For us enlisted standing in formation it was par for the course with everyone standing at ease listening to the First Sergeant but for the fresh batch of young lieutenants that were newly arrived to the unit from the various places such refuse is compacted, given a gold colored bar to wear as rank and then sent out with maps to get soldiers lost it was a new experience. These young military leaders could easily be heard jumping around behind the formation trying to keep warm in their starched, brand-new uniforms and heard whispering about how damn cold they were. So when the First Sergeant finally called us to attention to have us fall out and begin that day’s duties both the NCO’s and us enlisted couldn’t help by snicker some at the genuine sighs of relief coming from behind us.
That day was spent at the motor pool doing simple maintenance on the assorted company vehicles and just trying to stay warm. For the young lieutenants playing platoon leader for the first time it was a hectic day running back and forth from offices with policy papers, duty forms, and sign-out sheets trying to become fully integrated with the unit. The snow storm, which had only gotten worse over the hour or so it took us to arrive at the motor pool, was making matters harder as they often had to go looking for their platoon sergeants to ask how something was done or if they could go to the latrine by themselves.
Being grizzled and experienced veterans many platoon sergeants get tired of offering wisdom and advice to little boys who upon receiving their gold bar signifying the rank of Second Lieutenant immediately believe they are Patton, Macarthur, or even Alexander the Great and went to great pains to legally adjust their misguided and delusional attitudes.
Sergeant Terrance Lewis was such a man. After twenty-five years of service he was as burned out as a NCO could get. Lewis had joined the army to escape a bad neighborhood full of crime and family violence only to finish training and be dropped into the middle of Vietnam with all sorts of locals trying to kill him. Well humans being a strange breed Lewis completed his year in country having survived both the locals overtly trying to kill him as well as a nasty case of VD that came close on its own and after some soul searching decided he would reenlist. Reenlistment brought a tour of duty over in beautiful Germany in which the young man found that all foreigners don’t automatically hate Americans, unless they get caught dating a young frau whose father had very 1940’s ideas.
Years later after all sorts of adventures the now tired and weary Sergeant Lewis found his closing days in the army being spent in a cold place far from his hometown Atlanta dealing which such fine examples of the American educational system as an addled brained country boy from South Carolina. Lewis found that if he gritted his teeth hard enough and his truly lovely wife kept his blood pressure medicine prescription filled he could deal with the assorted misfits that battalion personnel had assigned him. That is until Sergeant Lewis was saddled with about the worst example that the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) had let slip through the cracks.
Second Lieutenant William C. Caldwell was the only son of now retired army colonel, and combat veteran, who by all accounts had raised his son specifically for the purpose to make him a combat hero in one of America’s wars and to achieve the rank of general. That is son never should have worn the uniform much less been part of the officer corps was evident to everyone from the moment he arrived at the unit.
The poor fellow had a very short stature, was skinny and physically weak, and making things worse had such a high pitched voice that he always sounded like he was whining no matter what he said. After Caldwell had taken over duties as our platoon leader, Sergeant Lewis soon found himself not only guiding him, as was his responsibility to the inexperienced officer, but correcting the most simple and basic affairs that he should have known from his Officer Basic Course where he was suppose learn such things as drill, ceremonies, basic leadership skills, and customs to name a few. After a few months it became very apparent that Sergeant Lewis had cut the young lieutenant loose and was going to allow him to figure everything out on his own and swim or continue to be a walking example of the term FUBAR and sink.
Where I came into the picture was during that snow storm in which had a few others and myself cranking up and running our brand new humvees to charge up the batteries along with securing the interiors of the vehicles to prevent the snow from getting inside.
These humvees only had soft panel doors made of vinyl with a very primitive door handle made from about the weakest plastic available to American manufacturing. Add very cold weather and the handles would often break at the slightest touch resulting in some tiny increase in the profit margin for the corporation and I'm sure huge bonuses for some suit sitting in his corner office that thought up the idea of selling crap to the army.
Which given chance and purposeful crappy design is what happened. I accidentally broke the door handle and in a blur I was pushed out by my loyal comrades who were sitting inside the vehicle with me enjoying the one thing the manufacture got right, the heater. Knowing they would not let me back until I got the replacement I made my way to the maintenance garage to sign one out.
The motor pool was sectioned off with the other companies of the battalion each having a portion where their vehicles were lined up along with a large shipping container used to store equipment and a few tools. My quest for a new door handle would have me walking diagonally through the motor pool to reach my unit’s garage and as I was doing so I began to hear someone whistling the ABBA tune “Dancing Queen” and immediately realized that my platoon’s beloved lieutenant was walking nearby. Now if the world was fair and just no one who would openly whistle “Dancing Queen” would be allowed to possibly lead men into combat but at least I knew my ABBA loving platoon leader was close and adjusted my course to greet and salute him.