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That time a helicopter almost landed on my head

September 13, 2023 - 00:00
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This is another one of my Army stories, so hold on tight! After completing my Initial Entry Training (AKA Boot Camp), Advanced Individual Training and Airborne School, I was assigned to C Battery, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment. This was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina deep in the heart of the 82nd Airborne Division.

As paratroopers, we conducted numerous airborne operations where we jumped out of airplanes. That part was actually kind of fun. Gliding down out of the droning noise of the aircraft into the serene, peaceful air was especially memorable. Once on the ground, however, it was all business. That part wasn’t fun.

I came to realize that the Army took the word “field” very seriously when it comes to field artillery. We basically lived out in the field. But this was no campout – far from it. In fact, it was the most grueling work I had ever experienced, and it seemed to go on forever. I kept track of all the field exercises we completed in one year. The total was over 100 days and nights. Just thinking about all that makes my back hurt!

There are 6 howitzer cannons that make up an artillery battery and the overall concept of an artillery unit in the field was to keep them moving to reduce the chance of being located. Moving something of this size takes a lot of people exerting their maximum effort for a very long time. On a typical day we would move twice during the daylight hours and once more at night. This cycle repeated until the training exercise was completed.

Another way we moved the cannons was by helicopter. These are called airmobile operations and they are quite different from other modes of travel. Along with the 6 cannons, we had about 9 Humvees which could all be picked up and resettled by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. The way this works is a set of chains is affixed to the 4 corners of a vehicle, coming together on top of the vehicle, and connected by a huge clevis. Each length of chain must have the exactly correct count of its links to ensure stability while in flight.

This one evening it was my turn to hook up the Humvee to the helicopter, and needless to say I was a bit nervous and excited at the same time. We got everything secured on the vehicle and I climbed up on top to wait on the helicopter. I first saw it far off in the distance and I could already see the static charge created by the twin rotors. With light fading quickly, it slowly came closer and closer to me, getting larger and larger every second. I could feel my heart racing and my breathing was like that of an Olympic sprinter. To put this in perspective, the Chinook Helicopter is about the same length as an 18-wheeler trailer. And it was headed straight for me. By the time it got to me I was simply in awe of how big that thing was. However, my time of wonderment was cut short by the loadmaster onboard the helicopter. There was a hook on the bottom of the hovering beast to accept the clevis that I had in my hands. I could see the loadmaster in his full flight suit very clearly and he said, “Give it to me!” and I did just as he said – I snapped that clevis into the hook assembly, jumped off the Humvee and watched it fly off into the night. What a day that was.

The column represents the thoughts and opinions of Alan Shoalmire. Opinion columns are NOT the opinion of the Navasota Examiner.

Alan Shoalmire is a resident in Grimes County and the owner of Grill Sergeant Hotdogs and submits a column to the Navasota Examiner every other week.