“GET THE FUCK UP! ALL OF YOU! ON YOUR FUCKING FEET! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING STILL SLEEPING? WHY AREN’T YOU IN YOUR ROOMS!”
The screaming woke me up. My neck hurt from sleeping in the chair, and I was still jet-lagged. I’d been dreaming of being trapped in a large dark space with something breathing heavily behind me no matter which way I turned. I was glad I was woken, but the big-mouthed fucker yelling was going to get a beat-down.
While all of that was shambling through my exhausted mind, I’d already leapt to my feet and to attention. My bleary vision settled on a man in BDUs, with the gold bar of an LT on his lapel. He was pissed, kicking chairs and rousing everyone.
I’d fallen asleep in my uniform, still coated in coal dust, and my boots dusty from the dirt floor and gritty from the coal dust. My eyes were gritty and I was bone deep tired.
“THIS IS THE GODDAMN US ARMY, NOT A FUCKING DAY CARE! NOW GET UP!” He managed to yell and bully us into a formation four wide and four deep. Glaring, he stood in front of us at parade rest.
“You guys are the sorriest-looking fuckers I’ve ever seen. Whose the ranking NCO?” We all looked around.
“I am, sir,” a guy with grey hair said, stepping forward. Oh God, all he had on his collar was Corporal. Everyone around me was specialists, PFCs, and me.
“Who’s the officer in charge of this cluster fuck of morons?” he asked.
“You are, sir,” the corporal said. I repressed a grin at his expression.
“You, Private Monkey, go wake everyone else up. I want a formation outside in twenty minutes.” I noticed his uniform was pressed and starched, and his boots reflected his uniform.
“Sir, this is everyone else,” the corporal said, grabbing my arm before I could take a step. “This is the entire unit. We sleep in here for warmth.” The LT looked like he was about to explode. He turned and stomped off, and we all looked at each other.
Everyone introduced themselves to me. Out of everyone there, I was the only person who hadn’t been sent here from another unit, who hadn’t been busted at least once, and hadn’t served at least two years in the military. The only explanation we could figure out for me being sent there was the fact I had been transported to Basic Training in handcuffs.
We all separated and returned to our rooms to get changed and dressed. I took a shower; the water was hot and warm, and the soap washed away the lingering feelings from the night before.
I took about my iron and ironed my uniform on the desk, putting a damp towel between the desk top and my uniform, so that it came out looking good. A quick bit of work, and my extra pair of boots were shined and ready. I shaved quickly, and headed back down to the dayroom.
Everyone was standing there in uniform, and the LT looked pissed. He was turning away from the bank of about a dozen phones on the CQ barrier.
“Why do those clocks have different times?” he sneered.
“The first is local time, the second is Zulu, the third is synched with the Pentagon, and the last is synched with NORAD, sir,” a woman answered. She was E-3, and had a leg brace on. I noticed her titties filled her BDU blouse.
“Who ordered that bullshit?” the LT snarled.
“Sir, that was in the orders packet that we opened upon arriving here,” the female, Stokes, answered.
“WHAT OPERATIONS PACKET?!” he screamed. Great, this ass-monkey thought screaming meant good leadership.
“Carter, grab the Op-Orders!” a guy, Mann, yelled. The CQ came into the room, holding a thick manila envelope.
“Why wasn’t I handed this already?” The LT asked. I could tell this guy was going to be a problem.
“You didn’t check in last night, LT, and had not asked for it this morning,” Carter answered. The LT tore the envelope out of Carter’s hand and walked out, pulling a ring of keys from his pocket.
“Shit, this guy’s going to be a problem,” Mann grumbled. He pulled a pack of Camels out of his pocket and lit one. I went and bought a soda. I was down to less than five dollars in my wallet, and I doubted that the vending machines would honor traveller’s checks.
I came back to everyone trying to figure out what kind of asshole this LT was going to be. The door blew open, cold air rolling over all of us. Standing in the doorway was a guy wearing Mickey Mouse boots, arctic firing mittens, a cold weather mask, a cold weather cap, a pair of cold weather trousers, and a parka with the full lined hood pulled over his head. He had a box sealed with a pair of metal bands in his hands. He set the box on the table and pulled off his mask.
“Fifth Corps sent these here. This is 2/19th Special Weapons, right?” he asked.
“Who’s fucking asking?” the PFC behind the desk snarled.
The guy laughed. “Good answer. Good OPSEC. Wanna sign for these?”
“Mason, go find the LT!” the PFC yelled. A guy with no rank on his collar, but the darker squares of sew-on rank on his bare collar showing he had once been higher ranking, nodded and went into the stairwell.
“Damn, you guys are out in the middle of fucking nowhere,” the guy bitched. He bummed a smoke off of Mann. “The goddamn main post doesn’t even know where the fuck you guys are, and all the maps say is ‘restricted area’ for this area. Goddamn Cold War bullshit.” (I’d become very familiar with that phrase over the years.)
“Why wasn’t I notified you were on your way, soldier?” the LT yelled as he came out of the stairwell. The guy’s face went from easy-going bitching to hard as the goddamn ice that coated the windows.
“Well, why wasn’t I notified? And you better answer, I’m an officer.” (I’ve never forgotten that phrase)
The guy turned around and pulled back the hood of the parka. On his cap sat a single gold oakleaf.
“So am I. And I don’t answer to you, Lieutenant.” He looked positively pissed, and the LT went white. “Sign for this shit so I can get off this goddamn rock and back to some semblance of civilization.” The LT stammered through apologies and fawningly signed the clipboard. The Major kicked the box across the floor, and left through the two sets of double doors.
It was then that the arrangement made sense. Two sets of double doors acted as an airlock, keeping out the worst of the cold.
It was also snowing outside.
“Don’t just stand there! Someone carry this down to my office!” the LT screamed at us. I shrugged, grabbed the box, and hefted it. It was pretty heavy, but I’ve always been stronger than my size made one believe.
I followed the LT downstairs, and for some unknown reason I was suddenly afraid that the room beyond the stairwell door would be bare dirt. I breathed a sigh of relief when lightbulb-lit tile and cinderblock came into view. There was one door on my left, mailboxes on my right, a counter with a gap in it, and a chained-shut door that the window was stark white. So were the full flown windows to the right. That meant that the snow was over the doorway. Holy fuck.
We went past a door behind the mailboxes, and to three doors. One recently painted “1SG” the other painted “XO” and the one the LT led me through was “CO”. Inside, the lights were on, and the desk was piled with what I assumed to be the contents of the manila envelope.
“Set it there, private, then go stand at parade rest over there in case I need you,” he said, going over and sitting behind the desk.
I let my mind drift as I stood there while he first popped the banding off and then began going through the stacks of papers. I saw him pull out maps, typewritten orders, and more packets. He was grunting at various things, but I tuned him out. My legs started to hurt, and my knees were aching.
The LT left and came back with a sandwich. Fucker didn’t offer me shit, I just stood there, until finally he looked up. “Go get everyone else, tell them to form up out front of the building.”
Out front? In the snow? Was he fucking high?
I snapped to attention, pulled a left face, and got the fuck out of there.
Everyone was sitting in the day room smoking cigarettes and drinking soda. Stokes had opened up her leg brace and was rubbing her knee and sighing.
“LT Greer wants us to form up outside,” I said.
“Oh you have to be fucking kidding!” another private, Cobb, snarled. I turned around and looked outside. It was bare white and you couldn’t even see the steps off of the porch.
“That’s what he said,” I answered. “He said to form up in the lot across the street.”
Grumbling, we went to our rooms and put on our cold weather gear. When I returned to the CQ area, everyone else but Stokes was already there. Private Cobb had a coil of 550 cord in his hands.
“All right, we’ll all take a cut of that one,” he said, pointing at the other coil of 550 cord. “Tie it to your parka belt, then loop it over this one. I checked, you can’t see farther than a foot or two out there. Stokes will hold the barracks end, I’ll be on the far end. As soon as the LT comes out there, we should be able to go in.”
I just nodded dumbly. These guys and girls all knew better than me. I followed instructions, and was the fifth out the door.
Cobb hadn’t been kidding. I damn near fell down the steps, and couldn’t see my hand if I stretched it out in front of my face. It was only sixteen hundred, and it was nearly dark, with the wind howling around us.
I must have died on the bus and now I’m in Hell.
I felt the person behind me grab onto my back, and I reached back and grabbed his hand. We’d hold four people to a line, and hopefully get four lines. I bumped into the guy in front of me, and I stepped up next to him, my shoulder against his. Closer than any other formation I’d ever been in.
“TEN MINUTES!” the guy next me yelled.
“OK!” I yelled back, then turned to my right. “TEN MINUTES!”
“Roger!” the other guy yelled back. He was still holding my hand tightly. I reached out and grabbed the guy on my left’s hand, and he squeezed.
It was freezing fucking cold, the wind was prying through the holes in the cold weather mask, and my ears and the tip of my nose were starting to hurt.
“FIVE MINUTES!” was yelled to me, and I yelled it down the line.
Where the fuck was LT? What kind of mad-man was he to send us out in this shit? If we weren’t tied together, we’d be spread all over and lost in the white-out. Fuck, if we weren’t holding hands, we’d be all alone in the whiteness.
“FUCK THIS! EVERYONE BACK IN!” the guy on my left yelled. I passed it up, and soon I felt the guy on my right pulling me forward. I stumbled on the steps, and we went inside. We were covered with snow, and we all had ice on cold weather masks.
“Where’s the LT?” Cobb asked.
“RIGHT HERE! WHY AREN’T YOU FUCKERS IN FORMATION? ARE YOU AFRAID OF SOME SNOW?” came the screaming from the stairwell.
“Sir, look outside. For the love of God, that’s a blizzard!” Said another guy. I couldn’t see his name.
“Did your recruiter promise you that you only had to work in the summer? GET YOUR ASSES OUTSIDE, GODDAMMIT!” he yelled. “AND WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS ROPE SHIT?”
“Blizzard security measures, to make sure nobody gets lost,” Cobb said.
“That’s an old wives tale. You losers better be outside in five minutes, if I have to come out and get you, there will be hell to pay!” the LT screamed, throwing open the doors and pushing his way outside.
Cobb lit up a cigarette, and offered me one. I took it, even though I didn’t smoke, and looked around.
“Tell me he didn’t just go outside without a tether,” Stokes said, shaking her head.
“Aren’t we going to formation?” I asked, looking around. Everyone was taking off their cold weather gear and rolling it up so they could sit on the floor on it.
“Don’t worry, Private Monkey.”
After about a half hour, people began wandering off, talking and chatting. Stokes was holding hands with Cobb, and they walked down the hallway together. I walked over to Mann.
“What happens now, Mann?” I asked, pointing at the door. “Don’t we try to rescue him?”
“In a November blizzard? At night? Look, Private Monkey, he went out there in a field jacket and winter BDUs, no protective gear,” Mann told me.
“He’s already dead, isn’t he?” I asked.
“Yup,” Mann said, moving around behind the desk. “You’ve got CQ tonight, tomorrow morning, we’ll call Fifth Corps and let them know they lost an officer.”
I stared at the doorway. I later found out that none of that snow stayed on the ground; the winds whipped it around and later dumped it further down the mountain. We were too high up for too much to stay.
We found the officer that summer.