Sparks (or not)
Emitted from the fire, their tiny illumination endures for the briefest of moments…then, they are gone

The F.N.G.

The Vietnam experience was different than that of all other previous wars. With few exceptions, we came over as individual soldiers – without the benefit of the relationships and camaraderie of an organized unit. Most of us can probably relate to the trauma of being the FNG: alone, confusion, fear, apprehension. It’s like a rite of passage we had to endure and boy, was it good when we finally came out the other side, settling into a routine of familiarity and new friendships.

So it’s not surprising that the darker side in us was quick to turn the tables when the opportunity presented itself.

There were a few times when our normal day’s work was interrupted by a request to shuttle a FNG to his new duty station. There he sat, alone in the center of the cargo area, as far from the open doors as he could get— seat belt cinched up tight. It was probably his first helicopter ride. His dark green, still-starched fatigues, pale skin and high-and-tight haircut begged for an initiation experience befitting of a future combat veteran.

The plan was secretly concocted in the privacy of the crew’s intercom. The pilot gradually gained elevation and diverted slightly off course ’til we were flying over a known free-fire zone. Just as the greenhorn was starting to relax and enjoy the ride, the bottom dropped out and we plummeted  like a rock into an autorotational free fall. When the pale rider’s eyes were about to pop out of their sockets, and his white-knuckled hands were at the point of breaking the aluminum seat frame, we bottomed out and both M-60s belched their fiery stream into the jungle. At this point, depending on the individual, the FNG was either in full primal scream or stunned silence, pondering—perhaps even accepting—his own demise.

When the horror had sufficiently run its course, we reverted to normal flight and all crew members turned to smile knowingly at our terrified victim. The rear crew patted him on the back and shook his trembling hands.

I’m not sure if it was out of gratitude at still being alive or the eventual realization that it was all a good-natured prank, but when departing our ship at his new unit, the general attitude was one of understanding (our need for occasional comic relief) and respect.

I think we all justified our devious act by convincing ourselves that someday the FNG would thank us for preparing him for what might come. It must have surely lessened the blow of his first mortar attack, or ambush, or…

I suspect one thing: that GI probably wrote home that very night, telling family or friends his first war story.

2 Responses to “The F.N.G.”

  1. I can relate to that…Sir!!! Now that it’s all over, was it a nightmare or reality? As a ‘would be’ helicopter crewman and so green, being so damned scared was welcomed miles ahead of being WIA or KIA! Jokes with a good laugh, of bad or good taste was like filet mignon in comparison to the reality of combat. Any type of humor made life a bit more heavenly than ‘in country’ Hell. Thank Goodness we had leaders and buddies who knew that and would break the spell of war with genuine laughter! We have a life- long bond with those of us, who without hesitation, deliberately draw hostile fire, be an open target, to come in and get you back out of harms way.

    • Brian, these kind of pranks sometimes seem cruel and insensitive in hindsight—especially since the “victim” was one of us. But at the time, it truly was a matter of survival to find creative ways to let off steam. I think we would have lost our sanity without it. Maybe we did lose it at times anyway.

      And yes, it was a privilege to serve in the 92nd. We were soldiers of the sky.


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