Monday, November 05, 2018

Stranger than Fiction: The Black Boar

Stranger than Fiction is a series of excerpts from an upcoming non-fiction collection of the strange and unusual encounters I, or people I know, have had, gathered into one collection. Look for Stranger than Fiction: A Skeptic's Journey, Black Friday, 2018...


The summer of 1990, I shipped out for Basic Training in the USAF, eager to begin a career in law enforcement as a Law Enforcement Specialist in the Security Police—the Air Force’s equivalent of the military police.

Today, they’re called Security Forces, but I don’t imagine the mission has changed that much from what it was in 1990: to provide security to airbases, controlling who comes in, guarding aircraft and priority resources on the base, and patrolling the base, providing basic law enforcement services. In television and movies, SPs (as we were called then) are often in the background, with little real dialogue or explanation—just blue beret-wearing, armed Airmen that come running when there’s a problem, or checking IDs at gates.

After technical school, my first duty assignment was with the 435th Security Police Squadron, at Rhein Main Air Base, in Frankfurt, Germany—a base that has since been turned back over to the Germans. The air base shared, and was to the south of, the runways of the Frankfurt International Airport. Frankfurt lies to the south of the Main River. To the north side of the river is the bulk of Frankfurt. The city is a great central location in Europe, with Paris several hours to the West, Berlin several hours to the East, and Switzerland several hours to the South. The A5 Autobahn runs north and south, right beside the Eastern end of the airport. East and South of the Air Base was a lot of rural area.

Being an SP at Rhein Main wasn’t all about driving around in a patrol car, responding to disturbances or writing tickets on base. There was also the mundane, boring jobs of Installation Entry Control and even security foot patrols. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, we worked twelve to fourteen-hour days, providing increased security for what was the main air hub in Europe for U.S. forces going to and from the Persian Gulf to fight Saddam Hussein and liberate Kuwait.

Night shift was often long and quiet, with little activity once you got away from the runways. As such, a lot of us told stories to stay awake or pass the time. A lot of the guy I served with had been to many bases around the world: missile bases, bomber bases, even bases at or near former World War II sites. As such, there were a lot of good stories to share.  

A grand tradition in the SPs was to haze the new guys. My personal favorite was the fenceline sensor test—where you’d send a gullible young airman out to a remote corner of the base to test the fence sensors. This meant having him pull on the fence, radioing in his position. Back at either the Law Enforcement Desk or Security Control, a dispatcher would advise him if the sensors were working. Of course, there weren’t any sensors, and the joke was seeing how long, and how hard, you could get an Airman to pull and push on a chain link fence to “trip the sensor”.

At Rhein Main, they a slightly more sophisticated prank that involved the red-eyed monster. Young Airmen were warned about the red-eyed monster early after arrival. This warning included a dissertation about ho there were a number of wild boar that lived in the woods around the base and airport, and that maybe, that’s what people were seeing. But, sure enough, once the Airman got his first posting alone on night shift, a pair glasses, fitted with red plastic lenses were used to scare him from the darkness.

I can personally attest to the existence of the wild boars—they did indeed come out at dusk, and could be seen outside the base fence. At an off-base storage area we patrolled, I even managed to catch a pair in daylight, and my partner for the shift and I enjoyed feeding them and video taping them at length. My partner, Travis, was from Texas and was an avid hunter, who warned me that despite these pigs barely being knee-high, they were fairly dangerous and could hurt you.

Some months later, I found myself assigned to a seldom-used vehicle gate in the southwest corner of the base—a gate that blocked an access road that led to the new control tower for the International Airport. The forest south of the Air Base just reached this area, and a lone gateshack was set up to monitor traffic going back and forth from the Airport to the base. During daylight hours, the gate was kept open, but at dusk, it was closed and locked, as virtually no one used the road.

As the sun was about to set and I was growing tired of listening to Armed Forces radio after having secured the gate, I looked up from my gateshack and saw a couple of small boars run out of the woods from the south. They were just outside the perimeter fence and followed it to the gate before turning and going back. They were the typical, skittish boars I had seen countless times before, and even smaller than the ones I had videotaped off base.

A very short time later, another boar emerged from the woods. This boar was like none I had ever seen in Germany. For one, it was easily three times the size of the other boars I’d seen. It’s back was at least as high as my waist and it surely weighed several hundred pounds. Unlike the mixed brown, grays, and blacks of the smaller boars, this huge specimen was all black, save for a single tuft of white hair sticking up from between its shoulder blades. It was enormous—bigger than any of the hogs I’d seen during summers in my Uncle’s farm as a kid.

The big boar wasn’t running about like the smaller boars had. It trotted along slowly, clearly unafraid of anything. It too followed the fenceline, but instead of turning back at the gate, it just snorted and crossed the road, eyeing me as I stepped out of the gateshack to watch it.

In the dimming light, I could see the individual hairs on the pig’s hide. I could see big tusks and little, dark eyes glaring at me. I have to admit, it’s the only time in my life I’ve been afraid of bacon.

Once across the road, but still outside the perimeter fence, the boar continued to watch me as it leisurely made its way North, passing within thirty feet of me. On this particular day, I was armed with a Beretta M9 pistol. Law enforcement duty often meant just a sidearm. Unlike the Army’s MPs, Security Police actually carried live rounds in Germany. But that was little consolation to me at the time. The big, black beast was considerably larger than me, and I doubted that my handgun would be able to stop it if it decided to charge. I was particularly glad for the heavy steel gate that had blocked the boar’s path onto the base.

When the boar had reached a point fifty or so feet up the fenceline from the gate, I breathed easier and reflected on the closed gate and the probable inadequacies of my sidearm. On my side of the fence, bushes and brush almost obscured the fence from view. There were a few trees, but they thinned out and faded away another fifty or so feet on. I was about to lose sight of this incredible creature, but was very thankful it was outside the fenceline, and that my gate had been closed.

Immediately after I thought this, the boar stopped. He was barely visible now, the brush growing on the inside of the fenceline casting long shadows in the fading light. But I could still see the boar, and watched, stunned, as it turned to its right, and began walking toward the base—passing through the fence with ease.

My hand went to the pistol on my belt as the boar vanished from sight, swallowed by foliage and shadow inside the fenceline. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. No brush grew outside the fence—if it had continued to follow the fence, I could have seen it. But it had turned and walked right at the fence then passing through it.

I stood there for several moments, trying to make sense of what had just happened. At last, I came to the conclusion that there must be a break in the fence—and that the enormous boar had slipped through and was now on the base, nor far from me.

I went back into my gateshack and called for a patrol for a restroom break. I nervously watched the woods north of my gateshack, waiting for the big boar to come rotting out and over to me. When the patrol finally arrived, I related what had happened, and asked for them to spot me for a few minutes: I wanted to go find that gap in the fence.

As foolish as it sounded, I was actually concerned about a hole in the fence big enough for a boar to pass through without ducking, rattling the fence, or digging. And even though I was probably under-armed, I wanted to find that hole. I needed to find that hole.

My relief would have none of it. If I wanted to go to the bathroom, that was fine. But they weren’t hanging around while I looked for a hole in the perimeter fence, that was Civil Engineering’s job—I could log it in the book back at our dispatch when I got off duty.

For many years, I would look back on this event and wonder about the strange boar I’d seen, never thinking it was anything other than some really big, wild bacon that crawled through a hole in the fence and vanished into the underbrush. It wasn’t until recently that I came across the stories of black animals—mostly dogs—sighted around the world and have begun to wonder… was there really a hole in the fence back in 1992, or did I see something more than just a wild beast?

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