THE COVETED BLACK AND GOLD - Excerpt
08 JULY 1980 (Mountain Phase: Day 36)
Soldiers must be taught to move and fight at night. This is becoming more and more imperative, and it does not mean to make an approach march at night. It means to conduct lethal operations in the dark. To do this, previous and very accurate daylight reconnaissance is desirable and limited objective attacks are essential.
General George S. Patton, Jr., WAR AS I KNEW IT
WRONG! What hell ... what terror! It was a pitch black night and the patrol leader and compass man were having some serious operator ‘head space and timing’ problems. Yes, Les, ol' buddy, this is YOUR story.
We never did hit that trail we were looking for after the raid. Instead, we hit contours, ravines, creeks, marshes, and cliffs. I fell twice with the PRC77; once into a creek as I was crossing over a log when I forgot about the law of nature referred to as center of gravity.
The other fall occurred when I took a step and found only air for a free fall of about six feet. This fall was the result of an interesting phenomena. While trudging along in the night in a Ranger file, one maintains contact with the Ranger in front by focusing on the cat eyes sewn onto the back of his PC--in addition to the luminous dial of the lensatic compass thrown over his shoulder. The problem is that the luminous image, over time, eventually is indelibly etched onto the retina of your eyes. Consequently, when it disappears, as it did when the Ranger in front of me walked off the same cliff, you still ‘see’ those cat eyes before you. I would have fractured my knee caps on a large slab of rock if it hadn’t been for the gaggle of struggling Rangers already on the ground below who broke my fall.
We ended up walking four hours straight, 0001 - 0400, everywhere imaginable, and a few unimaginable, looking for this damn trail that we crossed in the dark at least three times. Of course, whenever we crossed the trail we opted not to take it. We just kept walking to the top of every mountain we were on.
Finally, after one of our halts near the top of a mountain, I fought my way up a ravine to find out what the hell was going on. At the top, I found Les, the patrol leader, and the compass man huddled under a poncho liner looking at their maps with a red lens flashlight. Periodically, Les would peer out from under the poncho, gaze about--what he was looking at I couldn't guess because it was so damn dark--and then zip back under the poncho liner like a scavenger scurrying back into its hole with some new little morsel of information to consume. Finally, Les turned off the light, threw the poncho to the ground, looked about at us, and stated with no undo conviction, "Yep, that's it." A flicker of hope? Unfortunately, with the wave of a hand, he pointed off in the distance and continued with, "The mountain top we want is over there!" Shit! Lord help me. This really does suck. I love you Les, old buddy, old pal, but it was miserable.
Immediately saddling up, we began our movement down the mountain. What fun. We took a ravine all the way. It made for a quick journey down but, because of the steepness, we were literally sliding on our butts the whole way.
At the bottom, we had another of our numerous creek crossings. This one, though, proved to be a bit different for we came upon a huge, and I do mean huge, tree that was lying on its side on the far bank. It was so dark--how dark was it you ask? It was so dark that you needed a second match to see if your first match was lit--we could not even see the tree if you stood with your nose touching its bark.
In retrospect, we must have looked like the three blind men examining an elephant with each man identifying the object as something different. Why we elected to go over rather than around this object, I'll never know. Personal pride? Because we're Rangers? No ... I'd say it was because we were stupid. Brute force and ignorance seems to be our motto at times.
In order to get over this ‘Redwood,’ one had to sit straddled on the tree and pull another up as a third pushed from below. I wonder how the last Ranger got up the tree? Probably walked around it--the only smart one in the group. I only wish I knew what the RI thought of this whole episode.
On the other side of the tree, we found an incline that was at least 60%. After initially trying to walk up it by grabbing small trees, we finally had to drop to our knees and crawl for approximately 100 meters. We hit a road that provided us with a short breather.
Unfortunately, the hill increased in slope on the other side--the road was really a cut in the side of the mountain. We ended up climbing on our hands and knees for another 100 meters or so. Finally, we hit our patrol base site.
What a terrible, miserable night; sweaty, chilly, and no sleep because as primary RTO, I had to make a hourly Situation Report. What a grind. At least I have the PRC77, CEOI, KAL61B (encryption codes), and Tac Ops down.
RIs changed. How you got a Go, Les, I'll never know but congrats. Must have been that drive-on despite the adversity leadership!
TOTAL: 0 Hours
Missed Meals: L
Planning Bay #20. Many a plan came together here, some good, some not so good.
A buddy rappel. Not my idea of fun, especially if I were the one riding on someone's back... like the "Field Marshal" here.
Choppers touching down as we prepare to be lifted from a PZ... pickup zone.