Most of my stories from the Army are the sort you have to experience to truly appreciate. This may be one of them.
In this story I'm an E4 w/ Recondo, 11b1P type, RTO with A – 1/505.
2LT “Smith” came to us with an impressive pedigree. His father was a General officer, with a Combat Armor badge. He however, scored higher than anyone ever had on his LSAT. How he came to be in the 1/505 is something of a mystery, but we guessed he was trying to prove something to the old man.
He picked up his nickname the first day in our platoon. We had a swimming test at the pool, and the uniform was our basic PT uniform, off-white trunks, white t-shirt, OD green socks and combat boots.
When Lt Smith appeared, it was hard to not stifle a laugh. I mean, this was our new platoon leader, and he looked about as fit and masculine as my grandmother. White as a sheet with only about three little white hairs sticking out of his legs, and muscle tone? Non-existent. I wondered if he hadn't been to jump school while still in ROTC, and then spent two years on a sofa at McDonalds before going active.
I'd just been to Recondo school, so I understood his situation. As our PL, he was expected to inspire confidence, do everything we could do, and all that shit. As an E4, I couldn't say anything, let alone help him, but what I wanted to tell him was to just STFU and stop trying to strike up friendly conversations with “his men.” It wasn't working for him, but I couldn't exactly explain to him why without insulting him. That's for platoon sergeants right? LOL
SFC Cruz was probably on his 50th butter bar. I remember him as being old, but I'm quite sure he was considerably younger than I am now (53.) Watching him lumber along, struggling in the field, overweight, and wondering why he chose the 1/505. At his age and rank he could have secured a more comfortable slot somewhere. Maybe he just wanted the extra $55/month, or maybe he hadn't gotten used to the idea he wasn't young anymore, I don't know, but Lt. Smith must have aged him 10 years w/in his first week.
To know Cruz, you had to watch him eat. Unsophisticated? Imagine watching someone put everything on the menu in one big pile on his tray, dessert on top, next comes the salad (with dressing) and under that the main course and all the sides, similarly heaped together. He'd grasp fork in one hand, knife in the other (both pointing up,) lean forward, and devour the entire plate like a pig feeding from a trough.
He spoke not a word, nor looked up. He'd sit there in a state of zen-like tranquility, with nothing on his mind but his chow. He never ate with the other NCO's. They all liked to chat and drink coffee. Cruz sat alone, lost in his thoughts, or the gravy, I'm not sure which. One thing you didn't do was interrupt him during “his time”.
I guess after that many years and that many lt's, buck sgts, and privates, he'd come to the point in his career where the sublime peace-of-mind that came from that tray was something to look forward to, and savor.
Lt. Smith's first chink appeared on a run. Less than a mile behind us and he was struggling. You could hear the CO's voice all over the building when he gave the Lt. the little talk about “falling out in front of his men.”
That sealed it for the platoon. We all suspected the guy didn't have what we did, and after the first run we knew. This was a problem. The question in everyones mind was, how long before they run him off? Do they run officers off? We didn't know! All we knew was our LT was totally f**ked up, and if we followed him anywhere we were gonna get killed fast. That's not really too much of an exaggeration either, because this guy couldn't find his ass with a mirror and a roadmap.
He may have been a crack shot w/ an M16, but I wouldn't know.
(I'm trying to paint an honest picture of a classic 90-day wonder with legs smaller than my arms and probably a certified genius w/ ZERO common sense)
The Judo Lesson
After a road march we were sitting around under the pines, getting ready to “Bivouac” with the shelter-halves and other crap they made us drag along, when me and Tim Draffin started wrestling. (Yea I know, after a road march too – youth!)
Lt Smith was watching this, and for some reason felt compelled to tell us about his Judo training. “OK Reed, why don't you let me show you a few Judo moves” LOL Funny now but at the time it frightened me. I'd kill him w/ one hand tied. I couldn't hurt him, he was an officer, and, he was OUR officer! What would it look like if I embarrassed him in front of everyone? I couldn't do that, I felt sorry for him. Was I supposed to be careful with him, and lose intentionally? Fortunately I didn't have but a split-second to ponder this.
SFC Cruz almost choked.” Lt Smith! Let me talk with you a minute Sir!”
The two walked out of hearing and I could tell Cruz was explaining to him (in very urgent hushed tones) about the foolish nature of such an offer. No sooner than they'd started, my squad leader (Glen Heard) told me to go do something, to get me out of the area just in case the Lt came back undaunted I guess.
The LT didn't get his butt kicked that day, and I could continue carrying his radio w/out being embarrassed for him.
As I mentioned, chow was a special time for Cruz. It was the one steady thing in his life that he could count on --the 3 squares.
One day, I'm sitting there eating, Cruz at a nearby table, when Lt Smith storms into the messhall like he was responding to a 911 call, placed *both* hands on Cruz's table, straddling his tray, and said” Sgt Cruz, we need to have a . . . “
The veins swelled in his neck and face and he turned a shade of red (a black guy.) With a mighty roar his fists slammed the table and “GODDDAMNIT LEUTENTA &*^%R&*%( CAN”T YOU SEE I”M EATING 897%^*Z7896%X9 MY $&*_)^ CHOW!!!
Then, suddenly aware of his surroundings his voice dropped to a whisper, “I'm eating Lt. Smith, can this wait until I'm finished?”
Lt. Smith, now 20' away with piss running down his leg and VERY aware that the entire room was staring at him managed a weak “Sure Sarge, carry on.” Sarge? OMFG. Of course, I couldn't even look up. I just stared at my plate and wished they'd both leave, so the rest of us could laugh.
Lt Smith found an assignment with another unit somewhere, and I never saw him again. I hope he found his calling in life. He's probably a seven-figure corporate lawyer.