The Ride

by Alicia Dietz

It was clear blue and 22.

You couldn’t describe it any other way.

A decade of flying forced you to become a novice meteorologist,

to pay attention to moon cycles,

sunrise, and sunset.

To EENT and cloud ceilings.

That a small differential between temperature and dew point

caused fog.

That winds at altitude

affect your burn rate.

 

And know that you are part of a community.

Even now,

four years later,

and probably forty after that,

you note the position of the moon

and know that it will be 15 degrees lower in an hour.

And the underside faces of leaves.

Drive past a flag,

or even –

ironically, a windsock,

and determine which direction you would have landed.

 

But you’re on four wheels now,

not three.

The only thing overtop you is a worn-out canvas –

a bikini top –

that covers only the front seats.

 

And this top flaps in the wind.

Passive.

Affected by the wind.

Not active.

Not affecting the wind.

Not working in unison with three others to produce lift.

These wheels,

they stay on the ground.

 

Leaves and twigs,

remnants of rain water and splashes of mud

are your passengers in the back.

Even the maple’s occasional propeller seeds come along for the ride –

and you chuckle at the irony.

 

You can only fit two people in the back –

the back of that beauty

of your ’95 red

Jeep Wrangler.

Not the 11 that you could in that mammoth –

the back of that beauty

of your ’88 OD green

UH-60A.

 

Now, you can pick up two friends

and go where your hearts desire.

Spend all day along the river

or in a museum.

Then you idly chat over drinks at a restaurant patio

and drop them back off

at home again.

 

Like those before

that you flew along the river

or overtop a museum.

That you,            

not so idly,

chatted with over the intercom

and dropped back off

at home again.

 

Yet too,

unlike those before.

Those who you dropped off

with their rucks fully loaded,

with their radios and medical kits,

rations and munitions.

That you dropped off

with their maps

and bibles

 

Unlike those before.

Those who you dropped off

never to pick up again.

 

It’s been hard for you.

Hard to find two people,

even two,

to fill the void where those 11 sat before.

Maybe because you weren’t even trying.

Maybe because it was easier –

easier to close the door,

zip up the sides,

chock the wheels,

and let the battery die over the winter.

 

But when the seasons changed,

when the earth tilted to enjoy the company of the sun,

you knew it was time to fly again.

So you brushed off that bikini top,

and unzipped the sides.

You welcomed the company of the leaves and the twigs

And those little propeller seeds.

And you went for a ride.

 

The breeze brushed up against your face

and you put your hand out,

cupping it up and down

forming that airfoil that would fly.

The same airfoil you formed

in the backseat at the age of five

without a care.

Not a single one.

Now you formed it as a way to let those cares

spread their wings.

To fly a little farther away.

 

Up ahead you see another Jeep,

And as you pass, he gives you a wave.

You wave back

and smile.

And sink in the warmth and comfort

and let it wrap around you.

And know that you are part of a community.

A community

different from the one before.

 

But one that will wave

and welcome you.

As long as you pull out of the driveway

and go for a ride.



Tough Command

by Marcelyn Atwood

I picked up the phone. My secretary said a Colonel from the Air Staff was parked on line 2.  My shoulders sagged, what did the Recce guys from HQ want so early on a Monday morning? 

“One of my Majors just left my office telling me his active duty Major wife is having an affair with one of your Squadron Commanders, call sign Sparky.” 

“Is this an official complaint?”

My eyes were glued 10 feet in front of me.

“What kind of a fucked up question is that?  Yes, OSI is already involved.  Go after Sparky, this is fraternization and adultery!”

“I’m assuming you have proof?” The phone went dead as he slammed down the receiver.

I called my husband, a former Marine Corps military judge. I wanted my guy’s gut check to make sure the next steps were right.  I hung up, my head in my hand staring at my boots. Leaning back in my chair, I dialed the General’s secretary. 

“I need 10 minutes with the boss for a time sensitive issue.”

“He’s working paper and is on a telecon in 30.  You’ve got 10 in 15.”

My eyes were glued 10 feet in front of me.

“On my way.”  I walked swiftly down the hall arriving on the hack.  Ignoring the soft chair and dodging boxes of stuff he still hadn’t unpacked I reported in at his desk. He glanced up from flung papers, surprised as I leaned in.

“Sir, I just got a call from an Air Staff Colonel.  Sparky, one of my Recce Squadron Commanders is accused of having an affair with an Air Staff Major.  OSI may be involved on their end.  I’m starting a command investigation.” 

Stunned, the General, an Academy Grad ring knocker, paused.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes, no option and I’m leaving him in command until we get proof.”

Returning to my desk, I called the base JAG and requested an investigator from the additional duty list.  A Colonel from the medical group arrived in my office at the end of the day.  Closing the door, I stood eye-to-eye, unblinkingly stating this investigation is on an Academy grad, true blue recce guy, and squadron commander.  Sparky is accused of dalliance with a mid-grade officer at the Pentagon, whose husband is also Major on the Air Staff.  I handed him the directive letter with a two-week deadline, my inked signature still damp.  Already feeling like a long week, I stared at my stack of paper as daylight left the room.

Friday night my husband, the Vice President of the base Spouses Club, hosted Mrs. Sparky and her squadron wives at my house.  I raced home to help him prepare the drink table and finger food for the gals.  Then returning to the office, since the “husbands” weren’t allowed to partake, I worked late into the night. Climbing into bed, I sank under the covers.

“Honey, I had a strange question from Sparky tonight, you know he was at the gathering for 20 minutes talking to the gals about the next deployment rotation.  Sparky pulled me aside as the gals were cackling and asked how you were doing.”  

Squeezing my eyes tight and letting my chest fall, “Really? What did you tell him?” 

“Better than most.”

Monday came too soon and my Tuesday schedule said an early morning out and back airline flight to DC.  After the General’s Monday staff meeting at 1000, I asked if he could hang back with me.  Squaring off to face him straddling the corner of the conference table I told him I decided to tell Sparky someone in his squadron was under investigation. 

“Gutsy.”

“Sir, Commanders need to know.  He’s one of 15 other Lieutenant Colonels in that squadron.  If I tell him, maybe he’ll see the path to tell his side so we can get this under control.”

At 1500, Sparky was in my office.  “I’ve started a command investigation on a Lieutenant Colonel in your squadron.  I don’t think it will go anywhere, but we are following procedure just to be sure.”

“Ma’am, Who?”

“Can’t say, it is just a preliminary step.”

“When can I expect the report on my guy, Ma’am?”

“Middle of next week.”   

I watched Sparky leave my office as he came in, upbeat and positive.  I paused my head on the back of my executive chair and turned to the stack of performance reports awaiting my red pen.

Tuesday came early.  Yawning, I squirmed in my airline seat seeking comfort despite my blue ill-fitting Class As and the rest that had eluded me last night. I hated the early morning goes but this was worth it to get to DC, to stand by my guys for the Air Force Association Recce Crew of the Year Award and get back to base all in one day.  The old guy two rows up kept turning around and staring.  Yep, geezer, this is a girl with eagles on the shoulders and wings above a full rack, of ribbons.

I’d only just taken command of the largest flying operations group in the Air Force two months earlier.  Still grasping the lack of resource issues and the 24/7 global mission this Award Luncheon was another chance to show unity with them and to pretend I knew it all.

Sitting at the table with other senior leaders I dashed through the small talk wishing the Recce Crew would take the stage and get their award so I could escape. My cell buzzed in my lap.  I gathered my napkin around my plate and sidestepped to the door of the banquet hall. 

“Colonel Atwood.”

“Ma’am, relaying radio call from Bravo.”  The Vice Wing Commander keyed his radio.

“Marcy, Sparky hanged himself this morning. I’m on site with OSI who is starting the line of duty misconduct/death investigation.” I buckled into the wall, head down, my breath shallow.

“What? Well, the command investigation is now over!” I whispered.

“Sparky left early dressed for his usual morning PT run.  A note in the car said “I hope you are happy.”  He apparently walked across the street to the new construction house and hung himself from the rafter in the garage.  Crisis response is working.  Your husband is here holding Mrs. Sparky and the base Colonel Chaplain together.”  

“Thanks, Bravo, I’m declaring a safety stand down for Sparky’s squadron.  No RC-135 flying.  Call off the schedule.  Command Post, who’s still up?”

“Ma’am, the last morning-go lands in about 30 minutes.  Afternoon launches are running pre-flights.”

“Right, cancel all flying, the 1st ACCS E-4s, the trainers, and the RC-135 flights.  Tell them I directed a safety stand down for entire Ops Group.  When’s the next higher HHQ sortie?”

“Ma’am, on Friday.”

“Good, I’ll make that call on Thursday.”

 “Command Post, Bravo, I concur.  Bravo out.”

I left the hotel walking slowly to the Washington Zoo Metro three hours before my flight home.  My eyes were glued 10 feet in front of me.  Staying on the Metro past the airport, I wandered into Old Town Alexandria Chico’s.  I quietly asked the oldest clerk for help picking an outfit. One hour later, dressed in purple with my crumpled dress uniform in the Chico’s bag, I anonymously boarded the Midwest flight to Omaha. Walking out of the gate area with effort, one foot, then the next, my husband grabbed my hand and held on tight the entire silent ride to the base.

Tossing and turning that night, one thought replaced sleep.  I failed. I told Sparky yesterday that someone was under investigation.  The last straw throwing Sparky overboard had my name on it.  

The General refused to do the eulogy.  A bomber guy, who didn’t belong to the Recce Frat, had only taken command three weeks earlier. Mrs. Sparky insisted on an open casket, his neck unusually long above his flight suit.  She positioned the casket in the base church entrance forcing all of us to walk by him.  I approached the door, seeing the casket and hurried down the outside of the building to the servant entrance.  I could not face him.       

The church was packed.  I sat hyperventilating, desperate for air to calm my nerves, waiting for my turn in the program.  I gripped the podium.  I scanned across the rows and up to the balcony, making eye contact with as many as I could with the open casket below my feet.  My last eye lock with my husband directly in front of me, gave me the push to begin.  He had drafted the eulogy, which I refined by writing Recce inside baseball references as best I could.  Using my French horn embouchure, I plastered the corners of my mouth up and performed a reading, a celebration of life. With every end of a paragraph, the nagging guilt whispered, you did this.   

We all walked slowly outside to the open parade ground.  My husband held my hand, even against my pull to let go in compliance with proper uniform wear.  Scattered in groups, the Wing mass fell silent as the RC-135 flew a wing walking slow flight 1500 feet above us to the west, a nod to Sparky, one of ours.


Aggressors

by John H. Price III

Toward the end of Military Police Advanced Individual Training, in January 1971, my class was notified that we would participate in a week-long field exercise to practice all of the techniques we had learned over the past several weeks. We packed our field gear, drew M-14’s with blank ammo and boarded buses for a week in the woods at Fort Gordon, GA.

Two companies of trainees, about 160 men total, exited the buses and formed up by platoon in the training area parking lot.  The first sergeant called out four names, including mine, told us to grab our gear and meet with one of the cadre standing alongside a nearby jeep. My first thought was that we were in some sort of trouble, but I was wrong. We had been selected to be the “aggressors” for the training exercise. Our job was to make our fellow MPs as miserable as possible for the next week.  Rather than sleeping in tents like the rest of the MPs, we were based in a plywood mock-up of a helicopter fuselage. One corner of the helo was piled high with C-rations, water cans, 7.62mm blank ammo, smoke grenades and hand grenade simulators. This was shaping up to be the most fun I had in the Army, and I was excited to get started.

I was instantly blinded and deafened by the blast and there was a question as to whether I would be able to complete the exercise.

Our DI was an expert on guerilla tactics and outlined the operations we would mount against the superior numbers of MP’s we would harass. One thing we did frequently was to rig booby-trapped road blocks, which quickly became my specialty.  I concealed smoke grenades and hand grenade simulators under tree branches, rocks and blown-down timber we used to construct the road blocks.  At first it was easy to “blow up” the MPs who had to clear the debris to enable their convoys to continue down the road.  Later, they became more careful as they dismantled our road blocks, so I had to become increasingly sophisticated in placing the smoke and explosives. One trick I employed was to use a decoy grenade which was relatively easy to find, creating the false sense of security in the MPs who thought they had disarmed the roadblock. Then, the second or even the third grenade would detonate as they hastily removed the remainder of the debris. Of the dozens of road blocks we constructed and I booby-trapped, not one was successfully disarmed.  I had mixed emotions about that, because if I could do this as effectively as I had, how would these guys ever survive a real booby trap in Nam?

The bitch about a road block is that there is the possibility of ambush each time you roll up on one, so you have to be quick in clearing it, but at the same time, you must be methodical in case it’s booby trapped. From concealed positions on high ground, we usually just observed the MP’s dismantling the road blocks, but on a couple of occasions, we did mount ambushes. I learned a hard lesson during the first ambush.  Our M-14’s had rock-and-roll selector switches for full auto fire.  With the blank adaptor in place, there was adequate gas pressure to cycle the action of the M-14 reliably in semi-auto mode, but there was a tendency for it to occasionally fail to eject a spent round in full auto mode, meaning you had to cycle the action by hand to eject the spent round and chamber a live round.  During the first ambush, we were spread out about five meters apart across the top of a hill, with me on point, furthest from our DI.  SOP for an ambush was to each fire a couple of magazines into the stalled convoy and beat feet before they dismounted from the deuce and a half trucks and returned fire.  I had a jam, was clearing my weapon, and did not hear the command to retreat.  When I looked up, I was all alone and taking heavy fire from the convoy. I sprinted toward our jeep as the DI was putting it into gear, and jumped in. He opened up on me immediately, telling me that I had endangered the other aggressors and that in combat, he would probably have left me behind to save the rest of the team. I was very embarrassed for having been called out, but realized the DI was right. I would never make that mistake again. Situational awareness keeps you alive.

We alternated between daylight and nocturnal operations to keep the MPs off balance.  Some days we slept in our helo hotel for most of the day and harassed the MP’s at night, ambushing their patrols and conducting brief raids on the main force to wake everyone up and keep them awake the rest of the night.

One full moon night, we were concealed in a dense stand of scrub pine at a crossroads waiting to ambush a patrol. The aggressor next to me attempted to lob a hand grenade simulator into the middle of the patrol, but hit a branch in the tree directly above me.  I heard the simulator strike a couple more branches on the way down and then it bounced off my steel pot and exploded about two inches from my right ear.  I was instantly blinded and deafened by the blast and there was a question as to whether I would be able to complete the exercise. I was scared, not knowing how badly I had been hurt, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to finish this exercise, I was enjoying it too much. My vision slowly returned over the next hour, although my hearing never fully recovered. Had it been a real grenade, my head would have been blown completely off. Another lesson learned. I had a few unkind words for the fellow who made the errant throw, but that was nothing compared to the ass chewing the DI gave him, pointing out that he had not only “killed” me, but took himself out as well with his bullshit grenade toss.

Our final night in the woods was the best. The DI had planned an assault on the MP command post.  One of our aggressors, a former track man from Notre Dame, was to low crawl toward the CP while the rest of us conducted a diversionary attack designed to lure the security forces guarding the CP in our direction. The track man would enter the CP, seize the unit colors and use his speed to escape before being captured. The plan worked perfectly, although the MPs were adamant they had shot our man before he cleared the perimeter.  Our DI over-ruled them and said that the aggressors had won the final exercise. We were all proud as hell to have our little band of four guerillas beat out over 150 MPs.

While riding back to our barracks the next day I had a chance to hear from one of my platoon buddies about how much our small group of aggressors had been able to disrupt the much larger force. Their inability to disarm the booby traps I set was very frustrating and our nightly “visits” had everyone sleep deprived and short-tempered by the end of the week. The clear lesson was that a highly motivated small force could negatively influence a much larger element. This is the cornerstone of guerilla warfare and we all had a chance to see it first-hand.

My week as an aggressor taught me a lot more than I would have learned had I been one of the poor saps riding around in the convoys we harassed. I never found out who selected me, but I sure was grateful for the experience.