Editor’s Note: Geo’s memoir, Brothers of the Cloth, a true account of special mission unit soldiers, is now available for pre-order. You can purchase it here.
Our A Squadron troop leader, John C. — or “Bucket-Head” as he was more affectionately referred to — had a few notable idiosyncratic mannerisms. He had a slightly larger head than most of us, though his face was remarkably pleasant. He had a way of wobbling his head with his eyes closed as if he were listening to dissertations, all the while interjecting with his baritone voice: “Right… right… right…”
I should tell you that it was not (at all) annoying, just a thing that one could note about the man. During an assault brief by one of our assault Team Leaders, John was in his usually listening trance when one of the men suddenly closed his eyes, started wobbling his head, and repeating in a baritone boom: “Right… right… right…”
The troop burst out with the chuckles as our major opened his eyes, locked onto what was going on, and joined us all in laughter. I instinctively joined in as I have always loved a good impression. As the event ended and the leadership left the room one of the brothers brought up:
“So… that impression of Bucket-Head was pretty funny and I was laughing as hard as the next man but I don’t think that should be done right in front of the guy’s face like that again. I mean, we have got it pretty damned good with John C., and could probably only do worse — we need to show him more respect.”
Another brother added that we should include that nobody should ever call him Bucket-Head to his face either, as he was an officer and an adult man. I added my two-cents’ worth that we should also not permit that the men of the other two troops call our troop leader Bucket-Head either.
The relationship between officers and men was different there than in Big Army of course — the dynamic was very different; the rift more narrow. The working relationship was closer and more on a peer level than you would find in Big Army. A thing that never was confused though, is that the officer was still the officer and the one in charge — that was never disputed. It was even marginally acceptable to call a troop-level officer by his first name, though it was not in my own troop culture to ever allow it.
In the dining facility, the DinFac, the seating arrangement was such that one-half of the hall had restaurant-style seating of tables with four seats around them. The officers and most support sat at those tables. In the other half of the hall, there were long cafeteria-style tables where the men of the assault squadrons sat in a more gregarious fashion where camaraderie prevailed. Squadron officers sat most of the time with the men in the cafeteria seating — HOOAH!
I’m put directly in mind of a particular day there in the chow hall, where there was a group of visiting officials who had occupied a special circular table configuration arranged for the group on the restaurant side of the hall. Toward the end of the meal there at the “round table” the Unit hosting officer banged on the side of his glass with a spoon to capture the attention of the group in order to make statements and drink toasts. At once all of us, nearly 50 men, of A Squadron picked up our spoons and began banging non-stop on our glasses for several seconds until we were satisfied.
A question was raised later that day by a gentleman in the command group on how the men of the squadron should be punished for their disrespect and insolence. The question was met by silence, zero traction, and even a sarcastic chuckle:
“The men’s dining facility,” remarked the then-Unit Commander Colonel Eldon Bargewell, “is for refueling the men for training — not for entertainment.”
Come one, come all… ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December when the pipe-hitters of B Squadron constructed the most magnificent, comprehensive, and diverse technical climbing lane onto the ceiling of the entire length of the main building’s spine. Throughout the day the pipe-hitters filtered through the climbing problem to dominate the challenge. It must have taken the assault teams an hour on average to complete the course.
In the by and by an engineering officer from the support cell made a visual inspection of the climb’s length, and in his boredom and over-inflated vision of his self-worth posted an email addressing the matter (words to the effect):
“Addressing the climbing contraption that is hanging from the ceiling of the Spine: that is an unsafe and unauthorized hazard that needs to be taken down immediately. The Unit Engineering Department was not consulted on the construction of the thing — the load capabilities are not known, thereby presenting the potential of collapse.”
Mistake Number One: Because he did not know the party responsible for the construction of the climbing challenge he addressed his message to — UNIT ALL!
Oh, dear me… I think that the one and only time I would EVER send a message to the Unit-wide or UNIT All would be to announce this solitary word: “FIRE!!!”
Mistake Number Two: Being the technical climber that he was NOT, he made assumptions and generalizations about the safety of the climbing configuration.
Mistake Number Three: As a POG staff officer, do not ever (EVER!) meddle in the non-commissioned business of assault squadron.
The sergeant responsible for the construction of the climbing challenge committed an egregious error of his own; that is, he answered the email reprimand back by entering “Reply to All” thus initiating a childish back-and-forth exchange with the engineering officer until Eldo Bargewell put the kibosh on the convo.
“To the Engineering Department: since when does an assault squadron even need your permission or input to conduct a climbing operation? We routinely climb rock faces and conduct high-risk technical climbs of condemned structures without ever asking you for calculation on load-bearing structural potential. You need to find a hobby and keep your nose out of squadron business.”
With the kibosh dropped on both parties, the sergeant was mildly reprimanded for his tone with a Unit officer, and the engineer was kindly directed to shut his cake trap and mind his own affairs.
Teams of assaulters continued to traverse the technical climbing corridor throughout the day, as the jealous pipe-hitters of A Squadron pined away for a turn on the apparatus.
…and the world kept going around.
The world was going around too, where we found ourselves in Bosnia in 1997. I was passing a day with my brother Ricardo bouncing from foreign headquarter to foreign headquarter affecting coordination for a next-day event. In each headquarter the atmosphere was always unpredictable, therefore it was a crapshoot in each case.
I will tell you that up until we approached the Dutch contingent in Ilidźa, west of Sarajevo, the capital, all entrances made were cordial, inviting, and highly productive. Ah, but the Dutch contingent! Ricardo and I happened onto the one officer in the entire country who had eaten a bowl of Wheaties that morning into which some disgruntled entity had urinated. What’s more, shortly after breakfast he was trying to eat an ice cream cone to curb the taste of urine when the ice cream ball became dislodged, plunged, and splattered on the filthy floor.
Ricardo was a big man, just a BIIIG man… with an eye like an eagle and tall as a mountain was he. He was big and he was strong, but his uncanny strength made him seem even bigger than he actually was. He was a nice guy too, Ricardo was, but like so many of us, he is a nice guy — until he isn’t a nice guy anymore — each has our own limits to hold.
Ricardo and I entered the Dutch building and stood in the lobby. I wandered to my right for a number of steps looking for someone to myself introduce to; Ricardo stood at the base of some stairs hoping to catch someone’s attention.
And then he caught some.
The obstreperous child of a Dutch officer appeared and glared at us both. He was full of piss and Wheaties and short a scoop of Rocky Road fudge ice cream — boy, was he upset! He closed in with Ricardo quickly and stood toe-to-toe with him, his hands on his hips and his head tilted up to fix glares as he began his rant:
Dutch accent: “Look here, Mister you! You can’t just barge your way in here wis no identifications wandering here und zere just talking wis anybody you please!!”
The leaning (forward) tower of Ricardo creaked and groaned a little… then he began:
“I do have identification, (holding up his badge) see, I’m Command Implementation Force (COM I-For), I’m not wandering here und zere just talking with just anybody — I’M RIGHT HERE TALKING TO YOU!!”
With that, Ricardo bent down and picked up the diminutive Dutch officer by the armpits, held him up, and shook the man like a colicky baby for several seconds. Then he smacked him back on his feet. The officer immediately reached for the stability of the stair banister to steady himself for a few consoling moments. With the palm of his right hand over his forehead and his head drooped toward the floor, he staggered off.
Ricardo and I smartly (and intelligently) slipped out the front door and Bravo-lined for our car.
“Geo… did I fuck up? Was I out of line? I’m worried that I overdid it… damn.”
“Aaabsolutely, possitiv-elutely no, you were not out of line. That dip-shit was off his Dutch rocker. He completed disrespected you and I’ll stand up to that as long as I can still stand. You have nothing to worry about — let’s go have a Schweppes, Ricardo.
And a Schweppes we did have — a Bosnian Schweppes; over there they call it “pivo” and “šlivo.”
By Almighty God and with honor,
This article was originally published in August 2020. It has been edited for republication.