Another chapter, another teaser

September 17, 2008

Lt. John Heller is a kind of poster boy for everything the Army wants to see in all of its soldiers.  He’s tall, handsome, incredibly smart and well-read, articulate, down to earth, and he sticks to the last detail of Army rules and regulations without letting himself get caught up in bureaucracy.  He’s a fighter pilot.  He’s the most engaging soldier I’ve met at the NTC, and he’s friendly and not at all condescending and an interesting guy and I have enormous respect for him and I don’t trust him at all.  In fact, I will leave this embed not even entirely convinced that John Heller is his real name.



Right now, though, as I’m sitting with other soldiers in a small tent at FOB Miami at 7 in the evening on a mild February night he’s demonstrating his skills at another thing: public speaking.  I’m not being allowed anywhere near a briefing on this embed, but Lt. Heller drew some kind of short straw and has been picked to be my Media Escort for this embed, so I go where he goes and I’m being allowed to listen to the PowerPoint presentation he’s giving, the gist of which is that in the event of a helicopter crash, we’re all going to die.  (And really when he keeps up a patter/bleak joke about how “you’re gonna die” he’s not referring to me but the helicopter-proximal soldiers in the audience, but he makes enough of a case that I get nervous about ever getting myself carted hither or thither on any kind of aircraft in any kind of potential danger.)



The good news, he explains, is that if you do crash you’re probably dead already.  If you’re not dead, you’re basically fucked, though how you’re fucked varies according to climate and terrain, and the speech takes 45 minutes to deliver because there are particularities to observe that range from Irukandji jellyfish to tree lines and azimuths and snow.  (Lt. Heller: “Don’t eat snow; you’ll die.”  A soldier in the crowd: “Don’t eat the yellow snow!”)   This is fascinating stuff to overhear in a shift-change teaching but not necessarily great reading material, though, so instead I’ll skip to what ends up, for me, being the most compelling and pertinent part: near the end of the speech, Lt. Heller talks about what to do and what not to do in case someone’s actually come to rescue you.  What not to do: jump up and wave and shout “hey!  over here!” because you’ll probably get yourself shot.  What to do: lay down and let the friendlies find you, handcuff you, detain you, treat any injuries and/or infections, and keep you detained for anywhere from a few hours to a few days until the friendly forces that have located you have determined that you really are, in fact, you and not somebody going to great lengths to pretend to be you.  When I query him later about this (to me, alarming) SOP for rescuing soldiers he just shrugs and says something to the effect that friendlies reaching you may have incomplete or faulty intelligence on you so if you do survive (unlikely) you’ll need to put up with some rough treatment because the Army needs to take proper precautions and, basically, because you can never be too careful.


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