An Uncapped Pen

February 4, 2008

Casual Duty – Chapter 10 – Selection

Filed under: Writing — cindylv @ 1:59 am
Tags: , ,

Riley Barracks
Fort Huachuca, Arizona

Bridie lay on her side staring at the back of the wall of metal lockers illuminated by the ribbons of moonlight streaming through the bare window. She reached down and grabbed the wind-up alarm clock ticking on the floor next to her bunk and tipped the face toward her. Almost twenty after four . . . Zero four seventeen, she corrected. Another forty minutes until she had to get up and fight her way to the shower. Maybe she’d have time to run to the chow hall for some breakfast before formation. If she’d learned anything in her two and a half months in the Army, it was never pass up a chance to eat. You never knew how long it would be until you had another chance. And go to the latrine. She cringed at the memory of squatting behind the broken staircase at the old hospital yesterday morning. Had that only been yesterday? It seemed like a week ago.
She thought about the dead woman from the range yesterday. She felt like she should feel sad, feel something, but with everything that had happened in the last three days, she hadn’t had a chance to think about any of it. She rolled over to her other side and tugged her blanket up, automatically adjusting the sheet to protect her chin from the scratchy wool. Maybe she could get back to sleep for at least another half hour.
“Don’t nobody move.”
The barrel of the gun stared back at her unblinking. She flinched and jerked herself awake. The gun was gone. She was alone, safe in her temporary room at the end of the hallway. Bridie fumbled around for her clock. Zero four thirty-nine. There was no point in trying to get back to sleep now. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. Maybe she’d get a shot at a private shower, if she hurried. She slipped on a pair of PT shorts under the long T-shirt she wore as pajamas. Stepping into her shower shoes, she grabbed her toiletry kit and towel and headed down the hall.
As soon as she pushed the latrine door open, any thoughts of a private shower crashed. She heard the unmistakable sound of retching and sobbing from one of the stalls. Bridie briefly considered asking the girl if she was okay, but she knew that when you were kneeling over the toilet, the last thing you wanted was an audience. She tried to ignore her as she hung her towel on a hook and slipped out of her clothes.
By the time Bridie finished rinsing her hair and shut off the water, the small room was full of the female soldiers attempting to get ready all at the same time. There was no hope of getting a place at the mirror, so she shuffled back to her room to put up her hair and get dressed. There was no sign of the sick girl.
After a quick breakfast in the mess hall, Bridie dumped her trash in the can in the corner and placed her tray on the rack next to the kitchen. She joined the swarm of soldiers heading across the field toward Riley Barracks and up the steps to the square where she’d reported in two nights ago. In the bright sunshine, the statue she thought was a lion transformed itself into a Sphinx.
“The Sphinx. Remember your mythology classes? Roberts asked, appearing at her shoulder without warning.
“Not really. Something about Ulysses?” she guessed.
“Oedipus. The Sphinx guarded the trail and asked each traveler a riddle. If they knew the answer, she’d let them pass.”
“. . . and if they didn’t?”
“Just like here. They got recycled, ain’t that right, Valentine?” Roberts grabbed Val from behind and wrapped his arms around the young man’s head in some sort of a wrestling move, knocking a small package out of his hands.
“Val’s up for his third try. If he bolos again . . .” he mimed flipping burgers. “It’s Cook School for him! Or you gonna go on sick call again?”
Val shook himself free from Robert’s embrace and straightened his uniform. He bent over and retrieved his package. “That’s my breakfast, asshole! And we got uniform inspection today. I was up ‘til after midnight polishing my boots.” He stomped his boots to shake off a layer of dust and shoved the last bit of cookie into his mouth and chewed. “I hate that fuckin’ Line man. Hiking all over the damn range, sweatin’ in the sun. Snake bait. That’s all we are. Uh, sorry,” he apologized to Bridie and tucked the empty bag into his pocket.
“You’ve got crumbs,” she said to Val, brushing her own lip. “It smells like lavender or . . . what is that?
“Rosemary cookies,” Val brushed the crumbs from his mouth. “Lucia gave ‘em to me. She makes them herself, lemon-rosemary. They’re my favorite.”
“Rosalie’s daughter. Val’s in love,” Roberts teased. “Thinks she’s gonna leave her Mama’s restaurant and follow him to Germany. Like she don’t get a hundred offers a week better than that.”
“Frank, I told you that as a secret!” Val protested. “I sorta been seeing her for a couple months now, but her mother doesn’t like soldiers much, so . . .”
“I won’t tell anyone,” promised Bridie. “You’re going to Germany?”
“Everyone who graduates and don’t already have orders winds up going to Germany or Korea maybe,” Roberts said. “But first, you gotta graduate, right?”
They joined the unruly group milling around in front of the barracks. Across the sidewalk in front of the other wing of the building, another group formed. “That’s Echo Company. CI pukes. We call ‘em Mole Hunters,” explained Roberts. And the rest are Interrogators. You don’t wanna know what we call them!”
Bridie let the traces of conversation flow around her as they waited for formation to be called. Most of the talk seemed to be about the body on the range, with about half the group arguing that she must be a prostitute, and the rest divided between college student from the University in Tucson, or a local girl from Sierra Vista.
“Where’s Top, man?” Someone in front of the group asked. “He’s never late!”
“It’s almost 10 after. I gotta get to my Detail. They said if I’m late one more time, I’m back on The Line,” a tall, skinny soldier with bad skin complained to his friend.
Without warning, the group straightened up and sorted itself into a formation of four squads facing front in seconds, with no command, no discernable cause. Bridie hadn’t been assigned to a squad yet, and wasn’t sure where she should stand. She stayed with Roberts and Val in the back rank or Fourth Squad.
“Fall in!”
There it was. That mysterious voice of authority that seemed to control military formations. She’d never figured out where it originated, but it always sounded the same, deep and authoritative. And came from somewhere behind and above her, like God. The gaggle transformed into a platoon at the sound of the words.
The few scragglers jogged up and fell in at the end of the ranks. Soldiers from the end of the third squad automatically shuffled forward to fill in the end of the second to even the ranks. A few soldiers from the rear stepped forward to fill in their places. Bridie broke rank to step forward and fill a gap that appeared in front of her, but Roberts grabbed her arm, yanking her back.
“Stay,” he whispered.
Confused, Bridie stepped back. Eventually, other soldiers filled in and four squads settled. Sergeant Simpson marched to the front and faced the formation. “Platoon, Attention!”
At the next command,“ Open Ranks, March!” the soldiers from the first squad took two steps forward and halted. Second squad took one step forward. Third squad stood fast. Bridie and the soldiers of fourth squad took one step to the rear.
“At Close Interval, Dress Right, Dress!”
Each soldier snapped their heads to look over their right shoulder at their Squad Leader, and slid their left hand to their hip with their elbow pointing to the soldier to their left. As one, they shuffled sideways to the right until they felt their right arm bump the left elbow of the soldier standing next to them, keeping their lateral alignment straight.
“Ready, Front!”
In unison, all head snapped to the front and left arms returned to their side. Like a ballet, she thought, or at least a chorus line.
“Squad Leaders, prepare your squads for inspection.”
Each Squad Leader took one step forward, halted, executed a left face. Then they took another step forward, halted, executed a second left face, and halted in front of the second soldier in their rank to examine their appearance. As the Squad Leader made his way down the rank toward Bridie’s position, she mentally reviewed her uniform as she balanced on one foot and dusted the toes of her boots on the back of her calves, longing to whip out her stocking and wipe them more thoroughly. Headgear – clean. Hair – restrained, not touching her collar. Blouse – ironed and tucked in. Belt – on and straight. She’d touched up the edge of her buckle with a dab of edge dressing last night before crawling into bed. Trousers – pressed, with the cuffs securely tucked into the top of her boots. Boots – polished, but are they shiny enough, she wondered.
“Traynor, pay attention!” The Squad Leader turned in front of her. “Straighten that collar, and wipe your boots,” he said before he moved on to Roberts.
Bridie ran her fingers under the back of her collar, standing it up and then refolding it straight. She reached into her pocket for her scrap of nylon and buffed her boots to raise the shine. Before she could tuck it back into her pocket, Sergeant Simpson materialized in front of her. Her stomach clenched and she swallowed. She hid the stocking in her hand and braced.
“Mornin’ princess. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you found your luggage. Sleep well?”
“Yes, Sergeant!” All of three hours. Do not react. One, two, three . . .She resisted the urge to rub her thumb.
He looked her up one side and down the other without finding anything to complain about, and moved on to inspect Roberts. Bridie stood fast. She knew better than to relax until the Sergeant was safely back in front of the formation.
“Platoon, Recover!”
The platoon shuffled back to their normal interval and closed up ranks.
“Stand at Ease!” Sergeant Simpson “Before I release the Sick, Lame and Lazy to go to the clinic, I have an announcement to read from Colonel Richards’ office regarding the events on Range 7 yesterday morning. Listen up!
‘As you may have heard yesterday afternoon, the body of a female civilian was found in a restricted location. She was not a member of the military, nor was she a family member assigned to the post. Military Police are working with the local authorities and federal agents to investigate this incident. Until such time as the investigation is concluded, all ranges will remain closed. Classes and other post activities will continue as scheduled, with the following mandatory precautionary measures. Trainees and Casual Personnel will be restricted to post. Personnel will not travel alone. At all times, when you leave the barracks area, you will travel with a buddy. Personnel will not, under any circumstances, speak to any member of the press. Refer all questions to the Public Affairs Office. End of statement.’
‘People, we don’t know what happened, so it don’t do any good to speculate. At times like this, rumors get outta control. I don’t want to hear none of that. Keep your mouths shut and do your jobs. Just use common sense, if you got it. If you don’t, then God help you.”
The soldiers shuffled in their positions. Comments murmured through the group as Sergeant Simpson continued to read a list of administrative announcements, the details blurred together. Nobody listened, waiting for him to get to the new class list.
A flash of movement to Bridie’s left caught her eye. Val was hunched over, clutching his stomach moaning. Roberts and another soldier stepped forward to help him out of the formation. They disappeared behind the last squad. What could be wrong, she wondered. He was fine a few minutes ago. The squad shuffled toward her, closing the gap. Sergeant Simpson shook his head at the disturbance and released all personnel reporting to Sick Call. Several more soldiers took a step back and exited ranks to the left and assembled behind the main formation.
Bridie turned to see Val join the Sick Call formation, holding his stomach and looking a little queasy. He bumped into the back of the female soldier in front of him. She turned and Bridie saw it was Nancy, the girl from the Canteen last night. It had probably been her getting sick in the latrine this morning, she thought.
“At Ease.” Sergeant Simpson called and the formation silenced. “Two classes are startin’ this morning, 81-05 and 81-06. After I’m done calling the names, you will fall out, return to your rooms to retrieve your gear, and report back here at the buses at 0830.” He shuffled the pages and began to read. Bridie watched the soldiers celebrate with fists in the air, high fives, or hand shakes. Some soldiers, realizing they’d been passed over, reacted with disappointment, resignation, and sometimes even anger.
Bridie listened to the complaints swirling around. “Damn it! I been here longer than Bricker. Why’d he get picked before me?”
“Bricker’s a bonus baby, down to the wire. They had to get him in for this class or his mama would pull a congressional.”
“Hey, Fletcher! Back to the Line, man!”
“I hate that fuckin’ Line. I’m gonna die of sunstroke out there.”
“Better than a snake bite, man. That’s some serious pain!”
“Listen up, you yardbirds!” The group reformed and turned back to face Sergeant Simpson. “The following personnel will report to Whitside Hall to begin in-processing . . .”
When she heard her name, Bridie stepped back and followed the others to the new group forming behind the main formation. She recognized a couple of faces from the barracks and the club last night.
Bridie watched as the remaining soldiers received their Detail assignments and departed. “They say that’s the gig you want, permanent detail to Medical Records. They got great food in the cafeteria over there. And no one yells at you. They treat you real good.” She turned around to see who was talking behind her, but the atmosphere surrounding the two groups transformed without warning. In front of the formation, Sergeant Simpson stopped talking and turned around to find the cause of the distraction.

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3 Comments »

  1. The dialogue and the detail are just perfect. I’d forgotten so many of these things, but you’ve brought me right back there. So spooky too — I went to technical training in Biloxi in 1981…

    Comment by lisakenney — February 4, 2008 @ 6:36 am | Reply

  2. Thanks, Lisa. I took a few days back at Fort Huachuca last summer. I heard a platoon sergeant yell at his troops, calling them “Yardbirds.” It brought back memories! I was always amazed at the choreographed movement of formations, where a group of total strangers morphed into a precision ballet with minimal effort.

    I’m feeling a little nostalgic for the good ole days.

    Comment by cindylv — February 4, 2008 @ 7:00 am | Reply

  3. Rosemary cookies!!!!!!! ;-)

    When I was at comp, the kids did the edge dressing and stocking thing. The things I learn each year.

    Comment by angel — February 5, 2008 @ 12:21 am | Reply


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