It was in the stately confines of Jackson, Florida, as I recall in my mind’s eye. It was during a Joint Readiness Exercise (JRX) that JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) was chartered to support in some capacity, and on some occasion, it became incumbent on JSOC to send a contingent of Delta men to participate.
Delta men abhorred a JRX;
All true Delta men absolutely abhorred a JRX. It was like after a hard year of road-running to a blazing soundtrack of Metallica and Megadeath, only to be suddenly thrust into a painful elevator ride to wafting Perry Como music.
Good Christ, what is that sound? Where is it even coming from? Is that Perry Como? Can you at least turn it up? Dude, did you fart?
The Mess Tent Incident
This JRX seemed to be falling down the stairs slower than most of them did. For some inexplicable reason, we found ourselves lined up outside of a mess tent, filing in one by one to have a hot meal for the day.
We had removed our combat blouses and rolled them into a pile outside of the tent. Those blouses would raise too much attention, so the boss decided to send us in wearing our brown t-shirts.
The Reverend Chill D was just behind me with a scowl on his face that would sink a battleship. With a hand on his hip and staring up at the top of the tent, Chill D called out his order to the server across the line, “Turkey slice, peas, corn, mashed potatoes …” Chill D paused as he caught sight of the portion of potatoes on his plate before he rolled his eyes with a loud sigh and said, “More.”
“Excuse me, Sergeant?”
“More than that; more potatoes than that!” Chill hissed as he refused to even look at the server.
“I’m sorry, Sergeant. That is one serving of potatoes. You have to come back for a second serving of mashed potatoes.”
The Reverend glared a Vulcan death glare at the server. Steam was rising toward the ceiling — I was not sure if it originated from the serving line or from Chill D’s ears. He paused momentarily and then said, “Ok, I’m back; give me my second helping of potatoes!” he said sternly, holding his tray out to within less than an inch of the server’s nose.
I honestly thought that was really clever of the Reverend Chill D: “Ok, I’m back.”
The server now looked scared, or at least that’s how he looked to me when he looked at me for some kind of path forward. And I, being of sound mind and body but marginal mood, did suggest,
“Give the man some more potatoes, son of a bitch!”
I detected an uncontrollable stack overflow at the server’s bladder. So, I remedied as such. I tipped my tray over the top of Chill D’s tray and scraped my mashed potatoes over the top of his, “Bon appétit, my man!”
And so we sat to break bread.
“If the only thing broken in this tent this hour is some stale bread, we will be doing just swimmingly.” That is just simply just how I fancied the situation.
What followed was truly a life lesson for me. I really can’t explain it. I can only tell you what happened, but I cannot venture beyond the simplicity of the what into the why. You either get it or you don’t:
The private manning the entrance to the chow tent was responsible for the flow of personnel to the serving line and for making sure that all the troops coming in signed the Head Count Roster. It was just a sheet of paper, in this case, with blanks to print, then sign your name. It was nothing more than an accountability measure to show how many troops were fed, justifying the expenditure of the facility.
The headcount private, along with his senior sergeant, approached Sam where he sat next to me — across from Chill D. Their presence there meant nothing to Sam, though I thought enough of them to look at them between bites of not mashed potatoes.
When the senior sergeant realized that Sam was not going to acknowledge their existence, he finally began, “Excuse me, Sergeant, did you print your name on the headcount roster as ‘Donald Duck’ followed by a scrawling Donald Duck signature?”
Sam rocked a steady inward flow of food into his yap, one he did not allow to be interrupted by the madness of the headcount.
The headcount team exchanged quick glances.
“Sergeant, my headcount Private says he saw you do it!”
Donald Duck. Only Sam Foster’s disdain for standing on nonsensical ceremony could have taken on such a form.
Sam swallowed, laid his fork down next to his plate, blotted the corners of his mouth, and, with chin supported by a platform of interlaced fingers, looked up at the senior Sergeant and said,
(I’m sorry; I get a little verklempt when I tell this story because it was such a pivotal moment in my life)
“Ok, Sergeant. I did it.”
There was only that time I stepped out onto my high school graduation ceremony not wearing pants that was only slightly more awkward than his moment. The headcount team of Dumb and Dumber engaged in a mutually fleeting glance.
“Yeah, well … don’t do it again, Sergeant,” came the final mitigating supplication from the headcount.
Sam, silent with resolution, remorseless and silent still, picked up his fork and resumed his pie-hole shoveling operation at much the same cadence as before.
As if on cue, a table on the other side of the mess tent with mixed conventional troops and Pipe Hitters became animated. The conventional shoved the table into the chest of the Pipe Hitters sitting across from them. The Pipe Hitters immediately up-ended the table and flung all the food back onto the conventional, who subsequently fell backward in their chairs onto wooden pallets.
I gawked uneasily at the lunch pile that the table had become, wondering fervently if we all, too, should just get up and leave. Sam thrust his much too long-haired face in front of mine, blocking my view of the table.
“You see, Geo, that’s why they should never send any of us to these JRX, Schmay-RXs, but then, we have the right to do anything they can’t keep us from doing! Yossarian, help Yossarian!” He said through a laugh.
Knowing full well that it was “go” time, the Hitters pile out the back exit of the tent, hoarding masses of bananas, oranges, and whatever else they could claw on their way out.
“George, there are far, far too many delicious-tasting ingredients in the breakfast burrito for me to ever give you a bite,” Sam sneered and chuckled.
“Where the phuq did that come from and what did it even mean?” I pondered as I ate anything but mashed potatoes. My ears perked at the unmistakable sound of my Team Leader, MacDaddy Mac M. He occupied a small four-seater table with one of our long gunners. The JSOC psychiatrist and his protégée, a young female Captain, took a seat there at Daddy Mac’s table.
The shrink liked to be reckless and bad boyish to the extent that he sat with “the men” from time to time to get to “know the men.” Sure, that and probably to show his protégée that he knew MacDaddy.
It only impressed me that theirs was just a sitting and staring luncheon, with half the people at the table too timid to say anything and the second half not giving a rat’s ass what the first half of the table had to say.
Daddy Mac’s Awkward Question
And it was just then that it happened.
From the four-seater came Daddy Mac’s voice,
“So, Sir, how many times a day do you masturbate?”
At least one plastic plate was impacted by a metal utensil in free fall. My prediction is that it was the Shrink or his Captain. I resisted my impulse to turn to gather the looks on their faces. Though I feared my appendix might burst from the strain, I did not gaze back at the Shrink team of Sodom and Gomorrah lest I turn into a figurine of salt.
“Salt … Salt!” Sam’s voice demanded.
“The salt, George; please pass the salt, I said — and stop eavesdropping.”
There it was, right there. It was there, and its name was Sam Foster. The reason I restrained myself so as not to turn to gather my pleasing eyeful of those two was that Sam would notice me doing it. He would not say anything for the rest of the day, or perhaps even two days later — but then, late at night, he would poke me in the eye and demand, “So what did they look like?”
“What? Huh? Who? What did who look like, Sam — What time is it?!”
“Their faces; what did the faces of the two shrinks look like when MacDaddy asked them how many times a day they masturbated?”
“Oh, they looked … stunned.”
If I closed my eyes at that point, Sam would poke them back open and wait.
“Ok, ok.” I offered as I propped myself up on one elbow, “They look absolutely, unequivocally, and fully without the pretense of a peer, horrified! I should think they would have gladly accepted lingering death in the belly of the Brazen Bull rather than to endure another remark from Daddy Mac.”
Sam grinned and rolled himself over in his cot.
“And now I lay me in repose; I beseech thee, Lord, to rid my woes. Should I pass before the morn, I pray thee free my soul forlorn. I thank you for allowing me to get off with such a block-check effort of harassment from Sam. I promise to be a better man from this day forth — that I do promise.”
By your grace and with honor,