Friday, November 1, 2019

OCD* I: SA will save your A**

I stole that title from one of two articles I read years ago. Maybe I stole it from both, who knows? In each case the primary source was Approach magazine, the now dead aircrew-centered Naval Aviation safety magazine. 

Before I searched for the article in question I was quite sure it had been published in 1969; seems like it was the June edition. I remember reading that magazine from cover to cover while working nights on the Flight Deck of USS Boat. This would have been in 1981. I'd discovered a stash of dated Approach, Mech, and Naval Aviation News magazines in the back of a cabinet in the Flight Deck Battle Dressing Station, or FDBDS. It was a treasure trove. As I recall, the article was entitled "SA Will Save Your A**", and it was written by an F-4 squadron safety officer who pointed out that stupid non-combat mistakes like losing SA will kill you just as dead as stupid combat mistakes. The story he shared was -- again if I recall correctly -- about an F-4 flying into the ground (CFIT or controlled flight into terrain) during a routine night recovery ashore. At Da Nang, I believe. The article may have been the first time I was formally introduced to the term Situational Awareness. Anyway, the safety officer made a very good argument and from then on I endeavored to do my best to maintain SA. I think it was a good habit to get into, and I like to think I'm still rather better at it than the average bear.

So while searching the internet for that article, I found something that caused a memory realignment (happens more and more as I get more and more elderly). I couldn't find what I was looking for, but I did find an Approach article from March, 1985 entitled "SA Can Save Your A....." (only a slight difference in titles). This one was penned by the Executive Officer of VA-22. His story begins with a description of an A-7 CFIT mishap during a Cope Thunder exercise. I'm pretty sure I remember reading that article while working nights on the roof of USS Boat, too. Only in 1985.

Now interestingly, many years later I saw the video of that mishap posted by Juvat over at Sarge's Place. Didn't put two and two together until re-reading the 1985 Approach article today (yesterday or the day before if you read this on November 1, 2019) on the interwebs. Kind of an interesting full-circle coincidence. Adds just a bit more reality to the fact that while I was out there operating in my little egocentric bubble of commingled joy and misery, many, many thousands of Americans were doing the same all around the globe.

Another article in that particular issue is memorable to me because it's the HAC's account of a mishap we shared as a Sea King crew back in 1983. He just touched on the difficulty he had escaping from the aircraft while it was upside down and under water. That was the first of three helo mishaps for me, and I'll have to write about it at some point. But if I don't finish this "short introduction" to the following tale I'll never be able to finish and post today's (yesterday's) missive, because this one is for tomorrow! Well, today. Sigh.


They've been saying it at safety stand-downs ever since the Hellenic Naval Air Force stood down following the Icarus crash many years ago.
An early Greek Safety Stand-Down. "Μην χτυπάτε στα άκρα του ουρανού!"

Η επίγνωση της κατάστασης θα σας εξοικονομήσει τον κώλο! ("Maintain Situational Awareness!")

Which means pay attention to what you're doing and what's going on around you. See potential problems early and act appropriately to mitigate or prevent them.


"Fercrissake, get your head out of your ass and pay attention!"


When one is driving a motorized conveyance down the road...

...there are fundamentals operating beneath the surface which are important to understand. The driver has controls which allow him or her to alter velocity and vector, but the physics of inertia is the major player. You're managing energy via four small contact points with the ground, and your only physical management tools do nothing but convert energy from a more concentrated state to a less concentrated state, mostly kinetic energy to heat. There's a physical limit to the manipulations you can successfully employ while maintaining a modicum of control of the vehicle. If you get on the wrong side of the energy conversion curve you hand control of the vehicle over to Messrs. Newton, et al. At that point you're just along for the ride. Which can be, well, interesting.


It's late October in the not so distant past, 2016 I believe. I'm driving south out of Kimball on NE-71, heading out to do morning chores. We've had snow overnight, it's cold and breezy and the snow continues to fall. The roads are generally clear but in the places where drifts tend to form there's packed snow over glaze ice. Before I even leave town I can feel the tires of my trusty chorin' Ranger slipping on what looks to be perfectly dry pavement. So there is, at least in some places, also the delightful wintry joy of so-called black ice. Perfectly normal stuff. I proceed with caution.

As I top the hill south of town I'm only a mile from my turn off on the Airport Road. Visibility is rather variable in blowing snow; I can generally see about a mile but there are momentary periods when the viz drops to perhaps 200 yards. There are several trucks in the oncoming lane, blasting along at 75 mph and billowing great clouds of swirling whiteout. Trucks are a wild card at any time, always in a rush and carrying way too much smack when conditions would dictate otherwise. These trucks are looking stable and I'm not too worried, but I'm also paying close attention.

As I hit the half-mile mark before my turn off, I see a white SUV coming in the rear-view mirror. He seems to smoking along at well over the posted 65 mph speed limit, and billowing his own cloud of tornadic snow. The oncoming truck traffic means he'll have to slow down because he's not gonna be able to pass. But he's really coming hard and therefore carrying relatively more smack than I, and IMO, a great deal more smack than is wise given the present meteorological conditions. Butt who am I to judge?

In the spirit of courtesy and good sportsmanship I snap on my turn signal early and lightly tap my brakes several times -- just enough to flash the brake lights but not enough to brake. I'm giving mister zippy SUV all the warning I can. But he's not slowing down. Speeding up if anything, and he's close enough to really concern me.

The situation goes to shit very quickly. My mind begins to operate at hyper velocity as it snaps instantly into high stress emergency mode, and the net effect is one of time dilating or slowing down. It's always amazed me how quickly I can process information, take in situational input, and work a decision tree when things get frisky. I'm taking in thousands of visual, tactile, and kinesthetic details from a world gone suddenly sharper and more vibrant. I make, alter, and execute decisions dozens of times each second as the fluid situation develops. In the mirror the SUV is close and closing much too fast. If he reacts late and brakes hard he'll roll it up in a ball. I abandon my plan to turn and feed in throttle. I sense that I'll escape being hit unless he's a kamikaze. I'm working hard not to get hit while maintaining control in challenging conditions. I'm hard-wired into each tire contact patch and know exactly what each is doing and how best to manipulate them. At the same time I'm assessing what I'll need to do in the event the SUV crashes, which I sense is by far the most likely outcome. I've got my emergency medical stuff. I'll have to get turned around. I'll have to make myself as flashy and visible as possible given the viz and road conditions. I'll have to call 911 and get help coming. All of these things and more are part of a complex problem which my mind is easily handling even though the inputs are changing by the millisecond. My mind is working so fast that I can even dedicate cycles to the wonder of my processing ability and to the delightful realization that while I haven't faced this kind of thing for thirty years, my abilities of three decades past have snapped instantly into place. It's a rather indescribable feeling. It's very cool, even though I'm worried about the multifaceted peril developing and am burning with pissed-offedness at the asshole driver.

In the mirror I see the asshole's beady little eyes pop wide open as the situation finally becomes unmistakably clear. The driver stomps on the brakes and tries to swerve to miss me. Bad move. Much more spectacular than the following video though.

The SUV skids left, then immediately swaps ends before going completely around. For a moment I think it'll all work out with nothing worse than a trouser-filling. But no. It goes around again, then the tires grab a patch of non-icy asphalt and it rolls in a shower of shattered glass, shiny trim, snow, and ice. I see the side curtain airbags deploy. The vehicle goes over four and a half times and ends up skidding on its roof while slowly rotating. It comes to rest still in the southbound lane, but pointing west instead of south. And of course upside down. Steam billows from the trashed vehicle. Firetruck!

This is the first time in many years that I've been in the position of responding to a serious traumatic mishap. Because I'm a Deplorable from DeplorableLand, I always have a rifle in the vehicle along with a vest containing a unit of fire for the M-4 in magazines and spare mags for the Sig, which nearly always rides comfortably on my hip in an IWB holster.

I can go from zero to full-masacree if a herd of feral antifucktards abandon mommy's basement and come charging over the hill. Most importantly in this situation, attached securely to the back of the vest is a rather extensive paramedic's blowout kit rigged for airway, breathing, and hemorrhage.

Two nasal airways, two endotracheal tubes, Four needle decompression kits, four tourniquets, and a shitload of combat gauze,
Israeli battle dressings,
and Celox.

Because I am a Deplorable, I have the knowledge, training, and equipment to open and maintain airways, manage breathing, and to stop bleeding. I do not want to ever use this stuff. I do not ever want to shoot fucktards. I do not ever want to work as an EMT or Paramedic. That shit is all behind me and it's a young man's game. In my personal calculus though, it's better to be prepared than not. Which proves me to be a Deplorable, in case anyone reading this post missed the Orwellian Newspeak narrative. Yeah, pretty sure it was 2016.

Ahem. Sorry 'bout that.

I'm already slowing and turning around before the mishap vehicle comes to a stop. I go hazards on, high beams on, and pull into the ditch alongside the upside down SUV on the west side of the road. The ditch isn't great, but it's close and the slope isn't too bad, though a couple of inches of snow doesn't help. I'm in the ditch because there's more southbound traffic coming. I want them to see me,  so therefore lights and flashers. My ongoing assessment and lightning calculus trim the decision tree down to only a branch or two. There are almost certainly casualties inside the wrecked SUV. Unless the occupants are obviously deceased or living but with obvious spinal injuries (and possibly even then, depending), I'm going to have to quickly and unceremoniously yank them out and drag them out of the path oncoming traffic. Viz is too low and variable and the road is too slick for braking, as the asshole has already proved. I need to be quick and sure because the potential of getting smashed by a truck or automobile represents an immediate and mortal peril to the occupants and to me.

As I bail out of my pickup I yank out my phone,

which I carry on a lanyard around my neck and stuffed in a shirt pocket, and call 911.

I switch to speaker phone and give the location and ask for police and rescue. I then drop the phone and let it swing from the lanyard. I'm still connected to 911 and if they don't hang up I can give a hands-free report as I proceed.

At first glance I can see a pool of blood forming on the icy road on the driver's side, which is to my left as I approach, and on the oncoming traffic side. I can hear at least two people crying, and they sound like grownups. A southbound truck veers into the northbound lane and blasts on by in a cloud of snow. He was very close and appears to have swerved only in the nick of time. He thunders away without slowing. For the first time in 30 years I taste the acrid flavor of real fear. This whole rescue thing could kill me in the blink of an eye. But I've worked through gut-wrenching fear before, and this is no exception. In far less than a millisecond the observer part of my brain notes my reaction and decision to press on with approval. In some way this centers me and the fear vanishes like a puff of smoke. Showtime. At the moment I see no more traffic, and the growing pool of blood drives me like a whip. I go belly down, shove the deflated side curtain aside and peer in. The cabin is intact and the roof hasn't crushed down. I try to look into the back but all I can see is a jumbled mess of suitcases and bags.The driver is a woman and she's hanging awkwardly in her seat belt. She's got a gaping scalp laceration atop her head just pouring with blood but I can see no signs of bleeding from lower on her body. She's moving her arms and legs, trying to figure out how to get out, and crying with the deep wail of a lost and frightened child. She's ignoring my questions, even shouted "command voice" style. It's a combination of panic and psychogenic shock. Not helpful, but you don't always get helpful. As best I can see there's a man in the passenger seat, also flailing and crying. Purposeful (if poorly directed) movement and crying are a pair of a quick and dirty assessment signs -- these two have not sustained spinal or brain injuries. Probably. I can hear oncoming traffic in the background but I'm disoriented from looking at people hanging upside down in the dim interior of a wrecked car and I can't tell which direction it's coming from. We could get smashed at any moment. I need to drag this woman out right now.

I reach into my left trouser pocket and wrench out my EDC knife in a shower of pocket detritus. Nuts and bolts and washers and a full can of chewing tobacco fly. (Watch the entire video if you have time, this guy is is an interwebz jewel. But the pocket thing is what I wanted to show.)

The high-dollar Gerber has a superbly sharp flick out knife blade and a hardened steel glass breaker on the butt end. Most importantly at the moment it also has a seatbelt cutter, which is basically a deep hook built into the handle with a razor blade in the slot. As I reach for the woman's seat belt the man finally rogers up and reports no other occupants. I tell him to hang tight.😈 I grab the woman's coat by the collar and cut her seatbelt away. She falls like a sack of bleeding human but a properly timed tug on the collar has her sliding out smartly across the icy pavement. I don't pause for even an instant, yanking her bodily down into the ditch and practically flinging her to rest in a seated position against the front right tire of my pickup. My blowout kit is right there in the snow, and in moments I've got a wad of combat gauze pressed down onto the big laceration atop her head. As I do this I'm continuously assessing her condition. Best I can tell she's fine other than the laceration and fright. I grab her hand and put it over the gauze. "Hold this!" She nods jerkily.

The oncoming traffic is another big truck but it's slowing down and already has emergency lights flashing. It looks like he plans to stop right in front of the crashed car and shield it from oncoming traffic. Brilliant!

I dash back to the wreck, dive into the passenger side opening, grab a coat, slash a belt, and begin to drag the man out. He's much heavier and harder to drag, but the truck driver is suddenly there to help. The newly freed man is not bleeding and seems to be settling down. The truck driver leaves him leaning against my pickup and runs back to his rig to get blankets. I do a quick survey of the now empty SUV, just to make sure there's no one else in there. There's not. In the distance I can hear sirens, so help is on the way. I return to the woman who is still holding the combat gauze in place. It seems to be working. I pull out an Israeli battle dressing, press it over the combat gauze, then with a couple of wraps under her chin secure the whole thing in place. The oinkers show up fifteen seconds before the ambulance does.

A few hours later as I'm writing a statement at the cop shop one of the heads of the local constabulary pops in and asks if he can give the very much alive and barely injured couple my contact information.

"Hell no!", I reply.

"They just want to thank you, send you a card or something," he says.

I take a deep breath and think it through. I'm really pissed at them for what seem good and obvious reasons to me. I'm sure they are sincere, but probably only for certain values of sincere. If they or their insurance company decide to sue me, let 'em dig out the info from public records. I'm not gonna make it easy for them. Most importantly for me is the fact that I didn't turn around and help for thanks and I didn't do so for them personally. I didn't want to play Ricky Rescue. I wanted to go do chores and shoot the shit with Mom and Dad and get on with another vanilla day. But I had the training and equipment and therefore the responsibility. I executed, we all lived, that's enough.

"Just tell 'em to do a random act of kindness or some shit," I said. The cop doesn't get it and gives me a strange look. But he's a good guy, and in fact was a carrier sailor another life, working on the grand and lovely flight deck.

"Arright," he says. "Good enough."

"And tell 'em to fercrissakes get their heads out of their asses driving in this kind of shit!"

Also, I lost my wonderful Gerber that day. These days I rock the cheap ones from the rane forets.

Also-also, I didn't get sued. Yet.
*OCD = Old Corpsman Debacles


  1. OMG, I've seen such shenanigans on our nation's highways and byways but never to such an extent. Things have come close at times.

    Gotta have your head on a swivel, if you're not paying attention you're volunteering to die, which I don't plan on doing any time soon.

    Great tale and well done on the Ricky Rescue job, good to know there are folks who are still willing to step up.

    What was that lady thinking? She and her passenger were very lucky.

    1. Playing with the energies of motorized conveyances is incredibly risky. That we can all do it successfully 99.999 percent of the time is a testament to the wonderful abilities of the human animal.

      No idea what she was thinking. Her head wasn't in the game. It happens, and it happens to me, so I shouldn't be judgmental. But of course I always am in the immediate moment. We all mess up, it's how we learn. Before the advent of combat gauze, EMS, and modern medicine it's how Mamma Nature kept the gene pool relatively clean.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Sarge!

  2. Little Sir Echo here again; what Chris wrote, me too.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

  3. Yep, 'excitement' does tend to drive a certain set of reactions... Well done, and that sucks that the knife disappeared...

    1. I secretly believe one of the oinkers pocketed it. Whoops, so much for that secret. Most likely it's deep in the weeds at the bottom of the ditch.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  4. A few years ago I had delivered a hot shot load up Gillette way and was headed back to Denver in a good and proper Wyoming ice storm driving a now empty Ford E-350. Getting on I-25 at Douglass I soon passed a Wyoco snowplow spun out in the center median. That's interesting. Should I return an get a motel room? Nah.

    Make it almost to Horse Creek and a Jeep Liberty with Utah plates passes me going fast. Soon after he exits right and rolls down a steep embankment. I stop. The Jeep has landed on his wheels, his headlights are bright and he is 30' down an icy covered grass hillside. Me, 60+, overweight, with bad knees may get down that slope but not up without assistance.

    Had cell service so made the call and waited nearly thirty minutes until Cheyenne Fire showed up. First time ever I didn't immediately go to someone's aid. It bothers me still, but I know I made the best decision. (The bad decision was not going back to Douglass and getting a room).

  5. You gotta look at all the branches on the decision tree. My potentially fatal flaw is an inability to imagine a world without me in it, so I tend to charge ahead being pretty sure I ain't gonna die. But I've recovered the remains of a lot of guys much better than me who were of the same opinion.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  6. WELL DONE, THAT MAN!! This sort of thing is why even now, 10 years out of LE, there is a lightbar, and SignalMaster on the Back Rack of my truck. If the road gets treacherous, I can slow dow, and turn the world amber. Usually people are smart enough to get the message.

    Alas, there are also work lights, and a Night Probe searchlight up there, too, for when they dont, and I find them in the ditch. I generally leave my sidearm at home, but I always have either my HK duty multitool, or a Gerber EOD multitool, so I have the ability to break glass, and cut belts. Badgers, like Corpsmen, gots to be ready.
    Sometimes the sweetest sound is an approaching Q, isn't it?sou
    I feel like I should get you a Gerber, as a reward for doing a Good Deed! Or an Amber strobe for your Ranger.

    1. Thanks Scott, that's very kind.

      Yes, that is a sweet sound. The way I lose things a gerber would be wasted on me. The nozama ones are like 15 bucks and get here the next day, so they're basically a throw-away. Good enough for cutting my thumb and the VERY rare times I might have to assist at an mva.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  7. Most likely i probably will never be * AS * deplorable as you, although i like to think i am deplorable enough (at least as far as Shrillary “what difference does it make” Von-Pantsuit et-all may be concerned!) As for driving “ H.U.A.” (Head-up-assETS) musta not had much experience driving on ice, and from now on will probably just stay off the road altogether?