Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hiveway to the danger zone

The semi was hauling the insects from California to North Dakota on Sunday when it went off the road near Island Park. Some 400 hive boxes spilled out, according to The Associated Press. Responders sprayed fire foam on the bees, but a noisy swarm described by witnesses as a giant black cloud rose up from the site.
That's terrifying to me. I hate bees, and do everything and anything to avoid them. I've seen a black cloud of bees like that beefore, and I figure it would make for an interesting but true story:

I was fresh out of my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) school and I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. My first week in the fleet, I was considered a "boot" (right out of bootcamp) "FNG" (Fucking New Guy), and as such was assigned to do menial work that nobody wants to do. My task was to join a huge working party of a hundred or so other boot Marines, as well as some NCOs who had done something to get themselves unwanted attention, in the cleanup of an impact area -- a range out in the middle of nowhere used for dropping and firing explosive ordnance.

This vast wasteland of desert was littered with fragmentation from the stuff that blew up like it was supposed to, as well as unexploded ordnance as far as the eye could see. We got a safety brief detailing that we were only to handle and dispose of "blue" (training) ordnance, and to otherwise leave the various bombs, missiles, rockets, and grenades lying around alone. . . . .and to watch our step. The big splodey items were to be directed to the attention of EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) for a C4 shampoo.

We wandered around miles of open desert that had long been the playground for pilots, mortarmen, artilleryman, and assaulters who had blown up tanks, jeeps, and such since the base was established in 1942. There were piles of chewed up dumpsters that Cobra pilots had ventilated with 20mm rounds from there frickin' awesome cannon; six-foot tall stacks of unused mortar rounds; unexploded rockets stuck in the dirt around old cars; we even found a missile sticking up in the middle of a stack of jeeps the size of a small house.

Inside many of these vehicles and hulls were large hives of Africanized honey bees, and there was a two man crew of bee-fighting folks in a Toyota Tacoma who were tasked with calming those suckers down when they got stirred up. I was more scared of the bees than I was from anything else, and Marines were getting stung left and right.

The first couple of days of cleanup were terrifying, as there was so much unexploded ordnance around that we were all trying not to trip over it. It was literally everywhere you took a step. EOD was busy blowing up stacks of mortars and missiles and such, which made for cool entertainment, and by the third day we were all in good spirits, and had become very cavalier about all the dangerous stuff around us. Nobody had been blown up, so it couldn't be all that dangerous -- that was the logic. Pictures were taken of Marines holding some reeeeeeeallly cool stuff that they had no business handling, and I even witnessed two Marines setting off 5.56mm rounds using a rock and the tip of another round. Stupidity abounded.

On the fourth day I came across a huge missile lying on its side; a large one, rusted all to shit, about 25 feet long or more and bigger around than a 55 gallon drum -- if I had wrapped my arms around it, I would have only gotten about half way. To this day I don't know what I was thinking, but I hauled back and kicked it hard, right in the middle. When I did, the outer casing ripped all the way through, and the back half of the missile rolled away from the front half exposing the largest honeycomb I had ever seen, with untold gallons of honey pouring over my black and green jungle boots. In the milliseconds that followed, I saw angry bees coming out of every rivet hole in the casing, and then it hit me. . . . .

Oh FUCK!!. . . . . . . BEEEEEEES!!!!

I took off running as fast as my legs would carry me, screaming and flailing the whole way; every Marine in the working party took off running in my direction whether they knew what was going on or not. It got everyone really worked up because they thought something big was about to explode. They had no idea! When we were about 500 yards away from my really big mistake, I breathlessly explained to Gunny what I saw, and we all watched as a cloud of pissed off bees the size of a Wal-Mart ascend into the air. I never got stung, and neither did any of the Marines; the bee-fighting crew didn't fare as well, as the task of making the bees happy again with smoke proved more than their capabilities.

The shear awe that we were all in watching those bees spared me from the well deserved ass-kicking that I should have received, as my actions could have gotten Marines hurt or killed. The swarm made some local paper from what I heard, and thankfully I was never interviewed for my stupidity. The cleanup was ended that day - it was originally scheduled for a week - because some commander somewhere realised what a bad idea it was, so in the end everyone was pretty happy.

I sometimes think back to that day as the pinnacle brain fart of my life. I'm glad nobody was hurt, and I get to laugh at myself with only a bit of shame for my troubles. I now share it with the world forever, as it's posted on the internets. Enjoy!