Monday, January 30, 2012

Tales from the Trail 1: The Mad Shitter

Fort Leonard Wood was fucking cold.

We were there in November, and I was told by the Leonard Wood cognoscenti that FLWM had two seasons; summer, and fucking cold. And at the moment it was fucking cold, and so was I.

But a drill sergeant is expected to be as impervious to cold as he or she is supposed to be immune to fatigue, fear, and uncertainty. Whatever else a trainee soldier may see during his or her Basic, they are not supposed to see a drill sergeant acting tired, afraid, or confused.

Or cold.

So I stood outside the nice, warm instructor's hut out in the middle of the scraggly woods on Range 37 and tried to look warm.

I was detailed as the company dogsbody that day; driver, runner, assistant Senior Drill; whatever was needed, that was what I was. But that morning the company commander had his own priorities, and they had nothing to do with my assigned duties.

"Sergeant Lawes," CPT Crowne asked sotto voce, "where, right now, at this very moment, is the Shitter?"

Now a normal, sane human being, hearing that, would have pointed the officer in the general direction of the latrines over by the woodline to the southwest. But a normal, sane human being would not understood that that term, at that particular time and place, had nothing to do with a place. It was a person.

PVT Flux wanted to be a soldier more than he wanted anything in the world.

Other eighteen-year-olds wanted a muscle car. Or a ridiculously awesome gaming system. Or to get inside the scented panties wrapped around the taut haunches of Suzy Creemcheese, Prairie Homecoming Queen and pride of West Lynn.

Not Joey Flux. He wanted a Combat Infantryman's Badge with two stars.

So he threw his gawky, badly-formed body at Basic Training like a spastic berserker, punishing himself and the equipment he fought to overcome. He was awkward at drill, slow and uncoordinated at PT, painfully incapable of the simplest military tasks.

But, oh, how he wanted to be a soldier. If desire, will and love alone could have been the masters Joey Flux would have been fucking Audie Murphy.

But mere military incapacity was not the impediment; this was the volunteer Army, and the numbers had to pass muster if even the slowest recruit had to be pencil-whipped on to their units. Let the gaining units chapter the poor bastard out, was the general opinion; they had nothing better to do. Here at BCT, Ft. Leonard Wood Missouri, we were in the business of making shit into soldiers and, by God, soldiers or one sort or another they would be.

But not in this case.

In this case, it WAS the shit that was the problem.

Because, you see, PVT Flux had problems beyond his ineptitude at D&C, general subjects, and PT.

He had an incurable inability to control his bowels around authority.

I'm not talking about a fear of truly Olympian power; a lurking dread of having his heels locked by the Chief of the Army Staff or the Post Commander. Merely being addressed sharply by SP4 Joremy, the orderly room clerk, would put Flux in a state of immediate knee-knocking terror. And if he was addressed by someone as exalted and terrifying as a drill sergeant he would nearly faint with panic.

For PVT Flux officers were pure, blind, sphincter-loosening nightmare.

The first time he demonstrated his peculiar affliction was when he was stopped by one of the cadre lieutenants while scurrying into a classroom early in cycle. He apparently hoped to avoid the august notice of this lesser god by lowering his head and speeding up to double-time, but he had made the mistake of passing alone and the officer must have been bored, or feeling shirty, because he halted Flux to harass him for not saluting.

I was told that the second john mistook Flux's look of panic for military intensity, and so stood awaiting the required gesture of respect which was, indeed, rendered with trembling hand. But it was accompanied by a sound not unlike the sudden tearing of rotten burlap, and both young soldiers were enveloped in a choking miasma of used chili mac and assorted secondhand GI chow.

The 2LT recoiled in loathing, and Flux's drill sergeant descended on him with fire and brimstone. This, needless to say, didn't help. The poor youth, having voided everything he could, merely subsided in a heap and had to be helped into the squad bay and hosed down in the shower.

Well, things went to hell after that. The wretched kid was beyond embarrassed, his superiors were roughly equally divided into horrified, disgusted, or amused. They tried, I'm told, everything they could think of. But the poor guy just pooped everytime he caught a glint of rank. He was hopeless.

By the time my USAR unit arrived to shepherd the young men of A/3/10 through two weeks of Basic Rifle Marksmanship poor Flux had experienced several more of these incidents, had been referred to Community Mental Health, and had been assessed unfit for service. It wasn't for lack of trying; I spoke gently to the poor kid, and he really, REALLY wanted to go on. It wasn't in his mind but in his bowels that the fear of military authority was so terrifying.

It was pure hindbrain - the caveman instinct when the sabertooth was on the slope above the trail, the direwolf glaring from the cleft of the rock. At the moment he was confronted by the menace of rank his monkey brain simply took over, and his monkey ass provided him with something to throw, perhaps. Or made him too noisome to be worth predating. Or something.

I really have no idea.

But the other victim of this sad little psychological drama was my commander. I'm not sure to this day if it started with CPT Crowne's predecessor but I've always suspected that this hearty sportsman, bursting with corn-fed Midwestern brio, took one look at the weedy little man who showed up to replace him and proceeded to take the mickey out of my boss with stories of the Mad Shitter and his insane desire to defecate on every officer of the United States Army.

From what I could tell from that moment, in the mind of CPT Crowne, PVT Flux occupied the same place that the hashishin of Alamut came to represent in the minds of 12th Century Crusaders, or the kamikazi in the estimation of the sailors of the U.S. Pacific Fleet; a frightful nightmare, the walking embodiment of sudden and unexpected horror.

My commander apparently pictured this poor wretch as some sort of walking bomb packed with deadly feces and fuzed to explode at the merest sight of an insignia of commissioned rank. That he was trapped in a BCT company with a home-grown Sunni suicide shit-bomb. CPT Crowne seemed to believe that the Mad Shitter lurked in ambush in every billet room or behind every blind corner of every training area, awaiting the opportunity to turn his back and hew down a selflessly-serving Reserve officer (married! with children! a churchgoer! Republican!) with his fearsome anal Claymore.

This dreadful fate so consumed his imagination that by the fourth day of our rotation the man was utterly useless and remained so the entire cycle. When he wasn't funking about looking for the Mad Shitter he was worrying about where poor Flux was and coming up with schemes to remove one or the other of them from each other's proximity, and that's what he was worrying about at the moment instead of the cold.

"Sergeant Lawes, here's what you need to do." he hissed, his eyes darting about like a ferret's in a cage, "You need to find the Shitter, and you need to take him back to the company area. Now."

I looked at the poor sod with as much pity as I could muster beyond my own chill. This is what the hell the Army has come to. Bill Calley and now this. Christ on a fucking pogo stick.

"Well, actually, sir, I need to remain with the trainees. The CUCV is the designated evacuation vehicle in case of an injury, you may recall."

CPT Crowne glared at me, his slitted lids almost hiding the panic in his mustelid eyes.

"All right, sergeant, if you're going to be that way. Inform Senior Drill that my CP will be in the cadre office until the trainees return to their bivouac site."

Yeah, the only place on the entire range where young PVT Flux can't go, you poor weasel, I thought, but gave him my best SFC Nelson salute, holding it until he turned and scampered away.

Poor Flux. He was still there, on medical hold awaiting his release from Active Duty on a Chapter 11 (Unsuitable to the Needs of the Army), when my two-week rotation ended and I got on the bus headed back to Portland.

I never found out what became of the Terror of the Tenth Infantry, the scourge of the shoulder insignia, the briefly notorious trainee soldier known to legend simply as the Mad Shitter.


rangeragainstwar said...

why not submit this to SOF-the i was there section.
or even the new yorker.
i wish this guy had been in my company.
i would have sent him up to bn hq EVERY DAY.
god that would've been fun.
in fact i would've fed him double rations.
no shit.

FDChief said...

jim: SOF? I wouldn't give that mag a rag from the Mad Shitter's skivvies. And I'd love to submit this to the NY just to watch them clutch their pearls; any article with the term "shitter" in the title is a natural for the internet...

And I have to admit, the hats (and I was in this group) used him as a sort of officer-beater to keep the useless bastards away from the training areas. I did it less than some because I genuinely felt bad for the poor kid. But our CO really was a tool, and if I needed to use the MS to get him out of my AO, well...

Leon said...

I was in tears when I read the "anal claymore" comment.

I think Flux had the ultimate defense mechanism. Can you imagine any predator that would consider eating him if he's blasting out fecal matter at 200psi?

Or would any Russki machinegunner, Chinese sapper or Canadian mustketman (if our plans to takeover the world come to fruition) risk shooting him and thus causing a caca-explosion to rival the Tsar-bomba?

FDChief said...

Leon: The thing is, I'm not sure if he would have been as dangerous in that fashion to an armed enemy.

It wasn't the fear of conflict that did the poor guy in; it was the fear of being found wanting by his own chain of command. He said that he had never had the problem in high school with his teachers. There was just something about the fearsome authority of military rank that undid him.

Oddly enough, I'll bet that given the chance he would have turned into some sort of animal in combat, a DSC-winning type of suicidally crazy hero. Even while shitting himself. He had that kind of want-to. The fault lay not in his stars but in his hindbrain.

Lisa said...

his slitted lids almost hiding the panic in his mustelid eyes

Chief, I laughed throughout, I'm embarrassed to say. Absolutely hysterical telling of the poor chap's predicament. You're a fabulous raconteur, and I think I'd love to sit before you and have you regale me.

FDChief said...

Lisa: Turn up in your quilted O.D. jacket and bunny slippers and I will sit at your feet and tell sad stories of the deaths of kings.

Lisa said...

Ah, but you would then be responsible for the surcease of my sorrow over hearing such tales, which move me so.

I have every faith that a creative bard like you would come up with something antidotal(anecdotal?!)

FDChief said...

I would rub your feet.

That and a good warming drink seem to solve almost everything.

Rick said...

This is one of the greatest things I have ever read....sadly lacking closure, though.

The "mustelid eyes" line is a work of pure genius.

FDChief said...

Rick: I really wanted to give it some sort of "ending", but I wanted to tell the story as it happened, and that was the end, at least for me.

I'd like to think that Flux went home and took over his dad's tire repair business and ran it up into a multistate auto parts empire, got elected to the state legislature and eventually ended up as governor where he would call the state Adjutant General on the carpet once a fortnight just to give him a bad time...

But I honestly have no idea what happened. Probably something ordinary and sad, life being what it is...

Lisa said...

I think you're correct on that account (as to what heals all); I could, therefore, bear the woeful tales, even with some anticipation ;)

FDChief said...

Indeed, my dear; what more companionable than warm lavender oil for the ball of the heel and a warm smoky cafe-au-lait for the inner woman, and the warmth of being peaceful, calm and comfortable whilst reveling in the misfortunes and downfalls of others...

...N. Leroy Gingrich, perhaps.

Lisa said...

lavender and cafe au lait, peace, calm and comfort ...


[big smile]