Saturday, July 30, 2011
Early in March of 1990 Specialist Chuck McKenzie arrived at Fort Carson, Colorado with a group of other soldiers returning stateside after spending a year stationed in South Korea. For those of us already assigned to Alpha Battery of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Battalion our first impressions of him were underwhelming to say the least. Unfortunately, after being assigned to my Stinger platoon my cohorts and me soon learned our first appraisal of the short and obnoxious dude was a gross underestimate of his true nature.
Right from the start it was obvious McKenzie was a supreme kiss ass looking to score as many brownie points as possible with any officer or senior noncommissioned officer that made the mistake of talking with him for more than twenty-seconds. Believe it or not kissing ass is actually an underappreciated form of art and McKenzie was so blatantly bad at it, he quickly became a joke to most of the leadership in the battalion. Whenever he appeared with his customary greasy smile after a few minutes of tolerating his latest ravings, he would be dismissed and become the butt of several minutes worth of bad jokes.
If that was McKenzie’s only fault the rest of my platoon would have quickly forced him to adapt to a more proper form of behavior, but after realizing he failed at brown-nosing the decent officers, he took a different tact and became a snitch to those in the battalion leadership like him. Holding the junior enlisted rank of specialist, a non-leadership position between a Private First Class and Sergeant, he never the less had some influence with the privates under him and he used it to the fullest by squealing on them whenever he spotted the smallest infraction.
At that point in time I held the rank of corporal, the same pay grade as specialist but it is a noncommissioned officer rank and has more weight, so McKenzie was of little concern to me. In fact, right from the start both McKenzie and I knew instinctively we disliked each other and because of my leadership rank and size he made a point of avoiding me. Which was fine with me, my enlistment would be over in July of that year and I planned on leaving the army, going home, and attending college. McKenzie on the other hand had dreams of becoming Command Sergeant Major of the Army, the highest enlisted rank possible, and bored everyone to the point of suicide talking about what he would do when he held so much power and prestige.
As much as I did not give a damn about him and liked the fact I could ignore his ass, sadly when you are in the same platoon with someone you eventually have to interact with them no matter how much of an ignorant twit they can be. That day came when I was in the battery offices on business and was snagged by the First Sergeant and ordered to give McKenzie a ride home because his own car had broken down. When the top enlisted dog in your unit tells you to jump, you immediately jump right then and hope to God you go as high and fast as he wants.
After McKenzie took his sweet damn time getting his gear together we loaded up in my car and headed off post with me hoping the twit lived nearby. He did not, but while on the long drive out in the boonies, I made a remarkable discovery.
The South is heavily blamed for its overabundance of ignorant rednecks, while many rednecks seemly do talk with a southern drawl during my forced company with McKenzie I discovered that there is such a thing as a Yankee redneck. As we attempted to carry on a conversation in my car, I learned he was from Indiana and that his hometown was South Bend. For exactly twenty minutes, I actually considered the possibility that McKenzie was not such a bad guy as he told me great things about the place he grew up. McKenzie was even polite enough to act like he was listening when I started describing my hometown of Georgetown, South Carolina. The problem came when out of the blue he asked me if southerners had indoor plumbing now or did we still go to the bathroom in things like outhouses.
I realize I have tons of faults and that I am ignorant of many things but the utter stupid nature of his question was so mind blowing that I was stunned for several second when I realized he was seriously asking. Top it all off when I assured him that the vast majority of southerners not only had indoor plumbing but such a thing as water heaters he looked dubious. Even worse when the conversation drifted over to other members of our platoon when McKenzie asked me about one of my friends, Jody Vaught, I explained that Jody would be soon leaving the army to return to college so he could become a psychologist. Somehow, McKenzie confused “psychologist” for “psychic” leaving me to explain for the last segment of my torture of driving him home the difference between the two. My relationship with McKenzie only went downhill from there.
By then I had no desire as I once did to pursue the army as a career and had long given up trying to achieve higher rank. I have no idea how they may do it now but back in the late 80’s the active army had a points system for awarding rank starting at sergeant and higher. Despite it all and like some lame April Fools ’ Day joke I somehow had enough points and found myself on the promotion list the first day of that month. Sadly, for McKenzie despite all his ass kissing and pronunciations of his imminent advancement from the day he arrived at Fort Carson he was not. The day they pinned the sergeants stripes (E-5) on my collar I could see his skin tone was a bright puke-pea green and that our casual dislike had blossomed into a fine growing hate. It was the fact that after only six months on the list I made sergeant while McKenzie was on it for close to two years had a lot to do with it.
The very next month McKenzie made sergeant (E-5) and word quickly got back to me that in a fit of supreme and unjustified arrogance he declared that I was one of the people in the Stinger Platoon he was going to see do an actual day’s work. Like the heat seeking Stinger missile I was trained to fire, I searched out that bastard and with him pushed up against a storage container I informed him I had him on time in grade, meaning I still slightly outranked him, and that he could kiss my short timer ass. The little weasel then ran off to our platoon sergeant who informed him just to leave me alone. McKenzie’s overblown idea of superiority did get the best of himself before I left earning him the award of the biggest fool of record.
Late in May my air defense battalion had our annual live fire exercise where we wasted a couple of million dollars in taxpayer funds launching what amounted to thirty-foot bottle rockets that we shot down with live Stinger missiles. It was great training and second only to skydiving as having as much fun possible with your clothes on. The results afterward were several brushfires downrange that threatened to explode into full-fledged uncontrolled wildfires. My platoon sergeant was in charge of range control during that exercise and formed up six teams with the new sergeants like McKenzie and myself in charge and after putting us in humvees sent us off to fight the fires.
Several hours later, all six teams had returned but there were only five vehicles back at the firing point. Sometime while the teams were fighting the fires, McKenzie sent half of his people to help another sergeant then for some reason a little later parked his humvee and with the other half of his team got on another sergeant’s vehicle leaving his behind. In the process, he forgot where he parked his humvee. Making matter worse after a couple of hours of searching the sun had set behind the nearby mountains and it was pitch black night with no moon in the sky offering up any pale illumination.
McKenzie by his actions had long since made his bed with the other members of the platoon and we all ragged him senseless over loosing an object as freaking large as a damn humvee. It took hours of driving around and looking but sometime a little after midnight someone in one of the remaining five vehicles spotted the missing humvee behind a cluster of bushes.
For McKenzie this was just slight bump in the road to further ass kissing and glory, within days he had forgotten the incident and after a while, even the other members of the platoon stopped messing with him over the issue even though his misplacement of a humvee became something of a legend in the battalion. Now my relationship with the twit stayed the same, we hated each other for different reasons but because of army protocol had to be civil and at least respect the rank we both held. That still did not prevent us from messing with each other covertly.
As my last day in the United States Army rapidly approached, I started receiving good-natured razing from everyone in the unit in an attempt to get me to reenlist. Feeling what was then an unusual need to twist the proverbial knife in McKenzie one last time I went out an acquired a twenty-foot length of thin nylon cord, somehow the evil little demon in my head said it was certain to bring down the house.
Soldiers and Marines carry a bunch of small pieces of equipment like compasses, extra ammo, a side arm, canteen, and back in my day a codebook containing radio frequencies that allowed a person to access the communications network. We kept it all close by storing it on something called our LBE, or Load Bearing Equipment, which was a belt connected to a harness that came over our shoulders. Since the codebook, sidearm, and compass were vital items that needed to be secured at all times they were often attached to something called a “dummy cord,” a length of thin nylon cord that was secured to the equipment on one end and the LBE a soldier wears on the other.
Like one of those strange events where the planets and stars have to properly align along with the moon being a deep blue both the battalion commander and the battalion sergeant major showed the day I got McKenzie for the last time. It was late afternoon, close to end of the day and my entire platoon were just hanging around the motor pool waiting for final formation. The battalion commander was talking with me about the huge reenlistment bonus I could receive for another four years commitment. Feeling left out McKenzie decided to chime in about how much I would be missed the resulting sarcasm apparent to everyone. Remembering the cord was nearby I quickly grabbed it telling everyone I had a going away present for McKenzie and the rest of the platoon.
Strangely enough, McKenzie truly looked puzzled as I handed him the twenty-foot piece of nylon cord but everyone else was as silent as the dead. “What’s this for?” he asked dumbfounded.
“Sergeant McKenzie,” I said as formally as possible, “this dummy cord is a token of our friendship and it is for you to attach to your vehicle so you never have to go look for your humvee in the middle of the night ever again.”
For a few seconds the silence hung in the air like a lead weight being dropped, when the laughter hit every member of the platoon, the platoon sergeant, and battalion commander had tears rolling down their eyes. The battalion sergeant major was laughing so hard he was hunched over the hood of a humvee trying to catch his breath.
McKenzie’s face turned a deep shade of red with him turning completely around looking at everyone while trying to figure out what to do. Eventually he stormed off and surprisingly gave me a gift in return, for the three weeks that remained of my enlistment he stayed completely out of my sight.