The “Tales from Nick’s FARRP” series are a fictionalized version of real events and are dedicated to the memory of friends and classmates from the Class of 1969.
“So, Kenny, have you ever done anything with any other military branches?”
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I was talking with an Army guy sitting on a barstool across from me in my bar, named Nick’s FARRP, in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Captain Kenny Wayne has told me lots of stories about his time as a paratrooper here at Fort Bragg, just outside town. My Uncle Nick, who served three tours as a combat helicopter pilot in Vietnam, opened this bar, the FARRP, after he had to leave the Army because of cancers he got from some chemical over there. When he finally died, he left his bar to me. My name, by the way, is Gil Edwards. Since I know nothing about the Army, I am always asking questions of the Army guys who hang around here in the FARRP.
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“Well, Gil,” began Captain Kenny, after draining his mug of beer, “the first thing is to get the terminology right. The word ‘branch’ means one of the different career fields in the Army, such as infantry, armor, artillery, or in my case now, engineers. If you are talking about the other parts of our military forces, the proper term is ‘service.’
“There are three military services: the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, plus the Air Force, who are almost military. So that makes four, unless you count the Coast Guard. They only come under the Department of Defense in wartime, where they serve as part of the Navy. Coast Guardsmen are taught that their service is ‘that hard nucleus around which the Navy forms in time of war.’
“Hey, Peggy,” Captain Kenny went on, “could you bring me a refill on my beer?”
Miss Peggy is my manager of the FARRP. She is the widow of an Army helicopter pilot who was a close buddy of my Uncle Nick. Her husband was shot down on his third tour in Vietnam. When my uncle opened the bar, he asked Miss Peggy to be his manager. She actually runs everything here, but at least she lets me hang around, so I can pester these Army guys.
“It’s kinda confusing,” Captain Kenny continued, “because the civilian oversight of the military services in the Pentagon is organized with three Defense Departments, working under the Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy, and Secretary of the Air Force. The Department of the Navy oversees the military services of the Navy and the Marine Corps, plus sometimes the Coast Guard.
“So, Gil, I think your question was, have I ever worked with any of the other services? Thank you very much, Peggy.”
“Right, Kenny,” I responded. “Sorry about the wrong word. Have you?”
“Well, Gil, I have made over 60 parachute jumps from Air Force aircraft. The Air Force works closely with the Army for tactical airlift, including parachute drops, troop and equipment transport and special supplies, as well as close air support from the Air Force fighter guys. We call them ‘Zoomies.’”
“Gil,” interrupted the stout older guy sitting next to Captain Kenny, the one I knew as Chief Rod Jordan. “The various services are really different in a lot of ways. They don’t even speak the same language. Take a simple word like ‘secure.’
“If you tell a sailor to secure a building, he will turn out the lights. If you tell a soldier to secure a building, he will lock the doors. If you tell a Marine to secure a building, he will post a platoon on guard around it. And if you tell a zoomie to secure a building, he will buy you one.”
“Yeah, Gil,” added a tall Army guy I knew as Major Tony, sitting on the other side of Captain Kenny at the bar. “Take the machine that pulls a train. The Army calls that an engine. The Air Force calls it a locomotive. And the Marines call it ‘choo choo.’
“Or take the helicopters that Chief Rod and I fly. To the Air Force they are known as ‘rotary wing aircraft.’ Army guys call them ‘choppers.’ To the Navy they are ‘Hee-loes.’ But Marines just point in the air and grunt ‘uhhh.’”
“Hey, wise ass,” replied Chief Rod. “Don’t make fun of my Marines. They have more determination and willingness to sacrifice than any other service. I flew in support of them during the Tet Offensive in 1968, and they poured out their blood and guts retaking parts of I Corps in Vietnam. They may do things the hard way, if that is what they are ordered, but guaran-damn-tee they will pay whatever price is required to accomplish their mission.”
“If you old-timers would allow me to answer the lad’s question, I’ll go on,” resumed Captain Kenny. “The main time I worked with the Air Force was on my first tour here at Fort Bragg in 1970. Back then I was an Armor lieutenant assigned to 1-17th Cav, the airborne armored cavalry squadron of the 82nd Airborne Division. The squadron designated me an Air Movement Officer (AMO), so I attended a two-week course run by the Air Force. They taught me how to plan and prepare Army units and equipment for deployment on Air Force cargo aircraft, primarily the C-130, a stout four-turbine prop plane with incredible tactical versatility, and the C-141, the four-engine jet cargo plane.
“Our cav squadron had twelve Sheridan light tanks, but there were no training ranges at Fort Bragg large enough for tank gunnery qualification. So that April our entire squadron deployed by air to Camp Pickett, in south central Virginia, for thirteen days of tank gunnery qualifications.
“The Sheridan is a very light tank, but it still weighs over 17 tons. The maximum load for those early model C-130s was 35,000 pounds, almost exactly the weight of our Sheridans. Because I was AMO qualified, I was supposed to supervise the loading of our tanks, one each on twelve Air Force C-130 aircraft.
“During the AMO course, I had learned how to calculate the dimensions of all the Army vehicles, as well as the clearance dimensions of all the Air Force cargo aircraft. Checking the technical manuals, I compared the height of a Sheridan’s highest point, the tank commander’s machine gun mount, with the clearance between the back of a C-130 cargo floor and the top of the cargo ramp. To my astonishment, I found that our tanks were two inches too tall to fit through the C-130 cargo ramp.
“Fearful that our tanks would rip apart the Air Force cargo plane, I rushed up to the Air Force loadmaster who was supervising the first Sheridan getting loaded into the aircraft. Breathlessly, I told him the tank was two inches too high to fit into the C-130. The loadmaster replied, ‘Thank you very much, lieutenant,’ and continued directing the tank up the cargo ramp into his bird.
“In fear that the steel machine gun mount would rip apart the aluminum C-130, I watched the tank slowly climbing the rear loading ramp. As my tank continued up the ramp and began to cross the point where the angled ramp meets the flat cargo floor, the road wheels of the tank track compressed about three inches. With almost no room to spare, the tank cleared the ramp and proceeded into the aircraft. Completely chagrinned, I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the loading operation.
“When all twelve C-130s had been loaded with our tanks, they began to take off. With the Air Force crew members plus the tank drivers and their gear on board, the cargo aircraft were actually loaded slightly heavier their legal rating. Each aircraft used every foot of the Pope AFB runway trying to get aloft, and they barely cleared the fence at the base boundary as they struggled to gain altitude.
“In those days the Air Force was just starting to receive the gigantic cargo jet called the C-5A. One was assigned here for the ACE Board to develop Army jump procedures for the aircraft.”
“Wait a minute, Kenny,” I interrupted. “What does ‘ACE Board’ mean?”
“That’s Airborne and Communications Electronics Board, a special Army organization located at Pope AFB, just on the other side of Fort Bragg. Their job is to develop Army doctrine for working with new Air Force equipment. Every type of cargo aircraft that comes into the Air Force is required to be certified for Army parachute operations.
“Most of our troop training and tactical jumps are from the C-130. To jump from the -130, troops are taught to vigorously jump ‘up and out’ of the side doors, so they will clear the tail of the airplane before their parachutes deploy. It is usually a pretty rough exit.
“But jumping from the Air Force cargo jet, the Lockheed C-141, is totally different. The -141 has a blast deflector in front of the jump door, so it requires a weak exit. You simply step out the door and drop. It is the most beautiful jump in the world.
“When Lockheed designed the C-5, they used exactly the same jump door as the C-141 had: same dimensions, same blast deflector, measured exactly the same distance back from the nose. When the ACE Board began jump testing the C-5A, to be safe they started with dummies. They put the test dummies out the door with a weak exit, the same that works so well with the C-141. Trouble is, the C-5 is way longer than the -141, so with the jump doors so far forward, the dummies smashed all the way down the side of the aircraft, ‘bam-bam-bam-bam.’ Live jumpers weren’t going to like that very much.
“So next they tried the vigorous ‘up and out’ exit required for the Lockheed C-130. The dummies were ejected directly into the jet blast of the huge turbofan engines of the C-5, where they and their parachutes were incinerated. That wasn’t going to work either.
“After months of unsuccessful testing, the ACE Board decided to use a half-and-half technique, a weak-vigorous exit. This time, the dummies were sucked into the jet blast, where they were incinerated, then flung back against the side of C-5, where they left flaming scorch marks as they went ‘bam-bam-bam-bam’ all the way back.
“Finally, the ACE Board gave up using the jump doors. They got some Green Beanies from 6th and 7th Special Forces Groups to jump one time from the tailgate of the giant bird. Trouble there was that the C-5 was never designed to have the tailgate open during flight, so the aircraft became highly unstable.
“The Air Force screamed they would never allow that again, but the ACE Board replied, “Never mind. We accomplished our mission, which was to jump-qualify the C-5 with live jumpers. Now we will never jump the damned bird again.”
In memory of Bill and Terry and Eddie and Jerry