Course Tales: The man, the owl and the bunny

Mark Conley

Active member
They say that technology and animals don’t mix…

The training course at the camp near San Antonio, Texas, was simply too spread out to have field phones for communication, so much of the message traffic was handled by tactical field radios. One such radios used was the PRC-77. The PRC-77 FM radio, or the “Prick 77” (called that by many who learned to appreciate its grandiose weight and battery consumption) was hated by the students and the faculty alike, as it was often difficult to use, hard to hear from the tiny telephone mike as you walked along, and generally useless in the hill areas where most of your signal was cut off by all the iron ore bearing rock that surrounded you. But, it was available in great quantities (most army units in the area gave us theirs as they upgraded to better equipment) and it could take a lot of abuse from the students, so it was the mainstay of our communications for quite a while.

There was two nights a week that the staff dreaded: these were the Tuesday and Thursday night escape and evasion classes. This was where we deliberately turned 75 people loose, in the dark, with the object that they make it through a 2000-meter long, 500-meter wide valley without being caught by a bunch of bloodthirsty staff members out to collect their scalps. Now the rules of the game said they were to stay in the valley and go towards the red light: how ever, there were always those that though they would skirt the valley and go around the staff, with the result they promptly got lost, resulting in an all night snipe hunt for the missing personnel by the cadre.

To prevent these lost sheep from leaving the playing area, pickets with PRC-77 radios would be stationed at roughly 1000-meter intervals along the roads that bordered it, with the hope that they would be able to detect and report the student to a roving command car before they could get seriously lost. To get the range needed to communicate with all the pickets, the radio user would often connect the 15-foot, section type antennae to the set instead of its usual metal strap model suitable for mobile operations. That antennae had a bungee style cord that ran up the middle of its three-foot sections: by merely flicking it away from your body the cord would magically assemble the antennae. Of course, high winds or storms were a problem, but what the hey, you could at least talk to the base camp on it.

The training area was also a haven for just about every wild creature imaginable: raccoons, skunks, possibly even elephants hid out in that hill country brush. Farmers even were allowed to pay a fee for their cows to graze the land during the non-training time, which added a new dimension to the hazards of land navigation. The thing of it was that this was a large area full of wildlife: interaction with the local population could and often did, have hilarious consequences for the staff and students.

So now that the stage is set…on with the story.

One night, the pickets were in place, the students were turned loose, and the cadre settled down to see if it was a successful class, or an all night hunt for the successfully lost student. About a third of the way through the class time, the main camp got a weak sounding emergency message from one of the pickets, requesting what appeared to be to the listener assistance and aide from an attack. Thinking that a student had finally gone round the bend and had assaulted a cadre, the command vehicle rushed to the pickets last known position.

When the command car got to the site, they were met with the following sight: there was the man, along with a large screech owl, and a Texas long eared bunny rabbit, all entwined with-in the cord and sections of the PRC-77 antennae, all mad as hell, and all struggling to get free of the tangle. The owl seemed to be getting the best of the fight, as the animal’s claws were clearly shredding the mans uniform quickly: the rabbit, entangled in the mans web belt and suspenders, was making progress just as frantically. Thinking quickly, the rescuers grabbed a five gallon thermos of cold water off the vehicle and poured it on the tangle, resulting in three beings stopping the fracas long enough to untangle the owl and let it be off. The rabbit was soon extracted and released, bounding away into the darkness. The man was examined, and treated for cuts and bruises.

Questioning the man, we got the following story. The night being pitch dark, and having nothing really to do, the man had just lit up a cigarette and was scanning the road for an interloper when he heard noises coming from the brush across the road. Thinking it was a student he had went to the radio to make the report when from out of the darkness came the rabbit, followed immediately by the owl. It would seem that the hunter and the hunted were just a little too intent on dinner and dinner avoidance to notice the radio and the man, whom they promptly ran into, with the rabbit coming in low, and the owl high. Since the antenna is just a sectioned device with a bungee cord holding it together, it immediately snapped down and brought the owl and the man together. During the first seconds of the struggle, the bungee cord snapped, and wrapped itself around the owl’s neck and his left arm. The rabbit had run full blast into the PRC-77 main body, and had knocked himself unconscious. The man reported that the more they struggled, the more entangled they become in the cord. He had enough presence of mind to jam one of the broken antennae sections back in the radios post and call out for help before the rabbit woke up and immediately became entangled in the broken cord and web harness of the man as well. It was hand to claw combat from that point on until he was rescued a few minutes later.

We think that the rabbit, trying to avoid the owl, had saw the flash of the cigarette, and ran toward him, hoping to use the local animals wariness of human contact to break the owls concentration and get him off the dinner menu. We don’t think the owl had anything but dinner on his mind and that’s why he didn’t see the olive drab antennae at all in the darkness.

The soldier managed to get a new uniform out of the incident, but he never really was the same after the attack. For the rest of his time at the course, he carried a police Billy club around, especially at night, in hopes of meeting up with the animals again, but he never did.

Score: owl 1, bunny 1, cadre zip! :D
Great Story.. Again!

Are all of your stories from your time in the Air Force? still around. but its hard to find the time to write like i used to. i'll try harder...still have a lot more stories to tell.

I am glad you are still here Mark. You are a brilliant writer and a well educated stud.
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