Just over a weeks into basic, I was unanimously selected to lead my company, which also meant I carried the training guidon during marches. While the position of “company lead” was less official than that of a department store greeter, I was still immensely honored and humbled to be selected for such. The feeling of having so many people believe in your abilities to lead, solve problems, and aid others, is such an indescribably amazing feeling. With this title came added responsibilities, and coordinating with five other Privates who were selected as platoon leads.
My new duties included keeping morale, resolving conflicts, pushing my fellow Privates to accomplish whatever goals were assigned to us, making sure everyone understood orders, and answering questions concerning said orders, instructions, or what was required. Basically, it was all chores the Drill Sergeants were probably more than pleased not to deal with on a less routine basis.
I managed to form a surprising connection with much of my company. Many of them came to realize they could always talk to me about a problem, or self doubts, when the time allowed it. I tried to constantly encourage everyone to stay the course. Many of them, even the few who were older than myself, began referring to me as “the Old Man”, because there was a commonly shared perspective that I spoke, and conducted myself as someone much older. It was flattering...at least, in a way.
Originally, after basic, and AIT, my duty station was to be somewhere in North Korea. Such initially sounded rather exciting, however after making so many friends, it felt increasingly crummy knowing a majority of them were going to Iraq without me. I found myself struggling with the idea of so many others going off to face danger, while I would go somewhere relatively safe.
When I first approached a couple of my Drill Sergeants about changing my duty station, in order to follow the rest of the platoon, such was dismissed. Yet, I persisted whenever the chance arose, and finally one of them, DS Andarata, explained I would need to speak with administration. She, and the 1st Sergeant, said they would help arrange an appointment for such.
On one particularly clear, but extremely cold, early morning, the entire company gathered outside before the barracks, preparing for a long march, as the sun was just starting to dilute the once dark sky. We had done such before, but what made this one different, was that we were going to preform such in full gear as to experience what it was like to be on the move while carrying so much weight.
After I was done preparing my on things, and DS Andrata inspected such to make sure it was aligned exactly with the standards of the diagram explaining what belonged where, she only nodded her approval, then instructed me to begin aiding others. Following orders, I began moving from group to group, offering aid where I could, and making sure their own gear prepared correctly. It was only a short time later that I found myself moving over to a group I was more personally familiar with.
There was Pvt. Neith, a slender, dark skinned, African-American girl, fresh out of high school, and a former varsity basketball player. With her bright smile, and almond-shaped, brown eyes, a lot of the guys use to comment on how pretty she was. Next to her was Pvt. Leliel, a blond, blue-eyed, Caucasian kid, from Alaska, who was hoping the Army would help him figure out his life. A lot of the women frequently said he was “striking”. Oddly enough, he and Neith were quite close. It was quietly rumored they were a bit more than squad mates. Of course that sort of thing was strictly forbidden during basic training, so it remained just that, an unsubstantiated rumor. Standing across from them was Specialist Pan, a tall, gangly, Caucasian guy a couple of years older than me, but extremely goofy, loud, and quick with jokes. Pvt. Gorgon, a short Latino kid from New Mexico, was knelled near them still gathering his gear.
“Andarata? Oh, man. She's fine as hell!” Pan was saying to Gorgon just as I arrived.
“And we're off.” Leliel shook his head.
“You might want to stop talking like that. I doubt the Drill Sergeant would appreciate that if he heard you.” Neith warned.
“Hey, its Williams!” Pan exclaimed before grinning as he motioned to where DS Andrata stood near another group. “I know 'the old man' will back me up on this! Isn't Andrata sexy as fuck?”
“I tend not to make it a habit of checking out any of the Drill Sergeants.” I replied while helping Gorgon get his rucksack in order.
“Oh, come on, Williams! You mean to tell me you never noticed?” Pan snorted in belief.
“I tend to try and keep busy, Pan. Much like you should be doing right now.” I advised.
“Well-- that is sort of true. Andrata is pretty hot.” Gorgon spoke up reluctantly.
“For fuck sake, don't encourage him.” Leliel openly groaned.
“Pan isn't completely full of crap this time. Andrata is hot.” Pvt. Taurus chimed in as he suddenly arrived. He was a tall, burly, Latino kid, also fresh out of high school, and a former varsity football player.
“See! See! No man can't not notice an ass like that!” Pan continued with a longing sigh.
“What if he's gay?” I partially joked as I moved to inspect Neith's rucksack. She watched Pan with an obvious look of disgust on her face but I doubt he stopped talking long enough to notice.
“Well, first I feel sorry for that fuckin fairy. And second, I'm not gay, so I get to notice what a fine ass she has.” Pan smirked.
“Wow. I wish she could just punch you right in the face.” Neith shook her head.
“Its cool! I like it rough!” Pan retorted with a grin.
“Come on, dude. Seriously, you need to chill on that.” Leliel explained more seriously.
“If she can make fatigues hot, you know she's got a body.” Taurus followed.
“Don't join in on his pervert party.” Neith frowned at Taurus before turning to me. “Williams, aren't you going to say something?”
“Ignore him, Private Neith. He's not worth the energy. To me, Pan's constant talking is a mild buzz somewhere in the background. We have to be absolutely ready before formation is called. I suggest you focus on that.” I explained to her while helping another Private who came over.
“Dude, come on. She's married, and even has a small kid.” Leliel explained with increased irritation. “And on top of all that, she's one of the Drill Sergeants. Respect her rank”
“Its not like he's raping her or some shit.” Taurus laughed in disbelief. “He's just saying she's fine.”
“What's wrong with me saying I would bang Andrata if I got the chance?” Pan asked with feigned indignation.
Just as I looked up to tell Pan to shut up, and return to preparing his gear, I caught sight of DS Woden approaching the group from behind. When I stood to call “At Ease”, he quickly caught my eyes and simply shook his head. I remained silent and returned to helping others. Drill Sergeants seemed to really enjoy sneaking up on Privates. DS Woden, a veteran of three different campaigns, was a tall, Caucasian man with dark eyes, and a shaved head. He was always extremely harsh but also one of the fairest Drill Sergeant's assigned to our company.
From the direction he was approaching, only I, and possibly Gorgon was able to see him. All the others had their backs to him. I suddenly felt nervous for Pan, while he could be an irritating loud mouth, I still feared what would happen if he was caught speaking such things.
“How is it my fault that I noticed a sexy woman? I'm a guy! We see shit like that!” Pan continued even as D.S Woden came to a stop a mere few feet behind him. “Who wouldn't want to fuck Andrata? Shit! I know I would if she gave me half the chance! I wouldn't give a shit if she was married!”
“So, you want to fuck, D.S Andrata?” D.S Woden finally made his presence known. Pan was a pale guy, but to this day, I can clearly recall the way he grew all the whiter as his eyes widen, and he turned to face one of the worse-case scenarios. The entire group fell silent under the epic weight of a collective, “Oh shit!” moment.
“Drill Sergeant-- no-- I was-- no not-- I wasn't.” Pan stammered fearfully as he took a tentative step backwards.
“No, no, Specialist Pan. There is no reason to be shy. She is a woman, and you are a man after all. How can you resist talking about wanting to fuck her.” Woden feigned understanding as his eyes raked over him.
“Drill Sergeant-- I, I was only--” Pan shook his head and moved another step back.
“At ease!” D.S Woden suddenly snapped at him causing Pan to instantly assume the ordered stance. “Now, what is it you were saying?”
“It was a joke! It was just a joke, Drill Sergeant! I swear to God.” Pan tried to explain.
“Oh. It was just a joke?” D.S Woden seemed to ponder such for a few seconds. “Oh. Now I get it. That is really funny, Specialist Pan. Hey, its so hilarious, that I just want to share it with my old friend, Andrata.” With that her partially turned towards where she was standing some distance away. “D.S Andrata, are you free?”
“Yes. What do you need, D.S Woden?” Andrata responded.
“I just need you to hear this really hilarious joke, by Specialist Pan.” Woden explained before turning back to Pan.
Our group watched tensely as she approached. I could not see Pan's face, but who needed to in order to know he was terrified. I think if any of us were dismissed, most would have hurriedly left the potential blast radius as quickly as possible. Yet, there was perhaps a morbid curiosity to what terrible results were about to occur. Like watching a car speeding towards a brick wall.
“So, what is this great joke?” D.S Andrata inquired upon arriving and folding her arms behind her back.
“Oh, I wouldn't do it justice if I were to try and tell it.” D.S Woden smiled in a rather humorless way at Pan. “Go on, Pan. Tell her.”
“Drill Sergeant-- I wasn't.” Pan's voice was low with fear.
“Tell her, now.” D.S Woden ordered more firmly.
“I-- I was just saying-- I was saying she was attractive.” Pan replied quietly.
“No, no. You are not telling it right, Specialist. Tell her what you were saying, Specialist Pan. If I have to repeat myself again, you are going to hate life for weeks.” D.S Woden's eyes narrowed.
“I--” Pan began again reluctantly. “I said Drill Sergeant Andrata was sexy-- and I wanted to fuck her.”
“I can barely hear this idiot.” D.S Andrata remained stone-face as her eyes searched him over like a pair of threatening daggers. It was more than clear she heard him.
“Speak up.” D.S Woden ordered sharply.
“I said,” Pan began again much louder, but also with a tremble in his voice. “I-- I said Drill Sergeant Andrata was sexy, and I wanted to fuck her-- but I swear-- I swear I was only joking.”
“That is hilarious.” D.S Andrata responded flatly as she continued starring into him.
“Told you it would be.” D.S Woden agreed with a similar humorless sort of tone.
“Why are we keeping this hilarious joke to ourselves? I would feel selfish if the other Drills Sergeants, and even the 1st Sergeant, didn't have a chance to laugh with us.” D.S Andrata explained before she began to look about, then calling the others.
During this entire exchange, I did nothing more than continue waiting for the enviable. It was absolutely no secret that even causing mild annoyance to the Drill Sergeants could result in the entire company getting 'smoked'. Now, seeing that both D.S Woden, and D.S Andrata were clearly, if even quietly pissed, I was truly dreading what sort of punitive consequences were in store for all of us. So, I silently, if even begrudgingly resigned myself to the fact that it was going to be a long, long, long day.
Then a miracle happened. Something that felt so magical, that even if I had learned, at that very moment, it was just discovered Christmas and Halloween somehow got together, then had a baby, that resulted in a new holiday filled with masks, lights, treats and presents; it would have still been only the second most magical thing to occur that day.
“I suggest you all move along, Williams. I want everyone ready in exactly 10 minutes. Absolutely no excuses.” D.S Woden finally acknowledge me once more without looking away from Pan.
“Yes, Drill Sergeant.” I nodded, and despite being stunned, I gathered up all the other Privates, who seemed more than happy to escape what was happening.
Somehow, against the odds, the company was not going to suffer with Pan. Why? Maybe their coming anger was so intense that it needed a single focal point to be released on? Maybe they realized it was only Pan who screwed-up? Or maybe they were just so pissed that they decided to forgo protocol and pour all their wrath on that one guy? Honestly, who gives a hell? There was no way I was going to stick around and question good fortunes.
As we hurried off, all the other Drill Sergeants, and the 1st, were beginning to arrive to hear this new 'hilarious joke' that was suddenly all the rave. I was more than certain not a single one among them was going to laugh at the punchline, regardless of how it was delivered. Specialist Pan was made to regret everyday for over a week.
I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.