No shite, there I was. That is how this sort of story typically unfolds. There’s no moral to it; no special message. Perhaps the message is that when it rains, it pours. I was in British Guyana in my jungle lair… sweating. I hadn’t stopped sweating since I had come in-country over a week ago. What time again was it that we were supposed to stop sweating? We had gone there for the rivers and the jungle: a superb training environment. Guyana was a splendid place for combat riverine training — and a superb place to sweat profusely.
I had the good fortune to trade sitting and sweating for a chance to work with our two-troop on some Delta Queen operations with Chinook helicopters and inflatable rubber boats. Mind you, I hated those operations because they were so damned risky, but at that point, I would have rather sucked a dick than sit and dehydrate slowly through my millions of tiny pores.
The morning iterations went well enough, with just one injury to one of the helicopter load crews, who got his leg jammed in the ramp as he was raising it. Poor mug; he did it to himself and had only himself to blame. I, at times — especially that morning — wondered if the load crews didn’t fancy themselves just a tad more important to our Delta Queens than they really were.
What I mean to say is there were two of them jammed back there with seven of us pipe-hitters and a motorboat big enough to carry, well… seven pipe hitters… But for the love of Christ, I couldn’t figure out what at least one of them even did besides getting in the Goddamned way and ratchet up the stress on an already highly-stress-ratcheted situation.
I got that the first guy had an actual function, that being to crimp his leg in the cock-a-doody ramp as he raised it that morning, but the second guy? Let’s face it, they were there because it was their helicopter, and if they didn’t get to play then they were inclined to take their helo and go home.
No Tier One pipe-hitter, I’m sure, could ever push that lever that makes the ramp go up and down — it had to be a specially-trained load crew… and then it had to be two of them — two gettin’-in-the-way mother phuqrz.
Oh, the bitter pills to swallow; they really weren’t all that bitter, just so many of them. There was a break between the morning and afternoon Delta Queen operations. I found nothing better to do that to tool around the mighty river in my rubber boat with a couple of Air Force Pararescuemen (PJ) brothers and my coxswain brother.
The Green Feet (PJs) were chatting up a Hawker, an MH-60 Black Hawk helo flying on the periphery down toward Jones Town. I liked all the men I worked with because they were motivated badasses. They were not about idle hands and the Devil’s playground. They had some free time and wanted to do something productive.
Productivity? Yeah — I was all about that and still am. So these Green Feet brothers wanted to bring the Hawker in for a CASEVAC, a casualty evacuation:
“Dude, this will be so gnarly and rad… we’ll bring the helo overhead to lower a Stokes litter down to the boat while we motor forward. We’ll load the broke dick in the litter and have them pull it up — all while in flight!”
They were stoked because they had never done it before and probably nobody had ever done quite that scenario for a CASEVAC. It sounded legit because I hated administrative scenarios, like just standing flat-footed on a range and plinking targets at 25 meters to see if you can shave a hair off of a gnat’s ass. That wasn’t realistic combat training. This scenario they dreamt up… that was legit!
I looked around at the two essential Green Feet and our essential coxswain:
“Who’s going to be the broke dick that rides up in the Stokes?”
The senior PJ looked around the boat.
“Any non-essential personnel not otherwise involved in scenario support.”
I should have seen that coming. I could hardly argue their logic and relented immediately. The only thing that came to mind that alarmed me were stories I had heard about the litter spinning violently and killing the victim. The PJs had remedied that by attaching a tether to the litter so a man on the ground could hold the litter stable from spinning.
“Who’s going to hold my tether?”
“I will!” the senior Green Feet responded.
“Ok… but you better not let that thing go!”
“No way, dude!”
I looked at our coxswain:
“Saaay… you wanna ride the Stokes?”
“Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha… now way, bro!”
The Hawker came roaring overhead and the Stokes was lowered by the load crew. It was of course spinning like a top because there was no tether man… but then it was empty.
“Make your speed eight knots ahead!” I called out to the coxswain, a thing that I had heard the Green Feet radio up to the Hawker. That made me feel at ease a little. The Green Feet caught the Stokes, laid me down in it, and strapped me down. I already didn’t like that feeling of being strapped down and immobile. The lift cable to the Stokes went taut as the Hawker began to lift me.
“Don’t let go of that tether, man!!”
“No way, dude!”
Right away there was a problem, that problem being the Hawker and the boat matching speeds. As long as their speeds were matched at eight knots and the Hawker maintained altitude, we were golden. Oh, but right out of the boat the helo dropped altitude which equated to me in my Stokes litter being dunked underwater in the river. Being strapped immobile in the litter and underwater was a tense combination, one that disenchanted me so.
I broke back to the surface and saw immediately that the Hawker had climbed a bit and increased its airspeed. That brought the tether line to its end. I could see the tether man at the end of the line… but let it go he did not! I witnessed him hurl himself in the river still hanging onto the tether line. With that, I went back under the water a second time in the Stokes. There were happy men in the world that day, and then there was me.
I was under the drink for a most unpleasantly long time. When I broke the surface the second time. I raised my head and I could see my tether man hanging onto that line for dear life — mine — and being dragged along through the river.
“I gotcha dude… I gotcha!!!” he reassured me repeatedly. I now loved that guy.
I was soon too high to see down to the tether man. I just watched the load crews’ stern expressions as they brought me aboard. With the tether free and the Stokes sitting on the floor of the Hawker, the loads whipped off my straps. I sprang up and out of the Stokes coffin:
“Hated it… hated the dog shit out of it, boys!!” I yelled to the loads shaking my head. They gave off a mildly penitent vibe which I accepted. Grabbing a set of the ships earphones I slapped one side to my right ear and listened to the pilot and load chat:
“What does the customer want to do about rejoining the water vessel?”
The load looked at me and I just keyed and spoke to the pilot.
“Skipper, the customer would like you to make a pass by the vessel at 10 and 10 (10 feet at 10 knots). Offset your pass 50 feet to port.”
“RGR, the customer is always right.”
“Thank you, Skipper.”
The load keyed and spoke to the boat advising them to prepare to take on a passenger.
We circled and dropped to about 20 feet but that was dandy. We just were abeam port of the boat when I slapped the loads on the back and flung myself out of the Hawker into the river. A quick few strokes and I was hoisted aboard by the Green Feet. My tether man was sincere:
“God, man… I’m sorry, I’m really sorry — that wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“Hey, bro… you didn’t let go of that tether; you did everything I asked you to do — mission success!”
It was good to be king, if even only in Guyana and sweating like a wild jungle boar.
By Almighty God and with honor,