I’d been a Wolfhound (4/27INF) for a couple years when the buddy I spoke of in A Night Off From The Trail got to the squad. All the Soldiers in the squad had only been to Hawaii, we’d never seen any other corner of the Army. The NCOs had but you usually tried to keep conversation with the NCOs professional and minimal. It was safer that way. They were also tainted, they were NCOs and as such they had a vested interest in pushing the party line. My buddy had been in Germany with the Second Armored Division. The uniforms he wore had a triangular spot above his heart where General Patton’s Division wore their Unit Patch. The same place the General wore his when they laid him to rest. I always thought it was a damn shame to de-activate that Division. It was fascinating to hear his opinion and experiences. It was also a pain in the ass. We’d be three days in the field on an all night tactical movement, carrying a hundred odd pounds on our backs, working on four hours of sleep scattered irregularly over those three days. Sweaty, chaffed, tired, angry, limping then my buddy would walk up, sweating through his stupid camoflage, every bit as filthy and stank as we were, smilin’ like a skunk eatin’ shit. “Hey, this ain’t so bad, we could be in the motorpool.” I’d seen our motorpool as we ran past during PT but I’d never been inside it. The things he told us about the motorpool made it sound like something out of a Rob Zombie movie.
Any positive comments during those moments of extreme suck were unwelcome, its a Soldier’s Right to Bitch and all we wanted was to express our god-given right. Even his smile was aggravating at those moments, the grinnin’ unnatural bastard. I was there a year or so later when, caught “Between Haggard and Hell” my buddy hit his breaking point.
“I’m caught between Haggard and Hell, a barroom home or jail. I’m blaming it all on myself, caught between Haggard and Hell.” Eric Strickland and the B sides.
It wasn’t a broken heart that broke my buddy down like a shotgun. It was rain.
Rain is the grunt’s nemesis. “And Cold” always follows “Wet” like “Tired” always follows “Sick.” Sometimes rain is only momentarily an annoyance but when its Hawaii in the monsoon season its four days of drenching downpour, occasionally it rained harder, like a cow pissin’ on a flat rock but drenching downpour was the best it got. Everything we owned was wet. Somehow the rain found its way through two ziplock bags into all my socks and t-shirts, now my ruck was approaching 150 pounds. It got into my buddy’s plastic container of gatorade powder and orange syrup was dripping out of his ruck. Our feet hadn’t been dry in days, walking on them hurt. The few hours we’d had to sleep were interrupted by uncontrollable shivering and the periodic invasion of rushing icy cold rain water. It was pure intestinal fortitude at this point. Caught between Haggard and Hell.
We’d paused for a map check, the idiot leading us was lost. I was looking up the file of soldiers to my front. Everyone had that strange rain posture. The water is hitting you, instantly forming rivers that cascade down and around your body like icy flows off the face of a glacier. These flows are voluminous and fast. There are some cracks and crevices where one of those should never flow. When you stop moving you adjust your posture into some strange uncomfortable position that keeps the icy rivers out of your crack and freeze in place. Its not as good as being dry but its the closest your gonna see for a while. I decided to walk up and see my smilin’ pain in the ass buddy, he was only a couple paces in front of me. I walked up and said “You must become one with the suck” or something equally sarcastic. My smilin’ buddy looked at me but there wasn’t no smile. “F this F’in shit man! I’m F’in wet, I been F’in wet for four F’in days.” Damn he was pissed. “I’d go stand in ass deep water in my F’in rainsuit in the GD motorpool for four days straight, I’d even 2404 the Sergeant Majors track, just so I could walk up to the break room and have a coke.” I might have pissed myself but nobody’d have been able to tell.
The sun came out that afternoon, we laid up in a patrol base, spread our stuff out to dry on bushes, washed and aired out our feet and regained our composure. And laughed with my buddy about losin’ his smile at the breaking point.