I was in the Area...thought I would stop by (6/10/2002)
by James Ford

My wife planned a surprise trip to Vegas for me on my birthday. I was to meet four of my friends from our wedding (eight years ago) on Friday night. I found out I was leaving Friday morning. The note said "pack a bag for four days, grab a map and eat breakfast...you have a long day ahead of you."

Flying was too expensive from where I live in Eastern Oregon. It was going to be much cheaper in the long run if I drove. I got out of town around 8 am and headed to Vegas using back highways. I intentionally took roads that would take me to ET highway because I was planning on making a trip there this fall and I wanted to know where everything was. I stopped in Rachel to stretch my legs. As I continued on I made a note of where the "Black Mailbox" was. A few miles later I saw the dirt road that goes to A51. I had people to meet, so I pressed on.

The plan was for me to leave Vegas on Monday at noon so I could be back home by 10 pm. I didn't get out of town until 1:30, but I knew I could make up the time. As I was coming down from the pass that overlooks the dirt road to A51 I saw three dust trails. I couldn't resist. As I got close to the turn off there was a midnight blue minivan turning onto the highway. There were no markings on the front and as I went by it I tried to look in but the windows were so tinted (even the driver side) I couldn't even see daylight through them. When they went by I looked at the rear of the vehicle. No markings at all once again. Cool, I've seen my second unmarked car (the first was on the drive Monday, it was a white Jeep, but it had some numbers on the side). As I drove along the road I found that the other two clouds were other sightseers. One was a convertible, with the top down. They waved me on to pass them. Why? I lost them in the cloud of dust. I saw another dust cloud on top of a hill, but for all I knew I was going to be on the same hill in a few minutes so I didn't think anything of it. When I got to the gate there was a tour truck there with a few people. I told the guide I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a cammo dude watching. He said that they had just left but would be back soon probably.

I had my picture taken by the sign, and the tan truck showed up at the top of the hill again. I took another picture of a sign with him in the background. I had seen and done all I wanted to at the post, so I went back to the highway. I stopped for a picture of the mailbox. I may or may not have left a mark on it, I can't precisely recollect. Or to Clintonize it...it depends on your definition of "mark."

I stopped by the Lil'A Le Inn to buy some things for the kids and went on my way. When I got to the next pass I remembered that there was a paved road that went along the border of Nellis. I wondered if this was the "northern gate" entrance with a guard building. I started driving the road towards a group of trees on the horizon. On the left hand side of the road in the middle of nowhere there was a white truck. I watched it on the way to the trees. All that I discovered was an abandoned ranch house and several cattle. I turned around and headed back towards the highway. But the truck still bothered me. I wondered if I got close enough to it I would find that it would chase me off. So I just turned right and started trekking across the desert towards the truck. About a half a mile away from it I slowed down a little and saw something on the ground that looked man made. I got out of the truck to go look. It was part of a dummy missile used in bombing runs. I threw it in the back of my suburban. When I got within 75 yards one of the three camouflaged men came towards my truck. I stopped and rolled down my window. He was very polite. He asked who I was. "Are you with the BLM?" "No" "Military?" "No, I'm just passing by and I was curious as to who you were." He said they were with the Air Force and they were in the middle of an exercise. I asked him if I needed to leave and he said it wasn't necessary. "Have you ever seen a HALO jump?" I said I hadn't and he said, "You're about to, in exactly (looking at his watch) 2 min." "I would ask that you not drive around any more, until we're done." He suggested I get out for a better view. I of course couldn't wait to get a picture. The plane became visible shortly; it looked like a modified C-5 or something similar. After it was above us we started to see the dots coming out of the back. One of the jumpers had a chute that didn't open correctly and was flapping behind him.

The auxiliary chute worked fine, but the officer in charge quickly left me and drove the truck to where the soldier was landing. There was another gentleman still with the equipment and I wandered over to talk to him. His name was Eric and he looked to be about 22. He said they were an Air Force special ops communications group out of N. Carolina. They're the ones that get dropped behind enemy lines for recon and calling in strikes (among other things). He suggested that in the coming months of the war in Afghanistan the public would be hearing more and more about things they have a hand in. It sounded really awesome. He asked me to do him a favor. "We don't get a lot of attention. It's hard to find people even IN the military that know who we are. Could you when you get back tell people about who we are and what we do? We could use a few more people." I told him I'd be happy to and asked if he wanted me to get a picture of the team once they were on the ground. He thought that would be great.

I waited, took the picture, and they gave me a ride back to my suburban. One of the men gave me his e-mail address so I could send him the picture. They were going to hike for a couple of days now. I wished them well and went on my way. I was now four hours behind schedule. But it was worth it.

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