I shared an Army story with some guys at work the other day. They all seemed to find it rather hilarious, so I thought I’d share it here also. It may not be so impactful in this medium as it will be lacking my physical recreations of certain instances within the tale and certain vocalizations that may be necessary for complete understanding, but I will do my very best to paint verbal pictures.
If you’ve never been to Army basic training, you may not know that your last major exercise before graduation is to road-march, loaded down with many types of cumbersome gear, to a extremely secluded location (in the case of myself and my battle buddies, in the dead of winter), where you must then dig a hole deep enough to stand in, fill sandbags to make a roof and live in your hole with another soldier for a few days, keeping your eyes peeled for “the enemy”.
We were in South Carolina. I never saw the enemy in human form, however if I had been able to shoot the cold I’d have put three rounds center mass in a heart beat.
Allow me to digress for a moment before I continue. Upon arrival at basic training we were all assigned a “Battle Buddy”. We were required to be accompanied by a battle buddy wherever we went and our assigned battle buddy was our partner when it came to tasks that required pairing off. Your battle’s mistakes were your mistakes and vice versa. If your battle incurred the wrath of a Drill Sergeant, by gar, you incurred it too by association.
My battle buddy and I were two very different people from very different backgrounds. I was a scrawny back woods white boy. My battle was a rather large big city black guy. He used words I had never heard before and couldn’t begin to interpret. I’m sure the same was true for him. He talked about bling and ‘Pac and something he called The Shy, which I later learned referred to Chicago. I talked about the rabbit skin underwear I once tried to make and how the Wal-Mart in my hometown should be open 24 hours a day by the time I got back home. There were many times when one of us looked at the other as though he were crazy. And we got each other in trouble a lot. Where I would defer to the Drill Sergeants, he would rebel. Not in any serious way, though. He had a very strong personality and wouldn’t stand by and take what was being thrown at him without putting his opinion out there. It isn’t a bad quality for a soldier to have, but it made for some rough days. In retaliation, I’d passive-aggressively not tell him when he had his helmet on backward. We would both push for each other’s transgressions, but it was worth it. I would laugh on the inside as my body tried to convince my brain it was dying.
I don’t want to imply that we were mean to each other or held grudges. We simply reacted in our own ways under stress. We actually worked together rather well when the situation called for teamwork.
The single exception to that, and the exception that seemed to cement our relationship even so late in the game, happened on our second day living in the hole we’d dug in the South Carolina sand. We had just been reprimanded because we had been caught not looking out for the non-existent enemy. We were cold and tired and hungry and ready to sleep in a bed again. As we stood berating the Drill Sergeant that had just berated us, my eyes beheld an alarming sight.
A few holes over I saw another Drill Sergeant. He had his campaign hat off and the whiteness of his bald head stood out starkly against the black straps of the protective mask (the Army insists it isn’t a gas mask), stretched tight against his scalp. A few wisps of steam wafted from up from his head and he had what appeared to be a pest controller’s industrial pesticide sprayer in his hands. As he walked, he danced to a beat only he could hear, obviously enjoying himself. As he drew closer, I began to see the fog his sprayer emitted and I decided to go ahead and mask up. After I was all cleared and sealed, I glanced at my battle and he had that “you’re crazy” look on his face. I pointed at the approaching Drill Sergeant and said “You should put your mask on.”
“Nah”, he said, “They ain’t…” and then, mid-sentence, his speech devolved into what I can only verbally describe as a mass of moist burblings broken by intermittent coughs that, at one point, became quite severe. He scrambled for his mask and then scrambled to clear it. When he was finally successful he spent a few more moments coughing into the mask. As his noises of distress finally subsided, my own mirthfulness began to emerge. I laughed so hard I fell over. I was so tired, and needed the humor so much, that I didn’t pause to consider the fact that my battle could’ve broken me in half had he wanted to.
Thankfully he didn’t.
He laughed too and there was silence after we regained our composure. “I wanted you to help me.” he said.
“I did!” I exclaimed self-righteously, “I told you to put your mask on!”
As we parted ways after graduation my battle admonished me to “Hold it down, battle.” I still don’t know what he meant, but I think I know what he wanted to convey.
I bid you adieu…and a don’t.
Adieu…take care of you “Battle Buddies”. You might need them one day.
A don’t…be afraid to laugh at their misfortune. If they’re truly you’re battle, they’ll understand.