War games are designed for Marines to deal with bombs, bullets, and bayonets. But when it comes to wildlife, well that requires different tactics.
We were attached to the headquarters regiment, 800 Marines setting up everything needed to wage a five-day war against the Blue Force. We had strung up the nettings to camouflage the tents and communications network. We had set up roadblocks and listening posts. Furthermore, we had 200 Marines digging in to form a perimeter around the camp; a ring of protection designed to alert us at the first sign of danger.
My fellow Staff NCO, David, and I were inspecting the preparations, ensuring everything was going okay. As we came out of the communications tent, which was more than 150 feet inside the perimeter, we came face-to-face with our adversary.
David jumped back and slapped me on the arm. He pointed to something behind me. I turned and saw them.
Less than 20 feet from me was a mother bear with her two cubs. I took one look and stopped. “They’re so cute,” was my comment.
David leaned over to quietly say, “You do know they can hurt you, don’t you?”
Strangely enough, until he said that, I wasn’t afraid of the creatures, who obviously looking for food and had no fear of people. David and I courageously decided to back away from the bears. This must have spooked them because the cubs immediately climbed a nearby tree, and the mother roared.
At this time, several other Marines finally noticed the three bears in the midst of our camp. Many of them started shouting, alerting the entire camp of the intruders. This must have annoyed the bears, which now felt it was time to leave. The cubs came down from the tree and the three of them began to slowly walk towards the perimeter of the camp. Of course, they stopped at several of the tents along the way to check them out. The bears went into the tents, and the Marines came running out.
We now became organized and went on the offensive. Within minutes, there were dozens of Marines shouting, waving arms, and making noise to drive the bears out of camp. The mother bear would turn around and look at us. She gave us a look which seemed to say switch to decaf and calm down, we’re leaving.
One Marine saw this as an opportunity to get some pictures of the wildlife. The three bears courteously sat down and posed for the pictures. They were quickly becoming celebrities and took several more opportunities to stop and pose while we continued to shout and wave our arms.
The bears got up and continued to stroll towards the perimeter where the Marines were dug into foxholes and defensive positions. Several of the other Marines saw the bears and decided to open fire and shoot at them. Because these were war games, everyone had blanks. They were able to make noise, but that was all. The bears sat down, amuse by the nonfatal assault of noise and confusion. They seemed perfectly content to watch the battle, unaware they were the enemy.
Now we had one Marine who was a human steam shovel. His foxhole was so large and deep, one could have filled it with water and swam laps in it. Naturally, the bears checked out this foxhole. They went in and the Marine jumped out.
One staff NCO noticed the Marine didn’t have his rife. “Where is your weapon?” the staff NCO demanded.
The Marine, breathing heavily, pointed to his foxhole. “Sir, the bears have it, and they can keep it.”
Marine Corps School of Ski Instruction
We were standing in line, shivering in the cold on a bright sunny morning, with the temperature barely in the teens. But then, this was the Marine Corps Winter Combat Training Course and I was excited because I was going to have my first skiing lesson. Our instructor glided to a spot about twenty feet in front of the group.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he bellowed. “Welcome to the United States Marine Corps School of Ski Instruction. Those big things on your feet are skis. The long things in your hands are ski poles. The white stuff on the ground is snow. That thing over there is a tree. Don’t hit the tree. Congratulations, you have completed the United States Marine Corps Schools of Ski Instruction. Now, everyone turn to your right.”
This may seem harsh, but the Marine Corps is not known for warm fuzzies and gentle instruction. But here we were learning to ski after a minute and a half of instruction. Still, I felt ready and eager for the challenge.
We all turned to the right, and the instructor showed us how to walk with our skis. We were shown how to walk sideways and how to walk with a “V” by turning the front of our skis outward. For the next hour, we worked to master these two skills. Instead, we managed to master the skill of going downhill backwards and getting tangled as our skis crossed each other. Then the instructor showed us how to glide over the snow for cross-country skiing. A skill we managed to turn into the ability to run into each other with great frequency. The final skill our instructor attempted to impart to us was how to point the toes of our skis in so that we could slow down or stop when going down a hill. I was unaware that our feet could actually cross and somehow, we managed to go faster downhill. I did notice our instructor did not show us how to fall down. It seems we mastered that skill all on our own. Our major accomplishment was no one had managed to stab any one with the ski poles.
We then migrated to a field where we practiced gliding for cross-country skiing. Our first attempt resulted in Marines running into each other. At one point we looked like a platoon of Marines in a giant pile of pick-up sticks. Someone pointed out that we were really bad at skiing. Someone else pointed out the snow was cold and wet. A third person pointed out it was time for lunch.
Before long, we were able to make it around the field without any serious problems or injuries; so the instructor felt it was time for something more challenging. We took off on a trail through the woods. For the most part, the terrain was flat, and we were able to make some progress. Then we came to the hill. We were to practice the techniques we had been taught earlier to make it to the top of the hill. This meant for us, we spent more time going downhill backwards than we did going uphill. Our instructor showed us how to use a zigzag pattern of skiing to one side of the trail, stopping, turning 180 degrees by hopping on the skis, then skiing to the other side of the trail. After an hour of being pin-ball Marines, bouncing from one side of the trail to the other, we finally made it to the top. The fact that it would have taken us only ten minutes to walk up to the top of the hill was irrelevant.
After we conquered this monument to Mother Nature, our instructor had another brilliant idea; either that or he relished the idea of us living life dangerously. He wanted us to ski down the hill. I do not know why this came as a surprise to me. After all, there is only way to get off a hill, and that is to go down it. One by one, we started down the slope. Soon it was my turn, and I was celebrating my accomplishment of swooshing down the hill. I was proud of skill and ability until the trail curved and there stood a tree in my way. I started to will the tree to move. In my mind I kept repeating move the tree, move the tree, move the tree. Soon I was actually yelling out loud. The tree was not moving. Someone yelled back for me to shift my weight so I could turn the skis. I bent to the left, shifting my weight to my left side, I was actually starting to turn. I would be okay. I would miss the tree.
The tree moved. Honestly, the tree moved right into my path. I did everything I could to avoid it, but I ran smack into it, knocking me off my feet. I’m not sure how one of my skis ended up in the tree. The worst part, I was still attached to the ski. I think the lower branches pushed it up there just so I couldn’t get down without some help. I do know that while I was battling the tree for my survival, I had this sudden overwhelming desire to give up skiing.
Someone came up and asked if I was okay. At least I think that was what he was saying. Hanging upside down in a tree made it really hard for me to answer coherently. Before I could answer, the tree spat me out onto the ground. The instructor informed me I would have to go back to the medical clinic where they could check me out and maybe take some x-rays. I was really disappointed that he hadn’t made this suggestion before I had gone up the hill.
Turns out I was just banged up, no serious injuries, except to my pride and ego. I do know that the next time they asked for volunteers for winter combat training, I signed up for desert survival school.
Marines run. From the moment we are told to get off the bus and get on the yellow footprints welcoming us to Marine Corps Boot Camp, we run. It starts with running everywhere for the 13 weeks of boot camp. Then it continues through our advance training. But it doesn’t end there. Every three to six months, we need to take a physical fitness test, which includes running three miles in less than 28 minutes. Of course, throughout our time on active duty, we train for the physical fitness test, as well as for our job specialties in the military. As a military police officer, I often had to run to chase down criminals.
For Marines stationed in Hawaii, it’s a runners’ paradise. There are runs and races every weekend. For example, the Honolulu Marathon is famous for encouraging all participants. Along all 26 miles, spectators line the course passing out water and supporting the runners.
Another famous run is the Perimeter Island Relay. For this race, seven-person teams run around the 140-mile perimeter of the island of Ohau. There are 45 legs, averaging three miles. Each person runs six or seven legs. The race starts the on Saturday night, with staggered times, depending on when the team expects to complete the race. The goal is to have all the teams finish up Sunday afternoon.
Our team was made up of seven Marines with the goal of finishing, nothing more. We knew we weren’t the fastest team, but we were looking forward to the challenge. We did complete the race, coming in 29th place out of about 50 teams. Still, we were rather proud of our accomplishment.
Now, of course, there is a girl, a beautiful woman from Asia named Rita. She was intelligent, sexy, charming and the kind of woman that any man would fall for, myself included.
Three weeks after the race, there was an awards ceremony. It turns out the top three teams got large trophies, but every team completing the race got participating trophies, which were much, much smaller. I was the person from our team selected to attend the ceremony and pick up our prizes.
On the way back, I stopped where Rita worked. I proudly displayed my trophy. Rita took one look at it, smiled, and said, “How cute, a baby trophy.”
A Purse is not Marine Corps Issue
One of the many benefits of military life is the military exchange, which is a mini department store on every military installation.
My wife was greatly please when I was transferred to a larger base, which meant there would be a larger exchange. She pointed out how most of the exchange facilities, especially those overseas, had limited selection of clothes, accessories, and jewelry. Like many women, she was pleased with the selection of shoes and purses, where she spent most of her time.
One day, while waiting to meet another couple for dinner, we spent some time in the exchange. Like many married couples, she was absorbed in shopping, and I was more interested in where we would be going for dinner. I’m sure she told me exactly which purse she wanted. I looked at the one she pointed to.
We had an agreement, for impulse purchases, we would wait at least a day before committing to the purchase. It wasn’t that we couldn’t afford it. The issue was we didn’t have the room in our home for everything, and being in the military, which required downsizing and moving every few years, we had learned to really think about making any purchase.
A few days later, my wife made up her mind; she wanted the purse. She asked me to pick it up for her. She was insistent because another reality of shopping at military exchanges was the items you saw and wanted often were sold out quickly. I made it a point to stop at the exchange on my way home. I found the purse she wanted, or I thought I did. I went up the cashier, paid for it, and went home.
I was sure my wife would be pleased and reward me with praise and affection. Instead, as I took the purse out of the shopping bag, I saw a look of disappointment on her face. She immediately pointed out I had gotten the wrong purse. It was the correct design and color, but the wrong size.
The next day, I returned to the exchange. I walked up to customer service. The two ladies at the counter giggled when I, a Marine in uniform, brought out a purse.
“You got the wrong purse, didn’t you,” said one of the ladies.
I confirmed their suspicions.
“It always happens when a wife sends her husband to get her something. He always gets the wrong size or the wrong one.” They kept giggling.
While I was a bit embarrassed, I felt I had to explain the reason for my mistake. “Forgive me, but a purse is not Marine Corps issue.”