30. I Was Wrong

I Was Wrong

Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. 

Psalm‬ ‭141:5‬

***Read 29. Oorah, Corporal first if you haven’t.***

Expecting a relatively immediate response as any proper greeting would receive, it took my foggy mind some time to notice something wasn’t right. Rather than receiving a greeting in return I received only silence. Though the silence lasted only a few seconds, in those few seconds I began to sense something had gone terribly wrong.

I felt the temperature slowly rising, as if what accompanied the opening of the door and my greeting was a back draft of the very essence of a dumbfounded, exasperated, and confounded proclamation of “What…the…fuck?”

After an unbearable delay, the rise in climate that seemed to singe the hairs on the back of my neck due to a seething, still-silent person standing in the doorway finally was detectable to my dull senses. So I peered toward the door, glancing first at the ground and then boots, then working my way up I saw a flak jacket emblazoned with none other than a captain’s insignia. That insignia struck fear into my soul.

The captain bars at that point more resembled a wrung of train tracks, which I would have gladly hobbled on to as a 180-ton freight train turned me into a pink puddle just to avoid this current circumstance. My foot was not in my mouth at this point; no, it was now partially digested in my duodenum. Mistakenly calling a Sergeant a Corporal is a ghastly offense deserving of at least a verbal beating. To mislabel any officer such as I did, let alone an O-3, is about as insane as mistaking the President for your home boy and greeting him by saying “‘Sup dawg!”

No sooner than I looked at Captain’s Smith’s face did I shamefully turn away, looking back out the window as I quiveringly said, “Uh, sorry sir, I thought you were Corporal Trushkov.”

He calmly responded. “What do you think Corporal Trushkov would do if he saw you weren’t wearing your ballistic eye protection?”

At that point I realized my eye pro was still resting on my flak and I hastily removed it and placed it on my face.

“He would probably fuck us up pretty bad, sir,” Tumath said.

I wondered what Tumath was thinking in the midst of all this. I just called Captain Smith a Corporal, and he now found us without our eye protection on.

“Why is the PAS-13 Pelican case in the middle of post? Were you sitting on it?” Detective Smith probed as he observed the awkwardly positioned case, which could have—and did—easily function as a makeshift chair. I was taken aback, realizing that we had not only neglected to put on our eye protection but had also failed to stow away a sizable black box during the brief moments we had for preparation.

I didn’t want to lie, so I kept silent.

“No sir, we left it out from doing numbers1 earlier,” Tumath replied.

“Numbers? It is nearly 1100. Numbers should have been done when you assumed post.”

“Yes sir,” was all that Tumath could come up with after such an inquiry.

Captain Smith’s inspection didn’t last long. In the midst of it all, he remained professional and calm, though I can only imagine what must have been going on in his mind at that point. As an officer, he expected to be greeted as such, and to see two attentive Marines standing post with their gear on. Instead, he witnessed our undisciplined negligence, was greeted as a corporal and lied to by two idiots without their eye protection on. A lesser man would have exploded in fury with multiple popped blood vessels. This was an ultimate test of bearing for him; one in which he passed with flying colors.

After saying a few more brief words, he walked off post. Once he exited, Captain Smith stepped beyond earshot and flipped open his cell phone. Cell phones in the restricted area are not allowed and only issued to authorized personnel for limited use. Seeing him pull his phone out, an unusual act after departing our post, caused us both to worry. Most likely he was sealing our death sentence by informing Corporal Trushkov off what just transpired.

He did indeed call Corporal Trushkov.

“Corporal T, we have a problem,” Captain Smith said.

“What’s going on, sir?”

“During my inspection of their, I stepped out of the van and saw Lance Corporal Tumath sitting on the PAS 13-Delta case with his Kevlar off and flak jacket open and neither he nor Lance Corporal Decoupcrank were wearing eye protection.” Corporal Trushkov was speechless. “Stand by in my office. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

“Roger.”

When Captain Smith arrived at the main building, he met the Corporal who was nonchalantly sipping his coffee, calmly concealing his brooding bloodlust.

“So how did this bullshit happen sir?”

Captain Smith sighed as he removed his gear and sat down at his desk. “I guess I’m a corporal too.”

With a confused look on his face, Corporal Trushkov responded simply with, “Sir?”

“To top it all off, when I entered their post Lance Corporal Decoupcrank said, ‘Oorah Corporal.’”

His eyes widened with disbelief. “The hell? We’re they smoking fucking weed on post too?”

“Hah, no, thankfully not. When I asked if they were sitting on post, Lance Corporal Tumath lied. He told me they left it out during numbers.”

Nothing more needed to be said. With thinly veiled anger now gathering on Corporal Trushkov’s face in a focused death glare, he said, “Oh, those motherfuckers.”

As Corporal Trushkov turned to exit the office, Captain Smith spoke up.

“Corporal T,” he turned to lock eyes with the platoon commander. Intimately aware of the hell an NCO can unleash at the behest of a displeased officer, with a subtle, sympathetic smile, Captain Smith added, “No broken bones please.”

“Roger that, sir.”

Somehow after Captain Smith left post, Tumath and I fooled ourselves into thinking that maybe we would be all right and nothing would happen to us. After all, there was no hint of rage in his demeanor despite our triple failure compounded by an insult for a greeting. For the remainder of post, after spending about fifteen minutes worrying about what might happen to us, we simply forgot about any possible retributive action and we continued to watch the waterfront. It wasn’t until we heard over the radio that our post was going to be relieved first that our fears of discipline returned, because our position was always relieved last during changeover.

A little while later, Lance Corporal Craft, who was to relieve us, walked inside. His face showed a complexity of emotion: half grinning with morbid curiosity and half bewildered and sorry for what was about to happen to us. He with his nasally southern accent that sounded like a hillbilly version of Steve Urkel exclaimed, “Y’all ‘re ‘bout to get fucked up!”

Reality sunk in as Corporal Trushkov burst through the door, slamming Tumath against the corner of the post and screaming at him. He effectively translated Captain Smith’s calm officer demeanor into the NCO language of abrasive and brute force.

After the changeover racket, we were forced to sprint to the end of the pier with our gas masks on. My helmet jostled me as it tugged my head from the chinstrap. Fearful thoughts rattled in my shaking head while my legs, like oars worthlessly advancing a sailboat on a windless day, languished through a devastating sprint.

Upon arrival at the main building, we were ordered to run up to the roof and drop our gear. When we arrived, I noticed wrestling mats spread out in front of us. Captain Smith observed as Corporal Trushkov stood in boots and utes with two cloth rags in his hands. The raging Russian got in our faces.

“You’ve got two options. Either we write you up2 for abandoning your post, or you swallow the mass of shit we’re about to drown you in. What’ll it be?!”

“I’ll take the shit Corporal,” Tumath replied

“Me too, Corporal.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” he said with a grin. “I was hoping I could fuck you up for pulling this shit.” 

Captain Smith then outlined the rationale behind our first challenge.

“Gentlemen, this first lesson will teach you the importance of eye protection. Now you will know what it’s like to fight without sight.” 

“Take off your blouse,” Corporal Trushkov ordered. Once we shed this layer, he continued. “Put these on.” He handed each of us blindfolds. We tied them around our eyes. “Tumath, get on your fuckin’ knees!”

Once Captain Smith said “Go,” I heard a flurry of scuffling on the mats. Within seconds and a few of Tumath’s gasps, I heard him tapping on the mat and he was released. 

“It’s your turn motherfucker,” Corporal Trushkov said.

I found the mat and planted my knees. At Captain Smith’s word, Corporal Trushkov pounced. Sweeping arms wrapped my shoulders as he rounded my left side. I remained erect for a few seconds as I matched his motion, though I couldn’t keep up. He deflected my blind scraps attempting to get a grip on him before his arm sunk around my neck. Once I tapped, he threw me down.

We switched again. As each round progressed I fought harder and harder, though my blind efforts stood no chance against a stronger man with sight. Each of us dueled the raging bull some five rounds before we were ordered to stand for our next brief.

“Next,” Captain Smith continued, “Because you effectively abandoned your post by sitting with your gear off and had no situational awareness when I arrived, you will now be required to reinforce each post for five minutes.”

Hmm, this doesn’t seem so bad, I thought.

“However, you will travel between posts on foot.” 

Never mind. This is going to suck.

“Your team will follow behind you in the Bearcat. Fill up your camel backs. You’ll need the water.”

And so we walked. Jogging was not an option. Three of the outposts were perhaps three miles apart after zigzagging between them in the most efficient order. Then, the final post, the one we were just relieved from, was roughly another three miles away, and between point A and B towered an arduous ascent.

Between the travel and reinforcement time we trudged our sopping bodies to and fro for at least four hours. When I took off my gear, a cold, sweaty imprint on my torso remained where my flak jacket used to be. My legs shook and calves locked up with cramps as I slowly wandered my way to the chow hall. 

Once we finished eating, we were instructed to meet Sergeant Kill3 in his office. Captain Smith must have notified him we’d suffered enough because this was the only time he spoke to me with a hint of fatherly compassion.

“So, tell me what you’ve learned from all this,” Sergeant Kill asked with pejorative inflections in his tone. Tumath spoke first.

“I’m going to stand up keep my gear on and wear my eye pro from now on, sergeant.”

“Hmm, okay.” Sergeant Kill turned towards me. “And you?”

I was cut to the heart. My quivering lip was unable to prevent the pressure in my throat from gushing out. “I’m sorry sergeant,” I began crying, “I’ve let my platoon down, I’ve let you down, Corporal Trushkov, and especially Captain Smith.” I regained some composure before continuing. “If you can’t trust me with the little things like wearing our gear properly or staying alert on post, how could you trust us when it really matters? I’m going to fight to earn everyone’s trust again.”

“Very well. You are dismissed.”

Even though the worst was over, I feared I’d forever have a mark on my head, beckoning all the senior guys to single me out as the platoon shitbag. Usually, once clearly identified as a turd, the stench never leaves and every minute error provides ample reason for a vengeful Marine to unleash layer after layer of hell. Although the guys never stopped giving me shit for calling Captain Smith a corporal, my fears of being subjected to eternal spite were thankfully proven wrong.

  1. Upon assuming post, numbers was always performed. This entails a log of the status of post upon entry, including all the gear and serial numbers and who was relieved from post and who assumed post.
  2.  Getting written up could mean any number of things. At that time most common form was called a Page 11, and likely would have been given to us. A Page 11 is simply a formal counseling but does stick on a service member’s record.
  3. Not his real name. See post 28. Sergeant (From Hell) for more on him.

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