Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vietnam -- One little round container; the contents of which would shape my future

When you go back through time and reflect on how seemingly some insignificant people, places and things affect and shaped one’s future, I can safely say that the person, the place and the thing that played out to be the most significant role in shaping my future was a round little container.
Actually, it was what was inside that seemingly insignificant container. This is the story behind the story of how that shaped my destiny, changed the lives of a few friends history and made me a hooch hold name.
Just about the only soldier who enjoyed my company over at A Company, 5th Transportation Battalion was just a loner as I.  We both enjoyed the aroma of a pipe filled with wild cherry tobacco and we found we could talk to each other at a level of similar intelligence and expertise.
That’s not to say either one of us were better than the lost around us, we simply had a good time sharing each other’s company.
One night we were talking about the mechanical differences between the AH-1H Cobra and a UH-IH Huey. Almost out of the blue, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small can. He then asked me what they were.
Now, it is pretty hard to know what is inside a sealed little round can so, it took me a few seconds to realize what he was holding.
Of all the controlling flight parts needed to fly any helicopter straight and true, short of the Jesus nut that held the main rotor blade’s main mast nut in place and assuming all the rest of the controlling mechanisms are working correctly, the integrity of the contents of what was inside hermetically sealed little can became second to the Jesus nut.
It was a set of bearings. But they weren’t any ordinary bearings. These bearings allow a shaft to run through them. And that shaft was responsible for controlling the pitch in the tail rotor.
So, these bearings were precision made and made in a pair. There was a V across the outer ring of the bearings. So, in mechanical lingo, these bearings were called split cone bearings.
But the ones he was showing me weren’t big enough to be UH-IH Huey tail rotor bearings; these belonged to an AH-IG Cobra.
So, after a short while, I said incredulously, “Okay, so why are you carrying a pair of split cone bearings for a Cobra when you work on slicks?”
He smiled back at me, “Because some day, someone is going to want them.”
Of course, he was implying that having a pair of these would earn him a case of cokes or something of similar barter.
At the time, I had no idea that somebody would be me. But I did make mental notation and added the know how to my mental asset inventory.
Time moved one and the incident was placed on the back burner and forgotten. I proved myself as a Cobra mechanic, got re-assigned to the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery and realized that my journey of proving myself to another unit just got reset.
Since I had already gone through the Baptism by Fire routine once already, I was much easier to read the signs, organize allies and gain the confidence of those who would decide to use my talents for the betterment of the unit.
At the point where all of this finally started working in my favor, I had requested R&R and was just about a week away from going, when a maintenance directive came down.  It called for the removal of the split cone push pull bearings and the replacement of those with a new single piece bearing set.
The problem with this is the fact that once you pulled off the split cone bearings, you couldn’t use them again. These were high tolerance bearings.  So pulling them off and using them again was not an option.
Well, as fate would have it, the solid set failed impressively. As a result, another directive was issued and the split cone bearings were to replace them. Only one problem, there wasn’t enough of them.
The interesting thing about this story was the fact that my buddy over at A Company, 5th Transportation Battalion would not have been aware of the immediate urgency what he had in his pocket was about to become.  Had he, I think he would have upped the bargaining chips.
So, with not enough of them to go around, CPT Denny Kramp, Lt Craig Geis, and SFC Valentine had a meeting of the minds about 12 feet away from me.
“I’m telling you there aren’t anymore. I’ve checked with all the supply units up and down here and Saigon.  No one has them.”
“Can’t we just put the old one back on?”
“It will be your neck, not mine. They fail and we lose our jobs.”
“Excuse me, but what is it that you need.”
“This is a private conversation and none of your business.”
I just listened while I acted like I was doing something.
“Okay, so what do we do?”
“Well if we can’t get the part, pretty much our careers are over as we won’t be combat ready.”
“Sergeant Valentine, are you sure no one in Vietnam has a pair of split cone bearings.”
“Yes, sir. Nobody has a new set.”
“I can find you a pair.”
“Didn’t I just tell you to shut up.”
“Do you want the part or not?”
“Oh, alright, take the jeep and don’t come back if you can’t find a pair.”
I grew to love Craig’s ultimate do or die attitude. So, I got into the jeep, rode across the flight line and drove over to a very familiar area.
I had to wait a few moments for everyone to come in from work.  I smelled the pipe before I saw the man.
“Suppose you want what’s in my pocket.”
“Okay either you’re psychic or simply know the only time I come over here is when I want something?
“The second would be the more appropriate answer. What will you give me for it?”
Way I see it, if I was an officer whose career and fate was about to be changed, I’d offer him a ride in the Cobra, since he just saved my ass.
But I wasn’t.  So, I said, “How about a case of beer?”
“You know I don’t drink beer,” he scolded.
“Okay, a case of Cokes.”
“That will work“, he said as he pulled them from out of his pocket.
“Mind if I bring the Cokes over tomorrow?”
“Not at all”, he retorted. “Tomorrow will be fine.”
He handed them to me. I then shook his hand and said, “See you tomorrow.”
A few minutes later, I parked the jeep, turned it off, walked up to the three men and handed them the part. The picture in my mind of the jaws dropping pretty much said it all.
At the time, I just wanted to help and keep my Battery combat ready.
I had no idea how that moment in time was about to shape my future in more ways I could have dreamed possible.

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