Life in Special Forces can be many things to many different people but one thing it never is/was/will be is boring. You are guaranteed to meet some fascinating, great people along the way. Some become lifelong friends who you’ll talk to all the time. For others, their time with you may be brief, like just a whisper in the wind, but experiences will last a lifetime. This is one of those.
As many who have read these pages can attest, I love to remember the humorous side of things in Group. It seemed like every day was a new hilarious experience as we Special Forces guys are if nothing else, an eclectic bunch.
Not long ago, I got an email from a ghost. A good friend from long, long ago, Tim Hodge from 7th SFG, was a guy that I, as well as many other comrades believed, had passed away. Tim was hurt down in El Salvador. He survived but many of us heard that he passed away in VA hospital in Cleveland. So, I get an email from a Tim Hodge, the first thing I asked was he a relative of a Tim from 7th SFG. Needless to say, I was amazed when he wrote back that he wasn’t a relative, that he was in fact, Tim.
Naturally, I was shocked and wrote back, like an idiot, “I thought you were dead!” He immediately responded that “Yes, the report of my untimely demise has been greatly exaggerated.” Tim has been confined to a wheelchair ever since being hurt, those many years ago but is alive and well and living on the Carolina shore.
Not long before he went down to El Sal, was a very busy time in 7th SFG. President Reagan was supporting the Contras in Nicaragua. We had at least a company at a time in Honduras. And other SF A-teams all over Central America. All of the deployed teams had commo requirements that required that they make at least two HF shots back to Ft. Bragg daily with the old DMDG and by manual Morse Code.
The 7th SFG Signal Company with their support radio operators was swamped. Traffic was going out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All of the battalions not deployed sent SF radio operators, detailed to Signal Company to send code and receive messages when teams were making their HF shots back. To a man, no one wanted to be there, but everyone made the best of the situation.
Tim Hodge and I were out there during that time. We made a deployment during that time, to put the base station as the Group Commander put it, on the Nicaraguan’s doorstep near the border of Honduras at Ojo de Agua. Or as we called it Ojo de Nada (eye of nothing). Back at Bragg, 7th SFG Signal Company had a BOP (Base Operation Platoon) Site on Chicken Road.
The SF guys ran in 12-hour shifts, (12-on, 24 off) and we ran like that for a couple of months. That routine got old in a hurry. All of the code had to go out manual, Signal Company had a machine that was supposed to send out Morse Code but it was broken so all of the code had to be sent manually. A radio operator would send out the burst transmission twice and then the 120 group message BTB (Blind Transmission Broadcast) and then do it all over again. Most traffic was dummy but intermingled were the actual commo with the teams.
We could only shut down in case of lightning in the area, which we’ll get to later. Naturally, the guys got tired of the crappy routine out there. One of the guys drew a perfect logo for the Batman comics and spread under the wings was a beautifully blended saying BOHICA. For those non-military types, BOHICA stands for Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.
Timmy Hodge loved it and made a stencil out of it. He put it over the front door of the trailer, over the doors of the radio vans and over the shed in the back. Back then the 7th SFG Sergeant Major was the “Mad Russian”, Ivan Ivanov. Some of you have probably heard stories of Ivanov. They’re all true. He was a true character. And his answer for everything or anyone who said something or did anything that he didn’t like was, “I’ll make you take a piss test!”
For some reason, the Group SGM was paranoid that the SF guys were drinking on duty at the BOP Site and would frequently pop in at the weirdest times to poke in the trash. No kidding, the 7th SFG SGM would open all the trash cans to look for empty Bud cans.
So, early on a hot afternoon, Hodge and I were running the day shift for the BOP Site and Ivanov comes peeling in with his driver. We were out there to greet him, and Ivanov knew and liked Tim so he naturally he directed all of his questions to him. “So, Timatee, are these guys drinking beeahs out here?” he asked. Ivanov made mention of my mustache which was never in regulation…ever.
“Hey Sergeant, you think you’re Pancho Villa?” He laughed at his own joke, then said, “Trim that fucker up or I’ll make you take a piss test.” After poking around the site and opening all the trash cans and finding no empty beer cans, he was happily getting ready to get out of our hair and on his way.
As he was walking to his vehicle, he stopped. “Hey Timatee, What the Fuck is Batman BOHICA mean?” Hodge never missed a beat. “Hey SGM,” Tim said. “Steve here is Sicilian, and BOHICA is an old Sicilian term for always ready.” My eyes got huge, but I said, happily for once…nothing.
Ivanov’s eyes narrowed and he paused for a second or two. He then nodded knowingly and laughed. “Fuckin’ A. I like that. BOHICA to you too.” As he was walking past one of the vans, he stuck his head inside. Two SF radio operators, Jerry S. and Ray G. were sending out traffic. Ivanov leaned in and said “BOHICA to you guys.” Ray was sending traffic on Morse but both he and Jerry’s eyebrows shot up and they both leaned around Ivanov to peer at us outside as if to say…”you two are in for it now.”
After the Sergeant Major left, we had a good, long laugh to include the guys in the van and promptly forgot about it. Some weeks later a mutual guy we knew at Group HQs told us that Ivanov would occasionally pop off with BOHICA, but no one dared question the Group SGM. Apparently, a while later in a meeting with several of the Group staff to include the Commander, “the Wag”, he repeated it.
The Group Commander, took out his trademark cigar, looked at him incredulously, and said, “What was that SGM?” Apparently Ivanov repeated the story about it being a Sicilian word but repeated that he couldn’t remember where he heard it from. When he was told what it truly meant, the Mad Russian was steamed. “When I find the fuckers that told me that, I’m gonna make them take a piss test!”
It was about a month later, I was going up to headquarters for something, my memory there escapes me. The parking lot was a dirt, potholed dump that was a quagmire of mud after it rained. As I was crossing the street, Hodge was coming out, and he said to me, “Turn around and keep walking.” I wheeled around and we went to my truck.
He told me the Mad Russian was on a rampage about something and it wasn’t a good time for the two of us to be seen by him together as it may trigger his memory. As we were pulling out of the lot and onto Ardennes St., Ivanov came out of the building and stared at us driving down the road. He gave us the squinty look and I knew he was trying to place the two of us but to no avail.
About six months later, I had re-enlisted and got a free semester of college. I was going full-time and hadn’t had a haircut or trimmed my mustache since entering school. My company Sergeant Major called me and told me that I needed to make a jump to stay current. The company was doing helicopter blasts out at Camp Mackall at about 4 a.m. the next day. He told me, they’d get me on the first few lifts so as not to miss school.
I weighed my options, said the hell with it, I wasn’t cutting my hair or trimming my mustache for a 4 a.m. manifest call in the dark. I showed up wearing a watch cap and a gore tex jacket as it was pretty chilly for a December morning. My company SGM saw me and shook his head, “Ivanov is out here, go stand over there.”
There were some Delta guys who were going to jump with our HALO teams, a few used to be in 7th SFG and it wasn’t an uncommon sight to see them straphang on a jump back then. I knew one of them and we nodded and he looked at me for a second like “what’s up with you?” A few seconds later, the Mad Russian sauntered over, he knew some of the Delta guys and said hello. And he turned to me in the dark, and said, “I told you a long time ago to trim that damned mustache, now I can’t! Laughing he walked off. Jimmy, the Delta guy I knew, asked me what was up with that, and I just laughed and said, “you don’t wanna know.”
But back above I mentioned the radio vans could only be shut down in a thunderstorm. Well, not long after Ivanov visited us, we had a boomer that was a big one. The sky got dark and we could see lightning in the distance and it was moving straight toward us. I walked outside and stuck my head in the vans and told the guys to shut down the vans.
The SF radio operator Ray G. was a wildman from 3/7 in Panama. He was sending actual traffic to a team and not a dummy message. “I’ll be done in just a few minutes Homes.” Okay, I said and walked inside. I called the Group Signal Officer and told him we were shutting down as per SOP. All of the guys were inside the trailer except Ray. The other SF guy said he was still sending the message.
I ran outside into the now raining compound and yelled, “Hurry up and shut it down, the storm is right on us.” With that, I ran back inside the trailer. I was talking with Tim Hodge when a tremendous bolt of lightning lit up the sky followed by an immediate boom that deafened us. Jimmy B. one of the other SF radio operators yelled out that van got hit.
We all piled outside expecting the worst. There was a huge hole in the side of the van. Pulling open the door, smoke poured out. Ray was still sitting in his chair, completely untouched by some miracle while the van looked like it had taken a 106mm round. One of the radios that were on the left wall had taken the full brunt of the lightning blast and flew across the van, about a foot in front of Ray’s nose and flew right thru the wall and into the compound. Everything in the van was fried. Ray’s leg key was fused.
The only damage to him, again by some miracle was his hair was completely standing on end, like you see in one of those cartoons. None of us could believe he survived let alone was untouched. We then shut all of the fried radios down, We called it into Group HQs and they sent out the Fire Department, and later an accident investigator. He kept telling the Group Signal Officer that the van had to be on and operating to have been fried that bad. Captain Winchester, (Somehow I remember him) told the investigator, “Look at the inside of that van. If anyone was in there, we’d be peeling his carcass off the walls.”
Somebody smartly spray painted over the Batman BOHICA stencils before the investigators came out. Ivanov didn’t come out there but many of the Group Staff officers did. The S-3 pulled Hodge and me aside and asked if the van was operational when it got zapped by lightning. “Of course it was,” we said. He laughed and said, “everyone keeps saying there is no way, but I knew it…but your secret is safe with me… He then looked at the fresh spray paint over the door… he smiled. “BOHICA,” he said.