THE BIRD |
May 15, 2007
Name: Adrian B.
Posting date: 5/15/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Getting on a flight is never simple. First you have to draw up a list of who’s going. Then you stage the baggage. Next you confirm the list, which more often than not involves adding or dropping people from your original list, then fix the baggage problems this creates. An hour before the flight you and the rest of the passengers walk down to some holding area, where you sit around waiting for the order to load up. Finally, you load the plane and try not to think about the logistical hassle that’s sure to hit as soon as you land.
And so it was, after three flights on increasingly unreliable aircraft, that I found myself waiting with 30 other soldiers about 10 feet behind a C-47 Chinook. The Chinook, popularly known as the “S***hook,” is a helicopter with two sets of blades. If the Chinook were a bug, it would be a bumblebee or a giant, improbable beetle. Nobody likes flying in them, because they look like just the kind of thing an insurgent would want to shoot at -- a fat, ponderous target. They’re also not the most comfortable ride; very bumpy. But they can land on a dime, which made it the perfect choice for a small FOB up by the border of Pakistan.
While we were waiting for the order to load, and I was busily contemplating the various ways in which I might meet with an ignominious and inglorious end, I noticed a bird fly into a vent on the back of the Chinook. One of the NCOs, who enjoys provoking my unease, decided to liven the moment at my expense:
“You think that bird’s going to want to make a nest?”
I was pretty tired, and the idea of the bird pecking around in the tangle of wires and tubes that was our lifeline was not pleasant.
“I’ll go shoo it away.”
I walked up to the back of the Chinook and banged on the back a couple times. Out flew the bird, and I moved back to the group. This was to prove only the prelude to a battle of resolve between myself and the bird; as soon as I moved away from the Chinook, the bird flew back inside the helicopter.
“He’s back, sir. Must like it in there.”
“Let it go,” I thought. “It’s just a bird. I’m sure the bird was doing this before you got to the helicopter, and it didn’t bother you then. Let the bird do its thing. Screw it.”
Immediately after, I reconsidered: “No. The bird must not be allowed to nest in the helicopter.” And so it was decided. I walked back to the Chinook and banged on the side until the bird flew out. This time, though, I stayed put. The bird returned, but not to the aircraft; to a point about three feet away, from which it cocked its head, and watched me. We kept our positions until we were given the order to load. The episode seemed generally positive, from a superstitious angle.
Our trip was uneventful if not particularly smooth. We landed and disembarked without the logistical hassle I'd expected would be waiting. Not two hours after settling in, we received our unofficial greeting from the Taliban — a couple of poorly-aimed rockets landed 1km outside the FOB. We pushed them back with artillery and sent out a patrol to make sure they weren’t loitering, thus settling into the established routine here. The Taliban want in, and we keep them out. But they’re out there, just across the border; watching and waiting.