Many people considered the numerous stairs fronting the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. a daunting trek as they made their way to the top, but a young army lieutenant easily took the stairs two at a time. When he reached the top, he looked back and smiled because he was not at all fatigued when he walked through the doors.
"Good morning. How can I help you?" the receptionist at the front desk said.
"Yes, ma'am. I'm First Lieutenant William Walker. I applied for a research card last month," he replied with an obvious southern drawl.
"May I see your identification card please?" The receptionist entered the information from his card into the computer on her desk. "Thank you for your service, Lieutenant Walker. Please go to Ms. Allen's desk." She pointed to the desk as she returned his ID card. "She's the chief librarian on duty today, and she will give you your research card."
The young soldier made his way to the head librarian’s desk. "Ms. Allen? I'm First Lieutenant Walker. I've been referred to you for my research card."
"May I see your ID card? Thank you for your service, Lieutenant Walker. This is your Library of Congress Reader Identification Card. Please keep it clipped to your jacket or shirt. You may use any computer in the main public reading room, where you will have unlimited use of the computer system. Do you know how to use a computer?"
"Yes, ma'am. Doesn't everyone these days?"
"You'd be surprised by how many people come in without any computer knowledge. Some come in to use books because they enjoy the tactile feeling of a book in their hand. Others claim the words on the page of a book cannot be altered like computer records."
"It sounds like they're afraid of a government conspiracy."
"I'm not allowed to comment on that. Please follow me, and we'll log you in."
"Thank you. I have to admit, I'm awed by the immensity of this place."
"We're very proud of it. Here is a station you can use. Please have a seat and login as WWalker. Type in today's date as all numbers, 022210, then the code on the back of your research card, and…there, you're in. Most of our catalog has been scanned into the computer, but if you want specific documents or books, put your request in through the computer request form. If the document is here, in this library, it will be located and brought to you. If the document is in one of the off-site archives, it will be sent here and brought to you. It could take several minutes to a few hours to fill your request, so please be patient. If your request is restricted because of environmental concerns, or it's fragile, a special request to view the item must be made directly through me, and I'll make arrangements for you to view the item. If you have any problems, please ask any of our staff librarians, and they will be happy to help you. To help you get started, what would you like to research today?"
"I'm interested in the Civil War, and I hope to find letters, diaries, journals, anything written during the Battle of Gettysburg by General Lee and General Meade. I hope to gain some insight on their personalities, and their thoughts as leaders of their respective armies."
"To begin, I suggest you enter their names, and the search engine will give you what we have cross referenced under their names."
"It's like Google."
"Our system is faster and much more efficient. Good luck, Lieutenant Walker."
Walker was reading an order from General Meade when he was approached by a tall, gaunt, almost ancient looking man wearing a name tag that simply read "Librarian."
"Lieutenant Walker, come with me. I will show you a document in the restricted archives you will be interested in," he said stiffly, as if he was struggling with the language.
"Am I allowed in the restricted archives?" Walker asked, intrigued by the offer.
"Restricted archives, yes."
"Should we ask Ms. Allen for permission to enter the archives?"
On the way to the archives, Walker noticed the security cameras were shrouded in a fog clinging to the ceiling.
"It looks like the air conditioning needs adjustment. There's a lot of humidity up there."
"Humidity, like a blinding cloud, yes," Librarian said, but didn't look up.
Walker was led to a secured, heavy metal door. Barely touching the dial, Librarian spun a combination lock. The door opened and they entered an airlock leading to a controlled environment vault. At a desk, Librarian reached into a drawer and said, "Wear these." When Walker was handed a pair of white, lint free gloves, an electric arc jumped through the gloves.
"Wow, static!" Walker exclaimed, recoiling and shaking his hand.
"Static, yes. Wait here." Librarian was unaffected by the shock.
Librarian went to the end of a row of large, movable filing cabinets and operated a three-pronged wheel. The entire stack of vertical cabinets moved aside, and he disappeared into the opening. He returned with a cardboard container, placed it on the table, and opened it.
"’A Survivors History of the Battle of the Alamo’? I can think of someone who'd be interested in this," Walker said as he read the first page of the old, handwritten document.
"Do you know Staff Sergeant Webber?"
Librarian looked at the door and said, "There is another document. I will get it."
Walker watched as Librarian hurriedly disappeared around the row of cabinets. Shortly after, a cloud-like fog such as one from a CO2 fire extinguisher silently spilled from between the filing cabinets, then quickly dissipated.
"Lieutenant Walker! What are you doing in here?" Ms. Allen asked.
"I was escorted by one of your staff."
"I didn't get a request for research in the restricted archives. Who escorted you?" Ms. Allen asked gruffly, looking around the archive.
"He went down that last row of cabinets."
"Who's in here?" When she looked down the row, she said, "Lieutenant Walker, will you come here please?"
"Where'd he go?" Walker asked when he looked around the corner of the cabinets.
"There's no exit from here. Did you see his name tag?"
"Yes, it said Librarian."
"Of course he was a librarian, but what's his name?"
"That's it, Librarian."
"You must've misread it, because we don't have any employees named Librarian. What did he look like?"
"He was tall, old, thin, spoke with an accent I didn't recognize; and he was odd."
"Yes, ma'am. Very odd."
"We have no one by that description. I'll have to escort you out."
"Yes, ma'am. I apologize for being here."
As they were leaving, he paused at the table. "Ms. Allen, do you know anything about this document that was brought to me?"
"Since you're already here, we can look at them. These cover sheets are acid free to prevent damage. These codes tell me this document entered the archives in 1836 during John Meehan's tenure as the Fourth Librarian of Congress. In fact, the initials on this second page tell me he accepted this document himself. It was converted to microfiche in 1934, and was converted again to computer files in 2006."
"So, it's genuine?" Walker asked.
"We do not knowingly keep fraudulent documents, unless the fraudulent nature of the document has historical significance, and they are always marked as such. This one is not marked."
"When I was glancing through it, I saw something strange. Will you read the first page for me, please?"
She reached into a drawer, retrieved a pair of white gloves, and gently turned to the first page. "No, this isn't possible. This document's been in the library since 1836." She again looked at the two cover sheets, and then leaned in close to the page. "The writing was not made by quill and ink. The lines are too fine and consistent. It looks like it's been written with a ball point pen. Did you put this here?"
"Absolutely not, ma'am. Like I said, Librarian brought it to me."
"This has to be a forgery of some kind."
"How's that possible? You said it's been here since 1836."
"This will have to be investigated," Ms. Allen stated, not taking her eyes from it as she gently turned another page.
"Can I get copies of it from the computer?"
"Of course. There's a reference number on the first cover page. Write down the number and I'll take you to your station," Ms. Allen said, reluctant to tear herself from the document as she carefully scrutinized every aspect of it.
After Walker printed and retrieved the pages, he sat at a desk and began to read. After he read the first few pages, he rapidly skimmed through the remainder of the document.
Librarian stealthily approached Walker from behind, pressed two buttons on his shirt, and whispered, "Return to Fort Hood. Stop Webber," then quickly stepped back.
"I've got to get back to Fort Hood!" Walker bounded out of the chair, stuffed the printed papers into his briefcase with the intent of reading them on the way, and hurriedly left the library to catch a flight back to Texas.
Seeing Lieutenant Walker leave the building, Librarian walked to the men's room and entered a stall. Fog filled the stall, followed by electrical arching that quickly dissipated. Librarian had disappeared.
From a nearby stall, someone exclaimed, "What in the hell was that?"
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
It was hot, agonizingly hot as I stood in an open field of neatly manicured bright green grass. I never saw such green in Afghanistan, or felt such heat. The field was littered with bodies of wounded soldiers, moaning, screaming. Suddenly sweeping from the sky were vampires, dozens of them, landing on the wounded soldiers, sucking life out of the screaming men. I had to help them, but I had no weapon.
"Staff Sergeant Webber?"
I was running, breathlessly running to help those men when a sudden blaze of bright light stopped the screams.
"Staff Sergeant Webber!" The company charge of quarters shouted from a safe distance next to the door, where he flipped the light switch on.
"What?" I mumbled, wiping the sweat from my face across my pillow. Blinking sleepily and fighting off another sudden headache, I rolled over to face the lunatic who had blinded me.
"We've been called up. Get your platoon on the company area behind the orderly room, packed for rapid deployment. Be on line at 0600 hours."
"Where's Sergeant First Class McFadden?"
"He's not answering his phone. You're next on the recall roster."
"I'll get the platoon up."
I glanced at my clock and saw we had less than two hours to get wired and out of the barracks. In my boxer shorts and socks, I walked around the hall and banged on all the platoon members’ doors, relaying the orders to get up and get packed. Returning to my room, I pulled out my nearly packed duffle bag, and was dressing when a silent shadow walked in.
"Welcome back, Sergeant Sutter."
"Yeah, I'm back in time for another trip," he mumbled tiredly as he pulled out his equipment and began changing out of his civilian clothes.
"You know, you could've stayed on leave until we found out if this is just an exercise."
"I wasn't going to run around, trying to get ready at the last minute, if it was an emergency deployment."
"Good idea. How was your leave?"
"My mother and Oregon family argued as usual, but my dad…." Sutter stifled himself with a huge yawn. "…and my California family is fine. Time with my dad and brothers was too short, as usual."
"Time flies when you're having fun. Are you ready for war?"
"I go where they tell me. Where's our platoon sergeant?"
"The CQ said Mac's not answering his phone, so it looks like we're it."
"Great. You have control of the misfit platoon, and I'm in charge of the last chance squad," Sutter muttered sarcastically.
"Sergeant Sutter, you know that's not true. Second Platoon is not a misfit platoon."
"Yeah? Well, I heard the first sergeant tasked Mac to weed out the non-soldiers, and recommend discharge for those who can't cut it in First Squad."
"You know we're not to speak about that, but since it's open we'll have a quick discussion, and then it's closed; understood?"
"Understood. Why does our squad have all the misfits in the company?"
"It only seems that way. Let's start at the top with our platoon leader, First Lieutenant Walker. He's been with Second Platoon since long before we arrived, and as far as I can tell he's a good officer. Then we have Sergeant First Class McFadden, who's one hell of a good NCO. He's hard, but as fair as they come. Then there's you—"
"Did we skip someone here?" Sutter interrupted.
"You're here under a medical evaluation for your leg wound."
"I can do anything any man in the platoon can do!"
"Better in most cases. Moving on, we have Corporal Breckenridge, Private First Class Carpenter, Private First Class Ruiz, Private First Class Snyder, and Private Wallace; all good soldiers with no unusual disciplinary problems or medical conditions. Now we come to reasons why First Squad is called the last chance squad. Corporal Thompson got religious, and I won't criticize him for it, but when it interferes with his duties, something has to be done. He has applied for conscientious objector status, but wishes to remain in the army and become a chaplain's assistant. Considering how long he's been in the army, I doubt he'll get away with it. Private Sanchez was a good soldier until he started running with Private Hernandez. Sergeant First Class McFadden said to keep him apart from Hernandez as much as possible. Private Hernandez is our one true problem within the platoon. He's lazy, disobedient, and disrespectful at every opportunity he thinks he can get away with. I have no proof, but I suspect he's the one behind the problems with racist complaints at battalion legal. Ever since Sergeant First Class McFadden was summoned to battalion legal, I think he's lost patience with Hernandez."
"I wouldn't want to be on Mac's bad side," Sutter commented.
"Call him Mac to his face, and you might get crushed on his bad side."
"The only problem child left is you." Sutter's broad smile was a bit annoying.
"Like you, mine's a medical evaluation."
"What kind of—?"
"Medical…evaluation. Subject closed. Move on."
"Maybe Mac's wife went into labor," Sutter said, quickly changing the subject.
"She was huge when we were at his barbecue last month. She might be having twins."
"That'd please him," Sutter commented. "It's getting late. We'd better check the platoon."
"I'm not worried about those of us living in the barracks, but those living off post had better show up on time. If not, the first sergeant will be all over them, and there'll be hell to pay. You finish up here, and I'll motivate the platoon."
I went to each shared platoon room to make sure the men were up and moving. Pride and dedication were showing in second platoon, because almost everyone was ready on the short notice. Roommates were helping those who weren't ready as they hurriedly packed their duffle bags with necessary equipment and supplies.
"Come on people; get it on the company street!" I shouted as the squad filed past me, except for Corporal Thompson, who was on his knees beside his bed. "Come on, Reverend, move it!"
It was a few seconds before he responded with, "I'm in prayer."
"Until your request for conscientious objector is approved, you have a job to do. Get to it!"
"You're a heathen, unworthy of Heaven!" Thompson shouted after I left the room.
He was probably right, but instead of dragging his ass to the company street, I shook my head at his comment and checked the other rooms to be sure all were out. Fortunately for Thompson, he'd vacated the room before I returned. I checked to see if Sutter was still in our room, placed my duffle bag on my shoulders, and went outside. The crisp February air was a great stimulant. Not as good as coffee, but enough for now.
Rather than march everyone to the company street, I decided to include a bit of physical training to brighten our morning.
"Get your spacing! Quickly, people, quickly! Tighten up the heavy bags. Fall in! Right, face! Forward, march! Double time, march! Here in the army, what do they say?"
"All work, work!" the platoon responded, clapping to the cadence as we jogged to the company street behind the orderly room.
"All work, hard work, that's what they say!"
"All work, work!"
"Up in the morning ‘bout a quarter to four!"
"All work, work!"
"Got to get another days’ pay!"
"All work, work!"
Shouting the cadence, we shuffled around the loosely forming platoons until I commanded "Quick time…march! Platoon…halt! Ground your packs, line 'em up by squad, and fall in." I noted most of our platoon's soldiers who lived off-post were already waiting. It was not surprising, because they got the calls before we did in the barracks.
When the packs were neatly grounded, everyone aligned themselves with their squad leaders in four ranks. Being without our platoon sergeant, I took the command position in front of the platoon and shouted, "Fall in! Squad leaders report."
"First Squad, two unaccounted for." Sutter said with a salute.
"Second Squad, all present or accounted for."
"Third Squad, all present."
"Fourth Squad, all present."
"Sergeant Sutter, you're missing Private Sanchez and Private Hernandez." I looked at the squad to confirm his report.
"Yes, Staff Sergeant."
"Sergeant Davis, who're you missing and where are they?"
"Sergeant Wright and Corporal Barnes. Wright is in the arms room, and Barnes is driving."
"Corporal Thompson, front and center." After he had come to attention before me, I said quietly, "The little run in full gear this morning is because of you."
"Call me a heathen again, and we'll see just how far the whole platoon can run in full gear before you fall out. Or, I can take you to the captain and see what an Article 15 can do for you. I'm certain the non-judicial punishment would do wonders for your request for chaplain duty. Do you understand?"
"Do you understand?" I shouted.
"Yes, Staff Sergeant!"
"Fall in," I said with a nod of my head. "At ease. It looks like we had some rain last night. Sergeant Sutter, what's the weather forecast?"
"Clearing later today with a warming trend. Tonight and tomorrow, seasonably cool for a Texas February, with no rain during the rest of the week." I nodded my agreement.
"Staff Sergeant, why is the weather forecast so important to you?" Private First Class Snyder asked.
"It should be important to everyone. Knowing the weather as far in advance as possible gives a soldier an advantage by being able to prepare himself and his equipment. During the Second World War, the Germans used weather to a great advantage when they attacked through the Ardennes Forest."
"What's the Ardennes?" someone said.
"Doesn't anyone care about military history? Sergeant Sutter, explain."
"It's known as the Battle of the Bulge. Bitter cold and snowy weather covered the Nazis’ sneak attack through the Ardennes Forest. The lack of fuel, and Nazi obsession with the town of Bastogne, was met by coordinated Allied counter-attacks that caused the Germans to lose their last, best chance to win World War Two."
"I've never heard the Germans were obsessed with Bastogne. They had to take Bastogne because it was a strategic position with several roads converging on the town."
"The Germans could've left a token force surrounding Bastogne to keep the Allies trapped there while they secured fuel depots in the rear of the Allied lines. With a strategic position behind the Allied lines and the fuel they needed, they could've taken Bastogne with reserves later."
"They did leave a token force when Hitler ordered them to bypass Bastogne and take the Allied fuel reserves. The Germans almost reached the advanced fuel depots near the Meuse River, but the Allies stopped them before they could get there." I couldn't believe I’d gotten sucked into that conversation. I hoped this never got back to Lieutenant Walker. I was sure it would've started an energetic discussion between the armchair generals.
"Sarge, are we—?"
"Professionalism, Private Wallace. Say the rank of the person you're talking to first. If an officer or some hardcore NCO heard you say Sarge, they could go ugly on you."
"Too late, some of them own ugly," someone said, as stifled chuckles filtered from the platoon.
"Staff Sergeant Webber, are we going to war?" Wallace asked, nervous about the call up.
"Instead of partying, you should read the papers or watch the news. There's nothing happening in the world right now that'd warrant a quick call up. It's probably another EDRE. If we were under a unit deployment, we would've been preparing for it long before now."
The platoons had loosely formed behind the orderly room, and I was chafing at the bit with impatience as I frequently reminded myself of the army mantra, "Hurry up and wait."
It was nearly 0700 hours when the company commander and first sergeant came out of the orderly room. Everyone went quiet as they quickly aligned themselves with their squad leaders.
"Company!" Captain Ibanez shouted.
"Platoon!" the platoon sergeants responded.
"Lock and load!" the four infantry platoons shouted as they snapped to attention.
"Platoon sergeants, report!"
"All present or accounted for!" the first platoon sergeant responded with a salute.
"Excellent!" The captain returned the salute.
"Three unaccounted for!" I said with a snappy salute as acting platoon sergeant.
"Thank you." The captain looked down in mock disappointment when he returned my salute.
"All present!" The third platoon sergeant shouted with his salute.
"Outstanding!" Captain Ibanez shouted, slightly leaning back, twisting back and forth before straightening up and returning the salute. I heard snickering from behind me. Some of the men within the platoons were a little too comfortable with—how dare I put it—our company commander's little eccentricities.
"All present!" the fourth platoon sergeant said with his salute.
"Outstanding!" Captain Ibanez shouted, performing his little act before acknowledging the salute. He looked slowly across the platoons and then shouted, "All privates, drop and give me twenty!"
Chaos erupted when the privates scrambled for an area to perform the ordered pushups, shouting the count as they did so.
"Recover! All NCO's drop and give me twenty! First Sergeant Atkinson, give me twenty."
Many of the company privates were laughing as the non-commissioned officers performed the required pushups.
"Recover! The battalion commander woke us early for an EDRE. For the new people, that means Emergency Deployment and Readiness Exercise," Captain Ibanez said.
"Sir! On behalf of the company, I request that all officers drop and give us twenty!" First Sergeant Atkinson's deep booming voice and tall, muscular stature automatically commanded attention and respect.
Stunned silence caught everyone when the captain looked at the first sergeant until he said, "Officers, drop and give the company twenty!"
The officers performed the required pushups, including Captain Ibanez, who was laughing rather than counting.
"Officers, recover! At Ease! Platoon sergeants, up here," Captain Ibanez said, gesturing us toward him. "Staff Sergeant Webber, who're you missing?"
"Sir, Sergeant First Class McFadden, Sergeant Wright, Corporal Breckenridge, Private Sanchez, and Private Hernandez."
"Sergeant McFadden's wife went into labor early this morning. We'll take up a collection for his new family addition after the EDRE. Sergeant Wright and Corporal Breckenridge are accounted for in the arms room. Now, on a very serious matter, the Staff Judge Advocate has recognized an increasing trend of racist complaints from this company, generally directed at non-commissioned officers for the apparent purpose of discrediting them. I've said it many times, racism will not be tolerated. Those involved will be dealt with swiftly and severely. Put the word out among the men again. Staff Sergeant Webber, you're an Alamo enthusiast, and I know—"
"Sir, please don't get him started," First Sergeant Atkinson said.
"Did you know today in 1836, the siege of the Alamo began? Did you also know the Alamo was named for the Spanish word for cottonwood?" I said.
"Not now, Staff Sergeant," Atkinson grumbled, bored with my talks about Alamo history.
"I know you said nothing that could be considered racist or prejudicial in your discussions about the Alamo, despite the accusations made against you," Captain Ibanez said.
"Sir, I've been accused five times in the past three months. I'd like to know who made the complaints, as if I don't already know." I had good reason to be bitter when I turned to see if our two missing soldiers had arrived yet.
"Anyone can use Mexico and Mexican in the same sentence without being a racist," Ibanez said, sidestepping my question. "Battalion legal has completed its investigations, and dropped charges against all NCOs in this company." There was a quiet sigh of relief from the gathered platoon sergeants, and not entirely for the accused men in their platoons.
"Sir, Hernandez and Sanchez have decided to join us," Atkinson said quietly, nodding his head toward second platoon, where Hernandez and Sanchez were easing themselves into the end of First Squad. As assistant squad leader, Sergeant Sutter moved toward them just as the first sergeant left the impromptu meeting and walked toward fourth platoon. Sutter got into Hernandez's face, and began an earnest conversation with him.
"Sergeant Sutter's going to declare war on them," I commented, while the platoon sergeants covertly watched the confrontation.
With an exchange of comments we couldn't hear, Sutter pointed to the rear of the formation where Hernandez and Sanchez should have remained when arriving late to any formation. Hernandez said something, and flipped him the finger. When I saw Sutter ball his fists I started to shout and wave him off, but the captain put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "At ease, Staff Sergeant."
The first sergeant swept in from behind the platoon and grabbed Hernandez and Sanchez by the collars of their body armor, and dragged them stumbling behind the platoon. Sergeant Sutter looked at me with a surprised expression, and then returned to his position at the head of the squad.
"Gentlemen," Captain Ibanez regained our attention. "Since our first sergeant is occupied, I'll give the briefing. We have a change to our training schedule. We'll use the EDRE to begin an overnight exercise. When everyone has drawn their M16s, we'll move to the range for a familiarization fire of the M203 Grenade Launcher. When it's completed, we'll force march to range fifteen alpha to zero and qualify with our M16s. Then we'll wait until dark to night qualify. At 2300 hours we'll begin an escape and evasion exercise. The company will be broken into squads, and given a thirty-minute head start. We'll be pursued by elements of the 18th Military Police Battalion, who are also on a training exercise. Everyone will be carrying all their equipment, and they will try to get to a position ten klicks north of the start point without being captured. If you're caught, you will be returned to the start point to escape again. You will not ambush or take prisoners during this exercise." Ibanez looked directly at me.
"Sir, there were no instructions about ambush or prisoners, other than that there were ambushes waiting for us," I said, quick to defend the squad.
"During our last exercise, a lieutenant, three NCO's, and several of their squad members were tied up and left out all night before they were found. They were not happy about it."
"Sir, that was three months ago. Why am I just hearing about it now?"
"Since no one could be conclusively identified in the dark, it's the primary reason why no disciplinary actions could be taken against First Squad, or you. Keep that in mind during this exercise."
"And, there's the unresolved matter of a stolen vehicle."
Knowing I could be in deep trouble over this, I had to choose my words carefully. "Sir, as I understand the situation, a truck was found unlocked and was…borrowed. From what I heard it was returned and secured in accordance with post regulations, like it should've been before it was found."
"Because you adapted to the situation, most of the company reached the rally point in record time. Don't do it again."
"Yes, sir." I was relieved that no one would be punished for our adaptability. In fact, it was our adaptability that had saved us from punishment.
"Platoon sergeants, make sure you and your squad leaders have compasses. Squad leaders will be responsible for the location of their men at all times. Don't let anyone get lost this time. Staff Sergeant Webber, First Squad has ammo duty. Take your squad to the arms room and draw your weapons. The armorer has already fitted your M16s with the grenade launcher. The company will use your weapons for the M203 familiarization fire. Fall out," Captain Ibanez said.
"Yes, sir," we said in unison, and returned to our platoons.
"Company!" Captain Ibanez shouted.
"Platoon!" the platoon sergeants responded.
"Lock and load!"
"Platoon sergeants, take charge." The captain saluted before returning to the orderly room.
Turning to the platoon, I said, "Sergeant Davis, front and center." The Second Squad leader came to attention in front of me. "First Squad has ammo duty, so you're acting platoon sergeant. We're going on an overnight exercise, so make sure you and your squad leaders have their lensatic compasses. When you get your helmet radios and night vision goggles, double check their operation, and turn them off to conserve batteries. If you have time, get spare batteries from the supply room. The company will get detailed instructions from the range safety officer when we get there. First Squad, fall out, pick up your gear, and fall in at the arms room. Sergeant Davis, take charge. Sergeant Sutter, what did Hernandez say that has the First Sergeant in an uproar?" I asked as I picked up my duffle bag.
"Pegue esto en el culo," Sutter said in Spanish.
"I'm supposed to stick this up my ass." He showed me his middle finger. "I was going to deck him, but the first sergeant pulled him out of range."
"If it'd been me, I would've had to take the abuse and disrespect again, and let McFadden handle it. I'm getting tired of dealing with those two."
"Yeah, me too. What're we doing today?"
"We've been selected for ammo duty. When we're done with that, we'll familiarize with the M203 grenade launcher; then we'll zero and qualify with our M16s. Our rifles have been outfitted with the M203, and the entire company will use them to fire with. Tonight we'll night qualify, followed by an escape and evasion exercise. The company will be pursued by the military police again."
"Can we take prisoners?" Sutter asked hopefully.
"Unfortunately, no. I think the captain got his ass reamed for what we did last time."
"I'll bet we have to wear our heavy bags and carry our weapons again."
"It's good training. First Squad, put your duffle bags in the truck, and fall in along the wall," I said when we arrived at the arms room.
"Staff Sergeant Webber!" First Sergeant Atkinson's voice boomed as he walked toward me with Hernandez and Sanchez in front of him. They were holding their duffle bags in their arms instead of wearing them on their backs. "Take charge of these two."
"Yes, First Sergeant. Hernandez, Sanchez, fall in at the end of the squad. Sergeant Sutter!" I pointed at our wayward squad members, and he made sure they arrived and stayed at the end of the squad, still carrying their bags in their arms instead of dropping them in the truck.
"Webber, walk with me. Immediately after we get back from the escape and evasion exercise, take Hernandez to the company commander."
"First Sergeant; non-judicial punishment, extra duty, all the disciplinary actions given to him does nothing to change his attitude. In fact, it makes it worse."
"After seeing his actions for himself this morning, the captain is going to recommend to battalion that Hernandez be discharged."
"Does he know?"
"Not yet, but the captain has had enough of him, even before this morning."
"Does Sergeant McFadden know?"
"He'll be notified of the captain's decision when he returns."
"First Sergeant, I'm concerned about having Hernandez on a live-fire exercise. I request he be relieved and stay behind."
"Request denied. You and Sergeant Sutter will keep him out of trouble until we get back."
"What about Sanchez?"
"The captain thinks there's a chance to turn him into a soldier once he's away from Hernandez's influence. Report to Sergeant Wright in the arms room," Atkinson ordered, unwilling to listen to me argue over what he already knew.
"Yes, First Sergeant." I turned and trotted to the arms room.
"Staff Sergeant Webber, I heard you have the duty," the armorer, Sergeant Wright, observed.
"You can tell I'm overjoyed. I see we have the five-ton excuse for a truck again. Are we the only unit on post with that antique?"
"It may be old, but it beats walking."
"We're infantry! The Queen of Battle! We love to walk!" Laughter at my enthusiasm followed from outside the door.
"Is insanity necessary for promotion?" Wright said, scowling at me.
"If it were, you'd be a general by now. Have your squad sign for their M16s and night vision goggles."
"No helmet radios?"
"Patience, Staff Sergeant. They'll be issued, but I'll give you a short block of instructions on this new model. It's basically the same, but in addition to the push-to-talk button, there's a switch where you can activate the VOX."
"Voice Operated Switch. I heard it was going to be put on the radios."
I was intrigued by this addition to the radio. To be able to talk during a firefight, without letting go of the rifle to push a button, put a new level of communication and control in the hands of the soldier. The ability to listen to the men's comments, hear what they were experiencing first hand, and being able to respond to their needs immediately was immeasurable.
"Here's the switch." Sergeant Wright pointed to the setting. "Push this way for the voice-operated-switch, and this way for push-to-talk."
"Sergeant Wright, this is way too confusing for me. I don't think I can figure it out."
"Adapt, Staff Sergeant," Captain Ibanez said from the door behind me.
"Yes, sir; I was being sarcastic."
The captain gave me an amused snort before turning to leave.
"If you think you can handle the radio, put the M16s in the weapons rack on the truck," Sergeant Wright said.
"We always carry our weapons," I stated, reacting to the unusual instruction.
"Not on ammo duty. You'll need to keep your hands free to load the truck and help set up at the range. When we're ready, we'll go the ammo bunkers and draw our ammo."
"Do you and your driver need to qualify?" I asked.
"Our M16s with M203 modules are already in the weapons rack."
"Okay. What about the truck radio?"
"Mounted and checked."
"Have the call signs been assigned?"
"The company call sign is Veto Bravo, and the ammo detail is Veto Bravo Three Seven."
"Sounds familiar. Who's the medic?"
"Corporal Taylor's in the supply room, checking the trauma backpack and the Unit One med kit. We've done this before, Staff Sergeant."
"Yeah, about three months ago. Weapons signature sheet?"
"Get your equipment from Corporal Barnes, and sign here."
I went to Barnes’s location. "Corporal Barnes, my weapon's butt stock number is Bravo Four Six."
When I received my rifle, helmet radio, and night vision goggles, I checked the serial numbers, confirming them with the sheets. With a quick signature, I was armed long enough to put my M16 in the weapons rack. While I attached the radio and goggles to my helmet, I made certain the squad understood the operation of the new radio setup and had everyone load on the truck. Despite the generous size of the truck bed, it was already crowded with boxes of MREs, duffle bags, and armorers' equipment. It was going to get even more crowded, because we still had several boxes of ammunition to load. I silently sympathized with everyone who'd be riding there because, as the senior non-commissioned officer in charge of the detail, I'd be riding shotgun with the driver.
When the squad had been seated on the wooden slats in the truck bed, I climbed on a rear bumper and said, "Equipment check, night vision goggles first. Give me a thumbs up if you can see. Hernandez, that's not your thumb! Turn off and stow the goggles. Verify your radios are set to VOX. Radio check; by the numbers, sound off." I listened as an individual count was given. "Good. Turn off the radios. As soon as Sergeant Wright, Corporal Barnes, and Corporal Taylor are aboard, we'll head out."
Live ammunition was tightly controlled on the main post, so we drove to the ammo bunkers, which were a safe distance from everything should an explosive mishap occur. Sergeant Wright inventoried the issues of the 5.56-millimeter rifle rounds and 40-millimeter grenades. When he was satisfied with the count, we loaded the ammo boxes onto the truck.
"Staff Sergeant Webber, what about breakfast?" Corporal Taylor said.
"Sergeant Wright, when do we have to be at the range?"
"As soon as possible. We still have to set up and load clips before the company arrives."
"You heard the instruction. We'll have an MRE breakfast when we get to the range. MRE, what does it stand for?"
"Meal, Ready to Eat."
"Wrong! Meal, Rejected by the Enemy." When the squad seated themselves in the truck bed, I said, "Corporal Barnes, let's get rolling."
We'd been on West Range Road for about twenty minutes when I said, "Corporal Barnes, it looks like fog ahead. Slow down before we get to it." When we started slowing, I looked at the rear view mirror. "Watch out for the speeder behind us. Damn, he's coming up fast. Give that maniac all the room he wants."
"Yes, Staff Sergeant."
As we slowed, the fog seemed to lunge at us, engulfing us completely. As it got thicker, electrostatic arcs began leaping from every surface. Complaints from the squad in the truck bed were getting louder when everyone was repeatedly shocked.
"What in the hell's going on? Pull over and stop," I told Corporal Barnes when I saw him repeatedly release the steering whenever he was shocked.
Barnes complied, applied the parking brake, and turned on the safety flashers.
"Damn! What in the hell's happening?" I exclaimed when I was shocked through my leather glove by a vicious electric arc.
Fog invaded the truck cab through every vent, crack, and crevice. The rapid staccato of static arcing became louder, deafeningly loud. The last thing I remember was everyone shouting and cursing about the increasingly violent shocks before I slumped against the truck door.