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June 14, 2005

Guest Post : A TINS*!

SangerM has few rantpeers in the blogosphere. He is also a TINS aficionado, both reading and recounting. He sent me this example a couple of days ago. If you ever thought the crewchief of an Army helicopter boring holes in the peacetime skies had a sweet deal, read on.

Not recommended for the underaged, the nervous, or the terminally queasy...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

How I got my first Civilian Job.

It was the throwing up that did it.

In 1984 I was put in charge of a helicopter platoon. The platoon consisted of three old, but highly modified Huey helicopters. The equipment on board was designed to intercept, record, and if desired, jam the living daylights out of enemy radio transmissions. That two of the helicopters had actually been shot down in Vietnam (we had the log books to prove it) might give you some idea of how old, and how modified, these birds were. They were called "Quickfix" helicopters.

As a bona fide crewmember on an Army aircraft I was qualified to receive flight incentive pay, and to wear the coveted wings, as long as I managed to spend at least 4 hours per month in the air doing my job. This meant that I had to fly around in one of the crewmember seats listening to and tuning the radio, recording voice conversations, and so on, even if the flight was only for training. And believe me, 4 hours is a lot of time to accumulate in a month when there are 12 of you who need to get the time, only 2 seats in each aircraft, and there are no training exercises planned for the next two months. During an exercise we could each rack up 12-20 hours, but time does pass quickly, and it is important to take your flights when you can.

So it was that one day, a Major E. needed to get a check ride in a Quickfix helicopter. He was over from the states, and figured it would be as good a time as any to do his annual check ride, since we had a bona fide test pilot in our company. So the warrant officer and Major E. were going to go up. I asked if I could go too. No sweat, but hurry because launch is in about 20 minutes. They went off to pre-flight and I went off to change.

I kept a flight suit at work for just such an occasion, and in no time I was off. Being in a hurry, however, I made one of the biggest tactical errors of my entire life. I ran out to the helicopter with only my helmet. I did not wear my vest or take my helmet bag. This was the mistake. Why? Well, I get airsick. And I always carried a couple of ziplock bags in my helmet bag or in my pockets, or in my vest, so that I could do what I needed to, and not make everyone else miserable.

See, in the Quickfix birds, the crew members sit in high, padded, forward-facing seats, looking at a rack of equipment that stretches nearly to the top of the crew cabin. We could not see forward. Also, because the seats are so high, the top of the side-door windows come to about shoulder level, which means we could only see down, not out to the horizon. And a horizon is what I need to keep from getting sick. Also, we were not allowed to take dramamine or other chemicals when flying, and I did not know about ginger, so I paid for my love affair with helicopters almost every time I got in one.

This was a recipe for disaster.

About an hour into the flight, the Major called back over the intercom and asked me to look out the windows for an F-4 that was in the area. He wanted me to be an extra pair of eyes. No big deal, except I then did something that no one with experience would ever have done. I bent over forward in my seat and turned my head left then right to look out the windows. When I didn't see anything, I sat back up quickly. THAT was the mistake!

At that moment, time slowed to a crawl as my mind raced through the options. I knew I was going to barf in less than ten seconds. I did not however, have anything to barf into. Nothing! So I had three choices: I could barf on the floor, I could barf on the equipment racks (keyboards, radios, computers, etc.), or I could barf down the inside of my flight suit. Not much choice there, actually. I did not want to have to clean up the helicopter when we got back, so I pulled the neck of my T-shirt way out, and I barfed.

I hear you all going. Ughhhhhhh!

IT. WAS. GOD-AWFUL! AAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHH!!!!

But it was done. So I carefully tightened and closed the Velcro fastener at my neck, and I leaned back in the seat and tried to think myself somewhere else. I even managed to tell the Major that I hadn't seen the F-4, but I did not mention my accident because I was embarrassed.

The next 20 minutes were awful, but the worst had actually passed. Or so I thought. It was not an unpleasant flight back to the field, but as we approached I remembered that we always topped off the fuel tanks upon return, and it was the job of the crewmember to do fire guard. Now this is a dumb-guy job, but it is important. The aircraft sits on the pad, running. Blades spinning at idle. The pilots remain at the controls while a fuel jockey connects a hose and does his job. And a crew member stands off to the side with a medium size fire extinguisher in hand. This is not to put out a burning helicopter, but to put out burning people. Really. If a fire starts, the fireguard is to help the pilots and the fueler get away from the plane. As I was the only crewmember on this flight, it was my turn.

Did I mention my flight suit was one of those sleek, one piece green things worn by every aviator in the Army? And did I mention that I wore my t-shirt outside my boxer shorts? Well, it was and I did, which meant that standing and walking was going to be ugly. So, I called up to the front and asked if they would be willing to drop me off at the hanger before they fueled up. But I didn't mention why (I couldn't bring myself to admit it), so they said no. Great.

Minutes later I was standing there, freezing in the rotor wash, holding the fire extinguisher nozzle in my left hand, and holding my right arm across my stomach. The front of me was a big wet circle that stretched from my chest to my thighs. And my misery was compounded when I saw the Major point me out to the test pilot, who started laughing himself silly.

After I climbed back in and got buckled up so we could go park the helicopter, the Major called back and told me that I should have said something. This was a helicopter after all, and he could have landed it anywhere to let me take a leak. To which I responded by telling him what really happened.

Stunned silence. No response. I saw the two of them look at one another in disbelief. Then the Major calls back and says, "You are one tough son-of-a-bitch." Then the two of them just laughed their asses off. I was not laughing.

After we got back, I went straight to the showers. I got undressed in the shower, and I washed up for at least 20 minutes. When I got out, I threw away my underwear and my socks. The flight suit never did lose the smell, no matter how many times I washed it, so I got it DX'd for a torn zipper. I walked back through the hanger to my office buck naked; I didn't care who saw me, but fortunately it was late in the day, and none of the women were present.

That night, we were having a going away party for the Major at a local gasthaus. I was not the first to arrive, so when I walked in the door, I was greeted with hoots and cheers, and I took a ribbing for that for the rest of the night. Thrills.

Now zip ahead two years or so. I am in the S-3 of an aviation battalion in Texas. I am the only one in the office, as I had decided to work through lunch. The phone rings, so I answered it, which the secretary would have done otherwise. It was, to my surprise, a colonel who I knew worked with Major E. I introduced myself and asked if knew where Major E. was. Yes, the now-Lt. Colonel was in Texas on another project, and he gave me his number.

Later, I called E., to see if he had any leads on jobs, since I was getting out of the Army in September of that year. He remembered me explicitly, we had a few laughs, and he gave me the name and number of a fellow in Virginia who might be interested in my skills and experience.

The following February, I started working for that fellow in Virginia. I was told I came with the highest recommendation as a person who could think quickly and who could make tough decisions. Right.

And THAT's how I got my first ever civilian job.


WARNING WARNING WARNING! Seriously disturbed and stomach-churning comments below. Peruse at own risk! Must have barf bag handy! Management not responsible for patrons choking or slipping on vomit... Enter at own risk.

Geez, Argghhh!!! has jumped the snark. Interservice vomit-rivalry. Thanks, guys. I am *soooo* proud!

CW4BillT | Permalink | Comments (37) | This is no Sh*t!
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