Chapter 6 - Foxtrot-42
Warrant Officer Al Powell had flown helicopters for nearly twenty years: as a combat pilot with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and as a pilot for the Denver police department. In all of that time, he had never seen the weather turn so savage, so fast.
Powell liked to tell people that he had never been frightened in a helicopter. He had a great deal of confidence in and affection for the UH-60 Blackhawk but he had to admit that for the moment, he was gravely concerned.
Half of his instruments were dead and the other half were telling him things he didn’t want to know.
He said to his co-pilot, “Dutch can we hold it together?”
Dutch replied, “As long as we can put down right now, we should be OK. Anything else and we’re going in.”
Powell switched his mike and spoke to his passengers, “Everybody strap in. We’re going to be landing shortly and it might get rough.”
The sleek Blackhawk emerged from the clouds and Powell’s heart sank. All he could see in the rain were trees and mountains.
Dutch said, “There, I see it. There on that ridge-top: it’s a two story white house and barn sitting on a nice big flat.”
Powell said, “Nice. Maybe they’ve got some coffee.”
* * *
The boys were sitting in the upstairs den when Jimmy said, “Do you hear that?”
Jimmy muted the movie.
Tom sat up and said, “That’s a chopper and he doesn’t sound right.”
The boys jumped up and went out of the sun porch in time to see a Blackhawk approach the yard slowly out of the storm. When it got close it seemed to plop down at the last minute.”
Tom said, “Jimmy, get on the radio and tell Sierra-Hotel that one of their Blackhawks just landed hard in our front yard.”
Tom and the rest of the boys rushed out to greet the helicopter.
* * *
Powell had to fight the Blackhawk to get her down. The ship’s handling was very sluggish and there was a very tricky crosswind. He lined up on the improvised land area, got in as close as he could and cut power.
The big bird landed with a hard thump. As soon as they were down, Powell shut down all of the systems because after the lightning strike, he didn’t trust anything electrical and didn’t want a fire to add to their problems.
He got up from his seat and went back into the passenger cabin. Powell asked, “Everybody all right back here?”
The seven passengers all nodded and the senior officer present asked, “Where are we?”
Powell said, “We’re in the mountains at a place called Eagle Rock. It was the closest flat spot we could find. Sorry about the hard landing. We were losing it fast and the storm wasn’t helping any.”
Dutch said, “Yo Al! Our welcoming committee is here.”
Powell opened the passenger cabins sliding side door and was greeted by four curious looking teenagers under an umbrella. The tallest one asked, “Everybody OK?”
Powell said, “Yeah but we’re sure glad we found your front yard.”
The boy introduced himself, “I’m Tom Ross. Welcome to Eagle Rock. I had my brother call Sierra Hotel and let them know that one of their birds landed here. Come on inside out of the weather and we’ll see about getting you guys a ride.”
* * *
When they got inside, Tom introduced his crew. Bobby and Ronny got busy in the kitchen brewing a pot of coffee.
Powell said, “I’m Al Powell and this is my co-pilot Dutch Kersten. This is Colonel Yates and Captain Boyle of the Colorado National Guard Public Affairs Office. These two distinguished gentlemen are Representatives Hollister and Sanchez of the Colorado Congressional delegation. This is Kelly Newman of CNN and Paul Larken of ABC News and their cameraman Vince Roselli.”
Tom said, “I’m pleased to meet you all. Do you need to use the radio?”
Powell said, “Yes, please. I need to get some transportation organized for my passengers and some help for my sick bird.”
Tom said, “Jimmy, show Chief Powell to the radio.” Powell followed Jimmy up the stairs.
The reporters asked if they could take some pictures and Tom gave his Ok. They retrieved their gear from the helicopter and their cameraman started taping.
Representative Hollister said, “Tom, who are your parents? Where are they?”
Tom answered, “We’re from Colorado Springs. My Dad is Dr. Tom Ross. He is an epidemiologist working with Homeland Security and the CDC. My Mom is a Doctor at County general back home. When things got dicey, Pop sent me up here to get the equipment running.”
Hollister asked, “Equipment?”
Tom said, “Yes. My Dad helped develop the Mark 5 Air Quality Monitor systems with Nuclear, Biological and Chemical detection capability. We had three of them here but the world situation blew up before we could get them deployed. We came up here a few days ago and set the one up here and got it established on DHS’s network. Once we had it working, we worked with Colonel Gaddis’s men of the Guard to help get the rest of the network set up.”
Representative Sanchez said, “Could we see it?”
Tom said, “Sure thing, follow me.” He went upstairs and the group followed. They walked out onto the sun porch where the AQM was sitting quietly gathering data. Thankfully the spring storm had blown through and the weather had cleared to just a mist.
Sanchez said, “It reminds me of the probes that we send to other planets.”
Tom said, “The same companies that make those probes built it. It is an amazing piece of hardware. It has three independent processors inside and a dozen or so sensors that gather information and send it to a satellite. DHS gathers the data and can make a map of possible nuclear, chemical or biological hazards.”
Hollister said, “Exactly the sort of thing that we need right now.”
Tom replied, “Yes. That’s why it was so critical to get them working. From what I understand they were scheduled for deployment in May and our current problems started causing a whole lot of chaos.”
Larken asked, “Wasn’t it difficult to install such a complex machine?”
Tom laughed and said, “Not really. To be honest, I’ve had video games that were harder to get working.”
Chief Powell joined them on the sun porch. He said, “I talked to headquarters. They’ll have a team out here in an hour to get you gentlemen on your way.
Hollister said, “Thank you Chief.”
Tom said, “I believe that we have coffee and refreshments ready downstairs.”
* * *
The group gathered around the kitchen table and chatted amiably while they waited for the National Guard to arrive.
Tom told them about his Grandfather and the history of Eagle Rock. He noticed that the reporters were taking notes.
Kelly Newman asked the twins what they though about the world situation.
Ronny said, “Yesterday we saw the pictures from Israel and Jordan. To tell you the truth it made me sick. We couldn’t look at it anymore. We had to turn off the TV.”
Bobby said, “We saw the pictures from Denver too and we’re not happy about that either.”
Newman asked, “Did it make you angry?”
Bobby and Ronny glanced at each other. Bobby said, “Yes, there’s some anger but we’re sadder more than anything. It’s so frustrating. You want to do something, anything you can to help. The image from yesterday; that’s got to be what hell looks like.”
Larken asked, “Brian, how do you feel about what’s happened?”
Brian looked pensive and said, “To tell you the truth I’m mad as hell about it. Everybody I know and love is at risk and for what? Because some flea-bitten Mullah wanted to smite the Great Satan? They got exactly what they had coming when President McMahan nuked their bunker. I’m glad that it’s over but I’m thinking where the Ayatollahs are going it’s a lot hotter than they expected and there’s not a virgin in sight.”
Newman asked, “Tom, what are your plans from here on?”
Tom said, “I thought I might apply to West Point next year but until this is over, we’ve all got a lot work to do.”
There was a pause. All the adults looked at each other with an expression that Tom couldn’t read.
Larken asked, “Jimmy How do you feel about the events of the last few days?
Jimmy said, “A much wiser man than me at another time of great national tragedy once said: With malice toward none, with charity for all, ...let us strive on to finish the work we are in, ...to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
This is the great work that all of us must strive to accomplish because… because we know that we can fight. We’re good at it. History has shown us that it’s peace that we have a problem with. If I, if we are going to have a future, we have got to do all that we can to make the horror that we’ve seen in the last few days a thing of the past.”
Hollister and Sanchez looked like they had been struck by lightning.
Larken asked the twins, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
Ronny said, “At this point I just want to grow up. Everything else is gravy.”
Bobby answered, “Medicine is a sort of tradition in our family.”
Larken said, “Brian, what do you want to do?”
Brian said without hesitation, “Air Force all the way.”
At the forty-five minute mark, Jimmy looked at his watch and took his leave to go down to the gate to wait for the arriving guardsmen.
Newman said to Bobby and Ronny, “I understand that you two are musicians. Would you play something for us?”
Bobby and Ronny felt a little trapped. Their guitar cases were standing against the wall in the kitchen.
Bobby said, “Sure thing.”
They picked up their guitars and Ronny said, “With everything that’s been going on lately, this song has been on our minds a lot lately.”
Bobby said, “It’s about America. Not a place, not politics, just people.’
With that they started to play and sing in harmony the way that only they could. There was nothing but the song and wide eyed amazement and more than on pair of misty eyes in the room.
Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies
And walked off to look for America
Kathy I said as we boarded a Greyhound for Pittsburg
Michigan seems like a dream to me now
It took us four days to hitch hike from Saginaw
I’ve gone to look for America
Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the Gabardine suit was a spy
I said be careful his bow tie is really a camera
Toss me a cigarette; I think there’s one in my raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field
Kathy I’m lost I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all gone to look for America
All gone to look for America
All gone to look for America
* * *
The National Guard arrived on time. Jimmy led a small convoy of vehicles in from the road which parked in an orderly manner. Colonel Gaddis and a medic dismounted one of the hummers and followed Jimmy up to the house.
Gaddis followed Jimmy into the kitchen and greeted his pilots with a big handshake, “Al, Dutch, it’s good to see you two in one piece. Any idea how bad off the bird is?”
Powell said, “It’s hard to tell with electrical problems. Sometimes you replace a few fuses and everything works. Other times it gets complicated.”
Yates stood and introduced himself, “Colonel Gaddis, I’m Colonel Yates and this is Captain Boyle of the Public Affairs Office. We were taking Congressmen Hollister and Sanchez and reporters from ABC and CNN on a fact finding tour when we had to land here. Could you be kind enough to get us on our way?”
Gaddis said, “No Problem. I’ve got Hummers and an escort waiting for you outside. I know that our Congressmen are on a schedule. We’ll try not to delay them any longer.”
As if on que, their visitors stood, said their goodbyes, and filed outside. Gaddis said, “I’ll be back as soon as we get these gentlemen on their way.”
With that the kitchen emptied leaving only the boys and the pilots.
Powell asked, “Is there any more coffee?”
Bobby refreshed Powell and Kerstan’s cups.
Jimmy asked, “Do you think you’ll be able to fly out of here?”
Powell said, “Well, if the techs are able to clear our electrical problems, I don’t see why not. The Blackhawk is a pretty sophisticated bird in that respect. If the electronics are out, it gets progressively harder to fly them very fast. We were just about to lose it when we set down, the bird was handling like a brick.”
The pilots finished their coffee and Powell said, “I think we’ll join the technicians and see if our bird is going to fly anytime soon.”
The boys went outside and saw that Gaddis was still talking to the Congressmen and reporters. They seemed to be having an impromptu news conference.
Jimmy snickered, “Politicians. What can you do?”
The boys were interested in the progress that the technicians were making on the big, sleek looking the Blackhawk. They walked over to the helicopter and watched the progress.
Kerstan was standing by his bird and Jimmy asked, “So, what’s the bill?”
He smiled and replied, “More than I could pay. There are some circuits burned out that will just have to be replaced. Thankfully, the fuses blew and most systems came right back up as soon as the fuses were replaced. We’ll be wheels-up in less than an hour if we don’t find any surprises.”
Brian said, “Sounds good. You drive a sharp looking aircraft.”
Kerstan said, “When they are running right there isn’t a sweeter ride in the sky. When they are fried though, they’re a nightmare. We were really lucky to find this place.”
The sound of engines firing up signaled the departure of the Congressmen and their party. Gaddis approached and said, “Tom, could I have a word?”
Tom said, “Sure, let’s step back inside. It’s about to get real noisy out here.” He turned and shook Kerstan’s hand, “Nice meeting you sir.”
Kerstan said, “Likewise Tom. Good luck.”
Tom and the boys led Colonel Gaddis back inside and they gathered at the kitchen table again.
Gaddis said, “I’m going to get right too it. With all of the comings and going you’ve had lately, it’s possible that you may have been exposed to something. I’ve got a medic with me and if it is OK with you, we can give you a vaccination against smallpox.”
Tom said, “I agree. It’s up to the others but I doubt any of us would say no.”
“Good.” Gaddis continued, “Second order of business. Eagle Rock sits on a vital air corridor. We would like to make this plateau an emergency helicopter port. We would leave a fuel truck and some supplies up here in you barn that would expedite repairs. If you are Ok with that we can set it up before we leave.”
Tom asked, “Would you have
any personnel up here?”
Gaddis said, “It’s unnecessary. Most of the time it would be just a matter gassing up one of our birds and the air crew can handle that. Anything worse and major help is only an hour away.”
Toms said, “It’s done Colonel. You can count on us to do anything we can to be helpful.”
Gaddis shook Tom’s hand and said, “Somehow I figured that.”
* * *
After the excitement was done and their visitors had departed, the boys went back to the 2nd floor den. Jimmy restarted the movie Ice Age.
Tom sat down and put his feet up and said, “Now where were we.”
The lyrics to America are by Simon and Garfunkel.