Installment # 5, 01 April 2009:
Hello! March is gone, April is here and yep, I’m writing this on April fool’s day. Considering where I am, it’s probably not a good idea to try and trick you with an April fool’s joke, so I’m going to resist the urge!
A brief note about the weather—it’s been pretty nice! It’s been in the 70s, but the forecast shows a string of 80-degree-days coming up. The turning point is nearly upon us. Soon it’ll be in the 90s, and then the 100s; I am not looking forward to that.
Thank goodness it was cool when I staged through Kuwait. As summer nears, Kuwait becomes a blast furnace. Been there, done that! There’s a forward airfield in the northern desert that the Army aviation community knows all too well. That’s where I wrote you from in 2006! It’s the hottest, grittiest, dirtiest place I have ever been, and I hope that I have finally seen the last of it.
When I think about heat, my mind goes to the equipment that I wear, especially the body armor. Ours is the very latest, with several improvements, but it’s still cumbersome and heavy. It saves lives, but it also slows us down and saps our strength. I have two sets—one for use on the ground and the other for flight duty. The vest portions are “bullet proof”, but only stop lower velocity projectiles, such as pistol bullets and some shrapnel. To protect against faster moving and heavier stuff—rifle rounds and bigger shrapnel—we insert strike plates. These plates are really, really heavy. Something I like about the new armor is the quick release cable. Give it a yank and the vest comes apart and falls away. This feature will save even more lives. My ground armor weighs about 35 pounds; then I attach the equipment I need—weapon, ammunition, medical kit, etc. My flight armor is lighter, but I have to throw my survival vest over top of it. That whole mess is difficult to fit and balance. To get into the helicopter I have to grab hold of something and yank myself up, then stoop and twist to get into my seat. After sitting for a few minutes in full battle-rattle, my chest and upper back begin to hurt. Our flights can go for hours on end without a break. When we do a hot refueling—with the engines roaring and the blades turning—I have to get out and walk a safe distance away, often in the black of night. Then I climb back aboard, hook in my communication system and strap back into the seat. As a crewmember—a flight doc—I have the least to do; I am a highly trained observer along for the ride. Everyone else is carrying the same equipment load but working a lot harder. The fortitude of these soldiers and their discipline, their absolute burning focus on the mission, is unlike anything I have ever seen. You should be very, very proud of them. I know I am…
How about a story? After landing in Kuwait I was told that I would have to do “Hummer Rollover Training”. The Hummer is our primary tactical vehicle. Over the course of the war we converted it into an armored troop carrier. All that added steel changed its handling characteristics and rollover accidents have occurred; hence, this new training. So—there I was, wearing my armor and my combat helmet, ready to mount the high-tech Hummer Rollover Simulator. I was directed into a cavernous room, cool and dimly lit, where every sound was matched with a soft echo. I joined a small group of people. The simulator hulked before us. I approached it and confidently climbed inside. The interior was dark; my eyes strained to adjust as I hooked myself in. I saw lights glowing dimly from the dashboard. An electrical hum surrounded me and the air smelled of ozone and grease—it reminded me of a Disney ride! How bad could it be? I wondered. Oh what a pleasant deception—while it lasted! Once secured, we signaled with a thumbs-up. The vehicle started to shake and rumble, just as if we were jouncing over a crude desert road. Suddenly, we careened to one side. We all yelled (as we had been trained), “Rollover, rollover, get control!” The driver, in a scripted reaction, overcorrected and went too far the other way. We tumbled! “Ahhhhhhh!!!” we screamed (unscripted!). Over and over we went. I was in a clothes drier, set on heavy duty! It stopped and left us upside down. There I dangled, wits addled, my seatbelt straining under my weight. “Get out! You have to get out, sir!” cried a young trainer, his voice muffled as he peered through the bulletproof window. I had to get my door unlatched—where was the handle??? I reached back but couldn’t find it. “Get out, get out!” My helmeted head was jammed against the roof. I reached up (or was it down???) and tried to heave myself backwards, but I wasn’t strong enough. Finally, I found that I could push just enough with my hands to allow me to hop on my head, inch by inch by inch—thump!—thump!—thump!—and actually moved backwards a tad. I executed a Houdini-like maneuver with my right shoulder, found the handle and got the door open. “Get out!” the kid screamed again. Like I’m not trying??? I hit the quick release button on my seatbelt and—Crash! — fell to the steel roof in a crumpled, aching lump. Remember those armor plates in my vest?!?! Ouch! For a moment I was stunned and utterly motionless. Then I wormed my way out, my helmet crammed over my eyes and my rifle in hand, and stumbled to my assigned security position—dead last to arrive. Another kid looked up disapprovingly from his stopwatch. For a long moment his disdainful eye lingered upon me. I shot him a sheepish grin, and he grudgingly acknowledged that we had passed—as a team.
Whoever said that government work is easy needs to join the Army and put that theory to the test!
Until next week, your friend and neighbor,