I got to my first unit in July of ’88, 4th Battalion 27th Infantry “Wolfhounds.” I spent four years humping sleestack-ridden gulches in the dark of night with nothing but a set of cat-eyes from the man in front of me to guide on. By the time I left in ’92 the phrase “We own the night” was normally uttered while being helped back to your feet after a particularly heinous slip, trip or fall. Often involving multiple Soldiers.
Team Leaders and above had PVS 5’s but the rest of us had to follow them, sometimes by feel. I can remember slipping out from under my helmet and holding at head level in one hand. Knowing the guy behind me can’t see anything else, then drop the helmet down to waist level and tactically whisper ouch! He’d start tapping an extended foot trying to feel the drop off. Then you’d speed up for a couple steps worrying him that he would be the cause of a break in contact. That was cause for a serious scuffin, don’t be the dumbass who causes a break in contact.
I remember walking along the edge of a gulch, the mortar bipod was scraping the wall from its perch on my alice pack. We were walking along a path maybe a foot wide and it was steep enough that you’d fall clean out of sight if you slipped. Unless you get lucky and smack onto a strong tree and only get a medical profile. My buddy in front of me is carrying his M16 on a jungle sling over the back of his neck and he slips off the edge. His sling snags on a tree about three feet down and he’s hanging by one arm and his neck, makin’ the damnedest noises I ever heard. It was just steep enough he couldn’t get his feet under himself and stand up and all I could do was laugh. Until our Squad Leader came back to see who caused the break in contact.
One night another buddy slipped going down an eight foot embankment into a dry creek bed, he crouched and tried to ride it out. We couldn’t see it but we could hear the cursing when he hit our supply Sergeant in front of him. Together they slid to the bottom and my buddy says “I can’t stand up, I’m trapped.” Then the supply Sergeant says “If you get your head out of my ass you can stand up or do what-ever-the-f*ck you want to.” What I saw in my head was Laurel and Hardy in the Infantry.
The best slip I ever witnessed wasn’t even at night. We’d packed up to move out from training to a nearby road and get picked up by trucks. It was “only a couple clicks” which is the on duty version of “Hold my beer, watch this.” Nothing good ever comes from “a couple clicks.” It’s also raining, monsoon raining, a constant steady down pour. There’s no where to hide. My brilliant Squad Leader decides it’s only a couple clicks, he’s gonna wear “the full gumby.” The sleek matching old green rubberized rain suit and rain trousers with the crotch down around your knees. He kinda whisked when he walked like a fat girl wearin’ corduroy. Three or four hours later found him over heating, sweating and panting like a dog just as we begin walking down a steep hillside covered in wet ten foot tall grass. We’re third in the order of movement and the trail formed by the men in front of us is slick as snot on a marble. My Squad Leader goes down, the slick rubber hits the snotty mud and he became The Gumby of Destruction. He was a little on the heavy side, gravity was not his friend. By the time he’d mowed down the first dozen the people farther down the hill heard him coming and turned to stare into the eyes of their doom. The ten foot high grass precluded stepping out of the way of the whisking shrieking Sergeant. By this point he only wisked intermittently when gravity called him back to earth, the rest of the time he was airborne his chubby little cheeks fluttering. The First Sergeant had time to warn of the retribution he would strike before he was mowed down. There were a dozen or so far enough out onto the flat that gravity had finally scrubbed the speed off so he probably only took out two and a half platoons.