Captain Bill Rimes
Captain Bill Rimes is a fictional character. His exploits are chronicled on the weekly writing prompts at writersdigest.com. This week’s submission is an expanded story from a prompt that appeared March 20, 2012 titled “Save the Day”.
Save the Day
21 June 2002 Afghanistan
Two Army officers jumped out of their Humvee and waded into the commotion. The large aircraft with four propellers dwarfed the surrounding fire trucks, ambulances, and other miscellaneous trucks. The veteran commandos were looking for one specific individual, the pilot. They found him sitting in the back with his flight suit unzipped to his waist. His head was covered with an ice towel while a paramedic took his blood pressure.
“Are you the pilot?” The Army Special Forces Major asked.
“Yes.” The Captain weekly spoke.
“I am Major Douglas. Come with us.” The Major issued an order the Captain could not refuse. The Captain stood and pulled up his sweat soaked flight suit. Making his way out of the aircraft he hugged each of his crew members. A tall blond Lieutenant, smoothed over the dark wet hair for the Captain, adjusted his collar and told him he was beautiful. The three men rode in silence while the Humvee bounced on the road during the 12 minute trek to an oversized army tent. Inside, the cool air was instantly refreshing but did nothing to change his mood. News traveled quickly as everyone stood to honor the pilot when he passed through each room in the tent. The boots made a deep thud as the three men walked on the wood floors. The Captain lost count of the number of rooms they passed as he was led deeper into the complex. Arriving at a metal door with a large red sign that read RESTRICTED ACCESS. The Major paused and told the Captain to report in before he sat down.
The Major keyed in the code and opened the door exposing an oversized room containing radios, maps computer terminals and video monitors. In the center of the room was a large metal table. The table was surrounded by six men and there were three additional metal chairs. Major Douglas pointed to the chair the Captain was expected to sit. The Captain faced an Army General who wore the distinctive Ranger Tab.
“Captain Bill Rimes reports as ordered.” He saluted as he stood at attention.
“Unit of assignment and MOS.” The General commanded.
“355th EAS at Al Udied. Back home I am a C-130 Instructor Pilot for the West Virginia Air Guard.”
The General returned the salute. “Take your seat Captain.”
The Captain wiped sweat from his brow as he looked around the table and realized the pseudo-joke was true. He was at a table where everyone had water except him, he was officially in trouble.
“We will be recording everything so take us through it from the beginning.”
“We started off 7 hours ago on a typical air medal mission…”
“What is a typical air medal mission?” The General interrupted.
“That is an informal name for a shuttle mission. We call it an air medal mission because we move Bagram air to Jalabad, Jalabad air to Shindand and so on. Normally we fly an empty airplane around with scheduled departure times. Today, the first leg was to Kandahar. We sat on the ground for 2 hours waiting on three pallets to show up. But there were no pallets so we took off as scheduled for Masri-Sharif and 30 minutes later we got the call…”
“What was your altitude, heading and airspeed?” A British Officer asked.
“23,000 feet, heading 325 and 300 knots true. I was asleep with my headset off when I…”
“You were sleeping?” The General demanded.
“Yes sir. We fly 22 hour days followed by 12 hours off and do it again. We have been at this pace for two months. We started a sleep schedule; the Navigator and I sleep on a leg and the co-pilot and the Flight Engineer sleep on the next leg. Truthfully sir I am dog tired, but there is a job to do so we do it.” The three other pilots in the room all nodded in agreement.
Captain Rimes continued. “My co-pilot woke me up and motioned for me to put on my headset. On the emergency frequency I heard a request for assistance by a Lima Three Seven.”
“Were they on UHF or VHF?” The British Officer interrupted again. The Captain rubbed his temples in a vain attempt to suppress the headache that was ravaging him. This was going to be a long debrief if they continued to interrupt him. He focused solely on the events so he could have the facts straight before he spoke.
“What do you think Billy?” The tall lanky wild eyed First Lieutenant from Hamlin West Virginia asked. Born as Joseph Jody Yeager but known as JoJo from birth, he was a distant relative of aviation legend Chuck Yeager. His only fear in life was of being a failure. Although young and green the gift of flight ran in the family.
Bill turned to Senior Master Sergeant Rick Locker, his best friend and right hand man. “Rick, wake everybody up.” The 6 foot 6 former star of the Marshall University football team paused before he left. “Want me to break out the body armor?” Bill nodded yes and Rick hopped out of his seat rustling the Navigator out of the bunk before he went into the cargo area to wake the Loadmaster.
Ten seconds later, Rick was back in his seat while Harry the Navigator and Tracy the Loadmaster were groggy but ready. “Boys, we got an emergency call from someone on the ground. Harry, grab the book of knowledge and be ready to take notes. Tracy start rigging for a medevac. JoJo, you have the airplane and I have the radios. ”
Bill twisted the radio selector and spoke. “Lima Three Seven, this is Indigo One Four, go ahead.”
“I am a 8 man fire team in heavy contact. Requesting immediate air support. My GPS is buggered up, we are in the southwest corner of grid Niner Fife.” Bill recognized the British accent and the perfectly pronounced numeric identifiers as 95.
“Lima Three Seven, I am searching for your location now. I am a Charlie 130 and will relay with the proper facilities. I will call you back.”
“Roger.” Automatic weapons fire and yelling were heard in the background.
Bill turned to the Navigator. “Harry, do you have that chart?”
“No, we don’t have any ground grids. Here is a communication card.”
Bill took the card and turned to JoJo. “Slow to maximum endurance and start to orbit. I don’t want to fly out of radio range.” JoJo did exactly as ordered.
Bill found the frequency for the Airborne Warning and Control System better known as AWACS, its call sign was just as ominous. “Deathstar, this is Indigo 14.”
“Go for Deathstar.” The perky female voice answered immediately.
“I have radio contact with a Lima 37. I believe they are a British ground unit in heavy contact and requesting immediate air support. Unable to provide GPS coordinates they are in the southwest corner of grid nine, five. Request a vector to their location to take position as on scene command. We are squawking 2753, executing a left hand orbit at Flight Level 230.”
“Stand-by.” She calmly replied. Bill fidgeted in his seat for half a minute before she returned to the frequency. “Indigo 14, you are cleared as requested. I show the location of Lima 37 on a 135 heading and 43 DME from your current location.” As she spoke, Bill felt the C-130 bank hard as JoJo pushed the power up to accelerate. Deathstar continued. “I am lining up assets as we speak, however you will need visual confirmation before I can release the assets to your control.”
“Indigo 14 copy. Time Over Target is 7 minutes.” Bill relayed the information to Lima 37 and everyone waited.
Nine minutes later
The C-130 descended to 14,000 feet so they could get a better look at the battle on the ground. Harry plotted the GPS position and relayed it to Deathstar. Bill was taking frantic notes on his forearm. He had three sets of fighters at his disposal. The first to arrive was Smasher 01, a flight of 2 F-16s. Lima 37 was caught in a classic ambush with a force of 100 Taliban raining fire on them from the west. The British and the Taliban were only 1200 feet apart and separated by a poorly engineered two lane road. The Brits were pinned down by the Taliban fire. They had their backs were to the wall, literally. Behind them was a 200 foot tall ridge. Normally they could easily scale it, but under these conditions it was not an option. To the north and south, two separate groups of Taliban fighters maneuvered to flanking positions. From his seat, Bill could see the entire battle.
Orienting Smasher 01 to the terrain; the fighter pilots each dropped six 500 pound laser guided bombs on the small groups flanking to the north and south. Those threats were destroyed but also expended the ordinance of the Smasher flight. The twin F-16s formed up on the wing of the C-130.
The next flight was another pair of F-16s better known as Badger 01. Unlike Smasher 01 they dropped their load of bombs onto the main body of the Taliban but with minimal effect. JoJo summed it up best, describing the Taliban dug in like a Hatfield defending the moonshine. Out of bombs, Badger 01 joined the Smasher flight on the C-130’s right wing. Bill felt like a mother chicken who was leading her chicks.
“Lima 37, say your status.” Bill asked the men on the ground.
“We are in a bad way, Mate. I have eight wounded, one severely. We need an immediate airlift if he is to live.” Bill told them to standby as he relayed the information to Deathstar.
“Indigo 14, I have a four ship flight of A-10s call sign Anvil 01 arriving any moment. In 25 minutes, there will be an air tanker and a B-52 bomber overhead your location. Lima 37 is within the blast radius of the B-52, they will need to move to a new location before he will drop. Additionally, I have Combat Search and Rescue assets holding on the ground until the situation improves or nightfall. Estimate time to rescue 6 to 12 hours.” Her voice dropped as she relayed the information. She knew they would not survive the next 6 hours.
Bill’s head dropped. “Lima 37, rescue is 6 to 12 hours out.”
The pause was heartbreaking. “Roger.”
Bill looked out the left window and saw the twin F-16s riding his wing. He felt ashamed because of the fear rising in his belly. He knew this was one of those moments in life that defined a man. This was his time to rise or to shrink. Either way, his life would be forever changed because of his decision. “Smasher 01, say time to Bingo fuel.”
“Badger 01, what is your fuel status?”
“Smasher, can you cut into your Bingo fuel?”
“Yes, if I have a good reason.”
“Standby.” Bill turned to look at Rick who nodded a solemn yes. JoJo smiled and started to reach into his bag to don his flak vest. Harry gave a thumb up and Tracy simply yelled out, “Hell Yes, Boss!”
“Lima 37, how long would it take you to make that road?”
“10 minutes, with covering fire.”
“Get ready to move, I have a taxi on the way.”
“Smasher and Badger Flights. Prepare for Close Air Support. Expect us on the deck 5 minutes. We will approach from the north. Smasher 01, you have the lead.”
“Roger.” Smasher replied as Bill looked at his crew and saw that he was the only one not dressed for the occasion. Bill quickly donned his flak vest, flight helmet and fire retardant gloves.
Tracy broke out the 9mm pistols and gave each man a weapon and extra 15 round clip. “Boys don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.” Tracy quipped.
“The effective range of an AK-47 is a 1000 feet, the effective range of the 9 is only 50 feet. If you start shooting, they will be mad so remember to save one for yourself.” JoJo added.
Harry swallowed hard. A moment earlier he was full of piss and vinegar. Now he just felt like pissing himself. His feelings mirrored the rest of the crew. “Bill I have the navigation system set up for a 5 mile final. You will see a hill 4 miles out. You can use that to hide the approach. The hill is 250 feet higher than the landing zone.”
Bill’s mind calculated the combination of descent rate, distance required to slow down and to configure the aircraft for landing, the stopping distance and the distance remaining on the road so they could take off again. “Expect a random shallow approach, maximum effort landing. No rejects on the ground. On the takeoff roll, if there is a problem we will take it airborne. Rick if she won’t fly then we will drive out of the engagement zone. We go until old girl quits or we find a good place to take cover. Either way we get clear so the Buff can blow up the bad guys. Tracy, you are clear to open the door as soon as we are on the deck. Harry, watch the back and give us a running description of what is going on. JoJo, if I buy it, you are the Boss. If we both buy it, Rick do what you think is best.”
“Smasher 01, are you ready?”
“Affirm. I have the Anvil flight in position, fully armed and pissed off for being late. We got your back.” The lead F-16 dropped down for his first gun pass. Together the eight fighter aircraft would constantly remain overhead the Taliban positions strafing with their 20mm cannons. Each aircraft could make 15 attacking runs before running out of ammunition.
“Lima 37, are you ready to walk?” Bill asked the guys on the ground.
“Your taxi is 10 minutes out. Pop smoke when you see us.”
Bill took the airplane from JoJo and winged over in a 60 degree bank filling the windscreen with tan uneven terrain. Bill held the nose down so the C-130 could accelerate to its maximum speed. Passing 350 knots the wind noise grew from a low rumble to a high pitch whistle. The helmets were unable to dampen the sound.
The ground quickly rose to meet them. Bill leveled off at 100 feet with the engines running full power. Following the navigation system, Bill watched the mileage countdown to zero. At zero, the course marker rotated 25 degrees left and the mileage started a new count down from 5 to zero. Bill could not see the road, his only marker was a hill 4 miles in front of him. Trusting Harry, he pulled the power to idle. JoJo silenced the gear warning horn. As the wind noise died off they heard a different sound. The distinctive burp from the cannon of the A-10 as it zoomed past the wing tip of the C-130. Firing two rockets, the explosions sent showers of rocks and body parts into the air.
Passing over the hill at 45 feet, Bill finally saw the road. It was narrower than he expected giving the illusion he was too high. A tiny two lane road, he prayed that the landing gear would squeeze onto the pavement. He held the nose up to continue to bleed off the airspeed. JoJo began to milk the flaps down as the speed decreased. Passing 200 knots, Bill commanded gear down. Succumbing to the feeling that he was too high and too fast, he ordered the flaps to be lowered to 100 percent. He knew he was over speeding the gear and flaps but he felt sure this would be the least of his worries, especially if he landed long and bypassed the troops on the ground.
The next F-16 flew by with its guns blazing. The throaty rumble of the F-16 overwhelmed the dull hum of the C-130. Bill saw the green smoke start to bellow next to the road. In a combat spread, the men limped over the rocky soil. Bill focused on the landing zone as the first bullet pinged off the wing. JoJo realized why Bill chose to land from the North. Bill put the Taliban on his side of the aircraft so his side would receive the brunt of the fire while JoJo was relatively protected.
The plane touched down exactly in the center of the road. Immediately Bill pulled all four throttles into the reverse position while the crew felt the air pressure change as the rear cargo door opened. Bill never noticed as he was intensely concentrating on keeping the airplane centered on the road and stop in front of the warriors.
“Bill we are making tracks.” Tracy yelled. Bill realized that the 130,000 pound aircraft was sinking into the soft pavement.
“Before we can leave, I need to back up 50 feet to get a running start at the grooves.” Tracy acknowledged with a double click on the intercom.
Because of the drag created by the sinking of the plane into the road, Bill quickly found that he needed to add power before stopping in front of the men. The random plinks soon sounded like a torrent of rain hitting a metal roof. JoJo reset the flaps and trim to take-off position.
Harry started his running commentary. “Tracy is out. Here they come. They look rough. OVER THERE! That was close. I think we are a bullet magnet. Two more to go. Okay, got them. Ramp is coming up. Thumb up. Start backing up!”
Tracy took over for Harry. “ALL CLEAR, STRAIGHT BACK! He yelled those words over the noise of the engines while Bill threw all four engines into full reverse. The normally slow coordinated process seemed to drag on as the airplane continued to sink into the soft pavement. Bill was concerned that this and not the Taliban would be the death of them all. Finally he saw the grooves in the front window.
“What do you think Rick?”
“Give it hell, Boss!” Immediately Bill threw the throttles forward to take-off power. He tried to steer around the berm of asphalt but there was no way to avoid it. The C-130 bounced hard and his first thought was the nose gear had collapsed. The rumble from the next F-16 momentarily over rode the rain of plinks as the C-130 started to accelerate. Bill focused on keeping the oversized airplane in the middle of the road while calculating the acceleration rate. To his horror, he estimated they needed 5 miles to reach a safe take-off speed.
“JoJo put the flaps to 70 degrees and hold the yoke in your lap.” JoJo followed his command but looked at Bill for more explanation. “Old Vietnam trick. 70 degrees flaps, yoke full back and she will fly at 70 knots. I have the nose wheel steering and the throttles. You hold the yoke, when she starts to fly, be easy and don’t push over. Let her climb 20 or so feet and I will take it. We will be way below Minimum control airspeed, so if number 1 quits, I will pull number 4 back before she rolls over, you hold what you got.” Like JoJo’s Uncle, Bill was now a test pilot. Finally, the nose of the C-130 tilted upwards and the main wheels followed. Passing 20 feet Bill took the airplane and called for the gear up.
At 77 knots and 27 feet, Bill felt Rick’s hand on his shoulder. In the calmest voice possible, Rick spoke. “Number 1 is has lost oil pressure. Bill, keep the wings level. JoJo be ready to pull number 4 back. I have started an emergency dump of fuel. Harry turn off the missile warning system so the flares don’t ignite the fuel vapor. Tracy, get those guys ready to crash land.”
Everyone held their breath as the mighty C-130 slowly accelerated. After 17 minutes hanging on the props through the hills and valleys of the high desert plains, Bill was finally able to start a climb from 100 feet.
Climbing away from the terrain, Harry finally spoke. “Billy, Smasher 01 is talking to you.”
Drenched in sweat, Bill’s trembling fingers turned up the volume. “…You have four A-10s on your wing to escort you to Bagram. Badger flight and I will meet you on the deck. Can’t wait to shake your hand. Smasher 01 out!” Bill looked out the window and returned the salute from the man sitting 20 feet away.
49 minutes later
Bill lined up on runway 03. Emergency vehicles were waiting for their arrival on the left side of the runway. Bill sat the airplane down gently and slowed the C-130 before pulling off the runway. Once clear, he shut down the engines on the taxi way. The four A-10s did a low pass over the airplane as a salute to the men on board.
Silence greeted the men for once as emotion gripped their souls. Bill threw his head back and stared at the ceiling. For the first time he saw the quarter sized hole over his head. Looking back, he saw Rick locked in a similar thousand yard stare. Taping his knee they shook hands like warriors would.
JoJo, smiled at Bill. “We lived, do you believe that?”
“Honestly, I don’t.”
“I am going to call you Chicken Bill because you make my Uncle look like a chicken.” JoJo laughed only because it kept him from crying.
Bill walked to the back hoping to meet the Brits. The Tracy and Harry were standing with a heavily bandaged British soldier. “Are you the Flight Commander?”
“Yes, Captain Bill Rimes.” Bill extended his hand.
“Staff Sargent Gordon Winchester. Please call me Sally. On behalf of my men, thank you sir. Brilliant demonstration of flying. After your debrief, we would like to invite you and the other Yanks to the pub to enjoy one on us.”
“Thanks Sally. Did everyone make it?” Bill cautiously asked.
“Yes, thanks to you and your men.” The paramedics assisted Sally to the ambulance.
The moment finally hit and Bill’s world started to spin. Tracy guided him to a seat while Harry grabbed a paramedic to treat Bill for heat exhaustion…
The General sat in stunned silence, slowly digesting the story. Before he could speak, he was interrupted by an Air Force Colonel. “General, I have the damage report. All four engines will need to be replaced along with number 1 and 2 prop. The hydraulic system is destroyed; there are 68 holes in the fuel tank. The wings are Swiss cheese, the nose gear strut is cracked and both main landing gear are twisted, the radar is destroyed in addition to approximately 300 bullet holes in the fuselage. I estimate over 1 million dollars in damage.”
Bill felt the anger welling up inside him. “I over sped the flaps, add that to your list of things to fix.”
The bald Colonel’s head turned red. “I don’t need….”
The General cut him off quickly. “Captain, since you do not dispute the extent of the damage to your aircraft, expect a Letter of Reprimand. Colonel, you are dismissed.” The Colonel glared at Bill before he left the room.
“After I give that letter to you, I am going to pin a big medal on your chest.” Standing he extended his hand. “You have earned my eternal admiration. This investigation is officially closed and I think it is time to join your crew and to have a pint with the Brits. With your permission, I would like to join you.”
Each man stood with a hand extended to introduce themselves. The first simply said. “I’m Smasher 01…”