Saturday, January 13, 2018

Snow-hole Countries

A rare snow is falling here this morning at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere and the Colonel's memory machine -- aided by a strong mug of joe -- has kicked into high gear.

"High gear" is a relative term for the limpid pile of cognitive goo resting mostly unused in the recesses of his mostly bald brain-housing group.  The Colonel's memories have been ravaged by the onset of CRS (Can't Remember *insert expletive used in conjunction with the word "hole" to describe most places to which Marines are deployed on a regular basis*) and he has consciously reserved his last few remaining faculties for important stuff like in which kitchen cabinet the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda stores the coffee mugs and the unzip then pee sequence for head calls.

But, the Colonel's snow memories are associated with a great deal of misery and are, therefore, more prominent.  Funny how pain reinforces learning and retention.

The Colonel spent most of his childhood in sub-tropical and tropical climes wherein snow was a rarity.  Even when it did snow in measurable amounts it's longevity was measured in hours.  There ain't no such thing as "snowpack" in Dixie.

Then the Colonel, unemployable with a political science degree from Ole Miss, went into the Marines.

The Marine Corps has total mastery over the technique of forcing round pegs into square holes.  The Colonel, with warm weather blood thinned to the viscosity of gaseous helium, was groomed not as a jungle fighter -- nooo..., that makes way too much sense for someone who went to high school and played daily in the jungles of PANAMA!!! -- but as an arctic warrior.  

(For the Bama fans reading this post in the mistaken belief that everybody, everywhere cares and will eventually get around to writing about Bama's 97th -- or is it 197th? -- claimed national championship, the ARCTIC is a region extending northward from a east-west line generally traced by Interstate 40.)

It was just before Christmas at Camp Lejeune, and the Colonel (then a second lieutenant) was busy staying out of the way of his platoon sergeant, when the phone in his broom closet office rang.  

"Golf 2/2, Lieutenant Gregory, this is an unsecure line."

The voice on the other end growled, "Come see me, now."  The line went dead immediately, but not before the voice was recognized as belonging to the bane of all infantry second lieutenants -- the battalion X.O.  

The Colonel scurried down to his company commander's office and breathlessly announced, "Sir, the X.O. wants to see me!"

The C.O. looked up from a pile of reports on his desk and eyed the Colonel quizzically.  

"Who are you?"

"Lieutenant Gregory, sir.  Your third platoon commander."

"No, lieutenant, you are mistaken -- Sergeant Herrera has Third Platoon."  Then, he refocused.  "Oh, yeah. Your the new lieutenant."

"Begging the captain's pardon, sir.  But, I've been in your company for almost a year."

"Whatever.  What's the problem?"

"Sir, the X.O. just called me to his office."


"So, what should I do?"

"Well, Lieutenant Graham..."

"Gregory, sir."


"I'm Lieutenant Gregory, sir."

"Whatever.  Just go. And hurry up!"

The Colonel went.  During the three-minute jog up to battalion headquarters, his mind raced with worry-filled speculation as to the reason why his presence was required front and center of the battalion executive officer's desk.  He could fathom no positive reason, so it had to be bad.

The Colonel reported in as ordered, and the crusty old major -- a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran -- skipped over any pleasantries and got right down to business.

"You've been picked to attend the winter session of the Mountain Leaders' Course at Bridgeport.  See the S-3 for your TAD orders.  Any questions?"

"No, sir.  I mean, yes, sir... I..."
 "What, lieutenant?"  The major had already used up more of his valuable time than he wanted and was glowering disdainfully at the lieutenant whose presence was fouling the air in his office. 

"Sir, I.., that is..., well, I'm better suited to be a jungle fighter, and..."

"A jungle fighter!?!" The major's disdainful glower had been replaced by something..., well..., inhuman.  His next words barely rose above the decibel level of a whisper, but they carried the fire and fury of a flamethrower.  "You ain't (insert banyard expletive used in conjunction with the word "hole" in President Trump's latest diplomatic overture to the Third World), lieutenant!  Get the (insert appropriate foul epithet) out of my sight."   

The Colonel snapped to attention, responded with a weak, but emphatic, "Aye, aye, sir!," executed an about face, and headed for the hatch.


The Colonel froze.

"Get back in here, lieutenant."  The X.O.'s voice had changed.  It was almost human.

"You've got a lot to learn in this man's Marine Corps, son."  Amazingly, the almost human tone of voice was accompanied by an almost human visage on the major's face.  "Today's lesson: Go where the Marine Corps sends you and make the most of it."

The Colonel was still at the position of attention, eyes locked on the latch on the window above and behind the major's head.

"Look at me, lieutenant."

The Colonel obeyed, locking eyes with a real man.

"For someone with a GT of 135, you are about as dumb as a box of rocks."  The X.O. was actually smiling -- that really scared the Colonel...

"I'm going to break this down for you -- Barney style.  Our battalion is scheduled for a deployment to Norway in two years.  You, and a couple of other lieutenants, are gonna learn everything there is to know about arctic warfare and then you're gonna be the instructor cadre that prepares this battalion for that deployment.  We're gonna start by sending you to the Mountain Leaders' Course.  If you survive that, you're gonna go TAD to 1/6 for six months to get them ready to go to Norway for their deployment next year.  You'll go with them to Norway, get smart as you can, and then come back and get us as smart as you can."

A couple of months later, the Colonel was a mile up in the Sierra Nevadas, up to his keister in more snow and cold than he ever imagined, and learning...

For this skinny little southern boy, it was either learn or die.

The lessons learned served the Colonel well for the rest of his career.  He had more than ample opportunity to put them to practice, and to teach them, in numerous deployments to Norway and other high altitude and high latitude deployments over the next 25 years. 

To this day -- to this very morning -- snow in the air takes him back..., and reminds him of perhaps the greatest lesson:

If you think you are a jungle fighter, don't accept orders to go anywhere there's more snow than you can see in a beer commercial.      



Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Waiting for Duck Season

The night of 4/5 December 1979 was a particularly long night for the Colonel.  It was a long and painful night for the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda.

Not much more than 8 months after the birth of their first child, Miss Brenda sidled up to the Colonel and whispered in his ear, "I'm pregnant."

The Colonel blinked, and then whispered back, "I'm deploying."

Those of you who know the Colonel personally, know that he is obsessed of the insanity that is duck hunting.  The fifth of December 1979 was the opening day of duck season in North Carolina and the Colonel was then stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina through which a broad shallow estuary flows and holds prodigious amounts of migrating waterfowl during the winter months.  

The Colonel had plans to be in a duck blind when the sun rose on the 5th of December.

Instead, the Colonel was bedside of the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda as she gave birth to a second son.

Jeremy could have been born on the 4th of December -- his mother's labor had begun early on that day.  But he waited for duck season.

He and the Colonel have been waiting for duck season every year since.       

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Kicking the Habit

2018 is shaping up to be a much different year for the Colonel.

He knows, there's still a good bit of 2017 to play through, but he's in the red zone with a comfortable lead.  Besides, no year has ever beaten him.

One of the reasons that the Colonel is optimistic about a different new year -- different in priorities, if nothing else -- is that he's going to cleanse his soul of an addiction that has ruled him for decades.

The Colonel is going to kick the Ole Miss Rebel Football habit.

Allow him to be crystal clear on this point: the Colonel will always be an Ole Miss Rebel -- proud that when the choosing time was upon him in the halcyon days of his misspent youth, he chose to go to Ole Miss... instead of college.  

It was the third best and second worst decision he ever made.

What was the Colonel's first and second best decisions, you ask?  Well, for those of you who don't know the Colonel personally and to whom the answer is not obvious by personal observation -- the first and second best decisions he ever made were Jesus and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda, respectively.

The worst decision the Colonel ever made is, frankly, none of your business.

Ole Miss ranks as one of the Colonel's best decisions because the school began the process that marked him as a little different than everyone else.  The Marine Corps completed that process, but this missive isn't about the greatest fighting force mankind has ever seen.

This missive regards an institution whose very soul embodies the best and worst of the people from whose state it takes its name.

And, Ole Miss Rebel Football is the physical manifestation of all that is good (and not so good) about Mississippi.

To be an Ole Miss Rebel Football fan is to turn your back on the rest of the world and hike your kilt.

To be an Ole Miss Rebel Football fan is to pine for regular winning seasons, but take solace in the irregular upset of highly favored rivals.

To be an Ole Miss Rebel Football fan is to, with a straight face, walk proudly under the arch of the "Walk of Champions" even though the last football championships were so long ago that their memory exists only in the hearts of octogenarian Rebels.

To be an Ole Miss Rebel Football fan is to warmly and graciously invite opposing fans into your tailgate tent and then hotly and viciously tell them "we're gonna beat the hell out of you."  

For the Colonel, his Ole Miss Rebel Football fandom has been a drug with unpredictable and monstrous effects.  The highs are the highest and the lows are the lowest.

When the Colonel matriculated at Ole Miss in the mid-seventies Ole Miss Rebel Football was in a post-Archie Manning (and post- Johnny Vaught) hangover that left Ole Miss Rebel Football fans with so very little to cheer for that the only rallying cry of any consequence were the stirring strains of "Dixie" and the sight of tens of thousands of miniature Beauregard Battle Flags snapping to the beat. 

By the time the Colonel retired from the Marine Corps, moved back to the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, and purchased Ole Miss Rebel Football season tickets, the miniature Beauregard Battle Flags had been banned in a spate of political correctness appeasement.

But, they still played "Dixie."

No matter how horrible Ole Miss Rebel Football got (and it got pretty stinkin' horrible) the Colonel and 50 thousand of his closest friends could (after shelling out way too much hard earned greenbacks for seats, parking, and stale concessions) fill the hallowed confines of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and do what no other public collection of people in the world could do -- sing "Dixie."

Without malice.  "Dixie" was our love song to a region that was way beyond the rest of the nation in racial reconciliation.  Scoff if you must at that notion -- but if you weren't there with the Colonel and 50 thousand of his closest friends (black and white), you just don't know the truth. 

Then, a paroxysm of political correctness appeasement once again seized the trembling hearts of the temp-help then poorly filling leadership positions in the University of Mississippi's administration.
"Dixie" was banned.  

You could feel the spirit lift from the campus and drift away on a north wind of neo-reconstructionism.

Amidst this spirit-killing de-dixiefication of Ole Miss Rebel Football, the long-standing mascot -- Colonel Rebel -- took a politically correct knife to the back.  He was replaced by a cartoon bear.  The bear has just recently been replaced by a cartoon landshark.

What's next?  

If the current trajectory continues, the nicknames "Ole Miss" and "Rebel" will eventually succumb to the fascism of political correctness.

Oh, and did the Colonel mention that the University of Mississippi -- a state-funded, public institution -- no longer flies the flag of the state?  

What's next?  Change the name of the institution, because the very name "Mississippi" offends the sensibilities of a very vocal and very small minority?

Will the flag of the United States of America slide down the pole in front of the Lyceum one evening, never to fly again, because it also offends the sensibilities of that very vocal and very small minority?

Here's a fact you can take to the bank.  The Colonel, and his money, will no longer be a party to fascism.  He'll no longer shell out way too much of his hard earned cash for seats, parking, and stale concessions, to sit in a half-empty stadium and have his tinnitus-ravaged hearing assaulted by bigoted and rapine rap.

The Colonel is kicking the habit.  He will, however, forever loudly and proudly be an Ole Miss Rebel.  

Even when the political correctness fascists get around to outlawing that self-identification.