We’ve had a major break from winter here. The last two weeks have been in the 50’s and even 60’s. It’s being touted as absolute proof of global warmening. Of course it is. Tomorrow we pay the price and the global warmening assholes won’t mention it. It’s supposed to start out with rain then as the temperature drops turn to snow. 12 to 18 inches of it driven by 40+ mile per hour winds. Ain’t winter grand? Me and the dogs are curled up watching a fire, thats what winter is for. Something about a fire always sets me to reminiscing so “here’s to the sunny slopes of long ago.”
I made my break from the farm in 1988, the US Army paid for my first airplane ride all the way to Fort Benning, GA. They followed that up by serving me biscuits and gravy, after a short period of ritual abuse, and I knew I was where I belonged. I could eat biscuits and gravy three times a day til the end day. A short but eventful stint at Sand Hill and I was at my first duty station. Everyone has basic training stories but they’re secondary to time in a unit stories. Basic Training is what it is but I went a little deeper. My time in a unit stories begin in the 4th Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment (Wolfhounds), 25th Infantry Division (Light). Now I must introduce the music. There is only one artist who can deliver the feeling of my early military career, ahhh… the heady days of being a Private First Class. Play the soundtrack to my life as you read the story, it can’t hurt.
4/27 Infantry, Wolfhounds, so named because it is the only unit still on active duty to have served in Siberia and to have actually fought Communists during the 1918 Revolution. Kolchak V was kenneled in the center of our quad, the descendant of the original dog, named for the White Russian General that gave him to the Regiment in recognition of the 27th Regiment’s troops dogged determination hunting down communists. That’s a damn fine history, today or twenty odd years ago. I savored that knowledge then but didn’t realize how that would impact my life later and forever.
The 25th Division was unique. Far from the flagpole in DC, the Division Commander is basically on his own, trusted to be doing the right thing with only a modicum of direct supervision. His Battalion Commanders were also left to their own devices, a fact which they didn’t exactly abuse but did stretch to its maximum which will come up again later.
I was in Alpha Company for several days before anyone spoke to me, outside of direct orders from the NCOs. It was some lonesome scary shit. Then the second Friday evening all alone and lonesome, a knock came on my door. My roommate, a corporal, was out for the evening, hopefully the weekend, he was a viscous ass who despised my presence on the earth. The knock was Dan Hallberg, a tall thin ginger kid from my platoon.
“You old enough to buy beer?” he asked.
“Yea” I replied.
“I’m payin’.” He replied, and off we went for the rest of our lives.
A person is lucky if he can collect two or three good, close friends in a lifetime. The kind of friend who, even if you hadn’t talked to him in years would drop everything, quit his job and cross the earth because you called and said “I need you.” I’ve got a passel of ’em but Dan was the first. We were immortal and we trod upon the earth as immortals should. The Greek gods were punks, we tried to live as the Norse gods would have. Thor and Loki would have been proud.
We were in the 60mm mortar section of Alpha Company. We got to shoot big bullets, that rocked, but we had to carry the damn things, that sucked. Every good thing comes with it’s balanced by nature, bad thing. The mortar system was 60 odd pounds and each round was 5 more. My piece of the mortar was the bipod, weighing in at a slim, sexy 15 pounds. Add in my five rounds and we’re at 40 lbs before I’ve even packed my stuff. As if that wasn’t enough I was also the Radio Telephone Operator, the RTO. That meant I carried the radio too. In 1990 we had the finest 1960’s communication technology, the PRC 77, pronounced “prick seventy-seven”(never to be confused with a “prick E7). That was 13 lbs but it required a VINSON KY 57, only five more pounds and a stupid cable that could not, under any circumstances, be bent in any way, form or fashion. The joke was that at least with the vinson the Army had given you a little KY, unlike the usual dry fuckin’. Of course the radio and vinson ran off batteries, the standard load of two radio batteries and one vinson battery came in at another 15 lbs. So now I’m carrying 78 lbs before I bring the first fresh pair of socks and socks are the most precious item a grunt can pack. A week in the field required a minimum of fourteen pairs, maybe two or three t-shirts so you could fool yourself into feeling clean and sexy on occasion. Of course clean and sexy required soap; regular Army units, the units with standards (not “the relaxed” standards of Special Forces) required razors and daily shaving. No extra uniforms, too heavy. No extra boots, way too heavy. Basically, as many clean socks as you had, a couple t-shirts for special occasions, a shaving kit(light) a poncho and my woobie (poncho liner). Add in the MREs they issued before you stepped off and we were loaded out at 100+ lbs. The rucksack we carried everything in was commonly referred to as the “tick on your back” because it sucked the life out of you. Dan was my gunner so he carried the gun tube, 14 lbs and the baseplate, another 15 lbs plus his 5 rounds, an extra spare battery or two… A god’s life must be earned.
The average day began at 0630 with a company formation followed by squad or platoon PT. Physical Training; push ups, sit ups and at least a two mile run. Usually four miles, sometimes much farther. There used to be an Army commercial that said “We do more before 9 o’clock than most people do all day.” That was because most people aren’t stupid enough to behave in such a manner. I hate running with a white hot passion. I ran 20 miles a week for years upon years but I despised every step. I once ran two miles in 12 minutes and thirty-six seconds but I was still drunk at the time and, well, whiskey eases misery. I also learned how to puke while running early on, that helped throughout my career. After PT we’d change, shower, eat and have another formation at 0900. Three days out of five we would then roadmarch eight miles to the nearest training area, train all day, eat an MRE and walk back late in the afternoon. One of my earliest lessons came during one of those roadmarches. We walked five meters from the man in front and alternating from the man on the opposite side of the road. Walking into the setting Hawaiian sun I saw two silhouetted files of rucksack bearing men, one one each side of the red dirt road. But this afternoon, for some reason, the two files were converging up ahead of me. There must be something in the road… As I draw near I see the obstacle. It was a “fallout.” One of the soldiers in the Company had decided he felt too bad, too weak, too pitiful to carry on and stopped by the side of the road. That meant that all of his “mission essential” equipment had to be picked up and carried by his former friends, merely because he had a little sand in his pussy. Nobody wanted more “mission essential” gear. The convergence of the files I had seen 200 meters earlier was the far file moving close enough so that each passing soldier could spit on the fallout. I made a note of that statement right there and assigned it as Rule Number One: Never Fall Out/Never Fuck Your Buddies. A lot of the people on this earth are waiting to learn that most basic of rules.
Now any poor dumb bastard can work his ass off, I’ve been doing it all my life. The key to being an immortal god is to use some of your super-human powers, like endurance, or immunity from pain to live as hard as you work. We mastered that as well. “You gotta live hard to be hard” became our motto. This brings in the second piece of soundtrack and once again Warren Zevon describes it perfectly, there were a couple times we needed lawyers, guns and money.
We’d put down a case of beer a night during the week just to keep the pumps primed for the weekend when it was a jug of Jack Daniels and two cases of beer each day. Three of four day weekends were increased proportionally by the square. I once spent a months pay in one night in the fabled tittie bars of Ala Moana. Seven blocks of strip clubs two and three stories tall. It’s all kinda blurry now but the parts I remember were all having a great time. We had at least one beer and/or shot in every floor of every club up and down the seven blocks. We caught a cab at closin’ time (0430) back to Schofield Barracks, arriving just in time to change into PT’s and go take a PT test. That was the first time I scored above 300 on the US Army APFT(Army Physical Fitness Test). As we were getting ready for the sit-up portion to begin our Company Commander walked up, bent down and jiggled my 24 year old beer belly, offering a bet I couldn’t do 100 sit ups in two minutes. I bet him a six pack, did 101 and stood up with 20 or so seconds left. My brother Thor would have been proud.
As Dan and I humped across Hawaii, South Korea, Japan(twice), the Phillipines, the Big Island, Thailand and every other forsaken shithole in or near the Pacific we picked up other gods to fill the pantheon. Rick, Todd, Endicott, Maglecic… More than I can list here. We refused to give up, we refused to be beaten down. We all learned how to “become one with the suck.” We walked for endless days thru rain, sun, heat, cold, snow, exhaustion and starvation. I’ve seen grown men cry and beg to be left to die, I saw a man fall 100 meters down a mountain, break three ribs then ask for help to stand back up and he carried his load the rest of the way. We were always at the Release Point when it was time to execute the mission. We walked through monsoon rains lasting days, froze in the mountains of Japan when the temperature dropped to single digits. Walked twelve miles through a blizzard in South Korea then went three days on three meals waiting for the rest of the battalion to catch up to us. I learned things living the god’s life with my brothers(Henry V) that I used for the rest of my career, hell, I used some of those things just to get through work today.
I feel sorry for the anyone today who doesn’t get to walk the earth as a god, they don’t know what they’re missin’, all the things they’ll never know and all the things they’ll never be able to learn. Poor dumb human bastards.
Dan is gone now, apparently our immortality wore off when I wasn’t lookin’ and cancer took him. He wasn’t even 50 yet. What the fuck? How do you do that to a god? The world is a pretty pitiful place without my friend and for me it will never recover its brightness. He’ll always linger in my memories, half-lit and hard as wood-pecker lips. We’ll raise a glass of beer together in Valhalla once my own immortality gives out. There was no finer god to walk the earth with. I love you Dan.