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SEAL Blog. The Devils Fleet.

Wednesday February 20th 2008 - 7:11 PM EST
Added by: Don Shipley



We were frequently tasked to do demonstrations and we called them Dog and Pony Shows. On the West Coast, the big one was the Fourth of July demo and on the East Coast it was the SEAL Reunion demo.

Those were big deals but we did so many other smaller ones as well to show our capabilities.

Most went very well. Some, well, not so good.

Harbor Feast is a huge event and held in Norfolk each year. Bands play, concession stands all along Norfolk’s Harbor Side Waterfront and the crowds are huge. All kinds of activities during a three day blowout with the SEALs jumping in being a highlight.

My Platoon was tasked to jump for all three days. It was a lot of pressure as the drop zone in the Harbor was small and the guys who did it the year before put a jumpers on one of the tallest flag poles in Virginia. Suspended high in the air, he waited for rescue. With the large crowds, stages, concessions stands and traffic, it took the Fire Department a few hours to maneuver in to get him. On the front page of the paper was his picture still wearing fins, suspended from the pole.

I wasn’t going to let that happen this year.

I was always great at spotting jumpers and I don’t remember ever making a bad spot. You’d receive wind reports from the ground all the way to the altitude you were jumping at from a weather station and make calculations from that.

Ground winds 6 knots at 130 degrees, 2000 feet winds 17 knots at 220 degrees, 4000 feet winds 30 knots at 080 degrees and so on all the way to you’re jump altitude. You’d calculate the forward throw, which is a guy leaving the plane who would still follow the planes flight path for 100 meters before beginning to fall straight down. Straight down, but the winds at altitude pushed him around in different directions all the way to opening and then his parachute was pushed around with those winds.

At Harbor Feast I’d be dropping guys from a CH-46 helo into a small drop zone at 1200 feet and they had to land in the water and close together with little room for error. My release point was over the crowd and they’d drift into the water. I briefed them that if things looked good they could "Pop" their leg straps and drop from the parachute at a safe altitude and please the crowd. I was talking about 20-30 feet above the water. During the three days it became a contest as to who could drop higher than the next guy. Some were releasing from their chute from such a high altitude that I could see the splash from the helo as they hit the water and they might as well have not had a chute in the first place.

Aaaa the crowd loved it and the spots were right on.

As the Jumpmaster during a Free Fall jump I could leave the airplane with all the jumpers and exit last. During "Static Line" drops there would be no one to help me if I got tangled up as Jumpmaster so we weren’t supposed to jump. I’d overcome this by having the helo swing low over the water after all the jumper were down and doing 20 knots and at 20 feet, I’d jump out of the back and join the swimmers.

The door gunner would signal me on the ramp when we were alongside the jumpers. The helo swooped in fast and was skimming the water as I prepared to jump. Unfortunately, Pilots flying that slow and low have a hard time getting an accurate reading from the instruments.

As I watched the water rushing by I was signaled to go. Realizing the show must go on, I yelled to the crew chief next to me and said "There ain’t no f*****g way were 20/20" and I jumped from the helo at probably twice the speed and altitude it was supposed to be.

I hit hard and skipped a couple times like a rock on a calm pond breaking my tail bone in the process. Joining the other guys we swam to the crowd, climbed up and screwed around with the kids letting them push us in the water. My wife brought our Son and I put him on my shoulders and we jumped in for a swim.

We swam out after awhile and the helo dropped a SPIE (Special Patrol Insertion and Extraction) Line and we snapped in and flew tethered back to Little Creek.

All that and the only thing people talked about was me smashing from the helo. They could feel my pain.

We dropped 90 guys in two days with the only mishap being one guy lost a fin over the crowd. Good thing they announced us and all were watching as that would have hurt a bit...

Albania was not my favorite "Port of Call." During Bosnia there was a fear of losing a Pilot to enemy fire and he may have made Albania before ditching. We were tasked to train the Albanians in rescuing downed Pilots.

We found out fast we had a lot of work to do.

Pissing around with the Russians for many years the Albanians referred to the American Battle Groups sailing by as "The Devils Fleet." We were the first American Ship to visit Albania since WWII. It seemed like all the yards and fields were filled with anti parachute stakes. Long and sharp they were meant to impale jumpers as a precaution for an American Invasion. Why they thought we’d invade is beyond me as you couldn’t even get a cold beer in that dump.

Soviet propaganda.

All the sudden we were friends as the Russians collapsed and we picked up some of the Russians slack money wise.

Our first day we were introduced to an Albanian Officer who would translate and was responsible for us and he stayed drunk the entire time we were there. Not some of the time, ALL of the time and he was scared to death of messing the exercise up. Scared to death because they would have shot him so he stayed drunk to cope and hoped for the best.

We were introduced to the troops we’d be training and had all kinds of things we were going to teach them. They stood in formation with an Officer out front and alone. Seemed strange to us as the Officers were it and any NCO’s, if there were any, had NO, NONE, ZERO to say about anything. The Officers were almighty God.

In the back ranks were Stretcher Bearers. Each one held a folded stretcher at ridged attention and carried a bag stuffed with cotton to shove in bullet holes and nothing more.

Really primitive Civil War type stuff and tactics.

After a few niceties with the Officers, I motioned a formation to gather around me. They never flinched. Again I waived them over, nothing. There was not a single man out of a couple hundred that would have dared move before being told by an Officer it was alright to do so.

I have seen some very strict discipline in some of the worlds Militaries but nothing compared to Albania and it was just plain scary as the troops feared for their lives.

We actually had a pretty good time as I always did. I’ve never, ever, no matter where I’ve been, had a bad encounter or disliked any other Militaries I’ve worked with.

Military guys are all the same no matter where you go.

After all the training was completed a week later we are tasked to do a Dog and Pony Show for Albania. Opened to the public there were a pile of them as our helo swooped in fast and low and I threw out the Fastrope and slid down quickly followed by the rest of the squad. On the ground we simulated treating a downed Pilot that the Albanians had rescued, loaded him in the helo, and the helo lifted up about 60 feet and one of our guys dropped the SPIE rope and we snapped in.

I had a surprise planned.

I had an Albanian Flag sewed to an American Flag that was snapped in as well. Six of us had smoke grenades attached to our wrists on coat hangers. The guys on top had red smoke, the next two below them had white smoke and the bottom guys had violet smoke, the closest we could come to blue. Red, white, blue. Get it...

On my signal the guys pulled the pins and as the helo pulled us off the ground we’d release the coat hangers which held the smokes a foot from our wrists. As the helo swept the crowd I could see all the faces and them applauding as the flags unfurled and the smokes burned beautiful colors at a couple hundred feet above.

Mission success, we’d leave in the morning and our translator could stop drinking now I was thinking as we flew over the President of Albanian and the American Ambassador with all the Countries proud citizens below.

Job well done Shipley, you da man...

Kissing my own ass was a bit premature as I saw a heavy white smoke falling toward the crowd and more toward the President and his wife. I yelled something about being an idiot to the guy below me over the noise of the helo about dropping the smoke and hoping it would not kill someone. What a dumbass, how do you drop a smoke grenade, was all I was thinking and planning his demise when I saw the second white smoke plummet toward the crowd a few seconds later.

With everyone looking up and seeing them coming the ran for cover and no one was hurt.

It only took a few seconds more before I realized the "Bad" was my fault.

White smokes we use are called HC Smoke, or high concentrate, and they burn very hot. We tested the coat hanger thing I invented but did not try a white HC smoke when we did it. If we had I would have seen that they become so hot that they would have melted the coat hanger in a minute or so.

I really liked that Translator.





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