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The worst flying experience of Chief Coker’s life was the flight back from the Lynx to the Serpent that night with the MH-47 Chinook in tow. Many unfortunate things in the Universe united that night to provide for the most harrowing ride of Team Gravy’s life. It wasn’t so much as the “this” or the “that” as it was the “everything!” It was a wretched suite of afflictions, any one of which would have been a daunting challenge by itself.

The men were dog-tired. Flight regulations dictate that pilots MUST have crew rest time that is consistent with their number of flight hours. Chief spent his crew rest fighting cobras, blowing up pictures of Saddam, and enjoying his perch on pipe and plank instead of sleeping.

The pilots were suffering from sinus headaches, a thing that just screws with everything associated with the head, causing, among other things, the ears to not work well, which in turn causes adversity to balance. The Valsalva maneuver stops functioning in such a situation, which leads to unequal pressure between the sinuses and the ambient, leading to more pain and misorientation during altitude changes. The only (nearly) empty consolation was to see the Ranger medic at Serpent Base for an issue of what amounted a voodoo potion from the eye of a newt and a spoonful of Hasidol.

Incideously crappy flight conditions prevailed: from overcast skies blocking causing bad visibility to strong winds that raised fugitive dust which farther obscured vision and choked engine systems. Additionally, cross and tailwinds blew, which are especially unforgiving to the smallest piloted helicopter in the military’s inventory.

Spatial disorientation can be overcome on the ground with the senses complimenting and even taking over for one another to provide input to the brain for balance and orientation. In the air now… what if there is no light, no visual horizon or otherwise reference point to tell you that you are leaning to one side or the other, or even if you are upside down? Fluid in our ears is what gives us our sense of balance. Chief had no normal function of inner ear fluids, so he was in debt.

The grim scape of the decommissioned airfield support corollaries at Objective Serpent.

All that the helo drivers had for orientation was an altimeter, compass, and airspeed indicator. Well, that’s enough, right? Get on out there and get you some flying, Chief. Pop that snot-bubble and move out — wing and a prayer, you big fat crybaby! Fact: MH/AH-6 airframes are woefully ill-equipped for IFR (flying by instruments only) flight; that is, they are VFR (flying by visual reference) only — only VFR is spoken here. That means that if you can’t see then you have no business flying one of those birds. The next time you are in one of those choppers feel all around the inside of the cockpit — you won’t feel any Braille!

Nothing against my blind brothers and sisters but they shouldn’t really actually be flying helicopters all that much.

Greg Coker’s immediate affliction was a staunch urge to nose his aircraft down; his brain erroneously thought that he was climbing when in fact he was not! That phenomenon caused a constant porpoising motion to his flight trajectory, a thing that the Hooker behind him found comical. Great that the Hooker had his nice laugh while Greg and Pete were quite literally flying for their lives and still had 12 minutes of transit ahead of them.

Pete’s brain was off to this “right” by about 20 degrees in his spacial orientation, which put him flying with a gangsta lean of about 20 degrees to his opposite side to maintain a “straight” flight path. Chief was off in his up and down (pitch), with Pete off in his left and right (roll). Somehow there had to be a balance there by way of Greg detecting Pete’s roll, and Pete feeling Greg’s pitch. The stress behind the controls was so great that Greg had to limit each man by two minutes at a time behind the cyclic yoke and collective lever.

Occasionally, one or the other didn’t make it to the two-minute mark, having the controls taken away by the other pilot or relinquishing them in a horrible moment of loss of control.

“I HAVE THE CONTROLS!!” Greg hollered out as Pete went into another of his 20-degree banks to his left from 50 feet off of the desert deck. As Greg pulled the bird back up to stable flight a glance at his altimeter registered just 05 feet, so… that right there was patent cause for the crapping of masonry building materials.

Chief Greg Coker’s AH-6J Attack helo parked at Objective Serpent.

With four minutes remaining to Serpent, Chief called forward to his USAF Combat Controller and instructed him to throw on Infrared landing lights for an incoming flight of four to finally give him a horizontal reference to the horizon.

“Uh, yeah — no, no lights,” came the response.

“You don’t understand, Serpent… we have a situation here with no horizon and are disoriented!”

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“Yeah sorry, no lights.”

“Ok, I am declaring an emergency and request lights ASAP, or we will crash!”

“Uuuuh… sorry, Sir — no lights.”

Now Greg knew he would simply have to pull through this catastrophe and make it back to the FARP one way or another so he could fulfill his new life’s quest — to whoop that CCT boy for being such a jackass:

“Oh, dear Lord… steady my hand, make my path straight and true. Shine your beacon on my destination that I will not be led astray by the devil’s wicked vertigo. Show me the way to the Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP), so that I may beat that fly-boy feller’s ass… I ask this in your name, Amen.”

“We have a light, we have IR light at the FARP!” Pete sang out.

And indeed there was an IR beam shining the way to the Serpent. “Wow,” thought the Chief, “the power of prayer, dude!” Chief took the controls for remaining final moments and laid the bird down neatly, though facing completely backward from the way it was supposed to. Not giving a honey badger shit, he rolled out onto the ground and kissed the dirt whilst thanking the Creator. Ranger Ely ran over from his scout bird:

“Christ Sarge… that really sucked bad!” and he crumpled to kiss the ground.

Inside the CCT controller’s kiosk, the plywood “door” suddenly flew open smacking the “wall” hard startling the Airman seated at his crate desk. It startled him so that he spilled ever so slightly from the cup of camomille tea that he was sipping from.

“Tiiisk!! This is dreadful! exclaimed the airman as he stood and blotted tea from the papers scattered on his crate, “What the hell is the meaning of this?!?”

In the “doorway” stood the world’s most disenchanted, disgruntled, disenfranchised by IR light, uninterested-in-anything-other-than-whipping-an-ass, Chief ever to tread the realm of Chiefery.

It is widely believed that Ranger Scout Pilot Tony Ely was able to snap this frame of Chief throttling the Air Force CCT boy. Belief is that he used Chief’s unauthorized camera that he used to spy in the cockpit of Chief’s cockpit.

“Woah, woah, woooah there, big fellah… can I help you there, Chief?”

“Oh, you could’ve helped me — but you didn’t… and now I’m here to express how uncomfortable that made me feel.”

What used to be the back “wall” of the controller’s kiosk was now a back door, a double-wide back door that you could have moved a pool table through sideways… if that sort of accouterment even existed in the whole country, let alone at Objective Serpent. One hoped none of them would actually be at the Serpent long enough to start pining the day away over billiards.

It was just then that the yuk-yuk Hooker came barrelling in:

“Hey, there you are, Coker… or should I call you Flipper after the way your bird was dolphining through the sky tonight — aha-ha-ha… ha-ha… ha… ummm, you ok, Coker?”

“Hooker, you see that boy laying down there?”

“That guy laying in the dirt over there?”

“Well FUCK, Hooker — YEAH, THAT guy! That guy’s biggest problem in Iraq right now is that he doesn’t know how to talk to a gunship driver — now he knows, and his problem is solved. There’s another heaping helping of the same thing waitin’ for you if you don’t shut your Goddamned pie hole!”

CWO4 Gregory “Gravy” Coker helped the poor no-IR light illuminating USAF CCT controller boy up and took him over to the Ranger medic for a prescription of a newt’s eye voodoo potion, and a spoonful of Hasidol to take the edge off of the pain of his swelling face.

“You’ll be ok, boy… just keep your finger poised over that IR light button from now on, ya hear?” Chief Greg admonished, “next time a Night Stalker asks for IR illume, all we want to see is a heavenly glow on the horizon and angels of freakin’ mercy flappin’ their stinkin’ wings.”

Chief Gravy; a nice guy until he’s not a nice guy anymore — give him IR lights when he asks for them.

The Chief was a nice guy… just up until the point that he wasn’t a nice guy no more — GOD BLESS TEXAS!

The next morning the good Chief rolled out of his (stupid) woobie from under his gunship and stretched. Scattered on the ground all around him were dead blackbirds… that’s right dead blackbirds — WTF?! His platoon leader came by with his shit-kit on his way to the pipe-n-plank and stopped there momentarily:

“Well, I’ll be… what’s with all these dead blackbirds, Greg?

“I’m not sure, maybe some local kids with Red Ryder BB guns?

“Huh, possible I guess, just doesn’t really seem likely though — maybe Daisy or Ben Franklins.”

“Yeah, skipper… it sure is a mystery.”

“You comin’ to the pipe-n-plank, Greg?”

“Hadn’t really planned on it, why?”

“Oh, just gives us a chance to sit and talk.”

“Well, if it’s all the same to you I’d rather sit and talk just about anywhere else.”

“Have it your way, then” (whistling a chorus from Bohemian Rapsody).

Christmas 2040 somewhere in Georgia

“Grandpa, can you tell us a story of when you were an Army Airborne Ranger!”

“Hmm, well kids… did I ever tell you about the time me ‘n the boys rescued the Night Stalker Chief from an attack by a deadly venomous cobra snake?”

“(sighs) Yeeeeeesssss Grandpa — only about a hunjrud times already — GYOLLL!”

“What about the time when the boys’n me saved that same Chief from the attack by the deadly flock of vicious blackbirds?”

“NO! — yeah, yeah, tell us that one; we never heard that one before, Grandpa — YAAAAAY!!”

“Well, there we was — me ‘n the boys was, just a-guardin’ the Night Stalker Chief there where he lay a-sleepin’ under his helicopter gunship wrapped in a (stupid) woobie — the Chief was wrapped in it, not the gunship… when all of a sudden he came under attack by a flock of deadly evil blackbirds!!”

“Oooooooooo… aaaaahhhhhhhh… ooooooooo…”

And so it went.

By Almighty God, with honor, and on behalf of CWO4 Gregory “Gravy” Coker,
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P.S., The swagger cartoon that I made in honor of Chief Greg Coker was put onto T-Shirts for the SOFREP store — pretty slick!
Geo’s “Winchester”