Dedication for this work goes to SOFREP sister: Ms. Jessica Rose Johnson
The morning Mecca to the small arms range was interrupted by our Troop Sergeant stepping through the door:
“FRAGO, boys. We’ve got a Chinook support aircraft this morning to do whatever we want. Recall the guys and kit up for some water operations at Mott Lake; get a Zodiac down from the loft and whatever else you want. Don’t game this — let’s make good use of this opportunity, alright?”
That announcement was answered by a sporadic and disorganized smattering of “hooahs” as we dropped weapons off and milled about upstairs in our waterborne locker. Yes, Delta had those at one time. The previously missing Sam Foster burst through the lounge door pulling off his shirt and hopping forward on one leg while pulling loose the laces on the shoe of the other.
He clearly already knew what was going on.
“Where the hell have you been?” Chill D asked in his self-perceived omniscient tone of voice, suspecting all along that “Good Deal” Sam was the driving force behind the auspicious appearance of a waterborne training opportunity.
“I was at chow, Lord William.”
“Chow? And I suppose you don’t know anything about us suddenly getting a Chinook this morning to do water operations at Mott Lake?”
“Chinook? What Chinook? Water operations — say, that sounds great!”
Sam Foster was famous and infamous for his propensity to stop in at Operations and creep about with his expressionless face, taking in tidbits of intelligence here and there — some from personal dialogue exchanges, some from telephone conversations. Sometimes Sam just stood quiet and motionless in a position of maximum visibility simply to make everyone in Operations uneasy and nervous.
“What the hell does he want this time, I wonder … ”
“I don’t know, but don’t move around so much and be really quiet; maybe he will just go away.”
There was never a man (not one in my acquaintance anyway) that could make a person feel so uneasy and self-conscious with just a short sentence or burst of effect as Samuel Booth Foster.
I am put squarely in mind of this instance, one that is not easily effectively rendered by words, but you either get it, or you do not get it:
It was at Denny’s family restaurant in the year 19′ — Oh, I wanna say 1980 … ’85? No, 1986. No. Well, roun’ ‘bout 1985-1986 we all sat there at Denny’s waiting to be served. We were waiting a good bit, I have to say, when our server finally made it to our table.
Sam had already since become soured by the degree of delay in service. He had taken to his belligerent posture of folded arms, and his brow had lowered considerably in anticipation of controversy, but at a level that only Sam understood. I feared for the mental well-being of the waitress.
“Sorry for the delay, guys. I’m Penny, and I’ll be your server,” came the chipper chirp of our dilatory waitress.
“What can I get everyone to drink — water?” and she eye-darted from one nodding head to the next but paused on the stationary Foster. “Will everyone be having coffee? Well, I’ll tell you what; I’ll just bring out a pitcher of coffee and leave it on the table so you gentlemen can help yourselves!”
The statuesque Samuel remained a fixture.
The nerved Penny was trying to tack on appeasement: “Oh, and I’ll bring your table some more cream!” and she stood there waiting for a response from Sam.
Sam slowly unfolded his arms and reached to stretch to the capped aluminum cream dispenser to his front. He pressed open the lid and tipped the container toward him to regard the empty bottom of the dispenser and remarked, “Well, some cream, perhaps,” and he resumed his arm-folder figure of contempt.
Penny flustered as her mouth tumbled down a flight of masonry steps:
“Yes. Well, some cream, of course. Because there was no cream to begin with so how could I be getting you more cream,” she paused to laugh uncomfortably before continuing her self-correction, “to be getting you more cream there would have had to be some cream there to begin with — which there was none …”
Penny twisted clumsily on the balls of her feet and stumble-stepped her distance from our table.
Did I mention Sam could never get dates, ever?
Back on Hawker Landing Zone in our compound we lay low and pinned down our equipment as the mighty Chinook flared its rotors and settled down to our front. We scrambled aboard lugging our Zodiac inflatable boat and other support corollaries along with us.
During the many evolutions of casting and recovering swimmers and vessels, there came a noticeable change in the shriek of the hydraulic pump system. The traditional whine of the pumps became rough and labored, all in a somewhat sputtering sort of way. The load crew was suddenly animated and dashed about here and there.
We transient baggage just looked at each other in wonder. I picked up a set of earphone that was hooked into the webbed seat back. Clasping them to my head, I could hear the urgent sound of the pilot’s voice as he spat instructions to his load crew. One final sentence from him unnerved me to the point that I no longer wanted to listen, and I returned the earphones to the webbing:
“Tell the customer to stand by; we are bailing them out!”
Yikes, I hoped the pilot knew we had no parachutes. I opened my mouth to shout my learning to my brothers next to me. Sam Foster beat me to it as he bounded from the front cockpit to the rear cargo hold where we all had taken to our feat and make reactionary checks of our personal equipment.
“Bird’s broke; got engine failure warning in the cockpit. They are pushing us out over Wyatt Lake!” Sam yelled in a matter-of-fact voice and exquisitely calm composure.
The alarm turned to a robotic crew drill that we all knew well and were ready to execute. Chill D leaned in from behind me and called out: “That fucking Sam is going to have his Goddamned waterborne training, even if it kills us!” I turned my head back just far enough so he could see my forced open-mouth smile, and watched as the Chinook sank low and broke the scenery from pine treetops to the brown water of Wyatt Lake.
“Follow me!” Sam instructed as he vaulted himself off the helo’s ramp and into the drink. Follow him we did, in a neat line of resolute jumpers hell-bent to leave the flying coffin for the relative safety of Wyatt’s bosom. I splashed in hard. The helo had been skipping along at a pretty spirited clip, but it was low at least, and that translated into a safe impact with the water.
The helo banked away from the drop, turning in the direction of Hawker LZ making a most ludicrous sound as it chugged along.
I followed the line of black bobbing heads as it made it’s way to the east bank of the lake where there was a clearing. Believe it or not, the lake was so close to our compound that a white 15-passenger van was already screaming up to the clearing. It was driven by one of our amazing medics, Steve T.
Steve T stood on the shore grinning at us as we paddled up. I noticed immediately that I didn’t feel right. I was tingling, and my skin was crawling. I was scratching myself, and then I was scratching myself like a madman. I jogged up to Steve T scratching and lamenting: “Steve, I hate to bug you, but I don’t feel so good.”
By this time I noticed I was out of breath to the extent that I was having trouble finishing my sentences. I saw a sudden drop in Steve T’s light expression. He turned immediately toward the back of the white van: “Come with me, quickly Geo!” and I followed.
“It feels like something is stinging me under the armpits, Steve, and they are really painful. My gut hurts like I’m going to throw up and it feels like I can’t get enough air!”
“It sounds like your getting too much air right now, Geo. So, would you shut up for a second; I need to think!”
From his position fumbling about with medical gear in the back of the van, Steve T turned about with a syringe in his hand, twisted me around 180 degrees and jammed the syringe high on my butt near my right hip. He jammed me right through my neoprene Chicken Suit, a wetsuit that had short legs and short sleeves designed for chilly water between warm and cold.
“George, you’re going to need to lay down right now,” Steve T instructed as he shoved med gear aside to make room for me. I had no intentions of countering him, as my legs had immediately become rubbery and my knees were giving me the finger. I plopped into the supine in the back of the van. Steve T had already fired up and revel the engine. We were making a high-speed run to the compound as Steve T barked status to our base station over his radio.
My breathing was downright difficult; I have to say. Steve T … Well, he had a good poker face, but not a great one — I could tell he was worried.
Continued in part II
By God and with honor,
Images courtesy of the author.