Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Reveille!

It’s time to get up! It’s time to get up! It’s time to get up in the morning!

I hate the word reveille. In our vernacular it means to get up and out of bed. Particularly I hate the word reveille said three times in a row, as in: reveille, reveille, reveille! Most of the time it is announced like that by a vengeful Marine who has lost sleep because he was on the duty roster. He pays everyone back by obnoxiously bellowing this word over and over again.

Here is how you normally hear it announced by some spring butt morning person who has taken it as his personal responsibility to inflict this unbearably banal word on his fellow Marines:

“Reveille, reveille, reveille gents! Reveille, reveille!”

The enthusiasm this particular clown infuses the announcement with is enough to make me want to punch his liver out and kick it around on the deck. Want to know what I have found gets more of a positive response than giddily screaming “reveille” like high school cheerleader?

“It’s 05:30… Get up!” Amazing.

As a young Marine I was assigned fire watch one night for some imagined infraction (I was guilty). My company was out in the field and the next day we were to conduct a number of fire and maneuver ranges. America’s Lance Corporal was instructed to come find his Staff Sergeant at 0300 and report for fire watch.

I was particularly ticked off at the perceived in justice of it all and at 0300 I approached every tent containing a Staff NCO and woke up everyone inside “looking” for my SSgt. After finally finding him in the last tent I looked in (imagine that) I was instructed to man my post and sound reveille for the company at 0530.

Promptly at 0530 that morning I filled my lungs and roared: “It’s 05:30 Charlie Company! Time for Uncle Chesty’s Fun Hour! Where you too can be a winner!”

I was never assigned to sound reveille again.

Semper Fi!

America’s 1stSgt

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stupid Happens

Currently dealing with any number of incidents, issues, and other things I like to file under STUPID. I can always tell when a Stupid File is beginning to unfold in front of me. Usually they start with a sentence like one of these:

“What happened was…”

“We were drinking…”

“I was the designated driver…”

“I thought it would be funny if…”
Yeah, hilarious.

“We were doing some MCMAP…” Oh no you weren’t! You were horsing around!

“I didn’t think…” Yes, I already know that.

“I think there’s been a misunderstanding…” Indeed, but not by me, stud.

Amazingly, any and all of those sentences are used almost every single time in every single incident involving stupidity. Other intros are a little more incident specific:

“Well I had given him my pin number…”

“I had my knife out…” The beginning of a story destined not to end well.

“We were trying to see if we could…” This statement alone is enough to induce a small stroke.

“He let me use his car before and…” So this means now you are allowed to help yourself any time I take it?

“She doesn’t love him anymore…” Killer, she’s still married, one; two, if she’d cheat on him, she’s GOING to cheat on you, too.

Most of the time news of stupidity is delivered by phone. It's another reason why I hate that malevolent harbinger of bad news. With the advent of modern cell phone technology I can get a call informing me of asinine behavior at all hours of the day and night. Technology sucks!

Here’s an example of dumb (hypothetically):

Spitefully, my cell phone awakens me with its incessant vibrating; driven no doubt by the unholy spirit which inhabits it. One bleary eye semi-focuses on my watch noting it is about two in the morning and I curse whoever is the root of this phone call with a pox upon their entire house. My poor attempt at answering the phone in a professional manner comes out like this; “Brhggrh…jkjdd..kill yourself…”

This is when the unfortunate Marine on duty has to deliver the bad news. In this case it's that one of my brain surgeons had been arrested for DUI while attempting to leave through the back gate. Steely eyed and alert Military Police were able to apprehend him after he plowed into their parked squad car. Upon opening the car door to see if the driver was OK, the MPs watched our hero pour out on to the street like a bucket of wet socks.

It is one of those judgment calls which can only be born out of the bottom of a bottle of tequila. I take particular note of the genius it took to conceive and execute the idea to go out after finishing the bottle off.

Just another one of the many kinds of incidents which send my blood pressure skyrocketing to unsafe levels. Out here the stupidity can be ingenious in its ability to be concocted without the aid of alcohol. That is stupid mastery and a story for another day.

Semper Fi,

America’s Angry 1stSgt

Friday, June 19, 2009

Night of the Knife Hands

Travis awoke a memory or two of my embassy days in Bujumbura, Burundi. Particularly memorable were some of the glaring cultural differences that made life there interesting. Forgive me if these next few posts aren’t about Iraq and I stroll down memory lane here.

While on embassy duty all Marines were required to conduct annual familiarization training with the various firearms that were at the time provided by the Department of State for us to use in the event that the wolves came knocking at the door. It was expected that said wolves be greeted with enthusiasm by Marines wielding shotguns, or Uzis, or a sock with a brick in it. As a young grunt coming from an infantry battalion this scenario held a certain romantic quality for me.

For some crazy reason it was decided that doing familiarization firing in a nation that was currently embroiled in a civil war wasn’t such a great idea. At the time tensions were such that there was a national curfew at 1900 every night. Thus we always flew to Nairobi to conduct our training with the Marines there.

After all the gunslinger training was complete I was waiting at the Nairobi airport for my flight back to Buj. The plane had barreled down the runway when the pilot unexpectedly powered down and we returned to the terminal. Turns out the pilot felt like something wasn’t right, made a safety call and decided not to take off. As someone who has a keen interest in preserving his hide, I’ll never argue with anyone making a safety call.

So there we were hanging around the Nairobi airport waiting for mechanics to finish duct taping our plane. Throughout the airport other travelers to the Dark Continent went about their business. Some laid prayer rugs down on the floor in an area marked off for that purpose. Others sat in the airport bar sipping warm Elephant beer. The majority of passengers on my flight were Burundi nationals anxious to get home. In another group were a number of expatriates, non-government agency workers, and other American/European types including one Marine Corporal chatting together as travelers do when facing the mutually unpleasant specter of a delayed flight.

Hours went by. Every so often, a gentleman that worked for the airline would give us an update on what was going on. Then word came to us that another flight was coming in and we would be traveling in that plane instead. Great! When do we board?

Then our poor airline representative pressed his way to the edge of the crowd busily gathering their things to board when he said one simple thing that sent the crowd through the roof.

“The flight is being cance-“; he never got to finish his sentence as a planeload of passengers who had been waiting in the terminal all afternoon erupted in a torrent of regional dialects. Decibel levels immediately shot to heights nearly unbearable as the airline rep was verbally assaulted in various languages and with exotic hand gestures directed at him by an obviously discontented mob. It was like being at the Tower of Babel; I had never seen anything like it.

Our hapless airline spokesman, no doubt the junior man in the immediate area sent out to the slaughter, couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Clearly he was trying to pass some more information but no one was having it. All around him offended passengers were snapping at him like the ravenous undead. At any moment I expected Michael Jackson and a horde of break-dancing zombies to moonwalk through the terminal.

Seeing that forward progress was in jeopardy and being a man of action, I pressed my way through the mob and grabbed the distressed spokesman and had him tell me what was going on. He nodded thankfully and told me that the plane was ready but because of the curfew in Bujumbura we could land but would have stay at the airport the rest of the night. The airline had arranged transportation and lodging at a nearby hotel for all the passengers and the flight would leave first thing in the morning. All we had to do was shut up, follow the airline guy to our luggage, and get on the stupid bus.

So amidst the swirling anarchy in a Nairobi terminal I stood on a chair and began to bellow at the top of my lungs until I had everyone’s attention. First I stated an immutable fact:

“Okay, we’re not flying to Bujumbura tonight.” This touched off another round of shouting in foreign tongues punctuated with knife hands pointed in my direction.

“Don’t bother yelling at me; I don’t understand anything you’re saying anyway!” I boomed, knife handing them right back. They didn’t know what I already knew; I was louder than all of them put together.

“There’s a bus downstairs waiting to take us all to a hotel for the night and if we follow this gentleman over here.” I gestured to the waving airline spokesman, “He’s going to take us to pick up our luggage and get us on the bus. You can stay up here all night and argue if you want to. Me, I’m going with that guy!” As if on cue our maligned airline employee made a beeline for the escalator. Without missing a beat I hopped off the chair taking off with the airline rep like we were old buddies and towing a number of amused westerners in our wake.

“That was cool!”

“The Marine took charge! Yeah!”

The din of those passengers clearly not amused receded impotently behind us as we descended to the baggage claim on the escalator. I never found out if everyone made it to the hotel or not.

Oddly, no one had anything to say to me the next day as we traveled on an uneventful flight back to Bujumbura. Once again, anarchy and chaos were held back by the mere presence of a U.S. Marine.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More Phone Hate

Then there were those that called our phone at the Marine House in Burundi. We had an outside line that was on the local telephone network and the occasional wrong number conversation was enough to cause cancer.

Usually the central nervous system shattering ringing of our phone would finally be answered by an off duty Marine hoping it might be a pretty girl.

“Marine House, hello?”

“ ‘ello?”

“Hello?”

“ ‘ello?”

“Yes, hello.”

“ ‘ ello?”

“What in the world do you want?”

“???????? ‘ ello?”

“YOU…CALLED…ME! JACKASS!”

Why the numb skull on the other end couldn’t articulate what in the world he wanted in any language is completely beyond my scope of comprehension. On the other hand, he was probably scratching his head wondering what we thought our barbarous howling into the receiver was going to accomplish.

As a side note: head butting a push button phone is not recommended.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Telephone Tales

I hate telephones!

A ringing telephone is solely a harbinger of evil tidings; a demon-driven device constructed to torture and maim my inner ear and other workings within my brain housing group.

How can this be you ask? After all, it is the 21st Century and where would we be without the electronic leash we call the cell phone?

Friends, my particular loathing for phones of any ring tone started way back as an embassy guard in the mid 90’s. At the American Embassy Bujumbura, Burundi, I was a young Corporal standing Post 1 controlling access into the embassy walking my post in a military manner and observing everything that took place within sight and hearing.

Unfortunately, I could hear the phone, too.

Normally, the embassy phone was answered by our receptionist. She was a nice gal who spoke nine languages and could converse rather melodiously with nearly anyone. I, on the other hand, could merely swear in a dozen languages and had picked up enough Swahili to say things like:
“What are you looking at?”

“Do you want to fight?”

“I am the strongest!”

“I’ll hit you in the head!”

“Get on the ground! Now!”

Later I would be nicknamed Hatari Ya Kufa; which I was told means “dangerous to life” or in my case “hazardous to your health.” That is a whole different story though.

At any rate, there were times in the early morning and at night when our lovely receptionist was not at work and the Marine in Post 1 had to answer the phone. Burundi had been a Belgian colony back in the old Corps and one of the main languages still spoken there was French. On any given day that I had to answer the phone, the conversation went like this:

“American Embassy, Bujumbura. Marine Guard speaking, how can I help you?”

“Eh, je me blah blah blah, croissant du poisson blah blah…”

“Monsieur, no parlez francaise.”

“Oh? No parlez francaise?”

“No.”

“Le voici fromage blah blah blah ou est petite garcon?”

“Look, I don’t speak French.”

“No speak French?”

“……..no……….”

“Le chien il la onze blah blah blah!”

Days like that usually ended with me picking the buckshot out of the receiver.

Semper Fidelis,
America's 1st Sgt.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Family Lore: More on Loot!

Coffeypot’s comments reminded me of a few tales my dad told me once about getting mail in Viet Nam.

My old man never liked to let his mother worry about him. Writing home he would always assure her that he was fine and never in any real danger, when in fact he was up to his neck in violence. I asked him once how close he had ever gotten to the enemy in battle. He replied that he had been close enough to see the stitching in their uniforms. (Photo, July 21, 1967 Mike Co, 3rd BN, 3rd MAR btween Khe sanh and Ca Lu by John Colvis)

During one period of the war my cousin, Johnny was in the Army stationed in Viet Nam. Young Johnny lived in relative comfort by comparison to his Uncle Bob (my dad) whose red handed exploits are still the focus of much of our family lore.

Now Johnny was recipient of all the good loot from home. He was a REMF after all and had plenty of luxury compared to his Uncle Bob who lived out of a pack swatting at humming bird-sized mosquitoes while simultaneously imposing his will on godless communist heathens.

At one point Johnny’s mother sent him a small television in the mail. Upon hearing her grandson was on the receiving end of such lavishness she could not allow her only son to go without. I can only imagine my dad’s face as he squatted in the bush somewhere reading a letter from his mom asking if he wanted a TV, too.

Later after he got back from the war, Johnny would admit that he had it relatively easy where he was at. “Now where Uncle Bob is, that’s where people are getting killed!”

Good work Johnny, just what a mother wants to hear.

Semper Fi,

America's 1st Sgt.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Loot!

Loot, loot, loot. We like getting stuff in the mail. No doubt about it. I know Marines that would rather take a kick to the junk than not get anything at mail call. Our poor mail clerk has been threatened with physical violence and accused of purposely hoarding mail by brownie starved by Marines and Sailors who haven’t even received so much as a card from home.

Of course, getting cool stuff like baked goodies is always in order and usually the most sought after and shared of items. There are legions of troops whose very diets revolve around chow sent from home. Feel free to read about UGRAs in one of my previous posts for a greater understanding of the foulness that is ingested by service members in more remote climes. In our case at Al Asad, mail is more of a morale issue vice a gastrointestinal one. I know I get pouty when I don’t receive any.

Do you remember that feeling you had at Christmas when you were little? It’s the same feeling that comes over us at mail call. You might get a box of dirty underwear but it doesn’t matter as long as it has your name on it. The tough guys may shrug off not getting mail, but it is always a cool feeling to open your own package of loot.

Speaking of opening your own loot at Christmas, as a kid I recall being wide awake a 0500 in the morning and slinking down the hall to glimpse what was under the tree by whatever light was coming in through the window. Never once did I set foot in the living room before my parents were awake. My father had made it utterly clear that any violation of gift un-wrapping without him being present was punishable by all manner of horrifying and grievous consequences. Yeah, so it’s just like that when the mail run goes. No fondling mail that isn’t yours. Gunfights have started over less.
The parents of one of my Marines sent me a card last deployment. Here I am reading it to their son. Mail is fun, see?
Over Christmas of 2007 Hope was trying to send all of my warlords stockings and gifts in the mail. She was stressing out over the fact that none of it had arrived yet and I probably didn’t help matters by being so blasé about it. Of course, I was dealing with my own issues including boneheads getting liquor in the mail, a carpet of mice trying to eat the FOB out from under me, and oh yeah, there was a war on.

Then on Christmas Eve Hope’s package arrived with decorated stockings for a number of specific individuals in the Company. Marines were nestled asleep in their beds while visions of manic Drill Instructors danced in their heads. I felt like Santa as I tip toed through the berthing hanging up stockings on Marine’s racks.

So if you ever wonder if you should send something to the boys out there the answer is yes you should. Even if you don’t know them and even if they never write back. It’s not the point anyway. It may just be a card or a letter, but someone is going to read it.

Loot; it does a Jarhead good.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Birthday After Action Report…

Okay, so I suspected that Hope might pull a highjack on me, but the depths that her subversive acts would reach were probably beyond even her reckoning.

My day began with the aforementioned hostile takeover of Castra Praetoria coupled with a lot of eye rolling and head shaking. Soldier’s Angels were raining down like meteors, pictures of me stealthily taken by Hope and other “friends” were plastered across the page. This prompted queries like; “Why are you wearing a dress in that picture?” For the record, it is a hakama gi and if anyone ever wants to know how feminine it is feel free to meet me in the parking lot.

Shortly after my Battalion SgtMaj slyly e-mailed everyone in the battalion with the below e-mail:

To: AA_TFMP_3/3_ALL_HANDS




Subject: America's 1stSgt's birthday: 4 June

UNCLASSIFIED

Yes,
Contrary to public believe and rumor (most started by the 1stSgt), he was actually born of mortal woman on the 4th of June. He did not just appear in full combat gear with sharp objects in his hands.
Remember to say Happy birthday to the legend in his own mind!

SgtMaj, Task Force MP (3/3)
Al Asad, Iraq

Following this timely missive was a hail storm of happy birthdays from all over Al Anbar province that lasted two days. On the pretense of consoling me on my inevitable physical decline, young Marines in Al Asad took far too great a pleasure in wishing America’s 1stSgt a happy birthday.

To sooth my ego I obliterated at least half a pan of brownies with my morning coffee. In an effort to save myself from excessive kryptonite consumption I actually did share the brownies; but it was all in my own self interest in order to keep my shoulders wider than my waist.

My lunch consisted of two chicken breasts and salad; counter brownie fare to be sure. As I left the chow hall I curiously noticed a crowd of my Staff NCOs and Officers hanging around the entrance gate guarded by Ugandan security types. Then one of them accidentally tripped the siren on their bull horn; I froze, about faced, and headed out the other way. Not to be denied they harassed and questioned my manhood until I had no alternative but face the music as it were.

Right at the gate entering the chow hall with the entire armed forces of the United States walking by America’s 1stSgt was serenaded by about half a dozen Marines singing Happy Birthday with the stupid bull horn. They presented me a card with a large Superman ‘S’ emblazoned on it wishing me a “Legendary” birthday. When I opened the card it played the Superman theme music; this is the normal soundtrack that plays in my head on an average day so that was appropriate. It was also covered with signatures of Marines letting me know things like they only signed the card out of respect for their elders and signed off as “America’s Wireman”, “S-4 Ninja”, etc.

Later at a promotion in the Motor Pool I called the section to attention to start the ceremony. Immediately upon snapping to attention the entire Motor Pool to a man bellowed; “HAPPY BIRTHDAY 1STSGT!”

Struggling to maintain my bearing I barked; “Your first exercise is: Marine Corps pushups!” We conducted the promotion without further incident.

All in all not a bad day as birthdays go. Action, excitement, bullhorns, and brownies; all the minimum requirements for a successful day were met. To cap it all off I had a fat wedge of cheesecake with dinner and immediately retired to my can to crash in a cheesecake induced coma.

So to Hope and everyone who participated in my birthday highjack: Mission Accomplished. I had a great day.

Semper Fi!

America’s 1stSgt

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Birthday Hijack

Heck, no! This was not written by Mike. Knowing him, after reading this, he'll have devised several ways to take me out and make it look like an accident. Heehee.

America's 1st Sgt.

Al Asad, May 2009

1st Sgt with one of his ninjas, Karmah, Iraq 2007-2008
SedonaTwo dorks.

Guess which one is America's 1st Sgt??? Yeah, that's a tough one. Ethan felt your arrival was exceedingly delayed. We had roastbeef to eat and dessert with frosting for crying outloud and you were holding things up!

Nascent Burke annihilation indoctrination. Toe curling!

If you are sensing any kind of EMF distrubance to your major household appliances or electronics or perhaps a fluctuation in barometric pressure, it's probably because ALMOST 40 years ago, America's 1st Sgt. blew into the world and the Lord Almighty looked down at his new creation and saw that it was good-- a little swaggery, possibly incorrigible, but nonetheless good. Then I hear He shut it down for the night so as not to push his luck.

First time I met Mike was through words. He was looking out for his 'ninjas' he calls them, doing what he could to get moral support for them on a difficult deployment. I picked his post at AnyMarine because well-- Please. After reading here for the last two months, do you really have to ask?

First thing that came to mind when I read his post was "oh man, this guy is a character." Still, I looked some more since his was the first one I found. Eventually, I came back to his post and noticed that he was from the same area and battalion my own Marine husband had been billeted in the early 80s. Done deal.

I fired off a letter, called him a character and he answered via email with this as the first few lines:

Thanks for the letter! Me a character? I know not of what you speak. You asked for it now!

Everytime I feel like slamming my head in a car door over something he inevitably says due to his, "I Can't Help Myself" genome embedded deeply in his Y chromosome which, under any electron microscope, would clearly be camo-colored and emblazoned with the Eagle, Anchor and Globe; I just think of that first email from this cocky, insensitive-acting to keep his street cred, hard working, clearly dedicated, hilarious man-child and remind myself:

I TOTALLY asked for it.

What does my husband think of all this? Tony says he's just glad I have a brother around to draw some of his fire now and again. *shrug-grin-shrug*

I know not of what he speaks!

Happy Birthday, Mike! Glad you were born, brother. Now quit rolling your eyes. 'Sides, this post will be morphing for the next few days, I think. I'd wait 'til everyone weighed in, THEN roll them.

-Hope, Tony & the Kiddos,including your brownie troll.

Anyone with a story or photographic evidence, feel free to hit me via email and I'll add it to this post.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Night fighting! Well sort of…

Kharma, Iraq. August 2007.

Yeah, it was sucky.

My first night patrol last deployment was not a history making event; no pivotal battles were fought; we didn’t even detain anyone. That patrol will never even amount to a footnote in the annals of military lore. As a matter of fact I would have to say that on any given day a combat patrol through our part of the town more closely resembled a steeple chase than anything else.

Imagine, if you will, temperatures more suitable for the baking of cookies than human life. Then strap on 100 pounds of miscellaneous objects including body armor, ammunition, water, first aid kits, communication gear, and any other number of items of interest. There is always one more clown out there with a brilliant new piece of gear that we just “gotta” carry with us. Well brain surgeon, get in line behind the twenty-five other experts with a brilliant new gadget that is supposedly light weight. It always amazes us that engineers are able to come up with some of this dazzling stuff, but can’t do simple math. Nimrods, twenty-five doohickeys that only weigh 2 pounds is 50 pounds of extra crap we get to carry around! Sorry, I’m getting off track.

That night I didn’t really walk so much as fall for at least 1,800 meters or so. Leaping over irrigation ditches, slugging through muddy pastures, cursing the Marine in front of me for not pointing out the giant hole my hip just sank into; it was definitely not a highlight reel of graceful gymnastic achievement.

I will never know how the designers of our body armor expect Marines to chase bad guys through urban battlefields or the mountainous terrain with all that crap on. In the end it becomes more of a liability than an enhancement. If they developed a round that would actually kill the enemy with one shot I might never have to run again.

By the time we got to our first check point, I was a train wreck. We stopped to check up on some of our Marines conducting operations out of their own patrol base. I shucked off my equipment like the albatross that it was and flopped down miserably on the floor. Despite my reputation for physical prowess, I felt like I just had the snot kicked out of me by a gang of gypsies.

One of the drawbacks of being America’s 1stSgt is that despite how I feel I still have to set an example of performance and professionalism. In this case it meant donning all that soul grinding gear again and continuing the patrol; like I thought it was a great idea.
Splayed out on the floor like a human sacrifice I suspect I gave myself away to the likes of my CO Capt Hanson. It's kind of hard to maintain a poker face when you look like someone stretched out on a torture rack.

"You okay 1stSgt?" he asked dryly.

"Go to...I'm fine sir."

We set out into the darkness again taking circuitous routes around angry dogs, man-eating cows or worse, an aroused bull. This only led to further acrobatics as we scaled walls and performed precarious balancing acts on rotting planks thrown over the ditch water.

When considering all the acts of heroism performed in the war on terror this patrol will not be considered worth recounting. On the positive side, we were inspired to award our fellow Marines and Sailors for notable achievements on follow up patrols; Most Falls Endured; Most Spectacular Header; Ditch Water Consumption Award; Most Body Area Covered by a Foreign Substance.

I never won any of these awards, but I never came in last either.