Excuse Me, Your Dog Is On Fire – Burning Man 2012


The highlight of my 2012 Burning Man experiences?
Burning a dog. A five story tall dog. A climable wooden statue of the Egyptian god Anubis.
Anubis is identified variously in mythology as the god of mumification and the afterlife, a protector of the deceased and their tombs, a Lord of the Underworld, and that his black color represents the fertile black soil of the Nile valley symbolizing rebirth.
The last part of the above is, for me, the real tie-in with the theme of Burning Man this year, Fertility 2.0.

From Chief Dan Fox, the lead designer and builder of Anubis:
“Anubis represents both the ephemeral and the eternal, the single moment of a phase change. Through the work, I hope to convey to participants a reflection of what they take and hold from the festival when they depart. Anubis is the companion from this life into the hereafter, and it is with that sense of frailty, nakedness, and solitude that we ultimately carry the message of unity, companionship, and strength we find at Burning Man into the default world.” http://www.anubis2012.com

To me, Anubis represented one thing specifically:
The opportunity to commit an artistic act of arson. The goal of the pyrotechnician is to entertain people with fire in its manifold forms. Anubis 2012 represented a unique medium to a practitioner of the fire arts. A “normal” firework show is pretty routine. Set the mortars, load the shells, light the shells (see the tag cloud on the homepage for previous posts). This job was anything but  normal. It was an enormous work of art, a work that took hundreds of dedicated and skillful hours to complete, a work not finished with the final nail, a work completed only upon its destruction.

Anubis was built to burn.

It takes a special kind of artist to conceive and execute a work that is destined to be consumed by fire. This kind of art has a temporary physical lifetime and then passes into the afterlife of memories where it lives on for eternity. It was a deep honor to be invited by the artists to participate in the destruction of their creation. It is one thing to have someone buy and give you a bunch of fireworks and pyro devices to set and shoot but quite another for an artist to show you to their canvas and be asked to reduce it to ashes.

We, Captain Smashy, Espressodude, Helga, Wally (the Anubis pyro lead), and I among others (Oh yeah! A very pretty gal wearing just boots, a skirt, and a smile, yay!), composed the Arson Crew tasked with burning the dog. We spent the better part of Friday building, loading, and wiring the various pyro devices. Jack, the head of Black Rock FX, delivered the pyro to us, made suggestions, gave direction, and lined out a path of continuity for us. Then he said GO!

The pyro load (approximate from recollection):
30 multi-shot cakes, from 19 to 200-shot, in four different flavors.
10 Mine bags.
40 Whistling cakes.
5 5-second quick whistles.
2 Fountains.
50 Road flares cut into 150 pieces.
100 Gerbes in the form of 2 setpieces.
4 High-intensity illumination flares.
4 Fuel mines (ghost mines).
4 Concussion mortars.
20 Gallons of diesel.
20 Gallons of colored methanol.
6 Marine distress flares.
1 Cord of seasoned eucalyptus.
Nearly a mile of wire, 50 e-matches, and 100 feet of quickmatch.

The sequence of ignition in rough order, again from recollection:

2 200-shot cakes, shooting in a fan pattern. These served as a draw to attract the crowd as well as people who were across the playa waiting for the Burn Wall Street installation to burn. It was cancelled but news is hard to disseminate out there…

The illumination flares, behind shrouds on each of the 4 sides of the dog. VERY bright. They lasted about 1 minute.

The whistling cakes mounted on the chest and back. These lasted more than a minute and gave a unique effect as they shrilled away. A chorus of whistles with standing waves and odd beat frequencies.

The quick whistles blew out of the top of its head in a heavenly direction. I thought they were going to stay put. I like them much better now. I didn’t see these before they were loaded but from the sound you’d think they were the size of your arm…

The methanol buckets. 5 gallon buckets with electrically-ignited marine distress flares in the bottom were lined with trash bags and filled with methanol (wood alcohol). When the flares ignited, the meth bags burned through releasing a cascade of burning fuel through the hole in the side of the bucket where the flare was inserted. The methanol was mixed with various chemicals that gave the otherwise colorless flames some panache. There were several meth cues over the next minute.

The diesel buckets. The eucalyptus wood was palletized in 2 bundles and placed directly beneath the base of the statue. John made demo cuts to direct the flames up through the dog in a chimney effect for a fast burn. These were prepared identically to the meth buckets. When the flares ignited, the diesel bags burned through releasing a cascade of burning fuel down upon the cordwood.

The eyes of the dog had the gerbe (small fountains the size of a fat pencil) setpieces attached to them and lit up on cue making Anubis cast a fiery glare upon the crowd.

The ear fountains started up. I thought they’d be higher up but whatever, they burned and made lotsa sparks. I worked the ground crew, others did the vertical sets.

About now the mine bags started blowing. These were trash bags filled with leftover bits of fuse, stars, comets, small class C devices, and other pyro floor sweepings. Lots of crazy, delicious, dangerous shit wrapped up like tea bags. They were nailed to the exterior and not matched (fused). They depended on the kindness of wayward flames to light ’em up.

The multi-shots came next. These were set up on the four corners of the installation. There were 3 cues: (8) Exotic Mash, (4) Extreme Intensity, and (8) Red Alert (all Cannon Brand). If aerial fireworks are legal where you live, I highly recommend all of these. If they aren’t, go somewhere where they are and bring some home.

The remaining 4 200-shot cakes. The tubes in these cakes are upright in the center of the long axis (rectangular footprint) and spread out fan style from there. Very similar to mortar fan racks but much more rapid in firing. They remind me of the Iraqi anti-aircraft fire over Baghdad during the 1991 ass kicking we gave good ol’ Saddam after he got all touchy feely with Kuwait. These cakes were absolutely spectacular! They’re Lidu brand so it’s no surprise…

Then came the fuel mines and concussion hits.
A fuel mine is a steel tube filled with a liquid fuel, typically gasoline, and uses a sealed black powder charge to expel the fuel and ignite it. It produces an angry orange and black mushroom cloud fireball and can leave a giant black smoke ring afterward if the conditions are right. It makes one helluva whoosh-bang and the radiant heat wave can be felt at surprisingly long distances.
The fuel mines we fired are called ghost mines because we used methanol instead of gasoline. Using methanol and colorants gives the effect of clear, colored fireballs without the thick black smoke. Titanium sponge was added to the black powder charges to insure ignition after expulsion and can be seen as white sparks drifting out of the fireball.
A concussion mortar is a cylindrical steel billet, 3 to 4 inches in diameter and 5 to 7 inches long, with a 1 inch axial hole bored to within an inch of one end. It’s a big, strong steel cup that’s filled with standard 70/30 flash powder and electrically matched. On ignition it sounds like a cannon. They’ll make your bowel growl and your liver quiver.

Finally, all that was left were the chunks of flares nailed to the side of the platform. A few went up before the collapse with the rest igniting in the pile o’ fiery goodness.

The dog was pointed perfectly into the wind. The flames trailed behind it like fur. The eddy behind the blazing canine blended the wind with the extreme thermal turbulence provided by the hellacious blaze and spawned many fire devils. Smoke devils, too.

4 minutes and 25 seconds after the first pyro ignited, Anubis collapsed.

Blah blah blah, on to the pics and video…
One of the better videos I’ve run across is this one:

 

Jake (build crew) and Espressodude (pyro crew) discuss various demo cuts and Armageddon scenarios.

A diesel bucket atop cordwood in the base of Anubis. The flare can be seen through the hole. The wires lead to the firing slat and then on to the firing board.

 

Exotic Mash 19-shot cake.
E-match > quickmatch > OEM visco. Don’t try e-matching directly to visco. Dark skies suck and angry customers suck even harder.

 

Red Alert 25-shot cakes.

 

The product description on the Extreme Intensity 90-shot cakes.
Sounds about right for Burning Man…

 

Some fucko, Foxfur or something, wiring up a cake.
I used to get busted for doing shit like this.
Licenses are handy!
Mine bags are visible in the background.

 

Multiple wire runs. Each run is a separate cue with all devices wired in series for simultaneous ignition.

 

Captain Smashy wiring up another Extreme Intensity crazycake.

 

Chief Dan Fox – Artist, builder, scallywag.
(And lots of bare asses in the background…)

 

A temporary slat to keep the cues separate.

 

 

One corner’s pyro load. This one has an extra 200-shot cake.

The above photo shows 6 of 7 cues:
– 2 19-shots
– 2 25-shots
– 1 90-shot
– 1 200-shot
– 1 200-shot ‘draw’
– 1 fuel mine
– 1 concussion mortar (Not set in place yet)
The 2nd 200-shot cake is one of 2 (the other is on opposing corner) that served as ‘draws’. They were fired 10 minutes prior to the show in order to draw spectators from the Burn Wall Street burn which was supposed to go up at 9:30 PM. The show was scrubbed and Anubis was moved into the slot. On firing the 2 200-shots, people at BWS would see them and say “What’s that? Let’s go over there!”

 

A wide shot showing three corners and the plywood shrouds where the illuminating flares were placed.

 

 

 

The fuel mines and concussion mortars firing.

 

A video I ran across features a gal saying “They sound like guinea pigs!” when the mine bags ignite. Some whistly bits in the bags chirped and shot around on ignition…

A huge thank you to Dan, Jacob, John, and the rest of the Anubis crew, Jack and the Black Rock FX crew, the Anubis perimeter crew, and to the burners who made it all possible. The Anubis burn was THE highlight of my burn this year.
I look forward to the opportunity to burn shit next year and doing my best to Keep Burning Man Potentially Fatal.

I’m trying to trade one of my shirts to Patrick for a free and clear copy of this photo.
I’d really like a clear view behind the watermark, heh…

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Fireworks, Fasteners, and Fabulous Food


This is my busy season. Fireworks shows, fun in the sun, and prepping for Burning Man. Rather than writing the thousands of words that I’d like to, I’ll post a dozen pics instead.

Wheee!

Pyro School: Special FX Fireworks & Mobile Flamethrowers


I attended another pyrotechnics course at the same place as I took my general operator’s courses. The class was focused on proximate fireworks: fireworks designed to be used quite close to audiences and performers in theater, movie, television, concert, and sporting venues.

Flashpots, strobes, comets, crossettes, mines, gerbs, lances, airbursts, etc. Lotsa stuff to choose from. I’ve made and used many of these over the years and had a great time with them. You’d be amazed to see how close you can be to a properly designed and constructed pyrotechnic device…

The special FX pyrotechnics demo set up outside the classroom.

Comets and crossettes.

A concussion mortar. Loaded with an ounce of flash powder and ignited by an electric match, it sounds like a cannon…

Here’s my video of the live fire demonstration given today:

Also demonstrated was a commercial flame projector. Though nothing like the ones that I build, it’s still impressive for the simplicity of the device.

A commercial flame projector (“poofer”).

A view of the projector’s gas orifice and hot surface ignitor.

A video of Ken explaining and demonstrating:

Another highlight at today’s class was my friend Espressodude whom I build stuff with and camp with at Burning man. He has built “The God of Hellfire”, a motorized flame effect platform that traverses a full 360 degrees and elevates from 0 to 90 degrees (horizontal to vertical). With twin “flamethrowers” and an all electric firing system, it is quite possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen anyone build in their garage. He brought the flamethrowers out to my property a few weeks back for testing after the fire department asked him not to do it at his house anymore… Today was the first full system test. He had a custom trailer built to carry the self mobile platform that allows operation without unloading.

GoH in action.

His “Field Artillery Tractor” which is the tow vehicle. He built this during the winter of 2010.

Rear view of GoH.

A video of the God of Hellfire in action today:

I’ll share more on this particular project in weeks to come…

Pyro School: Finale


I’m finally finished with all of my coursework for my Washington state pyrotechnician’s license! The last course, as far as I’m concerned, was the best of all. We spent a bit more than 2 hours setting up and loading racks of mortars and wiring them up for electrical firing. We spent less than 2 minutes firing them…

1 3/4 inch shells with ematches installed.

Electrical firing allows the operator a greater degree of control over the timing of launch of the shells which can give a show a nicely polished appearance. It also makes timing the show to music a bit easier. Lastly, it is quite a bit safer than hand firing shells due to the removal of personnel from the mortar racks.

Ematches are used instead of fusees (road flares) to ignite the fuses of the shells. An ematch is simply a wire bridge, a low resistance, small diameter wire that heats upon applying electrical current. The bridge is at one end of a small gauge pair of wires while the other end has stripped ends that are shunted, twisted, together to reduce the possibility of inadvertent ignition. The bridge is coated with a mixture of flammable compounds that burn insanely hot when given the juice.

A classmate loads a 2 1/2 inch shell into a mortar.

Wiring shells in series for simultaneous firing of three tubes.

More wiring…

More wiring…

Connecting the leads to a firing slat.

The firing slat runs alongside the mortars. This one has 50 individual pairs of connectors allowing 50 cues (single or multiply connected items) to be fired from the board in any desired order.

A full fan rack hooked up and ready to go.

Espressodude doing some wiring…

Espressodude is a good friend of mine and is the one who nudged me into earning my Oregon and Washington licenses. We camp together at Burning Man and build propane flame effects together at home in the Portland area. He is a crew member with Black Rock FX, an awesome group of highly skilled and dedicated pyrotechnicians who coordinate, install, and fire many fireworks and effects displays at Burning Man. They did the Flaming Lotus Girls Tympani Lambada as well as The Trojan Horse shows last year. If everything goes right and I get the nod, I will be on the crew this year in some capacity…

All loaded and ready to go…

20 roman candles quickmatched together.

Smaller candles are typically not used in big shows. Smaller shows like high school games and grand openings and the like will use them quite a bit due to their low cost.

Pepper (middle) was itching to spray somebody with the class A extinguisher.

Pepper is one of almost ten folks at the display company (where we trained / launched at) who have switched from tobacco to personal vaporizers (e-cigarettes).

A 200 point firing board.

The firing board shown here will set you back around $4,000. They’re well made and will stand up to a shitload of abuse (within reason…). Each point, when touched with the stylus, the black test probe, will fire whatever is hooked up to the corresponding point on the slats. The slats connect to the 50-pair connectors at the upper right. The board is powered by the sealed lead-acid 12 volt battery shown atop the board. It is connected to the board by the terminals at the top left corner. To the right of the terminals is a switch that selects between test and fire. In the test position it restricts the outgoing current to a few milliamps in order to check the continuity of each circuit. If the cue is ok, you’ll see a light illuminate as well as hear a tone from the speaker. Although we check each cue before connecting it to the slat terminals, something can always go wrong. Test twice, fire once. There’s no do overs during the show…

Each connector at the lower right corner of the board connects to a 50-pair cable.

A classmate firing his shells.

Shells launching!

Espressodude shooting his load…

The candle racks firing…

My training card sits atop my copy of the show report.

I need four more live shoots, two letters of recommendation, and the passage of a state exam to obtain my Washington state license. Two more live shoots and passing a state exam will net me my Oregon license. Because I love certifications and licenses (locksmith, gunsmith, heavy equipment operator, alarm and security installer, etc.), I’ll probably go for my Idaho license as well.

Fireworks display companies are always looking for people to help on their shows. Think about it. Most folks spend their Fourth of July eating brats (or chasing them) and passively watching fireworks shows. Then there’s us pyros. We’d rather let someone buy tens of thousands of dollars worth of fireworks for us to fondle, er, handle, load, and fire. Unless you’re the lead pyro you won’t be making much. You’ll do well to cover your gas and get a lunch or dinner out of it. Money isn’t the point of it though. The opportunity to work with like minded individuals and the chance to entertain a crowd with the harnessed power of a thousand year old art form, that right there is payment enough for me.

Remember, fireworks aren’t just for the 4th. New Years Eve, Christmas, weddings, parties, funerals, grand openings, and movies are but a few other events that make use of splodey goodness.

Google your area or state for fireworks display companies and give them a call. Most will be glad to train you or tell you where you can obtain training. Most states don’t require licensing to fire shows. Of course, if you don’t have a license, you can’t lead a crew on a shoot. If earning some extra money is one of your goals, get your license, put some time in as a crew member, get to know the operators, build a reputation as a safety conscious and hard working individual, and you’ll be able to lead your own crew.

Pyro School: Finally Blowing Sh*t Up!


I went to the second session of pyro school today. When I signed in, the secretary asked who I was. I said Fox. “Oh! You’re the funny one!” Evidently I made an impression last time…

Today we practiced matching and not the OK Cupid kind. Match, also known as quick match, is an insanely fast burning type of fuse that burns at up to 300 feet per second. It is used to ignite multiple fireworks simultaneously or nearly so. Typically used for finales or large set pieces, it can be spliced and branched almost like wire.

Quick match linking multiple shells in mortars.

Info and diagrams of match and fuse connection methods are here

The segment on matching ended early, about 15 minutes before lunch. Larry, our instructor, was wondering aloud what we should do until then. I waved my hands in the air and yelled “Tell us some stories!” much to the amusement of the class. He gave me that sideways glance of his and said “Okay….”

He proceeded to regale us with tales from his 54 years of professional fireworks experience. Among them were the time he created a mushroom cloud for a show on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation using artillery powder, flash powder, and gallons of gasoline. Another involved Boy Scouts, a bonfire, and flashpowder, and I can’t remember the last one but it sure was great. After finishing, he looks at me and says “Satisfied?” I wanted to say “YAY! Thanks uncle Larry!” but settled for a simple yay instead.

During lunch, I showed a few people pics of the pyrotechnics and flame effects at Burning Man. Drug fueled hippie orgy music festival my hot ass…

After lunch we learned just what a pain in the ass it is to transport fireworks. It was taught by a different instructor that talked like a fucking sailor, salty motherfucker…

Then we got to the good part. The Live Shoot! We were able to shoot a 1.75 inch and a 2.5 inch shell. Because I’m somewhat of a teacher’s pet, I got to shoot 5 or so… I brought my hardhat, which has a nomex hood built in, and a pair of safety glasses, both of which make me look dead sexy as you shall see…

So get this. They call me forward, place a big splodey shell in my hand, and tell me to walk downrange and light it with a road flare. Didn’t have to ask me twice! The folks on the mortar line were friendly and very helpful. They went over the sequence of loading, ignition, and protective posture. Basically, you lower the shell into the tube by the attached match, assume the proper firing stance, remove the fire-retardant match cover from the end of the match, wait for the firing cue, light the sucker up, and lean away with your back to the mortar until it blows the shell into the sky. Y’all know me. I love me some explosions! Standing next to a 2.5 inch shell launching is a hell of a bang that you feel with your whole body. I loved it!

We received certification of participating in a live fire shoot of which I need three to be able to take the state test to acquire my license. I have another live fire next weekend that involves many more shells.

Here’s the obligatory pics…

"But I want to go play over there!"

"Ok Foxfur, that there's the splodey end."

Assuming the proper firing stance, keeping the flare away from the bangy thing.

BLASTOFF! What's that guy behind me doing?

Thinking dirty thoughts about pretty fireworks...

Geeky, nerdy, slutty Foxfur...

The first part in the series: Blowing Sh*t Up For Fun And Profit

Blowing Sh*t Up For Fun And Profit


For those of you who don’t know it, I like fire. All kinds of fire. Flamethrowers, road flares, Bic lighters, candles, fully engulfed oceangoing oil tankers, the sun.

Of all forms of fire, I think I love fireworks the very best. How can such small things contain such massive amounts of fiery goodness? One word. Chemicals. I love chemicals! Ok, back to fireworks. I have had a serious obsession with fireworks since I was a wee lad in short pants. My earliest memory must be from the womb when mom went to a firework show at Griffith park. I remember it like the day…

Last year a friend (who really likes espresso) suggested to me that I earn my pyrotechnician’s license. I thought this was a magnificent idea! He brought it up again last month and I went ahead and registered.

I went to my first class today and I’m going to ace this thing. We spent the day focusing on safety for the crew, crowd, and ground based flammable objects other than flammable people. We were regaled with stories of people who, for one reason or another, were made to pay the stupid tax. Some of them were good enough to pay their own while others made bystanders pay it for them (the slimy bastards!)…

Ok, enough with the words. Y’all know how much little Foxfur loves him some photos, so, let’s get on with it!

Look! It’s a buffet!

A canister shell, triple-break shell, 2 inch through 12 inch round shells, electric matches, salutes (LOUD bangs), mines, and tools.

Whoops!

Mortars are the tubes used to launch the shells and are usually buried up to their necks in the ground or in sand filled boxes. When you hear the “Thump!” and see a dim trail of sparks heading upwards, it’s a shell that came from a mortar. The cylindrical base under the ball is filled with black powder, coarse grains unlike sporting powder, and functions in the mortar tube just like a cannon launching a cannon ball. Most of the time the shell goes up, goes bang, and the crowd goes “Ooh!”, “Ahh!”, or “Wheeeeee!”. In this instance the crowd probably went “WTF???”. The shell burst prematurely in the tube and kind of blew it to hell. I say kind of because that while it is obviously trashed, 95% of the tube is still there though not where it was when manufactured. The tube is made of HDPE which does not shatter or splinter. Instead, it deforms and largely stays intact preventing the nice fireworks man from being perforated and being made terribly unhappy.

A bank of three 5 inch mortar tubes.

The Foxfur shell… Swells until it bursts in a cloud of yay!

12 inch aerial fireworks shellI’m thinking of adopting! A fine example of a 12 inch aerial shell. The pattern (burst) is a bit over 500 feet in diameter.

Oh that silly Foxfur!

The next two classes will involve live firing of shells. After that I’ll be firing a show at a major northwest sporting event and one at a firefighting training facility. I’ll give them some good practice…

I’ve been told that I’ll be given a place on a team of pyrotechnicians at Burning Man 2012 to work on some major fireworks shows this year. This would be a true honor and privilege and would be one of the highlights of my burn. As goofy as I come off, you can bet your last dollar that I’m dead serious about safety, hard work, and attention to detail. If I’m going to put my name to something, I’m gonna do it right.

Updates to come…

Army Days, Part 1


Recently I’ve been thinking about stories from my army days that are pretty entertaining. I have a bunch of them that I’ll share over time. Here’s one that involves both Sweetpea and I (we met each other in the army).

Sweetpea and I served in a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit. Our unit was participating in a combined arms training exercise at Fort Drum, New York. It was as close to combat as it comes with the only element missing being a hostile enemy shooting at you. There were armor, infantry, mechanized infantry, mechanized cavalry, artillery, signal, and close air support assets participating. At any moment of the day you could hear tanks rumbling by, the thukada thukada of helicopters skimming the treetops, tremendously loud and low fighters streaking through the sky, the booms and crumps of mortar and artillery fire, and the crackling of small arms fire from every quarter. Special forces units provided troops acting as ground based infantry opposition forces (OPFOR) to simulate enemy forces who would attack us as well as any other unit, stationary or on the move. Needless to say, it was fun as hell, at least for me…

I was the armorer for the unit. I provided weapons, ammunition, and weapons repair services to the troops in my unit as well as supplying them with rocket flares, smoke grenades, grenade simulators, and trip flares.

Packed with flash powder, these things make M-80’s sound like a fart in a hurricane…

 

Sweetpea was a combat medic. She would deploy in a HMMWV (Humvee) ambulance to assess, treat, and transport casualties back to the unit for medical services as required. She not only participated in simulated missions but also treated field injuries sustained by the troops in the exercise of which there were many. These included 3rd degree burns, broken bones, head trauma, and severed fingers. Training, especially combined arms exercises, produce plenty of real injuries and many are unfortunately unavoidable.

Sweetpea also served as our medical supply officer. As such, she was stationed with my section, unit supply, and was co-located in our area. This was a coed unit that provided separate bunking areas for the male and female soldiers. This policy was not rigidly adhered to. Sweetpea and I had our cots right next to each other in the supply tent (the better to provide manual support services at arm’s length…).

As a squared away supply section member I brought along fluorescent lighting fixtures from my shop, a refrigerator (for the beer that I did not bring, heh), and a TV / VCR combo unit among other comforts. Our tent became the defacto comfort station for visiting officers, observers, and dignitaries who did not enjoy the beer that we did not bring…
 
I also outfitted my weapons carrier with similar furnishings so that when the weapons racks were moved outside it became a posh little apartment, especially with the locking bolt that I installed on the inside of the door.
Sweetpea and I would use the carrier as needed to provide comfort to each other as needed. It quickly earned the title of “The Honeymoon Suite”. Sometimes, as we were performing duties together in the carrier, troops would come by and hit the sides of the truck with the butts of their rifles, jealous motherfuckers. Nothing throws off your rhythm quite like that does…
 
An important and crucial part of my personal gear was obtained in magic shops, joke shops, and firework stands. I brought everything from blackface soap to fish oil candy (butterscotch candy with a fish oil center), whoopie cushions to pull string poppers (a little black powder and duct tape made great tent flap surprise devices), and firecrackers to whistling petes. I dug and camouflaged a gung-ho fighting position (foxhole) behind our tent facing the outer perimeter and strung said perimeter with multiple lines of tripwire flares, flashbangs, and improvised devices. The fighting position even had overhead protection and was so well camouflaged that several times the OPFOR soldiers walked right up and over without noticing it which allowed us to shoot them in the back. Yay for the element of surprise! I dug a recessed shelf in the position to hold fireworks, smoke grenades, spare blank ammunition, and wrist rockets for Sweetpea and I to use against the filthy vermin who made it through our perimeter defenses.
 
One afternoon I heard the tak Tak TAK, TAKA-TAKA-TAKA-TAK! of small arms fire approaching our area. I immediately recognized the signature as being that of AK-47’s, the weapons employed by the slimy OPFOR operators. I informed the others in the tent, grabbed Sgt. Sweetpea by the hand, and bailed out the back of the tent with our weapons in hand. We beat feet out to the fighting position and dove in. Within seconds, the evildoers made it to the tent, stuck their muzzles inside, and dumped their magazines into the tent.
 
 Our supply sergeant, his assistant, and our commander, not believing my warning and remaining inside, were immediately “killed” and were marched to the holding area where they were held for the next few hours. Me and the Sweet One were laughing our asses off which drew two of the pukes to our position whereupon we immediately cut them down. Amateurs…
 
The best moment of the exercise, other than when I nudged over several trees with my truck to make room for our tent, was a nighttime raid. The OPFOR breached our perimeter thus setting off multiple pyrotechnic catastrophes and in the process totally blew their cover. Amongst some of the standard issue devices and methods of perimeter protection were some of my own non-regulation surprises. Included were whistling petes whose fuses had been duct taped over the ends of trip flares, broad and deep cat’s cradles of rope at ankle level, and tripwired soup cans filled with gravel. Right after the seedy bastards thought they’d passed the only regulation sentry devices and thought they could blend back into the night to conceal their positions, they hit our improvised defenses and became bogged down in confusion and chaos. At that time we began showering them with an unconventional fireworks barrage and bewildered the hell out of them.
We fired M-80’s by the dozen at them with our wrist rockets, sent volleys of tennis balls at them with remotely fired homemade mortars, and cut off their vision with smoke bombs and smoke grenades. With their senses totally overloaded by the shitstorm they set off, we started picking them off one by one. By the time we were through we’d knocked out the entire opposing force numbering fifteen. Remember, these were special forces soldiers sent up from Fort Bragg to show our pussy asses a thing or two about combat. Fuck yer day!
The next day, there was an enemy prisoner of war handling class at which we learned, you guessed it, how to handle enemy prisoners of war. Somehow, as it always seemed to happen, I was “volunteered” to be the EPW upon whom the SF soldiers would demonstrate. They picked me up, threw me down on my face, sat on my back, and trussed me up like a wild prairie chicken. They also courteously provided my mouth with gag and duct tape. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” I mumbled through the tape.
They then began searching through my pockets. In my blouse pocket they found a love letter from Sweetpea which they read to the whole unit. Thanks special soldier. As they continued to search they happened upon a bar of blackface soap in my trouser pocket. Yep, another muffled “Fuck!”. My cover had been blown and the mess sergeant (who still had remaining traces of black by his ears and hairline) shouted in indignation that I would be getting nothing but oatmeal for the remaining duration of my time in the field.
 
The pièce de résistance came when the SF soldier withdrew a handful of M-80’s and firecrackers from my cargo pocket.
“Well no shit, this is what must have hit us out on the perimeter last night! Were you on the northeast perimeter?” he said.
“Fuck yeah I was, you damned dirty ape!” I mumbled.
The whole class busted up in hoots and hollers.
The SF guy tossed an M-80 to the colonel. He turned it over in his hands, shook his head smiling, then tossed it back to the soldier saying “I believe that belongs to specialist Fox. Be sure to put em all back where you found em.”
That was a singular moment in my army career and remains one of my proudest accomplishments.
I miss the army…