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Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

Posted 6 years 212 days ago ago by Randy Mains

My alligator mouth has overrun my hummingbird rear end more times than I care to remember. It’s a character flaw I’ve yet to overcome. I can’t seem to help myself when the opportunity presents itself to do or say exactly what I’m thinking, which we all know is never a good idea.  

A good example of what I’m talking about happened more than 35 years ago in Vietnam, eight months into my one-year tour of duty with the 101st Airborne Division. I was sitting in the second row of our makeshift outdoor movie theater on a metal folding beach chair after an eight-hour day of flying. It was 2030 at night. I was drinking a lukewarm beer waiting for the movie to begin. The air was hot and thick. I was exhausted. I hadn’t had a shower since the night before. I hadn't even had chow. I’d landed a half hour earlier and I was still wearing the sweaty Nomex® I’d put on at 0500 that morning.

Because movies were sent so infrequently to Charlie Company, the projectionist would change the sequence of the reels each night to add variety to the same movie. This made it seem like we were watching a different movie every night. The movies were projected onto a white plywood screen nailed up on two vertical, 12-foot four-by-fours.

The first night the reels were played in their proper order. The second night the second reel was shown first, the third reel was shown second, and the first reel last. The third night reel three was shown first, reel one – second, reel two – third … and so on.

During the break between reel changes, Captain Ernest James would walk around the outdoor theater, calling out the names of the aircraft commanders while passing out mission sheets for the next day's missions. The sheets contained the particulars of the mission, lift-off time, unit to be supported, geographic position of the unit's support base, call sign, and radio frequency codes to be looked up in the SOl.

The SOl (Signal Operating Instructions) was a secret document kept by each aircraft commander. It was a small book worn around his neck on a thick string when he was flying. He usually kept it tucked into the right chest pocket of his Nomex® flight suit.

Ernest was rushing around passing out the mission sheets before the next reel began. "Shonehour!” he yelled.

"Here!" Tom hollered back.

Ernest walked over to him and handed him the sheet.


"Here, Ernest!"


"Right here, Ernest!"

Ernest gave him his sheet. "Mains!"

"Here, Ernest!" I yelled.

He was a fair distance away. He searched the crowd of over a hundred men. "I don't see you!"

"In the second row!" I shouted. I could see him looking for me.

"Still can't see you."

"Wait one, Ernest," I replied taking out the emergency pen flare gun from the breast pocket of my Nomex®. I screwed in the red flare, held it over my head, and with a warning shout of "Stand by!" I fired the flare. The bright red flare rocketed straight up over the heads of the GIs sitting in the outside theater. Peals of laughter and applause filled the company area.

"Ah, I see you now, Randy," he chuckled.

Under the red glow of the descending flare, Ernest approached and handed me the mission sheet.

"Thomas!" he continued and walked away.

A new captain to Charlie Company, Captain Buck Phillips, marched over. "Give me that flare gun soldier.  Just what in hell's name do you think you're doing firing that thing in the company area?"

"Getting Ernest's attention," I explained.

My insubordination shocked him. "That's Captain James to you, mister. You don't call a superior officer by his first name."

I tried hard not to laugh out loud. I was dog-tired and my first instinct was to tell him to go perform an anatomically impossible act on himself. I fought to keep my composure before I spoke. "I was just trying to get Ernest's ... uh ... Captain James's attention."

"What do you think this is around here, a damn circus?"

I began to answer, "Well, sir, now that you mention it...."

"Never mind." He threw out his hand. "Gimme that flare gun."

I shrugged and handed it to the captain.

"This won't be the last you'll hear of this, Mains. That, I can assure you!" he shouted and stormed off toward the orderly room.

His statement set off a barrage of catcalls and boos from the rest of the audience, which accompanied Captain Buck Phillips as he walked away. The heckling didn’t stop until he had disappeared into the night.

A more recent example of speaking my mind was when I was giving two of our Saudi pilots an ATP checkride in the Bell 412EP sim. They were on a single-engine approach to the airport descending through about 1,800’ in the clouds, on the ILS, autopilot coupled waiting for decision altitude.

Mohammad, or ‘Mo’ as he liked to be called, and Khalid were very switched-on pilots, very Western, having worked for Saudi Aramco.  Both men had done their flight training in North Dakota, at a university there where they earned a four-year aviation degree.

While on approach on one engine, Mo suddenly said to Khalid who was the captain, “What would happen if we lost the other engine?”

Khalid shrugged. “I don’t know, what?”

Mo smiled and said, “We’d both get seventy-two virgins.”

Both men laughed.

It was at that point that I couldn’t help myself. I leaned forward between them and said, “This may be politically incorrect to say but with all the terrorist bombers in your neck of the woods, do you think there are any virgins left?”

Both men laughed. That is until I said, “And who’s to say they’re all women?” causing them both to spin around in their seats, looking at me in shock.

I guess they hadn’t thought about THAT possibility.

About Randy: Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Areo.

He may be contacted at [email protected]