Dedication for this work goes to Doctor Taylor Mac; a friend, and mentor
I counted: “One thousand one, one thousand two …” All paratroopers inherently count when they are falling. I mean they can’t not do it. They have to count seconds when falling. It is hard-coded into their flash ROMs in basic airborne training. It comes from the number of seconds that, if gone by upon exit with no rude tug on one’s scrotum by the parachute — because the parachute is indeed attached mainly to the scrotum — the number of seconds after which you must deploy your reserve parachute if you hope to land safely on the ground.
In this case, were I to reach second number six with no impact into the water, I would frantically search out and kiss my rosary one last time before I became a seafood entry. Not to worry! Not even two seconds later and we both met with a comfy splash in the chilly drink at the mouth of this river. Of primary note to me was the fact that I had swallowed a health jet of water on impact but it was fresh water, not brackish at all as I expected from the sea.
That was not a necessary cause for alarm, though it did pitch my mental cogs in forward momentum wondering why the water was fresh when it was supposed to be briny for a salty dog such as I. It soon became apparent that I needed not to be shy about my immediate questions upon impact with the water. Though I was tactfully hashing them out in quiet, my first mate let me and all our immediate surroundings in on the puzzle:
Punctuated by a fit of coughing as a man tries to clear his lungs, a man says,”Hey! Hey! This is freshwater! It’s supposed to be salt water, but it’s fresh! Those motherfuckers fucked up and fucking dropped us in the wrong fucking place!”
“No … No, wait,” I responded in an example-setting whisper, “this is the right place, the mouth of the river, a low-tide estuary.”
My hypothesis quieted the beast but fell on deaf ears. We were moving rapidly out to sea when we needed to be under power and penetrating inland.
“Hold it steady; I’m going to crawl aboard,” the reverend indicated as we popped out the four retaining pins that held the two halves of the maiden together. We lifted the top cage shell half up and over the Kayak, and released it into the black water where it sank out of sight. The lower cage half sank as soon as the pins were released.
I hooked both legs up over the bow and held tight with hands and feet as the Rev sprawled onto the deck of the boat towards the rear cockpit. The boat pitched and rolled briskly. It was a matter of the sea state, and really nothing either of us could do about it.
After three fruitless attempts, I suggested we move toward shore, a suggestion that was bitterly contested by the First Mate.
“That would be quitting, and it not validate this mess as a workable means of infiltration if we go ashore!”
“No … No, Chill-D; I’m not suggesting we go ashore, I’m saying let’s go toward shore and seek out shallows where we can stabilize this bitch long enough to get in.”
That rang true with Chill-D who kicked to push while I kicked to pull the vessel toward shore, all the while with a grin that I only imagined pasted across his opaque gray face. My boots scraped river bottom and I grabbed a firm hold of the bow: “All aboard!” I whispered, and we were underway in mere moments from that point on.
It was a cake paddle to our assault objective as we let the electric trolling motor hum along biting its prop into the water. We power-rowed off and on as we deemed it necessary to adjust our speed for an accurate time on target. At a point roughly 700 meters from our Beach Landing Site (BLS) I cocked the trolling motor up out of the water and we eased our way into our final destination under manpower; the power of men with paddles!
A second team had been infiltrated that night also by helicopter, but in an inflatable rubber assault boat with a 35 HP outboard motor. They had arrived before us and held up in a logger position some 1000 meters from the BLS. We two teams arrived at the BLS together scowling at each other’s infiltration platforms which were both being evaluated on this night during this exercise.
We kayakers (yakers) hoped the assault boat would have been compromised by the noise of its engine in the still of night. The boaters hoped our Iron Maiden had been too complicated as a method of delivery and never made it to the BLS. It was clear that there was a distinct dichotomy of faith in the use of yaks in Delta as a means to deliver swimmers. I was not a drop-dead lover of yaks by any stretch, but I felt loyalty to Sam Foster, and he had demonstrated with his prowess that the Iron Maiden could be successful venture — if only lending a little faith in the ideas outside of the proverbial box.
The death knell of the Iron Maiden peeled loudly in the weeks to come.
An assault team outside of our own squadron was conducting some daylight training iterations with the Iron Maiden. Team Leader JD was aboard with one of the junior assaulters. Not understanding the concept or sequence of events, the junior assaulter cut the line securing the Maiden to the port pod of the Little Bird helicopter while still in full flight one minute from the water drop zone at Wyatt Lake.
That was the basis for the cataclysmic destruction of machines and the men aboard. The Iron Maiden, suddenly free of a secure retaining strap, and pushed by the winds of forward flight rocked backward violently, still suspended by its kevlar lowering rope, and struck all five of the main rotor blades of the helo near the rotor hub.
JD pushed his way aggressively passed his junior operator stunned in the cargo hold. JD had a riggers safety knife clenched in his team. The pilots came to a hover near the shore of the lake, and, fearing their rotor blades were to disintegrate and any moment they searched frantically below for a spot to lay the helo down. JD’s quick assessment of the matter at hand and quicker reflexes lead him to slash the lowering rope, allowing the Iron Maiden to freefall to a devastating collision with the ground.
Once safe and on the ground, the aircrew assessed that all five main rotors had been destroyed but the transmission had fared well. That was good news. Samuel Booth Foster and I stood together next to the crumpled detritus of the Iron Maiden hulk where it lay to rest just feet from the lapping waters of Wyatt lake.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
Sam stood quietly as he often did, with a blank look on his face as there often was.
“You know, Sam, some 100MPH tape and a couple of coats of paint … ” I let it go at that.
“Hard come, easy go; that’s what you get when you let boys play at a man’s game,” was all Sam offered in his state of disappointment that his own Unit brethren couldn’t make an any better go of it than they had.
The next morning where I sat on my chair in front of my wall locker in our team room, Sam stepped in boasting a small clutch of flowers in right hand.
“What’s up, Sam? You at odds with the Sergeant Major again?”
“Come on Geo, we’re going for a yak paddle for PT this morning, and to give the Iron Maiden a proper send-off burial at sea!”
With Sam’s sense of humor seemingly back, we piled in his Chevy Silverado with a two-man Klepper Kayak already loaded in the back.
Once aboard our vessel, we paddled out smartly to the approximate location where the Maiden had augered in the day before. In a gently drift along the shore Sam produced his modest bouquet from inside the kayak cockpit and slung the flowers one-by-one into nickel-plated water. Nothing was necessary to say. Sam had a way of protocol and ceremony about how he handled things, and I had of way of putting up with it.
We rose to a dash speed as we slipped long passed where Sam’s truck was parked. He glanced over to it and rocked his head back suddenly in a laugh.
“No, really Sam. What?”
Sam twisted about to wink back at me and sang: “And he traded in his Chevy for a kayak-ak-ak-ak-ak-ak. He oughta know by now … ”
by God and with honor,