Neil Doc Keddie loaded with 100+ lbs. of supplies – ready to go
Remember those moments before going out on a mission. The day began with all the activity involved in packing rucks, drawing fresh ammo, cleaning weapons, and for me making sure my Aid Bag was packed and I had enough dressings and meds for the next 10 days or so. C Rations were uncrated —I was popular because I was given an old M-16 (actually an XM-16) with a forked flash suppressor which was great for cutting the wire surrounding the C Ration cases–and put into the rucks. Like droppings, everywhere someone had been loading his cans there were leftover tins of Date Pudding and Fruit Cake. SPs were divided up which were particularly significant for those of us who smoked. Canteens were filled and tied on the back. The conversations were all small-talk that covered a nervousness about what might transpire in the very-near future.
RTO Tiarianna checking his PRC-25 radio
Then –for us–it was “Saddle Up” and climb the hill to the helicopter pad where we waited for the birds to come from Eagle to pick us up. There was always some nervous activity rustling around as each team split up on one side of the pad or the other. But for the most part there was quiet as we contemplated what we were about to embark on, our families, our loved ones, our memories of those days before we entered the service and the hopes and dreams we held for the days that lay ahead after our tour was over.
Climbing up to the Chopper pad
And then we could hear them . . that distinctive sound of the “Slick” as they approached the firebase getting louder and louder. It was at that moment as they were about to descend to pick us up that the adrenaline started to kick in. in what seemed like mere seconds we got up, crouched over, and ran –the best we could with 100+ pound rucks, weapons, and ammo–towards the birds turning around as we got there and heaving ourselves on board. Each of us sat down hanging our legs out the bird —with the exception of the “Cherries” who were forced into the middle. Once there and situated the bird ascended and the firebase receded as we banked and headed for our LZ.
The flight to our objective was one of mixed emotions as the adrenaline coursed through our bodies and minds. Silent prayers, nervous clutching of our weapons, thoughts that tried to envision where we were going and what we were about to encounter. All these thoughts were tempered by the feel of freedom as our legs dangled out the slick and the amusement park ride sensation as the bird banked hard —with those on one side looking straight at the ground while the others were treated to a view of heaven before leveling back out and making our way to our destination.
Prep fire on the LZ as we approached for touchdown
As we approached our LZ we could begin to discern all the activity around it. Smoke rounds, artillery preps and then the final prep conducted by Cobras way down below us. Then it was our turn as the 1st Bird made its way down. The Crew Chief and the Door Gunner unleashed their weapons spewing rounds on the LZ and perimeter and at the same time spewing hot spent shells that for those unlucky enough to sit on the right side of the bird meant trying to prevent them from going down one’s fatigue jacket and being burnt.
Ready to touchdown – standing on the skids allowed for quickest exit
And then it was the end of the line for us. Those on the first bird in running like hell to set up a perimeter and making sure the LZ wasn’t hot. For those of us on the following Slicks it was tension as we waited to see the color of the smoke popped. Red–and one just about pissed one’s pants: “Goofy Grape” and one could relax just a bit. In we went –usually riding the skids in so we could get off faster–and then we made our way to the perimeter to watch and wait until the last bird dropped its load.
After the last bird rose up and away from the LZ there arose in all of us a rather feeling of sadness and anxiety. The farther away the prop sounds got the more we realized that now we were pretty much on our own. And then all was quiet and now time for us to get to the business at hand. Now! it was the time when the “brotherhood” took over and it would be that which would carry us through for the next-however-many-days that we would be out.
Here’s a conversation between Neil and another former medic after he posted the above on his FB page:
Larry Doc Butcher Combat Medics attached to the Infantry grunts always went out on the first, “unsecured” insert and stayed out returning with the “last” pickup. Medics always had to go out on every ambush patrol. Medics were on duty 24/7 365…
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