Fly fast and true, you bitch.
We birthed the Hawks at Cherry Point, nested them aboard a LST (Landing Ship Tank) at Atlantic Beach, babied them down the eastern seaboard (shadowed by Soviet subs), cradled them ashore on Viegas, Puerto Rico in the dead of night. Our deadly little fledglings.
You want some extreme bad boy fun? Go on an amphibious landing with the Marines! I’m not being sarcastic; this is the real deal in manly men entertainment. As the first sunrise warmed the Caribbean , we were already moving forward toward our first objective: the four palettes of beer thoughtfully provided by the Old Man, Lieutenant Mike Stevens, commanding Delta Battery, 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalion, all of 26 years old.
“NOW HEAR THIS! THE C.O. (commanding officer) WANTS BIRDS READY TO FLY BEFORE YOU TOUCH THAT BEER!”
Figures. We decanted the missiles from their tubes, locked them down on their launchers, ran through all the assembly and ready protocols, calibrated the radars, armed the warheads, and (shhhhhhh) continued our fire-and-maneuver assault on the beer palettes.
“NOW HEAR THIS! THE C.O. WANTS YOU READY TO LAUNCH AND IN FORMATION IN FRONT OF THE BCC (Battery Control Central) AT ZERO SEVEN FIFTY (7:50 a.m.). TARGET DRONES WILL FLY AT ZERO NINE (9:00 a.m.) IF THE NAVY WAKES UP IN TIME TO LIGHT THE FUSES.)
We laughed. Making fun of the Navy once a day is a Marine obligation.
You need to know this about the drones, jet-propelled targets for our Hawks. Drones are owned and flown by the Navy. They are expensive and the Squids (Navy) don’t like to lose them, especially to Marine Hawks. So the drones tow a highly irradiated sleeve behind them on a very long cable. This target sleeve reads sizzling hot on the Hawk radar system. Looking at the acquisition scope, the actual drone reads as a soft, fuzzy speck ahead of the bright sleeve bogie. Our missiles and the Navy have this in common: they both want the Hawk to lock on and destroy the sleeve instead of the drone itself. The drone has a parachute and is retrieved later and re-used.
“Do NOT,” threatens the Navy, “Do NOT shoot down our drones!”
So, we’re in formation and the Old Man gives us the word:
“Every swinging dick in this goddamn battery wanted to be an infantry Marine, including me, especially me. But the Marine Corps in its infinite green wisdom wanted us here in the goddamn Air Wing, and I’m pissed about it. Any of you pissed about it?”
“Aye, aye, sir!” (This was the Old Corps before “Ooo Rah” came into fashion—whatever the hell that means.)
The Old Man continued:
“I may not be an infantry commander. You may not be grunts. But I will tell you this, I am a fucking warfighter and I am fucking pissed off. You warfighters pissed off?”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
“The mission of Third LAAM is to get you ready to replace your brothers in the First and Second LAAMs already in Viet Nam. When you get over there, you are going to be in the weeds, sooner or later, rifle man or missile man, you are going to catch the flying shit. My job is to get you ready to fight. To fight, goddammit, like a Marine fights. I don’t care if your MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) is 0311 (infantry) or 6742 (missile), you are going to have the same warrior spirit. You are going to take the war to our enemy and you are going to rain destruction on his fucking head. You are going to kill the enemies of the United States of America. You understand me?”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
“So, the first thing we’re going to do to get that warrior spirit is shoot down every fucking drone the Navy puts in the air. We are going to blow those fucking drones out of the fucking sky. You understand me, Marines?”
“AYE, AYE, L.T.!” (L. T. is an affectionate, but respectful, honorific for Lieutenant.)
“The we drink beer until our eyeballs explode. Sound the alert.”
The battle sirens began to wail.
And that’s what we did, all day long. Killed drones. The Navy launched, and we shot them down. One after the other. Let me tell you, it takes a dedicated team to keep the bird locked on the soft drone signature when it’s straining against the leash to go after the yummy hot sleeve. You have to “ride it all the way in.” All the way in.
After we secured for the afternoon and were just getting started on the party, Lt. Stevens was paid a visit by the brass, Navy and Marine. First the Navy Commander chewed Stevens a new asshole and stormed off. Then the Marine Colonel started in . . . until the Navy was out of earshot. The Colonel shut it down and stood there laughing with our Old Man. The Colonel was practically doing a jig.
Next day, bleary eyed, we warmed up the birds, locked on the Navy drones, and shot them out of the sky. Every one of them.
We wouldn’t want to disappoint the Old Man.
OooRah! (whatever the hell that means.)