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War Stories
Posted by: McQ on Sunday, August 06, 2006

How about a change of pace?

Get any group of vets together and before the gathering is over, "war stories" will be told. It doesn't matter what the branch of service or when the vet served, the stories easily relate to all times and services. And, for the most part, they're not really about war. They're mostly about their time in the service and usually relate to some humorous incident that could only happen in the military. For the most part the story is about the teller's experience in some odd, crazy or funny incident.

So here goes. This is a jump school story for me. When I entered the army as a butter bar (a Second Lieutenant ... there's really nothing lower than a 2LT because, well, he's an officer and, like most officers, he has no idea what he's doing, but more so than most ... ask any NCO), I had to go to jump school to learn how to exit a perfectly good airplane in flight (and fright). Now as you can imagine, jumping from airplanes is not something which is found to be in the genetic code of most human beings (in fact, many say that only bird crap and paratroopers fall from the sky, but they're just jealous "legs"). So they have to be trained to do it.

At Benning School for Boys, aka Ft. Benning, GA, they have the Airborne School. What the Airborne School does is turn out paratroopers for all the airborne divisions like the 82nd, the Ranger Regiment, Special Forces and most other special ops types from other services. Most likely if you learned to jump from a military aircraft, that's where you learned it.

As should be obvious, the instructors there, known as "black hats" in my day for the distinctive black baseball caps they wore with the oval and jump wings on it, were a respected and fearsome lot. You did it their way or you hit the highway. The course is 3 weeks long with the first two weeks teaching you how to exit that aircraft properly and the last week actually doing it from real, live aircraft.

Of course part of the training also has to do with what you do when things don't quite work out like they should. Like landing in water, or heading toward high tension wires, or landing in trees. And then there were the parachute malfunctions such as the Mae West (named after a busty femme fatal of the '30s) and streamer and how to deploy your reserve in the case of those. They even told you what to do if you became a "towed jumper" meaning your static line somehow gets hung up as you exit the aircraft and your chute never deploys. There you are flapping along behind the aircraft at 130 knots with not a care in the world and they want you to communicate with them.

Anyway, naturally none of us really believed any of that would happen to us, so we pretended rapt listening and as with most trainees, let our minds wander to more pleasant thoughts.

So it's the third week, jump week, the week we've all been waiting for and I'm making my 4th jump. I'm over the abject fear of the second jump (The first jump you're not really sure what to expect. But you damn sure are the second one.) and have two more jumps to get my wings. So I'm psyched.

However, today, for the first time, we're jumping with equipment. Unlike skydivers, we jump with what we need in the field, which, of course is a lot of stuff. Heavy stuff. Our first three jumps were called "Hollywood" jumps because we did them sans equipment. This time we're carrying about 60 lbs (which, as I found out later with the 82nd isn't half "heavy"). I'm preoccupied with the equipment for some reason and worried about getting out the door properly without looking like a damn fool.

Up we go. We're jumping a C-119, the venerable "Flying Boxcar". We head toward Fryer Drop Zone and the jumpmaster starts giving the jump commands. "Stand up", "hook up", "check static line", "check equipment" and "sound off for equipment check" all over the roar of the engines and the open jump doors.

The dreaded but anticipated "stand in the door" command was next, and when it was given the first jumper positioned himself in the open door and awaited the command of "go!"

The rest of us watch the jump lights to see them change from red to green. They do and bang, the first guy is gone and the rest of us are shuffling toward the door. I was the 3rd or 4th guy in the stick. Because of my preoccupation with getting the equipment pack slung under my reserve in the front out of the door, I exited with a very poor body position. Bad news. I got twisted and twirled in the aircraft slipstream so when my parachute opened, my risers were twisted down behind my head.

I couldn't look up to check my canopy which, of course, is the first thing you're supposed to do. I could only look left or right. Then I remembered that they told us to look at the jumpers who'd gone out before us and if we could only see their boots (they should be lower than me so I should see their canopies instead) we probably had a malfunction.

I look to my right and, yup, nothing but boots. Oh boy. About then I dimly remember a voice on a loud-speaker saying, "man with the Mae-West, pull your reserve". Well, I had no idea if that was me because I still couldn't see my canopy. So, remembering that good training I had, I recalled that if my risers were twisted behind my neck, all I had to do was bicycle my legs and they would untwist. So I did, and, like magic, I untwisted.

The voice on the ground was getting more insistent now, "Man with the Mae-West, pull your reserve!"

Having now untwisted myself, I looked up. Guess who had a Mae West? Yup. They call it a Mae West because usually a suspension line manages to loop itself over the canopy and make two smaller canopies out of the larger one. So it looks like you're riding a giant bra down toward the ground. The problem is the two smaller canopies have about half the lift of the full canopy so you head to the ground at a pretty rapid rate of descent. And not a healthy rate for those who don't like broken bones and internal injuries.

So I start to pull my reserve. But just as I begin, my eye catches movement. The suspension line is sliding off the canopy. The voice on the ground is now yelling, "MAN WITH THE MAE WEST PULL YOUR RESERVE!!"

I reach up, grab the risers on one side and shake them as hard as I can. The suspension line slides all the way off and the canopy opens full. I ride it down, make my PLF (parachute landing fall) and pop up.

And when I pop up, I'm staring right into the chest of the biggest NCO I've ever seen. SFC White. I know that was his name because it was stenciled on his T-shirt at eye level. This guy was the one you'd get if you were going to make a recruiting poster for the Airborne. SFC White was not at all happy with this butter bar. And as soon as he began to speak, I recognized his voice.

"Man with the Mae West, pull your reserve".

Now it is a delicate art for an NCO to chew out an officer ... even a 2LT. SFC White was very familiar with that art. In fact, dare I say it, he may have been a master at it.

In a very professional yet clear way, he called me everything but an officer. But, of course, he put "sir" on the end of it all, so it was ok. And "sir" was a one word sentence. For instance he'd say, "when I tell you to pull your reserve you will pull your reserve without hesitation. I'm not asking you to pull it. I'm not suggesting you pull it. I'm telling you to pull it and you will pull it. Sir".

He was pretty disgusted with me and after chastising me, he leaned over and asked more softly, "sir, do you know why you're an 01?"

O1 is the grade of a 2LT. 02 is a 1LT, 03 a Captain, etc.

When he invoked the grade I figured I was to the part of the lecture where he was going to tell me how it was my job as a leader to set the example, do the right thing, follow orders, etc. So, preparing myself to hear that lecture, I replied, "no sergeant, why is that"?

Dumb thing to ask. SFC White pulled himself back to his full height and in a booming voice said, "because they don't make f***ing oh-nothings! Sir!", spun on his heel and left me there looking for something under which to crawl.

Second Lieutenants. The Rodney Dangerfield of the officer corps. And it falls on pro's like the SFC Whites of this world to bring 'em up.

Heh ... and sometimes the upbringin' is a little rough. I've never forgotten him or that classic line. And you know what ... it's true.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

"Hit the hole, pole-man, hit the hole!"

Don’t forget everyone’s favorite PLF: feet, knees, head.
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
"Rig and run, rig and run"

Or the backward PLF: feet, ass and head.

The good old days.
Written By: McQ
A brand new back-seater (Air Force F-4 Weapon System Officer - WSO) showed up in the squadron fresh from a tour at the Pentagon. He had a lot of flying time but none in the Phantom. The last thing he flew was an old F-94 in a NORAD interceptor squadron during the early 60s.

Our squadron had a policy of crewing front (Pilot) and back (Navigator - WSO) seaters depending upon their relative experience and he, being the short pole in the tent, got crewed with a crusty old Major. This major did not like to fly using "hot mike" and preferred people flying with him to turn the intercom off and use the intercom switch. It bothered him to hear someone else breathing all the time.

We were in a four ship formation on a long mission involving multiple air refuelings. We were in bad weather throughout the mission and this old F-94 WSO became disoriented and lost. He also could not determine the difference between the intercom switch and the radio transmission switch, located on the throttle. So he inadvertently transmitted over the radio, "Where the hell are we?"

Nobody knew where the transmission came from, those old F-4Cs had notoriously scratchy radios, and no one answered.

Again, thinking he was speaking on intercom to his pilot he said over the radio, "I said, where the hell are we?"

By now several of the flight members realized where the transmission was coming from and hilarity ensued - but not over the radio. Pilots began laughing and their formation flying became erratic becasue of it and then finally the last straw occurred when the poor man transmitted, "Where the hell are we? I’m a navigator. I have a RIGHT to know!"

The formation was blown. Two of the four wingmen lost formation integrity in the weather and it took almost 10 minutes to get everyone back together.
Written By: SShiell
URL: http://
Great story, McQ! Although I’m sure you’d still turn red at some of the terms my father used to use to refer to second lieutenants. He retired as a CWO5 after 43 years in the army, three wars, and lots and lots of dazed and confused young officers.
Written By: The Poet Omar
I remember I had a fantastic CPO (= NCO for the non-mil types) who worked for me when I was Schedules officer in the VP squadron scheduling 12 aircraft & 155 aircrew. I was an O2 and had an O4 that was new to the squadron. He was constantly standing at my sched table complaining about how "we" were scheduling "him". One day, I had about all I could take of the guy and was about to piss all over him (yeah I know) when my Chief saw what was going on and stepped in to suggest I go get a cup of coffee and he would handle the matter.

He tactfully told the O4 that "we" would take care of him if he would just tell "us" what he wanted. The whiner said he did not want to work all day and then have to fly all night (didn’t we all!). So my Chief told him "Sir, it’s taken care of" and off the O4 went happy as a pig in mud.

I returned from my break and saw the Chief standing by his desk with some sort of logbook that had a hand painted fire hose & nozzle with a wicked expression on its ’face’. I asked him what he was doing and he replied "Oh, just taking care of the LCDR." Later, when he was at lunch I took a closer look. Apparently, the Chief was compiling a "Hose Log" and the good LCDR was now at the top of the list and spent the next 4 weeks flying every guessed night.

Ahhhh yes, I remember.......
Written By: Unscripted Thoughts
URL: http://
Being a 2LT is a right of passage for a young officer. An initiation into the world of the military. But some of the stuff they do to 2LTs is simply hilarious. And any 2LT who thinks he’s really a platoon leader still doesn’t understand how it works. The platoon sergeant really runs the place and he’s developing both his squad leaders and his platoon leader at the same time. The NCO’s burden. ;)

But, it works. The good ones catch on quick and go on to be good officers.
Written By: McQ
That is a good story, McQ. I had heard that line before but had forgotten it. It was during ground week and I was an E3 and not the O1 in question or I am certain that I would have remembered it. Thanks for the memory.
Written By: BillD
URL: http://
Heh, working in the Army I’ve heard a few of these myself.
Written By: Jeff the Baptist
I contest the use of the phrase "perfectly good airplane", having flown in a few C-130s and wishing I had the option of jumping out.

’Course, I’m just a jealous "leg" grunt!
Written By: Jeff
URL: http://
Being an Infantry LT at Bragg myself, I have gone through airborne school in the recent past. I have to say that the NCO’s there (and at Benning in general) are no less "professional" (if that’s the term you want to use) nowadays....

One thing that has changed however is you would never hear it referred to as a "Mae West" in today’s overly PC, EO, and safety-hamstringed Army. They call it by the more ’technical’ sounding term "semi-inversion" now.
Written By: JC
URL: http://
Here’s a ButterBar story that fell into my inbox a few years ago:

A ButterBar is a low-ranking Lieutenant in Air-Force jargon. Read

Every second lieutenant acquires embarrassing memories when he wears
gold bars; it seems to come with the job.

The first time the Air Force sent me on temporary duty by myself, I
experienced probably the most embarrassing moment in my life, which I
tell here in hopes that other butter bars out there won’t make the same

I was traveling from Wright-Patterson AFB OH to Vandenberg AFB CA one
spring, and the flight scheduled me for a two-hour layover in the St.
Louis MO airport. I decided to hit the snack bar and bought a cup of coffee,
a package of Oreos and a newspaper. After giving the cashier the nine
bucks or so these items cost, I scanned the crowded sitting area for a place
to relax. The lounge was crowded, but there appeared to be a spot across
from a fellow in a military uniform of some sort. "Great!" I thought,
"another soldier. Maybe he can tell me about life in the forces.,,

With my coffee on the right side of the table, my newspaper on the left
and my oreos in the center, I sat down before I took my first close look at
the man opposite me. He was a Marine corps brigadier general -a
mean-looking man with no hair, an honest-to-God scar on his forehead and about six rows of ribbons, including the Silver Star with a cluster. To me, the
general had horns, fangs, a pitchfork and a long, pointed tail as well.

I was already committed to using the table, but not wanting to bother
the general, I meekly squeaked out, "Good morning, sir," before sitting

I had begun the paper’s crossword puzzle and was making good progress
when I heard a peculiar rustling sound, much like the crinkling of
cellophane. I looked up out of the corner of my eye to discover the general had
reached across the center of the table, opened the package of Oreos, taken out
one and was eating it. Now, not having attended the Air Force Academy, I
was not familiar with how to deal with the finer points of military
etiquette, such as what to do when a senior member of another service calmly rips off one of your cookies. Several responses came to mind, but none of these
seemed entirely appropriate.

I realized that the honor of the Air Force was, in a small way, at
stake here. I certainly couldn’t let the general think I was a complete weenie.
Besides, at airport prices, one oreo is a significant fraction of take home pay
for a second lieutenant. The only response I could make was to reach across
the center of the table, open the opposite end of the package (trying not
to notice that the other end had mysteriously come open somehow), extract
an Oreo and eat it very, very thoroughly.

"There," I thought, "I’ve subtly shown the general that these are my
Oreos, and he should go buy his own". Marines are known for many qualities,
but subtlety is not among them. The general calmly reached out for another
Oreo and ate it. (By the way, the general was licking the middles out first
before eating the cookies.) Not having said anything the first time, of
course, I couldn’t bring it up now. The only thing to do was to take another
cookie for myself. We wound up alternating through the entire package. For an
instant our eyes met, and there was palpable tension in the air, but
neither of us said a word.

After I had finished the last Oreo, they announced something over the
public address system. The general got up, put his papers back into his
briefcase, picked up the now empty wrapper, threw it away, brushed the few crumbs neatly off the table and left. I sat there marveling at his gall and feeling very foolish.

A few minutes later, they announced my flight. I felt a great deal more
foolish when I finished my coffee, threw the cup away and lifted my
newspaper to reveal ... my Oreos!

Today, two of us are running around the Armed Forces telling the same
story, but only one of us has the punch line. And general, if you are
reading this, get in touch with me and I will be glad to send you a case of

Written By: Abu Booga-Booga
"I contest the use of the phrase "perfectly good airplane", having flown in a few C-130s..."

Consider yourself lucky, the C-130 is wonderful compared to overaged C-123’s.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Consider yourself lucky, the C-130 is wonderful compared to overaged C-123’s.
Heh ... have to agree, having ridden in and jumped both. I’d take a 130 any day over a 123.
Written By: McQ

Doomsday Pending? or Doomsday Thwarted?

In the year 1905, Nobel physicist, Albert Einstein, discovered the Proton Genie, and gave the World his paradigm E=mc² equation.

Einstein proved that extracting and fusing PROTONS from ordinary pure water can make everybody on Earth so idly rich and content from the benefits of this clean, virtually-free and inexhaustible energy supply that nobody should ever again have to contend with pollution, war or poverty, and Mother Nature will once again reign as The Supreme Mistress of any and all Climate Change.

The Earth Clock reads: One Minute Until Doomsday!

Is it too late? Or, will some ordinary, individual tinkerer (maybe even a high school student) rise to the occasion and demonstrate the physical expression of Einstein’s equation so that the entire World can prosper in peace and happiness, far into the distant future?

web site:

URL: http://

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