Title: Permission To Recover (© 1989, 2008, WGA Reg. #084582-00)
Story Type: Original Novel
Disclaimer: None, other than any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All characters are mine.
Teaser: (tag line) In 1977, women thought they joined the peacetime Army. They were dead wrong.
Description: Two military undercover agents infiltrate the first male/female integrated basic training/law enforcement school program in hope of finding a murderer in a race against time. The two women unveil a lot more than is intended during their stint as 'trainees', encountering blatant sexism, harassment, discrimination, dead-ends, betrayals and love as the boundaries of friendship, obligation, loyalty and honor are tested to the limit.
Content Warning: This is a story about the military. There is bad language, sex (some of it is heterosexual) and violence.
Other Information: This story is my baby and it is very long, which is why I am posting it in sections. It is a complete story but I am transferring it from paper to disk, another reason for the sectional posting. PTR is as much about the trials and tribulations of basic training as it is one woman's personal journey through this time frame, which is why there will be sometimes as many paragraphs spent on military detail as on the lead characters.
The word came up before morning formation that Bivouac had been rescheduled due to an usual weather front that was predicted to hit the area in the next couple of days. This should have been good news but since everyone's duffel bags were already packed and ready to go, the company commander decided to make use of the effort. As cold as it still was, Alpha company prepared for a hike.
Formation was called after breakfast and the trainees stood in their respective platoons, equipped with seventy-five pound backpacks, ready to conquer a notoriously steep hill, affectionately referred to as ‘Coronary Climb.' It was a five-mile jaunt from the company area to the peak and the same distance back unless the drill sergeants decided to take another route.
The temperature started out in the low teens and that caused the new GIs to silently grumble and curse and speculate that anything important, like extremities, just might freeze and fall off. After they marched approximately two hundred feet, dressed in several layers with the duffel bags strapped on, they heated up quickly. When they reached the base of the mountain and began to ascend the incline, that extra seventy-five pounds on their backs felt like a ton. It was suddenly uncomfortably warm to everyone and that made the task exceedingly more difficult.
Dale held back her comments when the gasps of the trainees around her turned victorious about reaching the top. Experience reminded her that the descent took much more control and concentration than the climb. After approximately one hundred fifty pairs of boots traipsed up the same path, it had become quite muddy and slippery, so by the time First Platoon began their descent, some of Second and Third Platoon beat them to the bottom on their backsides. This caused a domino effect for some, which caused a comical looking pile-up at the base of the mountain.
The unintentional human heap amused quite a few but it greatly disturbed the senior drill sergeant. Upon Alpha-10's return to the company area, their successful conquest was rewarded by another degrading lecture from Ritchie. He ranted and raved for several minutes about the trainees' ‘lousy' performance on the hike and the climb and then, as the company stood at Attention, sweating profusely, Ritchie ordered the trainees to remove their backpacks, field gear, fatigue jackets and fatigue shirts. He marched them to the parking lot for PT. For Dale and Kotski, who still had not been issued long john tops, their damp bodies nearly froze during the first exercise.
Two hours after a steaming hot shower and safely inside, where it was warm, the bone chill remained. If Dale had been allowed to bring her service weapon into the assignment, Ritchie would have been a dead man by sunset.
Putnam entered the bay ten minutes before Lights Out and announced the dreaded news that a trip to the Gas Chamber was on the agenda for the next day. He advised the women not to take morning showers and not to shave any part of their bodies, as he had also advised the men. Tear gas had a nasty way of seeping into open pores and wreaking havoc under the skin, as though one had just bathed in jalapeño pepper juice.
The Gas Chamber exercise was the most feared by all trainees. Horror stories were passed on from cycle to cycle about incidents that were exaggerated or never occurred that resulted in unnecessary panic. Both Dale and Shannon knew how foul tear gas could be. They had both experienced being gassed without their masks at one time or another and to say it wasn't pleasant was an understatement. They also knew, however, in this particular situation that if a trainee paid full attention to the instructor, the contact with any tearing agent would be minimal.
Dale woke up with a slight tightness in her chest and, as usual, her foot ached but she fared better than Kotski, whose cough was continuous and deep. Several others sneezed and sniffled, obviously congested, yet only a couple women requested to go to sick call. None of them wanted to fall under Ritchie's wrath and be accused of being weak.
The company was transported to the range the first thing in the morning. They were given instruction and familiarized themselves with the M60 machine gun. The trainees learned how to fire an already zeroed M60 loaded on a bipod, then tripod with an assistant gunner. Only a rare few actually hit what they aimed at but it didn't seem to matter as long as all the rounds had been expended.
Next, they marched to the Bivouac site and practiced for G-3 testing, mainly the section that required them to report to an officer outside. When that had been completed, they were marched to the Gas Chamber location and given limited instruction on nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) warfare. Instructors demonstrated and then the trainees practiced how to put their gas masks on in nine seconds or less. They were taught how to check for leaks in the masks and if anyone discovered a defective mask, he or she would be temporarily loaned a properly working one for the exercise and the defective one would be replaced back at the company.
When the field instructor believed the trainees had practiced enough, he divided the troops into groups of approximately twenty-five. With masks firmly attached to each individual face, he led them inside the small cabin in the middle of the woods called The Gas Chamber. As the trainees shuffled inside, they began to feel a slight burn in their eyes, nose and throat. The air was misty with the gasses of CN and CS and the group was ordered to form a circle around a centerpiece that emanated the tearing agents. Two field sergeants stood by while the instructor spoke of what the next task would be.
“One by one, you will stand in front of me, take a deep breath, remove your mask and very clearly repeat your name, rank, social security number and unit. Then you will walk to the exit and leave the building. Anyone who does not complete the spoken words in a clearly understood voice or runs out of the building will be made to do it again. I suggest you get it right the first time.” He scanned the sea of black masks. “Once you get outside, you will be met by another instructor. He will direct you to run around in a wide circle with your arms out like airplane wings until your senses clear. This will take about a minute. If you listened to everything I just told you, this should be a painless experience.”
Dale and Shannon discussed later that they thought the NBC field sergeants were excellent. Very few trainees messed up and if they did, it was due to their inability to follow instructions. The soldiers in Alpha company who had not done very well at the Gas Chamber were the same people who had been screwing up from the beginning, trainees that, frankly surprised both undercover agents, had not bolo'd out before Christmas exodus.
The two lieutenants were frustrated. They were well into their fifth week of basic training and their case had stalled. No one up to this point, male or female, had demonstrated any abnormally questionable behavior toward the cadre. Even Dizzy Zelman, the loosest of the women, had kept her distance from the drill sergeants, as had Snow, the only trainee they knew for a fact had sneaked off with another company's drill sergeant. From the perspective of the CID agents, it appeared that every trainee dutifully kept his or her nose to the grindstone and no one stood out as suspicious. Yet. Both Dale and Shannon wondered, again, if the person responsible for the turmoil of the last three AIT cycles had decided to skip one. Neither was thrilled at the thought of going all through this for naught.
Four hours of the next morning were strictly devoted to map reading. The trainees were provided with topographic maps, papers, pencils, protractors and straight rulers. They were taught to measure a grid azimuth, distance with a certain percentage of the correct interval, orient a map by alignment, utilize marginal map statistics and identify topographical symbols. It was a tremendous amount of information to retain in a half-day.
Chow was served at Raburn Hall and then Alpha company had a surprise test on what they had learned in NBC training. They were tested on how to identify color symbols (yellow for gas, white for atomic, blue for biological), gas mask deficiencies, correctly putting on the gas mask and symptoms of the side effects of different gasses and chemicals. Their final evaluation was what to do in case of a nuclear, biological or chemical attack and as Holmquist inserted before anyone else could, “Bending over and kissing your ass goodbye” was not an option. Even though the test had been unexpected and no one had a chance to study, everyone scored a GO.
It turned out to be an early day for everyone. Rumors spread that the huge predicted snowstorm that postponed Bivouac was only hours away and the post literally shut down. All personnel who lived off post were sent home, all on-post residents who were not in some kind of mandatory assignment were released from duty and all new GIs were restricted to their company areas. Alpha-10's trainees were snugly back in the barracks by 1515 hours.
Dale decided to make good use of the unexpected free time and checked the availability of the washing machines. The north laundry room was empty so she was back downstairs in minutes armed with a load of her and Shannon's laundry. Moments after Dale had started the washing machine, Kotski entered with her second pair of boots in one hand and shoe polish paraphernalia in the other.
“How are you feeling?” Dale asked her.
“Well, I don't have pneumonia yet.” Her voice was shaking.
Dale noticed that Kotski had not been herself last evening and most of the day. She thought it might have been because Kotski was getting sick but now she suspected it was something else. “Are you okay?” The concern in Dale's voice was genuine.
The caring and gentle tone from Dale seemed to trigger the flood valve behind Kotski's eyes and suddenly Kotski could not control her tears. “Sorry,” she whispered.
“What? What is it?? What happened?” Dale was alarmed and instinctively protective.
It took a few minutes for Kotski to calm down. “I've just had a bad day,” she said, finally.
“I thought you seemed a bit skittish on the way back from Raburn Hall. What's wrong?”
“Well, first off, I'm having a really hard time with my period. It's getting harder and harder to concentrate when my uterus feels as if it's involved in nuclear warfare.”
“Is that normal for you?” When Kotski shook her head, Dale said, “Maybe you should have that checked out.”
“Oakes…” Kotski hesitated.
“What? Come on, Laurel, you know you can talk to me,” Dale said, soothingly. She could see Kotski was in great emotional, as well as obvious physical, pain.
“It's just that I don't want you to think that everyone is using you as a sounding board, with what happened to Kirk and all.”
“I don't think you have to worry about that, people barely spoke to me after Kirk, much less used me as a sounding board. So, come on, tell me what's going on.”
Kotski took a deep breath. “Yesterday on the NBC range, when I was standing in the back of the crowd, Ritchie came up behind me and grabbed me by my hair so hard…“ She started to cry again. “It felt like he yanked out a fistful of my scalp.” Dale started a slow burn while Kotski continued. “He started to scream at me to pay attention because he knew I had to be too stupid to know any of this on my own. He said that only dummies and morons stood in the back of the class so that they had an excuse for not learning anything. I'm tall, Oakes, I can see over half these guys' heads. I was in back because I didn't feel well. I was going to go to sick call but I didn't want to miss anything. It took everything I had not to slap him into the ground.”
Dale took a step toward Kotski and hugged her tightly. “You should have. That son-of-a-bitch.” Under different circumstances, Dale might have enjoyed having the beautiful woman in her embrace but the last thing on her mind was her libido. Not only that, the kiss with Bishaye pretty much cured her attraction to anyone else.
Kotski broke the comforting hug and wiped her eyes. She set up her boot polishing equipment. “There's more.”
Dale narrowed her eyes. “Worse?”
“Yeah,” Kotski said and nodded. “But it has nothing to do with here.”
“What is it?” Dale asked as she checked her wash cycle.
“A month before I started basic training, I was beaten up and raped. I was in the hospital for two weeks. They still haven't found the guy. I was walking home from a friend's house and this guy came up behind me, grabbed me by my hair and dragged me into a wooded area a little ways from the sidewalk. I've walked that same route a thousand times and I've never even felt nervous, never expected anything like that to happen. I was pretty messed up with some internal injuries. That's why I think I'm having such a bad time with my period. And all this strenuous exercise isn't helping.”
Dale tried not to look horrified. “You're awfully pale. How bad are you bleeding?”
“Why didn't you postpone your enlistment?”
Kotski wiped away more tears. “Because getting away from it all did seem like the best idea. And I honestly thought I was coping just fine. Until yesterday.”
Now furious, Dale found it extremely difficult to disguise her anger. “You've got to tell Audi.”
“Maybe not about the rape but tell him about Ritchie. He had no right to do that! And he will feed off your fear of retribution not to tell anyone. Audi should know you well enough by now to know you would not gain anything by making this up.” Dale observed Kotski's uncertainty. “This is serious shit, Laurel. If he's allowed to get away with it, next time will be worse.”
“I know what you're saying, Oakes, but I don't need anymore trouble in my life. I think I just want to get through this, get over it and get on with everything else.”
“Laurel…” Dale was so angry and concerned that she was actually at a loss for words.
“Promise me you won't say anything,” Kotski pleaded.
“Okay, okay,” Dale agreed, frustrated. “I won't say anything to Audi or any of the other drill sergeants. But I think you're making a mistake. Ritchie is a bully. He's an unsavory, untrustworthy, slippery bastard. A statement from you might help put Ritchie out of commission for a while. Then maybe we wouldn't have incidents like the one you went through and we'd start getting some positive motivation for our training. I won't say anything if you don't want me to but please, please think about this.”
Shannon decided to stroll downstairs for a cigarette break and thank Dale for doing their laundry. She also to make sure her panties weren't accidentally on purpose left in a dryer. When she entered the laundry room, Kotski was gone and Dale had just finished rolling her last item of clothing.
“Hey, Dale, thanks for –“
“Perfect timing!” Dale met Shannon halfway and handed her the clothes. “Take this stuff upstairs, will you? I'll explain later.”
“Sure, but –“
Dale raced out of the laundry room. She checked her watch. It was four-thirty. She prayed Bishaye was still in her office, even though it was doubtful with the threat of bad weather and the post-wide orders to leave before the snow started to fall. Dale took a huge risk and sneaked away from the company area, around the corner to Battalion and then to the headquarters parking lot, where she was relieved to see Bishaye's car. She made it through the parking lot, undetected, and across the small street to a wooden barracks-style building that has been converted to a pizza establishment. Ordinarily, she would have been foolish to pick that place, as it was the premiere hangout of roving drill sergeants who stopped in to monitor their troops who had achieved their freedom though passes. Due to the post shut down, however, the business had closed early and it was dark and empty. Dale used the pay phone on the side of the building. She dialed Bishaye's number and was surprised when the colonel personally answered. She usually had minions for that.
“Colonel Bishaye,” Anne said.
“Meet me over by the pizza place ASAP,” Dale demanded.
“Who -? Dale? What are you doing over there? If you get caught, you'll –“
“If you get your ass over here, I'll be less likely to get caught.” Dale hung up.
Less than five minutes later, the stunning LTC Bishaye walked around to the back of the building. “The way you talk to me sometimes really pisses me off,” she snapped. “I'm still your boss.” Her attitude appeared to be a mixture of irritation and curiosity. “Why am I here? No, actually, why are you here?” She had not brought a coat and crossed her arms in an effort to ward off the chill.
Even as angry and upset as Dale was, Anne Bishaye still caused her to catch her breath. The recollection of the kiss flooded back full-force and Dale was momentarily paralyzed. A loud sigh from Bishaye snapped Dale out of her lustful daydream.
“This better be good to take a chance like this. Now, what's wrong?”
“What's wrong? I'll tell you what's wrong. Number one, most training units get at least a two-hour pass after their fourth week of basic. We are restricted to the barracks for not one, good, valid reason, forcing us to remain together, causing even the closest of new friends to jump down each other's throat. There is no release! The dayroom is off-limits which confines us to the laundry room, the patios, the bay itself or the Goddamned toilets! We're driven to the max, we put forth five hundred percent and then we are put down for being unfit, incapable and unmotivated. There isn't one person, at least in the female bay, without some kind of injury or illness, the weather sucks and, number two, there's Ritchie!”
“Ritchie?” Bishaye repeated. “I thought your gripe was with Colton.”
“I do have a gripe with Colton. He's a lousy, fucking C.O. But he's small change compared to Ritchie.”
Bishaye gestured helplessly. “What's Ritchie done?”
Dale removed her notebook from her left-side, droopy saddlebag pocket and started to rattle off dates and events to the Battalion Commander. She then finished up with what Kotski had told her earlier. When she looked back at Bishaye, she was encouraged that Anne looked so startled.
“Any witness to the Kotski incident?”
“I have no idea,” Dale answered, annoyed. “If there was, she didn't say and, as far as I know, I was the only one she told.”
“Could she have made it up?”
“Why would she have gone to all the trouble of making up a story like that and then make me promise not to tell anyone? Anne, do you honestly think I would have risked this if I had any doubt in her story?” Dale asked, exasperated.
Bishaye shrugged. “No, I guess not.”
“You guess not?”
She circled Dale so that she stood next to her and was out of sight of the main road. “All right! No, you wouldn't. I'm just not sure what I can do about it.”
“Well, you'd better think of something because the man is heading for serious trouble and if something isn't done about him, I will be heading for serious trouble. It's getting harder and harder to contain myself and what the hell am I supposed to do if you're not willing to cross the man, either?”
“Hey! You watch your tone with me!” Bishaye said, sharply. “I will not tolerate that from you of all people. I never said I wasn't going to do anything, I said I wasn't sure what I could do. Maybe Ritchie's involved.”
“Or maybe he's just a psychotic woman-hater. Anne, you aren't right in the thick of this. I am. This assignment is perplexing enough without a Neanderthal like Ritchie complicating it.” I want to kiss you again. Really bad. She hadn't realized her heart had started pounding when Bishaye lost her temper. She wanted to harness that passion and utilize it for something more intimate. Like Bishaye pushing her back against the wall and hungrily devouring her.
“What about Colton?” Bishaye was either oblivious to Dale's lascivious musings or artfully ignoring her.
“Colton can be controlled. He can be intimidated and he knows we're here so he's only going to go so far before he quits. Trust me, he is scared shitless of you and fear of being disciplined by you is enough to keep him in line. But Ritchie clearly knows no boundaries. He's dangerous, Anne.” Please, God, make her kiss me! Just one more time, that's all I ask.
“Okay, he's dangerous. I will keep my eye on it.” Bishaye started to shiver.
Who am I kidding? If she thought about me that way, she would have arranged to get me on Battalion CQ runner duty. This realization made Dale's sour mood worse and she went on the offensive. “Keep your eye on it better than you did the Kirk case, okay?”
“That was uncalled for!” Anne snapped.
“This whole assignment is uncalled for!” Dale snapped back. “But we're all here, anyway, so I am trying to make the best of it. In the meantime, I don't need an obstacle like Ritchie. And neither do you.” Dale started to walk away. “I have to get back before I get caught.”
Bishaye reached out and snagged Dale's arm. “Dale, why are you so angry with me?”
Dale spun back and glared at her. “Why? You're joking, right? Why do you think?”
“If I had any idea, I would not have asked.”
Dale's shoulders slumped in disappointment and she stared at the ground.
“Oh,” Bishaye said and nodded in acknowledgement. “The kiss.” She removed her hand from Dale's forearm. “I thought we understood each other about that.”
“I guess not,” Dale said, quietly. “I guess I have deeper feelings than I originally thought.” She looked back up into Bishaye's eyes. Dale could not decipher what she saw there; what she didn't see was encouragement of any kind. “Definitely deeper feelings than you.”
“Dale …” Bishaye began in a perplexed tone of voice, “…you know why I cannot take what happened between us any further.”
“I know what your excuse is.”
“Dale, please, this isn't doing either one of us any good.”
“Let me just ask you one question: if things were different, if there was no Army and no Jack, would there be any hope?”
Bishaye was silent for a moment. “I honestly don't know.”
Dale accepted that answer. “Okay.”
“This wasn't really what you called me out here for, is it?” Bishaye asked. “Please don't tell me you took this kind of a chance just –“
“Jesus, no! Did you not listen to my notes? My complaint about Ritchie is not only legitimate, it's urgent. How can someone like him continue to hold a position of power with the attitude he has and the way he treats people. Especially women. He's not making it easier for any of us.”
“Including me,” Anne said.
“Yes, including you! So why are you so hesitant about stopping him?”
“I have to be cautious. If I go after him right now, he's going to know that there is definitely someone planted in the unit. And he's going to quickly figure out that if the spies weren't put in there by the cadre then they were put in there by Battalion to spy on the cadre. Then, if these people, like Private Kotski, don't want to make statements or have the stigma of snitch following them around then I would have to expose you or Walker as my source. Where do you think that will leave this investigation?”
“We don't even know if there is anything to investigate.”
“There isn't enough freedom in the company yet for anything too much to happen.”
“One of my points.” She pressed her notebook into Bishaye's hand. “Read these notes. I'm not kidding. He needs a comeuppance.”
“What about reporting him to the IG?”
“Shannon or I can't do that. At least not until this case is solved. We can't keep subtly suggesting this kind of stuff to the other women when we're not supposed to have any knowledge of how things work.”
“True. I'll see what I can do. I can't promise anything under the circumstances.”
“Hopefully he won't push me into blowing my cover.”
“You've had run-ins with tougher guys than Ritchie. I have faith that you won't jeopardize this case over someone like him.”
“You obviously don't know me anymore, Anne.” They locked stares, neither openly acknowledging the heat that still radiated between them. “I have to get back,” Dale said, reluctantly.
“Listen, if you happen to get caught, tell them I was taking some things to my car, I saw you on the south patio and I asked for your assistance.”
“How come you haven't left post yet?”
“I was on my way out when you called. And I would still like to get out of here before the snow flies. I'll wait a few minutes before I walk back. Just signal me if the coast isn't clear.”
“I will. But it's pretty deserted, it should be fine.” Dale glanced at Bishaye one last time before she took off for the south patio of the Alpha company area. Bishaye nodded silently and managed a half-frozen smile.
Bishaye watched Dale leave. She rubbed the palms of her hands against her face to get some feeling of warmth. If Dale only knew how much emotion was behind Anne's restraint. The fire in Dale's belly really turned Bishaye on. It always had. She really did want to experience something much more intimate with Dale. There was just too much at stake. Once the undercover lieutenant was out of her sight, a sexually frustrated Anne walked back to her office.
Dale made it safely to the barracks unnoticed. No one even missed her. She found Shannon and related some of the conversation with Bishaye to her. Both lieutenants were irked that Ritchie might still be allowed to get away with his antics and they agreed to do everything within their power to make Ritchie's life a living hell any chance they could.
The demeanor of Anne Bishaye once again puzzled Dale. She could not understand how that kiss could be not first and foremost on her mind. It was a rude awakening that the adoration she felt for her colonel was not reciprocated. Maybe that was the way things needed to be in the military…but, if so, it was awfully damned cold. Dale suddenly hated the fact that an indiscreet fling with a stranger of the opposite sex would be much more acceptable to Uncle Sam that an affair borne out of love with someone of the same sex.
The predicted snowstorm had not arrived by the next morning but the company remained on an alternate schedule anyway. The troops were left at a drop off point in WacVille at approximately 0730 hours by bus, where they were marched to Raburn Hall for G-3 testing.
The trainees were tested in groups of three on Military Courtesy, Saluting The Colors, Guard Duty and Military Time.
The testing ended about two hours later. Those who didn't get a GO were given a few minutes to regroup and then retested. The second time, everyone passed.
The trainees were then rounded up and transported to one of the muddy, icy grenade ranges. Between the time they had entered and left Raburn Hall, a monsoon had erupted and that made being outdoors extremely unpleasant. The company practiced throwing fake grenades just like they had the last time and then were taken to a different section of the range where they played with real grenades.
As a majority of the group observed, a safe distance behind, three range instructors stood with one trainee behind three steel barricades that stood four and a half feet high. The range sergeants made sure that the soldiers used a proper and correct throwing stance and that the inexperienced GIs didn't hold onto the weapon any longer than necessary after the pin was pulled. For the most part, the company did well.
The exceptions were, unfortunately, female. Kerrie Hewett had never thrown anything more lethal than a ping-pong ball. When her turn came, her apprehension only hindered the strength of her throw. Upon instruction, she let the grenade go in a wide, upward arc. When it hit the ground – six feet away – it rolled another eight inches into a huge mud puddle. The only criticism came from the tower. “Oh, shit. Everybody duck,” the voice crackled. A second later, the grenade exploded and drenched everyone with mud. Two firing orders later, Dizzy repeated Hewett's performance. Twice.
After chow in the field, the trainees were trucked to a different range where they were to qualify that afternoon. Dizzy and Hewett were herded off to the side and forced to toss big rocks until they acquired some distance in their throw.
Shannon, who was placed in the first group to qualify, breezed through the course and maxed it out. She had nailed sixty out of sixty targets and that registered her as an expert. Quite a few people had perfect scores. The art of grenade qualification turned out to be a lot easier than the trainees thought it would be.
Since the first group had to wait around for the last group to finish their qualification, the range sergeants had to occupy the trainees' time so that they wouldn't be idle. The sergeant who had been in the barricade with Hewett, decided to select six of the bored trainees and made them use their steel pots to remove water that had built up in one mud hole and move it to another mud hole. Every time a helmet full of sludge was loaded into the ‘emptier' hole, the muddier hole would fill right back up. The range instructors got a big charge out of the fruitless effort and, after a while, Shannon had to laugh, too, even though she was the first one picked for the detail. There was no way one hole would ever get empty nor would the other hole get filled. It got to a point where everyone involved got silly about it…until they had to put their steel pots back on their heads.
Holmquist had been the drill sergeant assigned to accompany Dale's firing order through the course. He was encouraging and supportive and he tried his best to keep morale up even though the weather was miserable. He kidded with Dale and told her that she had a good throwing arm “for a woman” and “Are you sure you never played pro-ball?” every time she placed a grenade exactly where it was supposed to land. At the end of the course, Dale had scored sixty out of sixty, as a majority of the group had done. Dizzy and Hewett barely made Marksman and the only reason they did was that some of their grenades rolled downhill into the target area.
The next day was Saturday. After PT, where the wind and sleet froze each trainee to the core, Captain Colton conducted a locker inspection in the barracks. Rumor had been passed around the night before that an inspection might take place so the company was prepared.
As hard as he looked, he could not find fault with Dale or Shannon on one thing. He was too anxious and they were too experienced. In fact, in the female barracks, the only infractions he could find to correct were minor, such as clothing in their personal drawer that should have been hung up as opposed to rolled up. His in-depth inspection prompted Travis to read aloud a letter she wrote to her husband, beginning with, “Dear Joey, The captain looked in my drawers today…”
The rest of the morning was spent passing the time, keeping the barracks and the other details up to standard. After noon chow and one o'clock formation, the company was marched over to the athletic field where they were told it was mandatory for them to attend a football game between the Averill Police Department and the Fort McCullough MPs.
It started out to be fun with everyone seated on the ice-cold bleachers and they cheered on men no one felt any real allegiance to. The only company drill sergeant in attendance was Putnam who disappeared once the game got underway. Dale and Shannon were both surprised to see Bishaye make an appearance and they may have been the only two to recognize her in civilian clothes.
The minute Dale spotted Anne, she paid no attention to the game. Bishaye stood off to the side of the bleachers, huddled with three people Dale did not recognize. She watched Bishaye casually interact with the two men and one woman, watched her laugh, watched her animatedly converse with her entourage and Dale felt an ache deep her heart. She remembered when Anne used to behave so lightheartedly with her. The dynamics of their friendship had changed so drastically over the past year and suddenly Dale mourned the loss of a more intimate relationship that neither existed in the past nor would ever in the future.
Bishaye stayed approximately thirty minutes, until it started to spit snow again and then she and her friends left. The flurries soon turned into a full-blown storm and within forty-five minutes, several inches of snow had accumulated. The bitterness in the air mixed with the wind and the quickly forming blizzard conditions made it quite unpleasant and uncomfortably wet. Minty and Sherlock announced that they were about to head back to the barracks and they didn't care what kind of trouble that caused. Visibility was limited to the point that no one could see the field any more, yet no one in authority had the common sense to call the game. They couldn't see the players but they could still hear them.
No drill sergeant was anywhere in sight and Shannon wondered where Putnam could have disappeared to. She exchanged looks with Dale and they stood up with Minty and Sherlock.
“Maybe one of us should search the field first to see if we can find our drill sergeant,” one of the guys sitting with them said.
“You go look for him,” Minty said and placed her scarf over her nose and mouth.
“You can't even see the field,” Sherlock said. “For all we know, they all went home and turned on a recording of a game being played and are broadcasting it over the loudspeakers.”
“That wouldn't surprise me,” Dale mumbled to Shannon.
“Listen,” Shannon spoke up so that everyone could hear her, “I think we're all in agreement that it's too brutal to stay out here in this. I think whoever wants to leave should come with us. If we march back as a group, it will look better for our lynching later.”
“Good idea,” Minty said.
Once the group of about fifty were in a formation, one of the higher ranking squad leaders, a male from Third Platoon, took command and marched them back to the Alpha company area. They were disappointed that no one of any importance was around to see the trainees return to the barracks, singing cadence and looking every bit like the soldiers the drill sergeants refused to tell them they were yet.
Later that evening, Putnam commended the group who had left the game together; a colleague had informed him of their uniformed departure. Putnam had been called away for an hour to handle a personal matter. When he returned to the game, he noticed that only about half the troops he originally brought were still there. He advised them that the only thing they should have done differently was to find a phone and call the CQ office and advise whoever was on duty that they were on their way back. Other than that, he was very pleased with their initiative.
Before he left the bay, he informed the women that on the weekend they would have a formal inspection in their Class-A uniforms and the company commander would be conducting it. When he was asked if basic training was almost over, he replied with, “According to my sources, in about two weeks.”
When he exited, a resounding cheer went through the bay that could have shaken the rafters. Dale and Shannon hooted and hollered the loudest.
Everyone did exceptionally well in the inspection. That may have been more of a surprise if a two-hour on post pass had not been the incentive. The trainees were not allowed to wear civilian clothes, drink alcohol or leave McCullough and they were all ordered to be back for an 1800 hours formation.
Dale and Shannon could not be everywhere with everyone, so they split up and each went to one of the two places a majority of the troops congregated – the Pizza Place where Dale had met with Bishaye earlier in the week and the bowling alley which was just down the street from Tenth Battalion. Two hours felt like two minutes and allowed no time for suspicious activity. The pass, as short as it was, put everyone in a good mood and was long overdue. Dale wondered if the order came down from Bishaye because the timing seemed too coincidental.
The next morning was warmer by about ten degrees, which brought the temperature up to thirty. Maybe. The accumulated snow was minimal and the trainees all commented on the heat wave as they stood in line to get clean linen.
Military coaches picked up the trainees at their usual waiting point on the north side of Tenth Battalion after formation. They were then driven to a range they had never been before, deep in the woods where marsh met solid ground and there, they would learn and practice an exercise the military called ‘Live Fire.'
In order to qualify for Live Fire, the trainees would be tested with an M16 equipped with a fully loaded clip of live ammunition, where they would move through a hundred meter course to an ‘enemy bunker' or ‘sniper.' The company would be divided into two person buddy teams and then sent on a predetermined route, using acceptable cover and concealment. They would be taught teamwork in the use of hand gestures and, if discovered, verbal signals to assist each other to overtake the bunker or capture the enemy.
“Your most important objective is to get to that bunker or sniper alive,” the range instructor told them. “That means your second most important objective is to know what you need to look for in your search for cover and concealment. You want to do everything possible not to expose you or your partner to enemy fire.
“You will be using a high crawl and a low crawl on this course.” He explained what each meant and another range sergeant demonstrated. When that was completed, the range sergeant showed the company how to rush for cover. “It should take you no longer than three to five seconds to rush for cover. If you should need longer to reach your chosen cover, hit the ground halfway across the open area and roll to either your right or your left, crawl, then got on your feet and complete your rush.”
The more the instructor spoke, the more disenchanted the trainees became. The weather had now warmed up to the point where the ground had started to thaw and it had become very slippery. Dale just knew they were going to spend the rest of the day resembling a blooper playback of a football follies parody.
The range instructor pointed out when the use of each particular crawl would be to the trainees' advantage. He then indicated surrounding nature to make another point.
“High grass, weeds, anything along those lines provide only partial concealment. It is not wise to think of these areas as helping you because movement of this sort of vegetation can be easily spotted by anyone trained to look for it. I would suggest using this kind of concealment only when you are rushing.” He paced and scanned the faces of the three platoons.
“The best cover and concealment come from using ditches, walls, ravines, gullies, trees, stumps, large rocks, fallen timber, vehicles, folds or creases in the ground, etc. Thick vegetation and rows of hedges are good for concealment but not cover. The difference is that bullets can penetrate concealment, they should not be able to penetrate cover.”
One of the male trainees put up his hand. “Sergeant?”
“Why do we have to use live ammunition?” It was a question they all wanted to ask because no one was particularly thrilled with the idea.
“Because in a war, you use real bullets,” the sergeant answered, tersely. Then he added, with a hint of a smile, “Besides, how else are we supposed to eliminate the slower trainees?”
No one in the company smiled back at him. They all discreetly eyeballed each other. They knew how badly the person who stood next to them had shot on the range.
He ended his class with emphasis on the importance of moving as a member of a buddy team. “You must stay in communication with each other. Watch your partner, talk to him, listen to him. Use your signals. Cover your buddy's movement by fire. Stay with him. This is imperative.”
Before noon chow, the trainees were assigned a buddy and provided with camouflage make-up. Another range sergeant showed the trainees how to apply loam, light colored mud, cork, charcoal, white, light green and sand colors from greasepaint sticks to their faces and necks and how to affix assorted brush to their clothes. When that was completed and they were all in full character, the mess hall trucks arrived for lunch.
Travis sat down with a full tray, next to Dale and Private Tanner, a young man who had possibly gone a bit overboard by the amount of sticks applied to his uniform. Travis studied his inventiveness and said, “I think that I shall never see a GI as lovely as a tree…” She turned to Dale. “How do I look?”
Dale looked up from her quickly cooling meal. “Great.” She looked closer and squinted. “Really great. Who are you?”
“Me. Travis.” Even she had stopped referring to herself by her married name.
“Wow. You really did a good job, Travis. I thought you were Muscatello,” Dale told her.
“Jeez, I did do a good job,” Travis said and beamed. “He's a lot taller.” She took her first bite of food. “Maybe that's what I need to do to look statuesque…paint my face four different shades of jungle tones.”
“Either that or just keep that tree trunk stuck in your steel pot.” Dale referred to the small branch she had secured to her helmet by the band.
“A bit much?”
“It might hinder your movement a bit. But you might be in real trouble if there are any deer hunters in the neighborhood. I know guys back home who would kill to hang a rack like that on their wall.”
Travis looked up, startled. “Ooh. That's a good point.” She turned to Tanner. “Hey, buddy, can you spare a twig?”
He shook his head. “Nope. But when you're done, I'll show you where I got my supply.”
Field chow finished, Dale divided and dumped her edible and non-edible trash. As she walked back to join her platoon, she saw Ritchie with Tierni, out of hearing range. Their interaction seemed very tense. At first, Tierni appeared to hold her own against him but then she burst into tears. They finally left the range together and returned an hour later. Dale wondered what that was about but figured she or Shannon would find out one way or another by the end of the day. If they could not get it straight from the horse's mouth, they would get their information elsewhere; there were too many gossips in the company.
The trainees practiced all afternoon. They ran the course several times and fired blanks and they all enjoyed it much more than they thought they would. Sherlock and Ryder ended up in a playful scuffle that looked much more like a mud wrestling match. They misinterpreted each other's signals and then got into a slightly robust discussion about which buddy was the leader. By the time they slipped and slid to the end of the course and into the bunker, they were already friends again. It was when the range instructor made them shake hands that Ryder lost her footing and took Sherlock down with her, which caused them to slide and tumble to the bottom of the course. By that time, they had collected an appreciative audience, mostly male, who began to cheer and clap. The two ‘buddies', now in a tangle of arms and legs, were giggling like schoolgirls, even though they had sustained quite a few bumps, bruises and scratches.
Everyone stopped laughing, though, when the first pair of muddied combat boots to stand before the two women belonged to the senior drill sergeant. Ritchie glared at them for only a moment, then turned and silently stalked away.
Dale and Shannon weren't the only ones who noticed he was acting peculiarly.
Dale sat on the south patio with her platoon while Shannon sat on the north patio with hers and First Platoon sat in the open area between the two patios. Two male trainees dragged the trunk that contained the weapon cleaning paraphernalia to a mutually available area so that all platoons could have access.
Dale took what she needed from the trunk and settled in a spot where she would be the most comfortable. After separating the upper and lower receivers from her M16, she removed the bolt carrier group. She fiddled with the cam pin and then looked over at Mroz. “Can you help me with this?” Dale could break down an M16 blind if she wanted to but her intention was to draw one of Tierni's friends into a conversation.
“Sure.” Mroz reached over to Dale's rifle. “You have to give it a quarter turn and lift it out easy. Like this,” she said and demonstrated.
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.” Dale smiled at her. A lot of the women had grown to dislike Mroz, including Shannon. Even Dale had to admit that Mroz could be a little overbearing at times but she still liked her. They had shared quite a few laughs since they had been at McCullough and if Dale was suddenly going to turn against somebody, there was going to be a good reason for it. Besides, at that stage of the game, alienating anyone was not a good idea.
“What I have trouble with is the hand guards,” Mroz said.
“Yeah, me, too,” Dale said. She removed the bolt, the extractor pin, then the extractor. “You're pretty close to Tierni, what was going on with her and Ritchie today?” Dale's manner was very off-hand.
“She didn't tell you?”
“No, she didn't have the chance.” Dale laid the parts of the bolt carrier group by her foot and started on the buffer assembly and the action spring. “I always break my nails or pinch my fingers on this.”
“I got a fucking blood blister from this last week.” Mroz dipped a small brush into the bore cleaner. She began to work on the dirt and the carbon deposits in the locking lugs of the bolt. “Why is this area discolored on mine and not on yours?”
“Yours was probably used more than mine. My guess is the heat did it.” Come on, Mroz, don't make me ask you about Tierni again.
“Oh, yeah, about Dee,” Mroz said, as if she'd read Dale's mind. “I don't have all the details but it has something to do with her and Silva.” Her voice was considerably softer now. “From what I understand, the MP Dispensary called the Orderly Room and left word for Tierni to come back and re-do a pregnancy test. She's been worried for about a week. Anyway, Ritchie intercepted the call.”
“So where does Silva come into it?” Dale started to scrub the extractor. “Is he the prospective daddy?”
“She and Silva spent Christmas exodus in Atlanta. Remember when McKnight blasted that around?”
“Yes, we all remember. So what business is it of Ritchie's?”
“None. He's just a dick.”
Dale and Mroz discontinued their conversation in the presence of McCoy, who was patrolling the patio. They worked silently, cleaning their bolts. When McCoy moved on to another area, Mroz resumed talking.
“Ritchie spread it around to the cadre like a dirty joke. He humiliated her,” she said, angrily, as she slapped a coat of LSA on the inner surfaces of the upper receiver.
Dale wondered what possible sick pleasure Ritchie got from mentally torturing an emotionally frail woman like Tierni. Especially when it had nothing to do with training. At least not immediately.
On the other patio, Shannon had just heard the same story from Travis, only Travis went into more detail.
“The fucker made a point to chastise her for what he called morally reprehensible behavior, then he told her it was women like her that promoted the sluttish image Army women were notorious for.”
“God, what an asshole!”
“It gets worse. Then Tierni said that Ritchie said that as long as she was being free with her body, she should smarten up and do it with someone who matters.”
“Meaning what?” Shannon asked, outraged.
“Meaning either he's looking to get laid or he's pimping for Colton. But, like Tierni said…it's her word against his.”
Shannon furiously cleaned the lower receiver components with a toothbrush and bore cleaner. Ritchie was not a nice man and Shannon prayed that he was involved in something, anything related to the case because she wanted a piece of him.
As long as the day had been already, it still wasn't over. Before evening PT, Ritchie called only the women into the Dayroom. He gave them a speech on how he was really their friend and he wanted them to come to him with their problems before they escalated into fights like the vicious brawl he had witnessed between Sherlock and Ryder that afternoon. This was news to everyone, especially both mentioned women who were seated together, still filthy.
“These kind of explosive actions will not work in the MOS you have chosen to pursue. If this kind of behavior keeps up, you will be eliminated from the program and recycled to something more suited to…your gender.” He never raised his voice but his intent was clear. He hoped his tone sounded conciliatory; instead, it came out patronizing.
The Alpha women were getting tired of hearing the same old song from him. Instead of causing them to warm up to him, he turned them colder. They didn't trust him; he had never given them a reason to and after his appalling conduct with regards to Tierni earlier, they had no faith that he had suddenly changed.
He gave them the opportunity to discuss their problems and he seemed genuinely surprised when no one spoke. The women either looked at their folded hands in their laps or the wall. When no one would engage him, especially at is most charming, he returned to his recognizable, nasty self.
“Why you ungrateful bunch of fuck-ups! I am giving you the chance of a lifetime to redeem yourselves and I can't believe you're all too stupid to take it. What do you think? We're just going to give you a free ride to LE School? You have to reach a standard of conduct and none of you, not one, have even come close. Take the telephone call I received this afternoon, for example,” He said to the sounds of disgusted sighs and barely audible growls. Remarkably, he did not react to that; he continued as though he had not even heard the dissension. “One of your barracks-mates is a slut and a careless one at that.” They knew he referred to Tierni but almost every head swiveled and looked at Dizzy. “You women disgust me. You do nothing to change the stereotype of military women. Those of you not here to entrap a husband are trying your best to be men. But none of you are trying to be soldiers and the ones who are trying are doing a piss-poor job!”
The women seethed and Dale and Shannon sat there, dumbfounded. This tirade was too much. They were used to male chauvinism in the military but Ritchie took the description to a new level. With few exceptions, neither lieutenant had ever seen a group of women try harder, especially when, for the first time, the training the women were successfully completing, was set to the male standard. Dale figured what pissed Ritchie off more than anything was that the women were doing so well despite his continued demoralization. In fact, Creed and Michaelson usually did better than their male counterparts and the senior drill sergeant never acknowledged their or any of the females' accomplishments. There had to be something Dale and Shannon could do to stop this bastard. The question was could they do it within military regulations? This was a discussion they would have to have later because either Bishaye had not confronted him or it just didn't matter.
“As for the promiscuous behavior of Private Tramp –“
Tierni stood up and left the Dayroom much to Ritchie's shock.
“Private Tierni! Get your disgusting ass back in this room! Tierni!” Ritchie looked as though several blood vessels in his head were about to burst. He slammed his hand against the wall. “You will all pay for Private Tierni's actions! If I can't get to her, maybe you all can. Since you all seem to have excess energy for fighting and sex, I guess we just aren't working you hard enough! Outside for PT! Now!”
Once he had them in formation, he ordered them to remove their field jackets, leave them on the patio and he double-timed them to the PT field. He made them do grass drills, which were exercises performed either lying or rolling around on the grass. Then he commanded them to run until he felt like quitting. He kept them out through evening chow and did not dismiss them until it was too late for them to make the last possible serving time.
Later than night, with a majority of women on the verge of tears from sheer frustration, Minty finally mentioned that Ritchie should be turned in to the IG. Sometimes her knowledge from her Army brat days was a blessing.
“What's the IG?” Caffrey asked.
“It stands for Inspector General. The IG is a military officer who investigates complaints of wrong doing within the system,” Minty said.
“Kind of like an Internal Affairs of a police department?” Dale asked, to give more relevance.
“Like Ritchie would allow us to go to anyone to complain about him,” Sherlock said, and continued to rub her feet.
“That's the good part; he can't deny a request to see the IG. I mean, he can but that would just get him in more trouble. And, who knows? Maybe by requesting to see the IG in front of Colton, he might be instantly cured of whatever is the matter with him.”
“Why? Obviously Ritchie isn't intimidated by much,” Almstead said.
“Because the IG has a lot of power and soldiers are afraid of them. My daddy used to say that fear of the IG is almost as powerful as the IG, himself.”
“Will the IG listen to us? Ritchie's been a fucking prick to us ever since the beginning and no one seems to care,” Sherlock said.
“True,” Shannon said, and jumped into the conversation so the women would not lose their momentum. “We just won't make that our major complaint because I think the military thinks we women deserve anything we get for enlisting in the first place. But he denied us chow. He can't do that, right Minty?”
The expression of realization on the majority of the women who were gathered by Sherlock's bunk was palpable. “Is that true?” Sherlock asked.
“I believe it is. Good thinking, Walker,” Minty said.
“Okay, I'm in. How do we do it?” Ryder stepped forward.
“We've got to use the chain of command because they are a real stickler for that. We make sure we tell our squad leaders who will then give us permission to go to our drill sergeants, who will let us see the First Sergeant and then we get to see Colton. We are clearly being victimized and it's the IG's job to protect our rights.” Minty looked quite proud of herself.
“I thought we didn't have any rights,” Caffrey said.
“The few rights we do have are bound by regulation. And what he did violated one of the most basic ones.” Minty looked around. “Girls, I think we might just have him by the short hairs.”
The women reacted enthusiastically. Both Dale and Shannon were happy that Minty had thought of the IG. It didn't look natural for either of them to constantly and conveniently have ‘read up on' something before they enlisted, every time someone needed to be prodded in the right direction. Asking to see the IG with Ritchie's knowledge may not have remedied the situation but they hoped it would calm him down while, also, letting Bishaye off the hook.
Shannon dried off from her shower and slipped into her sleep attire. She shut her locker and watched Tierni with growing concern. Tierni appeared to be close to the edge, with good reason. Ritchie's vicious personal attacks on her was not building her inner strength or confidence, traits she would need to make an efficient MP. Maybe Tierni wasn't cut out for law enforcement but there were other ways of discovering it without a total destruction of the woman's character. Shannon walked to Tierni's bunk.
“How are you doing?” Shannon asked.
“I'm not going to let that bastard get me down, if that's what you mean,” Tierni said with conviction.
“Good. He doesn't deserve the satisfaction.”
“Can't something be done about him spreading rumors and lies about my personal life?” Tierni started to cry again.
Shannon sat down and pulled Tierni into a hug. “You don't have a personal life, Dee, you're in the Army. And no, I don't think the five-star boys in charge give a rat's ass about your feelings.” As she comforted Tierni, Shannon wondered if the treatment of women in the military would ever improve.
Dale watched her colleague's interaction with Tierni as she sought out Kotski, who did not look well.
“You look bad, Laurel,” Dale told her, honestly.
“Love you, too, Oakes,” Kotski said, weakly.
“Seriously. You could make a ghost look tan.”
“I'm still bleeding bad,” she finally admitted.
“I figured. You need to tell somebody. You want me to get Audi?”
“No. No, I promise I will go to Sick Call tomorrow morning if it doesn't get better.”
Dale folded her arms and leaned against Kotski's locker. “Laurel…you took me into your confidence because you trust me. So trust me now and take my advice. Go see Audi tonight, before he leaves.”
“I get better when I lie down. The flow isn't so bad.” She nodded at Dale's skeptical expression. “I know. Sick Call first thing in the morning.”
“And what about joining the others to report Ritchie to the IG?”
“I'll pass. It sounds like they can nail him without my help.”
Let's hope , Dale thought. At least Bishaye would be informed of the new accusations and that would validate Dale's risky action the other day.The thought of Anne Bishaye made her heart and her head ache. She patted Kotski's shoulder and continued to the shower room .
To Be Continued
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