I spent the first half of 1998 in Sinai, Egypt as part of the Multi-National Force Observers (MFO). It was an awesome deployment, great training that we made up ourselves and absolutely amazing time off. 23 days of one squad all alone on a remote site, patrols, training, guard duty, all opportunities to build on the basics. Then two weeks of challenging training, live fires, maneuver live fires, marksmanship, physically brutal stuff that left you full of piss and vinegar after a good nights sleep. Then a week of travel, Cairo, the pyramids, Israel, the Holy Land, Jordan… It was the final fun peacetime deployment I had. After that it was shithole after shithole if I can accurately borrow President Trumps description.
I was a Sergeant First Class with nine years time in service, I had a habit of walking hard heeled down the sidewalk but most Paratrooper NCOs are like that so it was no big surprise to anyone. Shortly before we rotated back to The Division at Ft Bragg they sent some instructors and allowed some of us to go to Jump Master School. I was one of the lucky few, it’s considered an embarrassment to have a Platoon Sergeant who sports Basic Wings on his uniform and you cannot serve as a First Sergeant or Company Commander without graduating Jump Master School.
The Instructors were quite proud of their success rate, somewhere in the 30% range. Its not a mark of poor instruction and I would never accuse them of such a thing, they were outstanding instructors and NCOs. Its a matter of pride because the Standard Must Be Met. The killer is the Jump Master Personnel Inspection (JMPI). Once a Paratrooper has donned his parachute and combat equipment a Jump Master inspects it from helmet to Alice Pack, front and back. This is done in a very specific sequence by both feel and sight. Your eyes should never be more than four inches from the item of equipment being inspected while you trace the same item with your fingers. You have five minutes to complete the inspection and correctly identify any deficiencies you find on two hollywood jumpers and one combat equipped jumper. Here’s a video of a Jump Master student testing out.
On test day I formed a circle with my index finger and thumb, raised the static line above the jumpers head and commanded “Turn.” Then I realized that I hadn’t seen a jumpers back since the talk throughs. I was, in Army parlance, Lima Lima Mike Foxtrot. Lost Like a Mother F*cker. I failed Jump Master School. By this point in my career I’d been through Basic, Air Assault School, the Primary Leadership Development Course, Airborne School, Drill Sergeant School, the Basic Non-Commissioned Officers course and the Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer’s Course, not merely graduating but on the Commandant’s List and I bolo’d Jump Master.
Right here we need to pause for tonight’s musical entertainment. Of all the old school, outlaw country artists out there this one is my favorites. Sheldon “Hank” Williams III, commonly known as “Three.” He’s true to his grandfather and like Hank Sr, George, the Hag and his Daddy he recommends whiskey as a cure for misery.
I bought a duty free quart of Jack Black Label and went to my First Sergeant’s Office. I set the bottle on his desk and wiped the tears from my eyes as I told him I bolo’d out of JM school. 1SG “Teddy the Time Bomb” opened a desk drawer and pulled out two glasses. As he poured he told me he had to go to JM school three times before he passed. Hell, I thought Teddy was born JM qualified. It helped some but it was only 1500 hours, I had three fingers with him and went to my room to finish drownin’ my misery.
Jack wasn’t doin’ the job so I started chasin’ it with beer. I’d been busy with school and that day was also the day the platoons were rotating off the remote sites and back to South Camp. Accountability is big in the Army, while you’re road marching ever half hour or so there’s a headcount passed back by hand signals. God forbid you lose a Soldier somewhere or a sensitive item. Well, about 2000 hours there was still an item of equipment missing, 1SG Teddy the time bomb called for a Company Formation and a shake-down inspection. I was drunker than 10,000 indians but I was able to stand in front of my platoon and echo the 1SG’s commands. One of my squad leaders had to be held up by the man beside him and the squad leader behind him. He hadn’t wasted any time. Teddy the time bomb gave the preparatory command, “Company” I turned my head and eyes over my right shoulder and echoed “Platoon,” Teddy gave the command of execution, “Attention.” “At Ease” and the inspection began. It turned out an hour later some idiot from another platoon had a pair of binos in his alice pack. Just as the confusion was ending I saw a Lieutenant walking toward me, I knew there was a changing of Platoon Leaders coming and had heard who the leading candidates were for my new PL. This poor kid was a little chubby and had been cursed with whom the remainder of NCOs in the Battalion considered the worst NCO in the Battalion as his first Platoon Sergeant. I’d asked other PSG’s about this LT and they’d all had good things to say about him though they all ended by cursing his PSG.
So my new LT walks up to me, I salute, he returns it (I wasn’t drunk enough to lose my military bearing) and we shook hands. Word had come down, he informed me, that he would be the new Platoon Leader for the Battalion Medium Mortar Platoon. I said “Sir, ordinarily I don’t think much of Commissioned Officers but I’ve heard some good things about you. I’m looking forward to working with you.” He looked at me like he’d been gut shot.
I didn’t find out till much later that he hadn’t heard the last half of my response, all he remembered was the “I don’t think much of Commissioned Officers” part. It turns out he called his father later that night, according to his retired Special Forces 1SG father, my new LT was crying and blowing snot bubbles as he told his father what I’d said at our introduction. The retired 1SG said his response was , “Well, it sounds like you finally got a good Platoon Sergeant.”
I had a good time with that PL, we worked together for nearly a year and enjoyed every minute of it. We trained our men razor sharp, worked them hard and gave them plenty of time to blow off steam. He went on to serve in a Reserve Special Forces Unit. A damn fine man.
I need one more song in here so, in honor of my LT’s Alabama heritage I’ll play a little Leroy Troy for ya. If you need any possum recipes let me know, I’m not from Alabama but I’ve got plenty.