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Subjects of Interest to Maxwell Hugo

Aviation

Let's Talk About Flying!
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Afghanistan

A Country at the Crossroads of History
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  • https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/695715/British-Camp-Bastion-ABANDONED-Taliban Camp Bastion was once one of the largest NATO bases in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands served there over its life. Now it's abandoned and threatened to be overrun by the Taliban.
  • Part 1 found here: https://www.ramrod.website/forum/aviation/capture-at-coy-dz Maxwell Hugo was on a military bus, in an aisle seat. Around him were his fellow POWs and, like him, on their way. None of them could enjoy the view through the windows because not only was it still dark but there were bags on their heads. Hugo guessed they hadn’t left the confines of the forest but an occasional flood light did seep through his fabric, allowing him to judge their rate of speed, which wasn’t much. It was mostly dark, which told him the bus wasn’t using external lighting. It was a good guess that wherever they were going, they’d arrive soon, otherwise how would bagged human cargo be explained to the local bobby? Hugo was sitting next to his aircraft commander, maintaining the same orientation they’d held inside the H-53 cockpit. Hugo guessed they’d been with their forced adventure for three hours now, which meant there was a lot of night left. Besides the driver, Hugo calculated there were two guards on the bus, one at the head of the aisle and another at its rear. At nearly 43” in length, their FAL rifles were tactically unsuited for the confined interior. The bus was stopping and starting, which Hugo surmised was at stop signs and road junctions. It stopped for a fifth time just as he turned over a thought in his brain, the first sentence of the letter he’d send to his squadron commander whenever this was over, when yelling broke out at both the front and rear of the bus. He threw out his prose and ripped the bag from his head. In front, one of his fellow prisoners had grabbed the guard by his rifle and was using it as a lever to pin the militiaman to the windshield. “Go! Go! Get out!” Similar words came simultaneously from the rear as the guard there was similarly immobilized. The transport’s emergency escape door was opened and moon-lit figures began filling its doorway, as if paratroopers jumping over Normandy. Hugo shuffled down the aisle, having lost accountability of his aircraft commander. He spilled out, falling the four feet to the asphalt and then running instantly, following two others into the forest. After a hundred yards all three of them stopped simultaneously. Hugo was familiar by sight with every flight engineer in the squadron so when he didn’t recognize either man, he knew their area of discipline. Neither man was from Spain. Zeal was a common trait of pararescuemen, however. “We need to go back and rescue our guys.” These were tough men, having survived training that had a greater than 50% wash-out rate. Hugo decided to mix first lieutenant authority with reason. “Easy there, airman. In a real situation we wouldn’t go back. We’d just get captured again.” Hugo liked the way his voice sounded. “Plus, it looks like you’re limping.” “Twisted it when I jumped from the bus. Those guys saved us back there.” “They did, and we’ll give them a paper Air Force Cross later. But I don’t think they’d want their sacrifice to be in vain.” Before he’d allow a retort, Hugo continued. “We’re not out of this. They’ll bring out the Special Air Service to track us down.” “Which way?” The other pararescueman asked, sold. Hugo pointed. “Towards that glow on the horizon. It’s the nearest village.” “What will we there? Hail a cab ?” “It could be that simple. How would you like to be in your own bed by mid-morning?” Hugo looked back in the direction of the short bus, now lit and visible through the trees. There was loud voices and a few flashlight beams poking their way. “Let’s get out of here.” Within the hour they’d found seven of the others. A quick accounting indicated that besides the two heroes his aircraft commander was among the missing. Hugo could imagine the man sitting there, bagged, frozen in time while the rest of them desperately sought air under their boots. The militiamen hadn’t given up. It was humiliation, something they were trying to pinch off before their majors and colonels found out. Hugo and his nocturnal wanderers were determined to deny them, melting into the dark forest whenever a vehicle approached. It was 0100 when they reached the village, its streets and home fronts dark and quiet, its occupants oblivious to their evading horde of Yanks. A phone booth was sought and found. “What’s the nearest airbase?” “Mildenhall.” A pause. “It’s not listed in the directory.” “I know the number for the base operator.” Hugo said, “Let me have it, and give me some change.” After a few moments he was connected to RAF Mildenhall’s base taxi dispatcher. “Hello, we need a ride.” The British gentleman on the other end of the line seemed eager. “Certainly sir, from where to where?” Hugo gave the man the name of the village and their destination, which was thirty five miles to the southeast as the crow flies, almost double that by road. “Blimey….” “It’s after one. You can’t be that busy.” “And I’d say you’re not far off with that.” “We’ll pay handsomely.” “Well, all right then.” “We’ll need two cars. Ten blokes. No baggage.” Hugo arrived back at his squadron building just as it was getting light. The first office inside the building’s main entrance was the operations center, currently occupied by one of his Academy classmates. “What are you doing here?” The man in the flight suit asked, eyes wide. By now everyone was aware of the misfortune thrust upon Hugo’s bachelor crew. “Looks like you’ve seen a ghost. I escaped with the others and I’m not going back.” Hugo soon learned the rest of the story. Their bus had been on its way to a prisoner of war facility, simulated, where they would’ve spent 2-3 days in the loving embrace of interrogation and non-debilitating torture. After that, the fun was to begin. They’d be taken to a large training area southwest of London where the Special Air Service – yes, that Special Air Service, the British equivalent to America’s Green Berets and Delta Force rolled into one unit – would hunt them until who knows when. No food, no knife – not even a penknife – and no go-bag. Hugo wrote his letter that morning, pointing out to the colonel that the married man had as much probability of evading behind enemy lines as the bachelor. Hugo wasn’t too surprised when the man agreed, which kept the ten of them from having to return to the exercise, a definite disappointment to those who’d spent weeks organizing it. Later that day they got their two heroes back, along with the aircraft commander. Hugo figured those 28 hours of adventure didn’t compare to an escape from Colditz Castle but there were lessons nonetheless. Namely, get the bag off your head as soon as possible, always have the pararescuemen on your side, and always, always check for married men on your flight crew.
  • First Lieutenant Maxwell Hugo fidgeted in the cramped briefing room. Around the room’s table was the rest of his crew, his aircraft commander, flight engineer, and three gunners who would depart with him in four hours to exfiltrate Air Force pararescuemen from an English forest. Hugo was uneasy, not due to the demands of the impending mission, as this one would be as straight forward as they came, but because of what had been whispered into his ear the previous day. “Bring a go-bag tomorrow.” The words belonged to someone he trusted. Analysis of all the angles uncovered a single, salient fact: the mission crew were all bachelors, unencumbered by a wife who would have to be called on a Friday evening and told her husband wouldn’t be returning that night. This led to the likely conclusion that he and his crew would be the objects of an escape and evasion exercise. Not only would someone be hunting them but since it was meant to be a secret, a fair amount of personal discomfort would be a likely by-product of the event. Still, it was conjecture until the moment three extraneous men entered their briefing room. Not three random men but those possessing the exact qualifications for the basic crew of an H-53 helicopter. You bastards, thought Hugo. The senior ranking interloper was not only a major but a member of the unit’s standardization & evaluation cadre, which meant he could justify hopping on any mission at any time. A good cover, except that the presence of his two companions gave away his true intentions. “We’re going to tag along tonight, just observing.” Hugo had informed his aircraft commander of the previous day's whisper yet the man said nothing to the major’s pronouncement. Instead the mission leader stood and began his dissection of the night’s scheduled events: a flight to a forest clearing we knew as Coy Drop Zone where we would pick up our eight pararescuemen, fly them back to the airbase, then spend the rest of the evening practicing instrument approaches in the local area. Up at six, down at ten p.m. Almost routine. At the end it was the three visitors’ turn to say nothing. Four hours later the pre-flight inspections were complete and the helicopter run up to full operating temperature on its first try, no small feat given the H-53 was a powerful assembly of two turboshaft engines, five transmissions, three hydraulic systems, and miles of twenty year-old wiring. At departure Hugo had a map in his left hand, his finger quickly oriented in the day’s dying light. He’d navigated to Coy many times but even with dead reckoning information neatly tabulated, this part of England was so flat it’d be easy to miss their destination among the growing shadows below. En route Hugo interspersed his navigational calculations with thoughts of the three extraneous men standing behind him in the helicopter’s cabin. I bet they’re smiling, he thought. Twenty-five minutes later Hugo found Coy, his aircraft commander having never relinquished the flight controls. “Coy DZ dead ahead.” “Before landing check,” voiced the aircraft commander. The landing itself was uneventful, though it was nearly dark. The aircraft commander plopped their beast seventy-five yards from Coy’s tree line, deciding to leave the rotor rpm at flying speed because, well, they didn’t expect to be on the ground long. The H-53 had barely settled its six tires in the scrub when the intercom squealed. “Right door. I’ve got people moving our way.” This was wholly expected. Hugo had to look across the cockpit and past his aircraft commander to make them out. The men weren’t running but weren’t walking either, something in between. No doubt they were looking for a night in their own beds after a week in the field. A second later there was another voice in their ears. “Tail here. I’ve got vehicles moving towards us at a high rate of speed.” This was wholly unexpected. “Take off. In a real situation we’d leave and support from the air.” Hugo had vomited the words into his mouthpiece, aiming them squarely at his aircraft commander. He didn’t think they would make any difference, but at least there’d be resistance. The aircraft commander said nothing, did nothing. Then Hugo became aware of a new being in the small cockpit. Or at least the head of one. The major had poked his into their space. “You’ve just had your tail rotor blown off, simulated. Normal shutdown.” Hugo heard the helicopter moan and groan as it was started anew, then was gone in a roar. He didn’t see any of it because he was face down on the ground, wetness seeping to his chest, thighs, and forearms. The rest of his crew were around him, similarly positioned, including the pararescuemen they’d come to save. Everything of value had been taken from them. Equipment. Tools. Weapons. And his go-bag. Hugo quickly learned their captors weren’t Cold War Soviets, Czechs, or even Poles. They were British, members of the local militia fulfilling their weekend commitments. It was completely dark now. With his helicopter’s gnash receding into the distance, Hugo was marched with the others to a nearby scrap of concrete and ordered to the ground again. He thought they were in a rough line though it was difficult to say with certainty. Now it was sure there was an uncomfortable weekend ahead. No wonder only bachelors had been picked. “You can go (eff) yourself, mate.” The last word had come out sarcastically, as if the airman mouthing it was trying to ridicule a whole language. Hugo was unfamiliar with the voice, learning later it’d come from a pararescueman on temporary loan from the squadron’s Zaragoza detachment. Hugo learned much more quickly that the man was a zealous sort. “Yeah, I’m talking to you, limey.” The militiamen were near but not too near, unseen in the darkness. One of them broke after the fifth horrid pronouncement from the man on loan from Spain. “Shut up, Yank, or I’ll shut you up.” The retort was all the wedge the pararescueman needed. Amid a staccato of expletives, the man yelled back, “You (hmmm) come near me and I’ll (hmmm) cut you. I’ll stab you in the (hmmm) heart.” The militiaman took the bait, much to his later regret, emerging from the black to challenge his ugly Yank with pugilistic intent, to land a blow with a fist or even the butt of his Fabrique Nationale FAL rifle. Hugo heard the militiaman’s boots resonate on the concrete, then stop. After a sound of struggle, Hugo heard a scream of such ferocity that he thought it would bring the local constable. Hugo would learn that the man from Zaragoza had hidden a pen knife, now using it to stab the poor militiaman through the palm of his hand. Multiple men emerged from the darkness to save their countryman and to manhandle the American to his knees. They took wire and bound his wrists to his ankles behind his back, an arrangement that quickly proved insufficient. With his own scream and grunt, the pararescueman threw his body forward to break the wire, in the process inflicting a nasty wound to his forehead. The militiamen then reinstalled the wire, adding a second length wrapped around the American’s neck, all in an attempt to further constrain, punish, and to gag the awful proclamations about their mothers, the Queen, and the IRA’s continued effectiveness against the British military. Part II to come: Mass Escape