Beware Killer Vegetation

by Ronnie Locke

The day started out like many other days in Diego Garcia, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean. A tropical rainstorm in the morning had served its purpose, adding to the sticky humidity already prevalent everywhere on the island; especially in the dense jungle situated on the side of the island only accessed with the expressed permission of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) police, and that is exactly where I would be spending my day. I was a member of the National Guard, and within ten days of the terror attacks on September 11, 2011, I had been called up from my regular life and found myself on this Pacific Island protecting our national defense against further attacks.

I would be participating in a joint force exercise with the British Royal Marines and the US Navy. It included some basic jungle patrol training, and I was excited.  I had done this type of training before, but never in an actual jungle like the one on the “coconut plantation” of Diego Garcia. It was an old plantation situated on the opposite side of the lagoon from where the day- to-day operations on the island took place. Thick jungles, old ruins, and even a cemetery dotted with headstones from the early 1800s, gave this area an eerie feel. It was as if it was taken straight out of a Hollywood movie set, and all of us were on high alert due to the threat of terrorism.

Shortly after lunch, we were patrolling through the jungle in a single file line, and I was second from the last. Behind me was a member of the Naval Reserve Unit out of Puerto Rico.  As we went along, I was hyper vigilant; every drop of water hitting the jungle floor from the saturated coconut trees towering overhead seemed to be amplified in my head. I knew as we went along, we would be ambushed by the opposition force made up of the British Royal Marines. In my ready stance, I walked along glancing quickly to the sides at every sound.  Before long, my senses started to adjust. I could differentiate between the rustling of leaves made by a rat scurrying across the thin trail and the scratching of a coconut crab’s enormous claw attempting to penetrate the thick husk of a fallen coconut in search of an afternoon meal. Man, I was ready, I was noticing everything, I was at the top of my game.  

As the sounds of the jungle began to normalize in my head, I heard a sound unlike anything I had heard that day, but still somehow it was a familiar sound. It had a type of hollow quality to it, but my brain could not identify what it was. I turned around quickly to look behind me where the sound had come from, and to see if the man behind me had heard it too. I whipped my head around and looked behind me. My Naval counterpart was gone, as if he just vanished. I looked to the left, only to see dense jungle vegetation, and to my right, only to see the headstones that sparsely poked out of the underbrush throughout the cemetery. I didn’t understand what could have happened to him; he was just gone.

Trying not to let my imagination get the best of me, I glanced at the ground. At my feet, unconscious, lay the man who was just walking behind me. Next to him was his rifle, and a coconut. Right away I recognized the sound I had heard. Many cartoons of my childhood involved coconuts falling on the heads of various characters, and every time it was the same hollow sound.

Piecing it together, I realized a coconut had fallen from a tree about 30 feet above us and landed so perfectly on his head that he was instantly knocked out. The only sound made was that hollow “PLOP” from the cartoons.

Realizing he was ok, aside from a good concussion, we all had a good laugh, but learned that when on a combat patrol in the jungle, the enemy may be what you least expect. You could be taken out by very dangerous, or delicious, vegetation. 

Who would’ve thought there was truth to be learned from a Bugs Bunny cartoon?