Sometimes You Just Do What Needs To Be Done

by Jake Block
c130

There are times that you do what you want and there are times when you don’t do what you should.  But there are sometimes that you just do what needs to be done, ignoring the risks to do what you need to do.  It’s not a case for altruism, because there’s no real choice in the matter.  It’s simply a time when the boss asks, “Can I count on you?”  You promise him that you will get the job done and hell or high water, it will be done.

Case in point:  In Vietnam, the area I was in went active.  Every base in the area was taking fire to suppress their ability to assist troops under siege at a forward operating base (FOB) near Kon Tum.  The Viet Cong were firing rockets, mortars and automatic weapons whenever they saw any sign of activity on the flight line.  We worked in the dark, but all night long, illumination flares lit up the perimeter line, making easy targets of those who would come out of hiding.  The downside was that they also illuminated the flight line and the runway.  In the middle of the night we got a call to prepare four combat pallets for departure within the hour.  The question in everyone’s eyes was the same. “We’re going out THERE?”

The boss came into our ready room and told us what was going to need to happen.  We needed three pallets of ammunition and one pallet of food and medical supplies built, strapped and ready to go in one hour for a combat engine running onload.  Basically, we would be loading 4 large aluminum based pallets full of equipment, and putting them onto a K-Loader, which is a specialized aircraft loading vehicle with rollers to assist in shoving the pallets onto the aircraft.  The problem was that it had no protection.  Basically it was a flatbed with rails to keep the crew from falling off, so the load crew would be exposed targets while getting the cargo onto the aircraft.  We solved this problem by chaining a line of 463L pallets standing on end to the side rail of the driver’s side of the vehicle.  They wouldn’t stop bullets, but they would make it more difficult for the enemy to see what they were shooting at.  We loaded the 4 pallets on the k loader in positions 1through 4, leaving room in positions 5 and 6 for our four man load crew to lie down to avoid being targets while getting to the C130, already inbound for its cargo.  We would be unarmed, as there was no way we could do our jobs and fire back to protect ourselves, so all we had in the way of armor were our helmets and flack jackets.

The flares stopped and the flightline went dark as the C130 touched down and rolled to its position about half way down the runway.  Already, our driver had positioned the k loader behind the plane, which had now lowered its ramp.  The driver was easing up to the back of the plane.  Five minutes and we would be out and heading back to the relative safety of the compound.  We didn’t have five minutes.  The enemy began walking mortars down the runway toward us, and the k loader and plane began taking small arms fire.  We had to move.  The pilot gunned the C130 and it began to roll, our driver keeping the k loader moving at the same rate of speed.  When we hit 25 MPH, the crew flashed the interior lights, which was our cue to load.  We stood up, now exposed to enemy fire and strained against the cargo to get it rolling toward the plane.  Hoping that the cargo didn’t jam, we were pushing with all of our might until all four pallets were on board, and we continued to push until the flight crew locked them in position.

Our K loader peeled away from the aircraft and headed back to the compound while we rushed to lock all of the cargo in place.  We had no idea if we would be able to get off of the aircraft, as its first priority was the cargo for the troops under fire.  We would have to stay with the aircraft, if we couldn’t get off before it reached its launch point.  We were dripping with sweat as the plane continued its roll.  Looking out the back of the plane, we could see tracer bullets crossing both ways behind us and, through it all, we could see our boss, head low behind the steering wheel, a determined look on his face, racing toward the plane in our crew transport truck.  The C130 slowed to a crawl and the loadmaster yelled, “Get off or you’re going with us.”  We jumped from the back of the plane, stayed low, and watched as it roared toward the end of the runway and launched.  Moments later, we dove into the crew transport and hugged the floor until we were back in the compound.  The supplies our troops needed to hold their position were on their way.  Our job was done.

People sometimes think that these kinds of acts by soldiers in the field are altruistic and therefore “unsatanic,” but truth be known, they are simply options and choices that one has to make to complete their mission.  The military mission is inherently a dangerous one, and from day one, you are trained that you either learn to accept those dangers or get out and do something safe, like painting houses or selling shoes.  But even in those “safe jobs,” there are often things that you don’t want to do, or that you might feel aren’t important, but if you are being paid to do the job, you are being paid to do what must be done, whether you like it or not.  It’s a matter of pride and professionalism that you are the best at whatever you do, not for the rewards, although in doing a job in an exemplary manner, rewards will surely come.  Moreover, it’s for the feeling of satisfaction and self respect that one feels when they do a job and do it well.  No amount of pay can give you that feeling, but the feeling is a reward unto itself.

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