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Humbling moments in history – A Corporal’s Tale

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It was the Year of Our Lord 1988, 0527hrs, summertime in Fort Hood, Texas…Battalion-level field evaluations. Young Corporal P was in the T.C. hatch of his dreaded M-901 ITV…three minutes from stand-to (an old Army practice of having the entire Battalion start their armored vehicles in unison so that, in theory, the “enemy” would not know where individual armored vehicles were located…but in practice, the “enemy” knew where your whole damned Battalion was located!) My loader was on guard duty…outside of the track…patrolling (making coffee) and had just woke me up. We were located hull-defilade on the top of a ridge line in the back 40…waiting for pre-dawn and the coming OPFOR attack.

A Short Flashback in Time

Back up 12 hours…we had just been introduced to T-Rations for the first time (tray t-rationsrations were a new invention in which our mess sergeant would only have to boil trashcans full of water, drop in 18-36 serving metal boxes, boil the shit out of them for an hour, and send them to the line where we would open them up with P-38s…evil, evil man…and serve them in the most unsanitary conditions possible) in our nightly laager site. Get fuel; turn in maintenance requests; load up ammo, water and rations; grab some trays of “hot food”…then move out to our dug-in positions. Somewhere in the line of loading fuel and grabbing trays of food, then heading back to our nightly position to scarf down this “hot food”, things got a bit dicey for my innards.

The Rumblings Begin

0529hrs…one minute before stand-to. I grabbed my stick and rapped my driver on the CVC to make sure he was awake, and had him turn on the electrical to our ITV. Comms came up and our crew started making noises in the helmet communications…we were all ready for another day of evaluations in the hot Texas sun when it showed up over the horizon. As was usual for my morning routine, my stomach began to sing the song of it’s people…a low grumbling and the start of minor pains shooting to my lower back. I looked at my watch and thought “good, one minute until we crank our engines, and if all goes the same…we will run the track for 10 minutes and then turn it off in unison with the rest of the Battalion.  Then, as the sun rises, the enemy will attack. Short battle, long AAR, then on to the rest of the miserable day.” During the 10 minutes of stand-to I would jump out, let the gunner climb into the seat, raise the hammerhead, and scan for enemy tanks to shoot. I would sneak off into the piney woods and take care of business.

Unfortunately, a chain of events…beginning with the new T-Rats…started at dusk the previous evening.

  1. My loader had made a batch of rather thick coffee (before dusk) and loaded up the squad thermos for guard duty. We would scoop out a portion of coffee when it was our shift, add some water, stir, then drink. I was tired from three days of non-stop action in our evaluations, so I skipped the addition of water and just chewed some of this mud while I was on guard shift.
  2. Our new chow had been heated up and served to us on the run…probably mixed with a bit of diesel fuel at the laager site…washed down with water that had sat in a water buffalo for who-knows-how-long. And I was hungry again.
  3. Being sick of eating MREs and the associated constipation that came with these gut-bombs, I had opened up a few cans of kipper snacks while on guard duty…and ate them around 0100hrs.
  4. Now, sitting in the TC hatch of my ITV, with little movement, I set off the chain of events.

0530 – Stand To

Like a herd of elephants in a Connex Box, our Battalion made the loudest noise on post. We came to life like a shot, and began to settle into our routine of scanning for the enemy that we knew would come ten minutes after we shut down. It was now my time to climb out, grab my e-tool and a roll of paper, jump down, and head out behind the track to take care of business before battle. I had a sense of urgency from my actions the previous night, so I started to birth myself from the 2 ½ foot hole in the top of the ITV.

ITV 2That hole is a big opening for 6′ 1”, 160 pounds of lean, mean Corporal…until you figure that this was 1988…in the middle of the Cold War Era. We were all convinced that the Soviets were going to nuke us or drop loads of chemical weapons on us…so we dressed and trained accordingly. That hole in the 11-ton ITV grew real small when you are dressed in BDUs, MOPP III (Chemical jacket, pants, and those crazy-assed boots with the 7-foot-long shoelaces), LBE, weapon, gas mask (the big one…M-40 if I recall correctly…with the freaking tube on it to plug into the non-existent ventilation system on our ITV, and the huge canister on the end). And with a sense of gastric emergency eminent…things got a bit smaller.

Three minutes wasted on getting out onto the top of the armored vehicle… {pause…breathe… squeeze…prepare my next move} My gunner was now in the hatch…mildly amused at my antics. The loader was on the ground…ever helpful…and said “Over here Corps…I’ll help ya.” I was not wanting his help…I was starting to panic. I had to use up another precious minute to keep everything I had consumed inside my body.

I look back on this event often…and wonder why I didn’t climb down the front of the ITV…nice, easy slope; we were dug in, so it was only about a two-foot drop to the front of the track. But, I was a TACTICAL Corporal…and I guess I didn’t want to silhouette our position in the coming daylight. So…I went to the side and JUMPED.

Hit the ground

{STOP…start shaking…something shifted down real low…clench like your first prostate exam…curse like it was DURING your first prostate exam…start sweating (profusely)…realize that you may not make it far enough away to be discrete in your actions…watch your loader stare at you like you were wearing a clown mask and about to launch into a stand-up comedy routine (I will never forget his ridiculous grin)…begin to panic}. My gunner and driver leaned over the left side and asked if I was OK. I held up a hand towards them and froze (externally) while I was moving (internally). My loader…knowing what was about to happen…began to laugh. I became not only angry (at myself, my crew, the mess sergeant…and the Army in general), but desperate.

Stand-to + 5 mikesProduct Block - Old School

I had enough common sense to figure out that I had to get my pants off…quickly.

However, common sense and desperation do not mix, and I began to reach for my belt. It was then that I realized that I was wearing not one, but two pair of pants…my BDUs and my MOPP pants. Now things got tricky. You see, to remove my MOPP pants, I had to take down the suspenders that were holding them up. And to take down the suspenders, I had to:

  1. Drop my M-16, E-tool, and roll of Charmin.
  2. Remove my steel pot.
  3. Remove my LBE.
  4. Remove my MOPP jacket.
  5. Remove my BDU jacket.
  6. Perform all these actions in EXACTLY that order, with minimum movement…so as to not disturb the two tins of kipper snacks, last night’s T-Rat eggs, and the 12 ounces of concentrated coffee gel that I had consumed on guard duty.

It didn’t exactly happen that way

{Think…breathe…calm down…drop your gear, grab your helmet, unbuckle your LBE, take off both jackets, remove suspenders, pull your pants down man!} I grabbed my MOPP pants and PULLED…pulled as hard as I could. The elastic suspenders stretched until the top of my pants were below my butt crack…then they snapped.  {Oh good Lord…don’t let this happen…I will never drink tequila during a full moon in Killeen while trolling for German hookers if you stop this from happening…I swear!}

As they snapped, I felt everything inside of me explode. {Begin full-out panic mode…start ripping everything off my body.} I grabbed my steel pot and threw it towards the track. It bounced off the side of the ITV and careened into the woods. My LBE came next…unbuckling it and tossing it as far away from my filthy body as I could. Everything else covering my body just stayed in place as my knees began to buckle. I staggered towards a pine tree and just hugged it. I seem to recall my loader rolling around on the ground, laughing hysterically. My driver was half hanging out of the driver’s hatch…he looked like he had been shot while exiting the hatch…but he was laughing and pounding the side of the ITV. {Please Lord…don’t let me black out…I have no idea what my squad will do to me while I am unconscious.}  My gunner was in the process of jumping down to help me when I blacked out.

A Medical Timeout

I am not a doctor, but I was an EMT for a few years and this was explained to me by a doctor when I was sick in the hospital many years later.

It seems that we are loaded up with something called Catecholamines. And these chemicals do things to your body when you are stressed out. When it gets real bad, they kind of turn upside down and they are no longer good for you, but really mess you up.

That is what happened after three days of non-stop action; the introduction of new foods into my system; and too much coffee throughout the night…my body decided that enough was enough!

Sick as a Dog

Product Block InfantryMANI came to with my pants down around my ankles, pine needles and fire ants in my mouth, my body covered with digested and processed T-Rats, kippers, and coffee, and multiple soldiers surrounding me. My gunner was pouring a 5-gallon can of water on me (trying to clean off most of what came out of my body). My loader and driver were being chewed out by the Platoon Sergeant. The First Sergeant was yelling for medics, and other Platoon members were standing around with grins on their faces.

Needless to say, the medics arrived and carted me off for a few days of rest…large-bore IVs in both arms and plenty of bed rest. The rest of the Platoon defeated the enemy and we passed our Battalion evaluations. I am not sure if there is a moral to this story, except that Corporals are the hardest-charging rank in the Army…until things turn upside down. Then you take the jokes, smirks, and whispers for a few weeks until the next Corporal does something dumb. That and get plenty of fiber in your diet.

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2 comments on “Humbling moments in history – A Corporal’s Tale

  1. Tommy Colburn

    Thanks for the Sunday morning laugh. I believe every Infantry soldier alive can relate, either from your horrifying perspective or that of your crew. Mine was with cans of c-ration apricots and a movement to contact at NTC. I was the observer thankfully.

    • SGT P - Editor In Chief

      Thanks for your kind comment Tommy! Indeed…we all have a crazy story or two (I have many and will post more soon). Grunts use humor to get through the toughest situations, and I hope my stories both help and teach. I always try to find a leadership lesson in my memories…this one, not so much! Keep following us for more humor! – SGT P, Editor In Chief

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