OKEECHOBEE — David Busbin was born and raised in Okeechobee, and he signed up to join the Army when he was only 17. He left for basic in September 1995 after he graduated. He went to Fort Jackson for boot camp and then Fort Eustis, Va., for AIT. In March 1996, he went to K-16 South Korea and was there for 12 months. He flew with a special op unit called the Red Barons. He was their helicopter mechanic. They had all the bells and whistles, mini guns and auxiliary fuel tanks, he said. They were the only helicopter unit cleared to fly the DMZ (demilitarized zone). So, any generals or intelligence guys who wanted to fly the DMZ flew with them.
Mr. Busbin has a sign on his barn that he brought back from Korea. It is written in Korean and says, “Danger! Land mines!” They had found a tunnel from North Korea going into South Korea, and it was huge! He thinks there were six or eight tanks lined up side by side inside the tunnel. So, they took a general up there by helicopter, and landed close to the DMZ — “close enough that I could steal a land mine sign,” he laughed. He and the two pilots were stuck on the side of the mountain waiting for four or five hours while they took the general on a tour of that tunnel. He was about 18 years old and bored, so he started taking big rocks and throwing them off the cliff over the fence, which was one strand of barbed wire. He was trying to get one of the land mines to go off. “The pilots were like, ‘Dude, if that thing blows up it will make the tunnel collapse. Would you just stop, Buzz?!” he said. None of them ever went off, but by the end of the day, he had a sign. He is glad the pilots were there to keep him from doing anything even more dumb, he said. “I can just see me now, running down the mountain saying, maybe they only detonate with feet.”
He said you could tell when the pilots were lost because the map was upside down. If they started turning it, you knew they didn’t have a clue where they were. Once while flying a DMZ route as a new crew chief, he was bored, arms on the gunner’s window, looking out and all of a sudden he sees a guy come out of a hole and point something at them and shoot. He thought, “They crossed the line! We’re getting shot at.” So, he hollered and told them they were being shot at at 3 o’clock! “HE”S SHOOTING! HE”S SHOOTING!” By then, he was already lying on the floor. He figured the guy was not going to see him. He might hit him, but it would be an accident. Then he felt the nose of the helicopter go up and they turned and went back without being hit. He said, “You guys need to figure out where we are on the map!” They said, “Calm down, Buzz. That was a test. That’s what we are out here doing. Those were South Koreans who are supposed to stop people from going beyond that point. They shot a flare in front of us.” And Mr. Busbin said, “Well, a little briefing would help my heart!” He had no clue that’s what they were doing. If they told him, he apparently did not listen at all.
He went from there to Germany and was there from 1997 to ’99. His favorite part about Germany was having his own room. In Korea, they shared a room with three other guys, and there was a common bathroom down the hallway. When he first walked into the shower room, he was shocked to see five guys all soaped up washing each other’s backs. At first, he thought he had stumbled into a place he did not want to be, and he got out of there really fast, he said. “It was creepy, and I didn’t need a shower that bad. I could go a couple more days before I needed a shower.” He was 18 years old and from Okeechobee. He thought he had walked into something really bad! But a friend told him that is a Korean custom. They wash each other’s backs. So, although it was not his cup of tea, it was not what he first assumed it was.
He was relieved to get to Germany and have a private room with no one offering to wash any part of him. He actually only spent 31 days in the room throughout the 13 months he was there, because they were deployed most of the time.
When they were doing the Beirut Air Bridge, they were given 50-caliber ballistic plates to put on, and they were very heavy. Normally, he jumped in the window to get in the helicopter, but with that thing on, he couldn’t jump in the window. His lieutenant issued him a 9 mm pistol, and Mr. Busbin looked at him and said, “Ah, I only need one bullet.” The lieutenant asked him what he meant, and he said, “One for me, because I’m not going into a 50 caliber fight with a 9 mm pistol. That guy can shoot me from two miles away.” So, they were flying into Beirut one day, and they had to fly pretty low. As they were cruising along the ocean, he saw something in the distance and all of a sudden there was a radar warning that started saying, “missile lock, missile lock, missile lock, 3 o’clock.” Mr. Busbin asked the pilot what that said, and the pilot told him someone had a missile locked on them. “There ain’t nothin’ out here,” he said. He did see something, but it was so far away, it looked like a buzzard, and then it started taking shape and form. Then there were two of them. Two F-16s headed right for them. The pilot told him they were Israeli jets and they probably thought they were Turkish. Mr. Busbin thought, “Do I shoot at them with this 9 mm? I mean it’s an F-16.” But once they were about five miles out, one of them nosed up and flew above them, and the other went below them. Mr. Busbin, said, “He didn’t kill us!” Over the radio they heard, “U.S. Army,” in Hebrew. He said more, but they could understand when he said the words U.S. Army, and then they were gone. He never even pulled that pistol out, but he thought, if he saw a fire come off that thing he was going to unload that pistol before the missile blew them all up, because he wanted to die with an empty gun. That way they could tell his mom, he went down shooting! He was shooting a water gun at a flame thrower.
In April 1999, he was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas. He had gotten injured in Germany, so when he got to Fort Hood, he wasn’t flying anymore. He worked in an office directing maintenance for helicopters. He got out of the service a year later.
He had a right shoulder reconstruction in Germany before he came back to the states, and they did a perfect job, he said. When he got to Fort Hood, he was just about to be released to go back to flight status and they were doing PT when he got hit and tore his shoulder out of place again. He had a second surgery in San Antonio. Afterwards, during physical therapy, the physical therapist tore his shoulder out of place while he was stretching it. They wanted to do surgery again, and Mr. Busbin refused. Although he did end up having surgery later down the road. So, he was medically discharged from the service.
Sept. 11, 2001, was a very difficult time for him. He felt like he should be in the service so he could help. He worked in various jobs at first, but now works for Sikorsky Aircraft and has been there for 12 years. As much as he enjoyed helicopters in the services and as much as he wanted to serve his country, he feels like doing what he does now fulfills those same desires.
Working in test, he gets to change things that every soldier gets to see. If something is really a problem, they can work with engineers and make it better for the 18 and 19-year-old boys who will be working on helicopters, and they get to change it from the ground, so each one after that will be better, he said. When he was in the service, he felt he was serving his country, but now, he feels he serves even more than he did then because it impacts every one of them.