Episode 28 - Through the sharp air a flaky torrent flies

It's been unbearably cold for the past week. It's hard to describe how cold the Mulberry Ridge has become. For most people extreme cold is temporary. You get out of your car to get to the supermarket or to work. Sure you could walk to get there too. You see, there is always a warm store (of some sort) you could get in if the weather turns intolerable. But when you're in the wilderness, things are a little bit different. The cold lingers. Sergeant Palmer canceled all pond patrols in the last 3 days and we've been confined to our tents. I lost count on how many times I've cleaned my machine gun. If the cold weather wasn't enough, our ration supplies were becoming smaller. Since the snowstorm arrived we haven't received a single pallet of goods. Last time I checked was yesterday and the pantry had only a few items: a few bags of crackers, some MRE wheat bread and a can of Freeze Dried Vegetables. Pretty slim for 6 hungry guys. So last night, after 2 hours trying to contact Mission Control, we received an OK from Major Munsch for an Emergency drop-off. - Coffee! Ask for some coffee as well! - yelled the professor across the camp from his tent. Early this morning while Roy and I were turning off the generators, Captain Schneider came on the radio: "Hotel Pond Patrol, this is Little Bird One, do you copy?". Roy gave me a funny look and asked me: -Do you wanna get that? - as he winked at me. I picked up the receiver. The ear piece was so cold I was afraid it was going to get stuck in my ear. I took a deep breath. I haven't spoken to Jill in a while. I need to be cool, I told myself. - Little Bird One, this is Hotel Pond Patrol, I copy you loud and clear. Go ahead, over.- I responded. The radio went silent for a few seconds. - John? Is that you? - she said surprised. I confirmed. She asked how were we holding up. She had some supplies for us but she was concerned about the wind. - Visibility is almost zero up here. I can't get any closer to the ground. I'm going to circle around and drop the cargo down wind, alright? - said Jillian as the chopper passed above Base Camp. By her coordinates the supply box had touched ground about 3 miles southwest from the pond. - We need to get there fast, before the snow covers the cargo's location! - said the sarge standing right behind me. - Who's coming with along? - he then asked. As much as I hated being out in the cold, I didn't think I could endure another minute inside my tent. I picked up my cross country skis and waited for the sarge to get ready. He decided to get his snowshoes instead. - Private Harvey! You're in charge! - said Sargent Palmer as we left the camp site. We crossed the south end of the pond, the snow was about 2 feet deep in that area. The sarge managed to keep up with me for another mile or so but he started to fall behind. He kept signaling me to go forward anyway. We kept walking. The snow had finally stopped. According to my GPS receiver, the supply box should've been up ahead. We stopped and looked around. The sarge then picked up his binoculars and searched the area. - Bingo! - he said pointing to the small hill in front of us. - There's only one problem, the parachute is still attached and the wind it's dragging the box further way. We need to pick up our pace - he continued . The parachute had become some sort of a sail, its white canvas propelling the box through the snow every time the wind blew. Once we made visual contact with the box, I took off in front of the sarge. With my skis I could go much faster. I finally reached the supply box. I started to fold the 'chute but the wind was pretty strong. I almost got dragged face down on the snow a couple of times. Minutes later the sarge arrived. Seeing me struggle with the parachute, he offered to help by holding the other suspension lines. Once we took care of the flying 'chute we had to open the box. I had brought Ben's crowbar which is always handy for this kind of job. A few cranks around the top and I had the box open. The box was pretty heavy to lift, we planned to unload its contents into our backpacks. We started inspecting the box contents. Lots of MREs, beef stew, coffee and sugar. The sarge showed special interest for a MRE containing Spiced Pound Cake mix. I was surprised to find inside the box an item I had ordered two months ago: an electronic scuba mask with an IDDM System. I haven't seen one of these since "Combat Diver Classes". The IDDM System includes miniature LCDs, transducers, optics electronics, RF data transmission and even embedded software control. - Is this some sort of joke? You're not sending me underwater in this kind of weather, are you sir? - I asked the sarge. He laughed at me and said: - Just be glad you got your fancy mask, Corporal! Now let's get movin'! After retrieving the supplies, the walk back to Base Camp was easy. The sarge and I talked a lot as we made our way back to the camp site. He told me he was thinking about keeping Private Harvey even after Ben's return in a few weeks. He asked me what I thought if our fire team became a squad. - We could sure use the help, sir. - I replied content, mainly because it could be my chance to become a recon team leader for good. But right then, the idea of hot coffee and fresh baked pound cake sounded even better. OoRah!

by Corporal John Harris, March 22, 2006