Monday, August 07, 2006

The Charge of the Lieutenant Brigade

The other day a stray synapse in the pea-sized grey matter of my brain housing group fired and I remembered the day that the rifle company I had recently taken command of became truly mine. It was the late summer of 1987 and we were bivouaced in a large field behind the firing line of a set of ranges on which my company had been conducting live fire training. We had completed training for the day and the Marines were in their platoon areas sitting in front of their tents (we called them "shelter halves" because each Marine carried half of a shelter and buttoned it together with another Marine's to form a pup tent -- a term we never used) eating their evening banquet in a bag (MRE). I guess the day had not been too hot or too strenuous for them, because instead of falling quickly asleep as Marines learn to do as soon as strenuous activity ceases, they began to wrestle. The wrestling matches evolved quickly beyond one on one and as my lieutenants and I watched from a safe distance, one squad attacked another squad, and then one platoon attacked another platoon. Each attacking unit would announce its intentions by standing facing its target and clapping slowly in unison, and then a roar would go up as the Marines rushed each other. Our senior NCOs were doing a fair job of refereeing to make sure that things didn't get too out of hand, and my officers and I turned our attention back to planning the next day's events.

Whenever a particularly large roar would erupt from across the field, we would look up, chuckle, and comment on the battle's progress, "There goes First and Second Platoon" or "Tony, Weapons Platoon is getting stomped" or "Look at Smitty leading the charge," and then turn our attention back to our planning. Suddenly the low roar of friendly combat quieted. We looked up to see the entire company facing us and beginning to clap in unison.

I quickly scanned the faces of my five lieutenants and couldn't help but laugh at the looks of bewilderment turning rapidly to consternation...on all but my XO's. Brad McCullough was an accomplished martial artist and I don't think I ever saw anything rattle him. I did, however, see his eyes narrow as he figured the odds and then saw him glance around for an escape route. The other lieutenants were too shocked to do that much thinking. "Gentlemen," I managed to muster without my voice cracking, "we can't run. We have to attack." I turned and started jogging tentatively towards the company. With that, Brad hollered "Keeeyaaa!" or something like that (we laughed for months afterwards anytime one of us would yell "Keeeyaaa" in a not so similar situation) and sprinted toward the 150 Marines facing us.

My platoon commanders and I sprinted after the XO, and the six of us gave a long, wavering rebel yell that 125 years previous would have been right at home in Stonewall's Brigade rushing yankee earthworks. Our Marines actually stood stunned for a second at the sight of us charging them, and then recovered with a roar and charge of their own. We closed the 100 or so yards between us in a few seconds that seemed like an eternity of anticipation of the painful collision with the camouflaged tide. I picked out a big Marine in front of me that happened to be looking away at his own platoon commander, and I slanted toward him and dropped him with an open field tackle that I'm sure rung my bell louder than his. The company engulfed us and all six of us went down under a crush of happily hollering Marines. My First Sergeant saved me from possible serious bodily harm, by reminding in his drill field voice, "Marines, that is your commanding officer!", and pulling Marines off of the pile on top of me. He and I did the same at the piles of Marines that marked the positions of the rest of the officers, and as the men respectfully separated themselves and headed back to their tents I heard a Marine remark proudly, "Did you see the Skipper and the officers charging us?!?"

Little did they know, we had no other choice. But, now the company was mine.
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