s an electrical switching technician serving with 4th Force Recon Company (-) in Honolulu, Hawaii, I was a fish out of water. I had been there for a year and a half by the time we finished my second annual training in the Marine Reserves. At this point in my life, I wasn't sure where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, so I jumped at every opportunity for extra training. Directly following our annual training in 1995, the 23rd Marines needed a reconnasaince element to support their annual training exercise in the Kuhuku Mountains in Northern Oahu. The I&I comm chief asked for volunteers to extend their AT for 3 days and support this training, and I enthusiastically agreed.
Our mission was to do a helo insert at a certain spot and traverse the terrain in a big circle (about 15-20 miles) over two days, maintaining effective communications with a PRC 104, PRC 77, and DCT to report anything and everything we saw. Being the junior corporal on this mission, I was the assistant team leader and RTO for our small recon team. Having just come off intensive training on field-expedient antennas, and convinced that they were the best way to make NVIS (Near-Vertical-Incident-Skywave) antennas which would shoot over mountains, I packed myself down with all sorts of wire, tools, as well as extra batteries. There would be no resupply, so we all loaded ourselves with water to last us for the duration. By the time we left, I loaded myself down so much, in fact, I had trouble carrying my pack in front of me; it had to be on my back or I was going to struggle.
After a few false landings, the pilot finally put us down on the LZ, and we hit the ground running -- establishing a security perimeter and personnel accountability immediately upon touch down. I remember the extreme difficulty I had in slinging the alice pack over my shoulder as I exited the bird, but I wasn't about to complain to these hardcore recon bubbas. My job was normally in the rear, staying up all night, maintaining communications with the teams. Recon teams are very tight-knit, so naturally I was an outsider to this group, therefore I had to prove my mettle in the field.
Not long after landing, we made comm with the head honchos via DCT bursts and made a sitrep. Figuring we were too close to the "enemy" when helos started hovering almost directly over our position, the team leader, Cpl. Peel, looked at me with intensity, "Pack up the gear. We're hauling ass." With the help of some of the other team members, I packed up everything as quickly as I could and we started our patrol out to check point #1.
Now, when we planned it all out on the map, we decided to traverse the side of the mountain instead of risking being seen on the skyline. It didn't look too steep at the time, but once we got there, it was a different story. How there were any trees at all was just amazing, because in order to be there they almost had to grow straight out of the side of the mountain. With exception of Cpl. Peel, everyone was having one difficulty or another making it across various obstacles. On one of my glances back, I watched two of our guys slip about 25 feet down because the terrain was so unyielding. I thought I had a system down that would allow me to keep going without slipping. However I was soon to be proven wrong. We got to a spot where the trees just stopped growing. It looked as if a landslide had occurred on just this narrow strip. There was nothing to grab on to. The point man was Cpl Peel, and he had made it fine, but I did not see how he did it. Naturally, I didn't think it would prove to be much of a challenge for me, but my overloaded pack and lack of trees to hold onto forced my foot out from under me, and I went sliding. Again, there was nothing to hold onto, so I just kept sliding down. I looked to my left and right to find something -- ANYTHING -- to grab, and finally I came upon a small root growing out of the ground, and I snatched it, but at the speed I was sliding, I couldn't hang on, and all I managed to do was turn myself around and tear up my hand. Now I could actually see where I was sliding, and there was no stopping until the bottom.
I remember the faint thought of death crossing my mind when I went over a ledge seeing nothing but a large drop onto sharply pointed trees, but as if it extended from nowhere just to catch me, I landed on a very large root growing straight out of the side of the mountain, twisting my ankle in the process. I stayed motionless for a moment, making sure I was okay and trying to make out any noise which would indicate our position had been discovered by a nearby unit, but all I saw and heard was, a few moments later, LCpl. Smith sliding down after me.
"You okay Corporal Miles?"
"Yeah. Let's get out of here."
He looked up and saw the mountain was far too steep to scale without help.
"Um. How exactly do you propose we do THAT?"
So, getting a firm footing and allowing him to climb on me, I pushed him up to the next foothold. Afterwards, he would grab my rifle and pull me up by it. We did that the entire way back up the mountain. When we finally arrived at the top, Cpl. Peel brought everyone together and gave us these words of encouragement:
"No more falling."
And no one did.