Monday, January 26, 2015

Survival

Last week, Sarge posted about cold exposure in Korea during the winter.  That reminded me of this "war" story.

So,  There I was....* A brand new First Lieutenant at my first operational tour in the 80TFS "Juvats" at Kunsan AB ROK.  I have completed my area checkout and am now an operational Fighter Pilot.  That having been said, my operational skills do not accurately reflect my self image. 
Who I was
Source

Who I thought I was
Source

In any case, the Wing is about to be given an ORI (Operational Readiness Inspection).  As I've mentioned elsewhere, an ORI is intended to determine the Wing's overall combat readiness and capabilities.  The reality of the inspection is that it is an evaluation of the Wing and Squadron Commanders and determines their future potential for promotion and a continuing career in the Air Force.  To be sure, individual screwups, even by lowly First Lieutenants, are not career enhancing either.  Let us just say ORIs are stressful for all hands and leave it at that.

Based on the high stakes and my low experience, I have been relegated to the night schedule.  Out of sight, out of mind as the saying goes.  The ORI is in February.  The inspectors will be cold and miserable enough during the day, there's no reason to expect to see them at night. 

The ORI team arrives and we're off to the races. Airfield attack horns going off, Gas Masks and MOPP gear being donned, missions being flown, it's a busy time, even at night.  The rules at the time were you could only fly twice at night as opposed to three times during the day.  We would show at the squadron about 8, brief at 9 for an 11PM takeoff.  Missions were usually 1.2, so we'd be down about 12:15.  We'd do a quick turn and be back in the air about 1:15 on the ground by 2:30, debrief and leave the squadron as the sun was coming up around 6.  Head for the quarters and try to sleep.  Get up and do it again.  This goes on for a few days when just before leaving the squadron, I get called in to my Flight Commander's office and told I'm going to be taken off the schedule for this evening's flight.  I've been selected for a "good deal".  

The ORI wants to evaluate the Wing's survival skills.  They've got an instructor from the survival school at Fairchild on the team and they want to take someone out overnight and see how they fare.  My Flight Commander says that since I just went through the school the end of November, I was the best choice.  Yeah Right!

Later that day, I show up at base ops and meet the instructor.  I've got my flight gear with me,  He's got a seat pack from an F-4 and a parachute.  In short I've got what I'd have if I had just jumped out of a jet.
Survival Gear which didn't usually include a bottle of Champagne

We board a Huey (a terrifying experience, there's really only one good time to be on a helicopter.  When it has just picked up your pink butt in a rescue.)  

I digress.

We fly North for a bit and land in a frozen rice paddy just as the sun starts to go down.  The instructor and I get out and the Huey disappears to the south.  I recognize where we are generally.  We're in airspace that was named MPSA (Maverick/Pave Spike Area).  We used it all the time to train with training versions of those weapons.
I'm in the general vicinity of the Hwy 32 Marker in the top center

As I said, the sun is going down and the wind is coming off the Yellow Sea at about 15-20k.  It's starting to get very cold.

While the instructor is setting up his tent, cot, sleeping bag and small cook stove, he's quizzing me about initial post ejection survival procedures.  Finally, he's all set up and he's ready to show me my luxury quarters,  He hands me the seat pack and parachute and we're off.  We hike for a couple of miles and climb a hill that's above another rice paddy, frozen.  It's dark.  He asks me what my priorities are now.  I ask him, is this war or peace time survival.  He says peace time.  I say, get out of the elements, attempt to contact someone, and stay warm.  He says your radio is busted.  OK, I look around.  In the field are several Hay Ricks, large piles of the stalks of Rice left behind after the rice was harvested. 
Hay Rick
Source: en.wikipedia.org

I walk over to a group of them and find a couple that are fairly close together and perpendicular to the wind.  I knock down some of the hay into the gap, spread the parachute on top of that, then knock down a bit more on top.  My very own sleeping bag!

He asks "Now what, you going to bed?  I say, "Nope, I'm going to start a fire"  I look in the seat pack for the strike anywhere matches that are in the kit and they're not there.  He laughs and said "I took those out to complicate the exercise a bit for you."   No Problem.  I walk over to the Rick I've decided will be my fireplace, reach into my survival vest, pull out a flare, and light the night end.  
Source


As it ignites, he says "Don't! That'll cost the AF money!"  I reply "Good" and push it into the Rick. 

Slept warm and toasty all night.  The next morning I woke to the sounds of a Huey landing.  The Huey driver said he saw the smoke and fire and knew who was who.

I did learn that I needed to have my own survival kit with what I considered absolute essentials, one of which was matches.

25 comments:

  1. Excellent come back to the instructor.

    Spending the night in a frozen rice paddy is not, repeat not, my idea of a good time.

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    1. Actually, the pad of straw underneath kept me off the ice and kept my body heat from melting it much. The parachute kept the straw off me and the straw on top was extra insulation. I most likely would have been warm even without the fire. But the comment about complicating the exercise was the last straw (so to speak). Besides, I hadn't popped a night end before, so this gave me an excuse. Important safety tip, Don't look at the Flare!

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  2. Awesome story! We had to do something similar, but it involved a life raft in San Francisco Bay, in February.

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    1. I'm pretty sure that would be cold, even in June.

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    2. I can assure you it is even colder in June.
      Mark Twain was not exaggerating about summer in SF.
      The only bad thing about February is the occasional rainstorm with the accompanying winds.

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    3. When my Mom's parents lived in San Francisco (early 60's), I remember visiting one summer and going to whatever beach is just outside the Golden Gate, and being excited about going in the water. I think I got about knee deep when (to use one of Sarge's anatomy terms) my nads retracted inside my body and hypothermia set in. OK not really, but it was colder than I wanted to be on my vacation.

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  3. Ha! Good story. Starts my Monday with a smile.

    I think Bubi would have approved. How much did the Air Force pay for the expended flare and the hay?

    As to jet jockeys and helos, it is as you say. Huge smiles and backslaps if they board via the hoist, otherwise it's all cringing and waiting for the fiery crash.

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    1. Ahh, there was lots of talk about thousands of dollars and taking it out of my pay. In the end, when asked why I did it, I said "Train like you fight. The Air Force has over a million invested in me. If I jumped out in peace time, I'm going to do everything in my power to signal the folks looking for me. " That stopped the bickering. Went through a couple more ORIs over time. Never heard of a survival scenario in any of them again.

      I did buy the Huey driver beers at the club that night for picking me up first though.

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  4. Never went to SERE. Didn't have to. I heard that AFTER teaching you E&E they rounded one up and threw one into a POW camp to learn alt survival skills. Wouldn't catch me!
    Typical navy school. You have not suffered enough.

    Good story. You should have pulled your gun, divested him of his tent, sleeping bag, fire and ditched him in the woods 2 miles away.

    I would have.

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    1. Unfortunately, no pistol was issued.

      Yep. Spent a week running around the Mountains of Eastern Washington and Idaho in Late November freezing rain and ice. I successfully evading almost everyone. Scared the snot out of a Boy Scout I stumbled upon. He went running one way, I went the other. Managed to make it to the pick up point on time and STILL got thrown in the hole. I swore that if they ever made Survival school a currency requirement, I'd leave.

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  5. Just be polite.

    Thanks. That is a wonderful tribute.

    I'll keep saying it as long as it is there.

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  6. Well done and great story.

    My brother went through survival training and the one thing he remembered is he was told "Do not eat a polar bears liver, the vitamin A? is so concentrated it will kill you." My brother said he figured he would never have the opportunity to kill a polar bear, but if he did, with out being told, the last part he would eat would be the liver.

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    1. Yeah, there aren't enough onions in the world to make THAT liver palatable. I do remember the instructors saying that about bears though.

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  7. Wx in the Far East...You just dusted off some brain cobwebs for me and revealed some blog material. Thanks.

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  8. SERE in January 73, froze my ass off, got in trouble for making rattlesnake stew (they were protected, who knew?) 3 days in the hole, waterboarded three times. I was 'non-cooperative' :-) JEST in the PI in 75, I 'knew' we were in trouble when the Negrito instructor (all 4'9") showed up in a loincloth and a smile with a machete! Monkey meat on a stick IS edible...LOL

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    1. Yeah the chipmunk I managed to catch about 5 days into the E&E phase made an excellent soup. And I thoroughly understood Wile E. Coyote's thought bubbles about a full turkey dinner.
      I'd also heard tales about the Negritos and trying to evade them. That had been shut down before I made my first trip to the PI.

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    2. Trust me the tales were ALL true, of course we weren't allowed cameras, but those were/are some SCARY dudes in the jungle...

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  9. Great story. Funny you'd use Snoopy's pic. My wife of then six weeks sent to me in my undisclosed Sep 1965 location, the first Schultz Sunday cartoon using the now famous (and many) Snoopy Shootdowns. I have it framed, still, with her remarks, "Don't worry Honey, you're a better pilot than Snoopy."

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  10. Great story Juvat. I was thinking if only you had a flask of scotch it would have been perfect, but that I am sure would have ended your Air Force career. I had one night that I'd consider a survival night - in 1969 I worked for a summer in the back country of Sequoia NP. When I say back country, we were taken in by a Bell 47 and picked up 3 months later. We hauled chain saws and cut up fallen trees over the trails.

    I found myself at dusk, alone, on a trail that I knew was by some sheer cliff walls. No coat - no flash light - just a tee shirt. I decided to lay down by a stream as that Sierra air got cold - not Korea cold but miserable enough that I shivered all night.

    Anyway you gotta do what you gotta do. You were practical using the flare.

    BTW I liked the Snoopy picture too. If you are ever in NO CA it is worth the trip to Santa Rosa to see the Charles Schultz museum.

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  11. Funny, I never did attend SERE school. Practically my entire UPT class went to a) F-4 pipeline, and b) SEA pipeline direct. Do not pass go, I was told: "Don't worry, we'll send you to snake-school at Clark, but by the time I hit Clark "amended orders" said, in effect, "we need cannon-fodder badly, so DaNang direct, we'll fill the snake-school square later" (if there is a later, lol) After my tour at DaNang it was the UK direct, so no survival school either, as they needed mucho warm bodies as the ranks had been depleted by the demands of SEA. I was finally scheduled to go out of the UK but bolted to the civilian world prior to enjoying the experience.

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    1. You didn't miss much. Lost a fair bit of weight, got smacked in the mouth with an asbestos glove. Was sure I was going to see a WSO get killed by one of the "guards". Not a whole lot to recommend it.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)