Helo Halo

•August 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been meaning to look this up for a while. Back in theatre, I was traveling back to Anaconda from some base (I can’t recall which now). It was around 2AM, we were dead tired but the helos finally arrived, a pair of CH-47 Chinooks. We loaded up, flew about 2 minutes to a fuel depot on base, then landed and they made us all get out for safety precautions. As they refueled the birds, the 10-15 passengers stood about 50 yards away and got to witness one of the most spectacular sights we’ll probably ever see in our lives. The twin rotors of (at least one of) the Chinooks were glowing like halos in the pitch blackness of the night. It looked almost exactly like this picture (unlike the photojournalist who took this picture, I didn’t have an uber camera that can take pictures in almost zero light; plus taking pictures generally isn’t allowed for civilians):

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Finally feels like Iraq, Mar 26, 2007

•October 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Mar 26, 2007

I got shot at today! First time while in country (and out of country for that matter). Mar 26, 2007, we flew from Balad to Tallil via Blackhawk helicopter in the late morning, a relatively rare occurence due to the distance and increased risk because of high visibility (normally flights with civilian passengers only operate at night). Because of all the US helicopters having been shot down by the enemy during the weeks prior,they spent the first leg of the flight between Balad and Baghdad bobbing and weaving, flying back and forth, up and down, a kind of evasive maneuvering to keep the ground gunners guessing.

We landed at Camp Washington in the Green Zone, picked up and dropped off passengers and fuel, then took off. Flying between Baghdad and Kalsu heading south, strangely they did not perform evasive maneuvers. We just flew straight and steady in a line at normal altitude. The two guys in the back were passed out asleep. Normally flying in a blackhawk is thrilling for the first 5 minutes, after which you fall asleep from boredom. I was wide awake in the front right passenger seat facing forward, between the two gunners. My buddy Cruz and another civilian were the guys in the back seat asleep.

Five minutes outside of Baghdad, we heard 5 or 6 loud popping noises. I looked around, the gunners and flight crew looked around, all trying to figure out what had made that noise. A couple seconds later, we headed into a steep dive. The thought flashed through my mind “those pops were from a mechanical failure, we’re going to crash”. Next thing I know, we pulled out of the steep dive, my stomach lurching from the g-forces. The helo resumed evasive maneuvering. The gunners were going nuts, particularly an animated sergeant in the right gunner seat. He was looking up and down, left and right, sticking his head outside the window, looking for something to shoot at. He yelled at the two guys in the back to see if they’re ok, then to tell them to get their kevlar helmets on. He later apologized for his curtness and explained that he had been frantic because he thought they had been hurt, since they were slumped to the side while sleeping. Everyone was ok though. We continued flying a few more minutes, then touched down at Kalsu, a small FOB (forward operating base) 10-15 minutes south of Baghdad (I’m not entirely sure of it’s location, it’s probably classified, just kidding).

We got out, still not sure of what was going on. The passengers from the two helos piled out, as soldiers from the base walked towards the birds. It was a circus show for them. One of the soldiers finally informed us that we had taken ground fire. One of the flight crew from the other helo (they fly in two’s) said he saw the muzzle flash and demonstrated it’s size with his hands held about 3 feet apart. They explained that muzzle flash that large and visible in the daylight had to come from a large caliber machine gun, like a .50 cal. Good to know. The soldiers from the base scoured the underside and sides of the helo looking for damage. The only damage they could find was to one of the propellers, which had been struck by a round. One of the pilots said he realized they had taken damage from the different sound of the last pop that struck the propeller.

Cruz recreating the scene

My buddy Cruz recreating the scene

It's just a flesh wound!

It's just a flesh wound!

The flight crew confers to figure out what happened

The flight crew confers to figure out what happened

It was all a surreal experience, almost like it hadn’t happened, and was just something you read or were watching in a movie. I didn’t get a picture of me and the damaged bird. I got a few pictures of the damage and a few of the other passengers. Sadly what was on my mind the most was this really good-looking soldier girl from the Kalsu base. I was too busy checking her out to take good pictures of the scene. Oh well, at least it means I have a pulse.

Last day in Saigon, trip to Vietnam ends

•October 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The last day in HCMC, waited around the hotel for the pick-up ride to the airport in the afternoon. After a good breakfast, watched the Karate Kid on tv. Terrible movie, but entertaining. Went to the pool, couple of cuties there, nothing worth heartache or loin-ache over. Was going to get a massage, but felt the impulse to try my luck at cards again, and hopefully see the beautiful girl again. No dice, she wasn’t there. But I did do relatively well on the blackjack table again, got as high as $95 on $20. Tried to push my luck but ran out of time and luck, left with $75 and the admiration of the dealer and bystander employees. The dealer was a guy this time but he was equally helpful and supportive as the hot girl from the night before. I realized they had nothing to lose by being helpful and supportive of players (see the edit below), probably hoping for a nice tip when you left their table a winner. Gave him $10 for his help, would have given more if I had won more. So I left almost exactly even for the two efforts. Not bad, felt somewhat redeemed, neither a winner or a loser, just some guy passing the time (edit: story of my life). Had lunch, somewhat unimaginative combination of pho and spring rolls and beer. Went to the airport in rush hour traffic, still nothing amazing about it, and spent 4 hours at the airport before flying. And that was it for my trip to Vietnam.

edit: the card tables were all electronic, so the dealers were basically just button-pushers. Cameras weren’t allowed in the casino either, so no pictures of the beautiful girls.

Saigon cont, trip to Vietnam, cont…

•October 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Third night in HCMC, after a day on the Mekong river and eating too much, with fruit and banana cake and honey tea and fish spring rolls, that ended the tour.

PICTURES FROM MEKONG TOUR

edit: the Mekong delta tour was a lot of fun. They took me to an orchard where they served fresh fruit while some minstrels played folk songs and singers performed. Went to a honey farm where they served honeyed tea and honeyed rice wine. Delicious! I got to handle two snakes, pretty thrilling, but they were harmless. Ended with a rowboat trip back to the starting point.

PICTURE OF SNAKE-HANDLER

Went to the casino at the hotel, couple of real cute girls working there. Took me a while to get into the gambling mood, but soon I was up at $200 after starting with $40. The dealer girl was so beautiful, so sweet and helpful, I couldn’t help imagining taking her home with me. Then I noticed the huge rock on the fourth finger of her left hand. Of course she was married or engaged, a girl this hot. Great smile, great eyes, great voice, petite little body with curves, and sweet as honey, trying to help me win with hints. Alas, this desire and wanting to be cool in front of her led to my downfall. I left down $55 and feeling like a loser. I wanted so much to walk out giving her a $20 tip and maybe asking her to dinner. Instead I went to my room for a cold shower and feeling like my life was a series of misteps, as the same shit happened tonight as many times in my life. It wasn’t that I was cocky, but I let myself be distracted and lost sight of the goal. One time I hit double-down instead of split when I had 20 on the table, costing me $60 when I busted. I forgot I was in Vietnam, and when I started winning, I started increasing my bets, as high as $35 a game at one point. In Vietnam, that’s high stakes. I should have kept it around $10 a bet, and I could have walked out of there with $500 and maybe the girl on my arm. Married or not, winning is winning, and girls love a winner and a big tip, even if it’s nothing long-term. Lecherous I know, and I would have regretted seeing a married woman, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, I was left to think about what could have been…

Saigon, trip to Vietnam, cont…

•October 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Saigon is not what I expected, at all. It was crowded of course, but not the zoo everyone makes it out to be. Sure there are plenty of motorbikes moving around in a congested mess, but it just didn’t have the awe of those videos on youtube showing traffic in Saigon. I thought maybe it was because I was there on a weekend, but Monday traffic wasn’t much different, congested but nothing worse than Houston traffic on 610 around the Galleria area. Saigon felt more wide open than Hanoi, and more developed. The people seemed more leisurely and more citified than those in Hanoi, also more properous somehow. The restaurants and hotels (more major chains) were of a higher class than those in Hanoi, a sure sign of the city’s increased development, though the room of the small hotel I stayed at in Hanoi was more stylish and refined than the hotel I stayed at in Saigon. It seemed the hotels got progressively less stylish and refined as I traveled from north to south. Might have been a budgetary thing with my travel agency.

The guide they gave me was a good enough fellow. I would have preferred a female guide, but oh well. First day, I visited the Cu Chi tunnels, one of the famous networks of underground tunnels the Viet Cong used to perplex the American troops during the war. I almost didn’t fit through the one section they let you crawl through with my chunky American body.

You think an American could fit in that entrance? Fat chance.

You think an American could fit in that entrance? Fat chance

If this guy had an AK, I'd have pee'd my pants

If this guy had an AK, I'd have peed my pants

We visited the usual sites in Saigon, nothing too interesting unless you’re a Vietnam war buff or history buff. Seeing the war rooms of the South Vietnamese government in the Reunificiation Palace was interesting though. I’m sure I’ve seen footage of these rooms in documentaries or movies about the war. Had spring rolls at a restaurant for dinner, was disappointed they weren’t nearly as tasty as the ones at Tau Bay.

edit: Visited the War Remnants Museum on the tour. Pretty depressing place. They had captured US military vehicles and all sorts of weapons and bombs on display, as well as exhibits with explanations and gory pictures of the atrocities of war, mostly as commited by the US during the Vietnam war. The entire place had the feel of communist propaganda, but I guess that was its purpose, since they won the war.

Famous photo of a mother and her kids trying to flee the war

Famous photo of a mother and her kids trying to flee the war. If my dad hadn't gotten us out of the country, this could have been me, my mom and 2 brothers. Remind me to thank my dad for what he did for us.

Famous photo of the aftermath of US bombing campaigns in Vietnam during the war

Famous photo of the aftermath of US bombing campaigns in Vietnam during the war

Day 4 in Nha Trang, trip to Vietnam, cont…

•October 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Went back to the beach today. The sunburn has healed a bit. I actually put sunscreen on and enjoyed another fine afternoon on the beach. More cutie pies, but I didn’t want to seem like a lecher and take their photos, though I took photos of the scenery.

Sat in on the evening performance in the courtyard at the hotel, very lovely dancing girls performed traditional Vietnamese dances (I think they were traditional) in between songs by this guy with a great voice. Well, I survived 4 days in Nha Trang, including two meals at small local restaurants and a grade 3 sunburn. Tomorrow I head to Saigon.

edit: I’d post the videos of the performances, but they didn’t come out as well as I thought. I think I had the camera on the wrong mode for night filming and the audio was distorted because of the loudness.

Days 2 and 3 in Nha Trang, trip to Vietnam, cont…

•October 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Well, 3 days down and so far so good. I’m actually getting time to rest and relax, without having any scheduled event to attend besides breakfast. Unfortunately I’m badly sunburned all over my arms and legs from the boating trip on the 2nd day in Nha Trang. It was a blast, with snorkeling, swimming, and delicious food. I overcame some lack of confidence when I went swimming on the beach the first evening in Nha Trang, and then even more when I was on the boat trip. I spent most of the time shirtless, scars and slight pooch and all. It was very freeing.

Fish farm near Nha Trang

Fish farm near Nha Trang

Back to the first evening here, I went to the beach and slept for a little while. I finally got the courage to go into the water after some Vietnamese girls (one was pretty hot) went in after a day at school or work. Soon a group of good-looking Vietnamese girls on vacation showed up and made things even more interesting. From their bodies and behavior I’d say they were westernized. Had a great time in the water, even without ever talking to any of them (language barrier, right?).

Back to the day after the boat trip and the sunburn. Spent most of the day sleeping, then went for a walk and ate at a local eatery. They had a sign out that said they were recommended by travel guides like Lonely Planet. Good enough for me. Food was good, cold beer was good. Walked back to the hotel along the beach, not much to see in the way of females. Heard a great Vietnamese song during the nightly dance performance in the courtyard. Doubt I’ll ever hear it again. Should have found out what it was.

edit: while updating some posts, I realized I’m a terrible photographer. I can never get exactly the shot I want, and my pictures are usually boring with no point of focus. Also, it seems my curse that whenever I have my camera ready, there’s nothing to shoot. As soon as I put it away, some of the most spectacular people and scenery I’ve ever seen pass by me. Story of my life.