Dedication for this article goes to Ms. Samantha (Sam) Foster with great pride and admiration
The pine ceiling below our feet blurred by at some 90 KIAS.
“This must be the speed test they mentioned earlier, the pilots.” I conjectured as I threw my right leg over the pod so I could face forward — like Sam was already doing. At this speed, it was nearly unbearable to sit sideways and retain any semblance of composure. Sam leaned far forward, his legs crossed and locked under the pod, one hand tightly under the nylon web look on the pod and one arm up in the air like a rodeo rider.
“Wah-hoo!” he yelled as we flew.
Sam had the most entertaining ways of showing off that he wasn’t scared. If he was truly afraid I have absolutely no doubt in my pea-brain that he was fundamentally fearless under all circumstances; he was too intelligent to be scared, even in combat. The way Sam Foster figured it, he had combat right where he wanted it, and he was going to own it every time. There was just no question about it.
“This motherless bastard has got to be in God’s hands somehow,” I puzzled: “If I can stay close enough to him I should reside somewhere on one of God’s fingers at least!” I hoped.
There is another phenomenon associated with people of Sam’s nature. Yes, they did not clasp fear in their bosom, and they never got mad. I have never seen Sam mad. He was too well-composed to be mad. I saw him … less than enchanted, one time at the Turtle Kraals bar in Key West where we were together for a couple of pints of the Lord’s brew one eve.
Where we sat I noted before not too long that Sam had a death lock on a couple of Navy folk across the bar from us. They recognized Sam as one of “those Army divers from Trumbo Point.” A petty interservice rivalry was going caustic as the drunken sailors continued to harass him — Sam’s complexion grew terser by the nanosecond. There was a storm brewing and there would be fighting ahead.
I, for one, was not looking forward to a brawl. Sam was the worst fighter ever and unless he locked up one of the toads and tired him out, I had the prospect of facing them both and getting my hind end soundly kicked.
It was the Lord’s brew that saved us both. When the boys bowed up to us at our bar stools they both were swaying and had trouble standing. I clocked one soundly on the bridge of his nose from my seated position, something I had never in my life done before. I didn’t get much power — but it didn’t take much. The good fellow tumbled over backward counting sheep as he fell.
Sam and his prey crashed loudly and clumsily to the ground. Sam was fast and limber with tremendous lung power. He smartly twisted his man up into a functionless heap and lambasted the brother in the face with several hammer fist strikes. I observed all the while feeling no urgency to get up from my seat. I was proud of Sam — more so than usual.
Sam was in full agreement that we two should get the b’jesus out of there post haste. “Did you see me? How was I? What did I do right, what could I have done better, man?” Sam was shoving his amp meter way into the red, but understandably. “You beat his ass; that’s what you did right, Sam … I strenuously object to this line of questioning.
And so went Sam’s first and only fist brawl. As far as I know.
As the helo slowed to a hover, Sam crawled through the cargo hold, knife in teeth, and slashed the nylon straps that secured the Iron Maiden to the pod. The maiden swung free and wobbled a bit, but remained essentially level. Then Sam engaged the Petzl descender lowering the entombed kayak into the turbid water of Mott Lake. The maiden splashed in and Sam fed the remainder of the lowering rope out and into the water.
Sam turned to me quickly rendering a combat diver-style “OK” signal and gestured with a jerk of his chin to “come on.” Sam did a proper murky water surface dive, feet first. I, in my scurry to keep pace with Sam, did an inappropriate clear water surface dive head first through the cargo hold.
“What did you do that for?” Sam asked flatly of my helo exit.
Fully expecting his on-the-spot critique I had my cut-to-the-chase answer ready for him: “Because I’m a stupid mother-fucker, Sam!”
Satisfied with my nose-bleed level of humiliation, Sam waved his arms to the helo which banked hard and decelerated to, again, a hover over our position as a safety boat hooked and towed the Maiden to shore.
Sam motioned the co-pilot to creep lower and then reach up and grabbed onto a skid once he could. The helo rocked violently as the pilot counter Sam’s weight. He cleanly vaulted himself out of the water and onto a pod with a single acrobatic maneuver that would have prided the Flying Wallendas.
So, there was another thing I was totally unprepared for; another adventure from the Sam Foster Mystery Travel Agency. “Oh … how I hate that Sam Foster!” I thought as I clawed at the helo skid. I brought myself next to Sam on the pod and ventured a smug look as I nodded “OK” to him.
“Let’s go to the beach, hook her back up and do it again!” Sam called out from his expressionless face.
Sam was truly a Tier One, laminated card-carrying, Yankee bushwhacker — but I wasn’t dead yet. “I wouldn’t want it any other way!” I challenged.
After countless iterations both day and night, I did truly fancy myself master of climbing aboard a helicopter from a body of water. We flew back home in the wee hours, Sam staring at nothing in the blackness, no doubt mulling the betterment of his Iron Maiden kayak delivery cage, and me glancing over to Sam intermittently with the satisfaction that his travel agency had not bested me.
Sixty KIAS winds beat my face; my hair was dry, my ego stabilized, my heart was full.
The Iron Maiden, the Maiden of Iron, was not a user-friendly lass, not as such. She was high-maintenance in training to be proficient with her as a means of infiltration into a mission objective area. No men in Delta outside of the loyalty to Sam on his own team were willing to assume the burden it took to work with Her Majesty Maiden of Iron. It seemed certain that the concept would not survive the wrath of the landlubbers.
Sam crowbarred an Iron Maiden infiltration into our next mission profile. Then, in very much the fashion of Sam Foster, he spirited off on other adventures none of which had anything to do with the Iron Maiden voyage: “Good deal, Sam; bad deal, scram!” Oh, but by now I had to just laugh. It put me soundly in mind of the time Sam set up a two-week jungle training mission in British Guyana. What a suck-fest that would be. But Sam would be going on a three-week language immersion trip to Costa Rica, rather than on the jungle training mission.
On Sam’s first day back I greeted him: “Hola, buenos dias, Sam!”
“That’s pretty much what I expected.”
The Iron Maiden mission went to me and my insanely capable first mate, his holiness, the Reverend Chill-D. Our Little Bird slowed its airspeed, flared its main rotor and came to a hover over a sheet of black in the black of night. Neither Chill-D nor I could see the water below us. I strained to reach my head as close to the pilot as I could as soon as he gave us the “go” signal — I was just a bit too hesitant:
“What’s our altitude, skipper!?
“You’re right about 20 feet!”
“Are you sure!?”
He just looked at me, the pilot did. I scrambled through the cargo hold and pulled the red parachute cutaway pillow that broke the kayak cage away from the helo pod. I squeezed the Petzl descender until the rope paid out completely through it. I (thought I) heard a splash below and spied the vague flash of churned water. I turned to call Chill-D over but he was already there. That truly was the essential description of Chill-D in short: “Already there,” I held a thumb up to him. He reached up and squeezed it in acknowledgment, the procedure for periods of low or no visibility.
Hoping I would not slam down on top of the Maiden I pushed off feet first and plunged with the Man of God, my brother of the cloth, the Reverend Chill-D right behind me.
“God is great,” thought I, “He’s just never around when you need him”
By God and with honor,
All photos courtesy of the author George E. Hand IV, GeoPerspectives, LLC