Memorial Day

Originally, this was part of an earlier blog written in August 2007 in reflection on the UH-60 crash in Iraq which claimed fourteen lives, including a crewchief I had worked with. Since then, there have been more names added, and while they were not “line of duty” losses, their memories linger:

17Jun18 Ashley Baker: one of our S-6 folks during our 2009-2010 Iraq deployments. I remember her as being the go-to person for any computer issues and quick with a laugh, no matter how ridiculous the Army could be.

3May16 Eric Holmgren: one of our pilots from the beginning of my second assignment to the 25th… Though there were times where we didn’t exactly see eye to eye on some things, our landings equaled our takeoffs and we understood where we stood with each other.

28Nov13 Darrel Tucker: one of the few folks I have met wearing the uniform who was typically smiling, even on the worst days, and capable of easily switching from regular English into “local kine pidgin.”

13Sep12 Scott McDonald: My roommate for the first few months of our 2006-07 Iraq deployment, Scott was a goofy guy with a great heart… and a tendency to almost piss you off at any given moment. I was so irritated with him in June of ’07 that I got on the computer and defined my views on patriotism and our Flag using the word “boutonniere.”

26May07 CPL Millard: I never had a conversation with him… in fact, my direct interactions with CPL Millard were limited to a frantic flight to Balad’s Combat Support Hospital in which I assisted my medic in doing everything possible to keep him with us. I ended up writing about it in detail, and that served as a form of therapy in my own search for meaning in the whole Operation Iraqi Freedom mission.

22Aug07 SGT Tallman: I blew up a tail landing gear strut with him on his first day to the unit. Never knew that welds fail under too much hydraulic pressure. Guess that’s why the manual specifically states that no more than 100 psi of hydraulic fluid is to be used… That and when he got shocked off the bird doing an engine cleaning, we chalked out his outline on the wash rack and added little lightning bolts around it… Yes, we’ve always had a demented sense of humor.

12Aug04 SGT Galvan: He was livid in the hotel lobby of the Beaumont Holiday Inn the morning we unloaded the birds off the boat for JRTC in 2003 – evidently his roommate, in a drunken stupor the night before, mistook Galvan’s bed for the toilet when he had to take a leak at 4am. Literally pissed off. Sodden, he slept on the floor in another crewchief’s hotel room for the little bit that was left of the night…

15Nov03 SGT Hansen: My Technical Inspector assigned to my bird in Campbell – when other crewchiefs were spending an hour or so fixing their paperwork every month, he’d wave me – the detail freak – away smiling: “You had 3 mistakes… I fixed them already, so you’re good…”

17Nov03 SSG Neff: Could never understand how I never learned to play Spades in the 5 years that I’d been in the Army….

11Dec02 SPC Degroff: He won one whole dollar on my bet that he couldn’t clip one of those metal paperclips to his septum (the skin in between the nostrils) for 10 seconds… my count. He started to tear up at 2 (probably 5 seconds in reality, but hey, it was a dollar on the line…) Later that year, he gladly interrupted his skinny dipping at a boat ramp at Land Between The Lakes to guide an early morning fisherman as he backed his boat into the river – buck nekkid with a beer in hand…

12Feb01 SGT Barber: dipped like it was going out of style and had a strange bouncing gait when walking due to him apparently trying to wear the balls of his feet down. SPC MacDonald he got to the Company just as I was leaving to go to Ft Campbell, so there was little time…

31Jan98 SPC Stewart: 1st day of Basic we found out we had the same job. Beth slept a good part of the way to Ft Eustis from Ft. Jackson with her head on my shoulder as I read Charles Sasser’s book Smokejumpers. My plans to go to Kitty Hawk with her were sacrificed in order to patch my failing relationship up with my girlfriend at the time…

Any of these you can find on armyaircrews.com. I could say what happened for each of them but that is not the point of this particular blog.

The point is, while this job is pretty dangerous, I know of more people that have died from other causes to warrant me stopping what has become a hobby, as I have put it before. I’m not saying that it can become the safest job in the world if one pays attention to enough of the details to prevent an accident just that it teaches you about causality and how to interpret and accept that what you cannot change.

I used to laugh when I told people here that I was a “fugitive from the law of averages.” At the time of writing in 2007, I had logged over 2,500 hours in the Blackhawk and have only (not) had one class C accident. By definition: “Class C accident —an Army accident in which the resulting total cost of property damage is $20,000 or more, but less than $200,000; a nonfatal injury that causes any loss of time from work beyond the day or shift on which it occurred; or a nonfatal occupational illness that causes loss of time from work (for example, 1 work day) or disability at any time (lost time case).”

The best way I would emphasize this to the newer crew members was…interesting and typical of my teaching approach:

…You gotta think of the helicopter as one of those pagan gods that people used to do sacrifices to; only we don’t sacrifice livestock, fruit, or virgins (that would be something…) to this deity. We sacrifice time and attention. We devote time out of our day to fix and maintain this being… We give up time to learn how to operate it with the others in the crew in a manner that will not make it vengeful, knowing that the moment we don’t bother, the moment we forget, we can find out the complete wrath it is capable of.

(Yes, I actually said something along those lines…)

The other part of the job that has become a macabre interest is reading accident investigations/mishap reports from civilian and military sites. You want a good way to not enjoy your flight, read some of those. No wonder I have such a hard time sleeping on long flights. Dumbass. Back to what I was saying – in reading articles on the Navy’s safety sites, I came across one of the most interesting quotes:

Learn from the mistakes of others – you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.

Nice. To the point. Applicable in so many ways. Cooking, driving, parenting, career progression. Actually, I think Douglas Adams even had a character in HHGTG that impressed on Arthur Dent to do the same exact thing, difference is, DA took his time to make the statement and it was more amusing.

The flow is becoming stilted, I know. I think that my original idea was to give some sort of acknowledgement to the risks that go with the job but to also try to give some sort of consistency to my thoughts behind my motivation… to flesh them out a bit. I keep comparing me and this hobby of mine to the chorus of the Beastie Boys’ song “Sure Shot”: “Because you can’t… and you won’t… and you don’t stop.”

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(Source: author.)

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