Monday, January 30, 2012

Training is Everything

First Lieutenant Gregory, at the head of HQ Platoon, 31st MAU, ashore in Australia, 1982
Thirty years ago this week, the Colonel, then a salty first lieutenant with three years in an infantry battalion under his belt, executed a set of PCS orders that reassigned him from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina to Okinawa, Japan.

For the 'Bama and LSU fans who may have erroneously stumbled upon this post in a frantic search for pachyderm print toilet tissue or the fifty-yard line, respectively, PCS is neither a herbicide nor an ingredient in corndogs. 

PCS stands for Permanent Change of Station. 

"Permanent," in the Marine Corps, ain't really all that permanent.   Most of the time, a set of PCS orders meant you were going somewhere new and wouldn't stay there much longer than it took for the "newness" of the new assignment to wear off.  

This particular set of orders was going to be the toughest test the Colonel and his young family had yet to face.  He would be separated from them, literally by the bulk of the entire planet, for an whole year.

As he bade farewell to his bride of only five years, and their two toddler sons, the Colonel had occasion to dwell heavily on the decision made mere months previous, at the end of his four-year active duty commitment, to make the Corps his career.  As he watched his family wave to his plane, had it been possible, the Colonel would surely have changed his mind. 

But, he was committed.  Duty called.

It would not be the last time such a call came.

When the Colonel landed in Okinawa, he did just as his orders required and reported to the Commanding General, III MAF (Third Marine Amphibious Force) headquartered at Camp Courtney (one of nearly a dozen Marine camps and bases on the island wrested from the Emperor of Japan's finest in 1945).  

Actually, the Colonel, then just a first lieutenant, remember, never got a chance to report to the Commanding General in person.  A major in the Personnel Section intercepted the Colonel and welcomed him warmly.

"Hey, newby, c'mere.  Let me see your orders."

The Colonel surrendered same, and the major caught the name at the top, "Gregory. Good. Been expecting you. You're going to 31st MAU.  Training Officer."

The Colonel volunteered that he was hoping for an assignment as a platoon commander with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion (the job for which any infantry first lieutenant worth his salt yearned).

The major waved his hand dismissively, "They're full up.  You're going to 31st MAU. Training Officer."

The Colonel knew what a MAU was. 

Marine Amphibious Unit -- containing a reinforced infantry battalion, a composite (task-organized mixture of aircraft types) helicopter squadron, and a logistics support unit.  The Corps calls it a MEU (E for Expeditionary) now, but the organization remains generally the same.  Embarked on several amphibious ships, this organization's sea-based flexibility and over-the-horizon loiter capability still makes it the National Command Authority's force of choice for a wide range of pop-up missions such as evacuation of an embassy, support of a hostage rescue, or humanitarian relief. 

The Colonel apologizes for the commercial.

The Colonel also knew what a "training officer" was.  Also known as SLJO (LJ stands for "little jobs" -- the Colonel will allow you free reign to figure out the S and the O on your own), "training officer" was usually the euphemism for the junior officer in the Operations Section of any headquarters staff.  Responsible neither for much training nor for much that would remind him that he was indeed an officer, the Colonel had the sinking feeling that the coming year was going to be painful penance for the pure joy that had been his experience leading Marines in an infantry outfit for the previous three years. 

The Colonel could tell that the major with his orders in hand was very unlikely to entertain any assignment appeals.  "Very well, sir.  If the Major would kindly endorse his orders, the Lieutenant will be on his way."

The major was obviously impressed with the Colonel's formality.  "Cut the 'old corps' crap, Lieutenant."  The major cocked his head and squinted at the Colonel in a manner meant to remind this whelp that if either of them had rights to any saltiness it was he, "You even know where 31st MAU is?"

"Aye, aye, sir!"  The Colonel responded in answer to the crap-cutting command.  To the major's question, the Colonel gave what he knew was the only answer that satisfied the definition of one of the most important of the Corps' cherished leadership traits -- initiative.  "No, sir, but the Lieutenant will not trouble the Major any more.  The Lieutenant will find 31st MAU."  

What the Colonel wanted to, but didn't, say was something along the lines of "I mean, really, Major, I know I'm new on the island and all, and there are a lot of different bases and camps, but it is just a small island, and, while I am hamstrung by a lack of education, having gone to Ole Miss instead of college, I can read well enough to find the sign that says Headquarters, 31st MAU on it."

The Colonel may not have said the foregoing, but evidently the look on his face gave away at least the gist of what was rattling around in his brain-housing group.  The major suddenly softened a bit ("softened" being a term subject to the term, "relative"), and placed a hand on the Colonel's shoulder.  "Lieutenant, I'll save you the effort of spending the next several days reading the signs in front of every building on the island.  There's a plane leaving from Kadena headed for Clark tomorrow morning at 1000.  Be on it.  When you get to Clark, catch a bus to Subic.  31st MAU will pull in to port there in a few days."

While the major busied himself putting the endorsement stamp on the Colonel's orders, the Colonel digested and tried to make sense of the latest bits of data making slow headway through the tangled maze of synaptic connections in the mass of gelatinous goo encased in the bone between his ears.

'Hmmm... Kadena... that's the Air Force base on the southern end of the island.  Put the rising sun on your left when you leave here in the morning.  Right.  Got it.'

'Let's see, Clark, Clark,... CLARK!  That's in the Philippines!  And, Subic is the Navy base there!'  

From previous posts, the thousands of you who regularly imbibe in the literary libations ladled out hereon may remember that the Colonel is afflicted with the serious mallard-happy malady, duck hunting, which manifests itself in frequent forays afield to stand in freezing thigh-deep water and blow mallard-melodies on a kazoo.

Well, not a kazoo, actually.  A duck call.  To the uninitiated, however, a duck hunter blowing on a duck call looks, and sounds, for all the world like an asylum escapee playing a kazoo.

A very loud kazoo.

As a going-away present, the Marines of the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines at Camp Lejeune had given the Colonel a very nice pair of calls -- one duck, one goose.  The Colonel had them in his ditty bag and intended to stay in practice while overseas.

The enlisted man acting as customs agent at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, opened the Colonel's bag and immediately jumped to the giddy conclusion that he had just scored the Air Force Security Police trifecta -- 1) catching someone red-handed with drug paraphernalia, 2) catching a Marine with contraband, and 3) catching a Marine officer breaking the rules.

"What have we here, Lieutenant?"  The airman lifted the lanyard with the calls -- one duck, one goose -- and presented them to the Colonel in his best (but certainly unintentional) Barney Fife impression.

The Colonel snatched the calls from the airman's hand and, before Airman Fife could get the bullet out of his pocket, broke into a serenade of mallard songs that would have brought a tear to the glass eye of any duck hunter in the terminal.

Unfortunately, there were no duck hunters (with or without tearful glass eyes) within earshot.  Just a whole squad of Barney Fife's reaching for their left breast pockets and converging on the Colonel's position with intent to nip it in the bud. 

Undeterred, the Colonel deftly shifted calls and produced a series of happy honks and gronks that would have, in happier times, steered flapping flocks of Canada geese straight down the Colonel's gun barrel.  

In deep appreciation for his talented rendition of the love songs of North American waterfowl, the Colonel was thereupon provided a security police escort straight through customs and right up to the door of the bus to Subic Bay.  

A few months later, the Colonel was sent ahead of the sea-borne 31st MAU, on a SLJO errand that turned out to be his first trip to Oz.  The MAU was headed for Australia, would arrive in two weeks, and the Colonel was detailed to coordinate several training and social events for the week-long port visit to Perth.  

Two weeks to accomplish about two hours worth of errands.

In Australia.

On per diem.

Prodigious per diem.

Best hotel in Perth per diem.

The Colonel could hardly contain his glee upon his arrival in the Land Down Under.  He was wiggling like a puppy at the back door. The customs agent must have detected what he considered nervousness as he dug through the Colonel's bag.

Triumphantly, he hoisted the lanyard holding the calls -- one duck, one goose.  "What 'ave we 'ear, Mate?"

The Colonel rests quite comfortably in the certain belief that he is the first and last Marine lieutenant to have received police escort from Perth International Airport to the Parmelia Hilton.          

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fear Factor

The Colonel ain't smart and you can't make him.

That, and three other notions, have been the operative phrases with which the Colonel has charted the majority of his adult life.

The other three?

The Colonel don't dance.

The Colonel don't paint.

The Colonel ain't afraid of nothin' or nobody (the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda excepted) .

The Colonel used to have a fifth -- the Colonel don't cry -- but, several years ago he found out that his mother was a civilian and went on a three-day boo-hoo bender. 

Now, the Colonel has a confession to make.  Operative rule number 4 wasn't really completely true either.

There was something that so scared the Colonel as a tot that for nearly three decades -- well into his career as a roguishly handsome soldier of the sea -- it held a fright-filled grip on a corner of his subconscious.  Mentions of the thing, associations and references, while evoking gales of laughter from his comrades, would trigger a Pavlovian response filling the Colonel with an unaccountable feeling of terror and dread.   

What, you ask, could possibly have made such a debilitating impression?  The Colonel wondered the same.

Did the Colonel witness a torture/homicide/dismemberment as a child?

No, that wasn't it.

Turns out, as his civilian progenitor [see crying-jag reference above] finally explained to her, then, 35 year-old child, the Colonel had experienced a traumatic experience while watching...

Wait for it...

The Wizard of Oz  

Yep, the Wicked Witch of the West and her flyin' monkeys had scared the pea jabbers out of the Colonel.  

And, because he had experienced such trauma with the movie so early in his childhood, and could never watch the movie again, the Colonel completely missed out on any understanding of the myriad references to it that so pervaded our culture.

On a hike, a fellow Marine would suddenly break into a skip and sing out, "follow the yellow brick road," to the snickers and snorts of his comrades.  The Colonel was clueless.

What yaller bricks?

"There's no place like homeThere's no place like home," a jarhead, soaked and miserable in a swamp somewhere at the far end of the earth, would suddenly exclaim, tapping the heels of his muddy boots together.

Well, duh!  Why is everybody laughin' at that?

And then, another leatherneck would shuck his poncho, and while the rain poured down on him, screech,... 

Yeah, you know what he screeched,  ...and why.  

The Colonel?  Not a clue. 

What?  Did the Marine think he was made of sugar? What is so stinkin' funny 'bout that? 

Some nonsensical, arbitrary edict would come down from higher headquarters and a devildog would sneer, "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

What man?  What curtain?  

And then, the Colonel's children began to develop senses of humor, manifested most often immediately upon arrival at the Colonel's newest duty station, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore." 

Kansas?  The Colonel had dragged his kit and kin across the globe, but there was never a stop anywhere near Kansas.  And, who are you calling, Toto, there knucklehead child!?! 

Finally, at the age of 40 or so, the Colonel watched the movie.

"Oh!  Ruby slippers!  So that's where that comes from!"

"Oh!  Auntie Em!  Didn't think everybody had an Auntie Em!" 

Days later, the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda approached the Colonel and lightly touched his lips with the tip of her dainty finger.  The Colonel smiled at his Lady.  She smiled back.

And then, in her loving way, she gripped both of the Colonel's lips between a thumb and finger suddenly transformed into a set of vice-grips.

"Whistle the tune to 'If I only had a brain' one more time and I'm gonna rip these off." 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Jaunts

The thousands of the Colonel's loyal legions who imbibe liberally of the literary libations ladled out in posts hereon must, in light of his lengthy cyberspace leave-taking, manifested in a three-week lapse of posts, be worrying that some significant circumstance or serious malady may have befallen him.

For the 'Bama and LSU grads (no explanation needed nor effective for the largely illiterate 'Bama and LSU fans) who may have stumbled upon this site in the frantic search for cut-rate chewin' tobacco and frozen corndogs: the Colonel ain't wrote nuthin' in three weeks and all y'all must be worried that he got sick or sumthin'.   

Actually, January happened.

The first month of the calendar year has nearly always been a time of concentrated activity for the Colonel.  This January, in particular, has witnessed an amplified confluence of conditions and requirements conspiring to consume the Colonel's every waking moment (and a significant portion of his dreams).

As his readers will remember, the Colonel is a member of an elite, yet egalitarian, band of brothers stricken by an incurable obsession with the idiocy known as duck hunting.  January, here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, is coincident with the migratory crescendo of that most magnificent of waterfowl -- Anas platyrhynchos.  Aka: mallard, greenhead, big duck, [insert deleted expletive exclaimed by duck hunters upon the hunted's failure to decoy and present itself for marksmanship display] duck.  

Duck hunting necessitates rising to the alarm hours before dawn; dressing in more layers than worn by the men of Byrd's expedition; enduring a boat ride in the dark that exposes one's self to face-frosting wind-chill and the ever-present danger of drowning; donning chest waders and hauling decoy bags, guns, and enough ammunition to wage a counter-insurgency campaign a quarter of a mile into the "secret spot;" breaking the ice in the "secret spot" in order to place several dozen decoys in open water; and standing motionless in thigh-deep, freezing water for hours, while blowing on a kazoo.

It is a sickness bordering on depravity.

The Colonel loves it.

January is not just about duck hunting, however.  There is also the tail-end of the deer season to be celebrated with frequent frosty forays afield.  

This January (a moment of thanks for Global Warming -- the advent of which the Colonel welcomes with wide open frost-bitten hands) has been one of the most mild on record.  Therefore, the Colonel has not had bad weather as an excuse to keep him from felling tall timbers and sawing lumber.  

The Colonel's infantry-ravaged back is not such a big fan of Global Warming.

Then there is football.

Specifically, the most important football game of the season:  The First Baptist Church of Abbeville Adult Versus Youth Flag Football Game.  

As the Colonel is now into the latter half of his fifth air-breathing decade of riding the big blue marble 'round Ol' Sol, he has had to begin his preparation for participation in the game with much more seriousness than in previous years.  

The Colonel has marked off forty yards on the front lawn of the Big House here aboard Eegeebeegee and has been conducting conditioning drills.  The Colonel's favorite is wind sprints.

The other day, the Colonel's Lady -- the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda -- stepped out on the front porch to give the Colonel some encouragement, "Hey, knucklehead, what in the world are you doing?" 

"Gettin' in shape for the big game."   

"Big game?  Thought I expressly forbade you from exposing yourself to ridicule and the threat of serious injury.  You are not allowed to play football, anymore." 

"Thanks for your kind words of encouragement, dear.  Gives me motivation for these wind sprints."

"Wind sprints?"

"Yep," the Colonel explained between ragged breaths, "they're," huff, "my," puff, "favorite."

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda blinked and her face assumed the visage of stark amazement with which she beholds the exploits of her man.   

"I thought you were supposed to run wind-sprints."             

Friday, January 06, 2012

Short and Sweet

The Colonel's family doctor ruined the Holidays and probably saved the Colonel's life.

Nine years ago, during his last annual physical just prior to leaving active duty, the Colonel was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.

Could have been due to the fact that the Colonel's drug of choice for dealing with stress, since he was old enough to feel stress, has been sugar.  The Colonel's sweet tooth is legendary among his family and long-time friends.  If all there was to eat in this world was vanilla ice cream and chocolate chip cookies, the Colonel would be just fine with that.

Shortly after his diagnosis as a diabetic, the Colonel had an appointment with a dietitian who proceeded to tell him that, as far as the Colonel was concerned, sugar might as well be rat poison and that the Colonel was going to have to dramatically change his diet and eating habits.

For most of his adult life, the Colonel had lived by one of the more perverse Marine adages that eating during hours of daylight was a sign of weakness.  The Colonel's breakfast was a steaming cup of joe, or three.  Lunch was a long run, a gallon of Gatorade, and a candy bar. 

Dinner, consumed over a two hour period beginning shortly after the Colonel arrived at the front hatch of his quarters and announced in his most effective parade ground command voice, "Lower the drawbridge; the King is home!" (shortened over the years to a terse, but nonetheless commanding, "Drawbridge!") consisted of enough red meat and starch to feed a family of four for a week.

After dinner, dessert was a large mixing bowl of vanilla ice cream and three dozen chocolate cookies.

That was then.  Now, the Colonel had to eat three small meals a day; morning, noon, and night.  Carbohydrate intake was restricted to fifty grams per meal.  The Colonel was also required to take a pill big enough to choke a hippo with dinner to boost his slovenly sugar-solvent system's ability to process.

Fifty grams sounds like a lot...

                 ...until you see the minuscule plated-portions of real food that provide that restricted intake.

Actually, fifty grams of real food in carbohydrates covers a plate about as effectively as Bo Derek 's bikini covered her...

                 get the picture.   

But, the Colonel endeavored to persevere, and within a few short months was back at his service-entrance weight, with blood sugar under control.

For the next several years, the Colonel's semi-annual long-term sugar blood test regularly confirmed his maintenance of appropriate carbohydrate discipline.

Until the first of last month.

Seems the Colonel had fallen off the wagon. 

Falling off the diet wagon when one is as active in a Southern Baptist church as is the Colonel, requires slightly less effort than blinking.  

For the heathens among the thousands of you who regularly imbibe in the barely-literate libations ladled out in posts hereon, and who may have never attended a Southern Baptist church, Southern Baptists EAT.  

The Southern Baptist Convention is seriously considering a name change to broaden its appeal and more accurately portray beliefs and character.

The Colonel recently sent a formal letter to the President of the Southern Baptist Convention recommending the name be changed to The Church of Chow.

Ushers at a country Southern Baptist Church hand out snacks along with the bulletins.

Many Southern Baptist Churches have changed to a earlier start and end time for Sunday morning service, so that their membership can beat the Methodists to the buffet line at Golden Corral.

Yep, it's the Colonel's church's fault that he has lately been tempted to strap on the feed bucket and once again find solace in sugared treats and high carb main courses. 

The Colonel's doctor wasn't buying that load, however. 

"Well, Colonel, how are you feeling?," the Colonel's doctor scanned the results of the latest blood test. 

"Gettin' old, Doc.  Not feeling my old self so much lately."

"That's no big surprise.  Your weight's up significantly since your last visit and your long-term blood sugar is way too high," the Colonel's doctor didn't waste a whole lot of bedside manner coming to the point.

The worst part was the guilt trip he laid on the Colonel.

"Weren't you in the Marine Corps?  How about applying a little Marine Corps discipline to your diet and exercise routine?" 

There went the Colonel's plan to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus by eating his weight in iced sugar cookies and high-octane fudge.

One month into Operation: Return to Fighting Weight and the Colonel is down four pounds. 

Well, three pounds.  He's added a pound of hair in the meantime.                  

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

iPad Ingrate

The Colonel is, among his manifold challenges, technologically so.

He is particularly challenged with regard to understanding the how to, not to mention the need for, anything preceded by the lower case letter i.  

About three years ago, the Colonel shook off the shackles of time and constant connectivity and has since refused to wear a watch or carry a cell phone.

He hasn't missed either for a slow country second.

Of course, closely surrounded by friends and family so shackled, the Colonel has ample access to the current time and rarely remains truly unreachable.  Still, there is a palpable feeling of freedom gained by marking time by the sun and the grumble of one's stomach.

The Colonel has almost reached the point at which someone constantly pulling out a cell phone no longer annoys him...

               ...the emotion is much closer to disgust.   

So, it was with no small measure of mixed surprise and chagrin that the Colonel opened a present Christmas morn, marked from his family, to find, of all things...


Yeah, it's cool, and the Colonel is very touched -- perhaps most touched by the loving sentiments engraved on the back -- but, now he's one of those people

Just how is the Colonel supposed to maintain his curmudgeon cred once the word gets out that he is a closet technophile?

And, now he has to constantly wash his hands else the grimy good earth of the Colonel's vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere transfer to the touch screen. 

Oh, the shame!

No self-respecting farmer/sawyer/chicken-herdsman is ever seen in public with clean hands.

Did find a good board-foot calculator app, though.  And, the local weather app is useful.  Oh, and there's an app that tells the Colonel the best planting times for the crops he intends to grow later this year. 

Still looking for the app that will harvest, clean, and can the prodigious produce the Colonel expects from his burgeoning garden plots.

The Colonel hasn't disposed of his PC and 3D keyboard just yet.  He'll probably maintain at least that curmudgeonly customary link with his past. 

Old habits do die hard.

It took the Colonel a long time, during his transition from typewriter to word processor, to learn not to use white-out on his computer screen.

Is there an app for removing axle grease from the touch screen?  

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Year In, Year Out

The Colonel can tell that he's gettin' old. 

There are the obvious clues of course; constant pain, loss of memory, expanding waistline, and the overwhelming desire to choke the ever-livin' you-know-what out of those who flaunt the fact that they are not yet suffering from the former three.

Then, there is the fact that time is passing at a seeming exponentially-increasing rate...

              ...with the exception of the interludes wherein the Colonel experiences the space-time phenomenon known here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere as Specious Irrelativity -- manifested as a shimmering bubble of curmudgeonly couldn't-care-less-ness encompassing the Colonel's immediate surroundings when involved in an endeavor for which no passion whatsoever is shared by any other person or animate object. 

Specious Irrelativity is transferable.  The Colonel has observed the shimmering bubble of space-time irrelevance encompassing others in his area -- around the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda, for example, on rare occasions that the Colonel has accompanied his Lady on a "shopping trip."

A "shopping trip," in the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's case, is defined (by the Colonel) as an extended foray through a retail or grocery store's territory for what seems (to the Colonel) to rival the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.  It takes forever, there are no discernible objectives, and the cost is prohibitive.

The Colonel digresses.

Frequent digression is one of many "frequents" attendant with the Colonel's advancing age.

One of the main points of this seemingly pointless missive, to which the thousands of you who regularly imbibe in the scarcely-literate literary libations ladled out hereon are exhausting great supplies of patience enduring even greater amounts of drivel in the vain hope of reaching, is that the Colonel is amazed as just how fast the year of our Lord, two thousand and eleven whizzed past.

Would that 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1998 -- years in which all or an extended part of which the Colonel spent separated from the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda while deployed abroad keeping the world safe for democracy as a roguishly handsome, steely-eyed soldier of the sea -- had passed half as rapidly.  

At any rate, the Colonel isn't posting to mourn the passing of a year.

For the benefit of Tide and Tiger fans accidentally perusing this post as a result of an internet search for a highly effective herbicide or a killer corndog recipe, the Colonel's use of the phrase at any rate is a clever literary use of a previously addressed concept as a segue.

For the benefit of those suffering from the educational disadvantage of  being 'Bama and LSU grads (a much, much smaller subset of Tide and Tiger fans -- most Tide and Tiger fans prominently display framed GED's), a segue is neither a highly effective tree-killer nor a secret herbal ingredient for a killer corndog.

At any rate, (segue phrase repeated for the benefit of you-know-who -- listen carefully for the sound of open palms striking empty heads) the Colonel wishes to take this opportunity to welcome the new year and wish you and yours a blessed and productive 2012.

With the speed at which years are flying by nowadays, the Colonel reckons he better get started on his post for January 1, 2013.