Military Stories #09

We were now down to just weeks left. For the draftees there was the mystery of where they were going, and what they were going to do. No expected to be infantry, and no one expected to be assigned to Viet Nam. For the Regular Army enlisted, we knew where we were going for Advanced Individual Training, but we didn’t know what state our post was in and most of us were uncertain how long it was going to take. They were uncertain because it was that important when they signed up. Carl and I knew exactly how long. We had eight more weeks of basic electronics training and then 48 weeks of equipment training. There was a lot ahead of us, if we could just get through the next few weeks. 

Our physical training was beginning to have effect. We were no longer limping, and we could march for ten, fifteen, even twenty miles with full packs. Around the barracks we could march in precision. At one point we could a single boot heel hitting the ground. Fifty plus men marching in time, with one sound. I remember marching past a ranger barracks where they actually came out to watch us pass. It was pretty impressive.

We became somewhat cocky in our procedures. Someone suggested that we could get twice as much done, or at least faster, if we had the possession of two buffers. Not having the ability to buy one, we resorted to theft. The same intricate planning that went into the going AWOL was now used to raid another barracks at some distance, then drag the buffer back for our use. We even planned for a successful hiding spot not far from or barracks.

The planned night raid came and we greased up in no reflective paint, and headed off into the cold. Dodging street lights and night cigarette patrols we found a platoon at least four companies away. Carrying the buffer back took at least an hour, and three men carrying in rotation. The next morning our drill sergeant became aware of the extra buffer but said nothing except a small distort of his face, which might have been a smile. No one could tell.
Later that day we did see our drill sergeant listening to another drill sergeant yelling at him. “I know your people stole it because you are a thief yourself and a complete waste of skin.” It went on like that for several minutes. The things that a practiced drill sergeant could scream in an argument are legion. Our drill sergeant was puffing on a cigarette, and sipping from a cup of coffee. At the end he declared he knew nothing about it and suggested that the captain should be told. The other drill sergeant marched off knowing that resorting to an officer to resolve a problem was the worst thing ever. So I knew then that very night there would be another squad of sleuths solders, creeping in the night, looking for an easy pick concerning an available buffer. And so it would go until we all graduated.

One of our last field exercises was several mikes away, camped in the snow overnight, armed with BB guns, fully loaded, and expecting to be attacked, captured and then tortured. The training of a few weeks before was fresh in our minds. We had several weeks of learning to be accurate with the BB gun. At first we were shooting at coffee can lids thrown in the air, then we moved down in size until most of us could hit a bottle cap tossed ten in front of us, from the hip!

That night we knew the attack would come when we were least prepared, so we actually slept early so we would all be awake when the enemy came. The enemy was a company of infantry taking advanced training, several months ahead of us. We waited in the cold, try not to let our breath give away our positions. The attack came around 4:00 am. We were all awake and we pumped thousands of BBs into the attacking force. The judges declared a few deaths but the force was too large and too quick to be stopped. My entire squad was captured, and we were quickly led off the battle field. We could hears the screams of people being hit by BBs amid the screams of warning and encouragement. 

We were being marched in single file downhill and through a thicket. There came a bend where the rear guard couldn’t see what the front of the line was doing. Three of us diverted to the right and hid. As the rear guard passed, we jumped them and took their weapons. I was only missing two of my men so we thought to lay an ambush to see if any more captured would pass this way. Besides, we weren’t sure which direct our lines were. We managed not to leave anyone behind and we freed several men from other squads. We gambled in the direction taken and actually made it back in time for breakfast.

It was a very sobering two days, terrifying in parts, cold, miserable, and yet very morale boosting. We could survive and even succeed in not being tortured. Actually nobody was tortured, even the prisoners were given breakfast before being returned. Several of us had nasty welts from the BBs, I don’t think we qualified for Purple Hearts.