The phone rang and one of the full-timers in the National Guard Special Forces Company picked it up.
“Sergeant Pseudonym speaking, not a secure line.” (There was a long spiel you were supposed to say. It wasted time. We didn’t bother, to the irritation of all the sort of officialdom whose enmity told you you were on target).
“Can you guys destroy two helicopters?”
Can we destroy [fill in the blank]? Is the Pope Catholic? Is water wet? Do Kennedys party hearty? “Sure thing. What’s the deal?”
It turns out an Army Guard unit in our unit’s state (as is common with SF Guard units, most of us individuals were from out of state) had transitioned from flying attack helicopters — obsolete, Vietnam-era UH-1B and AH-1S models — to being a Black Hawk medevac unit. Good mission, and they sure loved the extra power and twin-engine safety of the ‘Hawk, as opposed to the Huey, which was revolutionary in its day, but was a product of the time when cars had tail fins, and putting a turbine engine in a helicopter was a new and dodgy thing.
The commander of the unit had turned in most of the Hueys and Cobras for their smelted future as Hyundai cylinder heads and COSCO screen doors, but he had saved the two most historic craft in his fleet with a view to donating them to an air museum.
The air museum said, “No, not unless you also give us money to restore them.” Well, that the skipper didn’t have. So he tried another air museum.
Hueys were either too recent, or too plebeian, and museum curators tend, these days, to be Baby Boomers whose fondest memory of the Vietnam War is how they sent some poor black city kid or hayseed Polack farm boy in their place, so the iconic copters sat at the unit’s old hanagar on an Air Force Reserve base for months that turned into years. The commander with museum ambitions changed out. The Air Base commander who had told him,” leave them as long as you need to,” changed out. The guys that changed out, changed out, as season follows season. The two historic copters were now derelict trash interfering with good order on the Air Base. Not to mention the planned reuse of the hangar as a sort of pavilion with a podium from which the new Wing King could speak enlightenment to his adoring troops, in mandatory attendance. The Air Force Reserve poked the Army National Guard State Headquarters (since renamed Joint Force HQ, and a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, not to mention of well-connected staff officers entering Year 16 of war without a day in 1000-mile proximity to same, there never was). “Get off my lawn,” was the subtext of the message.
In State HQ, the lights went on and unholy things you’d rather not dwell on scattered and scurried. The Fundamental Law of Plumbing applied and you-know-what flowed downhill until the tasking reached some harried Property Book Officer (“Extra duties I don’t want for $500, Alex!”) in the form of an unambiguous command: make those helicopters disappear.
Putting them on eBay was considered, until an outbreak of that persistent plague that rises up and inhibits the human race from truly taking charge of its God-given mastery of the planet.
The lawyers pointed out that the helicopters must be demilled, that is, rendered unusable and their key parts rendered unusable as weapons of war. Just having engines and avionics out of them — which parts had been cannibalized, or souvenired, we’re not really clear which, in the intervening decade — would not do. They needed to be thoroughly and completely destroyed.
Now, State HQ being the natural habitat of staff officers, hothouse flowers, and power groupies of all kinds, you could look long and hard without finding anyone who had ever destroyed anything more substantial than a subordinate’s part-time Guard “career,” or had any idea how to go about it. So the search began for someone who could destroy something, a talent that is in rather short supply in the upper regions of today’s military.
They found “Company C, XX Special Forces Group” in a phone directory, and someone dimly remembered a movie with John Wayne.
“So, can you guys destroy two helicopters?”
“Yeah, we can do that.”
The question became how to (1) not offend the various Air Base Commanders, Wing Kings, panjandrums, sachems, sagamores and satraps on the Air Base and (2) get the max training value from a couple of helicopters, in such a way that the rotorcraft would be rendered indisputably hors de combat. Everybody’s first choice, “Demo crosstraining!” would certainly have reduced the ships to coin-sized and smaller shards of aircraft aluminum, with all the joy and adventure that comes from having your medics, commo men, and the knuckle-dragging weapons men play with C4, hollow charges, ANFO improvised cratering charges and all kinds of things, usually without bothering with all the ugly arithmetic that the actual demo men have to learn. (“That equation needs more of factor P for Plenty!” FOOM!).
That idea was vetoed by alarmed Air Force officers, and a new requirement was explained: destruction of the rotorcraft had to be environmentally sound.
That meant that Plan B, the big bonfire hot-enough-to-ignite-aluminum in the swamps, pardon, wetlands on the far side of the runway — an area we knew all too well from jumping a tad early on our runway-centric drop zone — was right out, too.
What we came up with was, since medical combat trauma crosstraining was already on the schedule, we’d use the helicopters to stage crash scenes, giving the guys some practice in crash rescue and recovery and casualty evacuation as well as initial treatment in the austere environment.
We hatched an idea with a Chinook outfit to longline the Hueys to a point about 200 feet over the clearing we were given as a training area, and then drop them in. Nothing simulates a helicopter crash like a falling helicopter, right? But that was vetoed by State HQ, with some hurtful words about the unwisdom of letting aviators and SF mission-plan over pitchers of beer. Instead, we had to crash the helicopters using our own resources.
It worked better than expected, although they were kind of sore about the damage to the 5-ton truck (a Huey, it turns out, is stronger than you think).
One of the resources a Special Forces unit does not have is a bunch of privates, and so it’s quite normal for your 5-ton driver to be a bored senior sergeant. And it’s not unheard of for SF guys to take a shine to souvenirs. And if you look around the ranks, you just might find a guy who has an A&P rating and an incredible set of tools in his trunk.
And so it came to pass, when, hours after the exercise was supposed to be entirely secure, with the medical trauma training pronounced a challenge and a success, and even the lawyers thrilled with the shredding of the helicopters incidental to the training evolution, and the green eyeshades of the Finance Corps pleased with the economy of it all, a borrowed 5-ton wrecker dragged in our hors de combat 5-ton cargo truck, complete with a hunk of rotor blade embedded in the brush guard, radiator and fan, and a UH-1B command pilot seat, inexplicably, in the back.
The mechanic cursed his friend, because it was so heavy. We’d guess about 250 lb. It rode the rest of the way home hanging out of the trunk of an old Mustang, into which it did not fit (an attempt to borrow the 5-ton for this purpose was met with unamusement, and pointing out that the 5-ton was paws-up for the next couple of weeks). Then it was horsed up stairs into a Man Cave or War Room, and spent several years there providing a quasi-comfortable seat for reading war books in, before migrating to its current location in the War Room (just inside the Reviewing Our Panzers Balcony, which is really a thing) at Hog Manor. And now, it is promised to an old teammate for his man cave.
Hey, he’s younger. And he, too, was there that day.
Sorry about the truck.