Title: Permission To Recover (© 1989, 2008, WGA Reg. #084582-00)
See Part I, Chapters 1-5 or Part II, 1-2 for disclaimers.
As third platoon stood in a haphazard formation on Range 24, they observed members of first platoon given instructions on how to operate a grenade launcher. The range commander joked that if anyone could hit the deuce-and-a-half they had camouflaged in the woods at the edge of the range, approximately five hundred meters away, he or she would be rewarded with a case of beer. With that incentive, everyone was aiming for that particular clump of trees with the exception of one of the male trainees and Private Caffrey, who were clearly trying to shoot down aircraft.
The temperatures had reached zero and nobody wanted to be outside, including the instructors. Shannon, who was standing next to Tierni and behind Snow, folded her arms tightly across her chest and moved back and forth from one foot to the other. "Jay-zus, it's colder than Drill Sergeant Bradbury out here," Shannon commented, loudly to Tierni.
Snow turned around quickly and glared at Walker, who confidently competed with Snow's domineering gaze. She was unsettled by Walker's 'I've got a secret' smugness that resulted in a rare feeling of intimidation. Snow turned back around and faced the range again, her cheeks burning a deep red. Her expression said it all: was Walker guessing or did she somehow know something incriminating? Just for a moment, her self-satisfied air disappeared. But only for a moment.
After noon chow, no one a case of beer richer nor an expert at launching grenades, the trainees were marched to a different range. This particular area was extremely close to Tenth Battalion. In fact, in the evenings, if any of the Alpha or Bravo trainees looked out their bay windows, the effects of night training were obvious because of the tracer rounds being shot.
Range 4 was the area used to teach trainees the fundamentals of 'Night Fire.' As one of the courses that had to be passed in order to move on in the cycle, the trainees were going to familiarize with how to engage and fire at targets in limited visibility. As with qualification on the M16, this event was also considered a 'Go' or 'No Go' situation. If a trainee achieved a particular level of requirement for whatever the training subject was, he or she received a 'Go.' If the trainee failed to attain the minimum goal set for that training subject, he or she received a 'No Go.' In most cases, depending on which exercise, a trainee was allowed three No Go's before being recycled, except the Alpha trainees were not informed of that at first. They were under the impression that if they No Go'd once, they were out of Alpha-10. Dale and Shannon knew differently but said nothing on this one, as they felt maybe it would be an added bonus if the trainee felt he or she was being given a second chance. On the other hand, maybe it produced more motivation if they felt they absolutely had to do it right the first time.
The range instructors talked about Night Fire to the trainees as the three platoons sat and shivered on a set of bleachers. They were advised about the three principles of this course, which were: allow one's eyes to adapt to the dark or low levels of illumination, to be able to scan the area around the target every four to ten seconds and still be able to engage the target and the ability to look at a target at a six-to-ten degree angle and still see it, called off-center vision. While the range NCOs discussed the rest of the day's and evening's activities, Dale looked around at the cadre. McCoy had shaved off his mustache, which gave him a much softer appearance and Ritchie was trying to grow one, at which he was failing miserably.
Second platoon had been introduced to Kathan's replacement that morning, a staff sergeant named Jay Holmquist. It was hard to tell what kind of drill instructor he was or would be because he had mainly observed, not yet opening his mouth. Regardless, it could not be denied that this new member of the Alpha-10 cadre was a handsome man. He looked to be about thirty years old, at the most. He was approximately five feet, ten inches tall and weighed about one hundred sixty-five pounds. He not only looked fit, he looked very fitted to his crisply starched uniform. His fair complexion was complimented by light brown hair, a mustache to match and piercing green eyes. He was quiet; he seemed as though he preferred to watch and take everything in. The more Dale studied him, the more she thought her concern needed to move from Robin to Holmquist. If there were to be a set up, this would be the man who would be the target...especially if he was a flirt.
That night, at dusk, the Alpha company trainees had set themselves up for the Night Fire course. The weather had become increasingly worse, the ground frozen solid for at least two hours and the long johns, fatigues and regular winter issue did nothing to protect the trainees unprepared bodies against the stinging wind and the biting cold. They had been on the range all day and still had not acclimated to the bitter temperatures. It didn't help that they'd had to get up at such an ungodly hour following two weeks of civilian merrymaking, or that they were run into the ground by unmerciful drill sergeants at morning PT. Then there was that long speech in an auditorium warm enough to put them to sleep but given by a woman they fought to stay awake for. After that, they spent the afternoon zeroing in, practicing, shooting at the targets, only to be advised that firing at night would be entirely different; that all the rehearsal in the world couldn't prepare them for. A majority of trainees all grumbled the same thing - then what was the point? No one of importance heard them.
Receiving their firing orders at 2100 hours, they consecutively took their positions as the range commander started broadcasting the rules over the public address system attached to the watchtower.
"The sun has been completely down for an hour and a half so your eyes should have gotten used to the dark by now," the disembodied voice told them. Everyone listened closely, just wanting it to be over with so that they could get back inside the barracks where it was warm. The voice continued, "...rounds of 5.56 ball ammunition and two rounds of caliber 5.56 tracer ammunition. You must get twenty hits out of eighty in order to obtain a Go. Your respective drill sergeants will keep score." Bullshit, Shannon thought. This was just a formality. The drill sergeants could see as little, if not less than, the person who fired at the targets. "Keep your weapons pointed down range. Ready on the right?" He received an okay signal with a flashlight. "Ready on the left?" Another 'OK' flash. "Ready in the middle? Lock and load your first ten round magazine."
Shannon was in the second firing order and sat on the cold, hard ground behind Robert Snow, no relation to her archenemy. He was in a prone position and watched his lane for pop-up targets. It was kind of like watching for shadows in a dark room. Shannon like to see the tracer rounds as it reminded her of the laser fire from Star Wars, however, she would have gladly foregone the thrill to be in a nice, hot shower at that moment.
Wachsman, who was in the third firing order, sat five feet behind Shannon. It was the interval every firing order was placed in but Wachsman didn't stay there very long. "Oh, my God, my ass has turned into ice," Chrissie wailed and crawled over to Shannon as the firing began.
"Mine, too, but it beats standing. We've been standing most of the day," Shannon reminded, her voice shaking.
"You don't seem to understand. I don't think I will ever be able to pee again." Wachsman blew on her gloved hands. "Did your recruiter tell you it was going to be this cold here?"
"No, he said 'have a nice winter' with a smile like a good bookie. God, I hate this. We have seven firing orders, it's nine-thirty already, we've been up since four and probably won't get to bed until two or three and they'll expect us to be up again by four. With no complaints. And we'll have to be wide awake," Shannon shouted so she could be heard over the gunfire and through earplugs.
"Tell me about it. I'll probably fall asleep while I'm firing. As if it will make any difference in my score."
"Wachsman, why aren't you five feet behind Walker?" It was Ted Robin, who had moved up on them, unnoticed.
"I'm sorry, Drill Sergeant but if I talk to Walker, it takes my mind off freezing to death. And we were discussing military subjects," she threw in for good measure.
"Is that so? Like what?"
"Like why is this necessary, Drill Sergeant?" Shannon interrupted and tried to sound annoyed. "No one can even see those targets, much less engage them. Isn't it a waste of time and ammunition?"
"Well, Private," he paused to sip steaming hot coffee out of a styrofoam cup, "your concern for the Army's resources touches me deeply." His tone was pleasant, not cutting, which let Shannon know he understood her real reason for griping; exhaustion and possible frostbite. "But this exercise is necessary in your training. We need to see how you function during adverse and limited conditions. Wars don't end just because the sun has gone down and this is combat training."
"But, Drill Sergeant, we're training to become MPs, not front line infantrymen," Wachsman protested. "I don't see where this is essential to our law enforcement careers."
"Private Wachsman," Robin explained, almost gently, "your actual police training does not start until you have completed basic combat training and basic combat training prepares you for the essentials of combat warfare. That's why this is necessary. Besides, it never hurts for any soldier to be so familiar with his or her weapon that he or she could operate it blind. No matter what MOS. Night fire helps you to do that."
Both Wachsman and Walker reluctantly nodded because he made sense. Robin smiled, triumphantly, and he handed Wachsman his coffee cup, still three-quarters full.
"You two share this and don't tell anyone I gave it to you." He turned and walked away. Both women looked at each other, stunned.
"I think I'm in love," Wachsman stated as she watched him leave. She took a good swallow of the warm but quickly cooling off beverage and handed the cup to Walker, who looked at her for a few minutes. "What?" Chrissie asked in response to Shannon's odd stare.
"Nothing. Not really. I guess the wind chill factor is beginning to freeze my brain. I was about to say something enormously profound and witty like, 'one cup of coffee doesn't a good relationship make'."
"Well, thank God you didn't," came the reply.
Shannon nodded and handed the cup back to Wachsman.
Later, at eleven-forty-five, when the company was back in the barracks, Dale approached Shannon's bunk and stopped. "How do you think you did on our all-important Night Fire?"
"I'm not sure but I think I almost shot Ritchie."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because I aimed."
"Ah. Well, better luck next time."
The next morning, after extensive PT, Alpha Company marched to the troop medical clinic for another series of shots before they double-timed to Raburn Hall to attend one more Human Relations class with Sgt Mercer. Dale paid little attention during the class as her thoughts seemed to be wrapped up with a certain colonel and the recollection of a very hot kiss. Damn that woman for screwing me up even more with this issue, Dale thought, yet still not able to keep the smile from her face.
The soldiers occupied their afternoon by cleaning their individual M16s on the two patios. During the couple of breaks the trainees took, two incidents occurred and both involved Private Vanessa McKnight. It confirmed suspicions everyone had about her before Christmas exodus, that she was a conniving little snitch. First, she let it 'accidentally slip' to Putnam that she heard a couple of the guys in Christmas Company lost money on bets they had made on the Rose Bowl and excuse me, Drill Sergeant, but isn't gambling illegal, she inquired, big Bambi eyes batting away at him. This conversation was overheard by Bonnie Saunders, as she emerged from the bay after using the latrine. Second, McKnight asked Silva, the company driver, in front of Audi and half of First Platoon, how he enjoyed his leave in Atlanta with Tierni. Silva, embarrassed and a little shocked by her lack of honor among trainees, told her she must have mistaken him for someone else since he had spent Christmas in South Carolina with his family. McKnight apologized for her 'faux pas,' but by then the damage had been done.
Later that evening, after most details were completed and McKnight was taking her shower, Minty and Saunders took four cans of shaving cream that had been willingly donated by the guys and filled McKnight's bunk with it. Then they remade the bed very carefully so McKnight wouldn't notice until she got in it. After discovering the deed fifteen minutes later, McKnight ran down to the Orderly Room, only to find two other trainees, Dave McElroy an John Pickett in charge. She ignored them and knocked on the First Sergeant's office door.
Karen Henning listened patiently as McKnight wailed and whined about how mistreated she was by her barracks-mates and how she was trying really hard to get along with everyone. A few tears later, for effect and permission to be escorted down to the linen supply room by Pickett for clean sheets, McKnight left, feeling satisfied that justice would prevail.
Dale opened the door between Colton and Henning's offices, where she had finished her sweeping detail, the second Vanessa McKnight was safely away.
"Did you hear any of that?" Henning asked, her voice at a hush so McElroy wouldn't hear her.
"All of it."
"What about it?"
"She's got diarrhea of the mouth. She deserves anything she gets."
"I thought so." Henning rose, straightened her paperwork and stood very close to Dale. "Do you think she might be in the running?"
"It's possible. But I am leaning more toward thinking she's just your average snitch you get with every cycle - the type who thinks it makes her look good by trying to make everyone else look bad. She's already got too many enemies and that includes some drill sergeants, I'm sure. They don't like her particular species any more than her fellow trainees do."
By the time Dale got back upstairs, McKnight changed her linen while still pouting. Koko approached Dale when she got to her bunk. "McKnight said Henning is reporting us all for 'agitating and provoking.' You were down there. Is that true?"
Dale sighed and shook her head negatively and pulled her towel out of her locker. "Can't speak for the XO but it looked to me like she thought McKnight was a big baby."
"I knew it. She's too smart not to see through that bitch."
The temperatures were again below the freezing mark in the morning. The dampness in the air, especially in the wind, cut right through to the bone and made it difficult to concentrate on any given command. Even exercise did nothing to warm them up, in fact, sweating only seemed to intensify the bitter cold.
Upon his arrival to the company area at 0515, Colton heard about the McKnight situation. Henning innocently related the incident to him and included the retaliation by two second platoon females, thinking he would get as much of a kick out of it as she did.
When the platoons were divided for PT, Colton and Ritchie approached McCoy and Holmquist and spoke with them, off to the side. After a few minutes, McCoy returned to his platoon and ordered the males to fall in to a different formation. When that task was completed, he made the females close ranks and intervals and he and Holmquist marched the men to another location.
Ritchie took charge of the second platoon females. He put them in the front leaning rest position while he lectured them again about their not getting along and lack of respect for each other. He further cautioned them against taking disciplinary action into their own hands. It wasn't their job. Ritchie kept them on the cold patio floor in the first count of the push-up exercise until even Michaelson's arms shook. For the next forty-five minutes, he drilled the women mercilessly, while Colton silently supervised. If anyone could not continue the particular exercise they were doing, Ritchie put her back into the front leaning rest position until everyone else completed the last repetition. The females who couldn't keep up were ordered to attend a special remedial PT class that evening after the training day was over.
Finally, he made them do a two-mile run. By that time, there were only two females, Michaelson and Ryder, who made it all the way. The rest fell out due to either injuries or not being able to breathe. Even Michaelson hacked and wheezed, bent over at the waist when the run ended.
Dale hadn't dropped out. She had fallen behind but she was driving herself to make it, favoring her bad foot. Every step she took began to bring her great agony but she refused to give in to Ritchie or Colton.
"You look hurt, Private, are you okay?" Holmquist jogged beside her.
She nodded, not having the breath to answer him.
They both glanced up to see Colton run back toward them. "Just don't push yourself too hard out of pride. It's not worth any permanent damage."
"I'll handle this, Sergeant," Colton told him, crisply, after he had reached them.
"Yes, Sir," Holmquist said. He left them and caught up with the group Ritchie led.
"These women will soon realize that we will not tolerate this kind of behavior. Maybe Sergeant Ritchie can break a few of them in the process. Why couldn't you or Walker say something to calm them down? Or don't you have enough confidence to do your job?"
Dale stopped running and gawked at him as she limped around in a circle, walking off the run. She tried to catch her breath. "Listen to me, shit-for-brains," she panted, "this punishment is not going to stop McKnight from being how she is and, if anything else, this is going to bring more hostility toward her. And rightly so. She's a crybaby and a troublemaker. Just what is it that you expect my partner or me to do, anyway? We're trainees, you hemorrhoid, we have no power in the barracks! We're acting like we normally would if we were actually doing this for the first time. So get off my back." She started to walk away from him with the intent to catch up with her platoon when Colton grabbed her upper arm. She easily got out of his grasp, surprising him with the fluidity of her movement. "Next time you lay a hand on me, I'll knock you on your fucking ass," she warned him.
"You watch your mouth, Oakes." He thrust his index finger at her. "Remember something, young lady, I am still your superior officer. You will address me accordingly," was all he could manage to say as his machismo was backed down by her glare.
"Are you deaf as well as fucking stupid? I have been addressing you accordingly this entire conversation. Don't try to play head games with me, Colton, you are way out of your league. Besides, you can't touch me, get it? I answer to Anne Bishaye and only to Anne Bishaye. Your threats are a waste of breath. I can walk out of this assignment any time I want to and if you're the cause of me leaving this case then you will answer to Anne Bishaye and I really don't think you want to do that. You have a major flaw, Colton, that can be easily resolved by process of elimination."
"Meaning what?" he asked, through clenched teeth.
"Meaning go home and take a shit because you are so full of it, I'm surprised your eyes aren't brown."
Colton silently seethed and watched her slowly jog over to a group of lagging female trainees who headed toward the barracks. He never felt such hatred for any woman as what he did for Dale Oakes. It always amazed him when women didn't fall all over him. He was used to women finding him the most charming man they had ever encountered, not to mention swooning over his looks. None of that fazed Oakes...or Walker, either, for that matter. They must be dykes, he thought, regaining a shred of his arrogance.
The rest of that morning was taken up with Drill and Ceremony, which the women almost mastered. They made sure they weren't going to be put down for any more push-ups that day. The men, however, weren't that fortunate. They were dropped every time one of them was caught messing up. By noon chow, the male trainees were almost as tired and sore as the females.
First Aid classes at Raburn Hall took up the afternoon. The trainees learned how to perform artificial respiration, which most of the second platoon women thought was about four hours too late, how to splint fractures and dress wounds. Holmquist was quietly monitoring the class from the back of the room and when everyone partnered off, he joked with Henning, and asked her if he could practice his heart massage technique on her. He was so disarming about it that Henning felt more amused than insulted or disrespected.
The dreaded remedial PT class was cancelled after evening chow for unknown reasons. Even while Dale nosed around when she swept the Orderly Room, she picked up no hints as to why. She then assumed that the drill sergeants, who had exhausted themselves running their platoons ragged, were too tired to supervise another hour of physical training. On her way upstairs after she finished her detail, Dale ran directly into Henning, who had just left the First Sergeant's office and was on her way to her car.
Dale rendered the proper greeting and after Henning returned the salute, she pointed to Dale's combat boots. "I want you at Sick Call tomorrow and have that foot checked out. No more fooling around, Private Oakes."
Dale knew Henning had witnessed her hobbling back to the company area that morning. Dale nodded and played the part of the dutiful trainee for the benefit of others who still milled around. She responded with, "Yes, Ma'am." Damn it, she thought, I don't need this right now... She knew Henning wasn't aware of the can of worms she could open by insisting Dale report to the troop medical clinic. If they had someone competent x-ray her foot, Dale would be placed on profile, which was a military medical term principally based upon a soldier's physical condition and how that directly related to him or her being medically qualified and able to adequately perform his or her military duties. If that happened, she would be taken out of training every morning for at least two weeks to be put through physical therapy but, more than that, if the podiatrist really did his or her job, an investigation would probably be launched into why anyone with an obvious foot injury like hers had ever been allowed into basic training in the first place. Bishaye would have to step in and then at least one more person would have to be let into this little private circle of knowledge. It wasn't worth it. Dale would have to find an excuse not to go and then call Anne to tell Henning to back off on the foot issue.
The women around Minty's bunk planned an unhealthy immediate future for McKnight. When Dale walked by the group, she was stopped. "Hey, Oakes, you want in on this?" McTague asked.
"A major blanket party for McKnight," Minty said.
"No, thanks," Dale shook her head.
"Why not? It was her fault none of us could breathe half the day," Saunders said.
"Look," Dale said, not unpleasantly but in no mood to be congenial, "the last time I got involved with somebody's problems, she ended up dead. I sympathize with you but no thanks."
The sober reminder of Kirk's death silenced the group of five. At least until Dale left their area. On her way to Shannon's bunk, Dale heard a small group discuss the First Aid class.
"I'm sorry," Travis stated, "but a sucking chest wound sounds like something out of an x-rated horror movie."
The remark made Dale smile and she relaxed for the first time all day. Once she got to Shannon's bed, she saw that her partner was sound asleep. Dale sighed, stretched and headed for the shower. As the hot water streamed over her body, she couldn't get her mind off Anne Bishaye. She closed her eyes and unintentionally moaned at the recollection of Bishaye's soft lips on hers.
"Hey…I don't know who's in the last stall but cut it out!" Travis shouted from the first stall.
"Oh, behave. It's just my reaction to the temperature of the water on my aching muscles," Dale shouted back and mentally slapped herself for not having better control.
"Either you're lying or I'm taking a shower all wrong," Travis responded.
The trainees were loaded up in four two-and-a-half ton trucks and transported to one of the grenade ranges that were mainly used for practice. The deuce-and-a-half was not a vehicle designed with comfort in mind. The twenty minute ride to the range was extremely bumpy and the bench-like seats attached to both sides of the truck's interior were hard and cold. At one point, the truck Dale rode in hit a crater in the road that sent everyone airborne and in a heap in the middle. A few wondered if they had broken some bones.
Once off the trucks and into formation, the drill sergeants turned the troops over to the range instructors. The three platoons were informed of what they were expected to encounter that day. Before they were issued practice hand grenades, the trainees were divided up into groups of ten and shown three throwing positions: kneeling, standing and prone-to-kneeling. Quite a few were warned and reprimanded for tossing the weapons like "John Wayne" or "Sandy Koufax."
There were also told about the five stations they would have to pass before getting a 'Go.' Each station involved the engagement of targets; three included silhouette targets, one involved a strike against a machine gun position and the final one required throwing from a "bombed out" building to a vehicle on the road. They were shown different types of grenades; their capabilities, functions, characteristics and how to grip the grenade. If the weather hadn't been so disagreeable, the training had the possibility of being fun.
Damp, cold and muddy, the troops marched back to Raburn Hall after chow. They attended another morals class by Chaplain Harrison, which was a waste because everyone was too miserable to pay attention and then they returned to the company area where PT was conducted.
The drill sergeants conducted PT differently this time. Each senior and junior platoon sergeant led his group of trainees in two exercises and then the trainees rotated to the next two platoon sergeants and repeated the action until all PT was complete. Audi was still on his own leading first platoon since MacArthur's departure but a replacement was expected shortly. The variation on the dreaded exercises helped break up what felt like a very long afternoon.
Dale observed the budding alliance between Holmquist and McCoy and was pleased at the way they worked together. They both appeared to be on the same wavelength, unlike McCoy and his dense-as-a-rock former partner, Kathan. Holmquist seemed quite professional but he also, clearly, had fun with his job. He and McCoy were a nice balance, as Dale and Shannon discussed later when they did laundry.
"Holmquist thought he was real cute this afternoon," Dale said and smiled. She looked around to see two first platoon males deeply involved in conversation. They were the only four people in the laundry room.
"Oh, you mean when he gave that command and everybody performed a 'Right Face' and what he really commanded was 'Fried Fish'?" Shannon separated her clothes from Dale's after she removed them from the dryer.
"I thought he said 'Right Face', too, and I knew the joke." She leaned in close to Shannon and whispered, "I did it once."
"I think he's going to be okay to have around," Shannon said. "I thought it was funny when he put Hepburn down for push ups and when Hepburn protested with 'I didn't say anything!' Holmquist told him that he listens like a smart ass."
"Hepburn is a smart ass. A misogynist smart ass. Holmquist is very perceptive," Dale said.
"He's really attractive, too." She looked pointedly at Dale.
"I didn't notice," Dale told her, smirking. "And neither should you."
"You didn't notice? You are such a liar!" Shannon poked her, playfully. She lowered her voice. "I'm only saying it because I think we need to keep an eye on him."
"Oh, now who's the liar?" Dale began to laugh. "You'll keep an eye on him, all right."
"Hey, he's more your type than mine," Shannon said.
Dale shrugged. "At one time." She looked over at the other two occupants who had just finished their boots and held them up like they were trophies. "Besides, now more than ever it's look but don't touch, remember?"
"Don't remind me. I doubt there will be any nookie until we're out of here. We're in E's up to our eyeballs," she said, referring to enlisted personnel.
The two male trainees stopped before they exited the laundry room. One stopped and said, "You girls better hurry up. Lights out in five." He smiled and winked at Shannon.
"Okay, thanks, Darrell," Shannon said and returned his smile. After the door closed, her focus returned to Dale who shook her head and laughed.
"Some things just never change. Man…if you were still enlisted, you'd have yourself a smorgasbord here."
"Like you wouldn't?" Shannon challenged.
"Come on, Shan, I didn't the first time. You were the one with all the luck in that area."
"It wasn't luck, it was skill." Shannon's tone was highly amused. "Hey, before I forget, what did Colton have to offer yesterday?" She threw clothes Dale's way.
"Did you get all my underwear this time?" Dale checked the empty dryer. "I don't need a repeat of Audi strolling through the bay with my panties dangling from his pinkie, announcing to the whole world that one of his 'Joes' found them in his laundry."
"When did that happen?"
"Before Christmas exodus."
"I must have missed that."
"I think you were on CQ…or downstairs, flirting with God-knows-who at the time. Probably someone you met in the laundry room while you should have been paying attention to our laundry."
"Whose laundry did they get mixed up with?"
"Drago's." Dale grimaced.
Shannon burst out laughing. "So now everyone thinks you slept with Fat Frank?"
"No. They think you did. I told Audi the panties were yours." Dale smirked.
Dale nodded. "I did. I told him I recognized that pair because I had done your laundry that night. I told him you weren't feeling well."
"You puke!" Shannon punched her in the arm, not so playfully this time.
"Oh, I'm the puke? How come it was so funny when it was my underwear?" Dale asked and rubbed her arm.
"Lucky for you nobody really thinks I slept with him. That's a rumor I would have heard long before now."
"Yeah, I don't think anyone bought it. Although I do think Drago was hoping everyone did."
Shannon shuddered. "The horror. Subject change, please."
"Colton. The man needs an exorcist, although not as much as Ritchie. Ritchie is evil and Colton, in all his arrogance, just doesn't have a clue. He thought by doing what he did yesterday that it would cure us from taking another problem into our own hands as a group. I also think he thought he was getting to me. The guy needs some serious therapy." She put her folded clothes into the laundry basket and sighed. "What really pisses me off, though, is that a lot of the women think Henning betrayed them. Especially after I told Minty that Henning saw right through McKnight."
"I'm sure she's thinking the same thing. Someone will have to get over it and my guess is it won't be Stubby."
"I also hope she doesn't try to discipline me because I didn't go to sick call but I just don't feel I can miss anything right now." Dale checked her watch. "We need to get upstairs. Do you think I should speak to Bishaye about Colton?" Please concur…any reason to see her again would work but a legitimate one would work so much better.
"Nah. We're big girls, Dale." Shannon held the door open for Dale and they crossed the patio. "We can handle him unless he gets extreme. I'm sure just the thought of the next couple of months with us, depending, is giving him an ulcer."
Dale laughed as they reached the stairs. "Yeah. The same thought is probably giving Bishaye an ulcer, too."
The next morning, after PT, the occupants of all four bays prepared for a barracks and issue inspection by Colton. The entire morning the soldiers stripped off old wax, mopped, re-waxed and buffed the floors, scrubbed the latrines and showers, straightened lockers to military perfection and arranged field-issued equipment. The gear was uniformly lined up on the top of the bunks so that the inspecting officer could easily review it.
The drill sergeants' behavior drove the women crazy and they wondered if the same thing was going on in the male bays. Every time a different drill sergeant would go through the barracks and check the progress of the preparation, he would contradict the previous drill sergeant. The fourth time this happened, the women congregated and collaboratively wondered if the drill sergeants were doing it on purpose and if they were being set up. The next drill sergeant who entered the bay was confronted by an angry mob. Fortunately for the women, it was the gentle-natured Audi.
"At ease!" He commanded and the women assumed the position and quieted down. "There is no conspiracy. Each drill sergeant has his own way of doing things and often it conflicts with someone else's way."
"Drill Sergeant, shouldn't there only be one way? The Army way?" Caffrey asked. Caffrey had settled down since her arrival, to the point of almost being non-existent. After a few run-ins with some of the more women of stronger personality, she realized she had met more than her match.
"That's an excellent point, Private Caffrey. We do teach you the 'Army' way…as interpreted by each of us. All the ways we show you are the right way."
"Then what do we do, Drill Sergeant?" Minty asked. "Because we just get everything lined up the way Drill Sergeant Robin says it should be and then Drill Sergeant Holmquist comes up and tells us to do it another way. We just get that done and Drill Sergeant McCoy comes up and says, no, it's this way. Twenty minutes ago, Drill Sergeant Putnam told us we were wrong and it should be his way."
"My advice is that each of you should probably listen to your individual platoon sergeants and do it their way," Audi said.
"But even they contradict each other, Drill Sergeant," Caffrey said.
"Well, then, I guess First Platoon lucks out because they only have me," he said to the sound of the women in First Platoon, who collectively sighed in relief. "I will speak to the other drill sergeants about the confusion."
"Thank you, Drill Sergeant," Minty said.
Fifteen minutes after Audi left the female bay, Putnam walked into the barracks and contradicted everything Audi had told them to do. When they spoke out, he put them all in the front leaning rest position. Five minutes later, after their unanimous compliance, he told them to recover and everything was modified to Putnam's guidelines.
At eleven hundred hours, three drill sergeants entered the female bay and announced they were going to stand by for the company commander. Instead they got the senior drill sergeant. While Colton started on the second floor barracks with two platoon sergeants in tow, Ritchie inspected the women's side.
He stormed into the bay with a growl and a snarl; it was not a good sign of probable outcome. He began with the first locker of First Platoon, Almstead's, and verbally tore her apart. As he made his way through the first row of lockers, his nature got worse and his comments more vicious. By the time he reached the Second Platoon females' lockers, he had begun to throw things with no regard as to where the items landed, who they hit or if the items broke on impact. He conducted his 'inspection' as far as Mroz, then breezed by everyone else so fast, they almost got windburns.
"Just what exactly did all of you do all morning?" Ritchie bellowed. "Your hair? Your nails? You certainly didn't prepare for this inspection. You're Goddamned lucky I did the inspection instead of the old man. This bay is a disgrace! Your lockers and personal areas are a joke! You women are a joke! You're royally fucking up, as usual!" He pointed to the floor, where he had tracked in mud. "Look at these floors! They're unacceptable. These bunks? I couldn't bounce a quarter off these blankets if it had its own spring. I won't even attempt to go into the latrine because if I do, you will all be sorrier than you already are. Time is running out, ladies! You have to do a hundred and ten percent better than this or none of you will make it to LE School!" Ritchie shook his head in disgust and stomped out of the bay.
The three drill sergeants appeared to be too stunned to follow and the women were shocked into total silence. Dale turned her head slightly and sneaked a glance back at Shannon, whose expression said what Dale felt. What the fuck was that about?
The somber silence continued through noon mess, PT and evening chow. As Shannon reached the ground floor to take a cigarette break before Lights Out, she met Dale on her way back up to the bay. She had just finished her detail of sweeping the patio.
"How are things upstairs?" Dale asked.
"Crazy. Nobody knows what they're supposed to do and they're discouraged. I know the drill sergeants are supposed to be tough but that's to make us better, not make us feel hopeless," Shannon said, clearly still worked up. "What did you think?"
"Bullshit. That's what I thought. Ritchie is a synonym for bullshit. Holmquist called us all into the laundry room afterward and you could tell he was pissed. He told us he wasn't pleased with the way we cleaned up but he wasn't displeased, either. He told us we needed to pay more attention to detail and then he told us he thought we deserved a little more consideration from the senior drill sergeant."
"Putnam wasn't as diplomatic. He told us he was really proud of the way Third Herd looked and, as our drill sergeant, he wanted as much gratification as we did. He told us we 'done good' and he thought the whole thing stank. Now, granted, all that is encouraging but if the senior drill negates it, all the encouragement in the world won't help. You and I know a majority of the women will make it through but it will be a lot less with this kind of incentive."
"You know it's got to be bad when members of the cadre can't hold themselves back from expressing their dismay. I just don't know what to do about it."
"I don't think we have much of a choice other than to ride with it. Keep taking your notes. When all of this is over, if he isn't involved in why we are here, we can nail him for all this other crap."
"If he doesn't kill somebody before that," Dale said, pragmatically.
Shannon took a long drag off her cigarette. "I don't know about you but if it comes to him or me, I guarantee you, it won't be me."
"I'm not worried about you or me. He obviously didn't learn his lesson with Kirk. He is doing everything in his power to break these women. Have you looked at some of them? Hewett? DeAmelia? Newcomb? I think he's succeeding."
"Yeah. But, Dale, they're weak to begin with. They're always bringing up the rear in everything. Even if Ritchie was non-existent, I don't hold out much hope for those three."
"Maybe they'd do better if they had more positive reinforcement. Hard to say, I guess. You're on your own tomorrow, by the way. I have CQ with Mroz."
"Well, it's Sunday and everyone's restricted so that's not a problem." As Dale passed her, Shannon grabbed her arm. "Keep an eye on Mroz since you're going to have concentrated time with her."
Dale cocked her head in curiosity. "Mroz? Since when?"
"It's nothing concrete. Just a feeling. She's pushy…and then ingratiating. There's something about her that just isn't right."
"I haven't gotten that from her but I'll definitely watch her," Dale said before returning upstairs.
Sunday was the easiest day of the week to be assigned to Charge of Quarters duty. The worst problem was how to pass the time. Dale and Mroz switched on and off doing periodic checks of the company area but with no incidents to keep them occupied, they spent most of the eight hour shift telling jokes and exchanging tales of their pasts. Of course, Dale made up most of her stories and wondered if Mroz did the same but the enthusiasm with which Mroz spoke of her adventures mad Dale feel as though hadn't fabricated her history.
In the afternoon, a couple of hours before Dale's CQ shift ended, Ritchie stopped in to the office to visit Robin, who was the Staff Duty NCO. His presence was not a welcome one and since it was his day off, his appearance was unexpected. Ritchie's demeanor and unpredictability altered the former lighthearted mood and placed both women on edge. They eagerly anticipated his departure and hoped it would be before anything they did set him off on one of his unprovoked tirades.
As if Dale didn't have enough to fill a notebook concerning Ritchie's unprofessional behavior, she and Mroz witnessed another breach of protocol and both experienced different degrees of shock when Robin played along. The two drill sergeants walked outside the Orderly Room and returned minutes later, laughing. They didn't even try to hide the fact that they were ridiculing of Henning and found fault with everything about her. Once they tore her apart as an officer, they moved on to her personal life.
"She doesn't have a boyfriend," Robin said.
"No guy would want her," Ritchie said. "Maybe she has a girlfriend." Then he laughed. "Nah, women don't want her, either. She's just an all around loser." There was another round of guffaws.
Dale had to look away from them to disguise the visible anger burning within her. She glanced over at Mroz and saw that she could not hide her shock and disappointment.
Ritchie caught Mroz's expression and his eyes narrowed. "What are you looking at, Mroz?" he snapped. "Nothing that is said in this room leaves this room! Is that understood, Private?"
Before she could respond, Holmquist entered the Orderly Room through the First Sergeant's office. "Private Mroz, Private LaForest has lost his locker keys. Take the bolt cutters up there and open it for him, please."
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," Mroz answered, quickly, grateful for an excuse to leave the room. She grabbed the bolt cutters and fled.
"Hey, Jay, we were discussing our company albatross, Henning. What are your thoughts on her majesty?" Ritchie grinned like a mule.
Holmquist studied the senior drill sergeant with a disgusted expression. He remained respectful of Ritchie's rank but clearly, at the moment, he didn't think much of the man behind the stripes. Holmquist looked over at Dale who stared back at him as though she expected him to join the party.
"Excuse me," Holmquist said and passed between Ritchie and Robin when he exited the office.
"Give him another week around her, he'll join right in," Ritchie said, unaffected by Holmquist's maturity. Robin, however, seemed embarrassed. He looked over at Dale, cleared his throat then bowed his head and left the Orderly Room. Before Ritchie followed Robin outside, he turned to Dale and pointed at her. "What I said to Mroz goes for you, too, Oakes."
"Yes, Drill Sergeant," Dale said only because she had to.
Shannon practiced G-3 testing with Wachsman. G-3 was a part of the four Gs, short for General Staff. G-1 set personal policies, studied the Army's manpower problems and was responsible for the hiring of civilian employees. G-2 was the intelligence branch. G-3 was the operations branch that covered troop training, troop information and education, special services, maneuvers, field problems and other miscellaneous responsibilities. G-4 was the supply and logistics branch. Trainees were required to go through G-3 testing before they graduated from basic training.
After Wachsman tested Shannon on military ranks, they were called downstairs for noon chow. On her way out of the bay, Shannon passed Snow who was doing push-ups between her bunk and Steele's. Shannon couldn't resist.
"Hey, Professor, looks to me like you lost your girl."
The remark set Snow's teeth on edge and caused her to lose count. She held the front leaning rest position until she got her bearing. She ignored Shannon and resumed the exercise.
Once inside the Mess Hall, because it was Sunday, the trainees were allowed to talk freely. They all took full advantage of that.
"What do we have here this noon?" Wachsman mused as she scanned over everything edible before her. "Ahhhh…gruel."
"What difference does it make what it is or what it looks like? Trainees don't taste food anyway. It's not allowed," Shannon said. She moved her tray through the chow line. "You know, the old 'inhale it and get out' policy."
Ahead of Shannon in line, Travis was perturbed about an item on her plate. "I didn't want this."
"Take what you want but eat what you take," a drill sergeant from Charlie company recited. He was there to maintain order in the chow line.
"But I didn't want this," Travis complained.
"Then why did you take it, young lady?"
"I didn't, Drill Sergeant, she put it on my plate." Travis nodded toward a server.
"Then I guess you'll just have to buck up and eat it, young lady."
"I hate spinach," Travis mumbled, all the way to her booth.
"Stop bitching and eat the damned spinach," Ryder said, and slid in next to her. "It'll put color in your cheeks."
"Who the fuck wants green cheeks? I'm seventy-five percent green now! I'm going to od on o.d."
By the time Snow got served, most of the trainees were seated and she spied only two available places. One was at a booth with Travis, the other was a booth with Shannon. Snow decided to take what she felt was the lesser of two evils, at least that day.
Travis, especially after the spinach ordeal, was not pleased with Snow's choice. As she contemplated the last item left on her plate by pushing it around with her fork, Travis sullenly listened to the conversation of the other three women who spoke of past civilian interests.
"I was in a band once," Brewer said and finished her coffee. "I always wanted to play a musical instrument but I never had the time to learn so I sang instead."
"I bet you were good," Ryder said. "You have a very melodic speaking voice."
"Thank you." Brewer said.
"I played a musical instrument once," Snow said, "but I had to give it up."
"Why?" Travis asked and eyeballed her suspiciously. "Did your monkey die?"
Snow slammed her fork down on her tray. "What? What is it? Do I have a target on my back today or something?"
"No," Travis said and smirked. "But thanks for the idea." She picked up her tray and moved out of the booth.
"Travis, you didn't finish your spinach," Ryder pointed out.
"I know, Mommy. I've decided to take my chances with punishment." She lucked out, though. The drill sergeant was busy with another trainee so Travis dumped her tray and escaped, unscathed.
Later that evening, after the women had returned to the bay from the Day Room, where they uniformly marked their military clothing according to regulations, Dale still seethed about he CQ incident. She didn't have to tell Shannon. By the time she got upstairs, Mroz had already spread the word regarding what jerks Ritchie and Robin had been. That fact that Dale didn't refute Mroz's story told Shannon all she needed to know. The only detail Dale added before bed check was that Holmquist didn't participate.
The next morning began the coldest, bitterest day so far. Nothing was able to help the trainees, or cadre for that matter, maintain body heat.
The company was issued equipment for Bivouac from the Bravo Company supply room. The instruction on how to pack it all up properly to keep it minimal and dry and how to keep warm in specific weather conditions, had to be given inside. First Platoon conducted their classes in the First Platoon male bay, Second Platoon in the Second Platoon male bay and Third Platoon in the Third Platoon male bay. The major problem in that concept was that the troops couldn't be shown how to pitch a tent, being that it was difficult to dig a trench and to get the wooden tent pegs to stick in linoleum.
The drill sergeants assured the trainees if the cold wave didn't break that Bivouac, scheduled to start the next day, would have to be postponed. A notice was passed around that one training company who had gone out that morning had to be brought back by buses because two GIs landed in the hospital with frostbite on the lungs.
The rest of the day was spent in the individual male barracks. Bunks were pushed aside and classes were held with lectures and diagrams on all the information the trainees would need for field survival. To break the monotony, just before evening chow, the spent minimal time outside and practiced Drill and Ceremony. Fifteen minutes was all the drill sergeants could stand in the freezing cold before they dismissed their troops.
All the trainees retired early, well before Lights Out, because if Bivouac continued on schedule, they would be awakened very early and no one was sure when they would get the next decent shut-eye.