Tandyland

Writing about the USS Taylor tour, made me remember the Dog and Pony shows that I used to have to put on for the brass and the whitehaired, white-skinned Senators at Fort Bragg a long time ago.
It was so long ago, Senator Strom Thurmond was alive. In fact, when I had to give him the Dog and Pony show, he was walking: barely.
Well one day I drew the short straw; it was my platoon that got picked to demonstrate the capabilities of the XVIII Airborne Corps. We had to depict flawless urban warfare executed by America’s best warriors: MOUT. We were it; we were the belligerent actors in that grand play. Senator Thurmond: that old womanizing curmudgeon; that supreme racist KKK Dixiecrat centenarian, we had to make pretty for him of all people. He represented the people of South Car’lina; he was then chairman of the all-powerful Senate Armed Services Committee too. That diaper-wearing, oatmeal-dripping fool: he had his hands on the billion and fiddie dollar purse strings. He was supposedly democracy incarnate; the mass of okely-dokely people empowered this curmudgeon of a man to make the big appropriations. Yay!
We spent days (24/7 days) getting ready for this circ d’ grande. We had to pick the best looking Sergeants–a mishmash of 2/504’s square-jawed Adonises and bit-part Mr. Potato Heads; we had to polish our equipment–making it look like Hollywood props in the hands of John Wayne and Audie Murphy. We had to perform for the Brigade Commander; then the Division Commander; then the Corps Commander. Our men had to make crisp movements; they had to act like obsequious robots. They entered and cleared rooms with their AR-15s drawn. The enemy (then a bumbling ragtag collection of incompetent South American insurgents wearing battle-dress uniforms inside out) died instantly, making demise-of-bad-guy moans. At the end, a black helicopter–the XVIII Corps’ deus-ex-machina–descended and evacuated our poor casualties, proving to the taxpayers that, like the movieBlackhawk Down, we will never, ever, leave a brave man behind. We practiced; boy did we practice. We were fed lines and then learned them rote. We moved left, right, left. We said, “Room One Clear!” We fired two rounds-boom! boom!–when we kicked the door open using machismo and polished boots. We dispatched the drug dealing-bastards; left them writhing and dying. Then we radioed to HQ and gave meaty Officer Poncherello-esque thumbs ups.
We did it at night too.
Then we did it again during the day.
The Colonel called for a large, four-wheel generator: an eight-Kilowatt generator summoned from the bowels of the motorpool. It had to be hitched to a deuce and a half, driven by a jaded Haitian-American with a slight lisp.It arrived so quickly, because it only took a phone call from the Colonel. The Colonel was an Old Testament God: He could get whatever He wanted using spite and spittle.
“You get me it now!” He barked.
“Roger, sir,” the fawning Bridage duty officer said like a modern day Amos n’ Moses.
Out in the middle of a scrub oak-strewn field we strung multicolored Xmas lights; we installed a 36-inch television and a VCR to tape our great shenanigans. The General arrived amidst wailing sirens and saluting sycophants; he called for bleachers and a juggling clown astride a patriotic unicycle: That all came an hour later. The Brigade’s official artist was summoned. He was ordered to make a sand table that resembled our multi-level stage. He followed orders, making things look really nice for that influential Senator from South Car’lina.
“Make it nice,” the General warned.
“Roger, sir,” the artist responded.
We had to press our uniforms with heavy irons and shave twice using Gillette XTREME razors. Our cap bills were folded into perfect parabolas using water and a small drinking glass. Our Kevlar helmet liners were ironed. Dust and wayward hairs were lifted off our battle dress uniforms using Scotch tape. Our company commander had to practice his walk–a rooster-like strut yes, the cock of the walk. Our company commander loved his strut; he also loved hunting deer and listening to Garth Brooks. “I will sail my vessel till my river runs dry,” he used to sing nostalgically, humming as if he was in the first row at the concert at Branson.
And oh what a play it was: All our equipment had to be shined and made black using edge dressing that was purchased in the PX. The token casualty had to lay still–no moans were allowed in our dog n’ pony world. Any visible hands had to be knife-edge straight. The water in the hanging lister bag had to be free of the taste of rubber. The latrine’s seat looked like the polished treasure of the Sierra Madre; the walkway to the theater was free of all weeds and rocks greater than 3/4 of an inch in diameter; no living thing crawled or grew in the path of the Armed Service Chairman.
Someone accidentally called it a circus: he was silenced–frogmarched, actually, into a one way-heading Humvee, back to the stockade. No sarcasm: sycophants only, please. Rebellion was impossible; this demonstration thrived on obedience and good manners.
When Senator Thurmond eventually arrived, he was escorted by his puppet masters: dyspeptic aides with comb-overs who wielded cell phones and one-word dictates: the guys who made the real decisions. Thurmond had a palsy; he shook like a epileptic prop in a snakeoil Evangelist’s revival tent. Though he could walk, he wasn’t allowed to; the aides pushed him down. He was put on a Rascal-esque motorized wheelchair. (We had to clean it well in advance with a bottle brush and a concotion of Simple Green and Windex.)
When he got to his observation post, my Company Commander radioed me. I radioed the Adonis-looking Sergeant who then radioed the square-jawed S.S. Corporal who kicked off the whole affair. Robots moved robotic-like. Casualties kept quiet. South American insurgents with dastardly-looking, Rollie Fingers mustaches were killed. Helicopters hovered and descended. All was good; all was made safe in the end. Both Disneyworld and the mass of taxpayers need a happy ending.
Senator Thurmond clapped.
“The boys look good,” he said, approvingly. A long trail of white spit formed between his mandibles.
“Yes sir, they do,” said the XVIII Corps Commander. (To become a Corps Commander, one has to take a class called “Glad Handing.”)
“Yes sir,” said the Brigade Commander. (Any Brigade Commander worth his salt glad hands better than the instructor of “Glad Handing.”)
“Yes sir. Private Jones, the M-60 gunner is from South Carolina, sir,” my company commander offered. This line hadn’t been rehearsed. My company commander decided, on the fly, to extemporize a bit. It worked.
“Where in South Car’lina,” Strom Thurmond said.
“Florence, sir”
“What’d he say?” Senator Thurmond asked, his hand cupped to his hairy ear.
Senator Thurmond’s aid jumped in to help the withered man. “Florence. Florence he said, Senator.”
“Florence?”
“Florence, yes sir, Florence.”
“Good. Good. It’s good to see South Car’lina boys here-ah.”
My Company Commander nodded. “Yes sir,” he said, pushing his chest forward hubristically. [This was warranted since the dog and pony show was a success.]
The Brigade Commander winked at the Division Commander. The Corps Commander saw that and smiled. Though it wasn’t in the script, it was well received. The XVIII Corps was sure to get it’s next request for fiddiemillion dollars.
Senator Thurmond was wheeled back to his Humvee and whisked away. He waved at us as he departed–his shriveled hand stuck out the window looking like the Pope John Paul II’s circa March 2005.
“Good job,” the Brigade commander said, turning to my Company Commander.
“Yes sir.”
My Company Commander turned to me. “Cut the generator,” he ordered.
“Yes sir.”
We turned it off; the Xmas lights went out; flashlight arcs appeared;my men shouted as they started cleaning up the range.
We were done about 12 hours later and then we went home to our saltbox base houses. We ate our warm cookies and drank cold milk.
Then we got up and did it again.

Writing about the USS Taylor tour, made me remember the Dog and Pony shows that I used to have to put on for the brass and the whitehaired, white-skinned Senators at Fort Bragg a long time ago.

It was so long ago, Senator Strom Thurmond was alive. In fact, when I had to give him the Dog and Pony show, he was walking: barely.

Well one day I drew the short straw; it was my platoon that got picked to demonstrate the capabilities of the XVIII Airborne Corps. We had to depict flawless urban warfare executed by America’s best warriors: MOUT. We were it; we were the belligerent actors in that grand play. Senator Thurmond: that old womanizing curmudgeon; that supreme racist KKK Dixiecrat centenarian, we had to make pretty for him of all people. He represented the people of South Car’lina; he was then chairman of the all-powerful Senate Armed Services Committee too. That diaper-wearing, oatmeal-dripping fool: he had his hands on the billion and fiddie dollar purse strings. He was supposedly democracy incarnate; the mass of okely-dokely people empowered this curmudgeon of a man to make the big appropriations. Yay!

We spent days (24/7 days) getting ready for this circ d’ grande. We had to pick the best looking Sergeants–a mishmash of 2/504’s square-jawed Adonises and bit-part Mr. Potato Heads; we had to polish our equipment–making it look like Hollywood props in the hands of John Wayne and Audie Murphy. We had to perform for the Brigade Commander; then the Division Commander; then the Corps Commander. Our men had to make crisp movements; they had to act like obsequious robots. They entered and cleared rooms with their AR-15s drawn. The enemy (then a bumbling ragtag collection of incompetent South American insurgents wearing battle-dress uniforms inside out) died instantly, making demise-of-bad-guy moans. At the end, a black helicopter–the XVIII Corps’ deus-ex-machina–descended and evacuated our poor casualties, proving to the taxpayers that, like the movieBlackhawk Down, we will never, ever, leave a brave man behind. We practiced; boy did we practice. We were fed lines and then learned them rote. We moved left, right, left. We said, “Room One Clear!” We fired two rounds-boom! boom!–when we kicked the door open using machismo and polished boots. We dispatched the drug dealing-bastards; left them writhing and dying. Then we radioed to HQ and gave meaty Officer Poncherello-esque thumbs ups.

We did it at night too.

Then we did it again during the day.

The Colonel called for a large, four-wheel generator: an eight-Kilowatt generator summoned from the bowels of the motorpool. It had to be hitched to a deuce and a half, driven by a jaded Haitian-American with a slight lisp.
It arrived so quickly, because it only took a phone call from the Colonel. The Colonel was an Old Testament God: He could get whatever He wanted using spite and spittle.

“You get me it now!” He barked.

“Roger, sir,” the fawning Bridage duty officer said like a modern day Amos n’ Moses.

Out in the middle of a scrub oak-strewn field we strung multicolored Xmas lights; we installed a 36-inch television and a VCR to tape our great shenanigans. The General arrived amidst wailing sirens and saluting sycophants; he called for bleachers and a juggling clown astride a patriotic unicycle: That all came an hour later. The Brigade’s official artist was summoned. He was ordered to make a sand table that resembled our multi-level stage. He followed orders, making things look really nice for that influential Senator from South Car’lina.

“Make it nice,” the General warned.

“Roger, sir,” the artist responded.

We had to press our uniforms with heavy irons and shave twice using Gillette XTREME razors. Our cap bills were folded into perfect parabolas using water and a small drinking glass. Our Kevlar helmet liners were ironed. Dust and wayward hairs were lifted off our battle dress uniforms using Scotch tape. Our company commander had to practice his walk–a rooster-like strut yes, the cock of the walk. Our company commander loved his strut; he also loved hunting deer and listening to Garth Brooks. “I will sail my vessel till my river runs dry,” he used to sing nostalgically, humming as if he was in the first row at the concert at Branson.

And oh what a play it was: All our equipment had to be shined and made black using edge dressing that was purchased in the PX. The token casualty had to lay still–no moans were allowed in our dog n’ pony world. Any visible hands had to be knife-edge straight. The water in the hanging lister bag had to be free of the taste of rubber. The latrine’s seat looked like the polished treasure of the Sierra Madre; the walkway to the theater was free of all weeds and rocks greater than 3/4 of an inch in diameter; no living thing crawled or grew in the path of the Armed Service Chairman.

Someone accidentally called it a circus: he was silenced–frogmarched, actually, into a one way-heading Humvee, back to the stockade. No sarcasm: sycophants only, please. Rebellion was impossible; this demonstration thrived on obedience and good manners.

When Senator Thurmond eventually arrived, he was escorted by his puppet masters: dyspeptic aides with comb-overs who wielded cell phones and one-word dictates: the guys who made the real decisions. Thurmond had a palsy; he shook like a epileptic prop in a snakeoil Evangelist’s revival tent. Though he could walk, he wasn’t allowed to; the aides pushed him down. He was put on a Rascal-esque motorized wheelchair. (We had to clean it well in advance with a bottle brush and a concotion of Simple Green and Windex.)

When he got to his observation post, my Company Commander radioed me. I radioed the Adonis-looking Sergeant who then radioed the square-jawed S.S. Corporal who kicked off the whole affair. Robots moved robotic-like. Casualties kept quiet. South American insurgents with dastardly-looking, Rollie Fingers mustaches were killed. Helicopters hovered and descended. All was good; all was made safe in the end. Both Disneyworld and the mass of taxpayers need a happy ending.

Senator Thurmond clapped.

“The boys look good,” he said, approvingly. A long trail of white spit formed between his mandibles.

“Yes sir, they do,” said the XVIII Corps Commander. (To become a Corps Commander, one has to take a class called “Glad Handing.”)

“Yes sir,” said the Brigade Commander. (Any Brigade Commander worth his salt glad hands better than the instructor of “Glad Handing.”)

“Yes sir. Private Jones, the M-60 gunner is from South Carolina, sir,” my company commander offered. This line hadn’t been rehearsed. My company commander decided, on the fly, to extemporize a bit. It worked.

“Where in South Car’lina,” Strom Thurmond said.

“Florence, sir”

“What’d he say?” Senator Thurmond asked, his hand cupped to his hairy ear.

Senator Thurmond’s aid jumped in to help the withered man. “Florence. Florence he said, Senator.”

“Florence?”

“Florence, yes sir, Florence.”

“Good. Good. It’s good to see South Car’lina boys here-ah.”

My Company Commander nodded. “Yes sir,” he said, pushing his chest forward hubristically. [This was warranted since the dog and pony show was a success.]

The Brigade Commander winked at the Division Commander. The Corps Commander saw that and smiled. Though it wasn’t in the script, it was well received. The XVIII Corps was sure to get it’s next request for fiddiemillion dollars.

Senator Thurmond was wheeled back to his Humvee and whisked away. He waved at us as he departed–his shriveled hand stuck out the window looking like the Pope John Paul II’s circa March 2005.

“Good job,” the Brigade commander said, turning to my Company Commander.

“Yes sir.”

My Company Commander turned to me. “Cut the generator,” he ordered.

“Yes sir.”

We turned it off; the Xmas lights went out; flashlight arcs appeared;my men shouted as they started cleaning up the range.

We were done about 12 hours later and then we went home to our saltbox base houses. We ate our warm cookies and drank cold milk.

Then we got up and did it again.

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