Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's like deja vu all over again

Just a few days after "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" in the helicopter (see blog post "Taken for a ride"), I found myself seated directly behind the gunner on the left side of the aircraft. It seemed as though they knew I was a Chaplain in advance (maybe seeing my name on manifests practically every day will do that?), or perhaps just seeing the Chaplain Branch insignia on my uniform is what did it.

In any event, the gunner who escorted my Rent-A-Chaplain-Assistant and me out to the aircraft very deliberately had us get seated in the row of seats in the front of the passenger section of the vehicle. I was on the left side of the row, and SGT R was one seat away from me on the right, directly behind the gunner on that side.

After checking to make sure our seat belts and shoulder harnesses were fastened, the gunner buckled himself in, and we took off.

I noticed him glancing back in my direction a couple of times, which seemed a bit odd. He was also chatting into his microphone more than usual as he was glancing back. The crew of those aircraft wear rather idiosyncratic helmets which make them look like something out of a Star Wars movie set, and almost complete cover their features, unless the retractable visors are up. Even with his visor down, I could tell that that Soldier was smiling *a lot* as he communicated over his headset with whomever, and was glancing back in my direction.

I'd never seen this glancing-talking-glancing-talking thing before, so it caught my attention. Probably a good thing that I was paying attention, too: I noticed after glancing, talking, and smiling, the gunner steadied his weapon in the gunner's hatch, and then placed both of his hands on his seat, appearing to grab hold tightly.

I said to myself: "Self. This is probably not a good sign."

I did the same thing. I grabbed onto my seat with both hands.

Good thing, too.

Almost immediately we went into a much sharper, steeper, more terrifying series of zigs and zags and dives and recoveries than I'd experienced just a few days earlier.

While we were doing this, the other aircraft, which was ahead of us, just continued on its merry -- and smooth -- way, by now far ahead and above us.

Moments later, though, we were above them, though still far back, and nanoseconds after that, we were a mere 70 meters above the ground.

My gunner was looking back at me at that point with a huge -- humongous -- grin on his face, obviously laughing his ass off. I gave him the both-thumbs-up sign, and grabbed my seat again, just as we dived into a series of lurchings left and right.

(A medevac pilot I spoke with afterward laughed and told me he was pretty sure the pilot was trying to show me a good time and/or get me to barf. He seemed impressed that I'd not "lost it" because he's known many a passenger to do so.)

At the first stop on this multi-leg jaunt to get to where we'd be doing Mass, SGT R and I had to be moved to the lead aircraft, because where we were being dropped off was so small that only one chopper could land while the other would circle, waiting.

As the gunner from the other side of the aircraft led us to the lead vehicle, I told him the ride was awesome.

He partially removed his helmet so he could hear me. "Did you say, 'awesome,' Sir?" I gave him two thumbs up.

He replaced his helmet, and put the index finger of his right hand to his mouth as if to say, "Don't tell anyone."

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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1 comment:

angelinabeadalina said...

New nickname for you-- Father Fearless!

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