.
The Helo wound down as I overflowed from the side of the cargo hold and splashed in the dirt below. Gravity bid me trickle slowly to a natural low spot on the field where I pooled and settled to a rest.
I composed myself to an upright posture and tried to walk toward the pilots standing nearby but I kept careening askew, like when you play that game where you place a bat on the ground, lean forward with your forehead on the bat, run around it 20 times and then try to run across a finish line, only to veer totally off and come splashing down into a lake.
Try as I may, I involuntarily veered off course from the pilots and came splashing down in a lake. That I found curiously odd, as there were no lakes in the desert.
Recovering my equilibrium I staggered proudly toward the pilots. I had enough strength left in my body to deliver one final haymaker, and I was going to have them flip a coin to see who would receive it.
“Did you enjoy the ride?” a pilot chuckled.
“Why, yes, yes I certainly did,” I defied.
“I just wish you had told me beforehand that you would be filming Moroccolypes Now”
By God and with honor,
Photos courtesy of Wikipedia and the author