Monday, March 10, 2008

Of newly-hatched officers and their ways

Sergeant Murphy posted a story about an officer cadet who got too big for his boots. It brought back memories. For anyone below the rank of, say, Lieutenant-Colonel, getting crossways with a Sergeant-Major can get interesting in a hurry, believe me.

(How do I know this, you ask? Trust me. I know this.)

Anyway, it reminded me of an incident where a bunch of too-full-of-themselves Second Lieutenants were shown the error of their ways. I thought you might like to hear about it.

Second Lieutenants (i.e. brand-spanking-new freshly-commissioned officers) are notorious for being like eager puppies: full of energy, bursting to do something - anything! - useful, but not knowing quite how to go about it (and usually unable to contain themselves in the process). That's why there are so many jokes about them.

Q: What's the most dangerous creature in existence?
A: A Second Lieutenant with a map, a compass and a PLAN.

A Second
Lieutenant and a Master Sergeant were using adjacent latrine facilities. When the 2nd Lt. finished he went to the sink and washed his hands. As he was doing so the MSgt came to the mirror to check that his uniform was in order. As the MSgt turned to leave, the 2nd Lt. said disapprovingly, "You know, when I went to the Officers Training Course, they taught us we should wash our hands after using the latrine." The MSgt turned slowly, glared at the 2nd Lt. and retorted, "When I went to basic training, they taught us not to piss on our hands."

Ahem. Back to the topic.

A bunch of South African troops pulled out of Angola after an operation, tired, worn-out and ready for a rest. Unfortunately, a few newly-commissioned Second Lieutenants had arrived at the base where they were to rest up . . . and they were making nuisances of themselves. They started out by ordering the new arrivals to attend PT parade at 06h00 next morning, followed by uniform and weapons inspections, parade drill, and so on.

To a bunch of combat veterans this was absolutely ridiculous. A meeting was held to discuss the matter, and plans were hatched. The Sergeant-Major, who'd mysteriously heard about the meeting (Sergeants-Major have an uncanny ability to hear about things like that) blandly asked one of the senior NCO's to do a quick inspection of the armory and report back to him - and handed over his keys to that building for the purpose. Upon being assured that all was in order and that the inventory sheets had been adjusted matched the quantities (now) in store, he departed.

The rest got to work.

At this base, in the border area of South-West Africa (today Namibia), the officers latrine was a majestic structure. It consisted of five stalls, each with a wooden box over what we called a "long drop" (a deep hole in the ground). A large hole had been cut in the top of each box to accommodate the debris. The entire structure was roofed with thatch, and thatch sidewalls surrounded it and separated each latrine from its neighbors. (Enlisted latrines dispensed with the internal partitions.) To make the tender posteriors of the officers more comfortable, each box had been equipped with a genuine plastic toilet seat. These were cheap items that bent a bit under the weight, but served their purpose of preventing splinter injuries. (Enlisted latrines lacked the seats, of course. Presumably our posteriors were tougher than the commissioned variety.)

During the small hours of the morning, a person or persons unknown proceeded to booby-trap the officers' latrines. Each of the five stalls received a flash-bang (a training grenade making a very loud bang and a big flash) concealed in the thatch roof above it. All five were wired together in a ring-main and connected to a pressure switch. (The latter is something that looks like the letter U turned on its side. When the two prongs are pressed together they complete an electrical circuit, which fires a detonator). The pressure switch was concealed beneath the plastic toilet seat in the center cubicle.

Next morning reveille was sounded at 05h45. The Sergeant-Major (unusually, up and already dressed at so early an hour) somehow managed to detain the Major and a Captain in conversation as the eager-beaver Second Lieutenants headed for the latrine. As good fortune would have it, they'd occupied three of the stalls before a fourth entered the center cubicle and sat down.


The latrine roof disintegrated in a thunderous blast and a cloud of flying thatch, and the entire camp (most of whose occupants had got the word and were watching in eager anticipation) was treated to the sight of four deafened, scorched, thatch-shedding Second Lieutenants, trousers round their ankles, assets exposed to the four winds and bouncing like crazy, bunny-hopping frantically towards the air-raid trenches screaming "INCOMING! TAKE COVER!"

Several hundred soldiers collapsed in hysterics, the Major, Captain and Sergeant-Major disappeared into the former's tent (from which snorts, splutters and muffled howls of mirth were heard), and for about ten minutes any terrorists who wanted to take over the base would have been able to do so without firing a shot.

When things died down the Second Lieutenants descended upon the Major in an indignant body, demanding to know what he planned to do about this assault upon their commissioned dignity. He informed them (in concise, soldierly and unambiguous language) that he didn't plan to do a damn thing about it and that he hoped they'd learned something from the experience - because if they hadn't, he was sure that a bunch of combat veterans would be able to think up another lesson for them, one likely to be even less palatable.

We had a very peaceful time after that . . .



Anonymous said...

I knew a Command Sergeant Major a few years back.he had told some stories much like this one.He had hundreds of them.I loved to set down with him and hear his stories.

P.S. I ahve linked to your blog from mine.

Old NFO said...

Beautiful!!!! Regardless of the service, the same crap takes place!

Alison said...

Always good to remember one's place in the scheme of things! Thanks for the chuckles!

Murphy said...

Heh, I've heard of explosive bowel movements, but I think that takes the cake!

Anonymous said...

Was a chief (E-9) for the last 10 years, to the day, of my career. Yep, if it was going on I probably knew about it, or if I didn't, somebody may wish I had. Just can't be effective without good intel.

And yes, some of those butter bars can be twits, and there are many ways to train them. But I used to remind my senior NCO's that they should train the LT's well because those LT's might very well grow up to be those NCOs' commanders one day soon.

I'd give anything to have been there for that one. heheheh

Anonymous said...

Sorry to tell you, guys, but that bit about "not pissing on my hands" also comes in a version involving Harvard students (well, maybe not the one currently occupying the Oval Office).