At a full sprint, I ran between building after building. We spent so much time at Ft. Irwin, California I should know this base like the back of my hand. The problem soon became obvious: we spent our time at N.T.C. in the field training. I had never paid attention to the geography or landmarks on the base itself. I was lost.
I assumed I was sprinting through the base barracks but couldn’t be completely sure. I contemplated entering a building to camouflage myself with the base personnel when I lost my footing. I misjudged a drop in the sidewalk surface and was sent sprawling to the pavement in a parking lot. I scrambled under a parked car hoping to conceal myself. Within seconds the K9 M.P.s were growling and barking over my location. Alerting everyone in the vicinity of my location, the German Shepard Dogs were standing on my body pinning me down. One K9 was lustfully slobbering on my neck, while barking its alert, waiting for the command from its handler. Out of sheer terror I surrendered.
Whilst I sat in the backseat of the squad car handcuffed, I pondered how I came to be in this current dilemma. I hadn’t started any altercation. I was simply trying to defend the new soldier in my squad. My thoughts then turned to Sgt. Moreno. I assumed he was going to thoroughly enjoy handing me over to the Company Commander for disciplinary actions. I imagined him, alongside Spineless, licking their chops as I was sent down the river in shame and defeat. Rules were not just suggestions in our way of life. We were not to fight each other in the barracks. We were not to fight each other in the field. It was never said directly to us, however I assumed we were never to run from the M.P.s.
The M.P.s were oddly quiet on the drive across base. Gently removing me from the squad, they never acknowledged my being in their presence. There was no interrogation or paperwork filed. In a matter of fact way, a twenty something black M.P. Staff Sergeant (E-6) handcuffed me to the bench in the front of the receiving room. I was left alone waiting to be retrieved by my chain of command. My hands were throbbing from the tightness of the handcuffs. My shoulders ached from the slouching position I was forced to sit in. My right eye was beginning to swell from either the fight or the fall, I couldn’t remember which. Regardless of the physical discomfort I felt, the overwhelming feeling of failure took over my entire being. I felt ashamed.
It was 0100 when Cpt. Jones retrieved me from the M.P. station. He signed the log at the desk while showing his I.D. and I was unchained from the bench. As I reached for the pen to sign under Cpt. Jones I considered the time I sat waiting for him. An eternity had seemed to pass while I contemplated my consequences. Dishonorable discharge? Time in the stockade? Would I be stripped of my rank and sent to Ft. Leavenworth for hard labor before going home? The Infantry takes their codes and rules very seriously. As I signed the log sheet I noticed how long I sat waiting: fifteen minutes.
It was an awkwardly silent walk from the M.P. station to our temporary barracks at Ft. Irwin. Cpt. Jones broke the silence by telling me to get some shut eye as we fly home first thing in the morning. Out of guilt, I explained, “Sir for what it’s worth, I didn’t start the fight.” He eyed me up and down before replying. This was the most I had ever spoke to the man in the year I was attached under his command of Alpha Company. Also a highly decorated tabbed Ranger, Cpt. Jones dealt exclusively with Sgt. Walker. He always sat silently through my combat life saver classes. He replied, “I’m sure you didn’t start that fight Doc, but Cpt. Lombardo will address the issue when we get home. Go to bed.”
Cpt. Lombardo was the Commander of H.H.C. Company. In Garrison, the Medic Platoon fell under the command of H.H.C.. Also a tabbed Ranger, Cpt Lombardo jumped into Panama with the 82nd Airborne Division during the 1989 invasion to overthrow Manuel Norriega. Only hearing of his reputation from other soldiers, Cpt. Lombardo was considered a fierce warrior. He liked to surprise soldiers in their foxholes in the middle of the night while in the field and ask them questions about the war. His favorite question was, “Hey soldier! How many confirmed kills did you receive in Iraq?” The only proper answer was: Not enough, sir!
I woke up the next morning by rapid fire questions from the men in my platoon. I could tell by the excitement of their tones that I was the main topic of discussion over night. Apparently, the soldier that told me to run was an Infantry squad leader from Alpha Company. He came back to the barracks after the fight and spread the word. Obviously, everyone in Battalion knew about the fight.
We flew home without incident that day, which was a Friday. When we arrived in Garrison, Spineless Puddin informed me I was back on restriction until I could see the Commander first thing Monday. He told me to have my bags packed and to prepare for the worst. I nodded in response to acknowledge my defeat.
Oddly enough, Saturday morning there was a knock on our barracks door. Cpl. Joe answered and was hushed into the hallway. He came back in with a case of budweiser and a folded piece of paper. He placed the note on my bed and cracked open a beer. He stood over my bed staring at me. He tossed a beer to the now awake C.J. who was also staring at me. They toasted each other with the phonetic, “Lima Bravo”, which to us meant “Liquid Breakfast”. I reached for a beer and while cracking it open I opened the paper.
It read, “For Doc (TwistedMedic), from the men of Alpha Company.”