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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Get off the phone!

I wasn't going to write a blog today, but I just got caught up on my e-mail and decided to give it a try.

The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon is a sunny 64F at present, but the 50 mph winds from the WSW will be blowing in 30 cents worth of rain chances and the clouds to prove it by late afternoon. Look for possible mixed rain and snow tonight and the wind will continue right on through tomorrow. 

Movie time! Gone with the Wind or Wizard of Oz? 

The dogs have figured out that they can't "out bark" the wind, so are just napping in the lee of the house in the sunlight. Napoleon has emptied one of his two water dishes completely, again. I know that he isn't drinking that much and it is embedded in the coconut fiber substrate so it isn't being tilted. I don't see any crack or hole in it. The only thing that I can figure is that he is sticking moss into the water dish and then pulling it back out. 

I am finding that Emperor Scorpions are intelligent far beyond what we humans give them credit for. This follows my life long belief that we humans have been befuddled by our own "superiority complex" and have always been surrounded by intelligent life, but are too dumb to be able to communicate with it. I hope we learn before we destroy everything.

Speaking of dense humans, let me relate a story of learning to do what you are told, the hard way. I know that the story is "dated" but the message is still valid.


Get off the Phone!

Everybody knows that lightning is nothing to take lightly, the stuff will kill you!

Georgia has some of the worst thunderstorms that occur on this planet. It is not unusual to get several inches of rain from one storm and the frequency of lightning has to be seen to be believed.

Fort Benning was the site of one such torrential downpour and fireworks display in 1972, (indeed as it was every year), and it never ceased to be amazing. And for those with any fear of storms, terrifying!

It was common practice to turn off everything that we could do without in the control tower at Lawson Army Airfield, to prevent damage or loss, and even so, we occasionally had direct hits that messed everything up.

Most of us knew what to expect from the storms, having experienced so many of them. I was extremely familiar with them growing up in Florida and Georgia, and I had no fear of them. But I did then, and do now, have tremendous respect for the power and potential of Mother Nature's great displays.

One individual who knew almost nothing of thunderstorms, (how I don't know), was a fellow by the name of Denny, recently returned from that garden spot of South East Asia, Viet Nam, where it rains like the sky opening up, but without the pyrotechnics of Georgia.

Y'all know that I wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings intentionally, and I know that Denny couldn't help how he looked, But... He was the UGLIEST human being that I have ever encountered, live or dead. His eyes bulged so bad we were afraid every time he coughed that one would pop out. Worse than a Pekinese dog! He had a set of lips that a goldfish would be proud of, and snaggled toothed! Add to that the fact that he smoked and drank like he was about to die and didn't want to leave any cigarettes or beer behind. Yellow teeth, bad breath... what a STUD! 

Denny wasn't worth anything as a controller and was out of the service before his training time was up, saving us the trouble of having to force him out of the profession. The boy was late for nearly every morning shift that he was ever scheduled for. We would have to call him up and let the telephone ring until he would come to and answer it, and then call him again in five minutes, because he would fall right back asleep. By the time he got to work half the shift was gone and if I were the supervisor, he would have been working double shifts to make up for the lost time, but I wasn't. The Sergeant who was our boss, was a hopeless sucker for fishing stories. Denny would come in at his leisurely pace and before the Sergeant could even begin to carry out the butt chewing that he had planned, Denny would have him distracted and off on some tale of big bass and where he found them.

One afternoon shift, the navigation beacon 12 miles south of us was encountering some electrical activity, I knew this because we had a monitor for it in the tower cab and it would start going into alarm and resetting itself, every few minutes. This told me that we had some bad weather coming and I started preparing for it, making sure that my backup power was operational, advising the aviation units and the Air Force weather people what I had going on, etc. Just getting ready for the inevitable.

Something that happened with a somewhat frightening frequency, was lightning strikes to the control tower itself. Naturally, metal structures sticking up over 100 feet in the air and all wet, could be considered a kind of lightning rod, it was a fair assumption anyway.

Sure enough the rain started and it was coming down in sheets, so heavy that you couldn't see out of the tower windows, and it was getting stuffy in the cab with the air conditioning off, so we opened the metal door onto the metal catwalk. I told all the troops to get away from the consoles and do not, under any circumstance, go out on the catwalk.

The rain was blowing sideways and it was leaking in around the walls and windows. Not badly, but enough that we kept a mop and bucket in the corner to clean up every once in a while, and the floor was wet all around the perimeter of the cab. The tower cab was a 25' x 25' square room, made of mostly metal and glass, and had miles of wire in it. 

I had a habit of getting a rubber mat out and putting my chair on it and not touching anything else until the lightning was over. The junior folks thought that I was just afraid of the storm. After this day, they would be lined up like so many chimps in a circus, sitting on their stools with their feet up.

Denny had an obnoxious habit of ignoring anything other than what the Sergeant who was our boss said, and today was no exception. I was in charge, due to the Sergeant having an official function to attend, and I was an experienced and qualified supervisor.

I told Denny to get off of the telephone and move away from the wall and he acted like he didn't hear me and sat on the metal window ledge, with one foot on the floor, in the water, and continued talking to whoever it was. And then it happened...

A bolt of lightning hit the tower, right by the open catwalk door and traveled across the metal. You could actually see the blue ball of electricity, rolling around the window ledge and following it all the way around the tower cab. It was mesmerizing, we couldn't take our eyes off of it as it went along setting off alarms and lighting up bulbs on the consoles. And that was when one of the great lessons was learned about doing what you were told, even if you didn't see any need for it.

Remember Denny, talking on the phone, sitting on the metal ledge, with a foot in the water? Well, when you combine a bolt of lightning with all of those wonderful means of conducting electricity, you will get results. Denny was knocked twenty-five feet across the tower and hit the window on the other side so hard that we were afraid that he was going through it. He left a set of lip prints on the glass, that were still visible in the morning. We think he had bruised lips, but with him it was hard to tell if they were swollen or just regular. He still had the handset part of the telephone in his hand and it had the impression of his skin, the fingerprints and all the lines imbedded into the plastic. Inside that handset, and the base unit as well, the electrical parts were melted. He was one lucky guy. We felt sorry for him, (once we were kind of sure that he wasn't blown up or any more fried than usual), and let him go home to his trailer. Where he immediately proceeded to drink a case of beer and return to his normal state; passed out. We really should have taken him to medical.

After that incident, Denny did what ever I told him to do, and so did the others. I didn't cause the lightning fellows, really! Denny would begin to shake if there was a forecast that said "possibility of thunderstorms", and if they were coming for sure, he would go down into the radar room on the fifth floor, where there was no windows and sit in there shaking until the storm had passed.

Once when we had tornadoes popping in to visit, Denny got so scared that he got in his car and took off in the direction of Atlanta, driving in a blind panic. It wouldn't have been nearly as bad, but he had to see the Colonel in the morning and if he wasn't there, he would be considered AWOL and could face court martial.

So we sent a guy after him in a Corvette. Denny was driving an old Chevy II with a little six cylinder in it, that had 150,000 miles on it. You would think that it was no challenge. If Denny hadn't had to stop for gas and cigarettes in Atlanta, it would have been North Carolina before our guy caught up to him. As it was, he had to get him drunk and lock the Chevy up and leave it at a rest stop, in order to make it back to Ft. Benning in time. But he did and everything worked out OK.

Next time the lightning starts to pop, think about Denny and ask yourself, do you want to learn the hard way  when you are told to: Get Off the Phone! 

Usually following instructions first, and asking why later is the best policy to follow. Don't make it take a lightning strike to get your attention.


Friday, March 30, 2012

High Tailing It

Friday has become "I get to write and the other stuff can wait" day. Life is busy and I take my responsibilities seriously, maybe even too seriously for my own good, but on Friday mornings, it is MY turn.

The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon has been on the gloomy side for a few days but today we are going to have mostly sun covered skies with 74 (and more) Fahrenheits, no cents chance of raindrops falling on your head. The wind from the SW will kick up to 20mph today, but tie the cat to the tree for tomorrow.

Throw your chicken feed low kiddies, or you'll be feeding the neighbor's hens!

Today, in fact, in less than 30 minutes, we will be going to pick up Mr S. to take him to lunch and then shopping at Walmart. I know that it is evil to shop at the "all Chinese goods import store", but until the Dollar Store starts carrying groceries, it is the only place that senior citizens on fixed incomes can afford to shop.

Taking him shopping in Walmart is truly an exercise in patience. He can't walk very far without either getting worn out, or having his knee swell so we take the manual wheelchair. This gives him a comfortable seat from which to then view everything, in every aisle, in the whole store. Because he ALWAYS needs "something else" and can't remember what it is, but he will know it when he sees it. I know the game, he is bored doing the same things in his assisted living place and the weekly outing is fun for him. You do what you have to do.

The story for today takes us back to 1970 and is fairly short. Enjoy!


High Tailing It

During the period of November 1969 to February 1970 we built a house out on the edge of Florida Conservation Area Three, in a newly divided up section called Rolling Oaks. The house was on two acres and next to us, my uncle had four more in pasture. Behind the property was a major canal that held water year round. To either side and in front of us were open expanses of uninhabited acreage. 

This was, for something over sixty years, known as the "Bailey Ranch", named for the family that owned it.

During their time on the ranch they raised range cattle and gradually made the transition to better beef cattle like Herefords and Angus, but it wasn't easy running a cattle ranch in swamp and grassland. There were rattlesnakes and water moccasins and alligators to injure the cattle, bugs like you couldn't imagine, and grass fires! Everglades fires are the worst that I have ever seen because they run under ground through the peat and will pop up behind you or under you. They can run underneath roads and streams, meanwhile blazing away in your face. You don't have much of a chance to move your stock with a grass fire raging through.

Because of all this, when the Grandfather died, the family said,"Split it and sell it, now!" They did not want any more of this lifestyle, even though it paid their way through school and helped to buy their homes and toys. It was simply too much work!

So enter my family, along with several others who purchased acreage and built homes and enjoyed the quiet, peaceful country living, with no traffic or city pollution and a long way to your nearest neighbor.

We all dug firebreaks and kept the brush down, and there were canals cut along every road in the area. We all knew that if we had a fire, our house would burn to the ground before anyone could get to us to help. So we were extremely fire conscious and our homes were built out of concrete blocks on concrete slab foundations, with asbestos composite shingles, and an outside water faucet on all sides of the house with a hose at the ready. We weren't paranoid, just prepared.

It was about a half mile to our nearest neighbor and a full mile to the bus stop. It was seventeen miles to my high school; you weren't going to miss that bus or it got ugly! I had a friend named David who lived about two miles away. We would go riding on horses, or bicycles, or sometimes just walk; we did that back then, walk places that is.

I also spent a lot of time in the swamp with my German Shepherd buddy, "Thor the Wonder Dog." We would chase and catch, just about anything that moved; snakes, rabbits, critters of all kinds.

On one occasion, Thor saved my butt from a great big range bull, which I didn't know had been released into that "pasture", and I use that term very loosely. It was swampy grassland that had some barbed wire around it and no improvements done to it.

The dog and I were cutting through the area, heading for a pond that I knew of, where lots of different animals could be found and watched. I didn't see this brute when we stopped and looked the pasture over; we had been raised around livestock and never took it for granted that something would, or would not be in there. I looked every time, without fail. This wily old rascal had been in "ambush mode" from the beginning, hiding behind some bushes, waiting for us to get far enough away from the fence that we couldn't make it back before he caught up to us. Range bulls are like that; smart and dangerous, always on the attack to protect their cows or pasture, or anything else that they believe is their own. Which is usually everything that they can see.

Thor was chasing a rabbit in a big circle and would drive it right back to me; just in case I wanted to catch it or kill it to eat, neither of which I had in mind. I was thinking about a herd of small deer that hung around that waterhole, and hoped to be able to observe them for a while and see if I could tell if they were Key Deer or just small whitetails. Key deer shouldn't be this far north, and if they were, it was an important thing for the Fish and Game guys to know because they are a protected species, and whitetail are not.

While all of this was going through my head, my legs were still moving, carrying me across the pasture. While I was very aware of my immediate surroundings, (I was raised in snake country after all), I was not checking behind me or at any distance from me. I knew that Thor was at my "two o'clock" position and moving across in front of me and would bring the rabbit to me from the "ten o'clock" side, just like he always did, that dog was awesome!

It's a damn good thing that he was awesome too, because he spotted the bull bearing down on me from behind me. I didn't hear the footsteps at all in that soft ground and the bull wasn't snorting or bellowing, just charging at me in a silent and deadly rage. When Thor broke off of his normal pattern it made me look directly at him, and he was coming towards me at the fastest, flat-out run that I had ever seen him do. It was then that I looked where he was looking, and saw the bull! I knew in a flash that I couldn't out run him in a straight line and I was fresh out of bullfighter capes and funny hats! He wasn't particular about how I was accessorized, he meant to stomp me into oblivion. I ran for the nearest clump of bushes, intending to try and keep something between us for as long as it took to figure out how I was going to get out of this mess.

Feeling pretty proud of the burst of speed that I had put on, I rounded the clump of bushes just in time to duck as the stinking bull jumped over them, and me, as I hit the ground. Whew, this sucker is good! He had me figured out all the way and cut me off. What he didn't figure on though, was the "Mighty Thor", protector of puny humans, especially his best buddy, who was considering a trip to China, via direct excavation.

As the nasty critter turned around to come back and stomp me, he didn't see Thor, and got caught by surprise as Thor jumped and grabbed that bull right at the base of his tail and bit down and held on. That bull was spinning so hard that Thor was sticking straight out behind him like a 120 pound German Shepherd tail. I just stood there watching with my mouth hanging open. I know it was open because a bug got in it, and it nearly choked me before I got it spat out. Got to love the 'glades!

Now; I had seen lots of dogs and cats, and even a couple of kids, drag their butts on the ground, for one reason or another. But I had never seen anything like that one thousand plus pounds of ugly gray bull, dragging his hind end across that pasture trying to get whatever it was that was biting his tail loose from him, however he could. I was laughing so hard by this point, that I couldn't have run away from him if he walked after me. But there wasn't any chance of that.

Once Thor decided that he was tired of this and felt like I was safe, he let go and the bull ran in the opposite direction as fast as he could move. I yelled for the dog to come back and as he did Thor gave him a parting bark and the bull lifted his tail in the air while he kept running. It was too funny!

After that if I saw the bull in the pasture, all I had to do was yell, "THOR!" and that bull would "high-tail it" away from me as fast as he could run.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dumb Blonde

Late in the day greetings to all,

We have been busy all morning, starting with a wake up call from the staff where Mr S lives concerned about his health, getting us an earlier than usual start to the day. Since they were seeing what could be signs of a stroke we didn't hesitate and hurried on over to see him for ourselves. All is well, he was just sleeping on his side. His facial muscles have no tone on that side (from a stroke in 2003) and it gives the impression of a problem. 

There was reason for action though as he had been staying in his room again and not eating like he should and diabetics just can't do that (as I have to remind myself). We took him to lunch and filled him up with some eggs and bacon and he was doing much better when we took him back home. 

If you have someone living in a nursing home or assisted living facility, you need to check on them frequently as folks tend to get into a bad habit of hiding out in their room and not interacting with others. Even if you have to enlist other family or friends to share the visit schedule so it can be done. The results are beneficial for both parties. It helps to combat boredom, depression and poor habits like not eating regularly.

The weather in beautiful downtown Fallon has been peek-a-boo sun and clouds all day with a high in the mid 50's. A slight chance of rain exists and we are expecting the wind to pick up again to 30 mph from the SW as fronts roll across the west bringing terrific rains to the coastal areas.

The animals are going crazy around here! The dogs are running in circles barking at who knows what. The birds at our bird feeder are all upset because an overstuffed dove has decided to sit in the food dish, which makes no sense, because it covers the dish and then can't reach the seed. The sparrows are flapping, flying, and fussing their teeny heads off, but the dove could apparently not care less. 

Even Napoleon my Emperor Scorpion has gone Uber Decorator this morning and pulled his moss away from his hiding spot and rearranged everything, again. He is back to soaking his massive pincers in his water dish, (probably dishpan claws from all the moving) and is fussing with the rock I put in the water dish to keep him from doing a headstand in the bowl. I swear with the way he likes to redecorate his apartment, I am thinking of getting him a little rainbow flag to fly from his roof. 

I was watching a clip of George Carlin this afternoon and it reminded my of this short funny story I wrote a while back at Anna's insistence when I told the story to her. 

Words are funny things as George and Bill Cosby have made us aware. Not so much all by themselves but in the way that we have become accustomed to using them. For example: 

    "Watch for Lightning", the weather site says... So you can do what, jump out of the way if it tries to hit you?

      Or, "Keep your eye on the ball." ... Wouldn't it be better if I used the bat?

The concept of words and their usage was on my mind when the following story took place.

Dumb Blonde

Once, when I was coming down the flexible tunnel from the gate and about to board an airliner to fly somewhere, t
he line was stopped for some reason. When it was OK to go forward again the stewardess said to me, "You may get on the plane now." 

Remembering a George Carlin line from one of his stand up routines, I cleaned it up a little and said, "No Thanks, I think I'll get inside instead." 

The young blonde stewardess put her hand on my arm, and stood there with her face twitching and going through a range of emotions and grimaces, obviously not knowing what to make of what I had said. She turned around with her hand over her mouth and another stewardess stepped up and took over the doorway greeting job. 

I made my way to my seat thinking to myself, "Well, THAT went over like a lead balloon."

A little while later that same stewardess walked by, then stopped, backed up and looked me in the eye... then punched me in the arm. Hard! She said, "You rat, you cost me five bucks!" Then went on down the aisle. 

I was racking my brain trying to think of what FAA regulation I had broken, or caused her to break. Nothing was coming to mind and believe me, being an air traffic controller I had a pretty good working knowledge of regulations, it was my business to know them. 

After the flight got airborne and I was at least sure that I wasn't going to be asked to leave the plane, I settled down a bit, but still wondered why a little joke had gotten me in such hot water. The stew with the mean right hand came along serving drinks, accompanied by her relief pitcher. It was the second, brunette stewardess who finally explained it to me.

Stew # 2 (the brunette) had bet Stew #1 (blonde) that she could not board the entire passenger list without laughing, as she is easily tickled and gets consumed with the giggles constantly. Stew #1 had rallied to her own defense and bet $5.00 that she could do it. Stew #2 said that it was looking like the girl was going to succeed, as I was among the last half dozen to board. 

She also said that Stew #1 is so tight with her money that she "does long division" on the back of her ticket to figure out the tip to the penny at lunch. So she really HATES to lose a bet involving money.

My little joke got to Stew #1 and made her crack up, which is why all of the facial gymnastics as she tried valiantly not to laugh. And explained why I got the shot in the arm; and the silent treatment for the rest of the flight.

On the way out I stopped in front of this blonde sore loser and extended my hand in a parting gesture of, no-hard-feelings. The girl reluctantly took my hand, and then hugged me to her like a long lost relative.

As I walked down the concourse, the brunette stewardess chased and caught up with me and asked, "You palmed a fiver to her didn't you?" 

I admitted that I had. I felt bad about costing her the bet and just wanted to ease my own conscience. 

The second girl shook her head and said, "Damn her, I felt bad about her losing the money and told her to forget the bet. Now SHE's up five bucks and she lost the bet."
 
Yeah, blondes are all dumb alright...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Slip N' Slide... Alaska Style

I have another chance to publish a blog entry today and I am taking it! Only 53 emails in my inbox this morning and most of those don't require any action. Yippee!

The neighborhood canine serenade committee (our two included) convinced me that it was futile to attempt further sleep this morning. It sounded like they were reenacting the scene from 101 Dalmatians where the word was passed to look for the puppies. I'm glad they got it done in one "take."

The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon; where the waterfall greets you and the crosswalk lights in the street flash as you walk across Maine Street, will be: Partly Sunny, a high exceeding 67 Fahrenheits and no chance of rain. The wind currently out of the NNE will be swinging to SSW and bumping up to That-was-my-best-hat 25 mph later in the afternoon.

To my Russian readers, Zdra-stvu-eetee! To those in Germany, Guten Tag! Thanks for reading my stories. I don't know who you are; but you keeping coming back for more, so welcome to the party!

Yesterday's story about my experience with the Ku Klux Klan has proven popular and unfortunately fits in with what is happening in central Florida currently. I am not saying that the KKK is involved in that case, but that the attitudes of both the shooter and the police reflect the same (unchanged) mindset I experienced there in 1965.

Now I want to take you far from Florida, to a winter wonderland that while still in the United States, is more like another planet in its uniqueness. To a place known by the locals as "DJ", or Delta Junction, Alaska. 

I was running an air traffic control operation during a big deal joint military exercise called "Jack Frost" and we were busting our frozen butts working long shifts and handling a lot of aircraft. The tower was a left-over WWII wooden structure on top of a hangar, with plexi-glass windows and we were scrounging equipment and developing procedures as we went. Not until I went to Burning Man in the Nevada desert, have I seen such inventiveness. But all of that is another story. This is a brief window into one small incident. Read on.


Slip N’ Slide… Alaska Style

    In February of 1978 I was at the Arctic Test Center located on “picturesque Fort Greeley, Alaska,” (that’s what it said in the “Welcome packet” they send out to newly sentenced, I mean stationed, personnel). I only saw it in the all white version.

    Anyway, I was traveling from the control tower to another building on the airfield and the temperature was 65 below zero and there was a 40 + mph wind blowing, which takes the wind chill factor down to minus 100 F. Yep, that’s cold.

    I had to go down a very slight incline, which I was told was a lawn for a month or two each year, but at that point was a highly polished obstacle. I took a tentative step out onto the edge and had to quickly move my other foot forward to keep from falling down, there was “zero traction” even with the lug soled mountain boots that I was wearing. I was mentally scrambling, trying to figure out what to do next, when the decision was made for me. I was sliding down the slope, while standing “still”.

    Being 25, in good physical condition, an avid new cross country skier, and into playing in the winter wonderland, instead of being alarmed or panicky about my situation, my thought was “Cool! This is fun!”

    I found that I could vary my speed by crouching or holding my arms out, and could control my direction by moving my feet like I did to control skis. I was so wrapped up in this new game, that I didn’t look far enough ahead and promptly launched myself head first into a snow bank.

    Cold snow in the face tends to jerk you back to reality and I gathered my silly-sergeant-self up and proceeded to my original destination, (brushing off the evidence of my folly before entering the building) to report to the Air Force Operations Officer, who was my liaison with the “Lift” section of the exercise we were engaged in.

    As is the case when you do something silly in public, it never goes unnoticed.

    My guys in the tower were watching me, and seeing the potential for the Sarge to hit the ice or otherwise provide amusement for them, they had the binoculars on me. And they had notified the whole airport via radio that the Tower Chief was about the have a “crash” and where I was.

    I am glad that I didn’t know that people were looking out of the windows all over the place, watching me “Ice Ski” or do the “Frozen Surf” thing, it would have taken all the fun out of it. I would have been REALLY embarrassed when I did the “one-point landing” in the snow bank, which they had a picture of and wouldn’t give me. It wouldn’t have done any good to grab it away, they had dozens of copies made and posted all over the base. You couldn’t see much other than legs and feet sticking out of the snow, but they all knew who it was. Word spreads quickly on that tiny base; they are so eager for entertainment that every opportunity is seized with maniacal glee!

    The “Zoomie Zero” greeted me with a cryptic “Good One!” Not knowing what he meant, but not wanting to tip my hand, I responded with, “Thank You Sir, I try to get it right each time,” thinking that I had a good generic answer, which would cover whatever the “Good One” was. I was nearly blasted out of the building with the ensuing laughter. I was puzzled, but kept my mouth shut.

The walk back took forever, I briefly entertained the idea of “sliding the ice” one more time and I still didn’t know that everyone had seen me before. But, I found that while it was easy to slide down the ice, it was impossible to get back up it, even sideways.  I am just thankful that there were no video cameras present. Now days I would be on America’s Funniest Home Videos or YouTube before I could hide. 

I ended up taking the long way around through the snow to get back to the tower. By the time that I got back upstairs to safety, the base photo shop had developed and printed the Staff Sergeant in the Snow Bank photo and was distributing it to every entity on the base.

Now, years later, I would still like to try that slip n' slide again. IT WAS COOL!


Friday, March 23, 2012

The Truth about the KKK

Greetings to all my patient readers out there! I am taking my turn this morning and getting a blog entry posted.

Life has gotten busier for us with the convention planning and caring for Mr S, and I had to push what I like to do; write, farther down the priority list. With the barrage of e-mails and telephone calls it is a struggle at times to remember to eat or take my medication. You do, what you have to do, right?

The forecast for beautiful downtown Fallon is sweet! A sky covered with sun, 62 (and more) fahrenheits bouncing around with, no use looking chance of rain , and a 12 mph breeze from the SW. Yummy! 

I wouldn't go too wild with planting delicate things just yet, but anything hardy can get "dirty". The consensus among long range weather predictions has us in for a blazing hot summer, but I never trust the "spring" in Nevada. Too many times I have seen fruit trees blossom and then get blasted by a freeze here.

Mr S got his new powerchair from the VA on Monday, and we returned the borrowed unit to his old residence on Tuesday. Phone calls about possible health issues brought us running on Wednesday, and nearly again yesterday. Today we will take him to lunch and then shopping at Walmart for his few groceries and sundry items that he likes to have in his apartment. It is easier being green (sorry Kermit), than being 86.

Hurricane Jessi got to ride out the highway south yesterday, (Uh Oh, is that the Vet?) to get her booster shots and rabies tag. She actually did very well and scored several dog biscuits in the process. Her health is excellent and she weighed in at 26.2 lbs at 5 months of age. Mikki didn't reach 30 lbs until she was a year old. Next month (6 mos) will bring spay time to the puppy. There is simply no reason not to, the world does not need more puppies. WE don't need more puppies!

Today's story was among the first I wrote and it was something that I had wanted to tell about for many years. With the current events surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida and the attitudes that still exist even today, this story is as relevant now as it was when it happened. 

Some of you may have read this story under the title of "The KKK is NOT the Way!" a few years ago in the Desert Home Companion (no longer in publication) and it has been published in other places. The events of that night are forever burned into my memory and the hatred we experienced still brings sadness and disgust to my heart today. Read and live that night through the eyes of a trusting 13 year old boy.


The Truth about the KKK 

Every Southerner is a member of the Ku Klux Klan. True or False? Every Southerner believes that the KKK is really out to do good and is simply misunderstood. True or False? What is the real story in regards to the "Invisible Empire"?

When I was 13 years old in 1966 these questions were going through my mind. In light of the events of the 1960's, with riots and abductions and murders happening all over the country, not just in the South like some people seem to remember it, it really wasn't strange for a young person to be trying to figure out what was true, and what was false.

South Florida was not the hotbed of racial tension that other areas were at that time. Not like Montgomery, Birmingham, Cleveland, or just about any large city with sufficient media coverage to make National News. I still think that political advantage and profiteering had more to do with the riots, than anyone’s civil, or otherwise, rights. Not that injustices weren't happening, and change was coming slowly, but violence isn't the way that the church going, God fearing people that I grew up with would even think of going.

The Background

I grew up with kids of every color, nationality, religion, and income level that you could imagine. If you know South Florida, you know that is not an exaggeration of the society found there. Black, white, brown, red, yellow... only meant colors from a Crayola Crayon box to us. I knew three boys named Larry, and we had to call them something slightly different to tell who we were yelling at to throw us the ball, etc.

One was called "Lawrence", one was called "Larry", and one was called "LT". OK, you got that? Now add to the mix ; one was Catholic, one was Jewish, and one was Baptist. To further confuse the issue; one was black, one was white, and one was Seminole. Can you tell by the names, which was which? Does it matter anyway? It didn't to us; they were just three guys named Larry. If curiosity is killing you; Lawrence was black and Catholic, Larry was white and Jewish, which makes LT a Seminole of the Baptist persuasion... and none of this matters, or it shouldn't.

Enter Curiosity

Why do these people gather together and hold rallies; and what's with the burning cross?
These questions are what prompted four of us to go out into an orange grove, in Davie, Florida, one Friday night when we were supposed to be at a school dance at the Junior High School.
It was a foolish thing to do and a greater risk for my three Seminole Indian "brothers", than myself. Seminole Indians have "mixed" with slaves at times in their history and the KKK has a special hatred for those of mixed ancestry.

At least that was what we had heard. That was the problem. We didn't have any first-hand knowledge, and the opposing sides were extremely opinionated in their own behalf. So whom do you believe? What is the Gospel in this matter?

The Rally

“Friday night in “X's” orange grove, ceremonies to start at 8:00 PM, sharp. Come early and bring your own supplies. The Exalted Grand Dragon will Honor us with a speech and sermon.”

There was more to the flier, but you get the tone of this message. That was how we found out where and when; and we were determined to find out why.

Larry, Ralph, Sam and I all started out at the dance; we didn't lie about going to it, we just didn't stay long. One of their cousins had agreed to give us a ride out to this grove for a half-pint bottle of Vodka and they had already taken care of the payment; with his promise not to drink it until we were safely back at the dance and he drove home. We had to be back at the school before 11:00 PM when the dance got over and we didn't want this cousin getting into a wreck or getting arrested, or leaving us out there with the Klan.

The location was a shock to me. It was on a grove owned by a prominent family of church going folks with a very good reputation. Maybe they didn't know that it was being held there, and maybe pigs fly, was the general consensus of opinion on that. We knew that the main road into the grove would be watched and they weren't likely to let us in to satisfy our curiosity, maybe by myself, if one of their number would speak up for me. But I wasn't interested in being alone with the Knights of the KKK, betting on them being understanding "Good Ole Boys". So that approach was out. There was another road which connected this grove to the next, but it was a long way to the other end where you "might" be able to enter, and it could be padlocked.

The only logical choice for us was to cross the big canal next to the paved county road that bordered the grove. Then hike in through the trees in the dark without flashlights, and hope that we didn't encounter snakes, etc. And also the man made obstructions like barbed wire and irrigation hardware. Yep. It was the best way, they would have to figure that nobody would be crazy enough to do that and not worry about posting guards or lookouts on that side.

We found a place for the cousin to park the car and go to sleep. He promised to wait and not drink the Vodka until the agreed upon time and if we weren't out by 11:00 PM; go get the entire tribe to rescue us. We didn't think that the cops would be of much use for some reason... a hunch that proved to have merit later.

That water was deep and cold, and there were alligators and Water Moccasins in these ditches, especially big canals like this one. Which made it even more comical that we had to get naked, and wade across with our clothes held over our heads to keep them dry. The running joke was about where you might get snake bit; and that nobody was going to suck the poison out, etc.  We were very loony, that much is obvious now, but then it was just another thing that we did. We could see an alligator farther up the canal, but we were too large for it to bother with.

There was a good spot to get out and get dressed; we had to use our underwear to dry off with and then, left them hanging on the bushes to dry. I wonder if they are still there? We didn't go back for them; that's for sure!

We actually made good time through the trees and were being very careful where we put our feet, to avoid hazards and to prevent making unnecessary noise that might alert the Klansmen. We wanted this to be a "private" viewing of their rally and not for us to be "part" of it.

It was 7:45 PM when we got to the edge of the clearing where there was a bonfire and a lot of "White Robes" moving around. That means it took us 30 minutes to cross the canal and hike in to this spot. We moved along the trees, keeping them between the crowd and us until we found a likely site to watch from, and then climbed the tree almost all the way to the top. Orange trees are not my choice for climbing. I was already scratched and bleeding from several places.

If we had hesitated at all, we would have been history. We had no more stopped moving than two guards in white robes and hoods, carrying shotguns, walked right up to where we were and stopped. I was afraid to even breathe!

The rally was called to order and the ceremonies began at 8:00 PM on the dot; these boys were punctual, I'll give them that much. The head guy of all of them, the “Exalted Grand Dragon,” was sitting in a lawn chair behind the stage, out of sight. He didn't even get up or pay attention, when the "Wizard" was working the crowd into a frenzy, like the opening act does for the headliner at a concert, or a Las Vegas show.

This hooded bozo had already answered a lot of our questions concerning the attitudes and intentions of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. If you weren't just like them; you were wrong for their future and a danger to their children, and you had to be eliminated. Peacefully if possible, but however was necessary, if it took that.

The speaker professed to be a God fearing man on a mission to save his race from contamination and extinction, and he was doing it all for his children and their children. Using children and God were his main hooks to work the crowd, and work them he did! These robed figures were agitated, animated and aggressive, just to use the "A's". However you wanted to describe it, they were pumped up and ready to receive the message from the "main man!”

As good as the Wizard was at stirring the crowd up, he was nothing compared to the Grand Dragon! That man had people crying and shouting and dumping money into a barrel to keep up the fight against the government and all the others who would deny them their God given right. Of course, maybe a little of it would have to be used to pay for the stretch limousine that the big guy had arrived in; and would go on to the next rally in, riding in comfort.

I got the feeling that I was witnessing Adolph Hitler working on the plan for the Aryan race. There was no longer any doubt in my mind that genocide was too singular for what these crazies had in store for the rest of us.

When I was able to take my eyes off of the stage and look around us, I just about spoke out loud. Damn! The rally with all those fanatics was in front of us, and their cars were parked behind us, with armed guards patrolling all around them. There was no "sideways,” the bonfire was so large that it illuminated everything around us. We were in an ugly fix, but still safe in the tree top for now.

The ceremony of lighting the cross, quite often would begin the rally I was told later on in life. Tonight it had special significance and had been delayed until now. I had never seen so large of a cross before; it was made from telephone poles, and was at least 40 feet high. The Grand one said a prayer, and then had one of the attendants light the cross with a flame thrower, to the screams and squeals of the masses gathered there.

The KKK will tell you that the lighting of the cross is a sacred religious tradition honoring the Light of God and Jesus for dying for our sins. Completely Christian and only meant as a good example of their faith.
So why did their leader say, "All of the unclean, and mixed curs had better take warning from this cross burning brightly in the night, we will take what is our right by any means necessary. And they can perish in its flames if they get in the way."

The lighting of the cross served a better purpose for us just then. It brought the guards in from the parking area to witness the burning, and drew them in far enough, that we felt that it was our best chance to get out of the tree and slip out through the cars. Again we went with the logic of doing the least expected. No one would expect us to come out through the cars and down the main road of the grove.

Those trees were eating us alive with scratches and cuts, but not a sound was made, at least not out loud. I was screaming inside my head! I almost fell out of the tree, and a hand reached out and grabbed me. Larry was looking out for his "brother" as always.

We made it to the ground and staying low, moved as quickly as possible to get to the cover of the vehicles and darkness. Fear is a great motivator and we had plenty to be afraid of from these nuts, especially in the frenzy that they were riding on right now.

As shocking as the words had been and as disheartening as the supposed "moral conviction" of these robed figures was; the real pain and hurt lie ahead.

When these Knights of the Klan were just anonymous figures in robes, it was bad; but when we got among the cars and recognized the vehicle of our Sheriff, the personalized plates of the Mayor's car, a banker who was the father of one of our friends, the truck belonging to the owner of the local hardware store complete with the sign on the side, other vehicles of people that we knew by the car or license plate... it went past bad, it was gut wrenching painful. How could they act this way here, and then smile in our faces when they met us on the street?

And then the real crusher! The unmistakable car of the preacher whose church we had been attending! It serves no purpose to identify what religion he represented, none of them would condone what he had done here tonight. The sinking realization that we now knew why the Wizard who "opened" for the main speaker sounded so familiar, and why he could talk for an hour and a half without letting up. We never set foot in his church again after that night.

We moved quietly through the cars and down the road towards freedom and fresh air. It smelled like sulfur and brimstone where we just were.

The Escape

There was a checkpoint to pass and even though it was dark, we could smell their cigarettes and hear what they probably considered a whisper, a long way from them. We just slipped off to the side and went through the trees until we were clear of them and then got back on the road and in no time we had reached pavement. For the first time we allowed ourselves to run, and run we did, all the way to the car about a mile down that county two-lane.

When we woke the cousin up from a sound sleep in the back seat of his car, scaring him with our emotional insistence to hurry up, he no doubt thought that the Klan was after us. It was worse, it was demons of what we had seen and heard!

The clock said 10:30 PM when we walked back into the dance; we had been gone a lifetime. It was a sad, hard lesson to learn that things are seldom what they seem and people are capable of unbelievable extremes and such hatred that I couldn't yet comprehend.

It would take many years and experiencing war to make me know the depths of the human soul. Right now, at thirteen years old, I was in shock. If this was what it meant to be white, then I was glad to be a "brother" to the Seminole People, maybe they would claim me and I wouldn't have to be white anymore. I was sure embarrassed by what we had experienced on this night and apologized to my brothers for the color of my skin. They were wiser than I was, and told me not to worry, that I had a good heart and would always know the right path to take. I don't know if I lived up to that, but I was glad that they were still my brothers.

Finally

Whatever color, nationality, or religion that you may be... whatever differences that you may have... whatever problems may arise in your life... we learned that night that: HATE IS NOT THE ANSWER.



Monday, March 19, 2012

Hands Over Your Head

Greetings to all as the sun shines and the tidal wave of e-mail threatens to swamp me. I know, I know, you don't have to answer every e-mail as soon as it comes in... I bet Sheldon does.

My dreaded conference call went well enough; the information was put out, everyone had a chance to speak, and we completed the whole thing in 36 minutes. My requests to take longer conversations off-line to e-mail were honored and I have indeed answered several since the call.

The weather guessers have it easier today. IF they look outside, they will see mostly sunny skies with 5 mph winds from the NW and no chance of rain. They will probably predict 47F for a high, but I expect a couple of degrees more. Hey, it's springtime in Nevada, predicting the weather is a ridiculous undertaking. You can't win.

My writing time has just been preempted by elder care responsibilities. We had applied for Mr. S. to get a power chair from the VA, and today it is being delivered. A World War II Vet is getting served!

I have returned, all is well and the delivery was perfect. The young gentleman who brought the chair out was pleasant, respectful, and genuinely interested in providing the best service possible. The values and attitudes of the new VA has spread to its contracted companies and is a great thing!

Time has zipped by, so we will crank up Mr Peabody's way back machine and set the dial for 1960.


Hands Over Your Head

  

   No, it's not a stick up, at least not of the regular kind. It is the 1960 version of paranoia, visited upon elementary school children daily in their classrooms.

   In the time period of 1960 through 1962 those of us in West Hollywood Elementary School, of Hollywood, Florida, were daily participants in the "Stop, Drop, and Cover" drill. As well as the "Duck, Cover and Wait" version. All of which resulted from the adults being afraid of "The Bomb" and "Castro is going to shoot missiles at us."

   Falling to the ground and curling up in a ball, with your Hands over Your Head, did nothing but frighten young children and create a generation of "Doomsday Children," always waiting for the "Big One" to drop.

   I was in my good old second grade class with Miss Wright (no relation) as my teacher, and we were being instructed in how to properly "take cover" in the event of,  let’s see, what can we tell the children... I know... In case of a tornado... yeah, that's it, a tornado!

   They were afraid to say what we were really doing because it would cause panic for sure,  so we had tornado drills. I had lived in south Florida for years and never saw a tornado, except on television—happening somewhere else.  We were young and inexperienced, but we were not stupid. Kids weren't deaf either, we heard our parents and other adults talking about what was going on with Cuba and the Russians,  and we overheard the teachers talking among themselves. 

   There were some advantages to these drills, besides the obvious disruption to the education process. I was at the back of the row by the windows, farthest away from the door to the classroom. As the drill began, the teacher had to stand by the door. Then she had to sit down in her chair and put her head down on the desk. I think that was just because she was so old that she couldn't get under her desk without getting hurt. She was eligible to retire long before I was born, but she didn't want to give up teaching.

   When they rang the bell to start the drill, we all hit the deck just like we had been shot, playing around of course, to the displeasure of Miss Wright. She would shake her finger at us and make noises with her mouth to indicate to be quiet. We thought that what we did was hilarious and started laughing.

   The girls really didn't like lying down on the floor and getting their dresses dirty. If they were having a bad day anyway for some reason, they were likely to start crying. Depending on which girl it was, it could start a regular chain reaction.  Just like going to the restroom together, one cries, they all cry.

  It was during one of these drills the very next day that we decided to see how long we could make the drill last. Just how far would the teacher play the game until she had enough and called a halt to it on her own.

   When the drill signal sounded we all hit the floor and stayed there, watching the teacher, quietly this time. She thought that we were being good because of her fussing at us last time. When she was satisfied that we were down and in position, with our hands over our heads, curled into a ball,  she sat down and put her head down on her desk.

  As soon as her head came to rest on her desk, I slipped out of the window next to me, (the windows went from the floor to the ceiling), and I ran around the building to the other side. I was going to slip in the window back into the classroom,  but the window was closed! A girl that sat by it had closed it because she was cold. RATS!

   I'm not one to panic easily, and I saw only one option. I walked around to the door to the classroom and went in,  just like it was the most normal thing in the world. The teacher never moved a muscle. 

 As I was about to get back on the floor,  I thought, "Why not?" I walked over to the other side of the room, stepping carefully over the bodies sprawled all over the place (you could only stay curled up in a ball for so long). I moved a chair over very, very quietly, climbed up on it and unscrewed the nut on the center of the red alarm bell. I stuffed it full of paper towels until no more would fit and then screwed the nut back in place. Just as I got off of the chair I heard the muffled rustle of the striker inside the bell, but nothing that could be heard from more than a couple of feet away, so we were in business. I went back to my spot and lay down with a book under my head and my arms crossed to wait it out. The "random and spontaneous" sounding of the alarm, always happened at 9:00 a.m. on the dot and was over just as precisely at 9:15 a.m. every single day. You could set your watch by it, except that I didn't have a watch.

   We were struggling to suppress the giggles and were each determined not to be the one that ended our "drill." It was 9:30, and no movement from the teacher. We were getting a little restless already. Kids can only be still for so long and then they have to do something or explode. By 9:45 one of the girls, who was pretty bold for her age, came over to me and said that two of the girls had to go to the bathroom. What was "I" going to do about it? Who made me bathroom monitor anyway? She said this thing was my doing so I had to tell them what to do. Boy, it's lonely at the top!

   I figured that Miss Wright probably wouldn't remember if she did it or not, so I eased the "hall pass" (a piece of wood with "Miss Wright" burned into it) off its hook on the side of the desk and gave it to the two girls, and let them out of the door.

This was getting serious! Recess was approaching swiftly, and we weren't going to miss our favorite "class" of the day! Normally we went out at 10 a.m. and returned to class at 10:30. It wasn't looking good. Wait a minute! What was I thinking? I told everyone in a whisper to be completely quiet and line up on the sidewalk and then march out to the playground just like we did every day, only 10 minutes earlier. Yeah, extra time and first dibs on the ball field and the basketball court. Why didn't I think of this sooner. Out they went, quiet as mice.

   Miss Wright had been lying there for a long time, and she was VERY old. A momentary flash of headlines, "Teacher dies at desk, while children play joke...." crossed before my eyes. Aaahhhhhh! Then she let out a raspy, gurgling snore that would do a bear justice, and I knew that she was just "sawing logs" and not "joked and croaked." And out the door I went.

   On the playground the teacher that usually pulled the "early out to recess gag" to grab the fields for HER students was pacing up and down, obviously not happy that someone had beaten her to the punch for once and wanted to speak to the teacher responsible for these children who had "violated the recess starting time". What a big baby!

   She approached several of our class, but the kids were on the move, afraid to have to answer any questions. It was getting to the point that she was going to blow the whistle at us... and you can't disobey the whistle. It just isn't done! So I moved to intercept her without being obvious and "let" her capture me and demand to know where our teacher was. But it was OK, I had a plan and I hoped it worked, because plan "B" for this one was run like mad!

   I said, "Oh, Miss Wright wasn't feeling well and had to go to...", and gave it a little turning red and bashful look, "to the ...." She said, "Out with it, son!" And I answered, "To the facilities." Yeah, good and vague, no real direction given and I never said to the bathroom. And followed up with, "And we are worried about her, she didn't look well, kind of all sleepy looking and red in the face."

   And that's exactly what she looked like when the teacher and Mr. Sullivan, (the principal) found her still asleep, face down on her desk, with her Hands over Her Head!

She was so flustered and confused about being asleep, and getting caught that way by the principal,  that the subject of the bell not ringing nor the early recess never even came up, not on that day or any day afterwards.

   As far as their stupid drills were concerned, I'd much rather get blown up by a missile or bomb while I was playing ball instead of hiding under a desk, counting B & B... you had to ask, didn't you? Bubble gum and buggers ! Now there's a good reason to put your Hands over Your Head! In case they fall on you!

   And that's the way it was in the 1960's, when the World was "smaller" and so was I.   


Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Escape and Evasion of Trust

Stressful Sunday is upon me! I have to host and run a conference call this afternoon and want to make sure that everything goes well. Given that the call will be all Mensans and the standard formula being; for every three Mensans there will be five opinions, I will be up against it.

The weather prediction for beautiful downtown Fallon is for a high of 45F with the snow turning to rain and 20 mph winds from the WNW. The muddy yuck factor is in effect here in the rural areas. Not a clean clothes day.

The dogs are a sloppy mess, having been out running and barking in the wet weather. What was a beautiful white coating on everything has been churned into a "mud bowl", and they are quite satisfied with their efforts. The effervescence of wet dog nearly inspires me to washing these two, but until the backyard dries out again it would be an exercise in futility.

I debated with myself all day whether to release this today or write something new. This story from nearly 40 years ago won out. You will need to remind yourself as you read this, that this was a different time and a different war going on, but some things won't change unless made to. My writing style was a bit rougher when I penned this story as well, so please just go with the story, I am working on the rest.



The Escape and Evasion of Trust

During the summer of 1972 at Ft. Benning, Georgia I learned many things. These things included: how to control aircraft at my assigned airport, how to lead a unit of soldiers controlling aircraft, how to lead units in combat, and how to survive in various climates and conditions. I was busier than your average teenager.

Part of the training I received as a barely nineteen year old soldier in a Special Ops Unit, was a course called Escape and Evasion. It was a week long for regular troops. For our unit it was three weeks, with a week of classroom instruction, a week of field testing and a week of recovery.

The course was conducted entirely on military reservation property so that civilians were not encountered, involved, or had knowledge of what went on. The really humorous part for me was the setting. The entire mission was conducted in the same kind of pine forests that I played in growing up.

I had the silly idea that this was to be a physical exercise -- well, because they told me it was. I was na├»ve about psychological warfare at that age.

As part of our mission we were given a secret to memorize and keep. This information would be the prize for our pursuers should they capture us. We were not to reveal our secret if captured or others would suffer because of us.

Our instructors were all familiar to us as we had been together as a unit from the start. They told us that “no one had ever avoided capture, and we wouldn't either.” I am not sure if that was to challenge, or demoralize, us. This was my first hint that we may not be on the same team.

They took us out to the site in the back of a “6 x 6” truck with blindfolds on our eyes and bags over our heads to make sure that we couldn’t see anything. We spent about two hours riding around in that rattling, bouncing beast before we reached the place where we were to be released.

Claiming that I needed to be close to the flap in case of motion sickness from riding blindfolded (not likely) I managed to get seated at the back, next to the tailgate. That way I could hear and smell what I couldn’t see. I had been paying close attention and knew where we were within a click (kilometer) without ever getting out of the truck.

Without a doubt we were south of the airfield in a fenced off area known as Dixie Village. There was only one power substation (I heard the hum) for miles in any direction, and one cattle grate before a military PSP (perforated steel planking) bridge. I said nothing about knowing where I was, or anything else.

The teams consisted of five men each, and our mission was to avoid capture and delay giving up our secret for as long as possible, ideally never telling.
We were made to believe that it was our duty to take our secrets to our graves. The idea they placed in our heads that, “giving up your secret would cause harm to a fellow soldier” was a powerful in ways hard to explain if you haven’t faced that challenge.

I learned later in my career that everything is considered compromised with twenty-four hours of issue, and known in forty-eight hours.

These teams were made up of strangers, in order to test our abilities to learn to work together. We were also secretly and individually told by our instructors that we possibly had an infiltrator on our team.

We had been given a party the weekend before our course was to start and encouraged to drink excessively and a lot of the usual espirit de corps BS was promoted. The proverbial psychological pump had been primed.


The issued field gear (personal equipment) for this exercise was purposefully excessive. That way we would be weighted down and eventually feel the need to shed items. The cast-off equipment would give away our location. That trick I figured out as soon as we were issued equipment that had no purpose in the local terrain.

As soon as I got out of the truck I sorted my gear into two piles. One pile of what I knew that I would need to survive and one I considered dead weight. Once that job was done I was ready to move out.

I did stay long enough to attempt to speak with the other four who still stood where they unloaded from the truck, talking among themselves.

They were wasting time arguing over who was senior in rank and who should give orders. I said “OK, you guys work all of that out, I am leaving.” They were still saying that I couldn't do that when I disappeared into the darkness. They had proven to me just that quick, that to stay was to fail.

Leaving a nice clear trail with my new boots, I went along the road that the truck departed on for about a hundred yards until I found a downed tree and hopped up on it.

I sat down in a comfortable spot and removed my combat boots and put on my moccasin boots that had a smooth sole and laced up to my knee.  They were much easier to run in and didn't leave an imprint, at least nothing that those “gomers” could track.

Carrying my bags in either hand for balance I walked along downed trees until I found a deer trail back to the river.

At the river I found a good overhanging tree and took the bag I didn't need up that tree and into the vines in the canopy and tied it in place. I checked to make sure that it couldn't be seen from above or below and then eased back down making sure that I hadn't scraped any bark to give away my hiding spot.

Time was getting short so I strapped on my mini pack and trotted down the road that took me away from the river and around the perimeter of where the bad guy camp would be located, IF I was right.

I was on target and early enough to beat the shift change of the guards. The guy on watch was sleeping standing up and slumped against the side of a duce and a half (2.5 ton truck).

Since I was traveling light I was able to just breeze through the perimeter, stepping over the trip wires clumsily strung with the camp lights hitting (reflecting upon) them.

Wearing soft Nomex flight gloves on my hands and camouflage paint on my skin I was nearly invisible. I made no sound as I moved and was through to the supplies in seconds, getting myself some extra candy bars, meal packs and a spare canteen.

Zipping right back out had been my original plan, but as I surveyed the camp with their planning board in plain sight, a brilliant and funny idea possessed me.

The Senior Instructor had chosen to place his command tent next to a large oak tree and had his picnic table and lawn chairs set out under them. The command communications (radio) truck was parked on the west side to block any weather that would blow in.

I knew that there had to be some tactical advantage to the fishing poles stacked against the end of table, I just wasn't “military” enough to understand that. What I did see was that the "Big Dog" had made himself at home here.

So I did (made myself at home) too. I grabbed some more batteries and one of their planning maps and went up the communications truck ladder and stepped right into that big old oak tree.

It is good to be in your own neighborhood when people are after you, but sometimes the best place to be is where THEY feel safe.

My former “compadres” were among the first captured and were still arguing when they were brought in.

I was asleep in my tree house when the yelling started. I didn't move at all for at least a minute, wanting to listen and learn before I moved. I was pretty sure I was invisible, but my adrenalin was pumping from the noise below and I moved so slow that the people were out of the truck and lined up by the time my head was turned sideways. I didn't need to worry, nobody was looking up. After all no one would be crazy enough to hide in the aggressor camp… right?

The four soldiers (students) were lined up with their arms over their heads, hands cuffed together over a pole. They looked like fish or game birds ready for processing.
Two instructors wearing combat "war paint" and looking like “Rambo” on speed, (I believe that they were under the influence) were screaming threats and obscenities at the captured men.

The behavior was excessive, but not totally unexpected, until one of the goons bit a guy on the nose in his excitement. The other went down the line whacking the prisoners across the kidney region with what I later learned was a shot-filled length of automotive hose. They all peed their pants from the impact and pain.

Humiliation is a big part of interrogation it seems. One by one they were taken into a hut and the screaming and banging started. There was a board next to the door with our names on it. A big red mark was drawn through the names of those who had been captured, interrogated, and had given up their secret. It was the board of shame.

As they were brought out they were placed into a big bamboo and wire cage that was filled with mud and human waste. It was wide enough to hold all of a class but only about 3 feet high.

It was purposefully short for added humiliation. That way you had to go about on all fours or duck walk. Duck walking (squatting holding onto your ankles), was the preferred (by the guards) mode of prisoner locomotion. The guards came over to the cage whenever they had to pee and made everyone duck walk around the inside perimeter quacking while they (the guards) urinated through the wire.

If anyone resisted, the entire group was brought out and beat across the backs of their legs, which in turn made duck walking all the more painful. So it was degrading, humiliating, painful and possibly necessary. If we believed all of the indoctrination we had received it was necessary. We had to be tough. I knew that I didn’t like what I saw.

I was getting restless and a bit bored in my tree house, but not so much that I wanted to join the group in the cage. I had always hated duck walking; I couldn't imagine it being any more fun in there.

At that point I was contemplating a breakout and had actually moved through my tree to a place right above the cage. I was just about to contact the group to be ready for my release of them when I heard prisoners snitching to the guards on other prisoners.

That did it! I couldn't trust anyone. I slowly eased back to my bed and spent a lot of the night worrying about what my duty really was. What was my mission?

Was it still to avoid capture and delay giving up our secret for as long as possible? The secret had apparently already been given up, but did we all have the same secret? If we did, no problem, if we didn't then I couldn't give up mine. I had to go with the safe side.

Three days into the exercise the first group of instructors rotated back to the main base, except for the Senior Instructor. I got the feeling that he never wanted to go back.
This senior sergeant was a huge black man with a chest and arms that looked like they were part of a tree. The funniest thing was that he had his afro picked out and a headband on ala Jimi Hendrix. He never put on his shirt, but had his web gear and rigging on constantly. Hooked to the webbing was a holstered .45 auto pistol, a Kabar combat knife, a machete and multiple ammunition holders.

Around his neck he wore a pouch of leather of a kind that you really don’t want to know about. Inside of this pouch was (I learned as the smoke drifted upwards), his stash of pot. I began to understand that many rules were not being followed here.

From the names on the board at the interrogation hut I learned that there were 20 candidates in this session, including myself. Eight had just departed in a truck for the main base; three more were lined out as "swimmers."

I learned later that those three individuals had decided to try swimming across the Chattahoochee River and ended up being fished out by Alabama Fish & Game way downriver. They violated the boundaries and so were out. They were really lucky that they didn’t drown. The river was high and running hard with a lot of debris in it.

That left eight, plus me to capture.

The fresh instructor crew came in with sirens blaring and lights flashing at 02:00 and were yelling and hitting things to make noise. They wanted to make an impression!

The Senior Instructor came out of his tent, (an eight man tent in which he lived in alone) and fired his .45 in the air which scared the Hell out of me. “Up” is where I lived!

The new hunters quieted down immediately and Senior said, “Hit the sack, we roll at 05:00!” The group stowed all of their gear and crawled into their tents and were snoring almost instantly. They had a lot more discipline than the first crew did.

Between 04:00 and 04:30 I had noted that the cook would be up and making coffee and the camp guards tended to migrate there. They would hang out until 04:45 when they had to get back to their posts so they could be relieved when the Sgt of the Guard came around at 05:00.

As soon as I heard the cook get up and groan as he peed into the cage and lit up the cigarette that would be in his mouth all day, I moved slowly into position.

The guards moved to the mess tent which was closest to the river and blocked from sight from everything else by the Senior's tent. As they did that I went down the ladder and through the camp, snagging more candy bars and meal packs from supply and emptying my extra canteen into the cage. If you hadn't figured it out, I had to pee in the extra one to avoid detection. 

I do have a bit of the joker in me and I couldn't leave well enough alone. I changed the sign boards around so that the departed instructors now had red lines through them and wrote “gone fishing” on the student board for the entire group. I thought it was funny then, but not so much later.

By playing around with the signs I had pushed my luck to the limit, it was 04:45 at that point. I had to make a quick choice, go directly across the center of camp like I owned the joint, or depart into the brush. Fortunately I didn't take a long time to decide and took off through the heart of the camp on a run.

I slipped between the radio truck and the oak tree as the Senior Instructor came out of his tent. As I climbed the ladder on the back of the truck the communications guys were walking down the driver's side talking.

I got as far as on the top of the box (shaped like a camper) and flattened out, as they started to climb the ladder themselves. I was hugging the roof of that metal box, willing myself to blend into the paint when the Senior Sergeant let out a huge roar of anger.

The comm. guys dropped back to the ground, and ran around to the center of camp.

I lifted my head up slightly but quickly dropped again. I could see the red design on the Senior's headband, which meant he was facing towards me. I waited for a better chance.

More people came running and the noise got louder. I thought that it would have been the signs that made him mad, but it wasn't. Someone or something had taken a crap in front of the Senior's tent and he wanted to know where the guards on duty were.

The guards both came from the mess tent and so were at the back of the group, not where they should have been. That prompted a loud and long tirade by the senior man about duty and responsibility. Once everyone focused on them I was up and into the tree and scurried like a squirrel back into my nest.

I stayed put for the next two days and the changes were finally noticed on the board. It was just assumed that someone in the camp was being funny. That pissed me off, but not enough to make me climb down and take credit.

The anger and energy of the new crew of people hunters was very productive. They had their remaining eight victims swept up in the two days that I rested and waited. I was the only one left. So now what? I wait, that's what, or else I will get listed as captured when they had no idea where I was.

They spent another night searching the woods for me grid by grid using night vision, walking all of the roads and trails. By the next morning the team had decided that I had left the reservation.

At their meeting that night around the picnic table (which I attended unknown to the rest), the Senior Instructor declared the session concluded and ordered the signs posted around the area stating the end of session. It gave any remaining candidates (me) until sundown the day of posting to appear in camp.

That night I slipped down my tree and out of camp and returned to my hiding spot along the river to change back into my combat boots and recover my full gear compliment.

Since no one was after me any longer I sat down and heated up some coffee and a meal. After a meal and a short nap I strapped on my ridiculously huge pack and hiked to the “Aggressor” camp. I was just full of myself for having defeated this experienced group.

As I walked into camp I was set upon by the instructors who ripped my pack off of my back and jointly punched, kicked and beat me to the ground. They then stripped me naked and tied me hand and foot.

I was dragged in front of the Senior Instructor who was really upset with me for evading them. He said to me, “No one ever escapes.” I made the mistake of looking him in the eye and saying, “But Sgt Major, I did evade you, I even changed your board.”

I never should have said that to someone in his condition and state of mind.

A few words to one of his men and they put a rope under my arms (pulled behind my back) and lowered me into a deep pit mostly filled of water. Then they pulled a tarp over the pit making it pitch black and steamy hot.

I was in there for what seemed like a week, but was really “only” a little more than thirty (30) hours.

They drug a rope with a bicycle inner tube tied on the end of it across me telling me don't worry about the snakes. In that utter darkness they had a cage with rats in it squealing, peeing and pooping right above and on my head. It is hard to describe the range of emotions that scenario created then and still does in my nightmares.

When it was again dark outside, they pulled me up out of the water and hung me upside down. They then proceeded to beat the bottoms of my feet with bamboo canes trying to get me to talk.

The problem was that they never asked the right question. I would have given up the phony secret I was told if they had asked me, because it was game over, I had won.

But they didn't ask me for that; they accused me of cheating and leaving the reservation. That pissed me off all over again, so I told them nothing. The senior sergeant said “fine” and threw me back into the pit.
 
I had my arms tied behind my back and my hands were tied to my feet, the rope holding me up was through my arms. If I had gone forward the rope could have traveled to where my feet were higher and I would have drowned. No one bothered to check on me after I was thrown in the pit.

When the psychos came back with a field phone I thought I was in for it big time.
Fortunately the Senior Instructor and the Captain he worked for showed up and told them to get me out of the hole and dressed. The other instructors seemed genuinely disappointed but did as they were told.

I was bruised and scraped from one end to the other. My feet were so swollen I nearly screamed out loud when I pulled on my boots. The instructors laughed at my struggles.

They made me hike out to the nearest paved road with my pack on and they rode in their trucks. It was about two very long miles the way they went. If they had followed the river trail we would have been there in one quarter of a mile, but I’m sure that they knew that.

I went before a review board and answered their questions. I gave statements about what went on in camp and who was there and when. All proving that I was in fact on the reservation the entire time.

There was little choice left for them; the course completion was awarded to me.

I never got credit for beating them at their own game. So I never told them where I hid.

=============================

Epilogue

There was far more effort to instill fear than to ever teach anything. Instead of twenty young men trained in techniques of E & E and survival, they instead taught us about degradation and brutality.

These were men I had trusted. That damage could not be undone.

I know that there will be those who say their techniques were necessary to train soldiers about what to expect from an enemy.

My answer to that comes in the form of two questions:

Why were they more interested in beating and humiliating captives than learning anything from them?
 
Why are we not interested in training men to avoid capture and succeed?

PS

I have been asked by those who have read this story before you, what the significance of my reference to the "field phone" was.

This is a hand crank powered telephone unit that is used as an electric shock device. Wires from it can be (and have been), connected to various parts of the human anatomy to cause pain when the hand crank is turned.