(You can catch up on part I here)
Brownout landings, in the most sterile sense, are still arguably the most dangerous intentional maneuver a helicopter pilot can perform. But the Night Stalkers practice them in the desert, at night, and wearing ANVIS-6 Night Observations Devices. That is equivalent to a trifecta of a compound fracture, a sucking ass-wound, and a shit sandwich with a warm glass of piss. Night Stalkers put enough brownout landing repetition behind them that one could say in confidence that they execute them with precision.
Greg linked up with two Delta men for the ground reconnaissance of the proposed training area. The three traveled in civilian clothes — their own civilian clothes that they had brought from home and that smelled of home. They snaked their way through the Oman desertscape of goat herds and camels, of the ocean and its beaches, of shanties and ruins.
They arrived at their destination and conducted a safety walk-down of the parcel ensuring there were no dangers or safety concerns for the helos and the conductibility of live fire scunion operations. Above all other concerns was the suitability of the area for night brownout landings. An honest survey found that the site was indeed a contender for a location if not the best choice.
They occasioned upon the sun-blanched carcass of a long-since decedent ocean-faring turtle. A simple skeleton was he, with a monstrous bleached shell nearly four feet across. The shell shone bright like the tombs of Evangeline, freshly scrubbed bright with lye, in anticipation of La Toussaint.
He lay there in all anomaly, non-sequitur in his distance from the sea, a riddle for certain of why he came to venture so far from his oceanic paradise. A mournful misfit who lost his way home and bowed to the elements for the balance of eternity. A sad yet beautiful thing — sadder yet was the fact that at a very minimum the great sea creature was nosed back toward the sea as if in the by and by understanding his error… only it was too late to correct it.
“My Lord there must have been a monstrous tide change that day!” Chief speculated judging the distance back out to the shoreline.
The return to the FOB bunk house yielded an odd but pleasant surprise for the travelers. There were full-caliber color-coordinated bedclothes on each bunk: sheets, fitted sheets, pillows, pillow covers, and comforters. The sight was just a skosh high and right of magnificent, though it looked rather like a girls’ dormitory in there than a pipe-hitters’ lair. The colors were just so… gay, but not in a gay way. Meh — the boys were above all just happy for the little things.
Finally, after days, the six-gunner AH-6 Attack helos had a mission — mission you say? The plan was to fly combination reconnaissance/seek-and-destroy flights along the Pakistani border to locate and waste enemy targets of opportunity. The mission called for two MH-6 and two AH-6 Little Birds to be ferried by MC-130 Hercules Combat Talon aircraft to a release point to begin their flight.
The mission was a resounding success, a thing that restored a measure of morale to the two aviation companies that had wallowed in inactivity for such a long spell. The aviator now chomped at the bit in anticipation of a follow-on strike mission.
The follow-on mission did come, and it was a respectfully formidable one. The mission was to rescue anti-Taliban Northern Alliance leader, his eminence and future president of all of Afghanistan — Hamid Karzai. Chief Coke wasn’t about to kick this mission out of bed for eating crackers. In fact, Hamid Karzai had the full backing of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Hamid Karzai was in hiding in the mountains west of Kabul; it was greatly feared that if the Taliban captured him they would certainly dispense with him.
Greg Coker assumed the role that he performed so very well — the Airborne Fire Support Coordinator. It was the same role he filled on D-Day Afghanistan at the assault on the compound of Usama bin Laden’s Minister of Finance, Mullah Muhammad Omar — Objective Gecko. Oh, what a night that had been for the Night Stalkers and the Delta Force.
Greg got to work on a Fire Support Plan for the rescue mission. His assault formation boasted two AC-130U Spectre Gun Ships, two MH-47D Chinook helicopters, two MH-60L Deep Aerial Penetrator (DAP) helicopter gunships, and six fixed-wing bombers. It was a veritable armada of airborne hate and the Taliban was the sole entity on its dance card. Coker was going to make the Taliban dance the Cotton-Eyed Joe whether they wanted to or not; it didn’t matter a honey badger shit to Greg.
Chief Greg lifted off in his Spectre Gun Ship, ahead of the rest of the fleet, to conduct an airborne reconnaissance of the helicopter assault force’s route of attack — first up, last down was the way Greg lead an assault. He thought of the target destination area off and on wondering fleetingly if… could it possibly be a trap? It was a sort of thought that he couldn’t manage to shake off of his back. It was what it was; Coke just worried like that.
The rescue mission was a hitchless success amounting to a routine pickup and taxi ride to a destination.
Tandem to the rescue of Hamid Karzai was the rescue of a Green Beret A-Team that had wounded men from a recent firefight with the Taliban. A flight of two MH-53 Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopters tried to punch through bad weather to get to the Green Berets.
The first MH-53 helo pushed through the cloud cover only to settle with power into a crash landing, wounding four of the aircraft crew. Though the wingman tried to get in behind the helo it was judged prudent to not have two crashed helos on the mountain. The wingman waved off and returned to base to wait out the weather.
After many intense hours on the stormy mountainside, the Special Forces men and flight crew of the unfortunate MH-53 were finally reached and rescued by the wingman’s MH-53. The men had remained under threat the entire time on the mountain by probing Taliban fighters. With no air cover and a spate of wounded men, it was going to be tidings of ugly if the Taliban ever decided to make a frontal push against the American position. By God’s grace that did not happen.
CWO4 Greg “Gravy” Coker sports a tattoo, you know. Chief never really was a rootin’-tootin’ tattoo-havin’ kind of man; that is, not the type of zealot to rush out and get sleeves of skulls, barbed wire, burning churches, and devils… he sports what all the Night Stalkers regard as a professional tattoo of brotherhood and accomplishment.
There’s a status that the attack helicopter pilots strive to achieve, one that ultimately validates them to fly combat missions. That status bears the simple title “Fully Mission Qualified” (FMQ). The status represents the pinnacle of gunship driving. It is a tradition that FMQ Night Stalker gets a representative tattoo on their thigh commemorating the success. The tatt: a red number six with a sword running through it.
The number “6” is for the six-gun of the Old West era. Cowboys carried revolvers that held six cartridges in a rotating chamber. So too do the M-134 machine-guns on the AH-6s have six rotating barrels that can spit forth over 3,000 bullets per minute. The color red represents the blood of the pilots killed and wounded in the fight. The sword represents swift and silent death.
Chief was accustomed to working out a couple of times a day at the FOBs during downtime. On a particular occasion, there were two young Rangers in the gym with him, both of whom were having a sideways gander at his tattoo and chatting. Earshot revealed to the following to Chief as one Ranger explained to the other:
“He is an AH-6 gun pilot, they are the best attack helicopter pilots in the world and you can always count on them.”
It’s ok to be proud. Some folks (a lot of folks) mistake pride for vanity, narcissism, or arrogance. Chief… well, the Chief was just quietly proud — and well-deservingly so.
Chief Greg was planning to take four of his gunships out ocean side to practice some deck landings aboard a Navy warship. Tricky as they could be, they warranted periodic practice. Quite frankly, the thought of strapping on an AH-6 for a few hours of flight over water was quite the appealing prospect as Greg saw it that day: Deck landings and then fire up some target subjects out in the ocean — nothing short of another day in paradise for six-gunners.
Chief thought he must have been trapped in a movie when a man darted out of the Tactical Operations Center (TOC):
“Chief Coker, your presence is requested in the TOC ASAP, post-haste, right this very second, PDQ…”
“ALRIGHT — I get it clown; I’m headed there now.”
Nobody likes a messenger trying to get cute.
(continued in part III)
By Almighty God and with honor,
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