Hellgap is a Paleo-Indian site outside of a cute little town, Guernsey, Wyoming. Guernsey hosts a small Reserve/Guard base that has an influx of military pilots for helicopter training, especially night training, during the summer. I was there for an extended dig during the summer.
I had my tent setup near a small deep, dry, tree-filled wash. My plastic shower stall was set up in the wash. Not too far away was the main building that served as our lecture and chow hall. Scattered haphazardly around the building were tents and trailers. Higher up the hill near the trees were other tents.
Our day began early with breakfast at 7am cooked by rotating crewmembers. The walk to the actual dig site was about ½ mile. The day’s work/activity was strenuous-troweling rock hard soil, carrying full buckets of dirt to the water screen area, the walk to and from the hall for lunch and back again at the end of the 10 hour day for dinner. Bedtime in other words was early. Long and deep sleep was a necessity not a luxury.
I had been in a deep sleep when I was suddenly awakened by the whap, whap, whap, of helicopter blades immediately overhead—about 30 feet overhead! My tent went flat to the ground from the force of the blades’ down draft and then sprung back into place. I grabbed my flashlight and sat up in bed with flashlight pointed to the ceiling. I was trying to tell them I was here.
The next morning I asked others if they heard, saw or ‘felt’ the helicopters. They all said, “yes” but it did not bother them. I said my tent went flat to the ground and they laughed. My shower stall had suffered in the down draft, too, as it was torqued!
The next night the same thing happened. Whap, whap, whap of the blades, my tent flattened to the ground; my heart raced at this rude, scary and noisy wakeup. Frankly, I was worried and I mentally started through all the “what ifs” and decided I wanted to live.
I told the dig crew chief I would be late to the site as I was driving to the Base Operations Center(Ops) and tell them I was worried. He objected but I said I had to do this.
Now mind you, I was dressed for the dig workday: faded shorts, grungy t-shirt, long socks, boots and my summer pith helmet, that sported a large turkey feather. I looked like an odd ball—definitely not military! Definitely not normal!
I walked into the Ops area that was full of young pilots in flight gear who were checking the NOTAM board. NO one looked at me. NO one said anything. Everyone continued about the business of the day. Some security I thought.
I stood at the Ops counter for a few minutes NO one came. Finally, in a loud voice I said, “I am Major F.” It was so funny. The place came to a screeching halt! No one spoke. No one moved. It looked like a static show of mannequins with all eyes turned to me!
A Sgt. rushed to the counter and asked if he could help me. I told him I was not complaining-- definitely not complaining. As a military member I understood and believed in training. I was there trying to get help.
I explained to him what had happened to me the two previous nights: tent flat to the ground, flashlight held to the roof to show I was there, my thoughts of pending doom–all of it.
He listened intently but there little to no response from him.
Finally, I simply said, “I want to live.”
He asked me where my tent was located and I gave him the UTM coordinates. He was surprised that I had this information.
He hauled out maps located the little wash. “Yep!” says he, “They have been practicing with night vision goggles right over that wash.”
Practicing with night vision goggles? Oh my, it was worse than I thought.
Right then and there the Sarge and I struck a deal, my tent was to be in a “No Fly Zone” from 10 pm until 5 am until the end of the dig session. I was to stay out of his Ops area!
The Sarge upheld his end of the bargain. I got sleep-uninterrupted sleep.
I upheld my end of the bargain and stayed out of his Ops area.
I was the laugh of the dig camp!
And I also had a new name "Maj"