The worst part of being in an established base camp, is the bullshit petty mindedness of the officers.
I was woken by the duty NCO at some ungodly hour. There had been trouble. I dress quickly, and try and clear my head with a snatched coffee. As I walk to the briefing hall, I can hear shouts and swearing. A couple of the voices are familiar, but the loudest is new.
“....disgraceful, just disgraceful. You call yourselves NCO's?! If you were in my unit, I would have you all busted and on charges immediately!”
“It's a good job we aint in your unit then, aint it!?”
“WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TALKING TO!! STAND AT ATTENTION AND ADDRESS ME AS 'SIR' WHEN YOU SPEAK TO ME!!”
Even from this distance, I can hear the sarcasm in Tweet's voice. He had never been one that respected authority just because of a badge. He was old school. When I became his Section leader, it was months before he sounded sincere when he called me 'Sir', if he called me that at all.
I enter the hall, and see Tweet in a line with 3 other NCO's. The Sergeant stripes on his arm still look strange. The others are the replacements, another Sergeant and two Corporals. Pacing in front of them is a short 2nd Lieutenant. The 'Napoleon Complex' in action....
“Sir, Company Sergeant Merlin. Can I ask just what is going on?”
He turns to look at me, and instantly, I realise that I've now become the focus of whatever rage he is channelling.
“You're no better! You call that an acceptable uniform? Where are your unit insignia?! You think it's acceptable just having rank tabs?! And not one of you is dressed in pressed fatigues! Boots are scuffed, pockets unbuttoned!....”
So that's it. He is a chickenshit. Now, dear reader, I don't mean that he is a coward. For all I know, he could be as brave as a lion. What I mean, is that he places high importance on trivial, meaningless little details. Such as a pocket being unbuttoned....
I know without looking down that none of my pockets are closed.
I let him rant for a minute. I learnt a long time ago arguing with a twat like this is a recipe for disaster. Instead, I let him vent. He finally stops, and tells me to explain myself.
“I apologise for the lack of unit insignia Sir, but we have not been issued any yet. Rank insignia are generic, so they have been issued to the NCO's. We spent all of yesterday calibrating new weapons, and returned to barracks after midnight. We are due back on the range today, and are due to start receiving the intake of new men tomorrow morning.
As for the dishevelled look of the fatigues? I had the men sleep in them last night, so that they are better acclimatised to the brand new combat uniforms. We are yet to be issued with Class-A uniforms, but I was hoping to have them issued before the end of the day, ready for the Battalion Assembly tomorrow morning. As I understand it, unit insignia will be issued AFTER the completion of unit formation, is that not correct?”
Check and mate.
Lt 'Shortass' does a brief impression of a fish, standing there with his mouth opening and closing. I hadn't argued, I'd kept my voice level and just stated the facts as dispassionately as I could. All the while I just wanted to cave his face in with my elbow.
Before he could answer, 1st Lieutenant Duck, our scar-faced second in command, steps seemingly out of nowhere.
“You are correct indeed Sgt Merlin. I've just received the notification myself, we get our new shoulder flashes and badges this afternoon.
Now, Lt.....what was your name again?”
“Lt Kansas, and you...”
“...are wondering on whose authority you decided to berate MY men? Lets walk, shall we, Lt Kansas...”
Tweet and the other 3 must have found it as difficult as I did, trying to not smile at the sudden discomfort of the diminutive Lieutenant. Duck stands about six foot tall. A solid foot of height difference between them both.
With a nod to me, Duck walks off towards the door that leads to the parade ground. He doesn't wait to see if he is followed. But then, it wasn't a suggestion to follow, it was an order.
I wait until they are out of earshot. Time to pull rank.
“Ok Tweet, just what the fuck was that all about?”
“We were coming back from the armoury, and we didn't salute him. To be honest, I didn't see the short little fu..”
“SGT TWEET! He was a Lieutenant, YOU are a Sergeant. At what point did you forget you are meant to salute a superior officer?!”
“Aww c'mon Merlin...”
“Sgt Tweet. You just volunteered yourself and your 3 associates the honour of being duty NCO's for the next seven days. Now I suggest that you keep your gob shut or I'll make it fourteen days. You will be responsible for the collection of unit insignia from the quatermaster when they are made available. The four of you will personally ensure the correct placement of the insignia on the new uniforms, of ALL the company. After that, you will be responsible for maintaining the dress code for the Company. I will leave any infractions in your hands. Maybe ensuring the Company is presentable at all times will also rub off on you four.
As Tweet walked away, I couldn't help but see the resentful look in his eye. Did I feel guilty? Christ yes. He was the one who pulled me out of the foxhole, and then made sure I was ok. But a successful Company needed discipline. I couldn't be a Company Sergeant if I don't have respect. If that meant I needed to piss people off, then that's what I'd do.
We spent the morning at the range. Single fire, burst fire, blockage clearance drills. By midday everyone was confident enough to be able to just sight along the rifle and use instinct to put shots onto the target, just like it should be. If you need to spend an extra second in a firefight acquiring a target, then that could be a second too long.
I made sure that I wouldnt be missed for an hour or two, and cleared my absence with Gus. I hopped on a transport truck, and headed off to the medical area of the base. I wasted an hour of the two I managed to get just trying to find her. When I saw her, she had her back to me, carrying boxes of stuff from a truck into an office block. For a few seconds, I was scared to call out. One of her colleagues spotted me, and grinned, nodding in my direction.
“Hey you! I hear that you are going to be busy real soon, new men to terrorise and break?”
“........yeah, kinda....” I grinned at her, standing there grinning at me, her face covered in sweat and dirt. “.....I'm gonna have to play at being the big bad Company Sergeant. Can't have the FNG's thinking I'm a pushover, can I?....”
We only managed to snatch about half an hour together, but those minutes were not wasted. They reinforced in my mind that she was the one I wanted to spend my days with.