Sarge and Gunny had phoned their buddy over the weekend so he was primed and ready when we arrived. That battery of tests they told me about were administered to me but I wasn’t told the results, at least not right away. All I could get out of the three of them was, “you did good, kid.” Other than a physical we polished off all the paperwork including my enlistment options and the copy and filing of the four letters Gunny and Sarge had been holding for me. Their buddy didn’t say a word about them, he just smiled and gave Sarge a thumbs up.
By the time we finished everything it was getting to be late in the day. They and their buddy took me out and we all had dinner together. That was when I learned a bit more about my testing. I did well enough that once I was in Basic, if I proved to do as well with the physical things as I did with the mental ones then the odds were fairly good that I might be moved into a company which was either in the end of phase two or beginning phase three.
“If that happens, kid, your new DIs won’t be at all happy. Look for a bit more shit to drop on you until you can prove yourself in their eyes. They’ll also spend some time talking to your old company to see just why you were dropped in on them. It usually happens because the recruit is a fuck up and his old company wanted him out before he tainted everyone else, but once in a while the reverse is true and they really are pushing someone up the line instead of down. Not often enough that anyone believes it when they’re told that’s the reason.”
“It won’t make a lot of difference if you prove yourself in the first week at that second company and if you wind up in phase three it will all be over before they have a chance to figure it out. They won’t be happy because all the buddy teams will already exist so you might wind up playing the game by yourself and that won’t be too much fun during your final exercises. Right after that will be when they’ll call everyone in one at a time to have you receive your orders. Whatever you do, don’t accept them. Instead hand your company commander a copy of your enlistment training guarantee. They have to accept it. It’s a set of orders which predate anything they will try to give to you and if you don’t accept theirs then they have to abide by those which you hand to them. Here, these are the ones you don’t want to lose. Keep an extra set on your person at all times as well as in the personal space of your footlocker. You might keep a couple of extra sets around at home, too. That way if the one in your footlocker ‘disappears’ you can have another one sent to you from home.”
“Yeah. Sometimes shit happens. But you’ll have Me, Sarge and Chester here all checking up on you. If they move you to another company mid-training, immediately let us know where they sent you.”
Well, it wasn’t as bad as they had outlined to me. I eventually found myself on a bus headed for camp. Mom, of course, had been trying to hold a stiff upper lip but just before I got on the bus she broke down and Dad had to lead her back to the car.
Eventually we arrived at camp and it was pretty much like what Gunny and the Sarge had explained to me. For some inexplicable reason they gave me the battery of tests all over again despite my having already taken them. It was late afternoon of the third day when they moved us up to our company. That had happened sooner than usual as I heard it, and we barely had time to drop our duffles before they had us out on the company grounds forming up so we could be put through the chow line. Once we finished chow we were sent back to our platoon bays to settle in.
The next morning bright and early we went on a slow jaunt around the five companies which made up this battalion. Supposedly it was only about a mile but by the time we returned for breakfast nearly a third of the guys were wheezing and we had four who had dropped out and needed to be nursemaided through the course by a drill corporal. Most of those guys were so overweight I was surprised they could carry themselves much less jog. I wondered what they would do once we began running. Not long after chow we formed ranks again and were off to an exercise ground for some PT. So far none of this had been a test of my physical condition but that was about to change.
“You! Private! What’s your name?”
“Lyon, Sergeant.” I yelled back.
“I know you’re lying, private. But I want your last name.”
“Stevens, Sergeant.” I yelled again.
“Are you making fun of me, recruit? I don’t like people who make fun of me. Down and give me twenty. Count ‘em off as you come up for air.”
I was down beginning my push-ups, “One... Two...” but by the time I reached five he had one of the other recruits sitting on my back which made me glad I could pull a full two hundred. By the time I made it to twenty it felt like two hundred.
“Get back in that line where you belong, private.” He yelled at me.
“Yes, Sergeant.” I yelled back, beginning to think this might not be such an easy training session as I had hoped.
“You breathing hard, private?”
“Then get down and give me twenty more.”
At least I wasn’t the only one singled out for this attention. It was happening all over the place and the others weren’t just standing around watching those of us who were singled out. Everyone had something to be doing so we all felt miserable.
I finished the second twenty with somewhat greater ease than the first since there was no one sitting on my back this time.
“You breathing hard yet, private?”
I was trying to figure out what it was he had against me in particular when it dawned on me that my slight figure was likely sticking in his craw a bit.
“Yes, Sergeant.” I answered trying to look like I was breathing a bit harder.
“Let’s see if you can manage twenty more then.”
He was obviously trying to break me in front of everyone else.
I began to do the push-ups alternating one arm and then the other.
“Did I tell you to show off, private?”
“What do we do with people who want to show off?”
“I don’t know, Sergeant.”
“We give them extra push-ups, private. That’s what we do. I want to see fifty of them out of you and do them right. Start over with ‘one’.”
I gave him his fifty which didn’t seem to please him too much but he sent me back to the regular line and began to concentrate on someone else. I could see him looking at me out of the corner of his eye every now and again though. I just knew this was going to be the one who would likely keep pushing and most probably the one Sarge and Gunny had mention that I would need to ‘kill’ in hand to hand. That might prove to be a little tough since he looked like he outweighed Gunny by about forty pounds; then again, I would only need to do it once.
The next morning we did our lap around the battalion and only three of the recruits dropped out. We had another wheezer but gained a few to better breathing. The pace was still pretty sedate. I wasn’t getting much out of it and was worried I was beginning to lose a bit of my edge. After chow I sought out my Sergeant and asked if we were allowed to run the battalion course when on our own time, explaining that I used to run five miles a day back home.
“So. We’re not giving you enough exercise in the mornings? Okay, tell you what. Each morning when we begin our run, you just run on ahead about three hundred yards, then you turn around and run back to the group, run around the back of the group and on up ahead another three hundred yards. You just keep on doing this until we’ve finished the circuit. Got that?”
“Yes, Sergeant. Thank you, Sergeant.” I trotted off before he had a chance to change his mind.
« t »
“Hi. What brings you past my office this early in the morning?”
“Hi Bill. Got a recruit I’m curious about. What do you know about that Stevens kid?”
“Stevens? Which one is that?”
“The one in my platoon who looks like a girl. You know what he asked me after chow this morning? He wanted to run the battalion circuit on his own time. Seems he used to run five miles a day at home and he felt a little put out that he had to restrict himself to one time around the loop going as slow as the rest of the platoon.”
“So he’s a troublemaker?”
“Naw. I don’t think so. I think he really wanted to keep up his running regimen. I don’t know what to make of him. I had him doing push-ups and he pounded out a hundred of them and I had the feeling he could have done it most of the day. He looks weak as a girl but he’s got a lot of strength hidden away in that body.”
“I’ll watch him. You may have someone worth teaching. What did you do about his running?”
The D.I. explained his little exercise he had assigned to Stevens, “If he handles a few days of that I think I might let him work at his own pace. I could use a good example to push the others into shape. He would be ideal for that.”
“Yeah. If you don’t get him killed by his own platoon.”
“Yeah.” he thought about that little problem, “I wouldn’t want that to happen. Damn, I should have made him one of the temp. corporals or his squad leader.”
“You still could. If the first one doesn’t work out so well then take it away from him and give it to this... whatever you said his name was.”
“Stevens. Think I’ll go over to battalion HQ and see if I can peek at his full jacket. There’s something here that doesn’t meet the eye and I’d like to know more about him.”
The Company Sergeant agreed, “Okay, I’ll tell you what. I’ll send for a full copy of the jacket they have on him. They don’t let us have a lot in the jackets we have here. I’d like to know more myself. Something doesn’t add up.”
“Could I read it when you get it?”
“I’ll let you know as soon as it arrives. Meanwhile, let’s let him have his head a little and see how far he wants to stick his neck out.”
“Thanks, Bill. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
“No sweat, Frank. When do you take your platoon for hand-to-hand orientation?”
“Next week, why?”
The company Sergeant got up to check the hand-to-hand course schedule. “The course has an open session tomorrow. What would it do to your schedule to take them there tomorrow, for two hours? Maybe in place of the afternoon run and barracks drill which I see is on your schedule?”
Thinking, “Okay. So you think we could see how far his mettle extends?”
“Might be good to take him down a peg or two. Then again, we just might have a sleeper here so be careful.”
“Okay, what about George? Think he could give us a hand tomorrow?”
“I’ll give him a call and get back to you this evening. If he can, then let’s count on going that route tomorrow. Worst case we might learn the kid is more capable than anyone else in the platoon and then you’ll have a decision to make.”
“Yeah. Do I want him in charge of my platoon or do we need to come down on him, hard. That’d be a shame since he seems to be a nice kid. He hasn’t tried anything stupid. I’m just trying to decide if he’s a show off and good for nothing, or if he really wants to gain something out of all this.”
“I’ll call you at home later.”
“Okay. Thanks Bill. I’ll be waiting for your call.”
« t »
The next morning we went on our run. At least I had the opportunity to continue my regimen while the rest of them went on their plodding way around the battalion course.
“Stevens, get out there and run.”
I didn’t need a second reminder.
I was three hundred yards down the track before they had made their first fifty and met them on my way back, looping around behind them then charging ahead again as they reached a little over their first hundred. That meant I was running three to four hundred yards for each of their one hundred to one-fifty. That would give me at least three miles about the time they finished their first one.
By the end of the run I was pretty close to winded. A week of missing my running had me a little out of shape.
“Thanks, Sergeant. I really needed that.”
“Don’t thank me yet, Stevens. See me after chow. Fall back into your squad.”
I wondered what that was all about but fell in as we were lined up for chow. I finished in a hurry then went back out to find the sergeant. I didn’t see him for maybe five minutes and when I did he was coming out of the company building with the First Sergeant. He spotted me about the same time I started in his direction. He didn’t call my name but just motioned for me to come over.
“Stevens, this is First Sergeant Madison. Bill, this is the recruit I’ve been telling you about.”
“I’m hearing some interesting things about you, Stevens. I’d like the three of us to go into my office for a few minutes.”
“We need to talk. Come with us.”
Sarge and Gunny hadn’t warned me about anything like this. I wasn’t certain what to make of it. I followed them to a company office and our platoon sergeant shut the door then took a seat as I stood there. The First shirt walked around behind the desk and sat where he could look at me.
“Do you want to explain this?”
That left me a little confused, “uh, explain what First Sergeant?”
“This. This little pile of paper which tells me you aren’t just any recruit. Do you care to tell me why you have so many endorsements from people who matter? Why are you here when you seem to belong in special forces?”
Now I was confused.
“I admit I intend to try for special forces but I haven’t even completed basic so I’m here to learn.”
“By making fools of my training sergeants?”
“No, First Sergeant. I’m really here to learn. I’ve been taught a lot but I’m not trying to... ‘upset the apple cart’.”
The two men looked at me for fifteen or twenty seconds before the First Sergeant spoke again.
“Your platoon is going to the hand-to-hand course this afternoon. How are you going to do there?”
“I don’t know, Sergeant.”
“Guess.” He commanded me.
“I hope I will do well, First Sergeant.”
“Don’t fuck with me, Stevens or so help me you’ll never see the light of day again. Now, how much hand-to-hand have you already had and how good are you at it?”
I bit the bullet and began to explain my last year and a half to them. When I finished they looked at each other and each raised an eyebrow.
“Damn, Bill. I figured it had to be something like this. Do you still want me to take them down to hand-to-hand?”
“Yeah. I want our young hero here to try his hand with George. If he does well then we’ll decide where to go from there. Meanwhile, I’ve got to talk with Captain Moreno and decide what to do with Stevens if he does well at the course today. His test scores are off the mark and I‘d like to see how he can do in leadership. Kid, answer me one question would you? Why didn’t you go the OCS route?”
“I don’t want to be an officer. In Nam the enlisted aren’t targeted out of hand and being a lieutenant on patrol is just as likely to get me a bullet in the back as it is from the front.”
“At least the kid has a head on his shoulders, Bill.”
“Yeah, Jack. No faulting him there. Okay kid. Just hang loose while we work this out, okay? I’ll need to think about this a bit. I think we can give him more of a free hand in his physical training but he still needs to be brought up to speed in some areas. Let me know how he does at the course today. I’ll be getting a report from George, too.”
“Can do. Thanks, Bill. Com’on kid. We got a platoon to train.”
“It’s a figure of speech, Kid. Don’t get cocky.”
« t »
That afternoon the platoon was off to the hand-to-hand course. When no one voluntarily came down to try to kill him, Sgt. George looked up in my direction, pointed and said, “You. Get your ass down here, take this bayonet and try to kill me.”
I started to get up when he added, “Not you, little lady. I want that big sack of shit sitting next to you. You’ll just have to wait your turn.”
Of course that brought a round of laughter from the platoon, they all knew who he was talking about.
The big burly gang banger who had picked the army in lieu of five years in prison got up and pushed everyone out of his way as he went down to claim the bayonet. After his first swing, it took Sgt. George all of four seconds to disarm the guy and have him prone on his stomach with the Sergeant’s boot planted squarely on his back holding him to the ground. The Sergeant stayed that way for a minute or two as he continued to talk to us then let the guy up as though he had forgotten he had him down there. No one thought it was funny, now.
Next he pointed at me and said, “Okay, little lady. You wanted a chance. Come on down and let's see if you can do any better.”
I refused the bayonet which brought a laugh from both him and the platoon. The next thing I knew we were into it. It wasn’t quite as easy as Gunny had made it out to be but I did manage to drop George for a brief moment twice before he began some moves I wasn’t familiar with. Even then, I still managed to hold my own using some of the back alley and DI tricks Gunny had taught me.
He didn’t get me down although I did go flying a couple of times but bounced up again like I had landed on a trampoline. At the end of the session, George stood back and stiffly bowed to me like we had been in some sort of martial art contest so I did the same to him and he smiled.
“Okay Kid, go sit over there next to your Sergeant. Good show.” He gently put his hand on my shoulder and pushed me toward the bleachers which were occupied only by our training Sergeant.
Turning to the rest of the platoon he bellowed, “NOW. As you can see, there’s a lot more to keeping your head when fighting hand-to-hand than just boxing or wrestling. What this course is going to teach to you is how to keep your head from being handed to you on a platter when you come up against an enemy who has skills you don’t. Stevens there isn’t going to be handy to help you when that happens so when you all begin this course you better pay attention because some of you are going to be paired to practice with him and I’m going to make certain he doesn’t pull any punches. Got that, Stevens?... Sarge? I might just borrow that Stevens kid from you from time to time to help teach some of the advanced classes the AIT knuckleheads are trying to pass.”
“I’ll let our company commander know about your request.”
“So will I.” Any of you think you could do as well as Stevens? If so, come on down here and I’ll let you try to prove it.”
There were no takers. That evening there were no jeers or little ‘encounters’ for me either. At least the orientation had taught my platoon buddies that if I really wanted to do so, I could hand them their own heads. Even the gang banger stayed away from me. There were a couple who even went so far as to ask if I could start teaching them some of the moves.
“Clear it with the Sergeant and if he says okay then, yeah.”
« t »
“... I tell you, Bill. He held his own with George. George is so impressed he’s thinking about borrowing Stevens to help teach some of the AIT courses; as I’m sure he’ll tell you this evening.”
“I’ve already had a phone call from him. Captain Moreno has pretty much dropped it all in my lap so you and I need to decide what to do about him. Do you think he will benefit from anything we could teach him here?”
“Not really. Hell, just from talking with him today I learned he knows a hell of a lot. I took him down to the armory and I think he knows more about weapons than our armorer. When I handed him a fourteen, he field-stripped it in nothing flat, condemned the firing pin then put it all back together noting that the barrel was damaged as well. I had him look at a 1911 and he took it down and put it back together again in four minutes flat. Said it had too much oil on it. The kid isn’t even being cocky, he just doesn’t realise he’s that good at it.”
“Think maybe he’s a natural?”
“I dun’no. If not, then he’s really perceptive. I don’t want to declare him a natural because then some frickin’ officer will get him killed but... damn... the kid’s good.”
“What do you think about bumping him up to a company that’s about to graduate?”
“I’d like to say there’s something we could teach him but... I don’t know what it would be. He needs AIT. That’s where he could learn something.”
“What about spending the next week as a recruit lieutenant?”
“Oh hell. You’d do that to the poor kid?”
Laughing, “yeah, I know what you mean. Okay. What about Platoon Sergeant?”
“I’ve already got one.”
“Push that one down to corporal?”
“No. He’s pretty good and the others have adjusted to him. Why can’t we just give Stevens his head and let him practice on his own away from the rest of the company?”
“We can’t do that, Jack. He has to be where he can be evaluated.”
“Then I guess the only thing we can do is bump him up and let him graduate with another company. We’ll need to let them know not to fuck with him since it won’t be a punishment.”
The First Sergeant pulled out a number of sheets of paper, consulting them as he had several times each of the past few days.
“C-2-4 is graduating next week. We could see if they have room for him and I could explain it all to their First Sergeant. Hopefully he’ll believe me and they won’t fuck with him for the week. He’s still better trained than any other basic trainees, even when they’re in their final week. I don’t know if Jacobs will believe me since this sort of thing happens so infrequently. You think Stevens could handle AIT as he is?”
“Handle it? Hell, He’ll own the damn place after the first three weeks. You sure Jacobs is the First Shirt at C-2-4? He owes me a favor.”
“It’s either him or Johnson.”
“Johnson’s a prick. If he’s the First over there, don’t send the kid to him.”
“We won’t have a graduating class for two weeks following C-2-4. Let me check, if it’s Johnson I’ll see what kind of a deal I can wrangle. If it’s Jacobs then I’ll remind him he owes you one.”
L. J. STEVENS, Vol. One (6th part)
T D Aldoennetti
with contributing authors
Kate Hart & Denise Trask
All characters in this work have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relationship whatsoever to anyone or anything bearing the same name or names. The characters contained herein are not even distantly inspired by any specific individuals known or unknown to the author. All incidents described or alluded to within this work are pure invention. No affiliations, involvements or gender assignations due to the use of any images contained within this work are to be implied, intended or inferred.
Cover image copyright Maps.com and shown for clarification of area in which the story begins it’s evolution.
DUTY CALLS, L.J. Stevens Vol. One Copyright © 2012 USA, Earth by R. A. Dumas.
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