Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm back home (my house) now, again, thankful that all the festivities are over with for now.


Wouldn't you know it, a fresh look at the computer issue enabled me to stumble through fixing it. Not exactly sure how I fixed it, but I'm happy I got it done. Word on the street is that the chickens I was planning to sacrifice to the mischievous gods of the Internet are enthused as well.

Wait 'till they hear what I'm planning for dinner later this week...

As bad as I might be interneticallastically speaking, is it wrong that I feel kinda good about my relatively huge base of knowledge when speaking with my grandma? She asked me at one point what was an e-mail. I thought she might have been kidding, but when she asked about postage for the letters, I realized that she honestly didn't know. I hope my future grandkids think of me fondly as I do to my grandma when I ask them some techocrappie question 50 or 60 years from now.

Nah, they'll probably think I'm a goober & off my meds, or something.


I'm kinda looking forward to getting back to work again, feeling like I've been out for a long, long time. I figure about 3 days of actual work should take care of that.

One of the things I like about the current work situation is the number of former military guys there. Always good to hear old war stories from the other services, and to compare and contrast jacked up missions, situations, and whatnot. One of the things that I've told many people is that in some ways, I think it's easier for the guys deployed than the families that are left behind. Whatever the situation, however messed up, outrageous, or humerous, you can bet that someone else has gone through the exact same thing, or worse. This was demonstrated in conversations from some of the guys who had lost some of their own family members.

How they came across in the conversations was kind of touching, in its own way. I think my favorite talk (in just about its entirety) was something along the lines of, "It's a kick in the nuts, huh." from, of course, a former old & salty sailor.

Indeed.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A sad twist of life, I suppose, when I heard about another death recently.

I don't suppose that it'll come to too much of a surprise that I'm not terribly in the Christmas spirit this year, my thoughts have been much more into sad reminiscing, bitter-sweet happier memories, and concerns about others. In my thoughts of my father, one of the things that I come back to often is music. Dad wasn't much for actually playing, heck I'm not even sure that he even knew how to read music. I do know that he played a little guitar in his youth, but he occasionally commented while looking at my sheet music that the notation was like another language to him.

He of course, supported my musical learnings, and would comment on different songs, which of course, I would immediately hunt down the music for and learn to play.

He introduced me to some different sounds such as Eva Cassidy, The Ventures, Piero, Los Iracundos, John Denver (?!), Abba (!?!?), Roy Orbison, and the like (if 'and the like' could apply here).

"Thank you for the music, and your stories of the road.
Thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go.
Thank you for your kindness, and the times when you got tough.
And papa I don't think I said, 'I love you' near enough."

--- Dan Fogelberg, Leader of the Band


Te quiero, viejo.

I miss you. so. much.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I'm back. Kinda sorta. Not really.... Crap.

So a couple of days ago I go to power up the laptop. I didn't really have any plans for the day, just wanted to make sure that the suspicious squealing and wheezing that I've been hearing from the ole checkbook and debit card aren't signs of any more holiday catastrophes. To the bank's website, ho! (Yes, I said 'ho').


*tippitytappityti-*


Crap, looks like the server's down.

S'ok, I had an e-book downloaded, so I read some of that for a while. Computer issues happen every once in a while, and for all that I know it's due to the alignment of the stars or the fact that I've been neglecting the sacrifices to the internet gods. Reminder to self; buy two live chickens for next weekend...

Aside from my blog roll (fun/informative) and the occasional news site (comedy/tragedy) , I'm not really much of one for reading on the 'net. This book turned out to be pretty good, and I got into it for a while. After an hour or so, I tried the 'net again.

Nada.

In the grand scheme of things, definitely not the end of the world, so I managed to find other things to occupy my time. I think there was some navel gazing and ear-pickin' in there somewhere...

A few days later and I was kinda concerned about the bank account. I really needed to figure out what I had to transfer over to checking, so I tried the laptop again.

Still nothing.

Perhaps it's the delusions of grandeur re: my so-called fixitability, but I decided to try my hand at figuring out what was wrong with the computer.

You in the back, shut it, I can hear you laughing.

See, every year around this time, I get voluntold to repair or construct new gifts, stuff to be re-gifted (what a concept!), and miscellaneous crap. Dunno why people think that an average Marine is going to have a good ability at fixing stuff up, but that's the way it goes.

As a personal general rule, I'm great at breaking stuff. Fixing it... not so much.

If I have a set of directions, a decent drink, and a scarcity of delicate ears to hear any profound words of dubious wisdom, I can usually stumble through the odd assembly or two. Case in point, I recently finished the assembly of a computer chair complete with massaging er... thingies. Felt pretty good, too, or at least 'till I got kicked out so she could give it a 'test ride'.

Back to the computer question, I turned off the laptop and somehow managed to restrain myself from tossing it through the window.

I then shuffled over to the desktop.

Due to the shuffling, I zapped myself pretty good *Crap, that hurt* when I turned on the light in the computer room / spare bedroom / extra junk that'll never get tossed out room / library. I turned on the pc to notice pretty much the same issues as the laptop.

For a mental picture, imagine yourself going down to the local zoo, signing out one of the resident chimps, plopping Bobo down in front of your computer, and telling him to get to work. That about describes me to a 'T'.

Hmmm....

Lights on and or flashing on small thingy in the back? Check.

[Scratching head]

Wireless network up and running? Nope.

[More scratching of head, some knuckling of keyboard ensues]

Router still alive and kicking? *clunk* Check... I think.

Internet? ... Internet?... (Bueller?).... Nope.

(By the way, I'm currently writing this from my mom's house, down south. That might kind of indicate the result of this particular story...)

At about the time when I was going to start hopping up and down flinging my poo, I happened to look down into the jumble of wires that pretty much takes up the entirety of the space beneath the desk. Amazing how, apparently all on their own, a collection of wires can spontaneously form knots of invincible properties, just by the fact of their existence. Two wires seemed to be disconnected...

This was about the time when I should have called it a day and resigned myself for getting someone much more knowledgeable to fixy-fixy... like the neighborhood 10 year old computer uber-geek. Heck, I probably could have settled for his 7 year old semi-computer literate sibling.

Forty-five minutes later of attempting to trace wired from their various outlets & surge protectors (?) later, and I was getting nowhere in a hurry. I decided to get creative and try to organize / untangle / destroy some of the chaos that was down there.

I think I killed (as in permanently) the printer. Darn things should be more resistant to an unexpected gravity test, especially when gently tugging on cords brings the thing down upon my noggin. Never fear, the gouge that it dug out of the wall on the way down slowed it enough to only slightly dent my brain housing group.

Don't you just hate it when after disassembly and reassembly of... just about anything, you finally get back to the starting point only to realize that you have screwed up and / or are missing some small component? I felt that way with those damn wires.

End result? Anything not needed for powering of the 'puter has been disconnected (or broken) and 'set aside' (read: tossed with accompanying color commentary) on the spare bed (only action that things seen in a while) for the time being. Computer is still not up and running. One sore head, various choice words on the state of technology uttered, and one drink refill.

I called the bank on their 1-800 number to find I had a balance of $25.32 in checking.

Oh, the holiday joy.

I should just go ahead and move the entirety of my 'Oh Shit' fund into checking, seems like it's all going there anyways...


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Thank You

... for all of the kind and thoughtful comments, e-mails, and blog posts over the past week or so. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this situation, and I know it's not going to be easy, but I just wanted to convey my thanks to all, for all.

To my lazy Monday afternoon conversationalist, a special thank you, I needed that.

I'm back home now, all the initial details have been taken care of, and now it's just time to wait for the last of the paperwork, payments, notifications, etc. to come through. I suppose that this is where the getting over/through/on/whatever is supposed to take place, as well. Truth be told, it has already started, but with a frustratingly sense of slowness. It'll come...

Blog stories are still on standby for the immediate future, but I'm already getting back around, cruising the blogroll, and getting back into the swing of things.


Thank you, again.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Hiatus

My father has died.




This blog is on hold indefinitely.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Life Sucks When...

You know your armor situation is bad when the snipers are donating their old vests for you to sit on to help protect 'the boys' while sitting in your vehicle.

When you do finally get one up armored vehicle in the middle of winter, at least it warmed my heart to see, (freezing as I was with every article of cold weather gear that I had on) my Marines get out of the up armored Hummer, steam rising from their bodies, as they lazily stretched and took a leak while giving me the thumbs up.


Life sucks when, as a trained mortarman, one of the closest times that you came to buying the farm in Iraq was from mortars. Fired by friendlies.


It's really fun when you are tasked to escort an Army IED hunter team, seeking out and taking care of IEDs, with your unarmored Hummers.


There are few words to describe the sensation of returning from a mind-blowingly long series of patrols, knowing that you'll have to wait only one more week for a shower and maybe two more for a haircut, when you see a minty clean Recon Lance Criminal step out of his room in shades, pt shorts & chanklas, scratching his nuts and yawning at the bright and early time of... 1400, as he looks back in his room to ask his buddies if they had any Dr P. left over from their stash.


It is only a minor relief to discover that; no, the right ear bud for my mp3 player is not dead, I'm just still deaf from finding that one IED the hard way...


Life really sucks for those guys when they realize that they are trying to plant an IED well within range of our neighborhood unfriendly tanks that just came to join the party!


Monday, November 19, 2007

Dog Lovers


For the number of doggie-related posts out there recently, for the good ones and the sad...

My pooches have always put a smile on my face, long after they've gone. Here's to hoping that this one cracks a smile as well.

$$$

Don't you just love it when you find some money that you had long since forgotten about?

I just found around 7000 big ones!

Now, before the air gets thick with muttered curses, proposals of marriage, and the occasional naughty-lookin' bra (J-cup, natch), I should probably mention that those bills that I just found were Iraqi dinars, not U.S. dollars.

Doh!

At some of the larger bases, there were areas where small stalls were set up in a market specializing in local stuffs. You could find all kinds of mementos, Iraqi smokey treats, and a restaurant or two. Those shops would usually give your change in dinars, whenever possible, and 7000 was just what I would up with in my pocket when I came home.

I think it came out to about 4 dollars at the time.

Some of the more enterprising money-schemers in the platoon were going crazy. Seems like every unit has one or two, but in Iraq, with the large number of units all crammed onto the same base, all of the money-loonies congregated at the conversion area. They always knew the conversion figure down to the second or third decimal, and were already making plans for the oodles of cash that they were going to make from their latest and greatest scheme.


Interesting point.

For all of the in-country plans of investments like stocks, buying property, fixing up houses, etc. there sure was a lot of new motorcycles and trucks after we got back to the 'land of the big px'.


One of the more popular plans was to take some dollars and convert them to dinars. Some guys would take around 100 bucks, and some would take paycheck(s). In talking to one of my guys with a trash bag full of dinars, he tried to explain the theory. In a nutshell, the prevailing thought was that 'someday' the dinar would be worth a lot more compared to the dollar. If the dinar only went up to half the value of the dollar, the one dollar that one changed into 2000 dinars a number of years back would be worth a lot more. Makes sense, right?

Like a lot of other things that 'make sense', I decided to not jump into the waters with both feet. Figured that the surest way to guarantee that it might actually work would be for me not to get anywhere near it.

I'm keeping half an eye on it, however, and if in 30 years I'm proven wrong, besides tearing out what little hair I'll probably have then, I'll be making plenty of phone calls, 'cause I expect a cut of the earnings for not cursing 'the plan', dangit!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

More Snippets of Wisdom...

I have learned to 'never say never', but I suppose that it might be a safe bet to make that nowhere in a pre-liberty briefing can one find authorizations for junior Marines to be mind-numbingly drunk on the beach...

... at about oh, 1030 in the morning...

...hitting on all ladies (and a few innocent trash cans) in a 5 mile area...


Clue #1.

When one of the civilian police responders (of about 4 or so) turns out to be female, she's probably not going to be interested in manly displays of musculature, the rippling of ink work, or suave come-ons.


Clue #2.

Police departments in the vicinity of Marine bases have probably dealt with drunk, amorous, and/or feisty Marines.

At least once or twice.


Clue #3 (bonus).

Don't fight with the cops. Ever. Not even once, and not even 'just a little bit'.

Following boot tread-marks and reading boot-sole labels on the bodies of Marines recently released from the pokey provides for hours of fond reminiscing at the end of the float.



Friday, November 16, 2007

Combat Action

A Gunny I once had described the Marine Corps as a big penis. He likened the head as the infantry, i.e. those that do all the up-close and personal interaction. Everything else in that region is pretty cleverly designed to aid and support the 'tip of the spear' to do its job. Not the description that I would have chosen, but it did do a remarkable job of illustrating a point. Here I am, almost 10 years later, remembering and describing a snippet of a 30 minute conversation.

The point that he was trying to make was that the infantry isn't going to get anything done without its administrative and support peeps. Despite the amount of shit that is said from the infantry to everyone else, it is very true. Thankfully, the admin guys that we had were good to go, and most went out of their way to help us out in whatever way they could.

One of the ways that we would say thanks was to take some of them out on patrol every once in a while. Some of the guys were cooped up in the rear for loooong hours every day and wanted nothing more than to go out on patrol and see what there was to see. Some of them had skills that could be easily used on patrol and were an asset to our mission.

Sitting around, blissfully wasting away an afternoon on a very rare day off, one of the admin guys barged into our quarters and proudly announced that he had now earned his combat action ribbon.

The combat action ribbon is one of those things that most Marines look forward to earning. You wouldn't believe the amount of time and mental powers that were spent pondering what actions earn it, who does and does not rate it, etc ad nauseum. I understand that the confusion has been somewhat cleared up by now, but at the time it was still one of the raging debates. I figured 'We're in Iraq. Patrolling the roads. If we DON'T get the CAR somehow, someway (and about 5 times over), that'll be a friggin' miracle.'

His story follows thusly.

Out on a patrol with one of the other mobile assault platoons, Admin Stud was taken as an extra dismount. His job would be not too extensive, he was there to cover any additional danger areas that might pop up, and to take photos if needed. As the sun set over the horizon, the patrol leader got an additional order to check on the power-line security tent in the area. A number of years ago a security department was set up to guard the power-lines. Locals would earn a wage, do something useful, and we might possibly have an extra set of eyes and ears in the area. Of course, the enemy might have an extra set of eyes and ears in the area as well, but that is just part of the whole party.

Back to the story. As the patrol was gradually making its way across the dunes to the tents, in the main tent under the power lines there was a little fiesta going on. The two man teams from both the tent to the north and south had gathered at the main tent to socialize, eat some grub, and perhaps to get their drink on. The after action report states that one of the Iraqi guards heard some vehicles approaching their position. When they heard the revving of multiple engines and saw no lights, they immediately assumed that it was a caravan of insurgents coming to pay them a visit.

They unloaded with their issued AKs at the Marine patrol to scare off what they thought were insurgents. Imagine their discomfort when they possibly thought that the insurgents were now fighting with our machine guns, grenade launchers, and rockets!

On the other side of this unfortunate firefight, the Marines performed almost perfectly. Following their contacts SOPs, they assumed their positions and returned fire. Admin stud recounted his admirable performance that no doubt was going directly into his commendation or award decree. Speaking with the squad leader later, turns out that Admin Stud actually did fairly well, but he did mention that he was 'slightly occupied' at the moment and did not have any more time than to ensure that Admin Stud wasn't getting himself killed.

The Iraqi guards must have very quickly realized the error in their ways, so they abandoned their positions and crawled into the wadi immediately behind the tent. They spent the next twenty minutes getting intimate with the sand at the bottom of the wadi, examining in microscopic detail every granule of dirt that was present. Their weapons were hastily flung into the scraggly bushes near the entrance to the tent.

Completing the immediate action drill for contact, the squad swept the area and investigated what was left of the tent, the guards' gear, and their vehicles. The guards themselves were completely intact, if only a little bit shaken up and quite sandy. Explanations were offered, apologies were made, and new gear was requested for the very lucky guards.

Was a mistaken ambush from a 'friendly' local unit enough for a combat action award? I don't know, and I don't really care. What I cared about was that no Marines were injured or killed, they learned valuable lessons relating to movement under fire, returning fire, good communication, and that the trigger happy locals were somehow spared. I know of others that have gotten higher awards for less, and a few that should have gotten a lot higher awards for definitive heroic actions, but didn't.

Besides, I was in the middle of a much deserved nap.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Good Initiative, Bad Judgement

Blog title post is one of those statements that reflects the military acknowledgement of a higher power working in mischievous ways.


Initiative is one of those characteristics that is hinted at, suggested, urged, commanded, threatened, and violently enforced in training to the point where (hopefully), it becomes second nature. What the desired result is something along the lines of 'prepare for the worst, hope for the best'-type mentality. If you always train as if preparing for when things will get FUBAR rather than if, you should be (somewhat) prepared for worst.

Judgement is one of those things that is harder to teach. Weekend liberty drunken alternative pt partner selection aside, in training if you have to explain to someone that the 60mm mortar is not designed to be hip fired, well, that's one issue that will take care of itself, one way or the other. Just as long as he doesn't cause you too much paperwork...


Combining the two makes for some interesting situations.

Situations like the team leader that decided to take a gun team on some land navigation training (Good initiative). He gets the team lost, and they wander possibly onto a nearby impact area (Baaaaad Judgement), causing the entire area to call a cease fire until the wayward wanderers are located and the OIC speaks to the higher ups (Just Plain Bad).


Now, not everything occurs on a grand scale, of course.

Most of the time, it's the little things that one is concerned with. Screw that 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' crap, I would always take the initiative to tape down sling swivels, clean and CLP my weapon, triple check my gear etc. No question of judgement there. During MOUT training, I would likewise surprise my guys with random declarations of 'Bang! Guess what, guys, I'm dead! What do you do now?' If they looked at me with a blank stare I would tell them to go catch a clue from the nearby hills and move on to the next guy.


When it came to the rifle range, there was less wiggle room to conduct independent training (not necessarily a bad thing), but there was still plenty of initiative. Expert shots would sometimes be utilized as shooting coaches. Armorers would be kidnapp-er-invited to attend some of the shoots to help with problem rifles. Individual Marines would use nails, lighters & matches, socks, compressed air cans, folding stools etc to make life easier on the range.

When it came to shooting most of the qualifications that I did were not too picky on the actual positions. If you were hitting what you aimed at and were safe for the rest of the line, then you go ahead and shoot with nothing but a bow tie and a smile on, shooting off-hand behind the head and between your legs. Ok, maybe not that extreme but the point is that almost nobody was going to get their man-panties in a wad over whether or not your feet were crossed or open, if your were sitting on your heel vs the flat of your foot, or the exact angle of your elbow in relation to the rifle. I did pretty good on the range.

Must have been the bow tie...

For all the personal experimentation that went on while on the rifle range, I never thought it would be possible to get near the bad judgement category, but I suppose I should have known...


To be fair, I can almost understand the why, uh, 'behind' this position and I'll not be the one to criticise initiative, but I'm just kind of curious as to how the idea was first put across to that motivator, the one with the super-enthusiastic look on his face...


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Call & Answer

Not mine, I claim no skill whatsoever with the art of the pick-up line, but one that seemed to work on occasion (depending, of course, on the guy, the delivery, his confidence, the bar, the chica in question etc etc) was something along the lines of;

a) I'm: a Marine / in the Corps / a steely eyed killer.

and possibly

a1) I'm: going to war / just got back from combat / the greatest stud the world has ever known.

One had to keep in mind however, that just because one is far away from one's stateside home base doesn't necessarily mean that one is far away from any other military base, otherwise one just might get the best. response. ever. from the pretty lady.

"Military, huh? Out-Friggin'-Standing, me too! Gunnery Sergeant Suzan Smith. Where did you say that you were out of again?"


Whoopsie.


Sometimes it was kind of nice watching one of my buddies crash and burn once in a while, instead of moi...


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Another Beautiful Day In My Beloved Corps


Happy Birthday, Marines.

Semper Fidelis!

Friday, November 9, 2007

More Lessons Learned

When the Staff Sergeant giving a class asks for a joke to start off his period of instruction, the desired response is most definitely NOT the sound of the sleepy Lance Corporals noggin' hitting the desk.




Even if he was on fire watch all night long...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Crossing the Line

There are quite a few solemn, honorable, and noteworthy traditions in the Naval Services. This is not one of them...

I don't know exactly when it started, but the crossing of the equator has somehow developed into quite the party, those days. Actually, from what I understand, it is a lot more restrained due to 'sensitive' types, and no, I'm not referring to the ladies here. This is kind of how it went down...

A few days before we were scheduled to cross, the rumors started. A number of the ships crew were voluntold to venture down into the Marines' quarters and find out who amongst us had already earned their honors. Those that had already crossed the equator (Shellbacks) would be the ones bestowing this trips honors on the newbies (Pollywogs). Not too many of our party had previously crossed.

We also started to get some information. A traditional rite-of-passage, there would probably be some light hazing, followed by some sort of party afterwards. We were always up for a good party, so 'game on!'.

I seem to remember it starting in the morning, and lasting all friggin' day. The first thing that happened was the few Shellback Marines that had already earned their stripes got us out of the racks and started to good naturedly thrash us. In our berthing area. You know, the room where you have to rub asses together if you want to pass someone by between the racks. It made for an interesting session. It was made all the more interesting that those who had already gone through this shit were dressed like (butt) pirates. Eye-patches, cut offs, and plenty of 'Arrrgh, mateys' were flying everywhere.

Next thing that we had to do was get down to the well deck.

The well deck on our ship was located in the center and the rear of the ship. This type of ship is actually designed to slightly lower the ass-end into the ocean to ease the departure of the landing craft. The ass hatches would swing open, the ship would tilt, and the Marines would be off. That was always when I suspected that they finally broke out the good chow and coffee.

Of course, we couldn't just haul ass down to the well deck, no. We had to lie down in the passageway and pass each Marine, hand over hand, to the end of the passageway closer to the well deck. Think crowd surfing, at a height of arms-length. Once one guy had traversed the group, the guy at the end of the line would get up, and leap onto the crowd. Kind of fun, actually.

When we finally got down to the well deck, we were met by one of the Chiefs. He had a fire-hose and an eye with a twitch. This was where I thought it would get interesting.

"GET DOWN ON YER FACES, YOU PUKES!!! DROP AND GIVE ME TEN!!!!"



ten? sheesh.



Glancing around, you would be able to see the majority of the boats crew getting 'thrashed' and hosed down by a small number of 'pirates'. The water was cold, but I have been thrashed better by a fat man in a donut shop.

Towards the end of the festivities, there was a fat bastard representing King Neptune. He was holding attendance at the end of the well deck, seated in his throne and accepting gifts and pledges of service from the higher ranking officers. Since none of us had any gifts to speak of, he had a gift for a few of the guys. He had, securely lodged in his navel, an olive. The honored supplicant was instructed to accept and remove this great honor... with his teeth.

Mmmm, chow time.


Ugh.

I forget exactly when, but one of the passing Shellbacks asked us what we had planned to do for our skit later on that night.

Skit? WTF, over?

Apparently we had missed that memo.

Turns out all of the platoons had to come up with a skit to entertain 'King Neptune' and his distinguished guests at the evening party on the flight deck. In just a few hours, we managed to come up with a pretty good one, if I do say so myself.


A little background, first.

Upon every movement of the ship, either going out to sea or pulling into port, a song would play over the ship's PA. Our song was S'weepea, an oldies tune.

"Oh, S'weapea,
come on and dance with me.

Come on, come on, come on
and dance with meeeee-ee."

Anyways, the song was kind of amusing the first 1500 times we heard it, but it kind of got old after that. I can only imagine that it got much cooler after the Marines were finally off the old boat for good...

The skit that we were required to perform was to include the captain's own musical wonder. The only caution was that it had to be somewhat clean, because we did have 4 female sailors on board. Any excessive cussing or questionable activity would result in the Master Chief tooting the air horn, and that particular platoon being disqualified from the skit competition.

The other platoons did some amusing skits, making fun of each other, the Navy, foreign services, and the like.


We did a strip tease.


Before any of yous guys think that I spent a little too much time on ship, lemme 'splain.

We had a medium sized platoon, notable for a number of things of which only one was the amount of trouble that we could get into, at every port. When it came time for our skit you could say that we already had a few strikes against us. As the song began introducing our skit, there was a collective chuckle & groan and a general thought of 'what the hell are these guys up to now?'

Heh, heh.

The introduction of our short-lived burlesque was six Marines dressed to the nines in makeshift togas, combat boots, and not much else, clomping out to the center of the flight deck in front of the assembled Marines and ships crew. King Neptune and his court were in the position of honor, and at his table sat three of the females (all officers) present on ship. Master Chief was giving us the old evil-eye with a ready finger on the air horn.

The six Marines supported a stretcher graciously 'donated' from sickbay. Standing on the stretcher was Mascot, also dressed in a toga. He was posed in a great profile, fists on his hips, looking off into the distance, ready to perform for all hands.

The music started.

By this time on the deployment, Mascot had endeared himself to the entirety of the ship. The Marines were naturally protective of one of their own, and even the sailors would look out for him on liberty. He wasn't the smartest guy, or the fastest, or fittest, or best looking, or etc, but he was one of the more amusing of God's little creatures.

Everyone applauded for Mascot as he danced (up to this point chastely) to the tune of Sweet Pea. Upon the start of one of the drum solos, Mascot, dancing ever closer to Neptune's table ripped off his toga to reveal...



...his short, stubby, bulbous-in-all-the-wrong-places body clad only in a hot red butt-floss g-string bikini bottom that one of our more nefarious members had collected from a Colombian hooker. Scrawled in black camouflage paint across his ass-cheeks were the initials for our Weapons Platoon (Wpns), 'WP' on one cheek and 'NS' on the other.


Nipple twistage, groin thrusting, and horrible groaning were in full effect.



The assembled crowd roared and went wild.


Master Chief probably had (another) aneurysm as he ground the air horn into dust.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

'Knowledge'

So Skippy writes a post about more nannying, and I get a chuckle. Not at him, heck no (and by the way, if'n you haven't read his list, do it. Do it now.), but at those that think that they will have any input whatsoever about the particular, ah... alternative reading material of the troops. Think about it, late teens and early twenties... at times there wasn't any reading material other than those mags around. Heck, there were times when a Staff Sergeant or Officer would recommend that we study some knowledge and invariably someone would ask him, "you mean knowledgeknowledge, or actual knowledge?"

Surely I jest, you think.

We had one guy that for some reason, had handy access to a laminator. Asking around for a number of days, he collected a whole bunch of actual knowledge; weapons characteristics, first aid, steps to bore sight an 81mm mortar, etc. One evening after formation, he handed out an ass-ton of 'knowledge cards'. Just the right size to drop into a cammies pocket, one side had solid Marine Corps and military knowledge. The other, depraved hedonistic glory. Laminated, for... field worthiness.

Needless to say, they were a huge hit, and eventually became like trading cards. On vehicles, about to get into sleeping bags, or stuck up on a hill, trading would commence. Bidding was fierce. We even had guys from other platoons wander over every once in a while to, er... study.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Musical Chuckle

So Veterans Day is fast approaching, and some enterprising sort handed out flyers the other day ahead of the festivities, to remind people of the fact, give information about the date, and inform us of some of the scheduled activities thorough out the city. It wasn't a professional jobbie, just something that someone with a computer and some time put together and printed out. I definitely don't mean to knock the effort, because it was appreciated.

However,

Some parts of the flyer was kinda... odd. There was a section where they included the words to the various services anthems, and it kind of looked like whoever was typing had someone reading the words to them. Sentences were kind of chopped or mushed together at odd places. Perhaps that was why I was paying particular attention at the time when I read over the words to the Army song. Tying to figure out where the words fit to the music that I remembered, you know.

I have played the Army song at various times, usually at Veterans Days over the years. I've played 'em all, actually, on occasion. I really didn't take too much time to learn all the words to the songs, though, so most of the words were new to me.

When I was reading over what is apparently the 1917 version of the Army song, I just had to chuckle.

Was it high, was it low,
Where the hell did that one go?
As those Caissons go rolling along
Was it left, was it right,
Now we won't get home tonight
And those Caissons go rolling along.
(Refrain)
----- Army song

Ah, memories.

Now, as much as one might like to blame the sun, the wind, the alignment of the stars, or the farting chipmunks off to the side of the range instead of operator error, there are times when it is not the crews fault when the impacts are not where expected. This is usually the ammo's fault, of course.

Seriously, some of the ammo that we used to train with was old and decrepit. I've seen rounds do some pretty funky things, and if I haven't mentioned it before, if you are in the position to see mortar rounds doing their thing, that is generally not a Good Thing (This rule is widely known for incoming, but it also applies to outbound, as well).

Most mortar ammunition these days comes in a box of three, individually contained in its own hard plastic container. Other rounds come, also in three, also individually wrapped, but in cocoons of beeswax. We called it wax because of its tendency to get all kinds of sticky when one attempted to open the round case. There was a handy opening thread on the outside of the case, but what invariably happened was that the thread would always snap, leaving you to hack open the case with something sharp (and ideally borrowed). That sticky crap would get everywhere.

Did I mention that it was more often than not really dusty and generally dirty out in the field? Yeah, it got interesting at times...

The beeswax rounds tended to give us the most issues when on the mortar range.

Generally when rounds are impacting way of course, you can, in addition to screaming at the gun team in question, do several things to correct the error. The team can punch the bore (clean out the barrel, removing any potential obstructions), check the dope (what information is on the sight), recheck the sighting (when targets are outside of visual range we used an aiming stake to give us a reference point) etc.

When you can hear the lazy fwumpfwumpfwump of the round turning in the air a very short and bowel-clearing distance right in front of the gun, or see what is in effect the mortar round conduct a fairly decent left flank marching movement, there really isn't that much to say to the team on the line. Well, there is, but it is very colorful, and spoken while running really fast.

When a totally anonymous, unnamed, random mortar gun team just happens to say, destroy a large portion of a very expensive moving target range to the left of our -er- their own range, it helps if you can describe the craziness that the old ammo did after leaving the tube. It does make for some long nights, though.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Friday, November 2, 2007

Tattoos

Tattoos are everywhere in the Corps. Well, perhaps not so much these days, but when I was in, there was a bit more in the way of making your own choices. Marines were free for the most part to get what they wanted where they wanted. And there was variety, let me tell ya.

The first tattoos usually started right after boot camp and schools immediately after, when most felt compelled to run out and get their 'oorah tat'. This was the near obligatory tattoo that had something to do with the Marine Corps and certain MOSs.

I remember once, immediately after a hump, hearing about a Marine that had asked for the doc. One would expect complaints dealing with the blisters, sprained ankles, or cramps, something like that. When he complained about his shoulders, well, that kind of threw the doc for a loop. A short investigation revealed that the Marine had felt sufficiently motivated to get a rather large tattoo, the word 'FREEDOM', in two inch high letters, across his shoulders. Right before heading out to the field.

Nice.

It actually was pretty nice, a really intricate design, and the 'O' was actually the symbol of the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, representing the Corps. Problem was, if you get a tat, you generally want to keep it clean for a while after you get it. Going out to the field for a couple of weeks for training is not a good way to maintain the utmost in personal cleanliness. That hump must have been really interesting, to tote a pack right on top of a fresh tat!

Meat tags also became somewhat popular, at one time. These are the tats that are usually located somewhere on the torso, more or less on the ribs (to make the experience more... interesting). The tattoo itself is about the size of dog tags, and has more or less the same info. I wasn't ever really sure why one would get this stuff, because Marines have just about everything else marked with ink or actual dog tags, but hey, whatever floats yer boat, I suppose.

I especially liked the liberty tats. These are the ones that usually involve several days of liberty and a few choice beverages. On occasion, the virtue of a certain lady back home was involved. This would be where one would generally expect to see cartoon characters like Speedy Gonzales, Mighty Mouse, or Goofy. Skulls and snakes were regularly popular, as were fire-breathing dragons. Ladies in varying levels of dress were also popular, but they were available in too many other formats to make the inked version too popular, at least for me. As long as we're talking moi, guess I should say that 'present', instead of 'available.' Available makes it sound like I had some measure of success, or something... Sheesh.


One guy had such a fascination with spiders and webs that he got both elbows and a good portion of his arms covered in webs. I kind of thought that was a prison thing...

Another guy got a Bud Light label-lookin' tattoo. On his ass. Long night, that one...

My favorite, however, was a variation of the 'Freedom' tattoo, except with the unusual spelling of 'Fredome'. Thus the lesson was learned, either get the work done in the states, or be really sure of your spelling abilities.

Whoops.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mumblegrumble

Bah.

Started a number of posts recently, with all attempts coming to the same conclusion. Most times the stories will be moving along nicely, with me chuckling at my memories of thinking at the time, "I rule!", only to have the inevitable entry from left field to crush me, yet again. Unfortunately, what seems to be frequent recently is the inability to tell the story without running into some self-imposed 'no bloggie' rules. Other times, I'll be merrily writing, tippitytappity, when I'll get the sense that the story is flowing almost... like... I've written it before. Checking a few locations web and pc - wise will confirm it, already written, copied, pasted, edited, and posted.

Combine that with long hours and busy off days, and... bah.

Oh yeah, that reminds me,

BAH HUMBUG!

Hmm, wonder if the ads in question are for Christmas 2007 or 2008?

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Rude Awakening

Anyone who has spent more than a little time outside can tell you that a little forethought goes a long way. As much time as we spent telling old sea stories of wine and women, when it came to the field, alot of those conversations turned to bathroom & sleeping topics.

This is a short story about sleeping tips.

First of all, just as in real estate, it's all about the location, location, location. Flat ground is nice, but sometimes you can make do with a slight incline. Grass is great, tufts are not. Dirt is doable, rocks, not so much. Wide open spaces are nice, wide open vehicles driving around sans ground guides are most definitely not.

Sometimes you don't really have a choice.

Sometimes you are out to the field for extended periods of time, and you bed down when and where you can. Sometimes you're in the vehicle for 17 hours out of an even longer day. Sometimes the Platoon Sergeant beds you down in a very slight valley, right before the rain. Sometimes, at the top of a rocky hill & in the middle of nowhere, a F-150 still runs right over your tender lil' tootsies.

One conversation that I had as a young Lance Corporal had run the gamut of locationary tips. We has spoken of wind breaks, rain water troughs, and the like. The talk came to comfort and heat.

Some guys lived the theory that, as sleeping bags were designed to trap and retain heat, the best way to get that bag full o' the warm and sleepy was to disrobe. Completely. As in bare-assed nekkid. Most of those guys went butt-naked, anyways, any chance they got.

Me, I always hated the fact that there wasn't enough time in the mornings. Heck, there wasn't any time in most mornings. I'm the kind of guy that likes to at least yawn, stretch, scratch anything that needs scratching, and contemplate the day. I especially disliked having about 30 seconds to get all of my crap together, stuffed into my pack, and be on the move to the next training evolution. Naturally, I never felt that there was enough time in the mornings.

What I usually did right before nap time was to lay out my insulating mat on a somewhat level piece of ground. Those things did wonders to keep some of the cold from coming up from the deck. I would then lay it down to find some of the hidden rocks. Then, usually with a gloved hand, I would reach underneath the mat to scrape away some of those stones, usually catching a few thorns in the process (hence the glove). I would arrange my re-closed pack at my right side, blocking some of the wind. I would arrange my flack, kevlar helmet, and load-bearing vest on my left (hopefully blocking some of the wind from that side). This also helped because it put all of my gear really close by, in case I needed to get to it in the dark. I would lay out my sleeping bag, (and after one particularly freezing night with no bag I always had the full bag), and get ready to commence rack ops.

In training, I always took off my boots and placed them in a water proof bag that I had acquired from... somewhere. No creepy crawlies were going to make their home in my boots, my pack, or anything else for that matter, while I snoozed. It was a bad way to wake up, for the both of us, should I interrupt his little rack ops with my nasty feet. This is also why, even after taking the boots from the bag, I shook them upside down, just in case. If I was taking off the cammies, I would generally shake them out, fold 'em up, and place them inside the layers of the bag. This would keep them from getting too wrinkled, keep them somewhat warm, and most importantly, keep any unwanted visitors from making a home in my trouser's crotch (muy importante). I would then crawl into the bag, snuggle up to my rifle, and rack out.

One cool morning, at the beginning of another long day of range fire, I awoke not particularly happy. The fire watch had woken me up three times during the night, looking for their relief. Sometimes all those sleeping bags lined up in platoon formation can look kind of similar, I guess. I was also woken up a couple of times by sleepy Marines, stumbling their way in the dark to the head call area (the area designated by the platoon's doc as where you would go take a leak). I wondered if they couldn't make it outside of the platoon without stepping on anyone, would it be too much to ask that they stumble while doing the deed and piddle down their legs, just once?

At the call of 'Reveille', and the nearly obligatory 'Wakey, wakey, hand off snakey', I sat up, still wrapped up in my bag, to give the chilly morning the evil (if not eye-booger filled) eye. I looked around to my immediate left, to glare at some Marines that were doing their best to hit the snooze button on life. I hated them for the extra 20 seconds of sleep that they got over me. I turned my head to the right, wondering when my brain would actually wake up and kick into gear, when I saw...

There are few things in life that will wake you up faster than a good, hot, tasty cup of coffee.

Realizing that; libo expires in 30 minutes, you are 10 miles from the base, drunk as a skunk, and due for a PFT (physical fitness test), is one.

Incoming mortar and rocket fire in Iraq (or anywhere else, really) is another.

... that the Marine two feet from my right had risen from his rack to contemplate the wonders of the day. He woke and stood right up, exposing himself in all his glory to the platoon and mother nature. Did I mention that he was one of those that always got nekkid whenever and wherever possible? Yup, me sitting down still wrapped up and cursing the day, him standing up and doing trunk twists, placed his crotch... well, let's just say that we were seeing eye to eye, and not in the good way.

Apparently, getting an unexpected eye-full of early morning Marine crotch is the holy grail of rapid and rude awakenings.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

No Pressure...

Mark has recently asked me to come onto his show. Apparently, he doesn't really like it anymore, and wants me to come on so that BTR will magically crash and burn into oblivion.

Kidding of course, but... Murphy's Law, anyone?

Listening to posts is something that I only recently have gotten into, heck Blogging is something that I am still relatively new to, but I have to say there has been some interesting stuff on his show. I particularly enjoyed putting a voice to some of the bloggers that I enjoy reading. I still think that there are some much more interesting folks out there [my eyes wandering to screen left - oh hey, look at that, there's still some folks I've left out, dangit...], but if he wants to work some bugs out of the system with me, then I suppose I'm cool with that.

Schedule wise it kind of appears (pending his okay of course) that more often than not Wednesdays or Thursdays are probably going to be the evenings that I will be available for public amusement and/or ridicule in posterior...er-ity. That time of the year is fast approaching when schedules get filled up with all sorts of work, family, and other obligations, combine that with any schedule that he already has, and it might be a little while before we actually get me the green light. Further e-mails will be forthcoming, and I am sure that he'll probably put something up when it's time for me to go on his show. I might even have something on here, as well.

Why I Don't Complain...

... As Much... -er-, As I Used To... -um- .... Anymore... Mostly.


Long title, I know, but it kind of works.

So, after awhile in most tend to realize that there are somethings that are going to happen that are not... good. Marines are going to piss and moan, of course, that and talking trash is something that is just done. Always has, it seems, always will.

I seem to only vaguely remember some quote something along the lines of 'as long as the men are complaining, everything is as it should be', or somesuch...

I guess that I complain about as much as the next guy, but I'm very careful to not carry on too long, or even begin to approach the arena of whining, because 1) Whining is disgusting, and 2) Excessive complaining dares the gods to do their worst.


Couple of years back. Late in the evening, out in the field & freezing my ass off...

[I slip, fall, and crack my crack on a rock]

ME: Boy howdy, this sucks the big one.

['wind a-blowin']

ME: Can it get any worse?

[drippity-drip]

ME: Kidding! Just kidding! No rain, go away!

[pouring rain]

ME: Crap.

Naturally, this comes after a week of chilly but not cold weather. Winter was finally winding down, and warm weather was around the corner. I still had all my cold-weather gear, because well... read the blog title, I'm sure that it's pretty evident. So winter decided to give one last huzzah, before giving up the ghost. What had been only chilly weather in the mornings back on the block and perhaps somewhat overly enthusiastic short-sleeve weather in the afternoons turned into friggin' Arctic weather training once out in the field.

On the other hand I was pretty excited due to the fact that for the first time in a long while, I didn't have to stand watch that night. Anytime the Marines were bedded down out in the field, there are Marines up and standing guard on rotation, and tonight, I wasn't one of them. I would be doing my best bug-in-a-rug impression, in my bag. Life was (somewhat) good.

So after the rain started, the suckage increased.

No catastrophic bag failure for me that night, only woke up once when I realized that my nose was frozen solid. See, I'm one of those types that can't have anything covering my face when I sleep. I dunno why, it just is. I'll have the bag zipped, snapped, and draw-stringed up tight, with only my nose or mouth sticking out from a small hole near the top (referring to it as a 'blow hole' might be amusing. Once.). Reaching one arm through the face-hole in the sleeping bag, I reached over and propped my nearby pack at an angle. Sticking my head in the lee of the pack to block most of the wind and rain, I dozed back off to sleep...

To wake up in the morning covered in snow. In SNOW! Now, anybody who has spent more than one winter in the northern states will undoubtedly scoff and call us a bunch of wussies, but for most of the guys, the 1.5 inches that we had that morning was all but a blizzard.

I sat up, still buried in my sleeping bag, angling my face around to ogle the world with one sleepy & eye-booger filled incredulous eyeball.

ME: Oh. Hell. No. ... Can it possibly get any worse?

That's when the first snow ball hit me, followed closely by a conspicuously un-Marine like titter.

ME: Crap.

[rewind, to the previous evening]

The Forward Observer team exited the vehicle, threw their packs on their backs, and started humping their gear to a designated observation hill aways from & on the flank of the mortar range. Come morning, they would be the Marines that would search for targets on the range and practice calling in fire to the gun line. Until the range went hot mid-morning, their duties were somewhat limited. A short perimeter check, maybe checking out the available targets while the light still held out, and that was about it. They bedded down for the night, all four of them with their sleeping bags tucked up close to a large bush on the top of the hill. They also decided not to set out a fire watch.

[back to me getting an icy morning wake up call]

The range observer finally showed up, interrupting the necessary but somewhat routine classes that we did every time we went to the range. As it turned out, he was a Marine that a number of us had first met on float, so some of the guys gathered around and passed some scoop on who was where & doing what, rumors of future deployments, and to talk some trash. Eventually he left to go check out the forward observers' position.

Taking care to drive up the almost-never snow-covered road leading to the FOs hill, he was moving slow when the F150 topped the hill. He arrived at the top and didn't see any Marines, only snow covered... everything. I imagine that he probably wanted to stop the truck, check some maps, and probably get on the radio to inquire, 'WTF?'. Steering the truck over to the one bush on the top of the hill, there was a suspicious 'thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump'. He found our Forward Observers, all right.

At about this time I was down on the range, still freezing my ass off, miserable. Some industrious Marine had created a 6 inch tall snowman and perched him on the empty sight-case. I was looking forward to a long Fire for Effect mission, because after enough rounds, the barrel would warm up and I would probably be on that bad boy, with no shame at all, to warm up. We were scheduled to begin fire missions shortly.

The call came over the radio, "Gun Line, this is FDC. The range is cold, the range is cold (no shit, I'm freezing here!). All team leaders get your numbers (of Marines, serialized gear, and ordinance) and report to the FDC." As all my Marines were looking at me with a 'WTF?' look on their face, I knew that I had all my bodies. The ammo was likewise out and prepped near the gun, minus the 'WTF?' look. After a quick check of the serialized gear, we started getting word that there had been an 'incident'. Hearing the choppers zoom by shortly after confirmed it. "Sucks to be them", "Hope those guys are warm, at least" and other comments were given while we killed time on the gun-line, still oblivious to who was involved.

To hear the story later from one of the unfortunate 'speed bumps' (and yes, they all survived) he admitted that they were in the wrong with the whole no fire watch thing. About the only 'good' thing was the fact that all of them had slept with their heads underneath the brush and only the foot ends of their sleeping bags sticking out any distance from the foliage. Hearing him relate how he went from dreaming about some little hottie to getting wrapped up underneath the truck, still wrapped up in his sleeping bag was... well, it was a relieved laughter, that's for sure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Snivel Gear & A Wake Up, Part 1

I remember when we got issued the new sleeping bags.

It's not that the old bags were junk, it's just that they were quite old and decrepit, long overdue for replacement. Well mine was junk, I think at one point I was suffering a 50% bag failure, and that makes for a miserable night! I kind of think that the new stuff was scheduled to come down the pipes and the powers that be didn't want to issue out any more new (actually old) sleeping bags when the new, Goretexified stuff was... soon to be issue- er, hold on... scheduled to arrive soo- um, just a sec... delayed but to be issued sometim- aw hell, gonna get here sometime.

Eventually we got the new bags, to mixed review. Most guys liked the heck out of the fact that they came in a three part configuration, with a thin green sleeping bag for cool weather, a thicker black bag for cold weather, and a goretex outer liner fastened to the green and black bags for the 'oh my poor, frozen, nuts' - freezing. Others complained that the whole assembly was larger and heavier than the old bags, and that the zippers and snaps were like honey to the Murphy-bees.

As long as the thing kept me warm at night, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

The first night that we used the sleeping bags, amazingly enough, was a huge goat-rope. I forget what the exact situation was (probably traumatically repressed, or something), but I distinctly remember the Platoon Sergeant saying, "Fuggit, bed 'em down! Reveille goes in 5 hours, set the fire-watch, post comm-watch, long day tomorrow, stand by, gents!" As we were in for a short night and a long day, all of us not shafted -er- scheduled to stand guard that night were moving with a purpose to test out those new sleeping bags.

A description of a bivouac (sleeping area) site for our platoon.

It kind of depended on the Officer, what the plan was for sleeping out in the field. Some wanted us to be tactical at all times out in the field, so we would usually sleep as teams, sleeping bags tucked up alongside or under foliage, or camouflaged with the smaller nets that we took with us in the Hummers. Others were concerned with a vehicle accidentally hitting a speed-bump when driving at night (read: a Marine having a Really Bad Night), so they wanted the platoon to sleep in an admin mode, or that is to say with all Marines lined up on the ground in a rough platoon formation, with chem lights strung around the perimeter of the platoon. Regardless of the plan, there was always a night watch. If there were any Marines around (and I suppose that we would qualify, technically, as 'any Marines'), somebody had to make sure that there was a minimum of mischief going on at night.

That night we were sleeping in an admin mode, so I didn't get to pick my spot to sleep. Of course, along with the cold and the wind, mother nature decided that we really needed a good test run of the new bags and decided to send us some drizzle, as well. Awesome.

I was remarkably warm that night.

I woke up a couple of times just to savor the sensation of being toasty warm and comfy. It was ridiculously nice. It wasn't so nice that I stayed up very long, just enough to note the pleasant change in sleeping status.

I woke the next morning freezing my buns off. I don't remember if I was more ticked off that I had woken up 20 minutes before reveille (wakey-wakey time), or that I had yet another bag failure. Apparently, the cold temps, wind, and now driving rain had combined to ruin my morning. Again. I heard the muttered curses of nearby Marines as most of us woke up to the same situation.

Still secured in my sleeping bag I rolled over only to discover...

When we had bedded down in the darkness of the night, we had done so in a very subtle ground depression. The rain had soaked the ground and puddled on the surface, right where we were sleeping.

...that when you are sleeping in what amounts to a semi-frozen puddle of water, once that icy-cold water floods into the bag, you are in for another long and miserable day.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Know your limits...or else.


Four or five of us were gathered in an Admin back classroom, trying to make up our minds. What we were doing was going through a platoon roster and selecting a super squad (or two). Our 'dream team' was going to be voluntold to go and compete against other 81mm mortar teams from the Battalion, and everyone in our chain of command up to and including the Commanding Officer was keen on a top showing. We had the pick of the litter from the platoon to attend the competition, and some of it was difficult to decide.

We tried to keep gunners and a-gunners together as a general rule.

On the 81mm mortar system, if a platoon went with a 2 man gunning system, the gunner and a-gunner learned to work together very well. The more time spent learning the other's subtleties, the faster they could get. Some pairs could get scary fast. They would have the gun up and ready to go just about as fast as the commands could come down over the radio. The problem was there was more to the competition than just shooting. When we would consider one pair of Marines, one or the other would have some serious potential problems in other areas of the 'Comp'.

Running through the roster sounded somewhat like this. "Ok, Jones and Smith, or Smithe and Jonsey. Thoughts?" "Jones can't go three minutes without losing a vital piece of gear. How in the hell is he going to pass the inspection?", or "Smithe can hardly spell his name, how is he going to pass the written test?". We eventually narrowed the platoon down to about 20 candidates, and then made a list of every Marine's pros and cons, as it related to his ability to compete.

One of the last Marines to make the cut was a guy we'll call 'House'. Lance Corporal House was an outstanding gunner, probably one of the best in the platoon. He was pretty smart, knew his stuff forwards and backwards. On the gun he was the man, no doubt. He was also more than just a little bit out of shape. After much discussion and a little debate, most of us agreed that his contributions to the team on all other aspects of the comp would more than outweigh any potential issues that he would have on the hump. A few of us suspected that we would live to regret this decision...

Humps were considered one of my strong points. It wasn't that they were easy for me, it was just that I had learned early that the best way to never have any problems was to always keep up. When you start slowing down and giving in to the pain, even a little bit, things get real interesting real fast. After a while I fell into working as one of those guys that was constantly running back and forth, hustling the 'weak bodies' from the rear all the way to the front. When you are constantly worrying about getting others to the front and focusing on not letting them fall back or pass out, it tends to keep your mind off of your own pain.


The hump.

We were staged for the hump, our team divided into two lines, all Marines sitting on their packs on either side of the dirt road. All we were waiting on was the call over the radio that the preceding team was far enough on their hump for us to avoid interference. Our packs were full (the gear inspection was the event immediately after the hump), and all of our mortar components were either strapped to the packs or more common, ready to carry by hand.

Finally we got the word to gear up. To put on a heavy pack the most common way is to situate the pack on the ground, the side with the straps facing up to the sky. The Marine will then situate himself so that he is standing with his feet closest to the top of the pack. Grasping the frame bars with his hands, he will then squat down a little and lift/heave/grunt the pack overhead, to land on his shoulders and back. From a bent over position the pack mule...er... infantryman will then adjust and tighten the straps of the pack for the best fit. As House was putting on his pack, I noticed that he had opted to strap the base plate to the outside of his pack.

Now, the base plate is the circular looking 30 pound hunk of metal that basically prevents the barrel of the mortar from burying itself into the deck when firing. It has plenty of space to get a good grasp, but it can be kind of awkward to carry, especially over long distances and at speed. This being a competition hump, it would be more of a fast shuffle than a fast walk.

The first mile went great.

Starting at about the 1.5 mile mark, House started to have some issues. I was already in the back, motivating a Marine that had rolled his ankle. It wasn't a bad sprain, he was one of our 'no problems humpers', so I wasn't too worried. I told him to take it easy, and gradually make his way back up to the platoon. Working our way to the front, I yelled ahead for one of my Sergeants to fall back and help out House. He cursed, grabbed another motivator of Corporal persuasion, and fell back to where House looked like he wanted to keel over.

One of the things about competition humps was that the penalty for a Marine failing to complete the hump was so severe that we decided to remove permission to fall out to anybody from our team.

No failures, no exceptions.

It was in this light that the Sergeant and Corporal that fell back with House eventually motivated him enough to almost catch up with the platoon. As the main body had only slowed from the good-paced jog to a medium paced shuffle, it rapidly became apparent that he was going to have a hard time catching up without passing out. No good.

The Sergeant told him to drop his pack.

*zwrip, zwrip... thud*

Straps were loosened, and the pack hit the deck. The Sergeant and the Corporal then 'beer-coolered' the pack and base plate between them, and House was advised that he had better appreciate the significance of two Marines not only carrying their own full packs and gear, but his as well. He was forbidden to pass out, die, or in anyway shape or form cause any more issues. Ever. For the rest of his life.

Shortly thereafter, the Sergeant and the Corporal realized that they were now falling further and further behind.

Running back and forth, I finally got the last straggler up to the group and noticed an odd sight. We were two bodies short, and House wasn't wearing his pack. Hmmm...

I stopped in my tracks and let the platoon pull away from me. I was breathing hard but wasn't especially worn out. I was feeling pretty good, actually. Looking to the rear and just coming around the bend of the road, I noticed that the Sergeant and Corporal were not looking too hot. Walking back to them, I noticed that the constant motion of one Marine on either side had loosened up the straps to the point that the base plate was starting to separate from the pack.

Finally they got tired of fighting the unbalanced weight and dropped it to fully separate the plate from the pack. I offered to take the pack. The Sergeant accepted my offer.

Damn. That's what I get for being motivated.

Now he and the Corporal were switching off the base plate and making much better time. I was actually keeping up pretty good, considering the two full packs I was carrying. House's pack couldn't fit ideally on my back of course, so it was just kind of situated on the very top of my own. The result was that it leaned against the back of my head, forcing my gaze down. This helped, somewhat, in that I couldn't look to see how far ahead the platoon was from the three of us, all I could do was keep looking down and put one foot in front of the other.

We plodded on, nearing the rest of the team. The Sergeant handed off the base plate to the Corporal so that he could run ahead and let the Staff Sergeant know that all hands were accounted for and NOT declared a hump drop (Boo! Hiss!). The Corporal and I were switching off the base plate now. (Boo! Hiss!)

At this time, carrying two packs and a base plate, I wouldn't have said that I was peachy keen frolicking in a field of roses or anything, but I was still doing ok. Ok enough that I was able to talk some trash to a Marine that was starting to suffer under the weight of his mortar barrel.

Not getting an immediate expletive from his direction, I glanced sideways at him; he looked like clammy death, personified.

Not good.

All the other 'hump motivators' were having a hard time and preparing themselves for the final mile or so.

Crap.

Craning my neck around at him I asked him if he was going to survive the hump. No answer, just panting. I told him that there wasn't too much I could do in the way of help, as I was kind of occupied, myself. After about 100 yards he told me 'take the barrel while I puke, dude.' He then tossed the barrel to me.

Close to the very end of the hump there was a huge boulder right on the shoulder of the road. One of the instructors for the competition had dismounted from his vehicle, climbed on top of the rock, and watched the majority of our unit pass by him on the final stretch. The end was well within sight of the boulder. Lagging somewhat behind the main body he saw a sight that prompted him to exclaim with an apparent abundance of motivating spirit, "OORAH, DEVIL DOGS!!! GET SOME!!! OORAH!!!"

I never did find out what motivated him, whether it was the poor bastard trying to stagger under his pack and puke at the same time or the poor dumb bastard that thought it was somehow possible to carry two full packs, a base plate, a mortar barrel, and various smaller miscellaneous mortar gear. I literally staggered across the finish line and didn't even pause to drop the gear and lower my pack. I just keeled over to my right once the last inch of boot leather passed the line.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

So the news stories from parts northern of the Marine Corps run high school reminded me of a few Marines and a parade.

Best part of the reports for me is the few folks out there that get their tighty whites in a wad about the military in schools, and they're just talking about a few recruiters on a medium to large sized university campus. I wish I could see their faces when 'Marine Corps' & 'High School' are used in the same sentence. Now that would be priceless. But maybe that's just me...

I actually knew a few Marines who attended a military type high school. Up to that point, I wasn't even aware that there was anything out there more than the JROTC programs. One of the guys had some pretty good stories from his time there, and while they weren't quite to the caliber (or occasional depravity) of a good sea or war story, some of the tales were pretty funny. He lamented the intrusion of regulation that was creeping into his old school, but unnecessary regulation and discipline can be perceived as very different things when it comes to the kiddos, depending on one's age perspective.

Except for me, of course, I knew everything. (Har!!)

So one year a bunch of us had either not escaped from the Gunny fast enough or had gotten caught doing something relatively minor and had been voluntold for parade duty. Honestly though, parade and funeral details never really bothered me, save for a few times. It was always a pleasure to speak with ye Olde Corps vets, and equally so to render final honors.

Rendering honors for Marines that one knows personally is a duty & honor, but it gets old. Real old, real quick.

Veterans Day parades were interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, they were usually held in the mornings after an evening of liberty. It was quite funny the number of times that you would see Marines show up to the parade muster location with coffee, dark shades, pounding headaches, and low, quiet tones.

Those mornings when I was feeling the after-effects of a rather vigorous night, not so much.

Older (former) Marines would wander up on occasion with some words of wisdom, or even more appreciated, a few cups of coffee. Once out of the Corps, the former Marines might vary quite a bit in their appearance, with different sizes of guts, length of hair, styles of clothes & whatnot, but they all seemed to have that same gleam in their eye and a few salty stories of their own, once they got warmed up. I'm afraid we got more than one former Marine in trouble with their spousal unit upon their return, because a slip of the tongue is real easy to do when hanging out with Marines.

So this one parade that we did we arrived to notice that our place in the parade just happened to be located right up against a platoon from a Marine high school. It was interesting to note that their dress blues uniform were for the most part, exactly like ours. There were no combat action ribbons on their uniforms but if I remember correctly, not too many of us had ours yet, either. So the ribbons were different, and they had a school-related patch on one shoulder. Enough to make some of us do a double take, especially those that always commented on the state of the 'young punks' that seemed to join the beloved Corps, year after year.

The Commanders of the high school platoons reminded me of Scout Troop leaders. Some were vets themselves, others struck me as filling more of a chaperon kind of billet, meaning that they were probably parents of one of the lads. No uniforms worn nor military experience, but a healthy concern for the kiddos and an interest in most things military. It was one of those gentlemen that came over to our platoon where we were staged, trying not to pass out or toss (too many) cookies, to strike up a conversation with our Staff Sergeant.

GENT: Hey dude, how's it going?

SSGT: [somewhat growling] Good morning, Sir.

Apparently the good man though we were from another school.

GENT: Sun sure is bright this morning, iddn't?

SSGT: *sigh*


The Staff Sergeant was probably regretting his recent promise to clean up his act...


GENT: So, y'all gonna be spinnin' dem rifles 'round, 'n such?

SSGT: F... uh, no Sir, we're not. We might do a little s...omething here and there, but nothing too fancy.

GENT: Say now, what school'r ya from?

Yup, definitely thought we were kiddos. This should be interesting...

SSGT: School? ... ... We're from the School of Hard Knocks.

I would have preferred an answer more along the lines of the University of S&M, California, but the Staff Sergeant's response did the trick. The guy paused, glanced down at the conspicuous lack of school patches on our platoons' shoulders, and shortly thereafter retreated to his own platoon.



Ah, I Get it...

Unpublished drafts are posted to the blog from the date they were started, not the day that I finally get offa my lazy bum and post it...


Learning something new every day.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Language, Self Control & Improvement, and a Human Counter

I had a Staff Sergeant back in the day that decided to turn over a new leaf. Attempting to do this while still in the Corps was an admirable effort.

Some might say futile, but admirable nonetheless.

I want to say that the reason for the new outlook on life was that he had 'found Jesus'. Good for him, I say, but the transition from the guy that we all knew and loved to the 'new & improved' Staff Sergeant made for a few interesting moments.

Before going out to the field one day, and as an addendum to the training ops brief, he announced that he was going to stop cursing.

'You gotta be fuckin' kidding me', was the universal response from the platoon.


He was serious, and as a show of his intent, he assigned a PFC the additional duties of counting the number of times that he let the bad words slip by.


You could tell that the man was struggling when it came time for the final head count before leaving garrison. Most of the platoon already had their packs staged and were just hanging out, waiting for the word to load vehicles. The sooner we take off, the sooner we get back, sort of thing. The Staff Sergeant walked up to where we were waiting and asked for the gun team leaders.

"I need all fu-er- all NCOs up here right now!", he bellowed in his customary voice. Once we were assembled he asked if we were up on bodies, gear, and weapons (all numbers of personnel, serialized gear, and weaponry matching what he had on paper). "Ok gents, do we have all our go... ...ll-darned mortars ready yet? No? Well why the fuck - damn - why not?" (One mortar had a problematic sight and we were arguing with the armorer to issue us one that actually worked). "Ok, ok, I can deal with that. Tell all your Marines to get their shit - shit! - stuff together, load the vehicles, and stand by to stand by."

After a short time we had loaded all of the packs and Marines on the vehicles and were... standing by. One Marine had launched into a particularly lurid accounting of the previous weekend with a particularly dirty (and affectionate) stripper of questionable intelligence. As the Marine was getting to the 'climax' (Har!) of his story, the Staff Sergeant came around for some last-minute instruction.

"All right, all right. Shut yer pie holes and listen up! We're gonna be bustin' our balls during this evolution ... better see y'all move with a purpose... not any assholes gaffing off the training... so, when we get to the range I want all Marines to get their crap... shit. Fuck! *sigh*... [pause] Hey, where's my lackey?" "Lackey, Staff Sergeant?" someone asked. "Yeah, you know, my human cuss counter." The PFC responded from down the way.


PFC - Here, Staff Sergeant!!

SSGT - What's my count right now?

PFC - The whole thing, Staff Sergeant, or you want the count for 'fuck', 'cocks', 'shit', 'sweaty balls', 'grab-ass','crap', 'mother fu-

SSGT - The whole thing, damnit!

PFC - Wait one, Staff Sergeant... ... ...

*rustling of paper, pencil scratchings, and... was that a calculator?*

SSGT - Well? I ain't got all fucking day, you know!!

*one last pencil scratch*

PFC - 55, Staff Sergeant!

SSGT - 55?!

PFC - Roger that, Staff Sergeant!

SSGT - [under his breath] Fuck...

PFC - 56, Staff Sergeant!


While most laughed, I thought that it was kind of remarkable that the Staff Sergeant had made quite a significant dent in the average of his colorful commentary in the few hours since making his announcement...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Good Times at the Gun Range

I was pretty well indoctrinated in my early days in the Marines. I'm sure that on some level I knew that they didn't know everything, but I guess you could say that the 'immediate obedience to orders' thing really stuck with me when it came to the Officers. This could set the stage for some interesting situations, at times...

One afternoon we were on the gun range working through some live fire exercises off and on when the Captain came up to my gun. I was a fresh Lance Corporal, trying to refresh the other Lcpls on the finer art of one man gunning.

See, in the Infantry Training Battalion, they teach both the one and two man method of mortar gunning, but what seemed to happen the majority of the time in various units was the two man system. Without periodically refreshing oneself on the one man system, the skills needed would inevitably deteriorate, practically guaranteeing a situation where all hands are temporarily busy thereby demanding one man gunning skills. I happened to keep my one man skills sharp, so I was the defacto coach.

When the Captain came up he had company. He brought with him one Officer and a pair of crusty old Staff NCOs. He informed me that the trio were compadres of his from awhile back & another unit and they wanted to get some gun time. He asked me if they could shoot on my gun.

Not even really a question as really they were the Captain's guns...

Normally whenever a Marine gives a lesson or demonstration to another Marine with little to no experience in the field, he has a set pattern for the class. Briefly, my lesson plan for the 81mm mortar was to cover the responsibilities and duties of the assistant gunner (the guy who drops the rounds), things to watch out for, things to NEVER. EVER. NOT EVEN ONCE. do, and the like. The Officer, leading the way like most good Officers and shooting first, pre-empted my usual spiel by announcing that he was more than adequately prepared for the mortar fire, and, as long as I hadn't screwed up the dope (deflection and elevation numbers dialed on the sight and used for aiming), the mortar would display a magnificent demonstration of accurate fire blahblahblah....

Well.

Thus ended my attempts at the niceties. He was a Officer, right? Officers know their stuff, right? It seems that spending some time as a weapons platoon commander... of machine guns... many years back... doesn't qualify one for expertise on the 81mm mortar. Amazing.

The Fire Direction Control (FDC) team announced an upcoming mission.

FDC: FIRE MISSION!!!

PLATOON SERGEANT: (in the distance) GUN 6, GET THAT KNUCKLHE- er, a-gunner behind the line!

ME: Sir? Sir! He's talking about you, Sir. You need to be behind the muzzle of the barrel from here on out, Sir.

Sheesh!

FDC: DEFLECTION...12..34!!! ELEVATION...07..12!!! ONE ROUND, HE...CHARGE 3!!!

OFFICER: Huh? Oh, thanks. [steps back] What are they saying?

ME: Nothing to you yet, Sir. Just some stuff for the gunners and ammo men.

My gunner was hurriedly entering the information on the gun and, amazingly enough, doing some darn good one man gunning aiming in of the mortar. My ammo man completed his checks of the mortar round and handed it off to the Officer.

AMMO MAN: One round, Sir, HE, 3 charges, safety still in. I'll be prepping the other rounds...

OFFICER: Uh, thanks.

Was it me, or was the man a little bit nervous?

FDC: STANDBY FOR HALF-LOAD!!!

At the command of 'Half-Load', the assistant gunners on the gun line were to insert the mortar round halfway into the barrel and wait for the command to fire. It is usually strongly recommended to NOT drop the round before the command to fire, but if it is done, you never want to try to 'catch' the round. Trying to do so will result in the loss of whatever is in front of the barrel of the tube. Think - Very. Bad. Day.

ME: Uh, Sir? We're gonna fire pretty soon, now would be a pretty good time to remove the safety.

After his look of befuddlement, I reached over and plucked the safety half-moon lookin' metal bar from the nose cone of the round, rendering it live.

The Officer was definitely breathing heavier, now.

FDC: HALF LOAD!!!

Upon a question from one of the Staff NCOs, I turned and told him to standby for a sec, or until we shot off the round. Turning back I heard...

*tinktinktinktinktinktinktinktinktinktinktitnktink*

The Officer was somewhat half-loaded, with his right hand clasped around the very top of the round. In his nervousness, the mortar round was shaking so hard it was rattling against the interior of the barrel.

FDC: STANDBY... 30 SECONDS!!!

More than ready my left - er- yeah. I tried to squeeze in some last minute instruction.

ME: Remember, Sir, when I give the command to fire, just open your hand holding the round, bend over and immediately touch your boot. Drop your hand straight down, or yer gonna lose it. If the mortar does not fire for any reason, it most likely is a misfire. It probably won't kill us all, just keep your head down and I'll take over from there.

FDC: FIRE!!!

ME: FIRE! FIRE, SIR, FIRE!!! DROP THE ROUND, SIR!!!

He opened his hand thereby dropping the round, bent over and grabbed his boot, picture perfect.

The Mortar didn't fire.

From his position bent over, hand clutching his boot, he noticed the suspicious absence of any rounds getting sent down range from the gun.

OFFICER: [muffled & kinda squeaky] Misfire? Misfire!

I definitely heard some subtle chuckles behind me, from the direction of the Staff NCOs. This was because the Officer had failed to properly half load the round into the barrel. The round was trapped at an angle in the muzzle of the barrel and 'caught up', as we say. Just as the FDC and the Platoon Sergeant started to make their comments, I reached over the folded Officer and tapped the round to straighten it out and send it first down the barrel to then travel down range. As I was bending over I had to place a forearm on the Officer, because he was straightening up to see what was going on with the offending round.

More chuckles from the Staff NCOs.

After that volley and the subsequent decline in more gun time from the Officer, I nodded to one of the Staff NCOs to come up to the gun. "Shot any mortars before? That's nice. Welcome to my m252 81mm mortar. When you are on my gun you will listen to my instructions at all times. Today you will be dropping rounds from the a-gunner position..." He didn't seem to mind one bit getting instructed by a relatively FNG Lance Corporal.