Saturday, December 02, 2006

Infil into my AO

The following events toop place just over two month ago and are not related to the recent typhoon which struck the Philippines this week.

Infiltration into my Area of Operation (AO) required a night on a plane, a day lost crossing the international date line, a night on a wooden slate bed in a Phil Army compound then another night on a large WWII landing craft in a typhoon. I went from Sunday to Thursday without a shower and so I didn’t mind it when the water was cold. It would be another 2 months before I would get the chance to take a warm shower, but I digress; back to a night I would never forget.

It was just starting to rain when we loaded the landing craft. This wasn’t the little one you remember seeing in all the WWII movies charging the beaches of Normandy; this was a big one used for landing large vehicles. It still had the bow ramp but the cargo area was almost big enough for a football field. The boat had no overhead cover so we improvised and threw up a couple of giant tarps. For tent poles the boat crew brought out several 6” x 12” beams about 10’ long; they tied cord to the tops and nailed them to 4’ beams at the bottom to try to hold them in place on the rusted steel deck. Sure, a lot of technical specs but you’ll see why in a minute.

When we pulled away from the shore we could see the rows of clouds that were the outer bands of the typhoon. The seas were rough and we were joking about how sea-sick we were going to be during our 12 hour tour, and yes, there were some Gilligan’s Island jokes too. I learned in the Jumpmaster course that the best way to avoid motion sickness was to keep busy so I stayed near the bow watching the horizon/ships/islands until it was too dark to see. I came back a while later when some of the guys were standing just behind the bow ramp looking toward the stern. I joined them. Where we stood, the horizon gave us a stable point of reference and we could remain relatively motionless while the boat rocked beneath us. The novelty was watching the superstructure get tossed around by the sea. After the novelty wore off I watched the luminescence of the sea for a while then I determined that it was late enough and I was tired enough to get some sleep without fear of motion sickness. I laid down and immediately fell asleep.

Occasionally I would be jarred awake with the boat crashing down on a wave. As an old percussionist, I know the difference between a slap that just makes sound and one that does damage. Nothing sounded wrong and the steady motion of the ship continued so I would quickly drift back to sleep, until…

I awoke to another crash, this one was louder than most but worse yet, it was accompanied by a very unnatural jerking motion. When my eyes opened like saucers, I was surrounded in an eerie blackness; the light that was filtering under our tarp earlier in the night was gone. Others had also been awakened and I could hear the shock and bewilderment coming from them too.

When my faculties began to clear I first noticed that the tarp that used to be 10’ overhead was now within 2’. I got up and began assessing the damage. Since the ship’s crew did not appear to be panicking, I quickly determined that our worst fears were not happening. The ship had not broken up and we were not sinking.

What had happened was one of the posts used as a tent pole had been thrown forward. Since it was anchored by cords at the top it could not fall over naturally but instead the bottom with the 4’ beam attached shot forward. My cot just happened to be in the way and the unnatural jar which awoke me was the motion of my cot getting tossed a couple of feet. We quickly reconfigured our tarp tent and went back to sleep.

Our 12 hour tour, due to the rough seas, lasted 18 hours. When we were finally on solid ground again it took another day for the ground to stop moving. I guess I now know what sea legs are. At the end of it all, when I first enlisted in the army almost 22 years ago, my wildest dreams could not have imagined myself infiltrating into a combat zone on a WWII landing craft. Now, it’s a night I will never forget.

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