Friday, March 31, 2017

Hope on a Rope

The Colonel can't get into this time of year without remembering where he was during one of the best times of his life.

In the early Spring of 1988, the Colonel, then a captain of Marines, was in command of a 200-man reinforced infantry company designated the dedicated "heli-borne" force of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit -- Special Operations Capable (26th MEU-SOC).  That unit, trained to execute sea-based raids, was embarked on LPH-2, USS Iwo Jima.

The Iwo was a storied ship, named for the most storied battle in the Corps' history.  She was an accomplished ship, as well, having participated in combat operations during Vietnam, as well as wide-ranging forward deployments throughout the Western Pacific. Perhaps her most famous mission was recovery of the Apollo 13 crew at the splashdown completion of their jinxed mission.

By the time the Colonel and his company went aboard her, the Iwo was also getting a bit long in the tooth.  She had been the first of her kind -- an amphibious assault ship built from the keel up to carry and launch aircraft in support of the Marine Corps' vertical assault modus operandi.  Launched in 1960, the Iwo Jima was showing its age; but, was manned by a great crew and fully capable of getting it's embarked Marines to the fight. 

Those were heady days for the Colonel.  He was at the head of 200 of the most hard-charging young men you could imagine.  The Colonel spent a lot of energy telling them just how great they were and just how important their mission was as forward deployed representatives of the greatest Republic on earth, but they were largely self-motivated, and, if truth be told, actually motivated the Colonel far more than he motivated them.

As the "heli-borne force" for the 26th MEU-SOC, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines was trained and ready to receive a mission, plan its conduct, and launch in a mix of CH-46E and CH-53E helicopters within 6 hours.  Raid missions for which they were prepared ranged from airfield seizure to in extremis hostage rescue.

One mission in particular sparks synapses in the Colonel's brain-housing group more and more these days -- Long-Range Ship Reinforcement.  

On station in the Mediterranean Sea area of operations, wherein the Colonel and his merry band of brothers were deployed, the United States maintained a small fleet of civilian-crewed, un-armed, RORO (roll-on, roll-off) ships crammed to the gunnels with vehicles, gear, and supplies to outfit and support a large Marine force that would fly into a friendly or captured airfield (thus the "airfield seizure" mission referenced above) and marry-up with that equipment.  The powers that be were, rightly, concerned that those unarmed ships were plum targets for enemies of US interests.  So, in the event of a credible threat to those ships, a small force of Marines (armed to the teeth) would fly in air-refuelable CH-53E Super Stallions for several hours, over empty ocean, and reinforce the threatened ship.  
There was teeny tiny problem, however.  Those ships didn't have any place for that great big helicopter to land.

So, the Marines, ever-adaptable, came up with a solution to getting a helicopter-load of Marines, and their weapons and gear, out of the helicopter when there was no way to land.

They called it "fast rope."  

"Fast-roping" is not rappelling -- where the one "on rappel" is attached by a snap-link or carabiner to a slender line.  Instead, fast-roping can be likened to sliding down a pole in a fire station.  Except the pole is a thick rope attached to a hovering helicopter; and, the helicopter, while hovering, ain't exactly stationary.  Neither is the deck onto which the fast-ropee is fast-roping

Oh, and because ships have all kinds of stuff sticking up on them well above the deck, the helicopter dumping its load of Marines via fast rope has to hover several stories (sometimes 60 feet or more) above the ship.  

The ship continues to sail.

The helicopter continues to hover/fly in concert with the ship.

The ship rocks, pitches, and rolls like a..., well..., like a drunken sailor still on sea legs.

The fast-roping few, with gear and weapons slung on shoulders and backs, grasp the thick rope in gloved hands, clench their boots on the rope, and slide down.


The life-expectancy of gloves and boots in a fast-roping outfit is quite short.

Sometimes shorter than a single slide.

In the picture above, a Marine is fast-roping out of the "hell hole" of a CH-53E helicopter.  

Shuffle up to the gaping square opening in the floor of a helo hovering over a moving, rolling, pitching ship onto which you will now slide down a rope, with 80 pounds of gear on your back, and you will understand the appellation, "hell hole."

In fact, you will probably have several other four letter names on your lips.  The Colonel will leave that to your imagination.

Helicopter pilots, while justifiably proud of their ability to hover over, and maintain station with, a moving, rolling, pitching ship, are not overly fond of doing it for extended periods of time.

Thus the "fast" in fast-rope.

At, say, 60 feet, and with a frantic helo crew-chief yelling, "go!, go!, go!," because a frantic pilot is screaming into his headset, "get 'em out!, get 'em out!, get 'em out!," the fast-roping Marines are literally leaping into thin air with often the most tenuous grasps on the rope.  

And, there's a Marine right below them, still on the rope.

Now, imagine the scene at the bottom of the rope.  

There will be heapage, and great, curse-filled, scrambling.

Oh..., and the rotor wash of a CH-53E Super Stallion hovering at 60 feet approaches the wind speed of a Category 4 hurricane... 

Man, the Colonel misses those days!       


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ten Years in Mississippi

This week marks a very important anniversary for the Colonel and his Lady.  It was ten years ago, this week, that they closed on the sale of their home in Florida and closed on the purchase of the sweetest plot of land on the planet.

What makes it so sweet?

Well, for starters, it belongs to the Colonel and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda.  That makes it special all by itself.

They put their names on the place.  They call their little slice of heaven on earth, situated at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, Egeebeegee.

Nope.  That's not an Anglicized spelling of a word in the language of the former temporary tenants on the land.  

There might be more of a nod than not to the fierce Chickasaws, who displaced the mound-building Mississippians, who themselves displaced some other previous temporary tenants.  But, the name Egeebeegee has no real indigenous roots.  

It's just the Colonel's and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's initials -- spelled somewhat phonetically.

The Colonel stresses the word "somewhat" because he believes several of his former English teachers surveil posts hereon and he hopes that qualifier will insulate him from the heat of their correction in case he has used the word "phonetically" incorrectly or has used passive voice when he should be using active voice or is failing to punctuate correctly or is abusing conjunctions and gerunds or is Faulknerizing his writing with run-on sentences that stretch for pages and cover more information in a single sentence, while the sun arcs slowly to rest, than most writers pen into a plethora of paragraphs, and, with no thought of the payment for the crime, breaks rules set down by ancestral English teachers, whose authority, like the passage of minutes on a clock whose keeper is a monk with the sole job of winding the clock, is unquestioned, even by the most questioning soul on his journey under that arcing sun, measuring his steps in cadence with the clock whose monk never fails to rise with the sun and attend to his clock-winding duty, and...           
(There, that should keep Mrs. Corbett busy for a while!)

This week, the Colonel and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda have been reminiscing regarding the changes they've seen aboard Egeebeegee since their arrival.  Ten years in one place is an amazing achievement for a couple who together and between them have nearly three score domiciliary stops on this globe before coming to rest at long last here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere.  

In ten year's time, one can actually watch a tree grow -- amazing!

In ten year's time, one can mark the seasonal arcs of the sun, by the same landmark, enough times to finally prove the theory.

In ten year's time, acquaintances can become friends.

In ten year's time, an abode can become home.

In ten year's time, one can accumulate, without worry that one's accumulation will exceed the limits on one's PCS orders.

In ten year's time, one can build, repair, (note Oxford comma -- and it ain't the Tuscaloosa comma for good reason) and rebuild the bridge across the stream that divides the Colonel's vast holdings in half. 

In ten year's time, one can plant, and feast on the fruit of, an orchard.  

So, here's to the Colonel's ten years in Mississippi.  Ten more, please.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Moving On

A week spent packing up his in-laws' belongings and preparing their home of over four decades for sale stirred up a little dust and a lot of memories for the Colonel -- both of which made his eyes water more than just a little. 

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda, her twin sister -- the beautiful and brash Miss Linda, and their mother -- the wise and courageous Miss Martha, lovingly and tearfully boxed up clothing and treasures representing six decades of the Jack and Martha Cannon Show.

As far as he is concerned that show was a hit, deserving of recognition and praise far beyond the capability of the Colonel's feeble phraseology.  So, he'll dispense with any further attempt at laudatory language.

Suffice to say, last week was hard, both physically and emotionally.

Two -- count 'em, two -- 26 foot U-haul trucks were rented and packed to the gills; one headed for Texas and the other to the Colonel's vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere.  Per the Colonel's direction, every box had either "TX" or "MS" marked on it and every piece of furniture had a similarly marked strip of tape.  As helpers carried a box or piece of furniture out of the house, the Colonel and his brother-law ensured each went on the right truck.  

With more than a score of personal household moves under his belt, the Colonel has more than a little practice at packing boxes and packing trucks.  There are two cardinal rules to follow.  

    1. Heavy stuff goes in little boxes.    

    2. Boxes are loaded on the truck first -- floor to ceiling.  

Failure to faithfully follow the foregoing fails the faithful fellows filing in and out filling the truck. 

Packing a truck is a lot like working a giant, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle -- once the boxes are loaded, all the stuff that didn't go in a box is stacked and packed in place, in layers, front to back and floor to ceiling.  Toward the end of this operation it is handy to have a fearless pre-teen to climb up on the pile and fill nooks and crannies with stuff.  

If you don't have a fearless pre-teen handy, a crotchety little Marine colonel with a fully-checked bucket list will do. 

At the end of the week, late in the night the day before the planned departure for the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, the Colonel and his bride stood at the back of the truck marvelling at the job the Colonel had done packing one half of his in-laws' worldly possessions on a truck half as big as needed.

"Good grief, Knucklehead, is that a refrigerator up there on top?"

"Why, yes. Yes it is."

"How did you get it up there?"

"Not real sure.  The shooting pains in the Colonel's back are clouding his memory somewhat."

"How in the world are we going to get all of this unloaded back home?"

"The Colonel has been thinking about that all week, and he thinks he has a plan."

"Does your plan involve high speed in reverse and slamming on the brakes?"

"Um, yeah.  How did you know?"

"Knucklehead, this isn't my first move with you."

The Colonel is happy to report that no refrigerators or grandfather clocks were harmed in the making of this move.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Farm Surveillance

The Colonel thinks his phone has been tapped.

He also thinks someone is following his participation in FaceBook posts and discussions.

The worst part is the Colonel has strong suspicions that this surveillance is being conducted at the behest of, if not in-person by, someone very close to him.

Yep.  The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda is spying on the Colonel.

The evidence is just too clear and voluminous for the Colonel to come to any other conclusion.  He wants to believe that his bride of four decades would not trample on his rights so egregiously, but there's just no other way to interpret the evidence.   At least no other way the Colonel can cobble together enough brain cells to conclude.

He's said it before, and it bears repeating, the Colonel ain't smart and you can't make him.  But, it don't take a whole heap of smarts, nor a very sharp crayon, to connect the dots in this case.   

For example, every time the Colonel posts something on FaceBook about the commencement of a labor-intensive infrastructure project aboard the Colonel's vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda suddenly makes herself scarcer than a government worker at an ethics rally.  How does she know that the Colonel's keen supervisory skills are about to be brought to bear?

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda is spying on the Colonel.

Further, the Colonel thinks the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda is employing some sort of advanced smart-phone application that alerts her whenever the Colonel accesses the camera application on his phone.  The Colonel would like to document the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda in action, but the second he even momentarily diverts his supervisory attention to thumb open the camera application on his phone, she drops her tools and vanishes faster than a conventioner's morals in Vegas.

Look, the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda is no less intuitive than the average member of her fair gender, but intuition alone is not enough to provide complete situational awareness of the Colonel's very intentions before he even knows them.  The Colonel is predictable, for sure, but this kind of prescience begs credulity. 

It's just too obvious.
The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda is spying on the Colonel, and the NSA only wishes they were as effective.

The Colonel is even starting to believe that the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda has developed her own version of predictive software that allows her to see the future with regard to the Colonel's actions.  The Colonel submits the following regular interrogation conducted by the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda whenever the Colonel leaves the Big House.

"Where do you think you're going, knucklehead?"

"Oh, just out to ride Semper Field for a while."

"Semper what?  You mean the smelly old tractor you get stuck in a mud hole every other time you take it out?"

"Uh, yes, dear.  And, the Colonel hasn't gotten it stuck since last week."

"You haven't ridden it since last week, knucklehead.  What field are you going to?"

"North field."

"Be careful."

Did you catch that last remark, dear reader?  That whole 'be careful' thing smacks of a combination lack of confidence in her man and pre cognizance of his actions.

Seriously, how does she know that the Colonel is going to throw any semblance of caution to the winds and drive his rusty red tractor with less situational awareness and more immature idiocy than a college coed in a daddy-bought SUV.  

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda is spying on the Colonel.

She probably sees him walking back from the field and knows what he's gonna say.

"Hey, Babe.  Watcha doin'?"

"Cleaning up after you, as usual, knucklehead.  Where's your tractor?  Did you get it stuck again?"

How does she know?  The Colonel rests his case.

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda is spying on the Colonel.        


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Rebellion is Brewing

The Colonel delivered his annual address to the citizens and legal residents of the Tallahatchie Republic (a virtual nation state established with tongue in cheek and hand on wallet) yesterday.  It was neither televised nor recorded in any fashion, save indelible imprint on the very psyche of each and everyone in attendance.

The address was delivered in the cavernous family room of the Big House, sited on a ridge overlooking Eegeebeegee -- the Colonel's vast holdings at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere.

Excerpts, and description of the speech's reception, follow:

"Citizens, residents, and friends of our great enterprise: the Colonel bids you well and wishes to bring you up to date on the progress of projects and future plans to keep Eegeebeegee great.  Please hold your applause until the end."

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda sighed and interjected, "Are you going to do this, now?  Wheel of Fortune is on."  

The Colonel leveled his steely-eyed gaze on his bride, "What part of 'hold your applause until the end' did you not understand?"

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda returned the Colonel's steely-eyed gaze with her patented look that can cook a steak well-done, "Wasn't applauding, knucklehead.  Take your incoherent babbling to another room, willya."

"Who you callin' incoherent?" the Colonel retorted indignantly.  "Be careful that the Colonel doesn't declare you 'an enemy of the people' and have you deported."

"Deported?!"  The wattage of the Colonel's Lady's gaze increased exponentially, approaching temperatures suitable for welding steel. "Who do you think you are?  And, stop referring to yourself in the third person -- it's seriously getting on my nerves."

The Colonel comported himself, shuffled the ream of papers in his hands, and resumed his address, albeit in a lower tone and from a position out of the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's line of sight to Vanna flipping letters.

"The long dreary days of the month whose name will not be spoken come to an end this evening.  Tomorrow will dawn with the promise of brighter, warmer days.  And, the Colonel assures you the tempo of infrastructure projects will increase with the lengthening daylight and rising warmth.  There is no project too tough for us to tackle."

"Huh!," the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda huffed.  "What is this 'us' business?  You mean 'no project is too tough' for ME to tackle!"  

Sensing an opportunity to deviate from his prepared text in response to the crowd's enthusiastic reception, the Colonel ad libbed, "The Colonel pledges a redoubling of his supervisory effort to ensure that our republic's workforce stays on task."

"Workforce?!  So, now I'm just 'the workforce!'  Listen hear, knucklehead," the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda intoned, using her favorite term of endearment for her man, your 'workforce' is hereby on strike!"

The Colonel deviated further from his prepared remarks, "Strikes, slow-downs, stoppages, and other forms of workforce rebellion will be dealt with swiftly and severely..."

"Rebellion?!  I'll show you 'rebellion!'  I'll stomp a mudhole in your Manassas!"

Sensing an undercurrent of discontent in the crowd, the Colonel summarily adjourned the joint session of the Congress of the Tallahatchie Republic and beat an organized, if hasty, withdrawal to the friendlier confines of the Oblong Office, formerly known as the Colonel's Knotty Room, to revise and extend the contents of his remarks for the record.

The Colonel hopes the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda cools off soon.  It'll be time to plant and tend the garden before too long, and the Colonel is loathe to bring in migrant labor.