Training for war is dangerous, too

| February 23, 2012

Old Trooper sends us a link from Fox News which reports the death of seven Marines in the deserts of Arizona;

The helicopters, an AH-1W “Cobra” and UH-1Y “Huey,” were conducting a routine training exercise at 8 p.m., the statement said. The helicopters were over southeast California in the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, Dustin Dunk, the public affairs chief from the air station, said.

Maureen Dooley, a Miramar public affairs officer, told Fox News Radio that Marines use the training area because the terrain is similar to what they would face in Afghanistan. These training sessions help them gain some familiarity before they deploy.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation. But it’s a reminder that although war is dangerous, training for it everyday is just as dangerous. That’s why just making it to twenty years deserves a pension and life-long medical care. Garrison life is not all boot shining and polishing floors.

Category: Military issues

Comments (15)

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  1. Old Tanker says:

    The only friends I ever lost in the service were from training accidents….

  2. AW1 Tim says:

    Old Tanker,

    Except for 2, it was the same for me.

    The wing I served with had 6 squadrons of P-3 Orions, and each aircraft had a crew of 10-14 men, depending upon the mission tasking. In an 18 month period, we lost 3 of them, with all onboard. On two of those “incidents” I lost a close friend. On one of them, I shared a meal just a few hours before he died.

    Even routine missions could turn bad very quickly. I apologize for the length here, but below is one of my own experiences I wrote about awhile back. Everyone has a similar story, I’m certain, that speaks to the dangers of just everyday service, echoing Jonn’s post above. Below is one of mine:

    My crew had been tasked out from Lajes Field, in the Azores, to track a Soviet Boomer (ballistic missile sub). About halfway through the mission, the flight crew determined that the fuel management system was acting up, and we couldn’t draw from the center fuel tank.

    Well, we quickly determined that we had sufficient fuel (barely) to get back to Lajes, but not to divert anywhere else. We declared an emergency and headed home.

    While enroute, a thunderstorm developed over the Island, and we began to encounter headwinds that slowed us down and increased our fuel consumption. It was already after dark, going on about 2100 hours when we hit the storm, about 10 miles out from Lajes.

    Now, the thing about Lajes Field is that the only place they could build the runway was down the middle of this long valley, with nice rocky hills along each side. It’s also perpendicular to the prevailing winds, so you ALWAYS have a crosswind. Then, the runway ends just before you reach a 200 foot cliff that drops off into the ocean. Lajes is like the world’s largest aircraft carrier, except that it doesn’t move, unless an earthquake hits, which they do. Fairly often. But I digress…

    We had to come in over the water and over the cliffs, and the wind was really picking up, with lightening nearby and rain going sideways. The air also was burbling up over the cliff causing some good chop on the approach, as we quickly discovered. Sitting back in the tube, (the tactical crew faces aft for takeoff and landing), I could see some of the others doing the same thing as me. Cinching every strap just as tight as I could, and my helmet as well. Gloves on, visors down, etc. Just in case something went flying around.

    That first approach was a doozy, and we ballooned up on a rise of air as we came over the edge of the cliff, then rocked back and forth with the gusts. The P-3 Orion has non-flexing wings, so every bump and burble is felt. We blew off that approach, and went around.

    Our situation was dire, in that we were going to land. Somewhere, and that right soon. Either we got her into Lajes, or we were going to have to ditch. Our flight crew asked the tower to alert the SAR crew in case we had to put her down in the water. See, what’s fun, in a “comedie noire” sort of way for the Tactical Crew in back, is that you are plugged into the ICS and can hear everything in your headset, but all you get to do is sit there and enjoy the ride.

    We shot, I believe, 5 more approaches in that storm, each time burning more fuel and getting tossed around like a darned leaf in the wind. CDR JC Wells, our pilot, finally noted that we had gas for one more try, then we’d have to prepare to ditch and head over the water. That wasn’t something we wanted to hear.

    On approach #7, we started to bounce some more, JC called for power, and I can clearly remember him hollering out loud “You’re not gonna kill ME you son of a b!tch!” over the sound of the A/C and the ICS. Next thing we knew, the wheels hit runway, and we bounced just slightly, then settled down. The most wonderful sound in the world was those 4 big props going into reverse to slow us down.

    I sat in my chair, strapped in tightly, for a few minutes after we shut down, then grabbed my gear and headed to debrief. CDR Wells cut the debrief short and we all headed over to the NCO club for several rounds of “decompression therapy”. My personal therapist, Jack Daniels, was very helpful.

    I was never really afraid when flying with the Navy, except for that one mission. When JC informed us it was one more shot or ditch, it all hit home. The reality of ditching a plane in high seas, at night, in a storm was enough to put ice into your soul, especially with the water temps the way they were.

    Happily, everything worked out for us, but from that point on, I NEVER took any emergency procedures lightly again.

  3. defendUSA says:

    “But it’s a reminder that although war is dangerous, training for it everyday is just as dangerous. That’s why just making it to twenty years deserves a pension and life-long medical care. Garrison life is not all boot shining and polishing floors.”

    Amen, Jonn.

    Condolences to the families.

  4. Hondo says:

    Agreed. Condolences to the families, and may the fallen rest in peace.

    But it’s not only field/flight/at sea training that can be dangerous. The closest I ever came to buying the proverbial farm probably wasn’t in Iraq or Afghanistan – it was while performing peacetime garrison-type duty in Korea. Long story; I’ll post it if there’s interest.

    But at least no one got so scared that they had to change their shorts afterwards. At least not as far as I know. (smile)

  5. AW1 Tim says:


    Post away! It’s all good reading, and it’s very nice to hear how the other folks spent their time.

  6. Lucky says:

    This caused a family scare today, I have a cousin that is a Cobra driver out that direction, and nobody had heard from him in a while.

  7. Doc Bailey says:

    War is risky business. To get the job done we have to do things that most people do not consider “safe”. Their losses shall be felt just as keenly as if they had died while at war.

  8. Hondo says:

    AW1 Tim: May just do that. This post doesn’t really seem to be the appropriate place, though. If we have a post re: Korea in the near term future (or if one can point me at one from the reasonably recent past), I’ll look at posting it there.

  9. Eagle Keeper says:

    I was an AF jet engine mech, F-15s the whole time. Never knew anybody who bit it myself. But while I was at Luke AFB in Phoenix, a young crew chief who was TDY (from Nellis in Vegas, I think) got a little too close to the inlet of an F-16 one night at the other end of the flight line. And while I was at Luke, my fiancée at Bitburg AB, W. Germany got assigned to pick up Eagle parts in the woods for a few days. Course, the morgue detail had already been through, but she said every so often she’d get a whiff of what she thought was burnt flesh.

    Both “training accidents,” of course.

    ‘Cuz if you’re not in a war, you’re training.


  10. Yat Yas 1833 says:

    The worst I saw was a grunt that got run over by a tank there at Camp Pendleton. Marines getting sick left and right!

  11. Cedo Alteram says:

    Rest in Peace Marines.

  12. Captainfish says:

    An audio report I heard this evening, had some female soldier chiming up about how she could not understand why there was a need to train at night. “I mean, it’s dangerous to do that.”

    They actually had to get a response from the military to explain why they were training at night.

    Is or military that far gone?

  13. Old Tanker says:

    Yat Yas

    Having been a tanker, that was the nature of both my friends accidents. Rollovers, both were loaders that couldn’t get back in the turret in time. One was in a creek and both were at night.

  14. Eagle Keeper says:

    As I was hitting the hay last night, I suddenly remembered another story of military people dying stateside in peacetime. But unlike the idiot wench who asked why they had to do dangerous stuff at night, this time it was because of one insatiable ego who did dangerous stuff with government property — and personnel — for kicks.

    You’ll probably remember the story: 1994, Fairchild AFB here in Spokane WA. A “hot-stick” a-hole pilot cranked his B-52 into a 90-degree bank while flying low and slow, with results that were predictable, even if you weren’t an aerodynamics engineer.

    I lived in Phoenix at the time, but never forgot the startling video footage. (And then YouTube comes along, years later.)

    Lt. Col. A-hole had been reprimanded numerous times for this kind of crap, albeit only verbally. He called the numerous aircrew who refused to fly with him “pussies.”

    Ironically, the only officer who’d tried to stop A-hole was his co-pilot that day, and they had two other cols. on board with them. All four bit it. Hard.

    Worse yet, the col. to whom A-hole’s co-pilot had strenuously complained refused to ground A-hole. He also intended to be on board that day, considering it a “choice sortie,” but he was called away at the last minute and replaced with another officer. He was ultimately court martialed for 2 counts of dereliction of duty, received a written reprimand, and got to give up $1,500 of salary a month for five months and look at himself in the mirror every day for the rest of his life.

    Sadly, that flight was to be the final flight before one of the passengers retired, and his friends and family were waiting for the craft to land so they could greet him and douse him with water. A helluva thing to have to see.

    Here’s one detailed recounting.

    And another.

    All that we did and do is dangerous, because it’s supposed to be.

    But we have no call to make it more dangerous than it needs to be.