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Diarrhea in the cockpit of an attack helicopter
Diarrhea was a common and serious medical condition that afflicted many US troops in Vietnam, in other conflicts and in peace time.
Helicopter pilots and others flying props off mainland airbases got it more often than jet-jockeys, particularly those operating from Thailand or carriers who only picked it up during RnR in-country.
You wouldn’t laugh about it if you had it, and people they served with were more understanding.
What is it like to have diarrhea in the cockpit of an attack helicopter?
AH-64 Apache nighttime deep attack training mission
‘There I was…. (All good aviator stories start like that) I was a relatively new front-seater in A-Model Apaches back in 1998, stationed in Illesheim, Germany. Though one of the newer pilots in the squadron, my back-seater Dave and I had been selected to be the lead aircraft of the lead troop for a nighttime deep attack squadron training mission.
‘Things are very busy leading up to a large training event like this, and I had not had time to eat during all of the last-minute planning and knee-board packet production. Knowing I had about five minutes before the last “tail boom update brief”, I ran across the street to the little shawarma stand that a local Turkish guy ran on our post. I grabbed a hot turkey shawarma and munched on it as I made my way over to my troop commander’s aircraft. Brief complete, we hopped into our Apaches as the sun set.
‘The entire mission consisted of a two-hour loop around Bavaria at about 500 hundred to 1000 feet, filling up at a FARP, proceeding to a release point, and then a nap of the earth (NOE) insertion to an attack by fire position for a simulated attack on the bad guys.
Basketball growing inside an AH-64 Apache gunner guts
‘Things were going pretty well through the first thirty minutes of the flight, and we were hitting our ACPs plus or minus 10 seconds (which is pretty impressive in an old A-Model Apache with a doppler nav system!), when out of nowhere, I started feeling like there was a basketball growing inside my guts! Sharp, stabbing pains in the abdomen told me that something wasn’t right. I told my back-seater that I wasn’t feeling so hot.
‘Dave was a combat medic in his previous Army MOS, and gave me some wise advice. “Don’t let it fester…push that gas out!” Within a minute, I was glad I took his advice and started farting something fierce. The pressure in my guts went away, but the smell in my cockpit was pretty vile.
Pain hits again
‘The mission was progressing pretty well, and were now about an hour and a half into it. About 15 minutes before we were to go into our FARP, the pain hit me again. I only THOUGHT I knew what gas pains were before, but this was excruciating! I broke out in a sweat, my mouth went dry, and I felt clammy all over. Dropping my maps to the floor, all I could do was grab to “go fast” handles up by my head, and begin to pray.
‘I told Dave that this was no regular gas pain and that we needed to consider aborting. He told me to start farting again, but this time I wisely ignored him. Luckily (?), we were on the part of our flight that took us relatively close to our home base. Dave called our troop commander, and told him “Blackjack 6, Gun One needs to RTB due to incapacitated CPG”. “Negative, Lead. Stop fucking around and maintain radio silence!”
‘Dave was not happy to have his decision to abort squashed like that…. “Blackjack 6, Gun One departing flight to the west”. And with that, yanked the aircraft into a descending left turn towards our base!’
Huey NDB approach
‘The cuss words that came at us from our boss would have been funny had I not felt like I was going to barf and crap myself at the same time. I swear that my ass was smelling porcelain, because the closer we got to our base, the worse the cramping became, and the pressure against my sphincter continued to grow exponentially.
‘As Dave was getting ready to contact our tower, we heard a German Huey call in, and request the NDB approach [non-directional beacon approach, a non-precision approach providing lateral guidance only], which was granted. As you can imagine, a Huey flying an NDB approach at night is not a quick event. Dave asked me if I wanted to call in as a medical emergency which would have given us priority, but I said no, knowing that we would then have fire trucks, ambulances, and probably the post newspaper waiting for us on the ramp.
‘So, while I drooled all over myself and prayed to the poop gods, we fell in behind the Huey as he completed his approach. Once the Huey made his low approach and departed, Dave requested to land directly to parking (which I didn’t even know you could do). Approved, he made a beeline for our ramp, and I really thought I was going to make it!
Losing control of bodily functions
‘Unfortunately, the second our wheels hit the ground, I lost all control of my bodily functions….
‘I felt like I was falling through my own ass as I passed what felt like gallons of hot steaming shit right into my flight suit. The smell was the most horrific thing I have ever experienced, and left me in no doubt that some evil demon was inside my intestines, and casting nefarious spells on my rectum. I tried to hold myself up off the seat, but it was no use, and the seat cushion was already becoming squishy.
‘One of our crew chiefs saw us coming into parking way too early, and came running out to our spot. As he approached the aircraft to ask what was going on, I tried waving him away, and Dave was apparently pointing at me, to explain what the problem was.
‘To my horror, he reached up and opened my canopy door. It looked like he had been punched right in the face by Mike Tyson, and he went reeling backwards so fast that he tripped and fell on his ass.
In agony as the AH-64 Apache blades slow down
‘I could only sit there in agony as the blades slowed down, and finally extricated myself from the cockpit. Mind you, the entire time, I am still shitting. I started the long walk towards the hangar (still shitting), and noticed that my flight boots were completely filled with diarrhea, and were now overflowing and I left a trail of little shitty footprints all the way across the apron, through the hangar, and finally into the bathroom.
‘I sat in there, stripped down, and continued to shit for about another 15 minutes, almost non-stop and I had no idea my body even held that much liquid! Not knowing what to do, I just sat there. My trusty pal Dave finally showed up with a t-shirt wrapped around his face to somehow block the smell of death, and asked what he could do for me.
‘Following my instructions, he ran over to his place and returned with a garbage bag for my clothes, some sweats, and an entire box of baby wipes. He then called an ambulance for me, and they took me to the clinic. I received four bags of a saline IV, and stayed in the clinic until the next day with a bad case of food poisoning.’
AH-64 Apache gunner call sign: Muddy
‘I was later presented with the infamous seat cushion as a trophy of shame, and my call sign was “Muddy” for a long time. Despite doing lots of neat things in the following years of my career, going off to combat numerous times, protecting great Americans on the battlefield, and dispatching scores of enemy combatants, I still occasionally meet somebody from our community, and they ask “Hey! Aren’t you that guy that shit himself in an Apache?”’
Photo credit: Scene Camera Operator SGT. Brian Cumper / U.S. Army and Boeing