For a kid then it looked real high, I was 15 years old then. I managed to do the descent with my dignity intact. Here in Recruit Training Center there was no tower to practice nor was there a cliff to descend from.
The Malaysian Army is very innovative, there was this big and tall rain forest tree on which a platform was constructed, one thing in RTC is that nobody can accuse them of lacking in ingenuity. From this platform we were taught the rudiments of abseiling. The tree was the notional helicopter from which we would descend from. We were only given one precious lesson, as there were too many of us to make us adept in the ways of the rope.
One fine day the real thing happened, all of us were lined up in files of three.
“I want volunteers,” the sergeant said. None of us moved,
“I want volunteers,” this time the tone was menacing. We were fidgeting, wondering what was all this about. “Has no one here a pair of balls?”
|If there was a tower|
To my horror my feet responded to this baiting and stepped forward, immediately there were ten other jerks who followed suit. Basically, most recruits were like sheep, they just followed. The thinking in a recruit’s mind is, at least there are few guys to share whatever they are going to throw at us, no one person will be the point of attention, in RTC nobody wants to be the point of attention.
“Today you eleven lucky gentlemen will have the honor to represent this platoon in abseiling from a helicopter.
Only eleven of us, as the other platoons too were sending their representatives. The ones not involved were to be spectators. We were given hip sheets, of course we did not know how to tie them around us, after all we had only one lesson, the instructors took over, rigged us up, snap links were issued.
The chopper was painted in olive green, landed heavily on the pier steel planks that were already overgrown with grass, probably the pilot was fantasizing being a fighter pilot. A group of soldiers were already moving drums of avtur (aviation turbine fuel) with pumps to refuel, even as the chopper was being shut down. We were given a final briefing, which did not make much sense as we were already filled with anxiety.
Coming down from a perfectly flying aircraft using a rope, the thought can be terrifying. After the chopper was refueled, it was rigged up with an assortment of ropes, the engines were started up, above the noise we were screamed at with orders to get into the aircraft, we were hustled into the aircraft, we went in, left, right, left, right as was the drill in boarding the chopper.
The chopper took off very fast, the contents in our stomach heaved. It took two rounds, sharp ones at that as we were trying to hold on to the seats which were a crisscross of nylon straps, made into seats. It finally started hovering above the airstrip.
The first guy nearest was hauled up, he looked like a zombie, the rope was looped around his snaplink and locked. He was made to take up the L position, he looked like a pro, left arm straight, forefinger and thumb around the rope, right hand behind bent at the elbows holding the rope to control descent.
An order was given for him to descend, nothing happened, the instructors were gesticulating telling him to bend his knees for him to thrust out for the descent, still nothing happened. He just plain refused to move. My ever innovative sergeant saved the day, he booted the guy out, out of sight he went, I could only see his flailing arms as he disappeared from view.
“I don’t want to die”, the voice beside whimpered, it was asshole.
“So don’t die, only god can save us from Satan over there,” I, with the little bit of bravado left replied. The sergeant was looking very pleased with himself; some of the other instructors were tapping him on his shoulders congratulating him. Asshole looked as though he was going to faint, probably too much shit and chicken in him.
My hands were getting cold and clammy inside the two layers of gloves I had on. I was hoping nobody noticed my knocking knees, to disguise that, I put on a smile every time my dear Satan looked in my direction. Soon it was asshole’s turn, he went the same way the first guy went only that this time we could hear the scream above the rotor’s down wash.
I mumbled the Lord’s Prayer twice followed by two quick Hail Mary’s, shot off another quick Lord’s Prayer just for insurance, in case of after life. I was going to repeat my prayers again just to make sure on my insurance, when my turn came up.
I did not know why my knees became stiff and my legs weighed like lead. The way I walked was forced and firm, forced because of fear and firm so as not to collapse like jelly. I was standing at the entrance, me facing inwards with my back towards the entrance.
The instructors were looking at me wetting their lips like I was a wiggly morsel waiting to be tasted. They rigged me up, I was leaning out waiting for the thumbs up, and the down wash of the rotors was already pushing me down. I was faltering when the thumbs up came; I kicked with all my might for my own self respect and commended my soul. The slide down was very fast, mistake I made was I bent my left elbow; the nylon rope took off some of my facial tissue as it came into contact with the right hand side of my face.
I did not feel the searing and burning sensation which I by right should have felt; I was too terrified to feel anything. The ground was coming up very fast to meet me. I was trying very hard to slow down, by yanking the rope behind me with my right hand, failed, I looked down I saw a bunch of instructors hanging on to the rope to slow my very fast descent. I landed, ran backwards until the rope ran out of the snaplink.
I was wobbly but on my feet, a familiar voice greeted me,
“I did great didn’t I, you were not in control like I was”, asshole was rattling off.
“Do you make an effort to be obnoxious or is it natural”,
I answered him.
“You were bad; you looked panicky, paah what a bad example.”
He responded, always wanting to have the last say.