Monday, March 23, 2015

Hercules and the Rangers

For his post this past Friday, Sarge went with an old favorite around these parts, The Friday Flyby tm.  IMHO, these excellent, educational and not for profit posts are too few and far between, brought on by some unpleasantness with someone who should have just minded his own business, but in only two sentences, I digress.  Said post was about the venerable C-130 Hercules.  While I have never flown a 130, I have ridden in them.
Not me.

A lot.
C-130 Cattle Class w/Troop Seats

Why, you may ask?  Well, because the aircraft is so good at what it does, that militaries around the world have bought a lot of them.  (For a full list of users, see above mentioned post, it would be cheating on my pay by the word calculation to copy the list.)  And, as we used to say when considering the F-15 vs Nork Fighters, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

So, there are lots of C-130s in the world, so what?  Well, that means there are a lot available.  Go to any large military airfield and chances are reasonable that there is a 130 parked on the ramp.  If not, check back later in the day, there’ll be one then.  Lots of availability means lots of opportunity to get a hop on short notice.  So, lots of time in the back end of a 130 AKA “the noisy basement”.

I suppose it was theoretically possible for the 130 to be configured with the USAF’s version of airline seats (I think they bought scrapped seats from airlines, ripped out the padding, and recovered the frame with smelly, dirty, stained dish towels), but I never saw that configuration.  Nope, it was always the orange webbed “troop” seats.  A mesh back with the seat having all the worst aspects of an army cot.  About 3 inches of sag where the butt goes and a support bar optimally positioned so as to cut off blood flow in the legs after a very short time.  Sleep in those seats, such as it was, was accomplished by weaving your arm into the webbing, thereby causing blood flow to be lost in it also, and resting your head against it.  Slept like a baby (for further definition, see here).

This post isn’t a gripe session about the trials and tribulations of riding in a 130.  No, this is much richer, but before I begin, I’ve got to discuss one other key part to this story.  A group I have profound respect for, both in what they do, as well as what it takes to become one.  

As readers here probably know, I flew fighters for the first 13 years of my USAF career.  After finishing my assignment at Kadena, I was assigned to Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Ft Leavenworth KS.  (Yes, the Ft Leavenworth of Prison Fame. One of the requirements of the college was to pay a visit to the prison.  Not sure whether that was for educational purposes or to serve as a warning.)
Picture of CGSC, not the prison.  This isn't as pretty as the prison, other than that they're pretty much the same.

In any case, this was my first opportunity to interact with military from “other faiths”.  My staff group was composed of about a dozen guys (there were females in attendance, but not in our group).  The other foreign officer besides myself was an artillery officer from Australia
Aussie BFG.  Go look it up!
The rest of the guys were from various specialties in the US Army.  Included in the group were two Rangers.

Now, as I understand it, “Ranger” can have a couple of meanings.  One is “Ranger Qualified”, meaning a person has successfully completed Ranger school and is allowed to wear a Ranger Tab.  My impression, on hearing tales of Ranger school, is that it’s like USAF survival school on steroids.  There were a few fighter pilots I knew who were Ranger Qualified, but most of us looked a little askance at them. 

The other meaning of “Ranger” was someone who was Ranger qualified and had actually been in a Ranger unit.  The two guys in my staff group met this definition.  For whatever reason, the Aussie, myself and these two Rangers became fast friends.
Now, my time at CGSC was before Uncle Saddam decided to take his summer vacation in Kuwait, so most of the students had not seen any combat operations, except for these two gentlemen.  
Fun in the sun.

Both had jumped into Panama.  Since one of them is still on active duty, I’m not going to go into any detail except to say he’d “been there, done all that and got the t-shirt”.

Ranger 1 had a wicked sense of humor.  As expected for a “Staff” college, one was expected to present briefings which we did with mind numbing regularity.  These briefings were usually presented to the Instructor with the rest of the staff group arrayed behind him.  Occasionally there were higher ranking officers present to receive the briefing which generally raised the seriousness of the presentation.

Such was the case when I was scheduled to present a briefing on some aspect of USAF fighter pilotness, and the commandant (an Army Two Star) was the recipient.  I’m standing tall giving my presentation in all my blue glory, when I notice Thing 1 and Thing 2  Ranger 1 and Ranger 2 stack my books and other paraphernalia on the back desk and begin duct taping it to the desk.  They weren’t just taping it to the desk, they were wrapping the tape around the books and then around the top and bottom of the desk, completely cocooning my stuff in the tape.

It was difficult to keep my concentration, and more importantly to keep from laughing.  I got through the briefing, the General asked some banal questions which I seem to answered successfully and it was done.  As he got up to leave, he did a double take when he saw the cocoon, but said nothing.

One thing I learned about Rangers, give them an inch and they’ll take everything you own, once owned or ever hope to own.  So, it’s about a week later and Ranger 1’s turn in the briefing barrel.  Now, Ranger 1 had a fixed daily routine, he would come in the classroom about 15 minutes before class, drop his stuff off and head to the snack bar to get a cup of coffee.  Styrofoam cup with a lid and a hinged drinking flap.  He’d bring it back to class, put it with his stuff then go out in the hall and talk with folks.  He’d sip on the coffee while class was going on, and then refill at breaks.  

Regular as clockwork.

Which is a bad thing when shenanigans are afoot.

Ranger 1 is scheduled to be the first briefer of the day, so I get there a little early and wait for the target to come onto my scope.  He comes in the class with his cup of coffee, puts it down and walks out the front door.
Source and link in case you want to add this to your arsenal:

I strike, open up the lid and dump in 4 or 5 plastic flies, close the lid and sit down to wait.  

Class starts, the instructor sits in the front, we’re arrayed behind and Ranger 1 gets up to begin his presentation bringing his coffee with him.  He’s getting ready, fires up the PowerPoint, and takes a gulp of coffee to clear his throat.  As he’s got it to his mouth, one of the flies comes floating out, (upside down, so the fake looking wings are not seen).  To the amusement of all (well except Ranger 1 and the instructor) the ensuing spew of coffee was epic.

Fortunately, as I said, Ranger 1 had a wicked sense of humor and saw the humor in the situation.  The instructor negotiated a truce which both sides generally followed for the remainder of the year.

Juvat, what the heck does that have to do with C-130’s?  Well, since you asked.

So,  There I was…..*

At Kadena AB, Japan at the MAC terminal, about to board a C-130 enroute to Osan AB ROK to sit PARPRO (Peacetime Air Reconnaissance Protection) alert.  There will be 5 of us on this deployment, but just Bones and I are MACing the trip.  The other three pilots are deploying 3 F-15s up as our squadron is replacing one of the other squadrons.  The 18th TFW rotated the three squadrons every 4 months to share the load, it’s our turn now.

Bones and I look to be the only two passengers on the 130, so we should be able to spread out and get some rack time.  The only other stuff on the bird is a pair of Pratt and Whitney F100 engines as spares.  So there are only a couple of sections of troop seats positioned.  We bus out to the 130 and load up, seating ourselves on either side of the starboard window which puts us about even with the wing and engines.  

The crew is busy going about their getting ready to launch business, when the crew door opens and in steps a group of Army types and they’re all Rangered Up.

Weapons, Helmets, Back Packs, they’re ready for War, kids.  

A couple of disdainful glances towards Bones and I as if to say, “why do you get the window seats?” and they settle in in the center section of the troop seats.

The engines are started, doors closed and the “noisy basement” soundtrack is selected on the sound system.  It’s going to be about 3 hours to Osan, so Bones and I settle in as the 130 takes off.  

The troops are being ever so cool as they get settled in also, one so bold as to put his feet up across the aisle on the seat right beside me. At least he doesn’t put them on me, so I really couldn’t care less, but I think he meant it as a challenge.  WHOGAS?

We’ve been in a climb for quite a while when the pilot finally reaches cruise altitude and levels off. As he pulls the power back, one of the engine has a bit of a problem and the pilot has to pull it to idle.  This reduction in power, of course, produces a very audible reduction in noise emanating from our side of the airplane.  

Without a word of coordination, Bones and I slowly turn our heads and look out the window at the engines for a minute, then turn and look at each other. Then quickly turn and look back at the engines. This is what we see.

Pandemonium ensues from the Rangers.

Tap, Tap, Tap on my shoulder from the NCOIC.  “Sir, what’s wrong?”

“Not sure, seems we might have had a little engine problem.”

“Is it on fire?”

“Well, Sergeant, since it is a turbine engine, it’s always on fire.”

“Is it an emergency?”

“Only if this is an F-16.”

Landing at Osan, we weren’t even met by the fire department.  However, the boys in green were a bit more humble getting off the plane than they were getting on. 

Interestingly, Googling "C-130" in the images section showed me these pictures of a VERY SECRET version of the C-130.

Who knew?


  1. Hmm. Foreign objects in beverages. Fell a blog post in the near future.

  2. Heh. One of your best yet.

    Thing 1 and Thing 2 - I need a new spray guard for my monitor.

    1. Thanks,
      You can take it out of my next pay check.

  3. My nephew, West Point grad (tough in itself) went through Ranger School and blew out his back. Something abouit carrying 100 lb packs.

    Noisy Basement - good description. Oncew flew in one from Frankfurt to Crete - over 8 hours. Kept hearing it for the next 24 hours.

    I'll bet Lockheed had no idea in 1955 they would be so popular.

    Thing 1 and Thing w (thanks to Dr Seuss) - I liked it too!

    1. Sorry, to hear about your nephew. It, like a few but not many, others is extremely difficult and I have a great deal of respect for those who are successful. Which does not exclude them from having their chain pulled occasionally. Carefully pulled, but pulled.
      Working in an elementary school, I occasionally read to the younguns. Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and the 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins are perennial favorites.

  4. I never had any contact with Rangers, but the fellas from Marine Recon were pretty badass. . . once they got past being seasick.

    1. Met a few of those in my day. I agree with your assessment.

    2. Mal de Mer and shots -- the great equalizers!

  5. Never understood that whole Ranger Tab thing. Not to take anything away from the guys who get through Ranger School, what purpose does it serve if you aren't a Ranger? Seems like a lot of effort for too little gain.

    1. In the ongoing flap about lowering standards for female candidates, one trendy argument is that those lacking the tabs (check in the box) are less competitive for advancement/promotion.

  6. @Tuna I think among career soldiers having the Ranger Tab is a plus. I don't think the school lasts that long but it is hell. My Nephew spent a lot of time in swamps as I recall.

  7. Great fun as always Juvat. Thanks again for brightening my day and clearing the dust out of my sinuses!

    You've got my wayback machine remembering pranks and engine outs. Could be a bad sign.

  8. I'm hearing there's a difference between a tab and a scroll. Tab means you finished the course- whether you're an infantry guy, a cook, radio dude or even a female nowadays. The scroll means you're in a Ranger Regiment and an "actual" Ranger. Why the Army would pay for a guy or gal to travel to the school, allow them to leave their job for 2 months, then just go back to their original job now just wearing a tab seems like a big waste of time and money. If you need a SOF guy, make him a SOF guy. Or am I wrong about Rangers being SOF?

  9. The Army Ranger course was a 58 day "hands-on" school in infantry small unit tactics. It was conducted in three phases- what was called "City" phase in the old Harmony Church area of Ft Benning, Mountain Phase up at Camp Frank D. Merrill, in north Georgia, and the jungle phase at Camp Rudder in the swamps of Eglin AFB. In the 80s there was a 4th desert phase. The learning environment was "enhanced" by the smiling Ranger Instructors, sleep deprivation and "rationing" of chow when in a field environment. The small unit infantry tactics started off at the squad level and culminated with a company sized raid on an island off of Fort Walton Beach at night using RB-15s. Each ranger student rotated through each job and each leadership position. By the time the student graduated the tactics and techniques, troop leading procedures and checklists were indelibly etched in their psyche. It was very easy to get hurt as was mentioned by a commenter. Back in the day -Army ROTC cadets could opt to attend Ranger School in lieu of the standard Advanced Camp, I turned it down and was told by our Commandant of Cadets I probably lost my opportunity for a Regular Commission. My thinking was I didn't want to risk getting hurt so as to lose a commission, period. My brother, in a light infantry unit, trashed his knee a couple weeks before the end of the course. There was an old tradition back when the Army was still in the green fatigue uniform and perhaps with the BDUs - Ranger School grads who went thru the course in the winter used to have their Ranger Tab sewn on with white thread. As Juvat is wont to say, I digress. I would strongly disagree that it is a waste of time for anyone other than members of the Ranger Regiment. The skill sets the soldier has inculcated as a graduate has great value regardless if in the Ranger Regt (the Scroll wearers) or in any infantry unit in the Army. My stuff here is obviously dated - Dust , Ranger Class 10-78

    1. The Ranger course is a damn good training ground, regardless of whether or not you go to the Regiment.

      Anything which improves the fighting capabilities of our guys is well worth the money.


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