The next 7,000 feet provided me with the wildest ride of my life!

I was in a right-hand flat spin doing about 500 RPM;

I couldn’t see and damn sure couldn’t breathe.

I arched hard like I was taught in school, but there was no slowing down, no siree! ‘FUUUUCCKKK!’

About the author

Brian Bewley is a retired SF CWO who served with 1st & 7th SFG(A)s, USMILGRP El Sal, and SFUWO in Key West. Upon his retirement, he served as an Advisor to the UAE Special Operations Command and a Security Manager in Baghdad and Yemen. Brian and his wife S. Jessica established Tactical Solutions International, Inc. in early 2003.


Click to learn more

“Front Mounted Rucksack”

Written by Brian A. Bewley

“Front Mounted Rucksack” Written by Brian A. Bewley

A short Story based on the experiences of the author during his 21-year career as a member of the US Army Special Forces

In memory of MSG Tim “Griz” Martin, killed in action during Operation Gothic Serpent, Somalia, often referred to as Black Hawk Down.

Clap, Clap… The clapping of the Jumpmaster’s hands seemed to echo through the dark interior of the Soviet-made AN-32 aircraft, instantly drawing the attention of all twenty of us hardened warriors.

Barry Sherwood, my team Communications Sergeant, was standing at the rear of the aircraft, all 6 foot 3 inches of him, clad in a dark green Nomex flight suit, a custom-made gray aviators helmet known as a Gentex, and his MBU-12P oxygen mask which was obscuring most of his face.

He was one of the team’s most experienced High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) Jumpmasters.

He was beginning his jump commands, leading us all through a series of pre-described actions that would eventually lead to our successfully exiting the aircraft four miles above the earth’s surface.

As all eyes were now on the Jumpmaster, he touched his watch with his gloved right hand, then raised both hands slowly above his shoulders, opening and closing them twice, indicating a time warning of ‘twenty minutes.’

In 20 minutes, we would all be hurdling toward earth at 180 miles per hour. Barry then methodically returned to his seat on the aircraft’s port side and began silently adjusting and sizing his equipment.

At the 20-minute warning, everybody is in their own world, visualizing what is about to happen, adjusting equipment, and attaching rucksacks to the front D-rings of the parachute harness.

I was seated on the port side of the aircraft up near the cockpit bulkhead, the first man on the aircraft and the last man out.

I looked across the aircraft and watched silently as the other men on my team were preparing their equipment and weapons and attaching their rucksacks.

Towards the rear of the aircraft sat 12 of our foreign counterparts from the Indian Army, 7th Commando, who were also vigorously affixing their homemade rucksack harnesses to their parachute D-rings.

I slowly returned to the task at hand and began the laborious work of getting my own 70 lb rucksack attached to the front of my harness. The MBU-12P oxygen mask, when attached to the central, floor-mounted oxygen console, severely limits head movement and observation, which means that attaching one’s rucksack is done through haphazard guesswork and feel. ‘Where is this fucking D-ring…’

I was drenched in sweat by the time my rucksack was attached. ‘Damn, I hate to jump front-mounted rucks,” I thought to myself as sweat continued to stream from under my Gentex helmet and into my eyes, causing them to sting and water.

Exhausted, I sat back into the webbed nylon seat, looking up and met eyes with my Team Sergeant Grizz Martin, who gave me a reassuring wink. This was his way of letting me know that he had a broad smile across his face, hidden, of course, under his oxygen mask.

He was smiling because he knew that my heart would soon be racing, and fearful bile would begin to gather in my stomach … he knew how much I disliked jumping front mounted rucks…

Master Sergeant Tim “Grizz” Martin was the Team Sergeant for our team; Special Forces Operational Detachment (SFOD) A-116. Grizz came up through the ranks first as an infantryman in the Ranger Battalion and later as a weapons sergeant in 10thSpecial Forces Group. After getting his feet wet in SF, he attended Delta selection and was assigned ‘behind the fence’ for nearly a decade, after which he reported to SFODA-116 to get his Team Sergeant time. A master tactician with many years of special operations experience under his belt; he was as hard as nails. His mentorship, at times physically brutal, ensured that we were capable of any task, at any time, and in any environment.

As the “Team Daddy” he ran a pretty tight show, ensuring that all aspects of “team” life were squared away, especially when we were on a job in some austere part of the world. When he got an idea in his head, there was no changing it. Just so happened that jumping front-mounted rucksacks was his idea… tactically sound and smooth, he would say.

SFODA-116 was the primary Military Free Fall team for our Special Forces battalion. We were all well versed in both the tactical and technical aspects of military free fall as a means of infiltration, but we specialized in many other operational skills as well. Like all SF teams, we had an operational bible that described and dictated how we were to operate, both in garrison and while in the bush.

This “Bible” was our team Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and was required reading for every member of the team. Our SOP was updated and modified by Grizz upon his arrival to the team and included tactical freefall rigging and equipment configuration. It read: “When jumping combat equipment (which we did on every jump), the rucksack will be attached to the front of the jumper utilizing a standard parachutist H-Harness.”

According to Grizz, when jumping oxygen and combat equipment, it is much easier to attach the rucksack to the front D-rings, and it can be done by the jumper himself. Hell, nobody wanted to argue with Grizz, so the procedures were adopted into the SOP and used with regularity.

I was told that after a few jumps in this configuration and many years of experience, it becomes second nature. Problem was, I didn’t have many years of experience, and my few jumps front mounted had all been life-threatening rides from hell! In HALO school, everybody learns how to fly with rucksacks, but only rear-mounted.

When attached to the rear, the rucksack seems to fly in the slipstream of the parachutist’s body and requires very little effort or thought; you don’t even know that it is there half the time! That is not the case with front-mounted rucks!

I vividly recall that first time I strapped my rucksack to the front of me and exited an aircraft. I was newly assigned to the team and had not jumped in the previous year due to an assignment to the Language Institute in Monterey, California. The team was deployed to the Philippines to conduct our quarterly Level 1 Free Fall certification, and as the newbie, I was anxious to prove my skills.

“Hey, Chief… you gonna wear that rucksack right, or what?” Grizz queried. As I was ‘chuting’ up, I told Grizz of my concerns about jumping a front-mounted ruck…I had not jumped in months… I had never jumped a front-mounted ruck… I had not jumped equipment in a while… let me try it once rear-mounted so I could remember how to fly…

I used about every excuse known. “You’ll have about 10,000 feet to sort it out, Chief, so don’t worry about it!” he said with a shit-eating grin on his face. I looked to my teammates standing nearby, hoping to get some support, but none was to be had.

As the number 1 man, I stood at the very edge of the C-130 ramp at 12,500 feet. My heart was in my throat, and that heavy-ass rucksack was hanging off my front, its shoulder straps cinched tight over my legs. I vaguely remember hearing “GO!” as I stepped off the ramp into a sudden blast of wind.

The next 7,000 feet provided me with the wildest ride of my life! I was in a right-hand flat spin doing about 500 RPM; I couldn’t see and damn sure couldn’t breathe. I arched hard like I was taught in school, but there was no slowing down, no siree! ‘FUUUUCCKKK!’

I sort of knew that I only had about another 30 seconds or so until my FF2 automatic opening device would deploy, and I sure didn’t want it to fire while I was in a death spin. In sudden desperation, I stuck my right arm out, hoping to catch some air and slow the spin. Zing! I was now spinning faster!

I quickly withdrew my right arm and thrust out my left arm out in the same maneuver. By the miracle of god, it began to slow me down… I was now only spinning at about 150 RPM. I kept my left arm where it was and then started extending my left leg. It worked! The spinning had stopped! I was flying in the most unnatural position, but I didn’t care… the feeling of falling flat and stable was almost orgasmic!

I glanced at my altimeter, and it was reading 4,200 feet, which meant that I needed to begin my opening sequence. I did a hasty wave-off to warn anyone who may still be laughing at me from above that I was ready to deploy my chute. As I looked down at my rip cord, however, I must have changed my body position, and I again began to spin violently.

It was too late, however, and I was pulling that rip cord regardless. I felt the heels of my boots smack the back of my helmet with the opening shock of my main canopy, and I knew that I would never father a child again!

Once on the ground, my teammates were quite full of themselves as everyone was all smiles and jokes. “Damn nice ride, eh Chief?” ‘Fuckin’ lovely,’ I thought.

I survived that week of jumping but never achieved that feeling of confidence with that front-mounted rucksack. I guess it would take a bit of time.

A few weeks later, the team was tasked to train the 7th Commando of India in HAHO operations. They had this idea that they could use HAHO to infiltrate their neighbor Pakistan by stand-off, high altitude parachuting.

Challenge for them, however, they had limited equipment and had never jumped above 10,000′ before. Our first exit with the Commando was 12,500′, breaking their own altitude record…we would get them to 25,000′ with supplemental oxygen, combat equipment, and doing it all at night within a month…

Our primary jump platform was the Soviet AN-32 aircraft. It served our purpose and got us higher and higher in altitude with the Commando. We brought a US Air Force Physiological Tech with us to help with the oxygen systems and to keep both the Indians and US jumpers safe at altitude from the bends and hypoxia. Glad they were along for the trip.

We had been pre-breathing oxygen on the tarmac for about 30 minutes before the AN-32 slowly got airborne. Grizz was sitting directly across from me and gave me one of his ‘smiling’ winks. We were in our last week of training and were exiting at 25,000′ with combat equipment for the first time with the Commando, and it was a daylight jump. My asshole was tight.

I looked down the aircraft and noticed my good buddy Jeff Ingraham, the team’s Intelligence Sergeant, was sound asleep or in deep thought. Poor Jeff had caught a nasty bug, most likely amoebic dysentery, during the previous week, and he was suffering uncontrollable, violently explosive bouts of diarrhea. I could imagine that he was practicing some internal mind control, hoping to keep his sphincter closed long enough to exit and land back on earth. With my ruck already attached, I also closed my eyes deep in my own thoughts.

The cracking of the rear ramp cargo door on the AN-32 instantly jolted me awake and started my heart to race. I had been semi-asleep, that weird state of consciousness between being awake and being sound asleep, lulled by the dull hum of the aircraft props biting through the thin atmosphere high above the Indian landscape.

Like the other twenty men sitting in the dark belly of the aircraft, I was attached to one of three oxygen consoles strapped to the floor of the aircraft from the bulkhead of the cockpit to within eight feet from the ramp opening. The oxygen consoles were feeding us with 100 percent aviators grade oxygen via an umbilical to our masks, ensuring that we were not hypoxic at this altitude.

Failure to properly “pre-breath” on oxygen prior to parachuting at high altitude could also result in the nitrogen rapidly out-gassing from your tissues, the same potentially debilitating disease that one can get from scuba diving known as Decompression Sickness or the Bends. Besides my sudden bout of anxiety, I was feeling… ok.

Al Ponce, a US Air Force Physiological Attendant attached to us for this mission, was leaning against the bulkhead, silently examining each of us for any outward signs or symptoms of the “Bends” or hypoxia. His gray Gentex helmet and oxygen mask hid his Latin Cheech Martin appearance.

I had heard too many horror stories of team guys getting bent or passing out at altitude, often losing their medical clearance for high-altitude parachuting as a result. Most of these stories were likely caused by jumper’s error and not due to some underlying physiological problem.

As the rear ramp continued to open, I could suddenly feel the chill of the icy high-altitude air rushing in on me, seemingly freezing the sweat-soaked Nomex suit that I was wearing. In the movie Airplane, I remembered a scene where unsuspecting passengers were being sucked out of a gaping hole in the aircraft fuselage as the plane experienced rapid depressurization. Watching the ramp doors of the AN-32 open was nothing like this, however, as it had been depressurized gradually during the course of our flight. I was still mesmerized by the slow motion opening of the ramp nonetheless, and for the moment, forgetting about my rapidly beating heart.

Once the ramp was fully opened, I realized that my senses were now working overtime. The clarity of the moment could have only been caused by the increased levels of oxygen flowing through my body. The sunlight penetrated deep into the aircraft as quickly as the icy cold air, and this sunlight seemed unnaturally bright and full of colors. I could feel the level of noise rising dramatically, but it seemed somewhat muffled through the earplugs inside my Gentex helmet.

Barry, our Jumpmaster, was on a long oxygen hose from the console so that he could move around the rear of the aircraft without having to unhook his oxygen supply. ‘Clap, Clap’… all eyes were on him. He motioned to his watch again and raised his hands, opening them only once…’ ten minutes.

He then bent forward at the waist, moving his upper body to the right and left, and appeared to be blowing into the palm of his left hand. He then stood up, moved his right hand above his shoulder, and four fingers were shown….’ wind speed on the ground 4 knots.’

‘Clap, Clap’…’ What the hell is this? He only gave us the 10-minute warning a second ago…’ I thought to myself. Barry brought his right arm up from his side, indicating the jump command, ‘Stand up.’ Things were starting to move at a fairly rapid pace now…’ bail-out bottles on, disconnect console, attach hose to oxygen block’ I mentally talked myself through the console disconnect procedure and reconnection of my oxygen hose to my twin 53’s strapped to my left side.

I reached down with my left hand and blindly fumbled to open the supply valve on my oxygen bottles. I found the supply valve and quickly turned it to the open position. I depressed the quick-release connection on the base of my oxygen supply hose and pulled the hose free from the console, severing my umbilical lifeline to a working oxygen source. As the hose pulled free from the console, the hose disconnect valve closed to ensure that no thin, ambient air was introduced into my body, violating the long pre-breathing period that I had just endured.

As the end of my supply hose found its way into the oxygen block, I took a deep breath and was rewarded with the cool, medicinal taste of oxygen from my personal bail-out bottles.

I reached down between my legs and tugged on the free ends of my parachute leg straps to tighten the rig up against my body. Having had the unfortunate experience of loose leg straps in one or two previous jumps, I still recall the ‘kick in the balls.’

There are certain unnatural feelings that we guys tend to burn into our memory, and having one’s nuts crushed between the webbing of a parachute harness on opening shock due to loose leg straps, happens to be one of those “feelings.” I leaned backward, straining against the weight of my front-mounted rucksack, ensuring that I could get into a good arched position once I exited. I looked at my altimeter… it read 12,500 feet, but I knew that the indicating hand had gone around one complete revolution before, so our altitude was 25,000 feet.

I closed my eyes and visualized my movement toward the ramp, the exit, my body position, the freefall, the opening shock. I could feel my pulse racing hard through the veins in my neck.

‘Clap, Clap.’ Barry extended his right arm, palm upwards, parallel to the floor of the aircraft. He suddenly brought his hand up towards his head, bending his arm at the elbow and passing the command ‘Move to the rear.` We were only a minute out from exit. We all shuffled laboriously under the weight of our loads towards to gaping, bright open hole that was to serve as our’ door’ into space.

The lead man, a Commando Team Leader by the name of Singh, stopped about a meter short from the end of the ramp, with everyone else tight against the back of his parachute container. Barry was on his hands and knees, peering off the ramp, ensuring his correct release point before he gave us our final jump commands, sending us out into space at an altitude of over 4 miles above the earth.

From my position at the rear of the jumpers, I could see very little out of the aircraft’s rear. What I could see, however, was a deep shade of a brilliant blue sky without clouds and without tell-tale signs of the earth below. The weight of my rucksack, combined with the 60-plus pounds of parachute and oxygen gear, was suddenly very noticeable, as I could feel the nylon shoulder straps of the parachute beginning to cut into my neck. ‘Let’s get this show on the road…let me out of this fucking plane!’

I had arrived in New Dheli five weeks prior as the Advanced Party team leader to begin final coordination with the US Embassy Defense Attache’ (DAO), the Indian Air Force, and the Indian Commandos. We would be working a few hundred miles south of Dheli in the city of Agra, the same city that surrounded the famous Taj Mahal. On the outskirts of the city was Agra Air Force Base, our training location.

After my final coordination with the US Embassy DAO, we were to travel by train to our training site. As I approached the Train Station, I could not help but notice the large population of disfigured people. ‘God damn mutants everywhere!’ Our military escort sensed my thoughts and began a chilling explanation of the ‘whys and hows’ of these poor bastards. As the majority of the local population was impoverished, begging was one method of generating money to feed a family. But there were too many beggars out in the streets, so a more enterprising means had to be devised.

Some families had large hordes of children, often as many as 12-13 children. Of these children, the father would amputate a leg of one child, an arm of another, whatever it took to permanently disfigure the child. The thought process was that by creating these poor, disfigured children, they, in turn, would develop sympathy from tourists, which would result in more effective beggars. In business, this is known as developing a competitive advantage; In my eyes, however, I only wanted to seek out and exterminate the parents responsible for such an action.

As we entered the train station, I was immediately swarmed by these children. They seemed to appear from every direction, sprinting towards me with their amputated arms outstretched in anticipation of a coin. Off in the distance, I watched as this young man crawled towards me at a feverous pace, dragging his legless torso across the filthy floor of the station. ‘I gotta get out of here…gotta run…gotta hide…’

This grotesque scene was something evil, something not natural. Luckily, our train was ready for boarding, and we plowed our way through the crowds of beggars, clawing and pulling at us from every direction, and made it into the relative safety of our car. As the train pulled away from the station, I couldn’t help but wonder what the rest of our trip would bring.

The ride from Delhi to Agra was uneventful. It was hot, sweaty, and smelly in our car, but no beggars were on board. The countryside seemed to fly past as our car rocked back and forth along the old tracks that led us south. The scenery appeared as though time had stood still for a hundred years… farmers plowing the fields with their cattle, bicycles, and carts were the common mode of transportation, and the garbage… strewn everywhere. ‘This country is a nuclear power?’

‘Clap, Clap.’ Stand by! Barry stood up from the floor of the aircraft, having located his release point 4 miles below, and everyone seemed to inch closer toward the ramp.

As the Commandos were jumping a different parachute to our MT1-XX square canopy, it was briefed that they would exit first and delay opening for 7 seconds. We would follow them out but would wait for 5 seconds to achieve a higher opening altitude. The glide ratio of our main parachute was not nearly as good as that of the Commandos, so a higher opening would allow us to travel the same distance to the drop zone.

As per our mission brief, we would be conducting a 25,000-foot HAHO with full combat load in hopes of conducting a covert infiltration onto a target drop zone 25 miles from our release point. We would exit the aircraft and freefall to our specified opening altitude and, once under canopy, group together and travel on a designated azimuth to our target. Sounded easy.

We had worked hard to get to this particular level of skill with our counterparts. As previously mentioned, prior to our arrival into the country, the Commandos had only conducted limited free fall exercises from a maximum altitude of 10,000. The aircrews and jumpers did not have the experience nor the equipment to conduct jumps any higher than this.

India, in its constant dispute with Pakistan, needed a method to covertly infiltrate teams undetected into Pakistan to accomplish its military mission. Cross-border operations via land were out of the question. Survivability in using helo insert would also be limited due to the air defenses along the border. High altitude freefall parachuting (HALO) did have some application, but it would not be tactically beneficial for the type of insertion the Commandos hoped to achieve. However, standoff parachuting, such as HAHO, did meet their mission requirements, so our training program began.

Our team was the first US military presence on Indian soil since its post-WWII realignment. We received our mission tasking from the regional Commander in Chief-Pacific (CINCPAC) as directed from the Pentagon and the cronies up in the Defense Department (Office for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict), Washington.

There was support from the highest levels of the US Government, as our success or failure would impact the pace and development of Indo-US military relations. We had just completed some very successful missions in other neighboring countries in Asia, so we were confident and grateful for our opportunity to exceed the standards for Special Forces employment once again.

Barry pointed out the open door…’ Go!’ I watched as Singh and the man next to him stepped off the ramp into the obvious void of space. I began my slow shuffle towards to bright blue opening, my mind swimming in the visualization of actions that I must do precisely, without error. I could hear my rapid heartbeat in my ears, and the muscles of my body were straining to keep my forward momentum under the weight I was carrying.

The opening was getting brighter and larger. I could see Barry from the corner of my eye as I arrived at the leading edge of the ramp. Time was moving at a very slow speed, seemingly in slow motion. I looked straight ahead, and I could make out the curvature of the horizon. ‘God Damn, we are a long way up…’ I stepped off the ramp into a whirlwind of nothingness. ‘Forgive me, lord, for I have sinned…”

“Actions on Exit. You will do a poised exit from the aircraft… No fucking dives! Understand Vic? Commandos… you will exit first and will conduct a 7-second delay. Don’t Fuck it up! Not 5 seconds, not 10 seconds… SEVEN seconds! Americans… follow the Commandos out 5-second delay. Questions?”

‘I love listening to Barry’s Jumpmaster briefs… always right to the point…” If you are spinning…Arch hard. If you are tumbling… Arch hard. If you have an accidental canopy activation… figure out which fuckin’ chute is out. Once you are under canopy, DO NOT release your toggles… Ingraham? Are you listening to me? You should be under canopy around 20,000 feet AGL. The low man should have the compass… if you fuck up and end up the low man and you don’t have a compass, don’t fucking worry about it! We have radios, and we will sort you out. Compass men… preset your compass to 097 degrees. On heading, you should see this big fucking mountain over here and a stream running east to west…” After the jumpmaster brief, we all conducted a few “dirt dives” to make sure that we understood what we were to do.

Rehearsals are a good thing. We set and attached our FF2s to our rigs, donned parachutes, and received our jumpmaster inspections. “Got your front-mounted ruck sorted out, Chief?” Barry smiled, acknowledging my deep hatred for jumping my equipment this way. ‘That’s right, everybody is a fucking comedian…’ We loaded the AN-32, began pre-breathing oxygen, and on cue, taxied down the runway right on time…it was 1400 hours.

‘One thousand, two thousand….wow…look at the bottom of the aircraft….four thousand…look, grab, pull!’ Crack! The sudden opening of my main canopy resonated through my body…’ sure, glad I tightened my leg straps!’ A quick inspection over head revealed that the canopy had opened without any malfunctions or problems. Looking to my right, left, and rear, I could see no other canopies, so I was the top man in the stack.

To my front, I counted seven open US canopies…far, far below. I could almost make out the stack of the Commandos, their blue-colored main canopies contrasting against the red Indian desert still many miles below. I looked at my altimeter, which read a shade over 19,000 feet, indicating that my opening altitude must have been close to what was briefed.

Pulling down on the risers of the canopy, we were able to maneuver our chutes to achieve a 75-foot separation between us. We each carried a small radio and communication package that would allow us to talk once under canopy. Every third man had a compass attached to his chest strap so he could easily remain on heading as well. I loosened my rucksack, attaching straps, and moved the rucksack from being directly in front of me to between my legs, forming an ad-hoc chair of sorts. Hell, may as well be comfortable during the ride.

We would remain on oxygen until we passed below 13,000 feet which was not only to keep us hyperoxic, but the mask kept our face warm as well, something that one doesn’t really think about until he is suspended miles above the earth by two pieces of 2″ nylon webbing between his legs.

The view was spectacular… there is no other experience that I could relate to that is similar to a HAHO. Maybe an untethered space-walk from the space shuttle would be close. During this period of mental awe and observation, I thought back to our briefing. “…preset your compass to 097 degrees. On heading you should see this big fucking mountain over here and a stream running east to west…”.

‘Funny, I don’t see any stream running east to west…in fact, I don’t see much of anything!’ I scanned the horizon in hopes of seeing our drop zone… nothing. Towns or cities? Nothing. Where are our counterparts now? Nothing. However, I saw a seemingly endless red desert with no visible evidence of man or civilization. ‘Oh yeah, we are fucked!’

When I crossed below 13,000 feet, I opened the right side of my oxygen mask, allowing it to swing free to the opposite side of my Gentex. My goggles were then pulled down around my neck, and I started digging inside the front of my Nomex for my radio. I carried the radio on a para-cord necklace around my neck.

The radio immediately squawked to life. “What do ya mean we went out on the wrong release point? Are you fucking stupid?!” Ah yes, Grizz was already getting a grip on the situation with a bit of high-altitude counseling. The next 30 minutes under canopy were quite enlightening. Despite the gravity of our situation, I almost burst out with laughter as the events began to unfold before us.

“Is that a dirt road off to your 1 o’clock Ingraham? Let’s group on that road!” At an altitude of about 3,500 feet, we began unstowing our toggles from their Velcro keepers on our risers and began our controlled descent onto the desert floor.

When grouping, our SOP has us always land with the lowest man in the stack, who, in this instance, was Jeff Ingraham. ‘I bet his asshole is about to explode!’ I chuckled to myself, remembering his current situation with explosive diarrhea.

Within minutes we were all on the ground, landing within a 50-meter radius of the low man Ingraham on the dirt road. As I stepped out of my harness, I could not help but notice how hot it was. Through the shimmering heat waves, I could see that Jeff was already behind a dune shitting.

The team had packed their chutes into aviators’ kit bags and had them all stacked in a big pile next to the rucksacks. “Alright, I need two volunteers to move down this road and see if we can find a vehicle or something to move us and our shit out of here.” barked Grizz. I raised my hand, as did Bill Adams, our team Junior Medic. Bill and I headed out down the road for a quick range walk.

We had not gone very far when an old man leading a big camel came into view. “Do you speak English? We need to get to a town or to find a vehicle.” I asked, but I could tell by the blank stare on the old man’s dark brown and deeply wrinkled face that he did not have a clue as to what I was asking.

The old man was carrying a long switch in one of his hands, and he suddenly began beating the camel on its front legs. Hesitantly, the camel dropped down onto its front knees and slowly lowered its ass end down to the hot sandy road. The old man was motioning for me to get up onto the camel, so I obliged. As a kid, I used to ride anything with hair, and I still have the scars to show for it, but I had never ridden a camel.

I noticed that the old man had a single rein made up of old leather and twine that was attached to a ring in the camel’s left nostril. This was how he was leading the beast when we first met him. He handed me the rein and again began beating the camel on its hind end. With great effort, the beast grunted and fought to its feet. I had a death grip on its neck, and my legs were firmly squeezing against its ribs to keep me on its back. Once on all four feet, the old man began beating the camel again, and I started down the road with Bill following closely behind.

Without any warning, the camel started into a trot with none of its four feet striding in unison or with rhythm. This trot was the most bone-jarring ride I had ever experienced, and I was having difficulty holding on. I pulled on the rein, hoping to get the animal to stop, but to no avail. I was now in a state of modified terror as the animal seemed totally unresponsive to my pulls, tugs, or screams.

The old man was in a flat-out sprint to catch up to the front of the camel, where he pulled the lead rein from my hands. A few well-placed smacks from his switch got the animal stopped. I sat there dumbfounded for a few seconds, trying to let the previous minutes’ worth of activities sink into my brain, when the old man again started beating the front legs of the camel.

It lowered itself to its front knees just as before, but before its hindquarters could settle onto the sand, the old man angrily ordered me off his camel. He beat the camel on the rear, and once it was back on its feet, the old man led the camel away from us without so much as a good by. Bill and I looked at each other for a moment and then broke out into a side-wrenching fit of laughter.

We continued walking for another couple of miles when we spotted what appeared to be a vehicle off in the distance. The vehicle turned out to be a wooden cart being pulled by a mule again, commanded by an ancient-looking old man. Through much animated sign language, we convinced the old man that we needed to commandeer his vehicle for a while to help us out of our jam. Bill and I scrambled up into the cart, and off we went to recover the team.

The boys were all smiles when we finally arrived with our new friend and his cart. We loaded all the gear into the cart and began the long walk we had hoped would deliver us to some form of civilization. During our journey, we were constantly looking for our counterparts, a bigger, more modern vehicle, or anything that resembled a populated area.

Nothing. After three hours of being cooked in the hot desert sun, we suddenly arrived at a paved road junction with a small row of shanty shops and make-shift homes lining the road. Hundreds of children appeared out of nowhere and were suddenly surrounding us. Their smiling, inquisitive faces, probably seeing westerners for the first time in their lives.

The cart stopped in front of what appeared to be the center of the village, and we began unloading our chutes and equipment.

As we were thanking our cart driver, a lone policeman dressed in old British-style combat fatigues and armed with an old Enfield .303 approached and immediately put us under guard. Within two minutes, an additional 10 to 12 policemen, carrying a variety of weapons ranging from old Enfields to wooden batons, had us encircled with a small cordon. An older gentleman of some apparent social status dressed in what amounted to a wife-beater tank top and a Momo skirt entered the cordon and walked directly up to Grizz and me.

He began speaking in some language we could only imagine as being Hindi. He seemed to want to know who we were and why we were there. Again, through hand and arm signals and much animation, we explained to him that we were working at Agra Airforce base and had parachuted out of a plane and missed our drop zone. The old man nodded his head in apparent understanding and immediately began barking orders at the rather large group of police that was forming our security cordon. One of them ran off and returned a few minutes later, driving what looked to be an antique

“Paddy Wagon.” The rusty iron bars on the rear of the wagon were removed, and the police cordon moved us into a single file to be loaded into the vehicle. “Fuck this, let’s get out of here! I ain’t going with these fucks! No telling where they will take us!” Vic snarled in a low voice.

Just as Barry was getting ready to step up into the Paddy Wagon, a moped raced into the sea of spectators and off jumped Singh wearing the uniform of the coveted Commando. He barked some orders at the police, and we immediately sensed his embarrassment at the situation and his rage at the police and townspeople. The police reluctantly lowered their weapons but kept us in their vigil, still not liking the situation.

“Singh, what the fuck is going on?” I asked. “You all were on your way to the local prison,” Singh replied. “The village chief said that an American spy plane crashed and its crew parachuted out to safety, so they are going hold you until they figure out what to do with you all and your plane is found. But don’t worry, I am here to take you back to Agra. A truck will come shortly.”

“Singh, where are we?” asked Barry, who was still working on his story for having put us out on the wrong release point. “We are 37 miles from the drop zone.” smiled Singh. “We landed closer than you did” With that, we all broke into laughter.

We completed our training with the Commandos that week, culminating with a 25,000-foot night combat equipment HAHO into an unlit target area. Members from all branches of the Indian military, Ministries of Defense, and other high-ranking military and government officials were gathered to witness the event.

They all heard the aircraft pass high overhead at approximately 2200 hours; and they all shit themselves when at approximately 2245 hours, twenty-two highly trained Indian Army Commandos from 7th Commando silently landed as a group in front of the delegation having completed a standoff HAHO insertion from 30 miles away.

And yes, I still had to jump with my front-mounted rucksack!

In memory of MSG Tim “Griz” Martin, killed in action during Operation Gothic Serpent, Somalia, often referred to as Black Hawk Down.


Click to learn more

Contact the author!

Brian Bewley and his wife S. Jessica own and manage Tactical Solutions International, Inc. (TSI) in Crowheart, WY.

TSI and its commercial training department, Tactical Training International has been conducting cutting-edge tactical training for DoD, US Govt organizations, friendly foreign governments, LE, corporations, and qualified civilians since 2003.

For more information on TSI or TTI training opportunities, please visit

or contact Nate Mastin or Logan Brown, TTI Training Dept., (307) 486-2336.

The Operator: Free Newsletter Subscription