The choppers circled in from the east to carry them out, stirring up clouds of red dust with a velocity that had all the power of the American war machine behind it. They had been ordered to pack a four-day supply of everything, so it took effort to climb aboard, but it would take the balance of a ballerina to jump back out. The pilots rarely put the skids down. It was too risky. They would hover over the elephant grass as low as they dared, but there would still be a drop of several feet, and anything could be waiting for those whose job it was to jump.
Will found a spot by the open door and sat on his helmet in case Charlie-on-the-ground tried to shoot his balls off. Nobody talked. They were being flown into “Indian country,” the deep bush. Even so, the chopper ride was a reprieve, and the cooler air made it possible to imagine oneself in a different hemisphere. But all too soon they were brought back to the reality of their descent. They flew in low over a field of opium poppies undulating like wheat in the sun. They checked their weapons and the weight on their backs. There were hand signals and radio talk, and the poppies gave way to elephant grass and the pilot was maneuvering the craft as low as he could and it was time to jump and the copilot was signaling: Don’t make me push you.