So, there we were. It was late winter and we were doing helicopter insert/extract training, known as helocasting, in the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. The water was somewhere around 45 degrees. It was cold enough that we were wearing our dry suits instead of wet suits. The dry suits we wore were essentially onesies, with waterproof zippers and a watertight collar that would about choke you to death. The idea is that the water stays on the outside of the suit while all the warm clothes you have on, stay DRY, on the inside of the suit.
As the sun went down, we jumped on our assigned helicopters and headed out to the bay — there were about six guys per helo. The instructions were to jump into the water one at a time as the helicopter continued to fly in a forward direction. Once we were all in the water, we would group up and wait for the helicopter to come back around to retrieve us. We would be getting back into the helicopter via a small roll-up ladder, better known as a caving ladder, that the helicopter crew would drop down to us.
Well, after hitting the water, the constricting cold feeling of the water around my legs felt so familiar to wearing a wet suit that I decided to relieve myself. I had conveniently forgotten about the fact that I was wearing my dry suit and that the whole point was to keep my cammies dry and not soaked with piss…too late.
I swam to my buddies, grouped up in a swimmer’s circle and quickly told everyone how much of a moron I was for turning my suit into a personal toilet. This is about the time that the helo came screaming in. I put my swim mask on to try to protect my eyes from the spray of the rotors. Well, the pilot decided that he was going to keep flying forward as we were trying to climb up the ladder. As you can imagine, this quickly turned into quite the shit show as one guy was trying to climb up the ladder while the rest of us held on to each other for dear life, I’d say we looked pretty similar to the human centipede. And, considering that we were holding onto the bottom of the ladder while the helicopter was flying forward, the ladder was at about a 30-degree angle, while everyone was trying to climb up, it was quite a sight. At some point during this “evolution,” I had put my swim mask on the top of my helmet because I couldn’t see anything with it on.
Finally, I had made my way up the ladder and into the helicopter, “Last man!” I did a quick inventory of my equipment and quickly realized that my face mask and one of my two over-the-boot swim fins were gone. To this day I have no idea how this happened, they were literally carabinered to my belt; a strap must’ve broken in the fray at the bottom of the ladder. So, I’m down one mask, one fin, and my pants are still soaked with piss.
As we circled around to go again, we made sure to give some pointers to the crewmen, to relay to the pilots, for how to pick us up when we all have to climb up a ladder….it’s called hovering, had they heard of it?
Here we go again, into the water. I didn’t piss myself this time and we all circled up again to wait for the helicopter. I looked across and my buddy is swimming really hard and out of breath. “Uhhh hey, dude, what’s wrong with you?” He replies, “I think I have a hole in my suit, it’s filling up with water.” He put his fins on, to help mitigate the situation. At that point, we looked around wondering where our ride was. We could see another group of guys getting picked up. Finally, we saw our helicopter in the distance, but it looked like they were flying a search pattern….they had lost us.
Eventually, they came in overhead and actually did this thing called hovering — miraculous! Of course, we had the guy that was full of water go up first. He had so much water in his suit that he could barely climb up the ladder. From down below, he looked like the Michelin man. The rest of us got into the helicopter without a hitch and flew back to the airfield.
By the time we got back, “Michelin man” was thoroughly freezing his ass off. All in all, everyone survived, and we definitely got a few laughs out of it. I did make sure to keep the fact that I had lost my mask and fin to myself; I didn’t need that publicity. What a night.