For those of you that know me, and for those of you whom do not, you may come to an appreciation of this description together; Imagine if you will, a younger me. A young man with a skeletal physique and a somewhat awkward disposition. I mean I was nothing short of a Greyhound – all ribs and cock! Now take that wonderful image, and have me standing within the ranks of ‘this man’s army’. That’s right, this story takes place back when I was still a fresh-faced baby soldier, right from boot camp.
I had just finished basic training, and was posted to a place called the: Post Recruit Educational and Training Centre. Or, PRETC. The military loves their acronyms. It was early in the morning, and the sun was hanging low within an orange sky. Already the punishing heat of a looming summer’s day was beginning to make its way through the window. Myself, and my bunkmates all lay, or, rather sprawled atop of our thinly issued military mattresses, awaiting the inevitable wake-up call to begin PT (Physical training). Conceding to the inevitable, I pried my sticky, sweat lathered skin from the now dampened sheets of the bed, then sat on its edge for a moment before reaching underneath to retrieve my running shoes. That’s right, on a morning where the sun was already mocking us with its heat, we were due to go running. And run we did. We snaked in and out from running paths to bike lanes and back to sidewalks. It was so humid out, that it was like running in a god damn sauna.
Upon returning to the barracks from our miserable morning torture – sorry, morning run, I hastily made my way to the showers, and began basking beneath the cool beams of water that sprayed from the shower head. Only in the army can you enjoy a cold shower that has nothing to do with hormones. After finishing the shower then a quick bite to eat, it was off to the warehouse. A giant metal and tin structure that housed all of the senior NCO’s as well us; the stubble-headed baby troops. This was where we met each day and where each day, the SGT’s and Master Corporals would dish out daily assignments. These assignments could be anything from sweeping the same patch of spotless cement flooring until they said to stop, to picking up the desks and moving them to an arbitrary location on the other side of the warehouse. One of the things they used to love saying was “repeat until successful”, meaning don’t ask if it’s good enough, they’ll tell if it is and they’ll let you know when you’re finished.
After the assignments had been doled out, I was left without a task, which meant that myself along with the other unchosen, were to retreat to a section of the baron warehouse that was made up of some crudely erected office-styled cubicles. We were to sit there ‘just in case’ anything should come up that we may be needed for. I removed my beret, claimed a chair and settled in for the long wait. Just as you would suspect, there were many days where there was nothing for us to be tasked with, so, we just sat there. Sat there and counted the cracks in the blue tinted pavement, or tried to decipher the initials that had been carved into the sides of the well-aged, wooden desks while picturing who they once belonged to.
I was in the process of constructing a fictitious fable of one, ‘C.W.’, when the metal roofing rattled with the sound of one of the Sergeants booming voice calling for me. I quickly jumped from my chair, and rounded one of the walls of the cubical so as to make myself visible to the calling Sergeant. “HENEGHAN!” he demanded, I stood tall and called back so that he knew I had heard his request for a specific Private, “YES SERGEANT!”
“ON ME. Double TIME!”
I then quickly and deliberately hustled over to where the statuesque Sergeant was stood waiting for me. I jogged until I was within about an arm’s reach and then came to a sudden stop while slamming my heal down to the pavement and assumed the position of attention. The clatter of my boot slamming to the cement flooring below gave off a sudden and thunderous boom, the sound of discipline. It echoed faintly off of the metal walls of the building, while I stood at attention, awaiting further instruction from the stoic Sergeant.
“Warrant wants to see you, follow me.”
My lanky arms and gumby-like strides followed pace behind the solid gait of the Sergeant. We were nearing the office where the platoon Warrant was situated. I knew that I had done nothing wrong but, my mind couldn’t help but wonder while fabricating possible scenarios. After all, it was not often that the Warrant had the need of a face to face with a Private.
As we got to a doorframe that was void of a door itself, I was instructed to stop and stand at attention, and wait outside. At attention, what the hell did I do wrong!? I thought to myself. I won’t lie, I was now not only sweating due to the intense summer heat that had bloomed into its full ferocity, and was baking the metal warehouse that we were in, but also due to fear. Irrational or otherwise…
I stood as rigid as a post. My eyes found a fixed point on the wall across from me, and I bore a hole through it, refusing to even blink. After what seemed like way long, the Sergeant reappeared in front of me, and with his head slightly lowered so as to be able to lock eyes with me, he instructed me that the Warrant was ready to see me now. I moved with purpose, discipline, and accuracy as I entered the office. Coming to a stop at the position of attention once more. I looked straight ahead of me. I could see the figure of the Warrant at the bottom of my gaze, but I did not dare look down.
“Jesus, don’t yell, I have a headache, and a wife, she yells – my daughter too!”
Lowering my tone slightly, I responded once more, “yes, Warrant.”
“Heneghan, you’re not tasked with anything today, are you?”
“Tragedy! A soldier such as yourself should never be without direction or purpose. Let’s fix this egregious oversight and misappropriation of resources, shall we?!”
“Out-fucking-standing! Follow me Troop”
The Warrant was a veteran in every sense of the word. He boasted a steely, rust coated mustache on his upper lip, complete with the ends waxed and curled into hooks. It was also stained with the remains of the copious cigarettes that he had inhaled throughout his long service to country. Other than his rank and his appearance, none of us (the Privates) knew that much about him, so, he became more of a figure of lore and fable that was handed down to the newly arriving recruits from the departing ones. By this time, I had heard my share of impossible tales regarding the Warrant and his worldly exploits.
The Warrant walked briskly in front of me, not even bothering to throw a glance over his shoulder to ensure that I was in tow, he knew that I would be, and I was. We walked around the corner of the offices and down a dusty corridor festooned with flickering overhead lighting that hung high above from the rusted, timeworn beams. He would lead us to a side entrance that us privates dare not use unless otherwise authorized to. He leaned in with his left shoulder and hip, forcing the door to open. We exited the steel structure of the warehouse, and into the unforgiving inferno of outside.
“Jesus Christ, it is hotter than a sweat box in Tijuana out here Heneghan!!”
The Warrant bellowed out while retrieving a pack of nearly empty cigarettes from his front breast pocket. While placing the white covered tube of Tabaco into his mouth, he spoke through pursed lips and said, “Heneghan, you know where your barracks are from here?” Feeling slightly confused at the question, I was delayed in responding to his query.
“Heneghan, for the love of God please tell me you know where you live?!”
“Yes, uh – yes Warrant!”
“Good. We’re half way there. Now, Heneghan, here’s what I want you to do: I want you to on the double, head back to your shacks, go up to your room, take a shit if you need to but, what I need from you is this: grab your CBRN suit, gas-mask with carrier, and come back to me. Understood?”
By now the Warrant had taken a few drags from his newly lit carcinogenic delight, so each time he spoke, plumes of bluish-grey smoke swirled in behind his noticeably sarcastic delivery.
“Heneghan, didn’t you hear what I said – go Troop, git!”
“Shit, uh – yes, Warrant!”
As if to be a runner who just heard the clatter of a starter pistol, I took off, slicing my way through the dense summer’s heat. It was so hot and humid, taking a deep breath was almost impossible. Needless to say, that lessened my ability to maintain the lightening-like pace that I had started with. Now settled nicely into a jog, I followed the winding path from the warehouse to the barracks – which was roughly a five or ten-minute jaunt from one another. But in this ungodly heat, it they felt like miles apart.
After retrieving the requested and somewhat perplexing items from my kit bag in my room, I bound down the stairs and once again outside into a full tilt sprint. I ran the same path as before and eventually made it back to the oven of a warehouse. Now sufficiently drenched in sweat, I found myself once again standing outside of the Warrant’s office. Albeit a little more winded than I had been before. I was once again invited in, this time by the sound of the Warrant’s gruff baritone. Maybe he could smell me standing there? … I entered through and as I did before, stood motionless at attention in front of his desk. He looked up at me and spoke through a tone lathered in playful wit, “Heneghan, relax would ya, you’re stressing me out. Relax man! You look as though you’re wound tighter than a new born baby’s asshole son!” I apprehensively released the tension from my shoulders and stood slightly at ease.
“Heneghan, you know what the CBRN suit is used for, yes?”
“Well, don’t leave me in suspense Troop, I’m an old man, I could stand here and die before you get a chance to tell me – what’s it for?!”
“Warrant, the CBRN suit is an issued piece of a soldier’s essential kit intended to combat the effects and hazards of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack from the enemy, Warrant!”
After a slight pause and a somewhat bewildered look that had now slithered across the Warrant’s face, he responded.
“Well, yeah… I mean, we all know that… I mean, I do now… Ok, all that, PLUS… follow me, I’ll show you”
I followed in behind the Warrant as he once again led me through the narrow halls in behind the offices. We made our way out into the smoker’s area as we had before and again stood together in the stifling heat. He capitalized on this location and occasion to reach into his pocket and grab his vice from the foiled packet within, another cigarette.
“Heneghan, MOPP 2, now!”
This was the Warrant’s order to have me get into the insulated green army issue zip-up suit, designed to be warn in the event of some kind of nuclear war. Without wasting any time, I twitched into action and began grunting my way through donning this oversized onesie. MOPP 2, meant that I was to physically wear everything minus the gas mask, and the cumbersome rubber gloves. After dancing in place, I was finally dressed in what the Warrant had ordered. After looking at me through a subtle grin that I swear has gotten bigger each time I tell the story, he shouted, “GAS! GAS! GAS!”. This meant that I was to systematically grab the gas mask from the carrier that I was wearing around my waist, and throw it on overtop of my head and face in rapid time. In a real-life scenario, delay meant death. This was something we practiced often. It’s also a good way for NCO’s to fuck with us Troops. And I couldn’t help but feel a slight gnawing idea that I was indeed being fucked with.
Now imagine this: that same nervous and slightly awkwardly thin young man, standing outside in the devil’s heat, donned from head to toe in oversized green army issue onesie, intended to be worn only in the event of a nuclear and biological attack. It was complete with a standard issue gas mask that boasted bulbus eye pieces and a giant canister on the one side of it, thus completely muffling my voice, and severely limiting my ability to intake large amounts of air. Underneath the rubber and plastic mask, I was sweating buckets, and my eyes were stinging because of it. I was miserable. I stood in front of the Warrant as he continued to inhale from his lit cigarette with no haste at all. The fact that I as the only one standing around like we were being bombed seemed lost on him, but not on those passing by.
“Heneghan, do you know what I hate? No, of course you don’t, forget I asked, I’ll just tell you – Heneghan, what I hate is an enemy that exploits complacency and weakness within the ranks that I control. I mean, I hate it. Makes me feel like I’m a bad Warrant officer, and I don’t much think that I am, do you? Heneghan… don’t answer that right now…”
His speech went on for a while, and it resembled something out of a movie as he paced around on the spot. His hands now securely clasped behind his back. Only when he really wanted to get a point across or accentuate something, did he release and use one of his hands to cut through the air as if to be a musical conductor. His speech dragged and to the best of my recollection, went on something like this:
“So, Heneghan, now that we both agree that I am not a bad Warrant, and likely one of the best, you can understand why a sneaky enemy is so troublesome to me, can’t you?”
I remained reticent, waiting for his monologue of rhetorical queries to continue…
“Heneghan, answer me! Can you see why?”
“Uh, yes Warrant” My voice barely breaking through the dense rubber insulation that cupped around my mouth. I likely sounded like a nervous Darth Vader, if you can picture such a thing… maybe think Space Balls.…
“Good! Ok then, so, you will also agree that in the face of a sneaky enemy that is trying to exploit our weaknesses, a quick and concise counter attack would be prudent and perhaps even effective in thwarting the enemy’s nefarious intentions, yes?”
“Heneghan, I can barely hear you, and it’s as hot as a brothel in Danang out here – not that I would know anything about that-a friend told me, anyway, I am going to assume you are agreeing with what I am saying, if that’s correct, nod your fuckin dome…”
“Good! Heneghan, ABOUT – TURN!”
This was the order to quickly spin around to the opposite direction of whatever way you were facing previously so, in one skillful motion, I spun around 180 degrees, and was now confronted with the blank metal wall to the outside of the warehouse.
“Heneghan, I want you to relax a little, and I want you to look up.”
I complied with what he had requested, but that did not help with the antagonizing sweat that was punishing my eyes from behind the mask.
“Heneghan, I want you to scan the ledge where the roof meets the wall, seen?”
“Good! Now follow that line to your left until you see the relatively low hanging section of the roof, seen?
“Out-fucking-standing! You have the vision of a God damned Eagle Troop! Now, do me a favor, scan that sector and tell me, what do you see?”
I began to do as he had asked and as I was, I became a little more nervous, I mean, I could not see anything that shouldn’t be there, except maybe a wasp’s nest tucked in the corner that looked like it had been there a while, but that’s about it. I continued to scan intently along the area where the roof met the wall, and nothing was obvious, nothing except that damn nest and some rust.
“Heneghan, what do you see?”
“Warrant, I see – “
“Damn it Troop, speak up! Don’t be rude, don’t you know you’re wearing a mask that makes it hard for an old guy like me to hear you?”
“Warrant, all I see is a wasp’s nest and maybe some rust Warrant”
“Right! You see that fucking wasp’s nest, those sneaky buzzing cunts! … Heneghan, does the use of the word cunt offend you, or in anyway feel like harassment towards you?”
“Good, moving on. Heneghan, the enemy has attached themselves to our unit. This will not do. This is something that I will not have at my building. Heneghan, I brought you out here today because I knew you were the man for the job. When I thought to myself, who in the hell could take care of a bee invasion, I wasted no time in coming up with your name, do you know why?”
Slightly baffled at what I was hearing, I responded strongly so as to allow my voice to carry, “no Warrant”.
“Well, two reasons, really: it was near the top of my list this morning and when the SGT confirmed you were in the building and otherwise untasked, I thought perfect! Heneghan’s our guy. And make no mistake Troop, you are our guy… mainly because I don’t want to do it, and hell, you’re already dressed for the occasion. Works out, right?”
“Yeah… how fortunate…”
It was at this time that the Warrant started retreating back inside. Sopping wet from sweat and clouded by a hefty obfuscation now, I continued to stand there not knowing what to do.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it then”
“Warrant, uh – what do you want me to do? I mean, I don’t know what to do?”
“Hmm. You do bring up a decent tactical issue Heneghan, with situational awareness like that, you’ll be a Master Private any fucking day now…”
After a slight pause and what seemed like an unindustrious scan of the area, the Warrant walked over to the side door that we had been using to enter and exit the building, what he returned with was an old and splintered wooden broom. He held it in his right hand and through bent brow, examined it quickly.
“Yep, that aught to do nicely.”
He handed me the dilapidated broom. If you can now picture for a moment, a skinny Private, standing in a smoker’s rest area, dressed from head to toe in a forest green onesie, complete with a gas mask, ready to die beneath an unbearable summer sun all while yielding a wooden stick that had once been a broom, then you’ll have a good sense as to how insane this all was!
“Christ Heneghan, you look like a fucking gladiator! A warrior! You look like a killer, I mean you look ready and willing to wage war! Although, you look like you could use a drink, you’re quite overdressed for this kind of weather, Heneghan. Oh well, no point ruminating on all that, you look ready my boy!”
“Ready for what? Warrant.”
“To get it done! To unleash hell. To wage war on those godless insects of Perdition! Oh, also, don’t leave any of them little cock suckers around, I hate bees. I’m not allergic or anything, but when I’m out here smoking and one of those little yellow cunts starts buzzin’ around me, makes me start prancing like a Tammy on toonie Tuesdays at Rusty’s Gentleman’s… never mind – just kill em all!”
With that, the warrant went inside and left me to do his bidding. I waged that battle. And by battle, I mean I swatted awkwardly at the stubborn wasp’s nest while encumbered by the oversized gear I was wearing. I used that rickety old broom to swat and poke at the nest until I had knocked it loose, it fell to the ground. Now filled with a blood rage I proceeded to slam it out of existence. I won’t lie, I engaged them as if they really were the enemy. Blaming them for my un-comfortability.
When all was said and done, the Warrant paraded me in front of everyone and explained how my heroic actions had left PRETC just a little safer, and that tonight – that night being a Friday – I was to be taken care of, and needed some cold beer. He also went on to telling any soldier who was willing, to get me something to eat, he said I looked sickly, which of course elicited quite the roar of laughter from my fellow brothers and sisters-in-arms.
I did drink that night. I likely drank my weight in beer. I drank and rattled off the story of the day to any and all who would listen. It too elicited quite the roar of laughter on a Friday night. I’ve never looked at a wasp’s nest the same again. They are my sworn enemy…