Everything about this is true. I first published this on my blog in November of 2009. A time later, my Company Commander, Captain Tye wanted to add his perspective…and that made this good story “pure gold.” Enjoy.
When I originally signed up to be in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, the limited billets open consisted of being a driver for the misguided children under Uncle Sam’s direction. Therefore, after Boot Camp I attended “tactical driving school” learning how to support troops in combat environments. Upon completion of boot camp and MOS training, I enrolled at Texas A&M. Relocating to central Texas required that I transfer to a Marine Reserve unit in Austin Texas. The catch; it was not a transfer to a Motor Transport unit, fitting my military occupation specialty, but an infantry unit….more specifically an Infantry Company. That suited me fine as I really didn’t want to be cooped up in a vehicle all day, even if it was a HUMV. The down side is that the main mode of transportation for an infantry guy is the high end black Cadillacs issued and worn on the feet of the Marine.
So here I was, assigned to second platoon, Bravo Company as a basic riflemen. Even though I had graduated high in my driving class and was meritoriously promoted to Lance Corporal, these skills would never be seen while shooting. Didn’t bother me a bit….in fact I dug it….Until…some admin guy made note that I had a military license to drive darn near anything the Corps had to offer. A couple of months later, I find my-freaking-self right back behind the wheel of a HUMV driving around either the company commander Captain Tye, or the much less important (but not in his mind) Gunny Reyes. Gunny was the company Gunny and wound bout as tight as a banjo string. For nearly 2 years, I drove…supported the the company with water and food….survived on little sleep and learned to talk to the Officers on the officer level and the gunny on a kindergarten level….it worked out.
On January 14, 1991, I had receive a phone call from the platoon sergeant. “Saddle up Dave, President Bush has scheduled a war to start tomorrow and our unit has been activated.” A week later 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines found themselves at Camp Pendleton California preparing themselves for combat situations occurring in an oversized sandbox halfway around the world.
The training exercises continued and at one point, the company was to complete a 25 mile night hump. For you civilian types a “night hump” is not a title of a porno movie but a long hike to take place under the cover of darkness. I would be supporting the troops and would be driving all night. After contemplating the schedule and the available fuel left in the tank, I deemed it necessary to refuel in the motor pool. Now is good time to clarify a few things. A week prior, the Regimental commander had issued a memo that ALL UNATTENDED VEHICLES would have chock blocks placed under the back driver side wheel. It should also be noted that the military HUMV has a hand break that is manually loosened and tightened. This hand break is the only mechanical device to keep the vehicle stationary while the HUMMER is parked.
I had documented the stop in my trip ticket, thrown the notebook over on to the console area between the driver and passenger seats and went into motor pool office to talk to the dispatcher about refueling. We joked around a bit and he was filling out paperwork while we both heard a loud bang and then a very loud “gushing sound.” We all ran out of the motor pool office only to find the vehicle I was driving had rolled down the hill about 75 feet and hit the only fire hydrant within 50 miles. The hydrant was broken off and the water was literally gushing, giving the HUMV under carriage a really good cleaning…..OH CRAP….or something like that.
What had happened is that the trip ticket book at hit the parking break, loosened it….and since I had not followed a direct order of Chocking the back wheel, my little humv rolled down like it was aimed right at the bulls eye….at the peak of a Southern California drought.
Needless to say the Regimental commander, Colonel SO-and-So…(I never knew his name…probably should have learned it) wanted the case to go to Regiment. Because I had been a “squared away” Marine with meritorious promotions and accommodations, Capt. Tye wanted it to stay at the company level. The compromise? Let Battalion handle it. Major So-and-so….I don’t remember his name either….wanted to make an example out of me. They took it as a Non Judicial Punishment case….no lawyers involved. Major So-and-so yelled at me awhile, Capt. Tye and 1st Sgt. Calloway spoke on my behalf…then Major so-and-so took a month’s pay, restricted me to base for 45 days and suspended any promotions for 6 months. That was the worst part as I was 2 weeks out from being promoted to Corporal – noncommissioned officer. He then ripped up the military driver’s license in front of me telling me it would be a cold day in hell before I drive in his unit again. I responded that I had wanted to do that about 2 years ago. He didn’t think that was funny, but Captain and 1st Sgt. did. I would run through hell in a gasoline suit for those two guys.
After all that was over, Captain Tye said, “it’s done…you’re a hell of Marine….but you can’t drive…and you don’t want to be riflemen do you?” 1st Sgt and I had worked out that I wanted to be in the mortar section. I had taken a liken to those guys and I really wanted go there. 1st Sgt. speaks up and says, “Captain what bout mortars….I think he’ll fit in there?” DONE…and for the next three years, I served as a 60 MM mortar man. They took me in with open arms and for my duration…made some of the best friends a guy could have. Oh, there are stories to tell there but that is for another day. Bravo Company Mortar team called themselves the TATANKA tribe…the Indian name for Buffalo..(Another story for another time) and each member had an Indian name….given by the team….you don’t have much choice…it’s given.
My Name…GUSHING WATER…go figure.
After my Company Commander, Captain Tye read this, he decided to document his point of view. This documentation is as follows:
I remember well when this happened. 1stSgt Callaway walks into my hooch and goes, “Sir, we got a problem.”
“Yeah, 1stSgt?” “Elliott ran over one of those water things.”
I’m thinking, “WTF? Water things? A fire hose? A water buffalo? The Pacific Ocean?” The possibilities are almost endless at Camp Pendleton, even in the middle of the worst drought in 20 years. “What kind of a water thing, 1st Sgt? Something in the motor pool?”
“No, sir. He didn’t chock his vehicle. It ran down the hill and hit a fire hydrant.”
I go ballistic for about two minutes. A fire hydrant?? Callaway keeps trying to say something, but he can’t get a word in edgewise. For a couple of days now, he’s been on me to transfer you to the mortar section. He’s about got me convinced, but I want another driver before I lose you. We’re negotiating the final terms, and all we needed were a couple of more days for a replacement driver. You’d already been driving for far too long, and it was time to move you over where you could be a grunt, and get some NCO leadership skills exercised. This is probably going to F- that up big time, and after all of the time that you’ve been driving, with a spotless driving record. Well, spotless as far as I knew, and no one else was going to say anything about it.
After Callaway peels me off of the ceiling, he reminds me about Regiment’s recent edict about chocking vehicles. I’m back on the ceiling again for another couple of minutes. I wasn’t a big fan of Regt in those days for a couple of reasons.
Callaway lets me run out of gas, and we sat there for a minute. I said that we’ll just handle it ourselves at Company NJP. Callaway says, “Well, sir, let’s do it. I’ll go sell it to the Battalion Sergeant Major, and you talk to the Battalion Commander. We’ll cut the deal and handle it at our level.” We look at each other and nod.
Then he says, “But damn, sir. You shoulda seen it. It looked like a mini Old F’ing Faithful or something.” Which cracks us both up pretty good. We’re laughing our asses off about it. It’s really not funny, but the only thing that got damaged was a fire hydrant. Hell, we’ve blown up a lot worse than that. We figure we can dodge this bullet, so…
Callaway talks to the Bn SgtMaj. SgtMaj says, “No.” Callaway goes into his best sales job mode, “he’s a good Marine,” etc. “No.” Then Callaway gets pissed off about the whole situation, makes it really clear to the SgtMaj what he thinks about things. SgtMaj says good luck, but it’s not gonna happen. Regt really has a hard on with this one, especially since there have already been a number of accidents. Plus the Regt Cdr just issued his edict about chocking wheels a couple of days before the accident or something.
Callaway hunts me down as I’m on my way to find the Bn Cdr, gives me the scoop with what happened with the SgtMaj. I’m mildly irritated, but Tom Peeler’s the Bn Cdr, and there’s a lot of history between the two of us. I figure he won’t like it, but he’ll kick it over to me anyway, and then he’ll fade the heat from Regt for not referring it upstairs.
I go to find Peeler. He’s out. Gone. Emergency leave or something for a week or so; I can’t remember now, just that he wasn’t available. But I know the Major whose Acting Bn Cdr pretty well, too, so I figure we can still work it out. I start talking to him, and he won’t budge on it. He’s referring it to Regt, per Regt’s direction. And he won’t let it wait until Peeler comes back, because Regt wants it up to them immediately; the Regt Cdr wants it handled at the Regimental level.
The Major-Who-Shall-Remain-UnNamed starts explaining “the situation” to me. I start explaining it back to him. I tell him that you’re a Marine that I’d take into combat with me any day, and I’ll hammer the crap out of you at Company NJP. I tell him I’ll also chew out the 1stSgt, the Company Gunny, your Platoon Commander, Squad Leader, Fireteam Leader and everybody else within two degrees of separation of your chain of command. Everybody will be happy that this good Marine got his ass handed to him at NJP because of one minor f-ing accident in years of safe driving.
I don’t tell him that Callaway and I have already decided that I’d give you a 6-month suspension, and if you didn’t have any more vehicle accidents within that time, that everything would go away. Clean record. And the day after NJP, your butt would be in the mortar section, humping a mortar baseplate. We could make that look like part of the punishment. You wouldn’t be driving anymore, so you sure as hell wouldn’t have any more accidents with a military vehicle. A clean-record, no-driving, mortar man.
I said that I thought the Regt Cdr was off on some boondoggle somewhere anyway, and what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. The Major is adamant about it. I engaged my call sign, Frag. As in, it takes six seconds for a grenade fuse to go off, and that’s about how long you’ve got to get something unscrewed before I go off. He let me go off.
A few minutes later, the Major-Who-Shall-Remain-UnNamed said something like, “Captains don’t usually talk to Majors like that, and you shouldn’t speak so loudly like that about Regiment. You never know who might come walking by. How about if I handle it, and we’ll take it middle of the road? He won’t get off easy, but it won’t be as bad as it could be. Regt will have to be satisfied with what they get.” The Major really was a pretty good guy, too, so he took some heat for not kicking it to Regt.
Anyway, you got moderately hammered, and Callaway and I had a drink about it afterwards. You ended up in mortars anyway, and you seem to have recovered pretty well from the experience.