Many of you have seen this past week, Frank Podlaha (a.k.a. Frankie) and StreetJelly won first prize in the 2014 Tennessee Veterans Business Association Business-Plan Competition. Folks have been asking about Frank’s service in the U.S. Army and his time as a helicopter crew chief in Operation Desert Storm. Here’s one of his stories…
“No shit, there I was…” All good war stories should start like that. So there I was, or more precisely, there we were: Saudi Arabia, December 1990, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, somewhere in the desert north of Hafar Al Batin, south of the Iraqi border. My buddies and I spent our days maintaining AH-1F Cobra Attack Helicopters. We were crew chiefs, or more accurately, helicopter mechanics and aviation crewmen. We were getting our aircraft ready for the impending ground invasion for Operation Desert Storm. Although at the time, it was known as Operation Desert Shield.
We worked out of the back of a 5-ton Army truck converted into a small tool shop. It was jammed packed in every corner with wrenches, sockets, gauges, you name it. It had everything we needed to work on the helicopters. But the one most important thing it didn’t have: music! That’s ok, though, as we brought along our own portable am/fm radio cassette player. I can’t remember the brand – but think of a smaller one-speaker Emerson type model. It was physically the size of a breakfast cereal box.
We had plenty of C-size batteries to run the mini boom-box, plus we had AC power whenever we stopped rolling and cranked up the generator. Six or seven guys hung out daily in the back of this truck. We all had various musical tastes, but for the most part we all liked the rock classics. At the time, the best pop music could give us was “Ice-Ice Baby.” I know!
After a few weeks of being in-country, we ran through playing all our cassettes ad nauseam. No, there were no radio stations way out in the desert, not even the propaganda station Baghdad Betty. “Play this cassette.” “No, we just heard that, play this.” “No way.” “Don’t even think about putting that junk on.” That’s what our musical decisions were reduced to.
Then it happened, purely out of frustration or musical despair, Mike Carper …or was it Bryan Benz, laid down the musical law and said while holding up the Rolling Stones Hot Rocks tape, “we will only listen to this cassette in this truck until we get back home!” Ooooh-kay. Sounded like absolute silliness to play one tape for the rest of our tour, but what the hey!
And that’s what we did, play that double-sided greatest-hits album over and over again in that truck. And I mean over and over and over and over again. FIVE MONTHS STRAIGHT! At first, it was kind of fun, then a bit annoying. But after a while, it was truly an adventure in insanity to see if we could really pull it off. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months.
We repaired the tape at least five times. Yep, you remember those old cassette players – 1 out of 20 tapes got chewed up inside. Not a problem for us, we were ass-kicking Cobra “snake doctors.” Surely we can repair a cassette tape. And we did with a pair of jewelers screw drivers and a little bit of scotch tape. We spliced that recording back together each time.
We traveled 100s of miles through the desert, perhaps 1000s. We crossed the boarder into Iraq, entered Kuwait from its north, crossed back into Iraq. Many sleepless nights, many long days – but we always had Hot Rocks to listen to. The tape sounded horrible after time. But it didn’t matter, flip it over and let’s listen to it again!
There you have it, we never played another tape in the that truck the entire war. The cassette made it back with us to Germany in 1991. We christened it “The Tape from Hell” and eventually mounted it on a plaque. The team gave it to Mike, our Sergeant, as a gift when he left the Army.
…and yes, I know every word on that dang album. And to this day, I have not listened to Hot Rocks since. ~frankie
“Drum roll please… [brrprrprrprrprr] And now, Ladies and Jellymen, allow me to introduce… The Tape from Hell“