I took a special interest in Dave. The Army is a difficult culture to navigate as a teenager. The Infantry side of the Army, however, is comparable to navigating a maze while blindfolded being chased by dogs. Every step is a test. Every move made is observed under a microscope. Skills, experience and authority are scars that soldiers earn over time. The characteristic that separates ordinary F.N.G.s from extraordinary F.N.G.s is heart. Dave had alot of heart.
C.J. also had heart. These two men, from completely different backgrounds and parts of the world, were cut from the same cloth. In the moment, neither could recognize them self in the other. Pride, one of the seven deadly sins, kills more soldiers than war. C.J. obviously had not been mentored by a superior during any of his tours. He was who he was by pure self will and determination. I, on the other hand, had been mentored every step of the way. I felt a sense of obligation to mentor. There were too many “wandering potatoes” to attempt mentoring every soldier that came along. I had to wait for the right potato. Dave was my potato.
The Army has a way of interrupting grand plans and designs. One Friday Sgt. Walker was our wise, loud, trusted and over bearing squad leader. The following Monday he was gone. His years of waiting to return to 3rd Ranger Battalion had finally ended. There were no good byes or parting words of wisdom. He received his orders and was dust in the wind. His replacement, standing in his place during formation Monday morning, Sgt. Moreno, was our notification of the change.
Each Sergeant has their own way of doing things with their own list of expectations. Uninterested in Sgt. Walkers style, Sgt. Moreno was hell bent on making an impression. A younger and newer N.C.O., Sgt. Moreno had a lot of ideas for our squad. He was planning to give us the full set of new marching orders during our upcoming rotation at N.T.C.. The first order of business Sgt. Moreno had for our squad was relieving me from the mentor role of our newest soldier Dave. My new role in the platoon was vehicle maintenance; a role normally reserved for the junior members of the squad.
As I was listening to our new boss I was eyeing up his uniform. He had no E.F.M.B., no jump wings and had no combat patch. Under normal circumstances, the absence of such things would have no bearing on my decision about a leader. Under these circumstances, however, I was going to challenge his authority. I did so privately, away from the platoon by asking him to my room alone. My “concerns”, I explained to Sgt. Moreno, were for properly teaching Dave the ins and outs of Infantry life. Our way, I explained, had been working just fine before he got here. He replied, “I see. Stay right here soldier”, then left my room.
He returned to my room with our Platoon Sergeant SFC (Sergeant First Class) Sutton. SFC Sutton was an E-7, the highest ranking N.C.O. in our platoon. SFC. Sutton, or “Spineless Puddin” as we affectionately referred to him behind closed doors, didn’t like to make waves in the company. With less than a year until he was eligible to retire, Spineless Puddin wanted nothing to do with junior enlisted soldiers in the platoon. We all knew any disciplinary behavior that made it across the First Sergeants desk with our name on it would be given the Spineless Puddin universal stamp of recommendation: Fuck him! Spineless wasn’t going to bat for any of us over anything. He was relying on the hope that we wouldn’t get deployed to combat before he retired and let his junior N.C.O.s run the platoon.
Spineless Puddin, without asking my side of the story, restricted me from leaving the barracks until we left for N.T.C.. The ten days we had left in garrison I would spend sweeping, mopping and buffing the floors in the barracks.