I’ve learned over the years that Firefighters and Racecar drivers are a superstitious lot… I’ve got a pair of “lucky socks” that I wear on nearly every call..it would gross you out to know more about the socks so this story isn’t about them…… it’s about my “lucky sweats” … In case you don’t know that big bulky gear that you see firefighters wearing on calls is called bunker gear or turnout gear… bunks for short…. But this story begins long before I became a firefighter 12 years ago…. It begins in 1990. I was in the Navy, Stationed at a remote outpost in Northwestern Australia, a joint US and Aussie Naval communications station only about 300 people there 75% American/ 25% Australian Navy http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/exmouth.htm … well as most of you know Old Saddam decided that year to invade his neighbors in Kuwait…. Well I put in what’s called a “request chit” requesting a transfer to the coalition forces, to work in communications vans in “ very Southern Turkey” ..I still have that “chit” around somewhere and I ended up getting an award for it, but again not part of the story… but the Executive Officer “respectfully” denied y request, stating that my services were critical to the mission and the possible war to come doing what I was doing there in BFE…or BFA really…. Well as much as I loved Australia and wanted to stay, I wanted more to serve more directly in the “War” of my generation… so in 1991 when the US really got involved I tried again and was successful!! I’d served my time in what I now consider to be paradise.. it was time to go to hell and being in my 20’s and fit as a fiddle, ( I’d been preparing for SEAL training with a buddy for the past year) I was heading where I thought I could do my best for the world…..I like to think that’s what I was thinking back then, but I was really just full of bravado and testosterone and wanted to stand up for the underdog (Kuwait) and kick some butt…. So off I went for some additional training and then deployment……. Training went great…. I was pumped and ready to go. A buddy and I drove up from our training in San Diego to Naval Station Bremerton, Washington to meet our transport… well crap…what do they say about the best laid plans?? Something happened to our way there…. Well shucks ( remember I was a Sailor so that wasn’t my really choice of words….) …I wanted to go to war… instead we ended up stuck in Bremerton working and assigned temporary duty to do general work around the place..which really translated to hurry up and wait….. I don’t remember how it all went down but we ended up going to Thailand then Guam trying to catch up to our unit… “Stuff happens” , I ended up getting onboard the USS Camden (AOE-2) which was a fast combat support ship.. the only “supply type” ship to go into combat… it carried ammunition, fuel and supplies and was outfitted with sea-sparrow missiles, phalanx (CIWS) defense system etc… and “ I can neither confirm nor deny the presence or absence of nuclear weapons aboard the USS Camden, it is not US Policy to routinely deploy nuclear weapons onboard our ships, aircraft or attack submarines”…..yeah I still remember that word for word…loose lips sink ships dontcha know…. So I’m onboard this mighty vessel of the US Navy. It was built on a Battleships Keel , so the same Keel as say the USS Arizona, or Missouri…the same engines… but weighing less with about half as many sailors onboard to man her. Or primary mission was to provide, in combat, underway replenishment better known to us as unrep and vert rep – vert being vertical, we carried an airborne contingent of helicopters, we delivered things like Jet fuel and weaponry food and supplies to the other ships in our battle group…. Yes we were a floating bomb and nice fat target… Her Nickname was “The Mighty Pachyderm of the Pacific” and when we were not in actual combat ( I remember this blaring so many times during 1991-1994 over the 1MC…General Quarters, General Quarters all hands man you’re your battle stations, up and forward to starboard, down and aft to port, set condition zebra throughout the ship, usually for drill but a few times for real….)….but when we weren’t in combat and we were doing unreps they would play the Henry Mancini song “Baby Elephant Walk ” to the point that you wanted to vomit anytime you ever heard that song…. To this day that song makes me sick lol…. But I still find myself whistling it ..if you’re not familiar with it, take a listen here… http://www.youtube.com/artist/Henry_Mancini?feature=watch_video_title ONLY cool thing about that song is that it was originally made in 1961 for the movie Hatari! With The Duke (John Wayne for you young-uns)….so I was Ok with it… you may be thinking “WOW Mike, you’ve really strayed off track here.. I started reading this story because you lured me in talking about firemen and stuff”….. well I’m getting there ….. so I’ll try and get to the point… I spent 3 years or so serving on that ship… I never did make it to “Southern Turkey” but did have some fun, and sadly we did lose some shipmates, I witnessed a terrible helicopter crash during a Vertrep where 4 of our shipmates were lost at sea, on our way home from the Gulf….we’d made it safely and were near the historic Wake Island, heading for Hawaii for an R&R stop on our way home when it happened….I was on the signal bridge, vertreps never got old… they were exciting.. but on that day in August of ’91 it was a tragic day.. here’s the “official report” On 15 August 1991 Four airmen from Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 11 (HC-11 “Gunbearers”) are missing and presumed dead after their helicopter crashed while resupplying ships in the Pacific Ocean near Wake Island, the Navy announced. The crewmen of the ill-fated CH-46 Sea Knight were identified as Lt. Eric W. Allison, 26, of Coronado; Lt. (j.g.) Kenneth D. Pickens, 24, of Clairemont; Airman William A. Jackson, 20, of San Diego, and Petty Officer 1st Class Johnny L. Caulder Jr., 28, of Spring Valley. The Sea Knight, operating from the fast combat support ship Camden, crashed Wednesday; search efforts were abandoned about 24 hours later, said Lt. Ken Ross, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The cause of the accident, which occurred about 100 miles east of Wake Island, is under investigation, Ross said. Investigators will look at recorded radio transmissions from the helicopter and interview ship crewmen who witnessed the crash. Two ships were close by when the aircraft dropped into the water, he said. Two helicopters were immediately launched for an air search, and the ships in the area launched whaleboats to assist in the search. The missing airmen were members of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 11 at North Island Naval Air Station, said Fred Wilson, a spokesman for the air station. The Camden was deployed to resupply the aircraft carrier Nimitz and its support ships, which were returning to the U.S. from duty in the Persian Gulf.
Shipmates Lt. Eric W. Allison, Lt. (j.g.) Kenneth D. Pickens, Airman William A. Jackson, Petty Officer 1st Class Johnny L. Caulder Jr:
I thank you for your service and for making the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, you are not forgotten and we are forever in your debt.
Back to the story at hand now that you are all sad and stuff… but those guys deserve a “shout out” don’t you think? Well it doesn’t matter what you think, they are forever in my heart and seared into my brain watching that crash, it really was like you hear… time slowed down, seconds seemed like hours I could see their faces as the rotor shattered and went up and the body of the Sea knight went down to the water at that point time sped up and they were gone too soon…. We were coming home from war for crying out loud… that wasn’t supposed to happen.
So that gives you a glimpse into my past…. And gets us to the matter at hand, (one of my) “superstitions” as a Firefighter…. So while onboard the Camden I had a pair of sweats, shirt and pants… the shirt I still have somewhere, not even close to fitting me…. After about 1996 lol…. But the pants, well they are sweat pants, Hanes, Made in America….. .stretchy, elastic, well built…. Some of you have always wondered what Scotsmen wear under their kilts… and also what firefighters wear under their bunks…. Well it’s not the same I’ll tell you that 🙂 on occasion I just have on shorts or boxers depending on the time and type of the call and time of the day/night year….…. But I keep my “USS Camden” Sweats in my bunks at rest and for the vast majority of the calls I go on, I wear them ..especially when it’s a “serious” calls , don’t get me wrong all calls are “serious” but some are more serious than others… it’s those ones that I “need” my Camden Pants for…. So for the last 12 years on the majority of calls I am wearing my USS Camden sweats….that was until last night…..I was at the fire station for an Officer’s meeting….we wrapped it up a little early (always an ominous sign) and was heading home, I walked in the door and the pager goes off…. it’s a “serious” call, very serious…. That golden hour type of trauma call ( where you have 1 hour to get the patient into surgery or they are dead, typically)… a “Camden” pants call for sure! (any my lucky socks too) …so I jump into my Camden pants, they feel a little odd…. But I ignore it and jump in my socks and bunks, out to the jeep ( command car), fire it up, tell dispatch I’m responding on the radio , hit the lights and pull out…. What no siren you say? Just wait a minute…..it’s 9:30 PM ….in a residential area… I wait to hit the siren until I get out closer to the main road..so now we’re on the road and out of the residential school night area……, hit the siren!!! Oops a red stop light….. not any more 🙂 accelerate and watch the kind drivers allow me the right of way…approaching an intersection, change the alert tone on the siren to warn oncoming traffic…settle in for the code run…hmm my pants still feel strange like they are on wrong under my bunks…oh well focus on driving… I arrive on location, weave through the police cars, fire engines, rescue trucks aid cars etc… find a place to park…… tell dispatch I’m there on the radio.. jump out, through on the Red helmet and the bunker coat walk over to the scene……walking feels a little odd…something not right with my britches….oh well got a job to do…focus… I can’t go into details about the call or anything like that but it’s very serious, someone else has already taken command so being an EMT and a Sr. Officer, on this particular call I’m pretty free to do what I feel is needed. I see quickly what that is and I jump on, direct patient care, especially trauma is what I most enjoy about Emergency Medicine…so I’m in there “getting dirty” doing the ABC’s and C-spine immobilization etc….still all the while feeling that something below my waist just isn’t right….but I have a patient to treat………patient gets transferred to the Medic Unit on off to the trauma center……I do my paperwork and yep still have that “awkwardness feeling in my drawers”….I can tell that the waistband of the sweats is down around my thighs…and I can feel the inside of the bunks down my left leg instead of my sweats… hmmm what have I done?? I can’t really undo my bunker pants and “check it out” on scene….. so whatever nothing I can do about it now except be uncomfortable…. So we wrap up the call and turn the scene over to the Cops…. And I head back home…… once home I’m finally able to figure out what the heck I had done “down below”…..so if you can picture this I’m sorry…I had managed to put my left leg through what used to be a “medium” sized hole in the crotch region of the sweats, making the hole much bigger… this also affected the elastic band that finally gave up the ghost after over 20 years…. So the “top” of the pants had fallen down around the top of my thighs…. Thankfully I did have my bunks on or they would have been around my ankles except for the left leg that was punched through……. Thankfully though the “Lucky” Camden Pants served me well for over 20 years and on this call they did their job of seeing the patient through to survival (at least until we handed the patient of, but I’m fairly certain permanent survival and a normal life) but sadly they must now be retired…. What do we do when a lucky charm, or a talisman has passed it’s usefulness? Well I don’t know about y’all but I find a new one 🙂 so now I’m at a decision point as to what my new “lucky” pants are that I stage with my bunker gear…. I have some old Dale Sr. pj pants… but they are for Daytona 500 Day only …I don’t want to use them for more than that, they need to last forever… I have a pair of “jammie” pants that have little leprechauns on them and they remind me of my engagement to my beautiful wife on St. Patty’s Day in 2007, so those seem pretty darn lucky to me…. I think that’s the choice… it makes total sense to me….pants that remind me that I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful wife and family, that I’m married to an amazing woman who makes me a better man…. That can’t be wrong……
It’s sad to say goodbye to my Camden pants, but they aren’t going anywhere….just not going to be “in-service” any longer….I have to figure out what to do with them now…. Maybe cut the logo out and make a flag out of it…..who knows ….but farewell USS Camden pants you’ve been around the world, you’ve see war and peace, you’ve seen fire and ice, blood, sweat and many tears and other much less pleasant bodily fluids ( some of them maybe even mine…..) and made it through relatively unscathed, until your last day of service to me, July 31st, 2012 where my large foot in a rush to get to a call ended your long and illustrious career. Thank you Hanes and the Made in the USA product that served me, and in return both my country and my community for over 20 years.
Hello Lucky Leprechaun Pants! Welcome to the Fire Service! You’re in for quite the ride, let’s see how you stand the heat, you’re made in Indonesia so I don’t expect you to last that long, but maybe your sentimental value will carry you through, only time will tell….
So now you know….. do firefighters wear the same thing as Scotsmen under their gear?…not this one…..