I was round about the third week into a four-week Army leadership school in the base hills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. We were schlepping about, conducting Small-Unit Tactics (SUT). It was a mini Ranger school — a very… mini… Ranger school.
We were conducting raids, ambushes, and movement to contact patrols in the day and night, mixing it up and changing the rolls so everyone got to be in charge or just a grunt. We got little sleep and little food, though nothing like the human rights violations that the vaunted U.S. Army Rangers go through.
One of the senior cadre Sergeants pulled me aside one day with another cadre and informed me:
“Hand, you’re dong great; it looks like you will be the class Distinguished Honor Graduate — just keep your nose clean, fly right, and you’ll be the man. Keep it to yourself though; nobody else needs to know about this yet.”
While I had no clue what it meant to keep one’s nose clean and flight right, I knew I had never been distinguished honor anything and was therefore elated by the notion. I was going to be king! I pictured myself momentarily wearing a jewel-bedecked crown and toting a grand scepter.
I shook the pretentious image from my head and got back to the business of priorities of work in our patrol base. We were rallied several hundred meters from our raid target objective that was to kick off two hours after the sun set. I cleaned my rifle that had a blank adapter installed at the end of the barrel for blank-fire action, then ate an Army meal ration.
A little later I reported that I intended to crawl outside the patrol base perimeter to have a constitutional. With that, I crawled out, dug a cat hole, and did my business. It was ponderous to shed all my combat gear to include my gas mask. The raid coming up that night was going to involve CS gas to rile the enemy. Finally I reversed the ponderous task to don my combat gear.
With the hours gone by, we moved out through the dark to our assault position for the raid. Once there, I checked my gear… and to my utter disenchantment I realized my gas mask was missing. I saw just there in my mind’s eye where I had taken it off and laid it next to my constitutional cat hole. By the Gods… I had failed to put it back on!
I sensed my fiefdom fading; my king’s crown drifting away. I was sure, so sure I could get back to the patrol base and recover my mask in time for the raid. I promised my reluctant patrol leader that I could do it in time then darted off into the dark toward the patrol base.
I thrashed through the desert foliage imagining I was on course navigating by the stars. By the time I realized I was not going to be able to find the patrol base or mask… I was overcome with the realization that I was lost. I flailed wildly back through the vegetation trying to find my patrol, all the while misguided by my pompous presumption that I was tracking my path through celestial navigation.
I felt the heat of panic in my stomach as I finally came to a halt to think what to do to find my patrol. The idea loud noise came to mind, one that would alert my patrol and vector them to my position. Rather than call out I decided that firing a shot from my rifle they would certainly hear. What’s more, pulling off that stupid blank adapter from the barrel would make the rifle report many times louder!
Yeah — that was the ticket! I fumbled the adapter off, chambered a round, held the rifle straight over my head has high as I could and fired — BOOM! Mother of pearl — that certainly was loud! It was quite the bright flash as well with the blank adapter off… and if I weren’t a fully sane man I could have sworn I saw a face in the flash.
I cycled a second round and cracked it off — BOOM! Yep… yep… I saw faces, a bunch of faces — I feared I had wandered onto the enemy target. I cycled a third round to be sure and perhaps ascertain the number of enemy I faced — BOOM!
Holy crap they were all around me but one of the faces I did find strangely familiar… that face I did find positively and horrifying familiar… and then I heard the familiar voice of the senior cadre Sergeant as he shined a red light in my face:
“Corporal Hand… just what the f*ck, in the south-central highlands of Tarnation to you think you’re doing, you Goddamned clown??”
Could it be? Had it truly been so? Indeed I had thrashed my way back toward my lost patrol and halted right in the smack of dab back into my patrol held up in their assault position. From their perspective they had witnessed some guy run up into their midst and fire three rounds into the air.
The cadre hated my explanation. I hated it too. I could not make the raid with my patrol since I had no gas mask. More over, the enemy was already firing at us from their fenced-in compound due to the compromise of my rifle shots:
“Oh, my God… I thought, “when it rains, it pours!”
The next morning at first light, a cadre Sergeant took me back to the patrol base in a jeep where I quite quickly found my gas mask perfectly poise beside the mound that was my buried cat hole.
“I should dig up that cat hole and crawl in there because I’m a piece of sh*t too!” I postulated.
“What did you say, Hand?”
“Nothing, Sergeant… nothing at all…”
My sumptuous crown toppled from my head as my hair turned green and my nose swelled to a bright red bulbous sort of thing. My lips distended many times their span and bright red as well, turn upward in a rictus grin. My scepter drooped over as my throne slowly crumbled away to a fine powder that gently lifted with the wind and was carried off in a swirling vortex.
A kingdom lasts for only a few fleeting moments, but a clown-ship lasts forever.
By Almighty God and with honor,