16 April 2014 – Bosnia
I sat here wracking my brains for something to write about today. It’s all so routine here now that it’s difficult to find anything that is noteworthy. Not saying it’s a bad thing, just sayin’, as the phrase goes.
However, yesterday, I was sitting on the balcony and my mind wandered back to my tour in Bosnia and how different it was to this one. And then my mind skipped to a story that not many people know…usually because as a clerk, no one thinks to ask or thinks that I have any…and normally, that would be true. Let’s go back to November, 2003.
I was stationed in Velika Kladusa, Bosnia during almost the same timeframe as I have been here.
On November 17th, my boss came to me and asked if I wanted to go on a morale flight. We had a helicopter pad right in the compound and they would often take people for trips to get them off the camp and get a break.
My reply was “yup!!”. I was told that I only had 20 minutes to get ready for departure, it was supposed to be a day flight and that I would need this this and this. I scurried to get everything ready and then went to the spot that was pre-arranged.
I had never ridden in a helicopter before, so I was quite excited….we were heading to Sarajevo to transport some personnel etc. There was a postal clerk and a meteorologist that came with us that day as well.
Everything went well on the flight in, the scenery of Bosnia is beautiful…high mountains, lush valleys, shepherds tending their flocks…you get the picture. A far cry from the landscape here!
Now my memory is a bit shaky on some of the details, so you’ll have to bear with me. I am really reaching here to capture what happened over the next 24 – 48 hrs after landing.
As I was saying, things went well, we landed in Sarajevo, then toddled off to check the base out. It was considered freedom to be there…there were no restrictions on movements, they had a bar, you buy booze in the PX, you go out into the city and shop if you wanted. If my memory serves me correctly, it was a UN Base which would make sense that it was like this. I didn’t have much knowledge of these things at the time..I was a young Corporal with not much time in when this happened.
When it came time leave however, that’s when things went astray. Turns out we couldn’t get back to our base due to the fact it was socked in with fog…those birds don’t navigate in the fog. We ended up staying the night on the base and I had no go-bag with a change of clothes, toiletries etc! My lack of experience was definitely showing that day.
Okay, I think this is where I have to tell the story about the attempt we made to get that one guy to base…this would have been the next day now that I think about it.
We took off and headed out but by this time, the fog had moved into that part of the country. When I said that those birds don’t navigate well in the fog, that’s the truth…they also don’t navigate well when one of the navigation panels the pilots use aren’t working! I didn’t have a head set to hear everything that was going on that day which might have been a blessing. On the way, the fog was so thick, they made the decision to use the landscape to navigate…or contour flying although I don’t think we experienced this to it’s full effect. Let’s just say we weren’t far off the ground while flying.
As we went on, the fog got worse and at one point I believe we almost hit a mountain. When you fly like that, there’s a condition that causes optical illusions and in this case, the co-pilot didn’t realize how close to the mountain we were and we had to make a last minute turn to avoid it.
After this close encounter, they then decided to get through a mountain pass, they would have to follow the road through, so we dropped to 50 ft above the road and the Flight Engineer in the back opened the door to make sure the rotors didn’t hit the power lines…OMG, you could see drivers in their cars looking up at us in shock and the shepherd on the hill with his mouth hanging open. If that wasn’t scary enough, the pilot decided that he needed to take over the controls because we couldn’t go any further safely and we needed to turn around…so he executed a perfect 180 right over the road and we headed back. At one point the Flight Engineer indicated that he wanted to know if I was okay…I just put my hands together as if in prayer and nodded yes as a response!
Now if that wasn’t bad enough, half way back to the base, the flight engineer noticed that we were burning fuel at rate that was by far a rate that was too quick to get us back. So the decision was made to land in the Italian base to re-fuel. Unfortunately when they put the call through to do this, there was a parade happening to honor some of their soldiers who had just recently died and we couldn’t land. The Sarajevo airport was just a hop away, so we decided to put down there and try to get fuel. Unfortunately there, they wouldn’t accept a credit card to pay for it. So, back we went to the Italian base where they had finished their parade and were ready to re-fuel.
For anyone who caught the date, it was now 18 November and my 36th birthday! Once we got on the ground, the crew told us to go into the waiting area and have a cappuccino or something…all the while ribbing the postal guy who looked green around the gills! After a little bit, the crew joined us in the café area and the co-pilot let it slip (yeah, right) that it was my birthday. The next thing you know, the Italian guys are bringing me a bottle of wine and singing “Happy Birthday” in Italian to me. They joked about the fact that I was the only female there and then let me sign the clock on the wall…I have been immortalized in that café far across the seas in Bosnia. I still have that bottle of wine today.
So now, if memory serves me correctly, we abandoned getting back to base and secured accommodations for the night there. I was lucky in the sense that I was housed with a really nice American lady who loaned me her toiletries for a shower and the rest I was able to purchase at the PX. You know that saying about wearing your underwear inside out? Well…..
Somewhere in here, we did a night flight as well…it was the first time I had the opportunity to try out night vision goggles. That was extremely neat!
The next morning wasn’t much better…the fog had left our destination in VK, but it was still thick in Sarajevo, so after a few hours of waiting for it to clear up, the pilots decided that they would fly to the Sarajevo airport and take off from there…not sure why, but that’s what they did…they figured if they could get up past the ceiling, it would be smooth sailing.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a helicopter take off with it’s nose down and taxiing like a plane, but that’s what we did here! Cool!
And once airborne, and free of all the fog, we burst through the clouds and wow! How breathtaking!
We got back to base in one piece, with no further issues after this. Once I got back to the office, my boss had a birthday cake waiting for me…I couldn’t eat it because it had nuts, but it was the thought that counted.
For all those that wonder about my obsession with birds….it’s because I love to fly!
That’s it for today.
soldiermomma signing off
P.S. – A couple of weeks later, the Flight Engineer and I were chatting, and he let slip that after we left the tarmac that day to go for a coffee, the crew, who had remained extremely calm and professional that whole time, broke out and were “OMG we almost died!” Thanks guys, for keeping cool heads during that whole thing! LOL