Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Power of the Trash 'Stache

After a couple of months in Iraq, we were good to go. We just about knew all the roads, definitely knew where most of the bad stuff was (most of it we found prior to detonation, some we found the hard way), and were continuing our proficiency in our performance. At the time, I had not completely developed my perspectives on convoys nor (then) Gunny Murphy of Murphy's Law's fame, but it was coming. A story from one of my Corporals illustrated to me a little bit of both subjects, and helped to develop the theories on the two.

I guess that I had been pissing and moaning a little bit much about convoys, enough so that I was given orders to perform what else, a convoy escort. Typical story, too many vehicles to allow for mobility in the event of attack, not enough assets to respond to an attack, soldiers too new to the country to have learned all of the nuances of immediate action in the event of an attack, and yet another set of gray hairs for moi, attack or no. I was running around pulling out my pathetic little excuse for a trash 'stache in my doomed attempts to haul just about everything, and everyone, kicking and screaming I might add, to an acceptable level of competency.

A word, on the trash 'stache.

Just like everything else, the Corps has regulations on facial hair. A mustache will be within acceptable grooming standards, length, width, and extension from the mug all measured out. The mustache will be allowed to grow for a set period, if it ain't there in two weeks, it's not coming in brother, time to call the time of death and shave it off. They are actually not terribly common, in the states and/or garrison. In the field / combat however...

Perhaps one of the top contenders for the best leader I know had a 'stache. He started to grow it out in the pre-deployment training, and I really wouldn't be too surprised to learn that he did not trim it. At all. Not even once. This thing was out of control. Wildly beyond regulations, he started to bear a strong resemblance to an old, grizzled walrus. Mustache wax? I think it was the brand named Copenhagen. Reading lips? Uh-uh, no way, we learned to read the mustache twitch. One one pre-raid brief, the Captain concluded his otherwise deadpan orders with, "if there are no further questions at this time, I would just like to let everyone know if you need any motivation for these trying times, I will let you touch my mustache."

Twitch, twitch.

Needless to say, about a month later EVERYONE started to grow a trash 'stach. Even the females.

Ok, maybe not.

Certain types, like the above mentioned Marines, didn't have the proper gender and / or heritage to grow a truly impressive nose beard (Thanks, Dad!). I already knew that my facial hair was somewhat sparse due to some distant South American Indian connection, but what I didn't know was, in addition to sparseness, enough of my maternal side came through in the form of about 15 blond 'stache hairs (seemed to be about 30% of the total). Made for some funky looking whiskers, even when I wasn't pulling them out in frustration.

Back to the convoy...

Eventually, I had dispersed enough radios to pass for a mediocre communication ability, gotten an accurate head count (true definition of herding cats, that one), and successfully imparted my intent for immediate action in the event of attack (just get out of the way and let the Marines handle it). We were ready to make the trip.

Naturally, about 30 minutes into an otherwise uneventful escort, one of the convoy trucks goes tits up. Even more naturally, I don't hear about it over the #$%@!&* radios until I am about 5 miles up the road, unaware and alone (I had about 6 convoy vehicles, so yes, I was essentially alone). I had to stop, get out of my truck, go to each vehicle driver and ask if they knew why there was a big gap in the convoy, and why they had not passed that information onto me, 'cause I just might be curious about that. Then I had to guide each driver in the movement we eloquently called 'flipping the bitch', or turning an element of vehicles around, to drive off into another direction. While I was enjoying myself thus, Cpl. Weirdo experienced the following...

Curious as to why the convoy had stopped and why I had not come over the radio to announce a reason for said delay, Weirdo passed the radio off to one of his Marines, and stepped out of his vehicle to conduct some urgent business. Buttoning up his fly, he re-checked the shoulders of the road in the immediate vicinity (a sixth time couldn't hurt) and started trudging to the head of the convoy, to see what was shakin'.

A quick description of Weirdo, and to tell the truth, just about all of us. Lack of showers, laundry facilities, pxs, and the ever increasing patrol lengths had combined to produce some...interesting..fragrances / appearances. To put it blunt, we were pretty dingy. Just about all bore proud trash 'staches of varying levels of pride, shaving was usually done after a looong laundry list of other, higher priorities, and I think probably about 3 Marines had any sort of rank insignia left on their uniforms. On the plus side, our vehicles were as tip top as they were going to get in their current condition, our weapons were friggin' immaculate, and I knew, for a fact, that most of my Lance Corporals had the stones to pick up the ball and run with my position, should I be...unavailable.

Weirdo, being the Marine that he was, had taken to smoking the occasional stogey to cut down on his natural man musk, and to test the limits of authority. Walking up to the downed vehicle, he saw that it was for the time being, out of commission. The industrious leader of the soldiers, a Lieutenant, was already taking the time to place out his soldiers in defensive positions for the anticipated wait. Noticing my Corporal walking up he said, "well sir, the vehicle is down, I got my boys set up, what do you think about their positions?"

Twitch, twitch, went Weirdo's 'stache.

Apparently, the Lt. had seen the cigar, lack of immediately noticeable enlisted rank, wildly out of regulation trash 'stache, combat elan, and assumed that he was speaking to a higher ranking Marine Officer. Weirdo, for his part noticed that there were a few, better covered positioned spots that the soldiers could be occupying for the purposes of security, and told the Lt. as much. "Roger that, sir, will do" was the response.

Weirdo wisely chose to attend to business elsewhere before anyone discovered why you (and especially Army Lieutenants, new to Iraq and working with Marines) should ever A-S-S-U-M-E.


Especially with Marines.

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