HALO - The Landing

Q™

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By a friend of mine...
Six Marines, holding hands, stagger to the end of the ramp and fall off. Six Marines, 30,000 feet in the air, traveling at 200 miles per hour step off into nothing. I am first off the edge but the Marines on either side are off the ramp before I hit the slipstream. As my legs fall below the bottom of the plane, I am hit by 200 mile per hour air. I immediately begin to decelerate but the plane continues on. The force is strong enough to pull me away from the Marines on either side. I snap into the free-fall attitude called a hard arch and begin wobbling about seeking stabilization. I can see clearly into the plane. I can see the last Marine being pulled off the ramp by the others. I can see the Crew Chief looking out at us. I can see the inside of the plane looking all nice and cozy. I think to myself, that poor dumb bastard up there just doesn't know what fun is.

Six Marines begin their decent to earth and rapidly approach terminal velocity. At this point, immediately after exit, you are all floating around bouncing into each other. There is a danger of slamming into someone and one or both of you getting knocked out so you concentrate on staying separated from each other. There is a danger of accidentally snagging someone and opening their chute or releasing gear. If your chute opens at this height, you die. Or cut away from it and land using your reserve. The separation from the team speeding earthward can put you miles away from them. You work at stabilizing your position while keeping away from each other. Not too far, it is just getting light. Besides a slight separation at this altitude can result in landing miles away from your team. Get stable. Stay close. Don't bump anyone.

Me, I have the best job. After I get stable, I start looking for a place to land. Everyone else orients to me. While the team is in free-fall, they watch every move I make. As with all Marines the guys start screwing around. Even at times like this, someone will try to flip a guy over or spin him like a Frisbee. Boys will be boys. This is fun sh*t!

I am in a good, X shaped spread. My altimeter is on my right wrist so I can watch it. I have a 2nd one on my reserve at my chest. As the altitude winds down, the air warms up quickly. I can begin to see terrain features below 20,000 feet so I start looking for a place to go. I make my adjustments slowly but deliberately so the guys above me can follow. I begin moving towards a darker patch of ground. Darker usually means less trees.

Around 15,000 feet I can actually begin to make out trees and clear spaces pretty well. I begin moving towards what should be some open ground. Looks like dried out rice paddies. Usually a good place to land this time of year. It is well past the rainy season and the ground does not shine like wet ground in the rising sun.

10,000 feet. Decision time. About 20 seconds before I have to open chutes. Got to pick a spot. I focus on what is obviously an area of dried out paddies. Several paddies in a big clearing surrounded by trees on all sides. Good open space. No sign of any villages anywhere. No smoke from cooking fires. I maneuver towards that. As near as I can tell I am not drifting from any wind and that is good. I will open towards one side of the open area so we can reach a tree line quickly.

2,500 feet. I cross both hands behind my head quickly two times. This is the signal to those above me that I am going to open my chute. As soon as they see this they each turn away from me, move slightly away, and open their chutes. I count to three then open mine. I am assured now that I will be the lowest in the stack. My chute will open around 2,000 feet. They will all be a couple of hundred feet above. As the lowest man, I pick the point to land at. Everyone else then tries to land on the same spot.

Pull the ripcord (actually a thing we call an apple which is the balled up pilot chute. You hold that out into the wind and release it. It pulls out the main chute. We are jumping a modified version of the T10 combat parachute. Highly modified with toggle controls and splits in the rear to give you more maneuverability. Also modified for free-fall non static-line deployment. It is basically a green Paracommander sporting chute, but not quite. I believe the actual nomenclature is T10-1/mod A. Referred to as the Dash One Modified, we call it a rag. It will be a few years before we get to jump squares, the ones they use now.

Parachute opens fine. I get a good, smooth deceleration and nothing comes loose or falls off. I look up and everything is where it is supposed to be. I check all my straps and nothing seems crossed or frayed. Now my next task is to pick a landing spot.

I look down and I am right off one corner of the paddy area I wanted to land in. I need to check for wind drift before I start maneuvering into the drop zone. To do this you put your boots together and look just beyond the toes. As you stare, you will see which way you are drifting with the wind. The faster you move, the stronger the wind is pushing you. You want to land facing into the wind to give you the least lateral drift when you hit the ground to prevent broken legs. I put my boots together and look over my toes at the ground.

As I am staring down at the ground, I notice a paddy berm extending from the tree line from my right out across to my left. I am just to the left of the tree line with the berm passing right under my feet. Just off the berm, jutting right out from under my right boot, there is a large log. As I stare down at the log, I notice a black smudge on the log with a yellow center. Something in my mind tells me the smudge is bad. I begin the mantra, "Please don't be a gook. Please don't be a gook. Please don't be a gook." I look at it for a few seconds, and the smudge moves! I see an arm come out from one side and go back under the yellow center.

"Holy sh*t!" I think to myself. "That's a f**king gook!"

I look around quickly and I notice that the paddy fields are separated by berms and one to my left has a good row of trees on the berm. I pull my left toggle and start to drift over towards the next field. As I turn, I keep my eye on the smudge and I start praying. "Please don't look up. Please don't look up. Please don't look up." As the smudge is passing by my right foot, the yellow center moves back, and the person under it looks up. He looks me right in the eyes!

"Oh sh*t!" I think to myself. "Please don't be Khmer. Please don't be Khmer. Please don't be Khmer." I am now down to about 1,500 feet. I can see this guy clearly. The yellow center is one of those conical hats they wear. He has pushed it back off his head. He points right at me and begins yelling. He has a red armband and is seriously pissed. He is Khmer Rouge, big time.

"Oh sh*t!" I say out loud. "Hope this mother-f**ker doesn't have a gun!" With that, the little man on the log pulls out the biggest AK-47 I have ever seen.

"Oh sh*t!" I yell. "Hope this f**ker can't shoot!"

As I am crossing down below about 1,200 feet I do one of the things they tell you not to do. I grab one riser (that is one of the four heavy straps that come up from your shoulder and attaches to the shroud lines that connect to the parachute. I grab the riser pointed toward the tree line I want to cross and I start climbing it. They tell you not to do this because this spills air out of the canopy above you at a very high rate. Climb too high and you will collapse the chute. They tell you about this in the first place so that, if you really need to, you can change your direction of travel rapidly. I now change my direction of travel very rapidly. I climb that riser until the ground is blurring past my boots. The rest of the team above me should see my change in direction and be easily able to follow me. All this time I am chanting. "Please don't shoot me. Please don't shoot me. Please don't shoot me."

That is when I hear my little friend start shooting.

The crack of a 7.62mm Soviet round going past you is a sound you will never forget. It is a harsh crack. It sounds angry and hostile. I begin to hear the crack, crack, crack of this guy firing past me. I look down and I am still short of the tree line and a good 5-600 feet in the air. As I look down I realize, if this guy hits me, he is going to hit me either in the ass or right in my nuts! Everything else is covered with gear, but my ass is hanging out making all too big a target. As I think of this I can feel my reproductive organs shrinking up inside my body. Any man who has ever been really scared will attest to the fact that gonads are retractable. Mine were demonstrating that capability.

As I am zipping along, I begin one last mantra. "Please be alone. Please be alone. Please be alone." I look back over my should and no sh*t, here comes about a hundred of these black pajama little f**kers out of the tree line behind me. They are all carrying guns and looking at me. This was one of those times when you just know you are not going to make it out. I remember thinking to myself as I was waiting to get shot in the ass, "No way. You are not gonna make it out of this one. Gonna get shot in the ass too."

"Muth-er-f**k" is all I can think to say.

I finally pass over the tree line a couple of hundred feet in the air. I am descending rapidly as the canopy was dumping a lot of air. As soon as I am past the trees, I let go of the riser and drop down. The chute reinflates immediately, but I begin to oscillate or sway like on a swing. This can pose a problem on landing but right now, it's the least of my worries. I begin pulling toggles opposite the sway to reduce it. No real consideration now for wind drift or anything else. Ground is coming up quickly and I have to get ready to do a good Parachute Landing Fall (PLF) or risk getting seriously hurt. I am still carrying a couple hundred pounds of gear and that will put me on the ground hard. The rapid decent will make it worse. As I drop below the trees I can no loner hear the bullets and my only thought is don't get injured. I do not want to be a burden on the team. We are going to have to move fast and a Lieutenant with a broken leg is no good. Can't be a leader if you can't walk. I am honestly more concerned with letting down the team than any though of bad guys shooting at me. That's the way it was. Them first. Yourself last.

Ground coming up fast. Drifting to my left. Do a left-hand, forward PLF. Feet and knees together. Knees slightly bent so your legs don't get jammed through your hips. Toes hit. Start to roll. Take it along the left side. You form a letter C with your body and roll to the left. Your legs come up over your head facing towards the parachute. Dig your heels in. Chute pulls you back up on your feet. Walk towards the chute and collapse it. Damn, I am good. Should have had a camera on that one. Release the right capewell (this is where the parachute connects to the harness at your shoulder) and the parachute collapses. Release the left and the entire parachute is disconnected from me. I am still harnessed but can not be dragged by the parachute.

I look up and see five green chutes all following me into the paddy. I am about in the center of it. I can hear firing now on the other side of the tree line I just crossed. I begin shedding gear and disconnecting harness straps. As is my practice, I hop up and down a couple of times. Seems silly, but I have seen people with so much adrenalin they did not notice they had broken a leg until they started walking. I figure if I can hop and no body parts fall off and I don't fall over, I am O.K.. All my stuff is now in a pile on the ground. Pull my helmet off and put my Rickey Recon bush hat on. Must look good you know. Web belt and harness straps get pulled out and put on next. That has all my combat gear. Then disconnect my pack with everything else I will need. Throw that in a pile a few feet away from the mess of straps I am in. When it is time to run, I will need this. Finally, my M-16 is split into two pieces in a rifle bag under my reserve chute. I pull that out. Open the bag. M-16 goes together with two slide through bolts. Pop the bolts open in the bottom half (trigger housing group). Put the top half on (barrel and receiver group) and pop the bolts back in. I carry a three magazine, taped together "Jungle Clip" in the right hand cargo pocked of my utilities. Three banana mags holding 30 rounds each. I pull that out, insert one into the magazine well of the weapon, pull the charging handle and I am ready to rock and roll. All of the above takes about ten seconds.

I step out of all the mess of parachute gear I have been standing in and walk over to where I tossed my ALICE pack. As I walk, I look up. About half the chutes are now over the tree line with all moving in my direction. Sounds of firing very distinct now. A lot of pissed off people on the other side of the tree line. Number two man is headed right at me about 20-30 feet up in the air. Number three is a little above him. Both headed right at me. I drop into a rifle range type kneeling position and sight in on the berm. It is about one hundred and fifty yards away. My right hand grabs the pistol grip of the M-16. Marine Corps Creed. "This rifle is mine. I will know it as I know myself." No need to look. Right thumb finds the selector. One click down moves it from Safe to Semi. Alright. Ready to go.

There is a certain calm that comes over you when you know you really don't have a snowball's chance in hell. I clearly remember feeling that way at this point. I had resigned myself to this being the end. I remember to this day thinking, "I am going to take as many as these bastards with me as I can." I had given up any thought of trying to get away. No way in hell was I going anywhere.

I also remember clearly thinking I was the first man on the ground. I had to give as much of a chance to the guys still in the air as I could. The way we were all geared up, nobody was doing a John Wayne and pulling any weapons out in the air to return fire and defend themselves. If you screwed up and dropped something, the little buggers would not give it back to you. I remember telling myself I had to put some fire out to get the gook's heads down until these guys could get on the ground. The berm at the edge of the paddy was about two feet high. From where I was I could shoot over it. But it was overgrown with brush and trees. If I shot into them, the rounds might not go through.

"Well, here we go" I though to myself. I focused on the center of the berm. I knew the Khmer were spread out on the other side. I put one round over the berm, into the tree line, about a foot above the dirt. If it came out the other side, it would be right about waist high. I shifted a little to the left and fire again. A little right of center and again. Back to the left and again. Right again. Left again. I fired into a pattern that I visualized would produce a cone of fire into the other paddy about waist high and into the center of the group I had seen. No idea if it was working, but I had to do something.

As I had begun firing, I lost all visual contact with the guys in the air. Training for a hot DZ called for each man to land in turn, get out of his parachute harness and into his gear, then come up on line in patrol order with the lead man. I do remember thinking at one point, "I hope those f**king guys see me and don't land over the next tree line." But I didn't look up. I stayed sighted on the berm in front of me waiting for the first little critters to appear.

After about ten rounds, I see Staff Sergeant roll up on line about twenty feet to my left. Now there are two of us on line firing at the tree line.

After I emptied out the first magazine I pulled the jungle mag out and flipped it to quickly insert the second one. While doing so I looked around for a moment. There were four of us on line including Green, the radio operator. Someone had an M-203 too. He put a 40mm grenade round into the tree line.

"Green" I yelled to the radio operator about ten feet to my right. "Call the f**king bird. Tell them we are in deep sh*t and need immediate extraction. Tell them we will be moving West and the extraction bird can pick us up on the extraction push." Hopefully. If Billy boy was an Air Force Pilot of his word, he was about half way through the orbit I had asked him to make before he left the area. If he was, he should easily pick up our call for help and could quickly relay back to the base. It was the best and fastest way for us to get out of here. It would take about two hours for the extraction chopper to reach this point. I really thought they would be about an hour and fifty minutes late. But the job was the job and that was what the manual said you did. Without answering, Green was on the handset and dials doing his thing. I saw one last man just touching down in the paddy fifty yards or so to his right.

Machine Gunner rolled up next to me at that point. "This f**king sucks, L.T.!" was all he said. Young kid. Big ears. Red hair. Looked like Opie from The Andy Griffith show. He was a virtuoso with an M-60. As he was dumping his gear I noticed fire coming from the berm. Our little friends were definitely there.

All along the dark area just above the berm and below the low branches I could see Christmas lights twinkling. The first few quickly grew into a lot. A whole god damned bunch. As the lights twinkled, I could feel sh*t going past my head. I could feel the air compress as those little commie rounds ripped past me. "Here we go." I thought to myself.

M-60 was putting a belt into his weapon when I turned back to the berm and the little Christmas lights. Now I had a target. Pick a twinkle light. Sight in. Put one, two , three rounds at it until it stopped twinkling. Find another light. Sight in. One, two, three, four and it stops. Next light. One, two, its out.

Damn, M-60 cranks up. Any grunt will tell you, the sound of an M-60 firing in your support is a warm and wonderful thing. I love that gun. M-60 starts chewing the berm and tree line to pieces. Two M-203s are working now putting grenades straight into the tree line. Three M-16s including mine adding their voice to the noise.

M-60 sweeping back and forth. Point man to my left pumping grenades into the left side of the tree line. Rear point has the second blooper and is pumping grenades into the right half of the line. Dirt, branches, and everything swirling around the trees while twinkle lights keep twinkling. I am still firing semi auto and I am into the last mag in the jungle clip. 90 rounds out. I have six more mags for another 180 rounds then a bandoleer of 200 rounds but I would have to reload the magazines. Don't think I'm gonna have the chance. The noise is tremendous at this point. No sense trying to talk to Green to see if he got through, no way to hear each other.

Fourth magazine in my weapon. Back to work. One, two three, next light. One, two, next one. I keep waiting for the push to come. Only a matter of time. Eventually they will come off that berm like a wave. They will push out into the field and close the range to hose us with those AK's. Any second now. We have literally blown half the berm down as well as a good portion of the trees but the little yellow bastards are still there. Still the Christmas lights. Still the sh*t whizzing past my ears. Any second one of us will go down, or two and they will start to push out on a flank. Then we are f**ked. Any second. One, two, three, next light.

Another thirty rounds and I am in to magazine number five. Half way through my ready ammo.

M-60 is yelling like crazy and sweeping that berm. It is amazing to watch that skinny kid fire that weapon from kneeling and sweep from side to side but keep his fire within twelve inches of the top of that berm 150 yards away. The M-60 has a hell of a recoil when fired off-hand that way. He is cursing like a mad-man as he sweeps.

Staff Sergeant is pointing with his arm at something and yelling at point man. He puts a 40mm grenade into something at the far end of the line. Then quickly another. Then a third. Staff Sergeant is shooting again. One, two, three, next light. I notice a grenade explode in the tree line right in front of me. I take my rifle down and I notice rear point and Green have shifted their fire towards the center. There are no more twinkle lights from their side of the line. The brush there was thinner. The black pajama boys shifted away from their area to stay in the thicker brush.

I can hear Staff Sergeant yelling now. The noise level has fallen off a lot. I don't see half the twinkle lights I saw a few seconds ago. sh*t! We are winning! We are kicking their little, yellow gook asses! Oops. One of those little gook asses just put a round so close to my head I think I pissed myself.

But this is good. The fire has noticeably slackened. We may actually have a chance.

"Roll back from the point to the tree line behind us" I yell.
I hear the echo but it is ragged and unclear.

"ROLL BACK FROM THE POINT TO THE TREE LINE BEHIND US" I yell again. This time I hear the echo clear and strong even over the firing.
I reach down and pick up my pack. I quickly swing it on. God, its heavy. No time to dump sh*t here. Do that at the tree line where we can find some cover. Gonna be a long way to run with this thing.

Point man is moving back. Staff Sergeant shifts to full auto to empty out his magazine before moving. Reload on the move. I am back into shooting at Christmas lights. One, two, next light. One, two, three, next light. I see Staff Sergeant slap M-60 to let him know it is his turn. M-60 pulls that gun close into his shoulder and holds the trigger down. I have to laugh. He is putting out ungodly fire with that weapon but his damn ears are so big they literally flap with the recoil. Humor is where you find it. He is funny looking.

I pull out magazine number six and put it in my weapon to get ready for my slap.

M-60 stands up. Slings on his pack. Picks up his weapon. Trots over to me. Slaps me and says, "See you later, L.T.." Off he goes to the tree line. The number of twinkle lights and the volume of fire is noticeably less than if was before he started.

My turn. Weapon up. Right thumb rotates the selector forward to full automatic. I start at the left end. Short bursts. Right at the point where the berm ends and the brush begins. Brush is thinner now. Much thinner. But I can see movement there. We are not alone. I work my way down the berm three to five rounds at a time. I empty out pointed out in front of Green. My pack is already on so I just have to stand up and jog to Green. I slap him on the shoulder. "Roll back to the tree line just behind us." I yell at him. He is kneeling behind his radio. It is the last thing he needs to swing on before he moves. He looks at me very business like and slaps a new magazine into his weapon. I start off towards the tree line before he starts to shoot.

Funny, but I don't feel the need to run fast. Part of it is exhaustion. Part of it is fatalism. But part of it is also a realization that we just may pull this sh*t off.

As I jog back to the tree line there is Staff Sergeant. Exposed so we can see him. But the bad guys can see him too. Ballsy guy to just stand there out in the open and point to where we are. Point man is in the tree line and has already begun a slow, sustained fire towards the berm. Staff Sergeant points to a spot in the tree line where I should head. I can not see M-60 but I know he is between Staff Sergeant and me so I can not cross to him. M-60 should be getting ready to open up any second. I don't want to be in the way. Just as I get to the berm at the edge of the paddy, he opens up again. Short bursts. Sustained rate of fire. I climb up the two or three feet to the top of the berm and turn around. I see Green already started back and rear point hosing down the berm. I kneel down and begin to pull stuff that I don't need past the next couple of hours out of my pack.

Lighten the load. If this is going to work we have to be able to move quickly now. Put some distance between us and these sorry assholes. I don't want them anywhere near where we will bring that chopper in. KR have no shoulder mounted SAMs at all, but what they can do with an RPG is amazing. A friend of mine was on a CH-53 brought down by one of them.

Everything with weight comes out of the pack. Dump all my food (except for some fruit and small stuff). Save all my ammo. My part of the RABFAC Beacon is still out in the paddy with my parachute harness. I dump the radio batteries out. I keep my cloths, maps and personal stuff. Hook the pack back together but leave it on the ground. Rifle up to my shoulder. No Christmas lights! At some point while I was going this, our little yellow brethren stopped firing. The team is now back in the tree line. Staff Sergeant is in too. Firing from us is slow but sustained.

"CEASE FIRING" I yell. "Cease firing" is echoed back.

Everything stops.

"SECURITY TO THE FRONT" "Security to the front."

"LIGHTEN YOU LOADS AND GET READY TO RUN." "Lighten your load and get ready to run."

I walk the ten feet or so to Green. "Did you get up with the Air Force?"

"Roger that, L.T.. C-130 was still on station and relayed right to Iron Horse (call sign for the CH-53s that would pull us out). They are already in the air. I have talked to the pilot. He estimates two hours to extraction."

Damn I feel good. "Great!. Get ready to roll and I'll give you a grid for the pick-up in a minute."

I turn around and walk towards Staff Sergeant. As I pass M-60 he is pulling gear out of his ALICE pack. He looks at me with his killer-Opie face and says, "Think those assholes are gone, L.T.?"

"f**k no" I say. "Keep your eye on that tree line."

I walk on past him to Staff Sergeant. He is just putting his pack back together. This is a dangerous time. We have to regroup and get ready to move. We need to stop shooting so we can plan and, just as importantly, see if the KR are still shooting at us. Can't fight them if you can't find them. Right now, we can't see anything. They could be moving around a flank. They could have pulled back and have another unit moving in behind us (they have radios too you know). They could have called it a day and gone back to their rice and fish guts for breakfast. Could be a lot of things.

Staff Sergeant stands up to talk to me. He never takes his eyes off the tree line. "This sucks, L.T.. Where'd they go?"

I don't answer, I pull out my map. I get down on one knee. So does Staff Sergeant. It takes me a couple of minutes to figure out where I think we are on the map. In the mean time, Staff Sergeant offers some words of encouragement to the men while they are getting ready to move. "Green I swear to God if you drag ass on this run I will cut your throat myself. You better not have one ounce of extra sh*t in that pack."

"No problem Staff Sergeant" is the quiet reply.

"Staff Sergeant, I have us here. I figure in two hours we can make it to this junction of this stream and river easy. We can find a clear spot when we get there or the bird can pull us out of the water."

He takes about ten seconds looking at the map and thinking about what we will have to do. "Sounds good, L.T.." He says as he hands me back the map. He is not my original Staff Sergeant but we have been out on several ops together. I am good with a map and he knows it. But he is good too. We always check each other's work. Why not? Better to be safe then completely lost in bad guy country.
I mark the spot on the map with a grease pencil I keep in my map case. I figure out the eight digit grid coordinate for pick up to give to Green to tell the extraction bird. While I am writing, I hear Staff Sergeant say to no one in particular, "Will you look at this sh*t."

I look at him. He is looking out across the paddy. I look where he is looking and I see about fifty black clad KR, in line, coming down off the berm and moving out into the field. Can they be that f**king stupid? We were just firing from here a minute ago. Come up on a flank or send just a team out to probe us. Just walking all those guys out in the open is crazy.

I am bunched up between Staff Sergeant and M-60. I remember all those old war movies where the guy keeps saying "Hold it, hold it, let them come one in." Bull freaking sh*t! "ENEMY TO THE FRONT!" I yell.

If there is an echo, I don't hear it. Everybody opens up on that crowd. The front of the berm behind them literally explodes with 40mm grenades, 7.62mm machine gun rounds, and a blizzard of 5.56 NATO. It is rock and roll for about ten seconds.

When it stops I yell "RALLY ON ME!" It is echoed back clearly.

I look at the berm and everyone is gone again. I see some pajamas on the ground but just a couple. The rest have vaporized. No fire is coming from their tree line.

Everybody bunches up on me and quickly take a knee. I have my compass out and point due west. "Point, take this direction straight for about two klicks. After you cross over a real steep north to south finger, we will rally on the west side at the bottom. RALLY ON THE WEST SIDE OF THE NORTH SOUTH FINGER." This last is delivered in a stage whisper. No sense tempting fate. "Rally on the West side of the North South Finger" is stage whispered back.

And we are off.
 

Q™

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Yeah, waiting on part 2. .......
First, the prelude to the previous story...

Of all the things I have done in my life, parachuting was the best. Naval Aviators have a saying that sex is the second greatest feeling a man can have, the first being a successful carrier landing. I can understand their perspective. Parachuting, not just free - fall but the whole experience, can not be matched by any experience on earth.

I love parachuting. It's not just that I enjoyed it, I was good at it. Really, really good at it. I was as good with a parachute as I was with a rifle. I am really, really good with a rifle. Put the two together and it was preordained that I would be in Marine Reconnaissance and I would get the missions that involved parachuting. After a couple of check-out jumps, I was assigned to the Deep Reconnaissance Platoon of Alpha Company, Third Recon Battalion, Third Marine Division. Back in the day, we did a lot of wild stuff.

While operating in support of Fleet Marine Force Pacific assets supporting operations of the Royal Thai and Cambodian governments, I received the previously described Five Paragraph Order. This is the way orders are issued to people on missions like this for the most part. Hollywood rarely shows the amount of time and planning that goes into something like this. Some guy stands up in a briefing room and delivers a two minute speech or, sillier yet, someone walks up to a team onboard an airplane and tells them everything they need to know in thirty seconds. Bull. The paperwork alone takes a day to fill out. You don't put a C-130 in the air for something like this without having AWACS advised, rescue advised and extraction teams on alert. You might need fighters up to escort and that means tankers on station. That's just the plane.

Grunts doing something like this mean hundreds of pounds of stuff. Most closely controlled. Radios, weapons, ammunition, food, medical supplies. Each item needs its own document to the right person to permit release to the man who needs it. It kills me to watch a team getting ready for a life threatening insertion to receive a one minute brief on an airplane just before they jump. Those poor guys wouldn't have taken half the stuff they needed without knowing the mission before hand and planning, planning and more planning to make it work.

As a grunt, you don't carry ANYTHING unless you need it. You don't know what you may need until you plan your operation. Yeah, sure there are some short fuse rescue operations done very quickly. But those are rare and normally have already been rehearsed by the team that's doing it. One of a kind missions require one of a kind planning. Don't get me wrong, you may only have a few hours to plan something out, but your life depends on planning so you do as much as you can.

I received a five paragraph order like the one I described around 8:00 in the morning one day. That was a set briefing time for team leaders to receive their next job. You might have a day or two to get ready but you rarely went out the same day. You also might get called at any time depending on what was happening. While I was being briefed, the team would be cleaning weapons and prepping the standardized gear that always went with us. I would take about an hour to get my thoughts together and pull some maps of where we were going. I would meet with the NCOIC of the team to talk to him around 9:00 AM. We would look over the maps and review everything we thought we had to be prepared for. He would then go back to the team and get them started on pulling and prepping the gear we needed for the mission. SCUBA missions took the longest to stage and prep. Rappelling inserts were cumbersome too. HALOs really did not require a lot of additional work but you had to coordinate with the Para Loft to get your gear. We never took Cargo Containers, which were large bags you could "fly" with you on a drop. Everything we took, we attached to ourselves. We didn't use the Drop Bags the Army Airborne guys used either. When landing near trees, they could really mess you up. If we needed it we somehow secured it to ourselves and jumped with it that way. After you added about two hundred pounds of gear to yourself, you were guaranteed a good, hard landing when you hit the ground. You only took what you needed.

I would then write a five paragraph order for the team. A copy of this would go to Battalion S-3 (Operations) and S-2 (Intelligence) to insure I was covering all aspects of the mission and to insure thy knew what was going on. All of this had to be done and distributed by noon so I could meet with the team for lunch (the toughest part was getting an admin clerk to type it all up for you on an IBM Selectric typewriter so everyone could read it).

Normally, teams prepping for insertion would draw sandwiches and stuff and meet in a planning room for lunch and to discuss what we were doing. It was at this point that every person on the team learned of the mission. There were six of us. It was Recon theory that any one man should be able to complete the mission. Everyone had to know everything and understand the entire operation. Marines being who they are, that meant questions. Recon being who they are, that meant arguments. Everything was debated and discussed. Everybody brought all their stuff to these meetings. Weapons (but no ammo) and everything else was laid out and arranged as you would jump. You could get to a point where you just couldn't carry anymore. Then you had to decide what you left behind. Mission critical stuff had to go. Everything else was open to debate. I COULD carry an M-16 (my weapon of choice after having learned some lessons) and a 45. But the weight of the 45 and 100 rounds of ammunition made it redundant. Exchange that weight for one radio battery and some food. We carried four canteens each, but might jump with them empty depending on where we were going. A stream nearby meant we could water-up after landing but all water was polluted (isn't that something) so you had to have Halzone tablets and that meant Cool-Aid too to kill the taste.

Everybody participated in team decisions and then made their own personal choices under the watchful eye of Staff Sergeant Brown. Draw C-Rations for the operation and then open them all up and take out all the stuff you didn't need. The amount of trash in those things is amazing. Figure on two meals per day reduced meal weight by one third. That also allowed you to ditch the ham and lima beans everyone hated. Trade stuff you didn't like for stuff you did (anybody want pork slices? I can't eat this shit). Lay your stuff out on the floor and keep talking. What about this? What about that? Anybody think of this? We were a good, experienced team. We thought about a lot.

All planning in the military is done backwards. That is not a joke. Start with the end result of the mission, then work backwards. Where is the target? How should we approach on the ground? When should we approach. What is the last rally point before the target? What time do we get there? How long should we stay there. To be there at that time where should we approach from? How long will the approach take. Where can we insert with the least opportunity of being discovered? How thong from there to target? When do we need to land to be on time. Is that a good time of day to land? You work yourself backwards to a point where you plan the jump. Having done this several times, I had learned you jump at dawn. "Jump at sunrise, land at dawn" was the phrase. We did not have all the night vision stuff currently in use. We had a big hogger thing called a Starlight Scope we used but you couldn't use it while landing. You had to be able to see the ground to land safely in jungle. Especially on a HALO (High Altitude, Low Open) jump. The theory was the plane would fly high enough to not be seen or heard. You would fall from the sky silently and land just as it was light enough to see the Drop Zone (DZ). Once down, go on your merry way to cause whatever mischief you desired. Our timing was set to allow us to land at dawn, move cautiously during the day to a point where we would wait until nightfall for our final approach to the area we were to observe. Plenty of time to cover the ground. Nice thing about HALO inserts were they were quiet. No noisy chopper to catch everyone's attention. HALO allowed you to get real close.

The weather guys in S-2 told gave us a landing time of about 4:30 AM. Giving about three minutes for free fall and another couple in the parachute we would jump around 4:25. Air Ops gave us a two hour flight time with an additional 30 minute fudge factor. That put wheels up at 1:55. Thirty minutes to chute up. Thirty minutes to draw weapons and ammo and gear. That put us at the armory at 12:55 AM. 45 minutes for breakfast. 30 minutes for our morning toilet. 10 minutes fudge factor again. That put reveille at 11:30 PM with all hands expected at the mess hall at midnight. Beddie bye time was 3:30 PM but considering it was already noon by the time I issued the Team Five Paragraph Order and we all had about six hours worth of work to do, that wasn't happening. Who can sleep at 3:30 in the afternoon anyway. Ah shit, sleep on the plane.

Duty NCO sends somebody around at 11:15 PM to get me up. Can't sleep anyway. Get up. Check my personal gear for the 20th time and move to the mess hall. Ten to midnight and everyone is there already. One team coming back and a couple more going out makes for some stories before we all sit for breakfast. I eat breakfast with the team but not much. I learned before that the bravado of eating a hearty meal was quickly dispelled by a hearty :puke: on missions like this. I have a bad stomach to begin with and putting a pile of greasy mess hall food into it is NOT the thing to do. Eat light. No coffee! No restroom on a C-130, just a little open urinal at the back of the cargo compartment. Try not to piss on the floor as the plane bounces around and wonder what to do if you have the runs.

Start the program. Draw all security gear (radios, starlight, grenades, claymores). Draw weapons and ammo. Draw chutes. Move by six-by to the flight line. Stand outside where it is cool and start gearing up under the lights. Get the team started and go inside to check with Flight Ops. Meet the pilot. Young Major on his third tour. Loves it here. The Air Force will be providing service this evening so it is all Mike and Bill. No rank or sirs. I didn't ever learn to like or understand that but I had learned that's what got the job done. "Hey Bill, think you can give me one orbit of the DZ before we release?" "Sure Mike, no problem. Weather's great and threat indication is zero." Nice guy. Hope he means it.
Back out to the flight line and Staff Sergeant Brown is starting to preflight the team. We get totally suited up for the jump to make sure we are 100% even though we have gone over checklists probably five times at this point. Each man gets completely ready including the Staff Sergeant and I. He checks me. I check him. We are all totally ready to go. It will be about 15 to 20 minutes before we can get on the plane. Everybody sits down on the flight line (a funny thing to watch by itself) and waits for the Stewardess to come tell us it is time to load. Every minute we wait we feed mosquitoes. Even with government issued bug juice, the things are huge. Can't go into the nice air conditioned hooch because of all the explosives we have. "Clear All Weapons Here" signs mean stay outside to us. "Bill" is ahead of schedule and ready for us to board soon so the wait is not bad. Watching us get up is funnier than watching us sit down. Waddle out to the aircraft.

Standard Operating Procedures at the time allowed for the jumpers to be brought on board before engine start. Not a big thing but it made the waddle to the plane a little easier. We stagger our way up the ramp and drop onto the web benches put in place for us. We are all there is on the plane so the seats are set up all along both sides but nothing down the center. Crew Chief and his assistant have to help us strap in. While we are strapping in the pilot starts cranking up the engines. Gas turbine engines make an ungodly noise. Once the props start turning it is almost impossible to talk without putting your mouth next to the ear of the guy you are talking to. Another Hollywood bit of foolishness. Discussing a mission inside a C-130 in flight is just impossible unless everyone is on headsets. We sit quietly by and do nothing but sweat while the Crew Chief and pilot get the aircraft ready to go. We stay all suited up and ready to jump until we are up at cruising altitude. Anything goes wrong, we are out of that airplane!

Nothing exciting happens and we make our way up to about 30,000 feet. Up here we are not even a speck in the sky. The yellow devils do not have radar covering the area we are go to. Those who can see us will assume we are just a cargo flight. About 20 minutes or so into the flight we can loosen up some gear and begin to paint our faces. Even though the temperature will be will above 90 degrees on the ground, we will operate with our sleeves rolled down and gloves on. Protection from scratches and bugs is as important as protection from the bad guys.

Like I said, you can't talk much to each other so mostly we all sleep or try to. Crew Chief gives us time to the drop zone in 30 minute increments. Hour and a half out. 60 minutes out. 30 minutes out. Time to go back to work.

At 30 minutes out we begin to make sure we are all geared up properly again. We go through our final equipment checklists one last time. Now there is something new. We need to put on oxygen masks as the cabin will be depressurized. No air at 30,000 feet. Crew Chief comes around and passes out the masks. There is a headset with mine so I can talk to the Crew Chief and the pilot for last minute information. The other guys just put their masks on and concentrate on breathing. It is called "Oxygen Saturation." Those of you who dive may recall it. You put as much oxygen into your system as it can possibly absorb. There is a reason for this. Seems the military safety group that regulates how you do this stuff can not decide if we should jump with oxygen tanks on our bodies or not.

Technology at the time allowed for small (10 minute or so) bottles of oxygen to be attached to our harness and we can breathe from them during free fall. In practicality, it was a pain in the ass to switch from aircraft oxygen to your own bottle five minutes before you jumped. It had caused some problems on other jumps. Reality was that you could breathe the oxygen from the plane until you jumped. Then the speed of your fall (terminal velocity was about 300 mile per hour) actually pushed enough thin air in your face to keep you fine until you got down to around 15,000 feet where you didn't need it anymore (regulations require oxygen above 10,000 feet but you are moving so fast 15,000 is just fine). For the minute or less it took you to get from 30,000 feet to 10,000 feet, you could hold your breath. Or just breath normally, no big deal.

Rumor among us grunts was that the Navy was pissed at giving oxygen rigs to us. They normally were included in pilot survival gear so a pilot punching out at high altitude would not pass out from lack of oxygen. The rigs were not cheep. As it was our practice to bury all the stuff we used just for jumping when we hit the ground, someone at the DoD had figured out we were burying tens of thousands of dollars of perfectly good pilot survival gear all over Asia. Somebody else decided to tell the Marines to buy their own stuff if they were just going to throw it away. Defense budgets were tight and the Navy saw no reason to absorb the expense. Marine Aviation did a study and said shit, grunts don't need oxygen for the couple of minutes they are in free-fall. They were not going to give up there stuff either! Use oxygen on the plane, drop your masks on the way out. No big deal. Grunt units couldn't afford to buy poncho's let alone expensive stuff like that. Where was all that bloated Military-Industrial Complex money everyone kept talking about?

In the 12 to 15 HALO jumps I did, I only used oxygen a couple of times. Those were training jumps done where the gear could be turned back in.

Anyway, we are all wearing our masks breathing aircraft oxygen getting ready to go.

About 20 minutes of from the DZ, the Crew Chief tells me through the intercom he is depressurizing the cabin. I roger that and make the sign of pulling my finger out of the fist of my other hand. Taking the cork out of a bottle. Everybody gives me a thumbs up back. You start to get a little nervous now. If your mask is not on right, or if the Air Force crap is broken, you may pass out. Worse yet, you may not pass out and begin doing stupid stuff from oxygen deprivation. One of the stories we talk about is the grunt who's mask wasn't sealed good. He got silly from lack of oxygen and started playing with a hand grenade. Pulled the pin and woops! Scratch one C-130. Air Force knew how it happened cause the Crew Chief saw it and was blown out of the plane. He had his parachute on and told a rescue controller what happened. They did not get him out of the bush before Charlie got him. I guess the Air Force guys heard the same story. We had been told to get our gear adjusted before depressurization and keep our hands clear of everything once depressurization happened.

15 minutes from the DZ and we are startled by this terrible whine. Clam-shells coming open back at the rear. An audible wompf as the doors start to go up too. Now the adrenalin starts working overtime. They just put this giant fucking hole in this plane at 30,000 feet! As the clam shells go up, the ramp comes down until it is even with the floor. Looking out the back the sky is still black with some stars in it. A band of blue is along the horizon from the sun coming close to the edge. The ground is dark with no details visible. It is hard to describe what sunrise looks like from the back of an open cargo compartment at 30,000 feet.

The cabin is freezing cold now. I begin to shiver a little. Cold or nerves, can't tell. Time to get up and walk to the back of the plane. Crew Chief helps me into a safety strap at the top of the ramp. A strap goes under my reserve and pack which is strapped at my waist. I close the buckle off to my side then slide it under my reserve. That way I am certain it is closed. Next I hook into a point at the fuselage the Crew Chief points out. This is supposed to keep me from falling out. I need it because now, I walk to the very edge of the ramp and put my toes just over the edge. 30,000 feet above the ground, in a plane going about 180 knots, I'm hanging ten on a cargo ramp! Crew Chief has me by the strap (I hope). I am required by Air Force Safety Regulations to confirm that I have visually acquired the Drop Zone and I feel it is safe for us to exit.

I'm 5 fucking miles up in the air. The sun is just coming up. All I can see below me is green. I can't even tell what country I am over. I hook my hand on the fuselage and look down. I don't see any clouds. The area is getting lighter by the second, but shit, I can't tell what is below me.

"Do you have the Drop Zone, Sir?" Inquires the Crew Chief.

"Roger that." I respond in my most positive Marine Corps-ese.

We both look at each other and laugh.

We are now about 5 minutes out and the pilot comes on the intercom. The Crew Chief has been briefing him on what has been happening but he does not come on the intercom until this point. "5 minutes to drop" he states. He tells me about the weather and winds aloft and what a beautiful sunrise he can see of one wing. We talk for just a few seconds while I waddle back to the top of the ramp. He confirms he will make one orbit of the DZ at altitude after we exit. Then he is gone.

I walk back up the ramp and take off the safety belt. I give the hand and arm signal to stand up. Everybody stands. We huddle in a small group at the top of the ramp.

I give the signal to check equipment. Everybody starts going over the stuff of the guy to their right. You can't see your own stuff. Staff Sergeant Brown has checked everyone's gear already but you check again. It's your buddies life. In the Marines, that is more important than your own. Brown is checking my gear. When he is convinced all is safe he hits me on the shoulder and gives me a thumbs up.

I give the signal for sound off for equipment check. Nobody sounds off but everybody puts a thumbs up into the center of our group. I put mine out and I count six thumbs up. I pull my fist from the group and hold it at eye level. All O.K.

I turn back towards the ramp. Crew Chief looks at me and holds up two fingers in a peace sign. Two minutes. I turn back to the center and repeat the sign. Everybody else holds up two fingers. Recon training taking over now. Echo the commands so everyone knows.

We stand there and bounce a little in the thin air. I shuffle out to stand a little on the ramp. Everyone shuffles with me. We are all standing shoulder to shoulder. I can feel the guy next to me shivering and I hope I am not as bad. Damn its cold.

Crew Chief steps into the center of the ramp. He is all business now. He looks us all in the eye holding up one finger. One minute warning. He is looking to see if anyone looks screwy or could pose a hazard to the aircraft at this point. We all look him in the eye. No problems here. Time to go to work. Everybody gets set. Reach up and disconnect your mask. Hold it on your face for the last few seconds of oxygen but get the straps off and clear of your helmet. I disconnect the mask and hand it to someone while I pull off my headphones and put on my helmet. Helmet on. Mask back on my face with the headphones hanging down.

Crew Chief stomps his foot to get our attention. We look at him. He holds up his right hand with the thumb and index finger almost touching but about an inch apart. 30 seconds left. All the masks come off. We throw them over to the sides of the aircraft to keep the air lines from tripping us up. Crew Chief is on the ramp with us. He moves over to the side and grabs a fist full of airplane. There is a lighted red light just above his head. Right next to it is a green one.

We move as a group to the center of the ramp. We form a ring. Each man extends his left arm as a fist. With your right arm you grab the left arm next to you at the wrist. We stand so we can see the little red light. We all look at it including the Crew Chief. We stare at it for a long time. I start to think something is wrong.

Then the green light comes on.

The Crew Chief turns his head to the open back of the plane and extends his right arm pointing his finger out the door. "Go!" He is saying inside his mask. But we cannot hear it. We are already moving towards the end of the ramp.
 

bigredfish

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I am humbled sir........ and you're quite good storyteller ;)

Thank you for your service.
 

Q™

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And this is "what happened next" that day, in the jungle...

Wild Man Zero Zero was a Major in the Air Force. His name was something like Randy Wilson so let's just call him that. Later I would actually meet him and find out he had a wife and two children back in the States. His father had flown B-17s during World War Two. Randy would tell his father that his F-4 Phantom II would carry as big a bomb load as a squadron of B-17s. His flight of four could drop a bomb load equal to an entire Group of World War II bombers. They could do so without calling on other aircraft to protect them. They were the workhorse of the Asian bombing campaign.

But Randy was a fighter pilot. He had graduated the Air Force Academy and gone into fighters. His goal was to become an Ace, five air-to-air kills. The F-4 Randy flew was also America's foremost fighter plane. By the time he took off on this mission, he was on his third over seas tour. He had flown Close Air Support in South Viet Nam and never seen a MiG. He had flown Bomber Escort for the B-52s during Rolling Thunder over Hanoi and never seen a MiG. He had flown escort for the F-105 Wild Weasels over North Viet Nam and never seen a MiG. Now he was on what he knew to be one of the last missions of his war. The game was almost over. He had done almost three full years of sweating and straining in a cockpit and never even seen a communist plane. He had heard the controllers vector others after MiG-19s and even a few MiG-21s. Men younger than him had come back with stories of air combat and even a few kills. Every time Randy took off he insisted on AIM-9 Sidewinders on his aircraft "just in case." Today he flew with two AIM-9s and a gun pod, "just in case." There would be no MiG for Randy today.

During his pre-flight intelligence briefing Randy had been told to set his ground radio to monitor a specific frequency that some ground units were using. A large Khmer Rouge force was operating in his area and US ground forces were being put in to look for it. Randy's back seater on this flight, a young Lieutenant he did not know well, would handle that for him as well as other tasks he assigned him. Randy would fly the plane and lead the flight to a target assigned by Royal Thai Air Force planners in support of ground operations they were conducting to prevent cross-border incursions from Cambodia. The target was actually well inside Cambodia and actually selected by a joint US/Cambodian strike planning team but Utapao was in Thailand so they liked to pretend they were in control. The reality was there were so many layers of bullshit in this war it was impossible to tell who was really running anything. Just like it was impossible to tell who the good guys and bad guys really were. When Randy was told there were American ground forces out in the field, he made his mind up then that if he had the opportunity, he would do what he could to help them. At least he would be helping Americans.

When the call from Iron Hand Blue Six first came up on the net, it took a couple of minutes for Randy's back seater to pick it out of the mush he was hearing over his head set. It took a moment or two for the call sign to register. Then he listened to hear if it was repeated. When it was he alerted Randy who's personal call sign was Hound Dog. Randy selected that frequency for himself and heard the call for support. Iron Hand Blue Six sounded like a young grunt who was really in trouble. Randy vectored his Wild Man flight to the area the grunt gave him. He had been scheduled for a long flight so he had plenty of fuel and the flight was well set up on bombs (another indication that the air threat was minimal). Each aircraft carried twelve 500 pound high drag bombs and two napalm canisters. That gave them a combined bomb load of 24,000 pounds and eight cans of napalm. Add to that each aircraft had a centerline 20mm Vulcan gun pod with 1,500 rounds of ammunition. He was loaded for bear and he was glad to help out some poor, dumb American grunt who had obviously gotten himself into trouble.

As Randy settled his flight on the vector that would bring them to the aid of Iron Hand, he briefed the flight on the change of mission. There was no Forward Air Controller to talk them into the target so Randy would make the first run and control the strike himself from that point on. Nothing new for Wild Man. Just another day at the office.

"Iron Hand Blue Six this is Wild Man Zero Zero do you copy, over?"

No answer.
"Iron Man Blue Six this is Wild Man Zero Zero, do you copy, over?"

Randy's back seater asked, "Do you think we lost them Hound Dog?"

"No, I don't think so," he said. "Sometimes these ground guys have to jump frequencies on one radio to talk to everyone involved. We'll just mosey on over to that location he gave us and give us a good look-see."

It was a couple of minutes after this that Green handed me the radio handset with a quiet, "Air freq, sir."

"Wild Man Zero Zero this is Iron Hand Blue Six Actual do you copy, over?"

"Iron Hand this is Wild Man, glad to hear from ya, son. We are inbound to your position and ready take what ever target information ya'all can give us, over."

"Roger that Wild Man, do you need me to send the grid again, over?"

"Uh, negative on that Iron Hand. I have your target grid. Just give me as much information about the target as you can."

"Copy that Wild Man. Target is troops in the open. Your grid is the intersection of a North - South blue line and a Western branch. Begin your run on the North - South axis with the target at the intersection. That is the last known location of the bad guys, over."

"Roger that Iron Hand. I copy troops in the open at the intersection. I have a visual on some smoke coming from that area, is that your action, over?"

"Wild Man I do not have visual on the smoke but we have just completed a shoot at that location. Suggest you move to the smoke and eyeball for the ground contact, over."

"Roger that Iron Man. Say son, where is your location to the target, over?"

"Wild Man be advised Iron Hand is moving along the Western blue line. We are three hundred plus meters down the trail moving to an extract point approximately one klick from the intersection. Sandy is about thirty mikes from extraction, over."

"Copy that Iron Hand. We'll see if we can stick around to give Sandy a hand. I see your target and will be commencing my first run in a couple of mikes. Ya'all stay on this push for a few mikes. I'm a gonna make my run North to South with a Western pull. After I'm out I'll give a look see at where you are goin''.

"Roger that sir. Thank you much. Iron hand waiting, out."

"Nice guy." I thought to myself as I passed the handset back to Green. "Stay on this push," I told him. "Fast mover is gonna get eyes on the LZ for us after this pass."

"Aye, sir" was his response as he pushed the handset up into his helmet strap. This allowed him to listen to the radio but still left both hands free for his weapon.

We continued moving up the trail. A gentle uphill slope that kept taking us higher and higher. Brush was thinning out a little. It was easier to breath and as we were worried about more bad guys we were moving at a moderate pace. A "Walk in the park." Except for the occasional concern about someone blowing your brains out.

"Wild Man flight this is Wild Man lead. I will be making the first run here boys so keep an eye on me. Maintain your race track at this altitude. I will go in first, followed by Two, then Three, then Four. We have troops in the open so don't waste time looking for targets. Get your ordinance in and get out. Stick with the Mark 82's (500 pound bombs) until we find something good for the nape."

Each of the other pilots confirmed their understanding of their leader's instructions. This was an easy target for an experienced group of pilots. No air threat. There had not been a SAM threat observed in this area as long as they had been here. All they were concerned about was ground fire and between their speed and the trees there was almost no chance of getting hit. "The Golden BB" was the only worry they had. One lucky bullet into a vital system or one of their bodies. Chances were very slim, but there was always just a chance.

Hound Dog told his back seater to select two, Mark 82, 500 pound high drag bombs from a pylon outside of the napalm canisters. One on each side. The back seater complied and told him which button on his stick would release the bombs. Previously agreed upon routines stated that the back seater would not arm the bombs and make the release button active until Hound Dog had completed his turn to target. Arming the bombs sometimes caused an accidental release from the pylons. Doing that during a turn could cause damage to a wing or the down slanted tail of the Phantom. The pilot might also brush the release button while moving the stick (one of several on the stick could be chosen). The agreed upon practice was to set everything up before the turn. Once Hound Dog straightened out from the turn, his back seater would complete the connection by pressing the arming switch in his cockpit and state over the intercom, "The pickle (bomb release button) is hot." Hound Dog would then key his transmit button with his left thumb on the throttle and announce, "Hot and level" on his inter-plane frequency to advise his flight he was on his run so his number two man would know to watch his plane, watch for the impact of his ordinance, and watch for ground fire. Once clear of the target area, Hound Dog would climb Wild Man Zero Zero back up to 5,000 feet and get ready for his turn again while the number two man, Wild Man Zero One completed basically the same actions on his run while Zero Two watched him.

As he had done countless times before, Randy Wilson keyed his transmit button with his left thumb and announced, "Wild Man Flight this is Wild Man lead. I have visual and I am commencing my run. Follow me on in boys." With that he broke his Phantom into a 90 degree left-hand bank and gradually pulled about two and a half gees until he was coming around even with the North - South running stream. Then he rolled the big jet over onto its back and pulled back on the stick until the nose was pointing down and his canopy showed nothing but trees. A flick of his wrist and the Phantom snapped around putting the sky above him once again. His target was just above his nose and centered in his windscreen. This was second nature to Hound Dog. He had often joked he could put a Mark 82 inside a 55 gallon drum from five thousand feet. This time he would drop two Mark 82s right at the point where the stream branched West. He would be looking out at the target to the right side of the aircraft. His back seater would be looking out the left and behind. Between them they should see enough activity on the ground to direct his next plane to the main target using his point of impact as a reference.

Most likely the bad guys would be moving West down that trail towards Iron Hand. He and his flight would gradually work their way down that trail until Iron Hand told him they were close enough. Randy Wilson was cautions when it came preventing friendly fire casualties. To his knowledge, he had never caused harm to an American or friendly ground unit requesting support from him and those he lead. It was his one recurring nightmare. He had frequently brought bombs in right next to good men on the ground who needed help. He was prepared to do that again if needed. But he always made damn sure he and the pilots with him did everything they could to be cautious for the men they were here to protect. Randy Wilson never wanted to hear at a debrief that his actions had taken friendly lives. He had escaped that horror for almost three years. He did not want to change that.

The F-4 Phantom was a heavy aircraft. With a good load of bombs and full of fuel the aircraft accelerated very quickly when pointed "down hill." Even when "slick" (devoid of external ordinance) the standing joke was the jet had the glide angle of a brick. Two powerful General Electric jet engines gave the aircraft tremendous thrust for its day so the pilots loved it. Years later aircraft would develop power to weight ratios that would make the Phantom look like a turkey. For now, it was the hawk of the sky. Wild Man Zero Zero dropped like a Peregrine on to its target below.

Hound Dog watched the ground race towards his windscreen. He made minor adjustments with stick and rudder to keep the nose pointed where he wanted it. At a point training and practice had taught him was correct, he pushed the release button and felt the aircraft jump as one thousand pounds of dead weight came off. As each bomb left the aircraft, four metal paddles which had been folded down against the bomb sprang out at the tail. These four vanes, each at a 90 degree angle forming an " X " at the rear of the bomb, decelerated the bombs drastically. From a distance they appeared to stop in mid air as the jet raced on its course. Gentle back pressure on the stick flattened out the jet's dive and allowed the plane to streak along the stream bed too fast to be aimed at by the men just now hearing and seeing what was happening. Dozens of men threw themselves onto the jungle floor hoping to escape the blast from their most hated hunter. Both bombs struck within twenty feet of the center of the junction and each other. The blast was tremendous, the hard ground dispersing the blast along the jungle floor.

Hound Dog pulled his jet into a hard right hand turn just two hundred feet above the trees. As he began circling to the West, towards where Iron Hand was moving his back seater spoke up. "Holy shit Hound Dog did you see all of those people to the east. Two hundred plus, easy. Trees were full of them."

"Yeah, same on my side. Two hundred plus all moving down that trail. Looks like Iron Hand is really in some shit today." Then keying his transmit button to his flight he said, "Two, get on in here quick. Put your bombs about one hundred meters to the West of where I hit. Put them right on the stream. Three and four, you boys bring that napalm in right behind him. Three, take the right of the North - South blue line. Four, you take the left. Center your splash on the trail junction. We have little black pajama people everywhere down here."

Hound Dog was crossing just to the West of the top of the rise Iron Hand would be using as a landing zone for Sandy. He was looking at the LZ as he came around headed North and beginning to climb to altitude. "LZ has trees in it." He was thinking to himself. "Shit!" he said out loud to no one in particular. To the North of the landing zone hundreds of little black people were moving through the trees. They were about two kilometers away from the LZ but headed straight for it. Hound Dog pointed the nose of his F-4 at the sky and pushed forward on the throttles. "Sandy's got competition for them boys" he thought to himself.

"Iron Hand this is Wild Man Lead do you copy, over?"

Green took two quick steps and tapped me on the right shoulder with the hand set. "Wild Man Lead, sir" was all he said.

"Wild Man, this is Iron Hand, go ahead."

"Son, ya'all got bou-coo bad guys in that target area. Me and the boys will take care of a lot of them. When did you say Sandy was due in here?"

"About twenty mikes now Wild Man."

"Iron Hand ya'all got a large force moving down from the North towards your designated LZ. Sandy might have a little trouble with them boys when they get here. I'm gonna make a few calls and see what I can do. Can you stay on this frequency, over?"

"Wild Man, I was advised to contact Sandy about now to talk them into my position. This is my only radio so I am going to have to start shifting frequencies, over."

"Tell you what, Iron Hand. Ya'all get in touch with Sandy and I will meet you on their push if I need you. I think I can take it from here. If I need to talk to you I will make a very low pass on your LZ. If I do that, you come back on this push di-di mao, you hear me?"

"Roger that Wild Man. You make a low pass on the LZ and I am back on this push."

"Roger that Iron Hand. If I run out of stuff to drop I will make a low pass on the LZ with all four of my aircraft to let you know. You hang in their son, the boys and I will mess these folks up some and get some others in here to help out. Over."

"Thank you much Wild Man, I appreciative all the help you can give us. Iron Hand now moving to the Sandy push. Thank you much again, out."

The "crump, crump" told me his number two man had just dropped on target. M-60 had stopped on the trail in front of me. Right hand out to the side. Palm flat, pushing down slowly. He drops to one knee as I pass the signal down while keeping the handset in my right hand. Green is right behind me as we kneel together. "What the fuck, now?" I think to myself.

I hand the handset back to Green. "Sandy push, please." I say to him quietly. Without a word he starts working on his radio. I notice rear point looking at me from a kneeling position at the side of the trail behind us. He is responsible for the rear security of the team, but he must keep us in sight. With all the radio work Green and I could become distracted and might miss passing a signal. Never supposed to happen, but each man is in reality responsible for his own life so no chances are taken.

I pull my grease gun around and look back up the trail at M-60's back. "Jesus look at the ears on that boy." I think as I look at the back of his head. They stick straight out of the side of his head. Biggest damn ears I have ever seen. Funny what you focus on at times like this.

M-60 turns around and looks at me. He takes his left hand and using his index finger taps his right shoulder (signal for Lieutenant). Then he switches the machine gun back to his left hand and signals "move forward" by sweeping his right hand in an underhand motion around and up the trail.

I think to myself "this can not be good" as I start to move. I raise to a crouch and point a finger first at Green, then at me, then up the trail (come with me up the trail). Then I lean over and look at rear point. He is looking at me with huge, owl-like eyes. I point to him, I make a fist and point it upwards, then I point to the ground where I am at (you hold here where I am at). The prolonged rumble of napalm being laid punctuates my signal. Once Rear Point starts to move towards me I turn and start moving towards the front. Green a little behind me. I pass M-60 looking for Staff Sergeant. He has moved forward to Point Man. As I make eye contact with him he signals me to come up to him. About half way there I signal Green to stop and take a position on the trail. I move up to the two Marines in front of me. I kneel next to Staff Sergeant and look to see what is going on.

"We are at the LZ Lieutenant" Staff Sergeant says very quietly.

"Good." I respond. "Move out into the zone and let's get set up for Sandy."

"Point Man wants to move through the tree line around the zone to the other side. Says he doesn't like moving out into the zone with all this contact. But the side of the hill falls off sharp on the West side. It will take a while to move around to the other side."

"Staff Sergeant we have about fifteen minutes to get set up for Sandy to come in and pull us out. That fast mover just told me we have contact to the North but they are a good two klicks away from us. The gooks behind us are busy with the Air Force. Move the point up to the tree line from here and let's eyeball the LZ from there."

Point Man now leans over to me and says, "No good Lieutenant. Too much activity to take the chance. We need to stay in the trees to get to the other side."

"By the time we do that Sandy will be here and gone, you feel like walking home?" I say.

"Fuck that L. T. Too many gooks around here for me. Who knows what the fuck is in that tree line across the LZ. Them gooks from the North could have a recon team just like us in that far tree line."

"What about we move the team as far into the trees along the Western edge as we can before we cross out?" offers the Staff Sergeant.

Despite rumors to the contrary, the Marine Corps does NOT train people to be mindless automatons. The history of the Marine Corps demonstrates over and over again the value of training people to think for themselves and adjust to circumstances as they develop. That same individuality and training to think can cause a grid-lock like this. This is what officers are paid to deal with. "No balls, no bars" is the phrase. We could argue for minutes and possibly not be set up for the extraction. I could "order" the point man to move out but once he started to lead, he would eventually choose what HE felt was the best direction to take and he had already told me that. Based on two hundred years of training and research, I gave the one command guaranteed to sort things out.

"Follow me." I said. "Green, hang back with the Staff Sergeant." With that I stepped off the trail and started to move towards the LZ.

This was not bravado or bravery. This was simple leadership at its most basic. We were all tired. On the point of exhaustion. Time and again it has been proven that ANY plan, executed promptly is better than the best plan that takes too long to get started. DO SOMETHING was the key. We were locked up trying to figure out what to do. By stepping off, I got the ball rolling. Wrong or right, it was a plan. It was MY plan so I was obligated to kick it off. I stepped off into the thinning brush and began moving towards the clearing that was the LZ. I could hear the rest of the team now moving into the bush on both sides of me. At least I hoped I could. Pride, youth and fear kept my eyes straight ahead, never checking the location of the other Marines.

As I got within about three meters of the edge of the tree-line I quietly went down on all fours. I slowly and quietly moved forward towards the edge. I could hear the rumble of another napalm run as I got as close to the edge as I was comfortable. Looking to my left I could see the Staff Sergeant also at the edge of the zone. Training again, thank God. I signaled for him to push Point Man out to the left. I looked to my right and Green was right where he was supposed to be. I signaled to him to push Rear Point out to our right. M-60 now comes up behind us and moves into Staff Sergeant's position. Staff Sergeant shifts left. I wait a minute or two and watch the tree line opposite us. No movement. No sound. Quietly I raise up and move forward toward the end of the brush.

The jungle was the enemy but it was also protection. If you could not see the bad guys, they could not see you. Despite rumors to the contrary, most of the US Military learned to fight in the jungle and never abandoned its control to the bad guys. To Recon, the jungle was protection. It was a friend. It was safety. As I moved to the edge of the trees, I was prepared to step out of that protection into clear daylight. I hesitated on one knee searching the trees opposite with my eyes. Scanning left to right and back again. The grass in front of me was about 18 inches high. I had to stay on one knee to see over it. That kept my upper body above the grass and could make me visible to anyone looking this way. After a couple of minutes I had satisfied myself that there was no one in the opposite tree line. I slowly raised to a crouch and started to move forward. I stepped out from behind the last tree and waist high scrub and moved into the grass. I would be clearly visible to anyone at this point and an easy target but we had to clear the trees on the opposite side to get out of here.

Crump-crump! Two quick detonations brought me to my stomach with an audible "Shit!" Grease gun to my shoulder. Head up but blocked by grass. Then I realized, that was Wild Man blasting bad guys down the trail. I got up slowly. I looked to my left and saw M-60 looking at me with a huge grin on his face. He spit a stream of chewing tobacco juice and gave me an exaggerated thumbs up. "Hillbilly, booger eating fuck" I thought to myself.

I looked to my right. Green was focused on something off to his right not making eye contact with me. So much for ego. Recovering from my survival based embarrassment I decided moving straight across the LZ was not a good idea. I began circling the LZ to my left. The zone was about 15 meters across and about 25 - 30 meters long. Just big enough for one CH - 53 to fit in. As I moved off to my left I passed the still grinning M-60. I crossed in front of Staff Sergeant and Point Man in turn. I moved quickly along the edge of the tree-line doing a quick visual reconnaissance only. Basically, just looking into the trees to see if anyone was there.

As I moved to a point on the opposite side of the LZ, I turned and observed that Point Man and Staff Sergeant had moved out behind me and were sweeping the trees a little deeper as they came. Green and Rear Point had moved in the opposite direction and were sweeping the other side of the zone. I stopped where I was and waited for Staff Sergeant to catch up to me.

"Put M-60 and one man in that Southeast corner watching the trail. You and one man take this North section. Green and I will move to the Southwest corner and control the zone. Tell everyone when they hear the chopper, rally at my position. I'll bring the bird in at the far end of the zone. It looks flatter there and there are no trees. Bird is due in in about ten mikes so everyone stays alert and awake and ready to move."

"Aye, aye sir" he responded. Then he began moving to each man giving them instructions. I started walking slowly across the LZ to a spot I had picked out. The crumping of bombs from the F-4s and the occasional whoosh as one passed by reassured me they were still working over our little friends to the East. Wild Man was mixing up his run in headings to confuse the bad guys and make it more difficult to be fired at with AK-47s. They had worked their way up the trail we had taken but were still a good half a klick away and more.

As I walked to a point in the zone that offered shade and a comfortable place to sit I was completely exhausted. This was the end of the line. Wait for the helicopter and go home. Air Force would proclaim that overwhelming American Air Power had rescued another ground unit that had gotten into trouble. Fuck it. Just get me out of here. We had been in two good fire-fights and were low on ammunition. We were all tired and hungry. We were all down to our last canteens of water. Game was over. Time to leave. As I sat in the shade against a tree I realized how quickly I could fall asleep. As scared as I was the body's need for sleep was overwhelming. I got up and sat on a log. I could still fall asleep, but seated on a log I would slip and wake up. Got to stay awake now. Got to get that helicopter in. Get on the bird. Strap in. Sleep all the way back to base.

Green came over with that washed out look we all had. I told him to contact Puzzle Palace with a Sit Rep telling them we were at the extraction point waiting for Sandy. When he was done with that I wanted the Sandy freq. He "rogered" that and went to work. I thought about making a cup of coffee and realized I had dumped that stuff. I drank my last canteen down to the last couple of mouth-fulls. ALWAYS save some water.

Green finished up his work and dropped his pack with the radio next to me. He handed me the handset and kneeled down to pull his own canteen and a package of Cool-Aid he had saved. "Thanks" was all I said.

"Sandy this is Iron Hand Blue Six Actual do you copy, over." After a very brief delay I heard, "Iron Hand Blue Six Actual this is Razor Two Four as Sandy inbound to your location, over."

"Roger Razor Two Four this is Iron Hand, we are at the extraction point and the LZ is cold. We have bad guys approximately one klick East of our pos and friendly fast movers working that position. Wild Man Zero Zero is controlling. Wild Man advises we have movement to the North of our position also, over."

"Roger that Iron Hand. We have been in contact with Wild Man and he has given us a briefing on the area. Razor plus one remains inbound. Be advised additional air assets are also inbound at this time. Wild Man will control. You guys just be ready to move as soon as we get there."

"Roger Razor. Iron Hand is in the zone and ready to move at this time."

"Iron Hand do not pop smoke or identify your position until directed by me. Maintain your position and do not relocate unless directed to do so. Save-a-plane restrictions are in effect so do not request further fire support. Do not initiate further contact. Razor should be at your location in five mikes or less, we will contact you then. Out."

"Air Force fuck," I said out loud to Green. He handed me a canteen cup with about two inches of Cool-Aid in the bottom. "Don't fuck with the bus driver, L.T.," advised Green. "We don't need him having no engine trouble or some such shit now. Need to let that man do his thing and pick our asses up."

"Thanks for the Cool-Aid," I said. "You sure you got enough to share?"

"No problem L.T.." was all he said.

"Fucking Air Force talks to you like you are a fucking idiot. Tells me not to 'initiate contact.' No shit! They think anyone stupid enough to become a grunt just runs around shooting up the place." I looked in the canteen cup. Grape Cool-Aid. Little bits of dirt and who knows what floating in it. I took a drink and it tasted better than any wine I have ever tried. The rush of sugar and taste was overwhelming. "Damn that's good." I said out loud. Complaining about the Air Force no longer seemed important.

"That guy Wild Man seems to have called in a lot more air and shit to help us out."

"Yes sir." Responded Green. "I saw another flight of F-4s working to the North of us when I was at the far side of the LZ."

We both then just sat there. Two young men in their very early 20s. Enjoying a quiet cup of Cool-Aid on a hot summer day.

When you are a grunt you learn to use every sense you have to its maximum. The sound of a twig being snapped by a boot 50 meters away can bring you instantly awake from a sound sleep while friendly artillery does not disturb you. Lights and shadows mean different things. Smells catch your attention that you would never notice outside of the jungle. But sound becomes your greatest strength.

Most Marines can determine the size and number of helicopters long before they can be seen. Each aircraft has a different sound. Cobras make a thump, thump, thump sound. Hueys make a thumping sound but a different pitch. CH - 46s go shug-shug-shug-shug-shug. CH-53s make a steady rumbling sound that underscores their power and speed. They are big birds. They can actually perform as well or better than most attack helicopters. Their pilots are good and trained to take advantage of the power and maneuverability the helicopter has. CH-53s are the helicopter of choice for infantry units.

CH-53s configured for rescue or Recon Team work were heavily armed. A tripod mounted 7.62mm Vulcan Mini-gun was bolted to the rear ramp. When lowered to the horizontal position this covered the back of the helicopter. The crew access was through a split door just behind the pilot on the right side of the aircraft. A swing mounted mini-gun or M-60 would be mounted at the top half of that door. Another mini-gun or sometimes an M-2 (ma-deuce) 50 caliber heavy machine gun would be mounted at an observation window behind the copilot on the left side of the chopper. Typical troop mover choppers did away with the ramp mounted mini-gun and only had weapons at the two side stations. Most Air Force "Sandy" rescue choppers carried three mini-guns, each capable of putting out 2,000 rounds of ammunition per minute. A helicopter putting out over 30 rounds PER SECOND from three points at the same time can kick some serious ass. Prior to the ‘53s, the Air Force escorted Sandies with A-1E Skyraiders. These were Korean War vintage propeller aircraft that could carry an unbelievable amount of ordinance and fly slow enough to stay with the helicopters yet stay on station for hours without refueling. With the advent of the heavily armed CH-53s, Skyraiders were retired from service and the ‘53s began traveling in pairs or more to provide mutual defense.

I heard the rumble of Razor Two Four long before I could see it. The sound of a CH-53 moving flat out is unmistakable. When I heard the rumble, I stood up and swung Green's pack with the radio on to my left shoulder. I stepped out from the tree-line and stuck the hand set in the space between the buttons of my utility jacket. By cupping my hands behind each ear, I could focus the sound to get oriented in the direction the chopper was coming from . Razor Two Four appeared to be coming in from the East. I noticed the remaining four members of the team were moving towards me now, moving along the tree-line.

Well off to the East I could suddenly see the unmistakable shape and trailing smudge of a CH-53 hauling ass. It was headed off to my right, not coming towards our LZ at all. I thought at first it might be someone else's chopper so I picked up the hand set. "Razor Two Four I have a visual on a CH-53, over."

"Roger Iron Hand, that is us and we are headed into your LZ at this time over."

"Uh, Razor, the 53 I can see is headed off to my right at this time, over."

"Iron Hand, we are inbound to you and should be there in a couple of mikes. Get your people ready, over."

God damned cocky pilot could not conceive he was headed to the wrong location. How could you miss the fucking stream junction everyone else was finding all day long. He was moving steadily off to my right from a point well to the East of where we were. I pulled my map case out to try and figure out what he was looking at.

"Razor Two Four I am at your ten o'clock, over." One of the things we had been trained to do when controlling aircraft was to orient yourself to the pilot and give directions from his perspective. Grunts frequently screwed this up but a good controller who could visualize the pilot's position could make course changes easily. Unfortunately, pilots had learned to be suspect of this sort of instruction because of frequent mistakes and disorientation. Kind of like trying to drive a car backwards using only the rear-view mirror.

"You are at MY ten o'clock, Iron Hand?" questioned Razor.

"Affirmative Razor. Come right to your ten o'clock position and I will be just off your nose."

Razor Two Four banked sharply and came hard right. A little too far, but now he was pointed at my left shoulder. I held my map case up in the air and began rocking it back and forth. The plastic would flash sunlight off of it.

"Razor Two Four this is Iron Hand. I am now just a little to the left of your twelve o'clock. I am flashing a map case at you from the West end of the LZ at this time."

"Roger Iron Hand, I have you know." Razor sounded a little less insulting than he had been. Even in the middle of a fire-fight you had to be careful of pilot's egos. The important thing was he saw me now and was headed in the right direction.

"Iron Hand, we will make a high speed pass over the landing zone to check the area out. After we make our pass we will come back in to pick you up. Keep your people ready. We have boo-coo bad guys in the area and we want to depart as quickly as possible, over."

"Iron Hand copies Razor. I will remain standing in the LZ and I will call a break when you are over my head."

Click-click was all I got back from Razor. That was Air Force speak for I heard what you said but I am too busy to talk. It was a way pilots communicated with each other and an indication that Razor no longer considered me just another dumb grunt he had to pull out of shit.

Everyone was together now. I said to no one in particular, "Give me a loose 360 perimeter here. Chopper will make a quick pass then come in to pick us up. We go when the chopper is on the ground." Once the helicopter is in the zone it is just too noisy to talk. Despite what they show in the movies, if you are inside a helicopter you can not hear unless you are yelling at the top of your lungs right into someone's ear or plugged into the intercom system wearing a headset. Outside, within a hundred feet or so of the aircraft, it was just as bad. Wind, rotor blade noise, turbine engines all combined to make verbal communication impossible. Again, training covered most of what we would do. Just a couple of comments was all that was needed.

Razor Two Four was screaming towards our LZ at this point. The Phantoms had pulled back to give him room but were still working their areas. I still had not seen the second ‘53 but assumed he was out there somewhere. Razor Two Four dropped below my line of vision when he was a couple of hundred meters away from us but continued to close on our position. I stood in the open with my map case in one hand, my radio in the other, Green's pack and radio over my left shoulder and my grease gun over my right. Floppy bush hat on my head. I looked every inch the cocky Recon Marine I truly was and I hoped these Air Force pukes realized what a privilege it was to pick our John Wayne asses up at the end of a long day.

Razor Two Four popped over the tree-line at the edge of the zone pointed right at me. Screaming at 200 knots right at my face. I could clearly see both pilots with their hands on the controls and a crewman leaning out each side of the aircraft. I put the handset up to my mouth and shouted, "Break, break" just as he was passing not twenty feet over my head. That big helicopter rotated 90 degrees onto it's right side instantly. The crew chief, whose body was now horizontal to the ground, looked down at me through his green visor and gave me a casual as could be wave of his right hand. I waved back with my map case but that big green monster was already past me pulling up hard and to the right. The responsiveness and power of that helicopter is truly amazing in the hands of a skilled and gutsy pilot.

Razor Two Four shot out to the West turning North and went behind the trees again.

"Bus is here," said someone from the perimeter.

"About fucking time, too," said Staff Sergeant. "Patrol order on to the bird with L.T. leading. That what you want sir?" was the suggestion/question.

"That's fine Staff Sergeant. I'll count noses as we board the bird." Everyone started to put the finishing touches on their gear. I put Green's pack down and put my stuff back on. I walked back to Green's pack as he was finishing putting his gear away. He put the pack on and handed me the handset. Everyone else was sitting or laying down waiting for the bird to land.

"Iron Hand this is Razor Two Four. That zone is marginal. We are equipped to perform a SPIE Rig extraction, can you comply, over?"

What the fuck now? I could hear the steady crumping of F-4s but I had not seen one for some time. Gooks could not be that close. The LZ had some small trees in it but the space at this end was clear. Grass on the zone made it hard to determine if there were holes or stumps in the zone that could mess up a helicopter but I did not think it was that bad. Anyway, I had learned, when the chopper jock asked you to do something he wasn't really asking. Not if you didn't want to have to walk home that is.

"Razor this is Iron Hand, be advised we are negative on SPIE gear, over."

"No problem Iron Hand, we are equipped and Razor Two Two will drop off the gear you need. Retrieve the gear and advise when you are set up, over."

"Copy that Razor. Request that Two Two make the same run in you did. Also request that he drop the gear in the center of the zone. Over."

"Copy that Iron Hand. Razor Two Two is inbound on the same course as our fly-by. He will drop in the center of the zone. Advise when you have the gear and when you are ready for extraction, over."

"Thank you Razor. Standing by, over."

"Shit" I said out loud. The want a SPIE extraction. They say the zone is marginal. I don't know why but no sense arguing. 2nd 53 will drop harnesses in the center of the zone."

To the sound of various negative comments Staff Sergeant told Point and Rear Point to get the gear when it dropped in. We all started to take our 782 web gear off.

Special Patrol Insertion and Extraction equipment consisted of a heavy, multi- layer nylon strap that was attached to a helicopter either at the central lift point or a winch. The strap had up to twelve connection points. Each person wore a "Swiss seat" that was a nylon strap harness similar to a parachute harness but with a connecting point at the back between the shoulder blades. Using a mountain climbing piece of equipment called a "Snap-link" each infantryman hooked his harness to a connection point on the main lifting strap. Infantrymen connected in pairs, side by side, and lifted off the ground external to the aircraft as the helicopter picked up the load attached to the strap like cargo. Supposedly it permitted helicopters to quickly extract teams from poor landing zones without having to risk landing. It was really cool to watch and fun to do in training, but as the men were all outside the helicopter and completely exposed to both ground fire and the elements it was very dangerous for them. As part of our basic load each of us carried a short length of nylon rope that could be tied into a Swiss seat and would work almost as well (except for a tendency of this method to permit people to turn upside down and fall out). This was used mostly for rappelling. Most of us had dumped that equipment when we lightened our load. To a bunch of tired men who could not see why that big bird could not just land in front of us and let us walk on, it was just one more fucking pain in the ass thing to do.

Razor Two Two came over the tree-line as expected but traveling much slower than Razor Two Four had. The crew chief was holding a sea bag outside the airplane on the starboard side and just dropped it as he crossed the center of the Landing Zone. A red streamer was tied to it and made it easy to follow to the ground and locate. Two Two continued on its way out the opposite end of the zone and broke right as his leader had.

"Razor this is Iron Hand, we have the equipment, over."

Click-click was the answer.

The two appointed Marines ran out into the zone with their weapons and each picked up an end of the seabag. They ran back to our group, opened one end, and dumped the gear out. Each of us picked up a one-size-fits-all harness and began adjusting straps to fit. Put a snap link through the connection point and loop it over your right shoulder. Hook the snap link to a pocket. Put your 782 (deuce) gear back on. Put your pack back on. Get everything adjusted. Make sure your nuts will stay out of the crotch straps when you are lifted (I'll tell you all a story about that some day). Sling your weapon over you head and right shoulder so you will not drop it but can still shoot. We had all trained in this. No one talked. We did what we needed to do. Each man checked someone else. Staff Sergeant and I would be the bottom pair so we checked each other.

"Razor this is Iron Hand, we are ready for extraction, over."

"Iron Hand this is Razor Two Four. Move to the center of the zone. We will pick you up at that point. We are bringing Wild Man in closer to your pos for suppression. Wild Man and Broadsword will be working the parameter as we pick you up. Once in the zone we will not respond to radio traffic so if you have any other messages send them now, over?"

Why were they bringing in Wild Man for suppression? Who was Broadsword? Wouldn't things be a little crowded with jets and choppers in that small an area? Who gives a shit, time to go.

"Roger that Razor, Iron Man is ready to extract." All I said to everyone was, "Move to the center of the zone, they'll pick us up there."

Adrenalin rush again. Going home. SPIE rig flying was exciting in itself but as the end to a day like this? We situated ourselves in a small 360 parameter. Everyone up on a knee to see over the grass. Not really worried about bad guys at this point. Ready to go.

Here comes the bird. In from the East again. Pilot hauls back on the stick and the nose points up at a 60 degree angle killing the forward velocity of the aircraft and bringing it to a hover just ten feet over our circle. Down drops the lifting strap. Pilot then walks the strap towards us. Point and Rear Point are the closest to the strap and pick it up. They quickly find the bottom and pass it to Staff Sergeant and I. Gail force winds and roaring engine noises make it impossible to speak and blow everything that isn't nailed down around the zone. Dust and debris quickly dissipate and we are left with just a powerful wind that will blow you out of the zone if you do not pay attention.

Staff Sergeant and I hook in. Radio and M-60 are behind us and hook in. Point and rear point are behind them and hook in. We each cross check our little group. Everyone looks at each other and puts their right fist into the center of the group with a thumb up. I nod my head and face out extending my left arm with a thumb up. Staff Sergeant is to my right. We link arms and he extends his right arm, thumb up. This is repeated by each pair until the six of us stand, facing West, the same direction the nose of the helicopter points. Two by two, arm in arm all thumbs up. We look up and see the Crew Chief who has been leaning out the side door watching us. When he sees all six thumbs up, he gives us a thumbs up. Then he reaches for his push-to-talk button on his chest, presses it and tells the pilot to lift. The pilot applies power and pitch through the collective while pushing a little on his left rudder pedal to counter the torque and keep us pointed West. The wind and roaring which have been overwhelming become like a cyclone in their power. "Elevator going up" I think to myself. First two men pop up off the ground. Arms extended hanging on to each other for stability. This is how we will ride to a point where the pilot decides to land and take us inside. The extended arms stabilize us in the wind. Up pop Radio and M-60. Green has a big smile on his face and M-60 is wahooing like a cowboy. As their feet come level with our chests Staff Sergeant and I turn to face front and prepare to lift.

O.K., here we go.

O.K., here we go.

Uh, let's go.

Let's go.

"What the fuck?" I look up. Green's and M-60's boots are at my shoulder. The smile on Green's face is gone. Everyone is looking up. I look at the Crew Chief and he is looking down at us. His face is covered by the green visor and boom microphone over his lips. He looks like some green faced alien and I cannot see his face to read his expression. His hand is on the push to talk and he is talking. Engines roaring but nothing happening. I am totally confused. I am out of it. What the fuck is going on?

The four Marines above me are looking around. I look at Staff Sergeant and his eyes are locked on Crew Chief. I look back up at Crew Chief. His hand is off the push to talk and on the right side of the door. Green tracers start crossing over the top of the helicopter. Green tracers mean bad guys. Our tracers are red. I look back at Staff Sergeant and he slowly raises his M-16 up. He points it towards Crew Chief. At this point I realize with a clear and calm certainty that I am going to die. There is no way out of this. I don't know what happened but the world has turned to shit and I am going to die. Above the head of Crew Chief, in the blur of the rotor blades I see a face. It is the face of a thirty year old, bearded, hippy looking guy. He is laughing. "What the fuck is so funny about me dying?" I think to myself. The face in the blades just continues to laugh and shake his head. I don't care. I'm a dead man. Dead men have no worries.

Crew Chief doesn't move and grabs the push to talk button again. The stinger (mini-gun at the tail) starts returning fire off to the North. Crew Chief never leans back inside the chopper. Staff Sergeant keeps his weapon pointed up. Crew Chief leans out further and extends his right arm. He extends two fingers, index and middle, and begins making a walking gesture with the two fingers to us. Two fingers back and forth means one thing but it makes no sense. That is the gesture for walk or run. Usually it is given when they want you to move to the aircraft. Running legs, what the fuck does he mean?

Right about now the Staff Sergeant starts wahooing like a crazy man. The tail gunner is hosing out rounds in a steady stream. Port side gunner (who I cannot see) starts shooting into the tree-line to the South and works back East down the trail. Crew Chief grabs his mini-gun and starts hosing the Northern tree-line towards the green tracers now coming from two or three locations. I look up and everyone is firing. Brass from the mini-guns is literally pouring down from the helicopter. Bright, shining brass pouring down. "Golden shower" I think to myself. I am being pissed on by some giant flying Air Force fucking monster and my brain is not registering a thing.

Staff Sergeant jars me. He has dropped his pack. He has thrown his weapon away. He is wahooing like a lunatic and begins to tear his utility jacket off through the lifting harness. He is a muscular guy and the shirt is loosening. It is coming off in long strips. The men above me start dropping gear. Rifles, packs, ammo, canteens start raining down on me along with the steady piss-stream of brass. the sound is overwhelming. Green and red tracers crossing everywhere. I think to myself, "I am going to have to document this weapon loss" as I see the M-60 slam into the dirt as an M-16 spears itself muzzle first into the ground.

With that, the giant CH-53 noses down. Still not realizing what is happening I watch the big green bird begin to slowly move forward still only twenty feet above us. As Green and M-60 slam into me I get it. This fucker is taking off whether we are off the ground or not. Staff Sergeant still howling like a demon but naked to the waste grabs me by the shirt and we both start running towards the trees. But the trees are fifteen fucking feet tall! All three mini-guns on the chopper continue to fire with their burrrrrrrrr, chainsaw noise. I see the other ‘53 moving quickly along the North tree-line firing a steady stream of tracer into the woods.

This is not good, I think to myself. I am running flat out towards a tree-line at the edge of a cliff with four Marines and this big fucking bird strapped on my ass. This was NEVER in the recruiting posters. I notice the CH-53 start to pull ahead. No shit, he is winning the race. M-60 and Green come up over my head and in front of me. Staff Sergeant has a death grip on my harness and we are running like sprinters towards the trees. Now I wish I had sense to drop my gear. Too late. Run like hell.

Tree line getting closer. Four Marines on the lifting strap above me beginning to pull me forward and off balance. Keep pumping my legs to keep from getting dragged. Trees are getting closer very quick. Pressure in my crotch as the harness starts to lift. Pulling my legs apart making it hard to run. Running like some bow-legged idiot as Staff Sergeant continues to yell literally dragging me along. Tracers from both helicopters looking like ray guns pointing into trees. Crew Chief blasts the tree line in front of us and the woods splinter as the 7.62mm rounds pour into them. The harness is picking me up now making it hard to look forward. I strain to keep looking at the trees to at least side step them when the chopper drags us through. We are going to slam into these trees going pretty fast and I'm hoping I can at least kick or push away from them.

Before I can think about it we are jerked up off the ground completely. Into the trees about half way up where the branches and trunks are much thinner. Bounding and spinning through the trees then nothing. Ground falls away. We are in the clear. Out over the valley. Gaining altitude with the Staff Sergeant still yelling in my ear.

"Shut the fuck up!" I yell. But he either doesn't hear or doesn't care.

Chopper begins a gradual left hand turn while accelerating and gaining altitude. We swing way out and I look up. All of us are on the strap with our arms extended. "Flying the rig" just like the manual says. I relax into the harness and hold my arm out. The rush of air is chilling. I see nothing else in the sky and just enjoy what scenery I can see though my crud encrusted glasses. I don't remember how long the trip is. I honestly think I fell asleep after a time. The Air Force takes us to a small airstrip guarded by "Indigenous Self-Defense Forces." They set us down by the side of a runway, release the strap and pull off without ever landing. Crew Chief waves to us as they pull away and we start to unhook.

Within a half hour a Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter will land and take us back to Utapao for a debriefing. Prior to the chopper arriving, Staff Sergeant will swear I am the luckiest Lieutenant he has ever met. He will tell the other Marines to stick with me forever. Staff Sergeant and I will make several operations together before he returns home.

Force G-2 (Intelligence) and G-3 (Operations) will conduct a joint debriefing back at base as soon as we are off the chopper. As we gradually talked some of the gaps in my information get filled in. One thing I had learned was that, the better your story was, the more and higher ranking people came over. We started with two Lieutenants and a Captain. We ended with about a dozen guys listening including a full Colonel and some Thai officers. The debriefing took a long time. No one cared about the lost gear.

When I was done I got cleaned up and went to the Officer's Club for a beer and something to eat. That was where I met Randy Wilson who was on the same base but traveled to our club to talk to me. It turned out that by the end of the day an entire division had been located and they had called in the BUFFs (Big Ugly Fat Fuckers or B-52s). His entire squadron of F-4s had been called in to the game. In his words, they had a good time.

Me, I ate a cheese burger and drank a couple of beers. I listened to the stories and agreed to catch up with Hound Dog on the weekend. I had a 7:00 AM briefing the next morning so I had to get some sleep. That same team and I would be back in the bush for a week the next day.
 

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Here's another real-life adventure written by a friend who was a RECON Marine fighting in Laos and Cambodia in the early 1970's. Real-life as in people ended up dead, not this keyboard ninja bullshit of today...

There comes a point in the lives of many when you know you are going to die. I don't mean you think you might die, or you will probably die, I mean a clear certainty that you are going to die and there is nothing more you can do about it. This realization that the game is over brings about a clarity of consciousness nothing else can. Moments become minutes. Minutes hours. The concept of time longer than the minute ceases as you believe you have truly reached the end of your particular existence

I had been inserted on an operation similar to many others. Parachute into an area of Cambodia or Laos (I never really knew where). Get into a position to observe the area around you. Identify a sufficient target (battalion or larger, preferably a base camp). Call in BUFF. Watch the fireworks. Move to an extraction point. I had done this several times. Sometimes off a submarine or destroyer. Sometimes off of helicopters. High Altitude Low Open (HALO) were my favorite and I felt gave us the greatest stealth and opportunity for success. We had jumped in, formed up, moved out. Then things turned to shit.

Because we worked with some specialized electronics we were a six man team. A four man Recon Team plus two others (me and an additional electronics operator). Myself, a Staff Sergeant, a Corporal (the operator of the specialized equipment) and three Lance Corporals or PFCs. We were heavily armed for a small unit but when six men chase hundreds your need for firepower dwarfs what you can carry. We had enough firepower on us to make a big noise and disengage. That was the deal. A brief burst of a high volume of firepower to send the bad guys to ground and we would evade. "RUN AWAY" as they say on Monty Python. Then the deal was call in big stuff. Artillery, Naval Gunfire, fast-movers, anything. That's what I did. I was good at it. Bring Kingdom Come down on the little bastard's heads. Really fuck them up. Then move the firepower in a way to confuse the bad guys as to where we went. Taper it off to the North as if it was covering our retreat but really move to the South. Something unexpected, something unconventional, that's what I did.

On this particular trip to the woods we inserted fine and started moving in the direction we were supposed to go. It was daylight so we were cautious but we were moving through heavy jungle and felt secure. Always remembering that we would not have been sent there for less than a battalion. We had been moving for a couple of hours trying to get to some intermediate high ground when all hell broke loose. The point man walked right into about a dozen gooks having lunch. He had an M-203. That is an M-16 with a grenade launcher attached under the barrel. The point had loaded with a flechette round. A 40mm shot-gun shell that shot out a couple of hundred steel darts about two and a half inches long. We called them nails. He emptied everything he had at the dozen sitting on the ground. The Staff Sergeant was the number two man, he had an M-16 and joined in. Number three had an M-60 machine gun and joined in too. In the space of two to three seconds all three were on line and firing into the group. Two or three blasts of nails, about 60 rounds of 5.56 and a hundred or so of 7.62 from the M-60. I was fourth in line and by the time I got there (less than five seconds) it was all over. Doctrine called for number five (radio operator armed with an M-14 for long range shooting) and number six (rear point with another M-203) to establish rear and flank security and face away from what we were doing at this point.

I ran up to the ambush just as the last few shots were being fired. I carried a Grease Gun. 45 caliber sub machine gun that could knock down trees or blow holes in walls. I thought it was a great weapon to carry because it provided extremely heavy, close quarter firepower; and it really looked cool too. Very important for a young Lieutenant. I was also the designated sniper and shared the M-14. When I made it to the clearing it was obvious the fight was over. The bad guys were all down and not getting back up. The Staff Sergeant had just told the point to do a fast check for documents and put the M-60 gunner on watch. He was checking bodies for anything of interest too. You took maybe 10 seconds at a time like this to check for "good shit" and then got out. This much noise and that battalion you were sent in to find was now trying to find us. Our mission was compromised so we were now just going to disappear and call in an extraction chopper to get us out of there. That was the plan anyway.

About ten yards off to my right the radio operator started cranking off rounds with the M-14. Very distinctive sound. Very powerful rifle. Fired the 7.62mm NATO round. The same as the machine gun. When he started cranking off rounds, we all took notice.

"Gooks on the flank, gooks on the flank," he started yelling as he fired. Thank God and Headquarters Marine Corps for sound tactics. If we had followed our natural inclination we would have all been at the ambush and we would not have noticed the little yellow gentlemen until they were firing into our flank. A universal "Oh shit!" now reoriented the team. Searching the dead stopped. M-60 began firing into the bush in the direction of M-14. Point slid up on M-60's left and began hosing M-16 fire into the bush too. Staff Sergeant and I went back to the radio operator and moved up on the side of him. Rear point stayed where he was. Training again. We had reestablished ourselves in a defensive perimeter.

As I slid in on the left of the radio operator I put out a full magazine (20 rounds) of .45 into the trees directly in front of me. I fired along the same axis as the M-14 pointed. Our group put a couple of hundred rounds into the area the radio operator had indicated and then we stopped. You take about a one second break to look for return fire to reorient your shots.

The sound of an AK-47 is just as distinctive as the M-14. All weapons have their own sound. You learn quickly to identify a weapon by its sound. It is tough to identify exact location and numbers of people in the jungle. You obviously can't see, and the noise gets surprisingly mixed up. But when bullets come at you they make an uncomfortable sound. The crack of the bullet passing buy is unforgettable. You know when you are being shot at. "Shit," I said as the clear crack of an AK round going past me made me flinch and try to retract my head into my shoulders. Then another and another. "Roundhouse, roundhouse, roundhouse," I yelled. That was the word we had agreed would trigger a fighting disengagement. "Roundhouse, roundhouse, roundhouse," yelled the Staff Sergeant and the radio operator. This started the chain reaction that would hopefully get us out of here in one group and alive.

Immediate Action Drill now started each of us on a course of action. Point man emptied his magazine and ran back down the trail. As he came even with the Staff Sergeant, he was signaled to stop. "Move back about 150 meters to that rise we came over. Stay on this side of the trail." Normally the point would have moved back just 100 meters and set up. Staff Sergeant had spotted a better tactical position and began developing a plan. Point man was off just as M-60 was sliding in between Staff Sergeant and me. Doctrine said you reestablish your patrol sequence before you bug out. Sounds trivial. But it makes sure you have everyone before you leave. If we left someone behind, we would have to go back and get him. Better to quickly count noses under fire then to have to fight back in to get someone. Recon Teams may die, but they never leave someone behind.

"Pull back 150 yards down this trail until you see me. If you miss us move right to the last rally-point." Staff Sergeant was briefing M-60, me and the radio operator all at the same time. We were only a yard or so apart a piece at this point. Too close, but we were leaving anyway. M-60 was slamming a 200 round double belt of ammo into the gun as this was being said. M-14 and I were putting sustained fire at the last observed location of incoming fire. Rear point was firing at that location too, but with big, fat, 40mm grenades. Staff Sergeant emptied his weapon at the bad guys and started jogging back down the trail. Trail does not really describe the six man path through the jungle, but at this point it looked like the Long Island Expressway. I watched as he stopped at rear point to tell him the slight change in plan.

"Shit," I said again as the involuntary duck from AK fire happened again. This time it had come in from my left, and there was allot of it. M-60 had heard it too. As he slammed down the feed tray cover he looked at me. "Hose those fuckers from 10 O'clock to 2," I said. The front of the trail always represented 12 O'clock. This time firing was coming from where we had walked into the people having lunch. I watched the eyes on this young man narrow and his jaw set. He was about 19 years old. He said nothing as he swing out to the left facing the enemy and taking a knee. The M- 60 swung up to his shoulder as he let the 200 round "Mad Moment or Oh Shit" belt hang from his left arm. There was easily a dozen or so bad guys up that trail. Maybe more. They most likely were the remains of the platoon one squad of which we had wiped out on the trail. This young Marine clearly intended to kill every one of them.

As the M-60 cranked up on cyclic (continuous fire of all 200 7.62 rounds), radio operator looked at me. It was too noisy to talk this close to the gun, so I pointed with all five fingers together back in the direction we had originally been firing. I threw the grease gun up to my shoulder and continued pumping short, shoulder breaking bursts in that direction.

When M-60 finished he stood up, (not a smart but a typical Recon thing to do) slapped me on the shoulder and shouted, "150 meters down the trail on the Staff Sergeant." Training again. Repeat the rally order to the next man in line. He started jogging down the trail the way the first two Marines had gone. My turn now. I pulled out the magazine in my weapon and put in a fresh one. I put the magazine I pulled out into the cargo pocket on the right side utility pants. I only had six magazines loaded and the one I put in was the last one. It was fully loaded. The grease gun was a pig. Heavy, slow volume of fire, and forty-five rounds weighed a ton. I was going to have to open one of the two spare boxes of forty-five ammo I had in my pack to reload. I would never carry that thing again. I charged the weapon from the new magazine and poured forty-five rounds into the area I had been shooting at. I could not maintain a constant stream of fire like the book says because the weapon kicked so much the muzzle climbed into the trees by the fourth or fifth round. I put about 12 or fifteen rounds in three to five round bursts at the bad guys then turned towards where the M-60 had fired. I put my last five or so rounds in that direction. Pulled out the now empty magazine and put it in my cargo pocket. Slammed in the old one after checking to see I only had about five rounds left in it. Charged my weapon, slapped the radio operator on the shoulder and said, "150 yards down the trail. Form up on the Staff Sergeant." I received the official "Aye, Aye Sir" and I was off.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that showed the American Flag. The sticker said, "These colors never run. Never have. Never will." Well I tell you. As a representative of the National Ensign, this particular flag-bearer ran. I ran like nobody's business. I can think now about people on Bunker Hill, First Manassas, Kasserine Pass, and other places. They ran too. Running from bad guys in not a bad thing. It is survival in its basic sense. There is no sense in six men standing and fighting God knows how many. So on this day I executed a "Tactical Disengagement." I ran.

It was easily 100+ degrees. I had on a pack that included clothing, ammo, 12 C-Rations, my little cook stove, four canteens of water, a medical kit, a battery for the radio and 100 rounds of M-60 ammo. I had maps, grease pencils, an encoding book called a "Shackle sheet," a small book showing radio frequencies, call signs, times and dates of communications and extraction information. I had six fragmentation grenades (four on my harness, two more for booby-traps in my pack), two smoke grenades and two star clusters. Two spare pare of glasses and my binoculars rounded out my ensemble not to mention a dozen other little things I have forgotten. We had only been on the ground a couple of hours and had not had time to "Eat down," our equipment. I had everything I inserted with. Honestly about 75 pounds of stuff. I ran so fast I would have blown the doors off an Olympic sprinter. I covered 100 yards at the speed of light. As I said, doctrine stated you fall back 100 meters and regroup. Right at 100 meters there was the Staff Sergeant. "'Nother 50 or so meters that way Lieutenant. You'll see Smith and Johnson (Point man and M-60) on the trail. Spread 'em out a little bit and I'll keep pushing everyone back to you."

"Roger that," I said in my best Marine Corps Officer's voice after making that world record 100 yard dash. "Staff Sergeant we were taking fire from 12 O'clock on the trail. There's more out there than we thought."

"I know L. T.. We are really in some shit. Best get on the radio and bring in some big stuff on that last pos. We are gonna need to get e-vaced A S A P. Gonna need to find us an extract point as fast as you can."

"No sweat," I said as I moved off down the trail. I jogged slower now. Thinking of what I needed to do. No air on call. At the limit of the artillery umbrella so only 175s or 8-inch could help. None of them on call. Just nothing set up for this. Calling up an extract would take time too. The insertion chopper would have hung out for 10 - 15 minutes in case we hit a hot L.Z., but now we would have to call one out of U-ta-pow and I had no idea when they could get here. Rule of thumb was you needed 60 to 90 minutes for an emergency extract. A long time to stay alive when the bad guys were breathing down your neck. I thought back to the briefing I had received the afternoon before. An Army Major and some shit-head from the C.I.A. had explained to me; "Your aren't really here so you can't really be there so we just don't have a lot of assets to support operations that aren't really happening." "Don't be John Fucking Wayne because we may not be able to bale your sorry ass out of trouble," the C.I.A Field Operative had advised me. "Fucking Army pukes" I thought to myself as I walked out. "Always easy for the assholes eating ice cream to give advice." Now I had a Staff Sergeant with seven years in the Marines and four other Marines looking to me to get all of us out of this shit.

I jogged down the trail until I came up to Lance Corporal Johnson. He had the M-60 sighted right down the trail. He pointed the weapon slightly off to the side as I came up to him. Smith had taken up the rear point position and began to shift over to the flank as I came up. " P.F.C. Smith, stay where you're at. I've got to start working up same calls for fire so you handle the back door until I'm ready. You two can start dumping shit now. Keep ammo, and radio batteries only. Dump everything else. Don't worry about burying it. We will be moving out A S A P."

I sat at the side of the trail and pulled off my ALICE pack. I began getting rid of everything I didn't need. Smith and Johnson were doing the same while keeping security. About now Green, the radio operator came in. I told him to start dumping trash too. I would start working on a plan once we had all assembled and started moving back towards the last rally point which was a good klick or two away. We needed to move fast and we needed to move now. Distance was our only hope and speed meant distance.

As I sorted through all of the stuff in my pack I began discarding everything I did not need to stay alive. Maps and codes I kept. I would need those. Radio battery I kept. We each had one. The radio was a KY-38 encryption device connected to a PRC-25. Both needed a battery to operate and without them we would have to walk to salvation. Keep the battery. Keep the ammo. Keep the frags. Keep the smoke to signal choppers. Dump the star clusters. Dump the clothes. Dump the food, that was most of the weight. Wait a minute. I had last eaten around 3 O'clock in the morning. I was always nervous before a jump so I did not eat much. I already presorted the c-rations to dump stuff I didn't like and stuff I didn't need. I knew I had a can of peaches in this mess. THAT I was going to keep. Peaches were gold in this business and I was not giving mine up. I was hungry and the energy and moisture from that one can could keep me going for a day. Can of chocolate bars (shit disks) and I was set. We were going to run and I would need something and a can of peaches and some shit disks was it.

As I was finishing up the rear point and the Staff Sergeant rolled in. They saw us dumping stuff and immediately started in on their own packs. I began reloading my magazines as the Staff Sergeant kneeled down next to me. While he was working on his pack he said to me, "At least a company out there L.T.. Benson (the rear point) said they were on his ass when he moved out. I got Johnson stringing up a frag (setting up a booby trap using a fragmentation grenade and some wire) in front of his position but we got to move. Gooks will spend some time going through our shit too, but we got to move."

"Right," I said. "We move back to the rally point. I'll do a map recon on the move and figure out where we go from there."

"Green," I said quietly but loud enough for the radio operator to hear. "Send a Sit Rep to Puzzle Palace. Tell them the operation has been compromised and we are E&E'ing (escape and evading) now. Tell them to alert the emergency extract team to stand by. Tell them we have been in contact with one hundred plus Indians and have a body count of twelve. We have negative KIA and negative WIA at this time but have been in contact and our ammo is depleted. I will send extract coordinates when I can. Tell them to monitor the primary push (radio frequency) and ask if there is anything available for an air strike at this time."

"Everybody listen up," I said loud enough for everyone to hear. I looked up and I saw five pairs of eyeballs looking at me. "We are moving back to the last rally point. Dump your trash to travel light. We take ammo, grenades and radio batteries only. Leave your shit where the gooks can see it. At the rally point we will regroup and move to an alternate position. From there I will coordinate an extraction. We need to move fast and get the fuck out of here before sundown."

"Staff Sergeant Brown," now switching my instructions to the team leader. Same patrol order, double time to the rally point. We move out the second Green is done with his Sit Rep."

"Green," back to the radio operator. "Stop fucking around and send that Sit Rep. We need to move, now."

"Alright assholes," said Staff Sergeant Brown, "we got about two minutes before those people are on us again. Get your shit together and get on the trail. Green!"

"Yo, Staff Sergeant."

"I am waiting on you and I don't like waiting."

In between comments on the radio Green stated he was ready to go and could finish on the move. That comment put us up and on the trail. We were off to the races again.
 
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