by Ski Ingram
After returning from Viet Nam in August 1971, I was assigned to Bravo Company 1/503rd Airborne Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. On April 1st 1972 the 173rd was disbanded. We were now the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. Shortly after getting married, I was chosen to attend the very first NCOES (Non-commissioned Officers Education System) class at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was a huge honor as I was picked over all of the NCOs in the 101st Airborne Division.
The course lasted three months. It was essentially the Officer Candidate Course geared for NCOs. Even though I had trained as a Green Beret and was a combat veteran who served in an Airborne Ranger Company, I learned a lot in that course. At the end of the school all of our training was put to the test during what was called Ranger Week. The class of about 60 men were put into two groups or Patrols. I was chosen to be the Patrol Leader on one of those patrols, another great honor.
The plan, for each patrol, was to fly out in the afternoon on Chinook helicopters to an area of Fort Benning and use Ranger tactics to war game against the other patrol. That morning I was very busy. I had to pick my staff and Ranger teams. I also had to plan our first mission and write the Warning Order and then an extensive Patrol Order all used to get my patrol ready and briefed on our patrol’s mission. There was a lot to do
I took a break to go to noon chow even though I had more to do. The meal was chili mac, macaroni with chili and beans on top. I do not like chili mac so I decided not to eat lunch. As it turned out passing on lunch was a good decision. I went back to work with my staff planning and writing my Patrol Order.
Later in the afternoon I was introduced to the two officers who would be grading me and my patrol on everything we did that week. They were both Army Rangers. I don’t remember their names, but I liked them both, mostly because they treated me as if I was an equal since I was wearing an Airborne Ranger patch on the right shoulder of my uniform. When you wear any patch on the right shoulder it tells everyone that you served with that unit in a combat zone. I had served with November Company 75th Airborne Rangers attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade (separate). The 173rd was the only Army unit, in Viet Nam, on jump status other than Green Berets. The unit was special, anyone who was fortunate to serve in the 173rd was highly regarded. To say you served with the Ranger Company was even better.
I called my patrol together and went over the Patrol Order. We all boarded a Chinook helicopter for the flight to somewhere in the “jungles” of Fort Benning. With the rear ramp down my patrol entered the helicopter and took a seat. My Assistant Patrol Leader and I were the last of my group to board. The two officers entered after us. We took our seats, the ramp was raised and we were off. I was seated next to one of the officers who was seated right next to the Ramp. The other officer was across from us with my Assistant Patrol Leader next to him.
We began to fly “nap of the earth” to our location. The helicopter while flying nap of the earth follows the earth’s contours. It flies very fast while twisting and turning sharply and flying up and down. This is to make it difficult for an enemy to hit it while in the air. It was a wild ride, but something I had experienced many times in Viet Nam. I looked about my men and could see that some of them appeared to be getting sick to their stomach.
If I remember correctly, the officer sitting next to me commented about the men getting sick. One of my men, a sergeant named Shehan, did get sick. To keep from throwing up on the helicopter’s floor and other soldiers, he took off his Ranger cap and threw up into it. At this point everyone on the ship was looking at him. He looked at us and then reached into his cap. With two fingers he took a large piece of what was in his cap and ate it. This made almost everyone else sick and they began to throw up all over the helicopter’s floor and each other. There were 32 men with most of them “tossing their cookies everywhere.”
It was very warm in the chopper and the stench was revolting. We were still flying at nap of the earth and the men were continuing to lose their chili mac lunch. The Crew Chief had this look of horror on his face because he was the one who would have to clean up the mess. I have never gotten sick on any flight in my life, but I was close to losing it myself. I looked across the aisle at my Assistant Patrol Leader and the officer next to him. I could see that they were looking a bit green and may lose it at any moment. I was never so glad that I had passed up lunch in my life.
Just when I thought I may not be able to hold it much longer the helicopter landed and the ramp was dropped. The first two off the helicopter were the two officers with me and my assistant close behind. I looked back and saw every man trying to get off of that bird as fast as he could. They were pushing and fighting each other in their haste to exit the ship. The floor was very slippery. The chili mac was mixed with milk and whatever else the men had for lunch. It must have been at least one inch deep. The floor was so slippery the men could not keep from falling down in it while rushing to exit that stinky helicopter.
For the remainder of the exercise those men had to wear their dirty, stinky, vomit-coated fatigues. They were a mess and smelled terrible. I’m sure after a week of wear, without being able to clean their fatigues, they just threw them away instead of trying to clean them.
Years later I was assigned to Hohenfels Training area with the 7th Army Training Command in Bavaria, West Germany. Hohnfels is a NATO training area were each foreign army who is a member of NATO comes to train at least once a year. Each morning a detail from a unit who is training at Hohnfels reports to the headquarters office to raise the flag. One morning a sergeant and a private enter the office where I was working. They were assigned to put up the American flag. To my surprise it was Sergeant Shehan. After talking old times for a for a few minutes and regaling the private about Sergeant Shehan’s escapades while in NCO School, I gave them the American flag. They went outside to raise it. The standard procedure was to attach the flag to the pole. Reveille would be played over a loudspeaker while the flag was being raised to the top of the pole. After the flag ceremony, Shehan returned to the office and said good-bye. I didn’t expect to ever see him again, but I was wrong. He and his private had attached the flag to the pole upside down. So I had to call him back to fix his mistake!
As remembered by Ski Ingram February 2022.