New lieutenants don’t think like you or me. I was an old Lieutenant – crusty with eight years of service and five promotions already under my belt. I was on the career home stretch. I had company, too. One of my fellow MECEP’ers, Andre Leblanc was what I call the ultimate Marine. He had come up through the grunts, working as a mortar-man and as a machine-gunner. He had a Platoon Sergeant MOS when he was selected for MECEP. He was a Marine’s Marine – he even cut his own hair. The first time I saw the haircut, I thought it was quite bizarre, but it was him and there was only one like him.
I don’t know why he picked me to hang out with at MECEP training. I was not the Marine’s Marine – I was a Russian crypto-linguist. My idea of dirty was getting toner on my fingers from the printer. Although when I was in the field, I was pretty good. I did well on point and for some ungodly reason, I could navigate at night better than anyone. I would always get us into the right position and on time. Maybe I learned something when I was stationed at Camp Lejeune.
I called Andre “Lefty.” He wasn’t left-handed. But it made a great alliteration, like a good mob name. So to me and a few select others, we always called him Lefty. After MECEP prep school, we went our separate ways. I love the Marine Corps! Two years later, after graduating college and getting my commission, Lefty was in my Basic School class! We hooked back up and looked at the next six months as time to get through so we could return to the Fleet.
This is just background – I have a bunch of Lefty Leblanc stories. He had a great sense of humor and that’s probably why he liked me. There was no situation where you couldn’t have some fun. We always kept our eye on the ball and achieved our objectives, but dying to get there wasn’t in our charter.
We went to the field for a week-long exercise. As we boarded the cattle cars, it started to rain. The rain came down harder and harder. By the time we got to the field, it was a steady downpour. We off-loaded, formed into our squads and received our marching orders. This exercise was for conducting squad planning – issuing SMEAC orders (Situation, Mission, Execution, Admin & Logistics, Command and Control) and then attacking the objective to see if the order made any sense. We did this for the next 15 hours. We finished our last night attack at 3 or 4 in the morning. Soaked and covered in mud, we set up our bivouac. We knew that we had to be back at ’em by 6am. Many Lieutenants broke out their tents and set up a little camp. I looked at Lefty and he looked at me. We knew better than to waste precious sleep time opening our packs and soaking the rest of what we had. We didn’t even take off our packs. We sat in a ditch, using our packs as padding, just as if we were in a recliner. Lefty sat next to me – there’s no one I’d rather have watching my back than Lefty, so I was comfortable.
We fell asleep immediately.
“Time to get up! Everybody up!” That was the bellow of our acting Company Commander, a position that the Lieutenants rotated through each week. It was 5:30. We had our first formation at 6. My helmet had fallen off while I was asleep, and the rain had continued to bucket down. So my recliner was now a stream. I was sitting in a ditch so my backside was under water. Water went to my thighs and lower back. My helmet was filled. My feet were less wet as they were higher, as was my chest and head. Lefty and I both stood and dumped the water out of our helmets. Did you know that a helmet liner is leather? Have you ever put on a wet swimsuit? We put our helmets on our heads, with the nice cool and wet leather against our skinned craniums. Much unhappiness. OK – we were ready for formation. It was now 0530 and we’d expended 15 seconds. Of course Lefty asked the question.
“Hey! What now?”
“Formation at 6.” Lefty made a showing of looking at his watch. Due to backward planning gone wildly awry, we lost out on some 28 minutes of sleep. That may not seem like much, but when you’ve only gotten 90 minutes to begin with, we could have increased our sleep by over 30%! That’s a big number.
After five days, the rain let up. The mud and puddles? Those wouldn’t disappear for weeks. We were moving, non-tactically, from one exercise location to another. I say non-tactically as we were just walking and talking – this wasn’t part of the exercise, just moving ourselves from point A to point B since there wasn’t any transport. While walking down a road, we came across a huge pond in the road. The first idea on how to traverse this obstacle came from a new Lieutenant.
“Let’s drop down and low crawl to the other side!”
Lefty’s response was classic. “How about we don’t and just walk around it?” Immediately followed by stepping into the woods to get around the puddle. He turned to me, “Low crawl through the mud?”
A while later, we saw a water buffalo. Usually, when those were dropped off in the field, the water was nice and cold. A lieutenant cheered. “Water!” and ran toward the buffalo dumping the piss-warm water out of his canteen on the way. When he got there? The bull was empty.
It sucked to be him in the field with no water which never beats warm water.