20 July 2008

Bile XLVII, Incommunicado

From 18 March 2008...

We have this thing that we do as Coyotes at TTECG on Range 400, that I was not too clear about until here very recently. It is called "sliding". To explain this so that you might understand, since you do not live on Range 400 as my Coyotes do, I will break it down like a fraction for ya.

Aside from assessing the actions of the battalions/companies/platoons as they go through exercise Mojave Viper as the last stop in their pre-deployment training, we also control their execution of various live-fire ranges. That means that we are the safety backstop, and are "painting" enemy actions for them as they approach various objectives ("Okay, you are receiving sporadic, effective fire back from that trench line, because there is no suppression on it to keep the enemy's head down") and we also ensure that they are not going to shoot each other as they advance down range toward their objectives while simultaneously providing suppressive fires onto those same objectives. This involves much communication and running about behind them, armed with clipboards which double as a sort of flag, and communicating with each other in a manner that is almost like air-traffic control. ("31 Mike, Unclean on danger gun, active over your right shoulder, from table top to right side center". Answered by: "Unclean this is 31 Mike, I observe your impacts and you remain clear", or "Unclean this is 31 Mike, those fires are denied from that position". ) Hundreds of radio calls, all going at the same time, and constant movement downrange behind the Marines executing the training event. As the company attack at Range 400 involves attacks on two discrete objectives by three different rifle platoons, the head Coyote on the range, "the corridor Coyote", assigns Coyotes to cover-down on the two platoons going after the first major objective, and then designates a certain number of them to "slide" to the third platoon and cover-down on their subsequent actions on the other objective. For these "sliders", what is involved is a dead sprint over broken rocky ground for about 200 meters, assuming that the third platoon has moved up towards the secondary objective (or "cheated up") as his sister platoons assaulted the main objective.

Last week, I decided to play along with the maneuver Coyotes, and help them in their control of Range 400 on Saturday. My good friend, Bile recipient, and former fellow-company commander, Andy Watson, was the "corridor Coyote" for the first run of Range 400 that day. He had been champing at the bit to corridor a 400, with me as a subordinate Coyote, so that he could designate me as a "slider" and otherwise cause me physical discomfiture. So, right after the first objective was taken down by the Marines of Fox Co. 2/7, Andy starts calling for "sliders up". He doubly screwed me in this, due to the fact that I had been assigned to the platoon who had performed the last actions on the first objective, which involves a considerable sprint from their last covered position (the "lip of the wash") to their ultimate objective ("northwest"). So, just as I stood still for the first time in twenty minutes, and sucked down about a pint of water, I hear Andy in my headset, "sliders up, all sliders move to Southwest".


Okay, I move over quickly, running seventy-five meters, and jumping down into the Southwest Trench. As I begin to scramble up the other side of the trench, Andy jumps on the net again, "where the hell is Unclean, Unclean move to southwest now", as I was literally five meters away from Andy, in the trench where he was standing.

"I'm right here, asshole" was the next call on the radio.

Well, as I scrambled up the other side of the Southwest trench line, Andy had cleared our movement with the Coyote who was still actively controlling medium-machinegun fire onto the secondary objective. So as the heel of my left boot successfully negotiated its way onto the apex of Southwest, Andy calls out, "Sliders, you are clear to move".


My fellow sliders (most of whom had been standing and waiting at Southwest for the past ten minutes, not one over the age of twenty-five), sprinted downhill in front of me, towards the platoon that was preparing to attack the secondary objective. Unfortunately for me, this platoon had NOT cheated up towards the secondary objective during the attack on the first objective, which resulted in us negotiating another hundred-or-so meters of broken, rocky terrain at a full sprint than is normally necessary.

Refusing to allow myself to lag behind my fellow Coyotes, I maintained their break-neck pace to link up with the platoon in the Yankee wash, all the while telling myself "the guy in orange will not pass out, the guy in orange will not pass out". (Coyotes wear orange flak vests and orange camelbacks.) We finally stop, and I was breathing heavily, but not in bad shape, really. Except that the water that I had sucked down at Northwest absolutely refused to stay where I put it...

Now, as part of the Coyote "thing", we have these Motorola radio sets, walkie-talkies essentially, with remoted headsets that allow us to monitor radio traffic while in close proximity to people who are shooting all manner of firearms, mortars, and rocket systems. The headsets are really cool, as they vibrate onto the Coyote's tympanic bones in front of the ear, while also having a microphone that rests in front of the Coyote's mouth, with a push-to-talk button that clips to the chest-area of the flak jacket. Now, I have only recently conditioned myself to moving the microphone away from my lips before spitting tobacco juice. However, I have not conditioned myself to moving my mic before projecting eight ounces of water out of my body, as a result of sprinting for roughly 200 meters.

So, to review, not only did I throw up, I did so all over my mic, which continues to smell like Bile.

Appropriate, I think.

Friends and countrymen, it's like a non-electric firing system for your synapses, it's...


1) "That fucking GS-13 at TTECG is absolutely right, by God"... Many of you saw this a few weeks ago and immediately thought, "Oh shit, Larry is going to be absolutely insufferable now". Guess what? You were right. Within a week of the "Valentines' Day Bile" that I subjected you good people to last month, the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps came out with a statement that repeated every single point that I hit on in that Bile. He mentioned that our vehicles were heavy, unrecoverable, and ungainly in an off-road situation. He said that the body armor that we've foisted on the troops is too heavy, and does not allow for the Marines on the ground to do their primary job and "close with and destroy" the enemy that they might encounter. Jimmy reads the Bile, kids. He's a fan. You heard it here first.

2) "No, I cannot actually lead you in any appreciable manner, but I can pipe out e-mails like it's nobody's bidness..." I was coming out of the commissary today, and saw a group of six teenagers sitting on the front curb, obviously waiting for a ride. They were obviously friends, judging from their proximity and familiarity with one another, but each had his or her back to the entire group, with their cell phones open, and were either texting someone or talking on the phone. I drove home from the commissary with that on my mind. It seemed wrong, somehow. I remember days in that same situation, a bagger waiting for a ride from Ma after a shift, and I remember some of the greatest conversations ever. Through face-to-face contact with a member of the human race, I came to know Mike Reynolds, Juan Pacheco, and John Gass on a very basic and important level. I knew their likes, dislikes, who they were going out with, what was wrong with their car, where the party was that weekend , etc...

It's my observation, folks, that the modern world is obviating all of that. Nobody is forced into interpersonal contact anymore. We only talk to the people who appear in our "Five". We only interact with people on an ancillary basis, via telephone, text, email, chat.

Take poker for example. I have been playing on-line poker for months. It is a game that necessitates the reading of an opponent's visage, mien, and betting patterns. This past weekend, (which is something that I'll get into later), I played poker against a buncha folks at the Colorado Belle Casino in Laughlin, NV, as part of the semi-annual logistical movement of children to and from the Llano Estacado and the Mojave Desert. What I found was a table full of people who were effective at reading betting patterns, but were absolutely ineffective at reading and understanding sighs, pregnant silences, and other visual cues that indicate the relative strength of one's hand. As a result, I turned forty bucks into $160. (One can imagine me talking endlessly, through the entire affair, whether I had a 7 and a 2, or pocket kings...) I attribute that to the fact that the majority of those individuals (at least the ones that I queried at my end of the table) had only played poker online.

Another example: Major Woodrow F. Call, who is a Coyote that I work with, and have known since 1995. Woodrow is a man whom I call friend, and is one of my heroes. He achieved this hero status when I realized that not only did he not own a cell phone (his wife Julie has a cell, but not Woodrow), but he actually kept his home phone muted, so that unless he was standing on top of his answering machine when a call came in, one could not reach Woodrow by telephone, in any way. One communicated with him only on his terms. It was awesome that a Marine Officer, who as a group are normally so obsessed with instant information, and full control of any and all situations, absolutely refused to communicate with anyone on any other terms than his own. Originality! In a guy that, until 2002, slept with a copy of the Marine Officers’ Guidebook under his pillow!

Throughout this period, I sat in on Urban Warfare classes, and was impressed with the level of involvement that Woodrow displayed. Despite the fact that he was not the primary instructor, Woodrow maintained a constant awareness of what was being talked about, and would interject in places where the primary instructor was uncertain in a very meaningful and valuable fashion.

Then, three or four months ago, TTECG saw fit to give Woodrow a blackberry cell phone. Since then, I have witnessed Woodrow in the back of classes, in what we call "Blackberry Defilade". He's reading his emails, and catching up, staying to the "left of the bomb", keeping on his game. And while this might be awesome for him personally, I contend that it has a deleterious effect on the here and now.

We, as a society, have become so oriented on organization, and what is going to happen next, that we have forgotten the joy of what is happening right fucking now. (Yes, Jerry. There are exceptions.) Not only that, but we are not talking to one another. We are so consumed with the pace of what is going on in our little worlds, that we are not actually interacting with anybody. There is no joy in actually "doing" anything, because we have become so obsessed with what comes next. As Shakespeare said of the Queen in Macbeth:

She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death.

Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

I have personally seen so many examples of this that I will not single out one dude (besides Woodrow, and he’ll never forgive me...) but suffice to say it's a fucking trend, people. We need to slow down, talk to one another, put down the Goddamn cell phone. Fuck, turn it off, for Chris'sake. Stop emailing instructions to your people, but go talk to them, look them in the eye, watch the dawning of their understanding, not only of your direction, but of your intent. The “why” is being lost these days, by God.

Example: Laura is talking to Dana on the phone, (the beautiful wife of my best friend, Jerry). She says to me, as she's on the phone, "hey, can you switch out vehicles with Jerry this Friday, he needs to use your truck to get some stuff for their garage sale?" After the phone conversation with Dana, Laura confirmed that the vehicle swap is okay with me. I said "Yeah, Jerry needs to pick up some tables from MCCS for the garage sale, no problem." Laura said, "Oh, I guess you've talked to him about this already."

I hadn't, but I know Jerry (after 15 years) well enough to predict his decisions/actions. If Jerry needs a truck for a garage sale, I know why. Two days prior to this, there was another example of my ability to predict Jerry's actions. We were going to Laughlin, to pre-stage ourselves for Joel's triumphant return to Twentynine Palms. Two hours before we left Twentynine Palms, I called Jerry from the liquor store, telling him that I was picking up a bottle of scotch. Had I not done so, he would have purchased a bottle himself, he later reported. Implicit communication.

We're missing this, in the world of instant communication. To know an individual well enough to KNOW his actions/decisions. In this world of simulated contact, the ability to communicate with a look, with a subtle phrase, with a glance is going the way of the Dodo. Its replacement is a scroll of semi-literate emails and text messages that offer no depth of emotion, no specificity of existence other than "s'up?". A thousand years from now, as historians and archeologist sift the ashes of this era, they will find no valuable source documents with which they can judge our decisions and actions. Nobody writes letters anymore. Nobody hand-writes a diary anymore. They'll just find a backed up disk that has chat logs with such riveting interpersonal drama as:

wu? (what’s up?)
nm-u? (not much, you?)
n-jhowmf (naw, just hanging out with my friends)
lol (that was indeed, funny)
lmao (I agree wholeheartedly)
brb (I promise to return soon)
kk (please do, I will remain here, waiting for you)

Those people, thousands of years from now, will sit for years in various conferences, discussing the possible alien factors that resulted in the retards, who could only communicate thusly, discovering space travel, nuclear power, and subatomic theory. They will come up with all kinds of insane theories, but all will miss the mark, because, it’s too basic to the human experience for them to believe. They will never guess that sometime around 1998, we just stopped talking to one another.

People, turn that shit off. When your damn phone vibrates...ignore it. Interact with the people around you. If you have subordinates, type, print, and then deliver your instructions to them in person, without a goddamn PowerPoint brief (Chicken, don’t make me slam that door again!). Then, when they start to execute your instructions, GO TALK TO THEM, FOR CHRISSAKE. Watch their faces to see if they understand. Ask if they have any questions. Tell them a fucking joke and watch for reactions. Get to know them. Understand the people around you. The "5" on your cell phone is a box that you've been neatly placed in. Fuck that. Go to a bar just to find the crazoids that inhabit such places and befriend them for no apparent reason. (I've actually made a lifelong friend named "Mike" in San Clemente, CA. Mike has had his license revoked, has been barred from Goody's in San Clemente, and has been placed on a two drink maximum at Duke's, next door. He gets about on a Kermit bike. Funniest fuckin' guy I've met in ten years...)

3) "Wouldn't it be great if there was some organization who took an oath to defend your right to free speech?..." People, I know that many of you have seen this, but I haven't received it from the entire mailing list, so I felt it appropriate to include it in this Bile. It is a video of a "Daily Show" correspondent, if there is such a thing, interviewing the protestors in Berkeley, CA. It may be the funniest political commentary that I've seen in six months. http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=163653&title=marines-in-berkeley. Thank you, carry on.

4) "Hey frenchy...shut your fucking mouth..." In the aforementioned semi-annual logistical movement of Las Ninos Del Sucio to and from the Llano Estacado, Jerry and I ventured to Laughlin, NV, as is our custom in these situations. As I mentioned in Bile a few months ago, the gambling odds between Laughlin and Las Vegas remain constant, while Laughlin runs about 25% total cost, and Jerry and I are both married dudes with a couple of good-conduct medals between us, so Laughlin is our natural choice. After the telephone exchange mentioned in the second section in this missive, Jerry picked me up from my house, and we drove out, arriving at the luxurious Tropicana Express about 4 p.m. with a comp'd room and a fifth of Talisker Scotch. We then proceeded on a bender of legendary proportions. Among the funnier moments was when we were on a $3 craps table, losing our ass, and a Hawaiian dude named Billy came and saved us. Now, most people who play craps will use the handy chip rack that lines the table to organize their chips in orderly rows, commonly by denomination. Not Billy. As this guy rolled numbers like a fucking CPA during tax season, making hundreds of dollars in red $5 chips, he kept raking his dough and piling it along the entire rack in front of him. It was insane. Strangely though, when a guy with luck like that shows up, the entire table's ability to stay off of the evil #7 is enhanced, and everyone rolls better. Not this time. I started putting ten on the pass line, and back it with 20 in odds when Billy had the dice. When he eventually succumbed to the evil 7...after ten minutes or so of rolling fours, fives, sixes, eights, nines, and tens...and the dice came to me, I'd put down $3 on the pass line with no odds. I'd keep it that way until Billy picked up the rocks again. Amazing. I eventually broke even, after the third round of scotch/rocks, and went to play poker at the aforementioned $2 blind/$12 max table. Jerry remained at the craps table, soaking up scotch like a roll of Bounty paper towels.

I next saw Jerry an hour and a half later. By that time, I was up about $120. After I heard Jerry yell "HAAAAAAAAM!" at the top of his lungs for the fifteenth time, and watched in dull amazement as he practiced tai-chi at the rail to my left, I folded an 8-3 off suit, and went to talk to him. He asked me, "what'sh up with thoshe tight assh motherfuckersh shitting next to you", indicating the men of clear european decent who were sitting next to me, the nearest one with his younger sister sitting behind him. I had not asked after their nationality, but listening to the babble that my immediate neighbor was holding forth with his sister earlier, I thought them to belong to the french tribe. Jerry immediately went into blitz mode, as is befitting a man of clear German ancestry when encountering an apparent frenchman. Exclaiming, in that french-chef's voice, Jerry began the "Ungggghhh-hunggghhh-hunghhhh!" exclamations, and other epithets. I had money in the pot, with pretty decent cards, so I must confess that I stopped paying attention. I did, however, catch the back end of an exchange between frenchy's little sister and Jerry, when Jerry said in that loud, drunken-Marine voice: "Hey frenchy, you just sit there and shut your fucking mouth". Soon afterwards, the lady's brother leaned in and mentioned that the pair of them actually hailed from Kosovo, and were both ethnic Serbs. When I related that to Jerry, I got a "Hmmph, close enough, by God." People, you can't dream this shit up.

Well, after the cards went cold again, and just ahead of the greenpeace storm troopers who had undoubtedly been summonsed to answer the insult to our european friends, Jerry and I reeled out of the Colorado Belle and slid over to the Edgewater Casino and Resort...which is like calling Headquarters, Marine Forces Reserve a Teutonic example of military order and staff efficiency. Well, we found the only $3 table in the building and kinda camped out. Through innumerable rounds of scotch, white russians, and beer, Jerry and I played for the better part of five hours. At one point, the pit boss increased the minimum to $25, in order to close the table, and hoping that we would leave, but we were grandfathered in at three bucks-a-hand, and had no intention of leaving. After the minimum bet sign stayed at $25 for two hours, the oncoming pit boss just turned off the fucking sign. Beautiful. I've never won an issue at a casino by attrition before. We just outlasted the motherfuckers. Fuckin’ awesome.

At 0400, we finally tucked it in and walked a somewhat indirect path over the quarter mile of parking lot back to the Tropicana (the total distance that we travelled was probably double that, with scaling of fences involved). Halfway through the parking lot, it occurred to me that there was a real possibility that we would be late in picking up Joel on his 1130 flight at McCarron airport, which was about 100 miles away (of course, Jerry and I thought it was only 50 or 60 miles away, but that didn't matter just then.) For some reason, I thought it would be a great idea to warn Joel, right at that very moment, that this possibility existed. So, at 0600 Joel’s time, I drunken dialed my 19 year-old son. "Hey shit-teeth", I fairly shouted into the phone, "Jerry and I are in Laughlin, and you can probably guess at the shape that we're in. If we're late, for the love of Christ, don't call your Mom. Call me." Jerry then grabbed the phone. "We're doing God's work, here!" he exclaimed into the phone. "Don't Fuck this up, Joel! Don’t Fuck this Up! Call us!"

"Dad, can I go back to sleep now?" Joel pleaded, after Jerry thrust the phone back at me.

"Yes son," I said, satisfied.

"DON'T FUCK THIS UP!" Jerry contributed.

And so we made it back to the hotel and had breakfast, and hit the rack about 0430 or 0500. I ordered a wake up call for 1000.

After getting a wake up call at 0830, I reset the thing for thirty minutes later, and finally awoke about 0930 to Jerry milling about. I looked up to find that he was pouring two glasses of scotch. Thinking that he meant to throw one down for breakfast, I got up. He shooed me away, finished brewing coffee, irished it up with the aforementioned scotch, and we got on the road.

Ten or fifteen minutes out of Laughlin, we noticed that Las Vegas was further than we had planned. But as Jerry's car has an accelerator pedal, and in a masterful bit of time-space estimation, Jerry pulled us into the McCarron parking lot a bare three minutes after Joel made it from the Southwest terminal to the main terminal. Rather than linking up immediately, and in light of our likely BAH level, we thought it best to invest in Starbucks before tagging the lad and starting out again. After much milling about in an attempt to link up, we finally affected it, and I called Laura, indicating that I had found the lad.

"Oh, so you finally got him."

Joel fucked it up. Amazing.

Immundus saecula saeculorum*,

(*Unclean, to all eternity, without end)

1 comment:

M said...

Thats Lt Col Rob Riggle in that Berkeley video.