Well I thought it was funny! Well I thought it was neat!


US Army CH47 helicopters perform yeomen’s service on missions
throughout the barren wastes of the Alaskan interior.


The big Army helicopter churned through the black arctic night, threading through valleys and down riverbeds, picking a route through the snow. An Air Force radar station required some critical widget. National Security was on the line yet again. The pilot resigned himself to missing his third Christmas Eve in a row.

Using night vision goggles, the young Captain scanned the upcoming terrain through ever-intensifying snow showers and grew increasingly morose. They could very likely get weathered in at the radar station. No job was worth this kind of…

“Hey, sir, we’ve got a problem.”

“What is it, Chris?” the pilot asked tensely.

“It looks like a tripped debris screen latch on the combining transmission. It won’t reset, boss.”

The tripped latch could mean one of two things. The latch could be bad, in which case they would all be laughing about this tomorrow. Conversely, if the indicator was operating as advertised, the transmission was coming apart. The young pilot addressed the Warrant Officer in the other seat, “Rus, man, we gotta get on the ground.”

“I know, boss,” he responded. “Find a clearing and I’ll get the call off.”

The Captain spotted a tiny opening in the snow-covered forest below. The clearing was pitifully small, but you have to take what’s offered in the White Mountains of Alaska at night.

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, this is Army copter 90166 on guard. We are executing an precautionary landing in the White Mountains vicinity…” Rus spun the GPS up to present position. “Whiskey Golf niner seven three, four two niner.”

“Do you think anybody heard you?”

“No sir, I don’t. Not out here,” the other pilot responded truthfully.

“I didn’t think so, either.”

The landing was uneventful, with the flight engineer and crew chief ensuring the Chinook’s massive rotor system cleared the trees all the way around.

“Guys, get into your gear, get up top, and pull the debris screen,” the Captain said, looking at them seriously. “You two gentlemen can build one of these machines out of Pez dispensers and band-aids. We’re counting on you to get us out of here. Got it?”

Chris, the Flight Engineer, smiled at the compliment and said, “Roger, on it.”

The Captain asked quietly, “Rus, what’s the OAT?”

He glanced at the outside air temperature gauge and whistled. “It’s minus forty two, boss.”

“This could get serious fast. Take the emergency transponder and your survival radio and find someplace high. See if you can raise an airliner or something. It’s way too cold to bag in the Boeing Hilton. I’m gonna get started on a shelter. We may be here a while.”

The Captain zipped up his parka, grabbed the entrenching tool off of his rucksack, and stepped out into the darkness.

The descending helicopter had cleared much of the snow, leaving a solid waist-high bank piled up against the spruces. He was five minutes into the snowdrift when a voice cut through the darkness.

“Hey, sir,” the sergeant called. “We’ve got the screen pulled. There aren’t any big metal chunks, but without another screen to try we don’t have any way of knowing if the transmission’s eating itself.”

“I don’t suppose we’ve got another screen in there anywhere, do we?” the Captain asked hopefully.

“No, sir, we don’t,” Chris answered. “I’m sorry, boss. I’d build you one if it were possible.”

“I know you would, Chris. Don’t sweat it, man.” The Captain launched into the snowbank like a man possessed, thinking some awfully vile thoughts about Alaska, Boeing engineers and the US Army. He was interrupted by a long howl uncomfortably close by.

“Rus!” he shouted. “Get back to the plane…now. Those are wolves.”


The aurora intensified, casting everything in a strange green glow as the other three crewmembers clambered back into the helicopter. The young officer struggled, but the snow rose to his thighs. The animals were upon him with terrifying speed. The Captain turned and raised his entrenching tool, his sole weapon. His breath caught in his chest as the lead animal, a massive creature with thick flowing fur and fiery eyes, charged out of the woodline.

Before the thundering monsters got close enough for the Captain to swing, the lead beast slid to a stop, as did the seven identical animals behind him. The tremendous sled they were pulling braked as well. The aurora ebbed for a moment and then brightened again, softly illuminating an enormous man as he trudged through the snow to where the young soldier stood helplessly.

“Hey, son,” the big man laughed heartily as he pointed to the upraised e-tool. “You doin’ a little prospecting?”

The newcomer was quite large —about six foot three — and he must have topped three hundred pounds. He wore a heavy sealskin parka over a pair of Carhart coveralls patched with duct tape. The man was 100% Alaskan and exuded a strangely benign air. His eyes glowed just a tiny bit green under the light of the dancing aurora.

The pilot lowered his e-tool sheepishly. “I’m sorry. We thought your dogs were wolves.”

“Well, they are, actually,” the big man returned with a friendly chortle. “But they’re pretty well-behaved.” He reached over and grabbed a handful of fur on the nearest muscular animal and gave it an affectionate shake. “You boys doin’ OK?” he asked, fresh concern in his voice.

“We’ve been better,” the Captain replied honestly. “We’ve got a bad debris screen on the c-box and…” He realized his audience and checked himself. “There’s a problem with the aircraft, and we need a part to get flying again. Until you showed up I thought we would be permanent fixtures.”

“Well, I’m not sure I can offer you a whole lot,” the big man said, now lighting a rough-hewn wooden pipe with a big lifeboat match. The man’s pleasantly weather-beaten face was wreathed with whiskers white with frost. “I doubt you need any food, and your gear is probably better than mine. When I get to Bettles I’ll be happy to call the fort and let them know where you are, though.”

The perplexed pilot thought for a moment. “What are you doing out here anyway? We didn’t see any trails or anything coming in.”

The big man rubbed a mitten across his thick beard, scraping away a liberal quantity of frost. “Oh, right place at the right time, I suppose,” he replied with another chuckle. He puffed his pipe in earnest, clearly savoring the warmth. “I live near here and come through these parts quite a lot. If the weather holds I’ll just make Bettles by morning.”

The Captain couldn’t place it but the strange man seemed almost unnaturally familiar, as though it was his grandfather packed away underneath all those thick clothes. “I know this sounds strange, sir, but I feel that I know you.”

Sometimes you meet some of the most fascinating people
in some of the most unexpected places.


At this the big man laughed mightily, “Lots of folks say that. Don’t exactly know why. No, son, I’ve been up here all my life…wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The aurora brightened again, and the big man took a last pull from his pipe before knocking its residue out in a shower of sparks against the rail on his sled.

“I really am sorry I couldn’t be of any more help,” the man said, pulling a handheld GPS receiver out of a pouch. He glanced at the little machine’s glowing screen and said, “I don’t know how I made it so long up here without one of these. I’d love to chew the fat for a while, but I’m runnin’ a pretty tight schedule.”

Before the Captain could object, the big man was back on his runners and had his dogs, or whatever they were, straining against their harnesses. In what seemed nearly an afterthought, he dug a huge mitten underneath the canvas tarp lashed tightly across his sled and retrieved a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. He tossed the parcel in a lazy arc to the Captain, who caught it clumsily in his own heavy arctic mittens.

“You boys be careful and keep warm, now,” the man cautioned with a serious tone. “It’s a fearsome cold out here tonight.”

He made a strange sound and the team strained as one, forcing the heavy sled into motion. “Merry Christmas, Son,” the big man said, smiling in the green light. “Merry Christmas.”

“Wait…what…” the Captain started, but with surprising speed the man had already disappeared into the spruces.

The confused pilot stood silently for a moment in the snow. When the last sounds of the team had withered into the cold forest he turned around. His crewmates were clearly as perplexed as he.

The Captain had momentarily forgotten about the parcel. He slid one gloved hand out of his mittens and carefully tore the paper away from the package. Holding the little box up so that the faint glow of the aurora illuminated it fully he could just make out the stenciled inscription, “Transmission Debris Screen, Combining, 1 ea, CH-47D Helicopter, Boeing Vertol Inc., Philadelphia, PA.”

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