Ground Zero

C-130 ROLLING, 64 RANGERS ON A ONE-WAY TRIP

Firepower - - CONTENTS - TEXT BY DON ED­WARDS

We loaded out for the op­er­a­tion at Law­son Army Air­field in Ft. Ben­ning, Ge­or­gia. Con­ve­niently for us, this was our home base so we didn’t need to move un­til right be­fore we headed out. When we did ar­rive, we saw some of our 2/75 broth­ers who had been liv­ing on the air­field in tents for a cou­ple of days.

Load­ing mag­a­zines and rucks still seems like a sur­real ex­pe­ri­ence to this day. Tons of pal­lets of ammo and ord­nance were brought to us. It was so much more than the stan­dard in­fantry­man’s ba­sic load. We were told to take all we needed. Man, it was like a candy store. We had all been pre­par­ing for this mo­ment; we were at the top of our game, and for most of us it was why we were there. We were told to plan for sus­tained fight­ing for up to three days with­out re­sup­ply or re­lief, so we packed ac­cord­ingly. We were over­packed, but ready.

We flew all night the night of De­cem­ber 19. Our TOT (Time on Tar­get) was sup­posed to be 0100 the next day. We were tired from the days of prepa­ra­tion, plan­ning, pack­ing, and re­hears­ing the mis­sion. Most of the Rangers on the bird had no trou­ble sleep­ing—at least I didn’t. One of the gifts of an in­fantry­man is the abil­ity to sleep any­where at any time with no no­tice, and Rangers are no ex­cep­tion. Cou­ple that with be­ing tired and the fa­mil­iar hum of the C-130 and I could hardly stay awake. Be­sides, I knew a long night was ahead of us.

Look­ing down at the ALICE pack at­tached be­tween my legs I con­sid­ered all the ammo and sup­plies in­side. At the time, I con­stantly won­dered if it was enough. Look­ing back now, I had no need for half of it. My LBE al­ready had a dou­ble ba­sic load of ammo. In­side the ruck was a fully loaded vest of 40mm rounds for the M203, some spare frags, enough ex­tra 203 rounds to re­fill the vest, another cou­ple ban­doliers of ammo. As­sorted smoke grenades, sig­nal flares and M118 ammo for the M-24 SWS that would meet up with me later on the ground. Ad­di­tion­ally, sev­eral blocks of C4 and all the fix­ings for a pos­si­ble fol­low-on mis­sion.

As we got closer to Rio Hato Air­field, our DZ, the jump­mas­ters (JM) helped us put on and rig our rucks. We took off just wear­ing our har­nesses, no in­flight rig­ging but a par­tial rig 2 hours out. At some point, a 5-gal­lon wa­ter can was passed around. Rangers were us­ing it to take a piss. We left Ge­or­gia in De­cem­ber and we knew we were go­ing to the jun­gle, so with

Guns N' Roses in our heads we’d hy­drated ac­cord­ingly and now it was time to let some out.

By the time the jump com­mands were

through and the first jumper was stand­ing by, we couldn’t wait to get the hell out of that bird. The JM went out and we all fol­lowed, and I had the hard­est open­ing shock of my en­tire ca­reer as a para­trooper. Even though I prob­a­bly tried to ex­e­cute the four points of per­for­mance while in the air, there was no time. The canopy was open, and I im­me­di­ately saw green and red trac­ers ran­domly go­ing every­where. I was ex­hil­a­rated and ner­vous and anx­ious to get on the ground where I had a fight­ing chance; the ground came up to me quickly. The jump al­ti­tude was sup­posed to be 500 AGL. I found out later it was con­sid­er­ably lower. No time to get the ruck­sack low­ered, I guess I’ll ride it in. That’s when I had the hard­est land­ing of my ca­reer. I saw stars and thought I was knocked out. Af­ter the oblig­a­tory check of all body parts to make sure I wasn’t in­jured I started get­ting out of the har­ness as fast as I could.

As I was get­ting my gear to­gether and un­tan­gled from the har­ness, Joe, one of my fire team­mates, came over to me. “Hey Ed­die, you OK?” I told him yeah but my ruck was too damn heavy and I needed help stand­ing. We had a chuckle as he helped me up and we moved to­ward the high­way that bi­sected the air­field. One of our pla­toon’s mis­sions was to clear out any fences that may have kept the C-141s from land­ing. Some guys had jumped with quickie saws in their rucks for this pur­pose, and all that C4 in my pack was the con­tin­gency plan. I was hop­ing to use it up, as it was pretty heavy.

Along the way we gath­ered up some more Rangers. On the way to the high­way there was a lot of shoot­ing. We got down and al­most started re­turn­ing fire. I could tell it was some other Rangers shoot­ing but couldn’t tell what they were shoot­ing at. It turns out some­one ran the block­ing po­si­tion on the other side of the air­field be­fore Al­pha Com­pany had it set in, and some other guys from our pla­toon were cross­ing the road when he came at them. Once that was dealt with, we con­tin­ued to the road.

We linked up with the Com­pany XO, our for­mer Pla­toon Leader, who was al­ready al­most done drag­ging the fence all away. It was just some rot­ten wooden posts and some rusty barbed wire. Damn, what am I go­ing to do with all this C4?

Af­ter a long, sleep­less night we be­gan to move for­ward of our po­si­tion. Some­one from a small block build­ing was tak­ing shots at the lead squad. The Squad leader, SSG Gary Barnard, called for the lit­tle birds on sta­tion over­head. The first run went on the wrong build­ing. The sec­ond run was trag­i­cally di­rected on the lead squad, and sec­ond squad was shred­ded. SSG Barnard died of his wounds; PFC Roy Brown was dead where he lay in the prone. Bill and PK were fight­ing for their lives and I thank God that they are still with us today.

In the cor­ner of some for­eign field we got what we wished for. We wanted to taste blood. Un­for­tu­nately, it was our own. Now I tell young sol­diers who are look­ing for a fight: “Be care­ful what you wish for, be­cause you might get it.”

The au­thor and his unit loaded up for the op­er­a­tion at Law­son Army Air­field in Ft. Ben­ning, Ge­or­gia. Hours later they would jump into Panama.

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