Sunday, November 13, 2005

Open Ended

Getting on the Chinook was, as usual, a quick and orderly process. The key to it all is giving up any and all personal attachment to your luggage. We walked up to the rear gate of the copter in single file. I had more than the usual amount of gear since I was once again transporting equipment to northern Iraq. Luckily I was last in line; my equipment would be near me and I sat at the end of the row. This allowed me not to be rubbing thighs in a soldier sandwich, small consolations. The best part was that I sat next to the tail gunner and an open rear gate.

The Chinook is pretty much the cadillac of the Army helicopter world; there is plenty of room for people and storage, plenty of power, and a smooth ride. This, like most all the other flights, was at night. Since the 101st took over, the flights coming in and out of our FOB have been almost exclusively under cover of darkness. Makes sense. The birds fly without the flashing tag lights like fixed wing aircraft, so they are much harder to target.

I buckled in to the end seat on the right side of the bay, a load of gear separating me from the soldiers across the aisle. The gunner raised the rear gate slightly to put the gun and his seat at a better angle. I hardly noticed as we took off. Peering out the open tail, I could see the Iraqi landscape painted in subdued shades blue-gray; the lights from Caldwell blurred by the engine's exhaust. My mind started to wander, amidst the drone of the rotors, and I found myself watching mile after mile on non-descript land roll out under us, dotted occaisionally by a light from a mud house. Amazing how normal this all has become to me. I had to make an effort to remember the initial thrill of my first helicopter trip. I've lost perspective. What is thrilling? What is dangerous? What is fun? What is risk? All now is just mission.

Behind us, the black smudge of our Blackhawk escort swung across the night sky. My daze broken by the movement of the tailgunner as he sat on the lip of the rear gate, feet dangling outside. Turning his head to scout outside the Chinook, his eyes shone with the ghoulish green glow from his night vision goggles (NVGs). He seemed at that moment alien, and the scene surreal. Here we were in the middle of the night, the only light coming from the nearly full moon. The drone of the engines hypnotizing us. The vast Iraqi landscape visible through the open tail. And me, a few hundred feet about the ground, ten feet from the gate's edge, held in by a single strap seat buckle.

Would have made a perfectly dreamlike scenario except for the bag. Sitting on the end, in my opinion, is the best place on the Chinook, last on - first off, and none of that "should I give him the ass or the crotch" decision making when squeezing past another soldier. But someone didn't take out the damn trash. So, hanging above my left ear was a half-full kitchen garbage bag flapping in the wind, banging me on the shoulder. Annoying. I fumbled around in the darkness with my gloved hand, to try to tuck the stupid thing under some webbing. No luck. I tried to ignore it for a while. No luck. Finally I was able to get the bottom corner of the bag to catch on something behind the seat webbing. Good. Back to the midnight daydream.

Just as I started to relax and drift off for a nap (soldiers are trained to sleep whenever not actively on task), the damn bag started banging me again. Worked itself loose. I fumbled with it again for a few minutes but it refused to get tucked back behind the seat. Then the lights came on. The crew must be doing something. Bright white bay lights, against the black night sky. Immediately and calmly the gunner stood up and walked over beside me, reached around the stubborn trash bag, and shut the lights off. Uh,my bad, I must have hit a switch accidentally and turned the whole bird into a humongous target for 5 seconds. I guess I will put up with the bag banging on my shoulder for the rest of the ride.

I could see the headlines: "Fully Manned Chinook Shot Down by Insurgents." Followed by, "In an exclusive interview, Haji said 'and as I pray with my RPG by my side, I look up and see a huge bright star appear over me. I knew it was divine intervention. I knew Allah was speaking. So I shot it.'"


Blogger Abby Taylor said...

Ohhhhhh what a great story on so many levels. Fantastic ending, too. Glad things turned out safely on the ride.

Blogger brainhell said...

The Army blamed the crash on human error. "While there was no enemy fire, despite rumors of an RPG, apparently one of the soldiers on board, Dorman, thought the switch would release a warhead to destroy the Grand Holy Mosque of Iraq. He's said in his blog that his mission is to end Islam. Instead, it caused an Iraqi turkey vulture to attempt to mate with the helicopter. The Iraqi turkey vultures weigh 6,000 pounds and are phototropic during mating season, when the female uses a bright white light and a garbage-like smell to attract a male."

Blogger InterstellarLass said...

Great story Dorman.

Blogger Robert Chase said...

So do you usually give them the ass or the crotch?

Blogger Dorman said...


Blogger brainhell said...

> Dorman said...
> ass

That's a submissive gesture, in primate behavior. Watch men and women pass other people in narrow spaces and you'll find that the women present the dorsal side and men present the ventral side. Generally.

Blogger Dorman said...

I do it because my ass stinks worse. I exert dominance by presenting my most powerful and offensive trait - my unwashed ass crack. Besides, I don't want to be rubbing my tweeter up against a guy. Now female soldiers are different....

Blogger InterstellarLass said...

Ahhh, there's a method to his madness...

Blogger brainhell said...

Then your ass crack is a biological weapon ;-) Good thing you show them the white flag instead ;-)


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