Friday, March 21, 2003

Another story from my Marine Corps days

While serving with 2/9 at Camp Pendleton my unit was sent to Fort Ord, CA for urban warfare training. Fort Ord is located on the Monterey Peninsula, one of the most beautiful places in the world. I haven't seen too much of the world but I have yet to see a locale that rivals the Monterey area. One of the coolest things about staying at Fort Ord was that fact that we were housed in these World War II era barracks. They were beautfiul old structures and sometimes you really could feel something standing in those barracks. I had WWII nostalgia long before it was cool and I loved those old buildings. Judging from some of the recent photos those buildings are falling apart. They weren't in the best shape and many were boarded up when I was there in the late eighties. They must be about ready to fall down now. When I was there they were using the barracks until they were unsafe and then they boarded them up.

During the urban warfare training we would get divided up into groups of about 12 and that group would break up into two teams of six. We would strap on the MILES gear and take turns defending and attacking structures. We would move around to different structures and do it over and over. It was actaully pretty fun. It was also sobering. After about the third or fourth time you get killed you realize this is serious stuff you are training for.

One day we were informed that while we were practicing the attacking and defending of urban structures that we would be randomly doused with tear gas (CS) throughout the day. The gas mask was, even then, a standard piece of equipment and we were all well versed in donning and clearing a mask and performing everyday duties while wearing it. It wasn't a big deal but a dose of CS is unpleasent so it added a nice edge to the proceedings. Everyone was very conscious of the prospect of getting gassed.

One point they drove home to us when we received some additonal training in gas mask use during our training at Fort Ord was that you must not drop your weapon when you put your gas mask on if you are attacked with gas during a fire fight. I believe we were told to hold the weapon between our legs. I guess the reasoning was dropping your weapon to the ground is just not a good idea. It can get dirty or it can accidently discharge which is much worse than getting it dirty or even scratched.

On my team on this day was my partner in crime, Cale Johnson. After we had been at it for a while we hadn't been gassed yet but we could see other groups in surrounding buildings getting hit with CS and hollering the required "Gas! Gas! Gas!" and putting on their masks and continuing to fight. The anitcipation in our group was getting high. We knew that eventually a gas canister was going to fly in one of our windows courtesy of the NBC (Nuclear Biological Chemical) trainers in the area.

Even something as fun as shooting off blank rounds and lasar bullets at others and hearing the satisfying high-pitched squeal of their MILES gear as you kill them can get a little monotonous. Cale and decided to liven things up a bit the next time it was our turn to take a building. First we were able to lay down some fire which allowed Cale and I to enter the ground floor of the building. Then Cale and I yelled the infamous phrase "Gas! Gas! Gas!" To our immense amusement we heard, coming from the floor above us, the rifles of our opponents do the one thing they were not supposed to do, hit the floor as they were dropped by marines putting their gas masks on. An M-16A2 rifle hitting a cement floor makes a very distinct sound. It's sound all Marines know and we instinctively cringe upon hearing. Cale and I charged up the stairs and killed all six of those motherfuckers. The looks on the faces of those Marines as they knew they had been had, killed and embarrassed was priceless. One guy I put away was actually on his knees stuggling with his mask with his weapon right in front of him. Even if what we did was ethically in a gray area, those six men knew that if they hadn't all dropped their weapons to the floor the two of us would not have been able to waste all of them without either on of us getting shot. The general reaction of the dead guys was, "What the fuck!? Goddammit, that's bullshit!"

Cale had the best laugh in the world. It was an open mouth cackle that could infuriate anyone it was directed act. He put special malice into it this time and then said in his notorious parody of the Marine instructor voice, "Didn't you jarheads pay attention during training? You never release your weapon when you are donning your gas mask under any circumstances ever."

Cale and I insulted our friends a little more, declared the building secure and headed back downstairs and outside into the moist northern California autumn morning. We were as happy about the result of our ruse as we could be. We were feeling very clever. As we exited the building we were confronted by the lieutenant who was refereeing our contests that day. He looked at Cale and me and he must have seen our giant grins. He pulled us to the side.

"Who yelled 'gas?'"

I spoke truthfully (officers respect you if you don't lie to them about something they're pretty sure of anyway), "We did, sir."

"OK, that was pretty smart. And funny. Don't do it again."

"Yes sir." We both spoke.

He then dismissed us and went over and chewed the asses of the guys who had dropped their rifles in order to put on their gas masks. He had heard those rifles hitting the deck also. Cale and I crouched down on our haunches and relished the most pleasing sound in the Marine Corps: someone else getting chewed out.

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