Our 'new' new uniforms were apparently the pinnacle of the R&D labs. When we received them, they filled four trucks to the roofs. When I tried on the gear that I picked out of the pile, I was surprised to be honest. I was used to having new uniforms feeling stiff and itchy. Instead, I was sure that a mistake had been made. It felt like I was wearing training clothes. Everything was light and soft. In the past, I had worn just a t-shirt under a flak vest. Or even, no flak vest, just a t-shirt with my webbing on it. Experience tells you that the more you wear in the field, the quicker you get hot, the hotter you get, the more you de-hydrate. Well, carry more water. That means more weight. Which means you get hotter...
I stand in the private room that my rank now gives me, wearing combat trousers, underwear, two t-shirts, a shirt, a long sleeve jumper, and a combat jacket. And it felt like I was wearing shorts and a vest. I put what they called the 'Projectile Deflective Apparel' on over the jacket. Still felt like virtually nothing. On with my webbing harness. Whatever the technicians had done to make this uniform, it looked like it worked. Only question was, had it been field tested too?
For the next few hours, the barracks are abuzz with cynical comments about the uniforms. Despite my own doubts, I pull rank. I call an NCO meeting, and basically tell the naysayers to shut the fuck up, that the new gear wouldn't have been sent to us without being tested to destruction first of all. If we had little confidence in the new gear, then how the hell are we supposed to instil confidence in the F.N.G.'s?!
I decide on a little demonstration. I'm still wearing my full compliment of clothing. I had wanted to see what it felt like wearing the stuff for hours. So far, very comfy. Now, something that I never thought I would order a subordinate to do. I picked a random Corporal. Passed my razor sharp fighting knife to him, and told him to attack me.
Silence. Everyone looks at me like I've gone mad. I repeat the order. He takes the knife, and jabs me with it. I tell him to stop being a pussy and to stab me like he meant it. After a little more goading, I watch in fascinated trepidation as his arm seems to slowly arch backwards, powering itself for a full strength thrust. It takes all my self control to not dodge the blade. The impact when it happens, felt like a real good punch in the chest. I feel something defect and hit my arm.
There are gasps of shock from the assembled NCO's in front of me. I try not to look down, in case there is a knife sticking out of my chest. If there is.......at least I will go down in Battalion lore as the mad NCO who allowed himself to be stabbed.
Instead, the gasps were directed behind me.
What everyone bar me and my demonstration partner had seen, was the new Officers of the Company walking into the room at the same moment I was getting hit with the knife.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE?!? COMPANY SERGEANT! REPORT!”
I let out a groan. I recognised that voice. He had been Able Company's Lieutenant. Had a reputation for being a complete bastard. Didn't suffer fools at all. I'd heard that he once broke the jaw of one of his men who had hit him, preferring to assert his authority the old fashioned way, instead of with paperwork. The incident was reported as the man tripped and fell.
I turn and explain just what I had been trying to demonstrate. Minus the reasons behind it.
Captain Augustus stands with a complete poker face in front of me. Either side of him, are the new 1st and 2nd Lieutenants. Both of them look like they eat children for breakfast. One has a livid scar across his face. All three are staring at me, and I can feel myself starting to become pissed off...
“So...let me get this straight Sergeant...Merlin?..is it? To demonstrate the protective capabilities of our new uniforms, you thought it would be a good idea to let one of MY men try and stab you? Did it not occur to you to maybe just hang the uniform up and have people try and wreck it that way?”
“I had considered that Sir...” I lied..”...but I thought the most effective way to show MY confidence in the new and as far as we were concerned, unproven qualities of the uniform, was to have one of the men assist me. The NCO's have seen with their own eyes that this works. I felt it work.”
I wait for the bollocking that I am sure will follow.
Instead, the vaguest hint of a grin appears at the corners of his mouth.
“The proof is in the pudding, as they say. That took balls Merlin. So, lets see the damage then.”
I let out a silent sigh of relief.
My jacket is passed around. Everyone agrees that although the method was unorthodox, the result was worth it. There is a small line along the jacket fabric, where the blade slid along it. What would be a small bruise in a few days, shows where the blade hit me in the arm after it slid off my chest. Every naysayer from the morning now believes in the stopping power of the fabric.
In Augustus's office, about an hour later, I bring him up to speed on what I had been doing over the last few days. I managed to get it all into a couple of sentences.
He tells us about the changes that are going to be required, with the additional men, the new tactics, the new weapons. The rifles, he says, are to be delivered the following morning. We will have two days to get ourselves acquainted to them. The FNG's will start arriving two days later.
He dismisses the two Lieutenants, neither of whom I recognise. He tells me to stay behind.
It's not a bollocking per se, more a cautionary word of advice. He was impressed with the fact that to prove the point, I had put my own safety on the line before that of the men. Although he was impressed, he didn't want to hear of anything like it again though. He showed me a document, that he had already read. It described the results of exhaustive tests that had been run on the fabric of the uniforms...
'...fabric is shown to be able to deflect penetrative objects from oblique/acute angles...fabric CANNOT, repeat CANNOT prevent penetration from direct angle instances. Methods of penetration tested include bladed weapons, shrapnel, and rounds of various calibres (see attached table).
Multiple layers of clothing CAN deflect bullet calibres of differing diameters, although the angle of the incoming round has more of an effect than the fabric thickness itself.
In summary. Multiple layers of uniform can be seen to be pierce resistant, but SHOULD NOT, repeat SHOULD NOT, be thought of as “bullet-proof”...'
I put the report down.
“Do you play poker, Merlin?”
“In poker, there is a saying. 'it's better to be lucky, than smart'. What you did wasn't that smart, and you were very fucking lucky. Although, to be honest, I would probably have done the same thing.”
“...uhhh, yes Sir.”
“And quit with the 'Sir' crap too. At least when you are around me and the others, Duck and Adam, you can call me Gus.”
I think I will get along with my new commanding officer...
He gives me the specification sheets on the new rifles, and tells me to get myself up to speed with them. By tomorrow afternoon, he wants all the NCO's to be 'Expert' rated on the new weapons. It looked like we would be having a very busy day at the range...