Day at the Office

Day at the Office
All Terrain Vehicle
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. - Phillppians 3:14

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gushing Water and Non Judicial Punishment

Steely Eyed Mortar Man - March 1991

The past few weeks have been a blast. I have gotten up on Saturday morning, brewed a cup of coffee, cracked open the book, Lonesome Dove, enjoyed time with my kids. Running has taken a back seat, although I still completed an 8 mile trail run the past mid morning Saturday. With that, I just don't have a plethora of info in the training/racing front.

Recently, I have caught up to someone I graduated high school with via Facebook. She is freelance writer and occasionally blogs about stories and growing up in west Texas. I am stealing a page from her book and will now from time to time, write about happenings in my past. I hope you enjoy them. So let us commence to a tale of the past. It is humorous now, but at the time...not so much!

When I originally signed up to be in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, the limited billets open consisted of being a driver for the misguided children under Uncle Sam's direction. Therefore, after Boot Camp I attended "tactical driving school" learning how to support troops in combat environments. When I enrolled at Texas A&M, I would transfer to a Marine Reserve unit in Austin Texas. The catch; it was not a transfer to a Motor Transport unit, fitting my military occupation speciality, but an infantry unit....more specifically an Infantry Company. Suited me fine as I really didn't want to be couped up in a vehicle all day, even if it was a HUMV. The down side is that the main mode of transportation for a infantry guy is the high end black Cadillacs issued and worn on the feet of the Marine.

So here I was, assigned to second platoon, Bravo Company as a basic riflemen. Even though I had graduated high in my driving class and was meritoriously promoted to Lance Corporal, these skills would never be seen while shooting. Didn't bother me a fact I dug it....Until...some admin guy made note that I had a military licence to drive darn near anything the Corps had to offer. A couple of months later, I find my-freaking-self right back behind the wheel of a HUMV driving around either the company commander Captain Tye, or the much less important (but not in his mind) Gunny Reyes. Gunny was the company Gunny and wound bout as tight as a banjo string. For nearly 2 years, I drove...supported the the company with water and food....survived on little sleep and learned to talk to the Officers on the officer level and the gunny on a kindergarten worked out.

On January 14, 1991, I had receive a phone call from the platoon sergeant. "Saddle up Dave, President Bush has scheduled a war to start tomorrow and our unit has been activated." A week later 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines found themselves at Camp Pendleton California preparing themselves for combat situations occurring in an over sized sandbox halfway around the world.

The training exercises continued and at one point, the company was to complete a 25 mile night hump. For you civilian types a "night hump" is not a title of a porno movie but a long hike to take place under the cover of darkness. I would be supporting the troops and would be driving all night. After contemplating the schedule and the available fuel left in the tank, I deemed it necessary to refuel in the motor pool. Now is good time to clarify a few things. A week prior, the Regimental commander had issued a memo that ALL UNATTENDED VEHICLES would have chock blocks placed under the back driver side wheel. It should also be noted that the military HUMV has a hand break that is manually loosened and tightened. This hand break is the only mechanical device to keep the vehicle stationary while the HUMMER is parked.

I had documented the stop in my trip ticket, thrown the notebook over on to the console area between the driver and passenger seats and went into motor pool office to talk to the dispatcher about refueling. We joked around a bit and he was filling out paperwork while we both heard a loud bang and then a very loud "gushing sound." We all ran out of the motor pool office only to find the vehicle I was driving had rolled down the hill about 75 feet and hit the only fire hydrant within 50 miles. The hydrant was broken off and the water was literally gushing, giving the HUMV under carriage a really good cleaning.....OH CRAP....or something like that.

What had happened is that the trip ticket book at hit the parking break, loosened it....and since I had not followed a direct order of Chocking the back wheel, my little humv rolled down like it was aimed right at the bulls the peak of a Southern California drought.

Needless to say the Regimental commander, Colonel SO-and-So...(I never knew his name...probably should have learned it) wanted the case to go to Regiment. Because I had been a "squared away" Marine with meritorious promotions and accommodations, Capt. Tye wanted it to stay at the company level. The compromise? Let Battalion handle it.

Major So-and-so....I don't remember his name either....wanted to make an example out of me. They took it as a Non Judicial Punishment lawyers involved. Major So-and-so yelled at me awhile, Capt. Tye and 1st Sgt. Calloway spoke on my behalf...then Major so-and-so took a months pay, restricted me to base for 45 days and suspended any promotions for 6 months. That was the worst part as I was 2 weeks out from being promoted to Corporal - non commissioned officer. He then ripped up the military drivers license in front of me telling me it would be a cold day in hell before I drive in his unit again. I responded that I had wanted to do that about 2 years ago. He didn't think that was funny, but Captain and 1st Sgt. did. I would run through hell in a gasoline suit for those two guys.

After all that was over, Captain Tye said, "it's're a hell of Marine....but you can't drive...and you don't want to be riflemen do you?" 1st Sgt and I had worked out that I wanted to be in the mortar section. I had taken a liken to those guys and I really wanted go there. 1st Sgt. speaks up and says, "Captain what bout mortars....I think he'll fit in there?" DONE...and for the next three years, I served as a 60 MM mortar man. They took me in with open arms and for my duration...made some of the best friends a guy could have. Oh, there are stories to tell there but that is for another day. Bravo Company Mortar team called themselves the TATANKA tribe...the Indian name for Buffalo..(another story for another time) and each member had an Indian name....given by the don't have much's given.

My Name...GUSHING WATER...go figure.

After my Company Commander, Captain Tye read this, he decided to document his point of view.   This documentation is as follows:

I remember well when this happened. 1stSgt Callaway walks into my hooch and goes, “Sir, we got a problem.”

“Yeah, 1stSgt?”

“Elliott ran over one of those water things.”

I’m thinking, “WTF? Water things? A fire hose? A water buffalo? The Pacific Ocean?” The possibilities are almost endless at Camp Pendleton, even in the middle of the worst drought in 20 years. “What kind of a water thing, 1st Sgt? Something in the motor pool?”

“No, sir. He didn’t chock his vehicle. It ran down the hill and hit a fire hydrant.”

I go ballistic for about two minutes. A fire hydrant?? Callaway keeps trying to say something, but he can’t get a word in edgewise. For a couple of days now, he’s been on me to transfer you to the mortar section. He’s about got me convinced, but I want another driver before I lose you. We’re negotiating the final terms, and all we needed were a couple of more days for a replacement driver. You’d already been driving for far too long, and it was time to move you over where you could be a grunt, and get some NCO leadership skills exercised. This is probably going to F- that up big time, and after all of the time that you’ve been driving, with a spotless driving record. Well, spotless as far as I knew, and no one else was going to say anything about it.

After Callaway peels me off of the ceiling, he reminds me about Regiment’s recent edict about chocking vehicles. I’m back on the ceiling again for another couple of minutes. I wasn’t a big fan of Regt in those days for a couple of reasons.

Callaway lets me run out of gas, and we sat there for a minute. I said that we’ll just handle it ourselves at Company NJP.

Callaway says, “Well, sir, let’s do it. I’ll go sell it to the Battalion Sergeant Major, and you talk to the Battalion Commander. We’ll cut the deal and handle it at our level.” We look at each other and nod.

Then he says, “But damn, sir. You shoulda seen it. It looked like a mini Old F’ing Faithful or something.” Which cracks us both up pretty good. We’re laughing our asses off about it. It’s really not funny, but the only thing that got damaged was a fire hydrant. Hell, we’ve blown up a lot worse than that. We figure we can dodge this bullet, so…

Callaway talks to the Bn SgtMaj. SgtMaj says, “No.” Callaway goes into his best sales job mode, “he’s a good Marine,” etc. “No.” Then Callaway gets pissed off about the whole situation, makes it really clear to the SgtMaj what he thinks about things. SgtMaj says good luck, but it’s not gonna happen. Regt really has a hard on with this one, especially since there have already been a number of accidents. Plus the Regt Cdr just issued his edict about chocking wheels a couple of days before the accident or something.

Callaway hunts me down as I’m on my way to find the Bn Cdr, gives me the scoop with what happened with the SgtMaj. I’m mildly irritated, but Tom Peeler’s the Bn Cdr, and there’s a lot of history between the two of us. I figure he won’t like it, but he’ll kick it over to me anyway, and then he’ll fade the heat from Regt for not referring it upstairs.

I go to find Peeler. He’s out. Gone. Emergency leave or something for a week or so; I can’t remember now, just that he wasn’t available. But I know the Major who’s Acting Bn Cdr pretty well, too, so I figure we can still work it out. I start talking to him, and he won’t budge on it. He’s referring it to Regt, per Regt’s direction. And he won’t let it wait until Peeler comes back, because Regt wants it up to them immediately; the Regt Cdr wants it handled at the Regimental level.

The Major-Who-Shall-Remain-UnNamed starts explaining “the situation” to me. I start explaining it back to him. I tell him that you’re a Marine that I’d take into combat with me any day, and I’ll hammer the crap out of you at Company NJP. I tell him I’ll also chew out the 1stSgt, the Company Gunny, your Platoon Commander, Squad Leader, Fireteam Leader and everybody else within two degrees of separation of your chain of command. Everybody will be happy that this good Marine got his ass handed to him at NJP because of one minor f-ing accident in years of safe driving.

I don’t tell him that Callaway and I have already decided that I’d give you a 6-month suspension, and if you didn’t have any more vehicle accidents within that time, that everything would go away. Clean record. And the day after NJP, your butt would be in the mortar section, humping a mortar baseplate. We could make that look like part of the punishment. You wouldn’t be driving anymore, so you sure as hell wouldn’t have any more accidents with a military vehicle. A clean-record, no-driving, mortar man.

I said that I thought the Regt Cdr was off on some boondoggle somewhere anyway, and what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. The Major is adamant about it. I engaged my call sign, Frag. As in, it takes six seconds for a grenade fuse to go off, and that’s about how long you’ve got to get something unscrewed before I go off. He let me go off.

A few minutes later, the Major-Who-Shall-Remain-UnNamed said something like, “Captains don’t usually talk to Majors like that, and you shouldn’t speak so loudly like that about Regiment. You never know who might come walking by. How about if I handle it, and we’ll take it middle of the road? He won’t get off easy, but it won’t be as bad as it could be. Regt will have to be satisfied with what they get.” The Major really was a pretty good guy, too, so he took some heat for not kicking it to Regt.

Anyway, you got moderately hammered, and Callaway and I had a drink about it afterwards. You ended up in mortars anyway, and you seem to have recovered pretty well from the experience.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lucky to be an American!

In this time of gratitude, I think God for making me a US Marine, A Fightn' Texas Aggie, A Native Texan...and most of all, an American. Baxter Black says it best. God bless Texas and God bless the U.S.A. nuff said.

Monday, November 9, 2009

These are the Times that Try Men's Souls...

August 1988 - Marine Corps Recruit Depot (aka Boot Camp) San Diego CA

In a dimly lit corner of Tun Tavern, on November 10, 1775, Uncle Sam recruited it first misguide child...and thus was born your beloved United States Marine Corps. A day later this great country will celebrate and remember the veterans of the Armed Services who fight the tireless fight of keeping the Wolf of the Door Step for over 233 years. Men far greater than I, who fought for freedom and liberty. Men like my Great Uncle Roy Andrews, who served in WWI and at age 45 reenlisted to fight in the South Pacific in WWII. (He lied about his age when he jump onto a Naval Ship.) By the way, both his sons went off to war as well, leaving Aunt Gladis to rely on the Lord Almighty for her entire family's protection.

The enemy has changed and evolved, from the British, to each other in the War between the states, to Nazis and Japanese, Communist Soviet Union, to the militant Jihadist.

Oh how the past week we were reminded that Jihad is ever present as an actual Army Major, sworn to protect U.S. Citizens from enemies both foreign and domestic, opened fire in Fort Hood killing 13 of America's finest.

Add political correctness to that enemy lists.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan openly became an Islamic extremist, attempting to contact Al Qaeda, and posted on websites voicing his praise to suicide bombers comparing them to Marines falling on grenades protecting their own. The Army admitted that the Scum was under investigation for months and communicated 10 to 20 times with a radical imam overseas who in the past came under scrutiny for possible links to terror groups. They say the communications began last year and continued into this year between Hasan and the imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, and that U.S. officials had been aware of them since last year. Anwar al-Awlaki hearled Hasas as a hero for such actions.

Why was he not gone?! WHY? Was it because the Army Brass was more afraid of ruffling feathers and political correctness by singling out an Army officer of the Muslim faith. Was the lack of reaction because the fear of "profiling"...because of political correctness. Have we reached such depths that we are more concerned with our careers rather that doing the right thing. What do you say to the families of the 13 deceased? My heart is heavy.

On Wednesday, we will remember those fallen soldiers. The emotions are still too raw not to.

This past weekend, about 20 minutes from my house, was a Civil War reenactment. I took my Cub Scout Den of 8 year old boys to witness history. The boys loved it, hearing the cannons going off, seeing the soldiers muster in formation, seeing the Cavalry gallop across the battlefield. For an hour the battle raged on as the troops continued to fight. The gun smoke hung around the ground, emanating an eerie feeling of death and anguish. Yes, the Civil War was a dark period of U.S. History...much like last week. As they closed the battle with the bugler playing TAPS, my mind turned to those soldiers that wore the blue and the gray uniforms. Whose service they gave as well. It is hard to imagine brother against brother and yet this country still remains.

I love this country....THANK YOU US Serviceman...for these are the times that try men's souls.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

R&R and Celebrating

I once again have succumbed to delinquency in posting on this thing. Really are you interested in what has be going on in Team Elliott's lives...well if you are, God Bless Ya.

Two and half weeks ago the Palo Duro 50 miler was completed...and for those past two and half weeks I have run a total of 20 miles. Ok...I went to spin class twice too. I really didn't realize how much was taken out of the body...but I am slowly coming back, being rejuvenated. This past Saturday morning, I was up at about 0630....I had a cup of coffee, I read a bit...and when my kids got up, we hung out. I honestly don't know when was the last Saturday I did that. Now, don't think I totally mailed it in. Later that morning I did run 3 miles and then go to an hour long spin class.

A week and half ago the weekend consisted of going on the Y Princess camp out with my 6 year old daughter, Macy. I didn't have sisters and so sometimes it is a challenge for me to really relate to my girls. I try...and I am getting better. Camping with them helps this. Macy is my contemplative and somewhat shy girl. But in the past few months my wife and I have noticed that she is opening up and becoming much more social. Weekends like this is what I live for. She shines when we talk about the weekend...the marshmallow stickiness left behind on the fingertips after savoring a smore, the giggling with the other girls trying to tell ghost stories, hearing the ping of the BB hitting the can after a careful aimed shot...and even the slight embarrassment after falling of the pier into a frigid lake. There is no disappointment in not catching fish because we are outdoors with friends. Nope, running is not on the forefront. I am celebrating my daughter's achievements.


"Dad are we going to catch anything?"

Toweling off after falling in Lake

This past weekend was the Cactus Rose 50 mile/100 mile Ultramarathon trial race in Bandera Texas. Originally I was suppose to pace Dmitry but those plans had to be amended. He had dropped at the 55 mile marker last year. Oh do I know the feeling of unfinished business left on some godforsaken trail where pain and anguish is not unfamiliar. I woke up in the middle of Saturday night and said a quick prayer for all the runners but for Dmitry in particular. He would be in the lonely darkness where real demons would haunt on that Halloween night. After 31 hours of relentless forward motion, Dmity slayed those demons when Joe Prusaitis handed him his finisher's buckle.

My friend Fred Thompson would be attempting his first 100 mile finish. Some really seasoned ultrarunners described his efforts as heroic and were emotional watching Fred cross the finish line 36 hours and 22 minutes after commencing. His pacer at mile 90 was "scared" because of the poor condition Fred was in at the time. I have yet to discuss with Fred how dark the world got that Halloween night. But I have talked with friends that were there. Fred may only want to embrace those cold dark corners of his mind when time has placed a chasm between that night and a bright Spring morning. Back spasms made forward movement most painful and at times impossible. Ascending up Lucky Hill was more that what the mind and body could ask for. Falling, getting up...and falling again, but never staying down. Fred triumphed greatly. Some even wept at his victory.

Fred early in the day

Mile 85 - The looks on Char's and David's face do not show the deep concern they have at this point.

Barely moving as the Back Spasms take hold...such things happen when your on your feet for 36 hours.

Fred's is DONE!...and being aided by his wife Char.

Fred showing his Finisher's buckle...with his Pacer, Annie who spent 15 hours with Fred....and you thought you wanted to Pace ;-)

Oh I am proud of my accomplishments. I celebrate them. But these last two weeks it has been equally sweet to celebrate the great achievements of others. Hitting the empty can with a BB gun, destroying the demons that haunts the runner of past failures on a lonely Texas trail, or the great triumphs of a first 100 mile attempt that inspires my soul. Life has been grand these last two weeks...and running is looking good again too.