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CyberWar
August 9th, 2016, 04:24 PM
Boot camp.

The place that every soldier has a love-hate relationship with. The place that makes boys into men. The place that puts hair on one's chest regardless of sex. The place that every soldier remembers with a mix of hate and fondness.

The first and foremost thing that every new recruit learns in the boot camp is, obviously, military discipline. The drill instructors aren't exaggerating when they proudly declare they own your ass for the next couple months during their introductory speech. In fact, they are anything if understating the extent of their ownership over your backside and every other constituent part of you. For the next few months, your drill instructor is going to be your slavemaster, king and god in one person, so whenever you feel like praying, you might as well pray to him. He will drive you on from early morning to late night until you feel you can't keep going anymore, and when you do, he will drive you on some more, motivating you to keep going with a plethora of colourful expletives and whatever tormenting physical exercises his sadistic mind can come up with. And it will go on and on, until you either give up and drop out, or transform into what he seeks to transform you into.

The sensation of this transformation taking place is magical. You begin to find more untapped strength in yourself at moments you would have thought impossible as a civilian. Things that made little sense to you as a civilian suddenly take on a whole new meaning and purpose. You literally feel yourself transform into something greater than what you used to be. It's the feeling of having truly become a soldier.

But until that happens, you are the lowest form of life in the Universe, a maggot, a worm, a piece of pond slime, ranking somewhere between dysentery amoebae and gonorrhea bacilli in the words of your drill instructor. And the magical formula that will remedy your current condition is discipline. Rest assured, your drill instructor will see to it that you receive this magic potion in spades.

---

I stand at attention, the only parts of my body moving being the heart and the droplet of sweat trickling down my cheek. The rest of my squadmates stand next to me in perfect rank and file. The Commander-in-Chief himself would find no flaw in our formation, should he come to inspect us.

Unfortunately, Sarge isn't of the same opinion as he marches back and forth before us, detailing his rather unflattering view on our appearance, mental faculties, friends, relatives, religious conviction and sexual orientation as he holds up a crumpled cigarette butt to our eye level.

"Now, ladies, since you evidently seem to think I am a senile old idiot, please, enlighten me - WHAT IN THE NAME OF JESUS H. CHRIST IS THIS?!"

None of us dare to open their mouths in fear of inviting Sarge's wrath upon himself.

"You!" he snaps towards me much to my dread, "You smoke so much on breaks that you could put a steam locomotive to shame! Explain to me what this is!"

"A cigarette butt, sir!" I stutter, sweating even more profusely than before.

"WRONG!!!" Sarge roars in my face, spittle flying into my eyes, "This is Benny! Your comrade Benny! Take a good fucking look at Benny!"

Sarge is giving the cigarette butt a name. That is not good. He seems to have a thing on giving inanimate objects names just before he uses them to screw us over big time. The last time he did that, we spent four hours marching back and forth through the garrison carrying sandbags with female names written on them, "showing the ladies around", as Sarge described it. Anyone who laid down his sandbag was promptly found guilty of "leaving a civilian unattended on garrison premises", the whole squad being promptly punished with plentiful push-ups. A collective punishment aimed primarily at Fender after he tried to sneak one of his broads in the base at night and was caught by the patrol.

"Everyone of you remembers Benny!" Sarge continues his speech, moving on along our file, "Hell, the lot of you faggots could spend all day sucking his little orange ass were it not for me actually making you do something useful! And guess where I found Benny today?! You!"

"I... I don't know, sir!" Katz stutters as Sarge turns his attention to him.

"IN THE FUCKING GARAGE! Right under-fucking-neath the big, fat "No smoking" sign on the wall!" Sarge promptly explains.

"Now, since it's obvious that none of you illiterate peasant fuckheads can read or understand symbolic signs meant for the especially-retarded, let me break it down especially for you! BENNY IS NOW DEAD! AND HE. IS DEAD. BECAUSE OF YOU!!!" our drill instructor bellows after a dramatic pause, fiercely waving the unfortunate cigarette butt before our eyes.

"Uh... sir! How can Benny be dead because of us, sir?" Hog's deep voice grumbles from the other end of the file.

Sarge face-palms. I and probably everyone else would facepalm too if breaking stance wouldn't triple the torrent of punishment Sarge is about to pour on us.

"What have I done to deserve this..." he groans at half-voice, "I will explain again, for the especially-gifted - BENNY IS DEAD BECAUSE OF YOU! HE IS DEAD BECAUSE ONE OF YOU LEFT HIM THERE! You left your beloved comrade in a garage full of highly-flammable fuel, chemicals and lubricants in disregard of his sparkling temper and a sign advising against such vile treachery, so that is why Benny has now burnt to death! Now, who can tell me what that means?!"

"That we are royally fucked, sir?" Fender can't help but spew out.

"Damn right you are royally fucked, smart-ass!" Sarge growls, "It means Benny is going to need a funeral! Or is that a concept you bunch of shit-for-brains Neanderthals are unfamiliar with?!"

"Sir, no, sir!" we bark in unison.

"Good! Then today we are gonna bury our beloved comrade Benny!" Sarge announces with a sadistic grin, "Squad -ATTEN-TION! Right-TURN! Forward - MARCH!"

---

Being destined for a motorized unit, we get to spend quite a bit of time around the garages, learning everything there is to know about motorized transports. There are a lot of no-smoking signs around, but a lot just don't give a fuck about them, especially in places away from the prying eyes of officers. Sergeant P. who instructs in technical matters pertaining to vehicles is one of them, an easy-going guy who doesn't mind us having a smoke right there in the garage when the Sarge ain't around. Obviously, on the condition that we leave no traces of this infraction on fire safety rules. Even though the garage is as squeaky-clean as garages can ever be, and the nearest flammable object is in the other end of the garage, one thing that every new recruit must learn is that it is not the context or the sense in a sign that matters, but his obedience to it. And with Sarge finding a cigarette butt after coming over to herd us to the next lesson, one of us has just dropped the ball big time in this respect.

Obviously, nobody is going to confess out loud - Sarge would tear the whole bunch of us a new one anyway rather than punish just the offender. One farts, everyone sniffs - that, in his words, is the essence of soldiering. One man's fuck-up leads to the whole unit suffering, and this crucial lesson Sarge seeks to drum into us at every tiniest opportunity.

Now, because of one guy's failure to dispose of a cigarette butt properly, the whole squad of us must deal with the consequences.


---


Sarge's idea for Benny's funeral involves a "coffin" - a large heavy weapons' crate big enough to hold four Carl Gustav recoilless launchers, and "parade dress" consisting of full NBC gear. Since it's about as hot and humid as it ever gets in the middle of summer here, this last part is going to be especially fun.

Being a dear and beloved comrade, Benny obviously cannot be laid to rest in a hard, uncomfortable coffin, so Sarge has us fill the crate to the brim with nice soft sand in which to lay Benny's mortal remains. A trainee in the boot camp can obviously forget about such luxuries as proper spades - the one and only digging article beffiting a recruit is an entrenching tool.

After Benny has been gently laid in his sand-filled eternal home, we lift it on our shoulders, and our funerary procession begins. Sarge leads the way, and we must sing songs of mourning as we march. That our words can barely be understood outside the gas masks doesn't seem to bother Sarge - what matters is the process itself.

An hour or so passes before we reach our destination some three mikes out in the woods, our spines having nearly liquefied by now and each of us having at least a pint of sweat accumulated in each rubber boot. However, our torment only begins as we must now dig our fallen comrade a grave - a proper six-feet-deep grave big enough to accomodate the coffin. Since there's nothing to do for eight guys in such a small area, we take turns digging, two digging the grave while Sarge rehearses funerary salute drill with the rest. At one point, he decides that Benny should have a proper headstone as well, and sends me and Hog as the two biggest to retrieve one from a pile of rocks by the roadside. The size of the rock should obviously reflect the enduring love and respect we have for Benny, so Sarge sends us back four times before we finally deliver a rock of satisfactory dimensions.

With the grave finally complete two hours later, the lot of us are about to collapse from exhaustion and heat. Sarge is merciful - he lets us take off our gas masks and drink water, carried along in a 10-liter can on top of the coffin as an immitation of "funeral wreath", to our hearts' content. Most probably not because he would care about our misery, but simply because he doesn't want to file all the paperwork explaining us going down with a heatstroke.

After five minutes of rest, the solemn ceremony begins. After listening to a moving five-minute eulogy by Sarge standing "at attention", i.e., in a push-up position, it's time to lay Benny in his final resting place. With masks back on, I, Hog, Fender and Katz, being the stockiest, are assigned to lowering the coffin down in the grave, while the rest fire a three-round salute. Filling in the grave is the easy part, but Sarge still has us sing the garrison anthem for Benny while doing squats in his honour before finally deeming him properly buried.


---

"When I find out which one of you geniuses left that fucking cig there, I'm gonna shoot him in the back in the next live exercise..." I gasp after collapsing in the grass before our barracks an hour later.

"If we find out it was you, Fascist, you're getting a blanket party!" Fender groans as he pulls the rubber boot off his blistered foot, pouring out a good half-pint of sweat as he does.

"Fuck you..." I grumble, "I bet it was you in the first place..."

"Don't matter now," Katz remarks, resting in the grass alongside me, "We're lucky the Sarge didn't have us dig up that crate and carry it back afterwards..."

"That we are," I agree, "Any of you have a cig?"

"Fuck you!" the lads bark almost in unison.

---

Only many months later did we learn that Benny was left in the garage by Dumbo, the quiet big-eared chap later appointed as my loader and spotter, who had a way of being forgetful at the most inopportune of moments. Obviously he didn't get a bullet in the back or a blanket party after that much time, but at least he did have the decency to buy us a round of beer as we reminisced over this and other adventures back in the boot camp.

Saul Bee
August 9th, 2016, 09:15 PM
Nice story about the funeral. Took me a while to get completely hooked but by the time the funeral preparations were underway I was there, you had me completely hooked and wanting to know how it was going to pan out.
Not sure the introduction and the conclusion were needed, the story itself made me understand what you had tried to explain in the beginning and, to be honest it doesn't matter who had the cigarette, in fact in my twisted head I wanted it to belong to the Sarge.

CyberWar
August 10th, 2016, 01:09 AM
All based on a true story. Not from my basic, though - our sarge was more lenient and only made us dig knee-deep graves for the junk that we were caught littering.

"Benny" is actually a pun on the slang word for cigarette butt in my native tongue.

Bard_Daniel
August 10th, 2016, 01:37 AM
I thought this was fairly solid. The drill instructor seemed real and I liked the camaraderie between the men. I'm also able, I think, to appreciate the humor in this piece. Overall, a good one.

Thanks for sharing!

CyberWar
August 10th, 2016, 04:23 AM
The Sarge character is based on an actual drill instructor of mine. Seven years after basic, I still serve in the same unit as him. He can be quite an asshole if he wants to, as can be expected in his line of work, but other than that he's a pretty fun guy to have around.

Respected him back then, because he knew what the hell he was talking about, having served five tours in Kosovo, 'Stan and Iraq, and respect him still because he taught me pretty much everything I know today. .

Most of my war-story characters are actually based on real people, most notably Katz, Sparks, Beast, Fender, Hog and Katti, who appear to be given the most mentions. And, obviously, the Sarge.

felixm
August 10th, 2016, 01:02 PM
Good work soldier, now fall back into formation.  You can't make this up, but the honest-to -goodness name of my DI at Fort Leonard Wood was Sgt. Bobo.  He made us respect him nonetheless.

DATo
August 21st, 2016, 11:10 AM
Well written and entirely believable. I enjoyed reading this very much and compliment both your story as well as your writing style. I am generally not a fan of vulgarity in writing, not that I am a prude, but rather that it tends to be the hallmark of writers (much like comedians) who have no talent but rather need to rely on shock effect to keep their audience engaged. In this story the vulgar serves only to accentuate the experience that the men are enduring and I find that it is entirely appropriate to the story. The "vulgar" also serves as nicely constructed contrast to the beautiful word craftsmanship found in the narrative proper such as that which is found in the first paragraph. The experiences and descriptions you relate in your story provide great imagery and sense of involvement to this reader and I found myself vicariously engaged in the events being described.

I think your military service has provided you with a good basis for a much longer work. I for one would be interested in reading the results of such a project.

Thank you so much for sharing this with us!