Episode 36 - Worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due

Operating old radio equipment can be quite frustrating. We use our radios on a daily basis, most of the time to check on each other. So when radio transmissions are not clear, the entire mission becomes jeopardized. Our Communications Officer, Roy Uchena, suggested Mission Control to add a series of satellite dishes, networked through the watchtowers across the Valley. With the new system, there will be no obstructions, such as trees to interfere with the signal from an orbiting military satellite to our new satellite dishes. Ideally, with no obstructions, we'll receive a much clearer signal. The central element of our new communication system is a newly developed feed horn. It contains a LNB (low noise blockdown converter). The LNB amplifies the radio signal bouncing off the dish and filters out the noise (radio signals not carrying actual transmissions). The LNB then passes the amplified, filtered signal to the our wireless radio receivers. Expensive, but brilliant. With about 10 new dishes to be installed on every watchtower in the Valley, we've been busy since Monday. We split up in two groups. Driving the Jeep, Ben, Dr. Johnson and I were assigned to carry and install all the dishes. On foot, Roy and Sgt. Palmer were checking the radio links, tower by tower, right behind us. Professor Evgeny and Private Harvey got stuck with patrolling the pond. It was about 1600 hours when my group arrived to the last checkpoint this afternoon. The last watchtower towards the south sat on a prairie, a treeless grassland at the border of Beacon Hill State Park. I got out of the car and picked up the last dish out of the back seat. An old Browning m2 .50 caliber machine gun still set inside the tower. Ben climbed up the ladder. The ammunition belt had corroded inside the feed tray. - It's no good! - Ben yelled from the tower top. I suggested we took down the useless gun and took it to base camp for spare parts. With a little struggle Ben managed to lift the 44lb machine gun and set it by the manual tow hook. - Alright! Now drop it slowly. If a gun kills me it better be a shooting one, I don't wanna be killed by a gun falling from the sky! - I jokingly said. Ben laughed. He started to lower the tow cable. With the feeding tray still loaded we couldn't take a chance. So we took our time lowering the machine gun. - Got it! I yelled while securing my hands around the gun's hydraulic buffers. Since the satellite dish is a very sensitive and expensive piece of equipment, Ben came down the ladder and took the dish out of my hands. - If we break this last one, all the other dishes will be useless. - Ben said, quoting Roy's words from earlier this week. Ben secure the dish in place and gave me the OK signal. - Alright, let's see if it works. - I said while putting my headphones on. I tried to contact Sgt. Palmer and Roy with no success. - Everything looks good from up here. I don't know what the problem could be! - yelled Ben. While Dr. Johnson stayed by the Jeep with his shotgun, I climbed up to the top of the tower. - Ok, Ben! Try it now - I said while tapping the parabolic shell. - This is PondPatrol Hotel, we have radio detection and we're ranging, do you copy, over... - said Ben through his radio. Right away, we got Roy's reply - PondPatrol Hotel, this is PondPatrol Alpha 7, copy loud and clear! We're on a roll! Please follow your SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). I'll see you in a bit. Over and out. The transmission was crisp as a snow flake. Perfect. I took my headphones off and climbed down the ladder. - Are we good? - asked Dr. Johnson. - Yep! Let's just wait for the sarge and Roy to get here. But just when I thought things were fine, Dr. Johnson spotted a rash on Ben's neck. - What's that? - asked the Doc. Caught by surprise, Ben stuttered. Turning his back around, he put his left hand on his neck and said - It must've been the ammunition belt...uh... rubbing against my neck...- It was obvious that Ben's back was getting worse. The scabs were growing out of his shirt and it was just a matter of time till the others found out about them. - Let me see that again. - said Dr. Johnson. Ben's eyes grew wider. He then pointed to the Doctor's feet. - Don't move! - Ben said. I thought Ben was freaking out about getting his scabs discovered, but then I looked down and saw the real problem. A venomous Montpellier Rattlesnake was about to strike Dr. Johnson's leg. With amazing reflexes, Ben grabbed his M-1 and took a single shot at the snake. Dr. Johnson stood motionless with panic in his eyes while blood from dead snake dripped from his legs and socks. - Is everyone ok? We heard a gun shot - said Sgt. Palmer arriving at the scene almost out of breath. He looked at the snake, padded Dr. Johnson in the back and laughed. Luckily for Ben, Dr. Johnson forgot all about the rash on Ben's neck. During the drive back to Base Camp, Ben whispered in my ear - What am I going to do John? I don't know my dear friend. I just don't know.

by Corporal John Harris, May 25, 2006