Disclaimer – I only really remember specific portions of this story, and I think it took place over the course of two separate nights – I’m telling it to the best of my abilities so there may be some inaccuracies; if you were there, or know more please add to this!!
It was the fall of 2004 and we were on QRF (quick reaction force) for Squadron, a task that was rotated among the platoons in the unit. This particular evening we were sitting in front of the Company headquarters building (I think this was when my platoon was attached to Apache Company, 1-5 Infantry). It was just myself, Frank my gunner, Kirk my dismount and Gordo, my driver. Our section was sitting there on 24/7 standby in the event we were needed by Squadron – the important part of this was I forget where my Bravo section was (my platoon sergeant and my other section sergeant’s vehicles) but I recall they were not sitting with us.
Gordo had recently purchased an electronic watch from the Hajji shop on FOB Sykes. Being in the drivers hole you see, it was always dark and difficult to tell what time it was. So Gordo found and bought this electronic clock that was made for what I assume is the blind – you press the button and a little electronic synthesized voice says the time to you. Perfect for in the driver’s compartment, affectionately refereed to as ‘the hell-hole.’ But this one, despite being labeled as ‘English’ on the box, spoke Chinese.
So there you are, pressing the button and out come this little litany of Mandarin, or some other jibberish that was a totally different jibberish than the Iraqi’s or Kurd’s spoke that we were used to hearing. Gordo was pretty bummed out by this product’s mis-marketing.
But then someone got the idea to key the platoon net, and press the digital clock’s button into the microphone. I don’t remember who it was… but we got the bright idea that “Hey, let’s transmit this on the net.” Just the platoon net. So we said ‘Ok do it!’ Gordo keyed the net…
Obviously, I am stereotypically and shamefully trying to imitate whatever the hell string of words the device made to say It is eleven-thirty-four PM. But that was what went across the net.
[beep] “Blue, this is Blue-4 [my platoon sergeant, Mac] – Did anyone just hear that?”
I think we broke down laughing inside of my truck.
[beep] ‘Four this is One; Negative, say again what noise, over?’ I was trying t keep it together when I talked on the net.
[beep] “I thought I heard something on the net. Sounded like voices…”
I feel like we did this on the first night were on QRF and left it at that. And I feel like then on the second day of QRF, that night we did it again. We were always on QRF for a minimum of three days, sometimes four. So for the purposes of retelling this story, I will go with my gut and assume yes, we left it at that and did it again the second night.
Second night of QRF…. bored at zero-dark-thirty…..
Ridiculous amounts of laughter from my crew.
[beep] “Blue, Blue Four – now, someone has to have heard that…”
I respond. [beep] ‘Four, this one. Negative, say again your last, over?’
[beep] “One, Four. I heard someone speaking Hajji on the net.”
We were cracking up inside. The kind of insane humor that you find in the little things when you are drunk on lack of sleep and just about everything from tragic to elated becomes funny to you for some reason. Like we were teenagers again and just snapped a girl’s bra strap in class…
‘Do it again Gordon. Do it again!’
It was a riot. A literal riot inside of my truck. We were on the benches or the floor boards of the Stryker laughing, assed-out, well and truly pissed – inebriated by laughter, tears rolling down our cheeks. How wherever Mac’s Stryker was parked he could not hear us roaring inside, I will never kow.
[beep] “There it is again!”
[beep] “Four, this is three – I definitely heard something too. Sounded like hajji-talk.”
The net keyed again. [beep] “Rattlesnake Main, this is QRF, over…”
Holy Shit! What was Mac doing? Why was he on Squadron net calling them?
[beep] “QRF, Rattlesnake Main. Go, over.”
[beep] “Rattlesnake Main, QRF – we have some audible of what sounds like hajji talking on one of the radio frequencies. Have you heard anything, over?”
Holy shit – you have got to be kidding me! We were laughing still because Mac believed that the Hajj had indeed been on our radio freq’s and were talking. Now, you have to understand that at the time in our tour there had been a few instances of emergency COMSEC-changeover’s. The device that loads our ACIPS radios was the ANCD; it stored all of the encryption keys for our radio net’s to ensure that our comms were encrypted when we talked and received.
Encryption keys were stored in the ANCD, and we switched to a new set of encryption keys once a week. Unless of course there was an emergency changeover. And there were instances of ANCD’s going missing. Someone inevitably would be missing an ANCD somewhere in the Brigade, and this would spur a Brigade-wide emergency COMSEC changeover. Most of the time it turned out to be some idiot leaving it under the seat of the Hummer, and being unable to account for it. But as ANCD’s, as well as some other equipment [like the mystery single-HMMWV that was being reported driving around the outskirts in Northern Iraq] it was within the realm of the possible to imagine the enemy having acquired not only a radio, but a radio with a current fill.
[beep] QRF, Rattlesnake Main – Negative. You say you are hearing Arabic being transmitted over the net, is that correct, over?”
[beep] “That is correct, over.”
… pause… while we sit there on my truck, sort of dumbfounded that our joke had gone this far.
[beep] “QRF this is Rattlesnake Main – I have Rattlesnake One-Zero on the net, over”
Rattlesnake 1-0 was our communications officer, the S6. He is not called ‘six’ on the radio as his staff position indicates because ‘Rattlesnake Six’ is reserved for the Squadron Commander. Therefore he became One-Zero. Don’t ask me why.
[beep] “Roger that, Rattlesnake Main – This is QRF, break”….
[beep] We seem to be hearing random spurts of conversation on our platoon internal net, in a foreign language, break…
[beep] And I am concerned that, uh, our net may be compromised, over.”
Silence. Silence on the net, and silence inside the truck. I think there were a few expletives thrown around as we debated if we thought Mac really was worried that the Hajj had compromised the net, or if he was trying to do this to teach us a lesson.
[beep] “QRF, Rattlesnake One-Zero. We will monitor your platoon internal net here from the TOC for the next few hours and attempt to see if we hear any of these voices, over.”
Ok everybody – be cognizant – Squadron is going to be monitoring our platoon net! You don’t want higher down on your net, listening to you talking between the trucks or the sections, talking about girls and ball-sacks and hating the Hajj and all of the other stupid shit we talk about back and forth. The jokes, the insults, the friendly and often vulgar banter.
Oh shit oh shit oh shit!
‘Gordo -‘ I said. ‘Put that fucking clock under the front tire, and pull forward.’
I heard the sound of the driver’s hatch pop open and someone walking on the front slope. After a few seconds I looked through the hell-hole and saw a pair of legs descend as Gordo got back inside. He put on his CVC, sat up in the drivers seat, put the truck in drive and we rolled forward about a foot. I stood in my hatch and heard the sound of crackling plastic.
“That thing’s in a million pieces, sir.”
‘Ok. This never happened…’
And so it was. We all sat in bored silence most of the night, occasionally hearing the sound of Rattlesnake Main radio us to see if we were still having any radio issues. I’m not totally sure they believed us, and I am still not sure if Mac was convinced, or just yanking our chain right back at us. Some things will always remain a mystery…