Just a few days ago, Stavros did a great writeup on how conducting airborne operations in the Third World, with some of our partners and allies who aren’t very well trained, can be… interesting. Many of these soldiers had never even been around aircraft before joining the military, and most of those on their first jump were also making their first aircraft flight.
But there were even times when conducting airborne operations of our own, using U.S. Air Force aircraft, things could get downright interesting — and we could even come into contact with aliens.
Many moons ago, our Special Forces A-Team in the 7th SFG(A) was getting ready to conduct a long UW exercise. Our team leader, a new Captain, had arranged to get us about a 60-man “guerrilla force” consisting of Army clerks and typists who we had as our own for about three weeks.
Our O&I (operations and intel) sergeant used to be a Robin Sage instructor and had a ton of contacts out in the area where the students did their final exercise and they agreed to roleplay as our auxiliary. We even had a large farmer’s field, which was just getting ready to be plowed, for our drop zone. Some Air Force CCT buds surveyed the DZ and we were good to go. An MC-130 Combat Talon and a tailgate jump would be the way into our AO.
We rigged up a door bundle and everyone packed their rucksacks with about 100 pounds of lightweight BS that we always carried. We waddled to the aircraft at about 2200 on the night of infill looking like the Michelin man. Our crew was going to do some flying nap-of-the-earth (NOE) once we got out to the area so that the Air Force crew would also get some training in.
Flying NOE is something all SF guys have done numerous times but it always gets the blood flowing. For those of our readers who have never got to experience it, picture if you will (tip of the cap to Rod Serling), a roller coaster with no rails but going about 150 miles an hour faster than a regular one — and with four engines roaring. It is something that will hold your attention for sure.
So we did about an hour of twisting, turning, gut-wrenching flying before the awesome pilots of the C-130 began to level off. We then went through our normal jump procedures and the tailgate was downed with the red glow of the interior lights bathing everything. The team was gathering near the tailgate, but our team sergeant was shaking his head. He couldn’t see the drop zone. We weren’t over the DZ — and remember this was a blind drop, there were no lights or panels on the DZ.
We made a race track, then another, and after a few minutes, our legs felt like lead. One more try. The loadmaster from the aircraft was talking on the intercom with the pilots and then yelled in my ear, as I was the #1 jumper, “watch this!” We crossed over the top of a mountain and about 50 feet off the deck, we could see a farmhouse, with all the lights burning, and the owner at his pickup truck; we were that close to the ground. Then we were over the valley and straight ahead was the DZ.
The jump went perfectly. I was drifting toward the trees but turned and landed about 50 feet inside the freshly plowed farmer’s field. It was as soft as any landing I ever had. I gathered up my gear, rolled up my chute and went to the leading edge of the DZ, less than 75 meters away. Our Team Daddy did a great job. We had a vehicle waiting for the chutes from the unit. The sergeant from the rigger shed had an ice-cold bottle of Gatorade and he offered it to me. “Thanks, Sarge, much appreciated.”
Only one thing was wrong, our door bundle was about 50 feet up in a pine tree. We gathered around the bottom of the tree and our Captain and Team Sergeant decided that we weren’t going to mess with it in the total darkness; we’d wait until daylight to ensure nobody got hurt. It was a very wise move. We moved over to the woodline a few yards away we were about four hours until daylight.
Of course, by that point, we should have been about three hours into our movement to our G-base, but it was what it was. The best-laid plans sometimes go awry… Our senior and junior engineers were over by the pine tree and the bundle was way up there. Our captain then told them to come back to where the team was in the woodline. I was chatting with our O&I sergeant quietly when we heard a huge crack and then another, followed by a huge thud. The pine tree gave up the ghost and our bundle was now on the ground. If our two guys had been standing under the tree, they would have gotten seriously messed up.
If memory serves me right, however, a lot of the gear in the bundle was pretty heavily damaged — as a 50-foot or more drop will kind of do that. The riggers had flaked out in the back of the truck waiting for dawn to gather the chutes and go back. They heard the tree snap and were able to pull it down and head back. We then had a small contingent of our auxiliary show up with two four-wheelers, one with a trailer, and they took our gear from the bundle to the G-base.
After that snafu, which was no one’s fault, we were back on track. Sometimes, you can plan for any contingency but Murphy can always throw some curves at you.
One day, we had some of the battalion staff come to see how the training was going. Our S-3 then told us a funny story. It turns out that the farmer that we buzzed by on our jump in, had called in a UFO sighting. He claimed that a “spacecraft whooshed over his house” and he could actually see inside it, where red lights were visible. He swore he could actually see “aliens” that were less than 100 feet off the ground.
The rest of the training went really well. We had a great G-base and our 60 or so “G-s” were clerks and typists from Ft. Bragg who hadn’t been to the field since basic training. About a quarter of them were women, who complained less than the guys did once the weather turned bad, as it invariably does. We moved our base twice, once onto the land owned by our auxiliary chief whose family had owned an old plantation for nearly 200 years. In the far back of his land there still stood some old slave cabins, which we used for one night, but they were all full of copperhead snakes.
With many of our “G-s” native Spanish speakers, we would break them into groups so the guys could practice some of their classes in Spanish. They learned quickly and got used to humping a ruck and moving through the woods. We even had a tornado blow through the area one night but no one was the worse for wear, just a little wet.
During our last week, we had some OPFOR bad guys from the 82nd who manned a few sites for our guys to hit, which gave them the confidence moving forward when they went back to the PAC office. One of the guys loved it so much that he volunteered to go to Selection and change his MOS to become an SF medic, 18D.