Skydiving. A/7/17 Cav - Doug Buchanan
Well, I was ignorant of this war game, having been trained by the Army, but I was thinking enough to take my parachute with me when I got on the 707 heading west from the western shore of the US. The safe way to get back to the ground after foolishly going into the air in a man-made mechanical device certain to fail or get tired at some point in its life, is to jump out and pull the rip cord, of course. And it is fun.
The people who say that cosmic things happen were proven correct when I showed up at A Troop in Phan Rang, and there was a skydiving buddy from Ft. Rucker. And he had his chute too. Skydivers understand these safety priorities.
Sport skydiving was officially prohibited in country, apparently because there were hazards involved, if you can imagine such a thing, and therefore each jump would be more fun. We had to avoid the enemy, and the ranking friendlies. We occasionally took our rigs up to Cam Ranh Bay, out of sight from the Troop CO, and hitch-hiked for a one-way trip on anything flying up to jump-altitude. Our fellow aircraft drivers enjoyed the game. We landed off post in whatever direction the plane or helicopter was going, wherever it looked like we could catch a ride back to our own birds, to get back to our job of driving them around, before anyone without a sense of humor noticed. We met some fun people at the various places we landed, fortunately all friendly and not ranking, and were invited to some parties as a result.
On one occasion we landed near some Vietnamese Army chaps, to their surprise, who were delighted by the change of routine. One sergeant pointed to his own airborne wings and enthusiastically assisted me with sleeving my parachute. When we were getting on a vehicle he attempted to hand me my reserve parachute, picking it up by the rip cord. There was no small volume of laughter among his colleagues as he stood there with the rip cord in his hand and the pile of parachute at his feet.
On another occasion we noticed a C-5A was rolling along the Cam Ranh taxiway to our end of the strip. We walked out there with our rigs on and stuck out our thumbs. The driver looked down on us from his window, and smiled.
Word got out to the Navy parachute rigger on post, who knew some other covert skydivers. He was connected. Shortly we had an Army Beaver taking us to altitude quite a ways out over the South China Sea where two Navy Patrol boats were waiting for us to drop in. Their mission was an official pilot recovery training exercise for the Navy, and successful.
By chance of our parking our own helicopters by the Army maintenance shack at the southwest end of the runway, a maintenance chap came out one day while we were getting our chutes on. Before the end of the conversation I told him I would teach him how to skydive the next weekend. He said he wanted to trade something for the favor, and went back into the shack. He came out with two brand new, in the package, Huey tail rotor chains, another classic medium of exchange in Vietnam. I still wear my tail rotor chain watch band, and it will last longer than I. Since I departed my Army adventure in 74, one person immediately knew what it was. He had been a helicopter mechanic in Vietnam. Oh, the next weekend, the maintenance shack was empty. The unit had stood down. I hope that guy learned to skydive.