The guys in my platoon were a good visual example of the melting pot of the United States. Every race, color of skin, ethnicity and religion was covered. We didn’t classify each other by normal American standards however. We grouped ourselves into unofficial squads by age, marital status and veteran classification. Veteran classification applied only to the soldiers who had been stationed at the base together long enough to have served together during the war. A little less than half of the men in our platoon had served in Iraq together as a unit. Those men stayed together and traveled together on duty and off. I understood that and respected their bond. I missed my own battle brothers.
The rest of us were mostly all in our twenties and single. The married N.C.O.’S, along with the married junior enlisted, all lived off post in base housing. The society of enlisted military is mostly in their twenties and thirties. Officers and junior enlisted never mingled in a social setting. All of my direct peers were single enlisted men living in the barracks. We didn’t get to choose who joined our ranks, that privilege was left to recruiters and Drill Sergeants. However, it was a matter of life and death to make sure F.N.G.’S (Fucking New Guys) were properly groomed into our way of life. Both officers and senior N.C.O.’s encouraged the relationship between F.N.G.’s and the enlisted men in their platoons. We were the first line of training for new soldiers.
On rare occasions, an F.N.G. would enlist already married. Having just graduated Basic Training and Combat Medic School, these soldiers would have to wait for their base housing paperwork to catch up to them. The base housing process would take months to complete. In the meantime, married F.N.G.’s would be assigned a room in the barracks. This was the case with Dave.
Dave was an Indian. A member of the Cahuilla Tribe from Southern California, Dave carried himself noticeably different than the regular new guy. He was tall and lanky, not overly muscular, and carried himself with distinguishable grace. His walk was more of a glide than a mechanical soldiers step. He was quietly observant and only had to be told once to do something. He had dark bronze skin and a long face with a strong jawline. He spoke quietly when asked a question. Sgt. Walker scooped him up for our squad immediately which meant he was mine to train. Sgt. Walker gave me the daily marching orders and it was my job to make sure things got done. I was being groomed.
I brought Dave around the barracks introducing him to our platoon. One by one he shook guys hands making direct eye contact with everyone he met. He remembered the guys names and ranks after meeting them only once. These were all things Sgt. Walker would ask me about Dave at the close of business. I was paying attention. I knew almost immediately I liked Dave. Soldiers didn’t ask each other of their pasts right away. Judgement would come from performance in the field and out at The Bucket. “Would Dave fight if we needed him?”, would be the only subject that mattered to the rest of the guys. I knew just by watching him that Dave was a warrior.
C.J. had his own techniques for testing new guys. Literature, music, current events and hygiene were C.J.’s interrogation topics. There was no protecting new guys from being tested or questioned. Being tested and questioned wasn’t isolated to a one time occurrence on the day they arrived. It was ongoing. They would have to face judgement alone as we all did. C.J. started questioning Dave about the movie “The Last of the Mohicans” which had just been released.
Clannad, a traditional Irish band, had wrote a Grammy worthy song for the movie in C.J.’s opinion.”I will find you” was on constant repeat on his CD player. C.J. was an enthusiastic Clannad fan and when the movie was released he dragged the entire platoon to the movies with him to see it. All of us. The movie plot was set during wartime and its characters were fierce warriors. We loved it. It was a completely understandable line of questioning coming from C.J.. In his mind, Dave probably was a fan of the movie also.
Dave didn’t see it that way. Dave saw it as an attack on his heritage and took offense to the questions. C.J. saw this as a weakness and relentlessly pursued the questioning to see how far he could push Dave. Dave had reached the limit when C.J. started calling him “Magua”, after the bad guy in the movie. Dave calmly asked C.J. to stand up by addressing him as James Bond, “Stand up and face me like a man James Bond! I have no use for sitting girls questions”. The James Bond reference was an obvious shot at C.J.’s Irish brogue.
C.J. was like a rock. I had seen him fight two men at the same time over music playing in a juke box. What he lacked in boxing skills, which wasn’t much, he more than made up for in ability to take a punch. He knocked the first guy out cold with one punch while he held the other by his neck. Dave, on the other hand, looked like he was willing to try to break C.J. in half no matter what it took.
The problem for me was these two were in my room. I wasn’t going to let them fight and take out half of the wall while ruining our T.V. and wall lockers. I stood between them, leaning against the sitting C.J., and told them both that was enough. Oddly, both men listened.
Fighting wasn’t allowed inside the barracks. Any “disagreements” were handled on the parade field by the Aid Station. At that location, damage to property could be avoided and damage to soldiers could be treated. James Bond was calling Magua out to the parade field and I was forbidding it. Magua was following my lead, in my opinion, because I was his superior in the chain of command. Sgt. Walker, our squad leader, had impressed upon Dave the importance of the chain of command.
I knew “chain of command” protocol wasn’t going to prevent these two from knocking the shit out of each other as soon as they had the opportunity. This had the potential to become very bad for our platoon.