Friday, August 13, 2004

Army Memoir #1

Given the tense state of affairs in the world, I thought people might benefit from my military experiences. I could write forever on this subject. So, here I go.

Brief history - I wanted to embark on a career which involved killing people, but I knew if I did it at home I could get into trouble, plus I'd have to pay for my own ammo. Instead, I got your tax dollars to provide me with weapons I could never legally obtain and a few medals for being good with them by joining the Army (infantry). During basic training, they asked us to volunteer for what type infantry and places of service we wanted. I asked for Georgia in the US, Korea abroad, and regular light infantry, which are the guys on the ground with rifles or machine guns. Just so you know, the other infantry types were mortarmen, anti-tank (TOW missile operators), and mechanized infantry, which is the last thing I wanted since that sounded like being more of a tanker which I then viewed as the antithesis of the infantry. They had light infantry in Georgia and Korea, but instead I got mechanized infantry and was sent to Germany (when I rotated back to the states, I was sent to Texas).

In Germany I was assigned a SAW, which is a belt-fed machine gun with a kickass name. In my first qualification I found myself in a three-way tie for best score (there were about a hundred of us competing that day). The instructors even used my zeroing target as an example of the accuracy of the weapon - using single shots, my shot groups were so close that most of the bullet holes overlapped. So my fearless leaders, in the can-do spirit that has somehow managed to win wars, decided I needed to be a driver.

Naturally, I was pissed. I joined the Army to spray people with lead, and found myself in a peaceful place driving a quasi-tank. BTW, I recommend watching The Pentagon Wars for anyone who wants to see military leadership in action - it's about the development of that rotten vehicle I had to drive. Anyway, in protest of my situation I decided to become the worst driver in history. I rammed everything I could get my treads on, and generally caused as much damage and embarrassment to my leaders I could. My fellow soldiers joked that they should paint icons of trees, signs, and fence posts on the side like they sometimes do for fighter pilots who shoot down enemy planes. I got yelled at a lot, but not sent back to the fighting ranks.

The problem with driving a 13 ton vehicle is that most things hit by it take all the damage. That's where good old mother Earth came in handy. Trees got batted aside with no more than a bump felt inside, but if I could ram something solid like an embankment I could cause injury to my passengers. Sometimes I even managed to get the thing airborne, and if aimed just right, it didn't land softly. The guys riding in back didn't like it, but they suffered through the bruises because they supported my rebellion. The TC (track commander - my personal handler) got wise to this so he would shout over the comm system for me to stop or turn when he saw danger.

Then ReForGer (Return of Forces to Germany) came. It's a month-long field exercise wherein the generals play chess with the units by moving them around on the map, to which the units respond by imitating those movements in reality and firing blanks at each other. I had become disappointed in my failure to fail as a driver, and had become somewhat complacent. As a result, everyone onboard had quit perpetually bracing for impact.

One day while making a mock suicidal charge (we were racing across an open field at a company of tanks - real tanks, much more powerful than our infantry vehicles) I looked through the periscope and saw what appeared to be a small ridge cutting across our path. I slowed, expecting the halt order, but it never came. Thinking maybe the TC was distracted, I stomped on the gas pedal and got the thing up to full speed, all the time looking at that little ridge. Periscopes tend to distort depth, and as I approached I noticed it was actually a drainage ditch, the far side being higher than the near side.

The halt order never came, so the vehicle plunged into the ditch and hit the far side so hard it rebounded. My head (fortunately protected by a helmet) slammed into the front of the metal hatch, then rebounded and hit the back, then the the front and back one more time. Nobody was seriously injured, although we were all physically stunned and the gunner tore the padding off the gun sights with his face (one side swelled for a few days). I was the first to recover, and my first lucid thought was "Hey. He didn't tell me to stop." So I stomped on the gas again and tore through the ditch (they can climb small obstacles if you don't ram them at full speed). I picked out the tank I wanted to plow into and raced toward him, but it wasn't even close.

"Stooooooop!!!" came screaming over the comm system when I was still about 60 meters away. So I stopped. God forbid I disobey an order. The TC hurled invectives and profanity at me for several minutes, and all I could do was sit there and think "Yesss! I f**ked up big! I'm out, baby." After awhile, he calmed down and switched off his microphone. When he returned, he said "Okay, that wasn't your fault. I didn't tell you to stop." Turns out the cord connecting his helmet to the comm system had disconnected.

I was crushed. Apparently the only real offense for an enlisted man is to not blindly follow orders, which I didn't want to do because I had a sense of honor and a desire to avoid the stockade. My fellow soldiers comforted me (some were bleeding) by telling me that was a really good one, really caught them off guard. They were afraid I'd been tamed. Anyway, I stayed faithful to the cause and continued to cause as much destruction as possible (I took out a yield sign and part of a drainage culvert on the way back to the base) until they released me from driving duty, which, as it turns out, was never. I didn't get a new assignment until I rotated back to the States. They made me a typist. Go infantry.

Looking back now, I realize that I wouldn't trade those memories for anything (even though I'm glad I'm out). Thanks for paying for all that. If you're too young to be a taxpayer, be sure to thank your parents for me.

Patriotic, out


Frogstar said...

Very funny story. But I hate the army. Not because you were in it or anything, but because we spend half of our economy on the ARMY. This is money that, in small portions (because small is all we really need of THAT huge chunk of money) could go to our education system. I mean, half if not more of our schools here were shut down for periods of time, some varying by weeks, months, or days. While we can't get a decent education (they've got the KIDS complaining about it even!!!), Bush is out there telling us we must spend MORE on the army because we have "out-dated weapons". Well guess what? WE WOULDN'T NEED WEAPONS IF WE WEREN'T IN IRAQ FOR NO APPARENT REASON!

Frogstar said...

Er, sorry, that was harsh.

Grant said...

Harsh, perhaps, but honest. Maybe you could write something about that on Civilitas Sermo. I think what we need is a smaller but more efficient military. Again, watch The Pentagon Wars if you want to see what I mean. It's a comedy, but to the best of my knowledge all the facts are accurate.