Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Et tu, Brute?" Part 2

Resting against a window in the back of the bus I could hardly make out what was trees and what was houses. I saw the odd faded light here and there as we traveled through Northern New Brunswick on our way to CFB Gagetown. Eventually I was shaken awake by my fellow hopefuls and I heard it "There it is!". A low murmur vibrated throughout the bus. We had arrived at our destination. The bus swerved left as we pulled onto the base. It was an open base so there wasn't the usual security guard or armed soldier at the front. "This isn't like the movies at all" I thought to myself as we past large open fields and manicured lawns on the way to our barracks.
The bus pulled up to this large white building with four columns resembling something you'd see on the Parthenon or a Supreme Court. But something was odd when the bus stopped. The driver opened the doors and said "Here you are." Confusion rang throughout the bus. What next? Like lost ducklings without our ever present mother we waddled off the bus as our bags of clothes and belongings shot out its other end like a diarrhea of canvas. Then the bus departed in the night leaving the lot of us even more confused. A silence hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity.

"I guess we go in" someone finally mustered the individuality to find some meaning in this purgatory of the training system. So cautiously we walked up a set of stairs between the white columns. We went through a series of heavy metal doors into an empty foyer flanked by two sets of stairs leading to seemingly the second floor of the building. "You guys new?" It must have been painfully obvious with our shaved heads, dress uniforms, bags in hand, and an invisible sign across our foreheads that shouted 'New Guy'. The voice came from this skinny set guy in jeans and a DJ T-shirt that said "I Don't do Requests" I eventually found out whose name was James. James, I came to find out was hurt during his training and was serving out his time in administrative limbo while the military's medical system argued about what to do with him. But in the interim he was placed in charge of all the guys and girls slated for their occupation training.

Now, what the recruiter doesn't tell you when you sign up is that not all of your training is done back-to-back or in a sequential manner. This is due to a variety of issues. Logistical, administrative, staffing, budgetary, and the amount of people they need to train. What that results in is the situation I found myself in. The Personal Awaiting Training platoon or 'PATs' as we were disaffectionately know among more seasoned soldiers. So as I came to find out my training wasn't to begin for another two months. Until that time I was to be housed in a small room with four other men as we waited our turn to prove ourselves. That night I unpacked all my clothes and equipment into the nearest vacant locker, stripped down and went to sleep on the standard creaky spring military mattress complete with itchy fireproof blanket and single striped pillow. The next day I'd start my position as a private recruit with the engineering school, but until then I laid in the darkest corner of the barracks trying to fall asleep while fervently trying to ignore my roommates incognito masturbation (a common act in common shared rooms). The first nights are always the hardest.

"You know you can still back out? Change trades if you want." These were the words of the Warrant Officer placed in charged of the PATs as he read over my file.
"s.s.s.s.sorry?" I managed to stammer out as my back was ram-rod straight in the attention position.
"You have a degree. Why not go officer?" He asked.
This was a common question I was asked throughout my career as a non-commissioned member. And still I look back at my reasoning and laugh. At the time I was convinced that the best stories, the best experiences, and the most fun were had by those in the thick of things. Sure you've heard of famous generals and that ever present movie moment where a young lieutenant leads his men into the thick of battle. But I saw how the way war is fought has changed. With the advent of technology all of the "academics" spent their time in front of a computer or in a command post listening to radios and writing reports. That was no place for me. I was to be dusty old sergeant who sheppard his weary troops into action and deliver that motivating speech that allowed them to hold back and runoff the ever-descending enemy on that lone position. No, I wasn't the type who wanted to be kowtowed to because of rank. I was among those with nothing and I expected nothing for what I had.

"They're the bottom of the barrel and they know it. Maybe that's why they call themselves grunts, cause a grunt can take it, can take anything." - Chris Taylor as played by Charlie Sheen in "Platoon"


To be continued...

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