Copyright© 2010 by Joe J
I soldiered my butt off the remainder of those two weeks, carrying my share of the load and then some. The survival training was as much about surviving without sleep as it was about food. The cadre made us move every night to a new area, recon a target and conduct some sort of offensive operation. The success of those operations determined if you ate the next day, because a case of 'C' rations or some other food stuff waited at each target. If the cadre thought your attack or ambush was good enough, you received the loot. If they didn't approve, you got the finger as they drove off.
It was barely the start of spring, so there wasn't a lot of foraging for chow that we could do. Still, I religiously set out a few loop snares every time we stopped for the night. We had yet to catch anything, but at least the cadre knew we were diligently trying.
On our second target, our team leader cooked up a diabolical ambush that damn near wrecked the deuce and a half the opposing forces were using as a rolling target. The cadre sergeant on the truck was impressed enough that he threw us down a couple of live chickens, ten pounds of rice and two empty number ten cans. Greg Tomatsu, our unofficial team chef, made some fine chicken and rice soup. We each had a canteen cup of the stuff and still had enough left for each of us to fill a canteen.
By the tenth day, our asses were starting to drag. Besides covering a couple of hundred miles during our frequent moves, we were getting less than three hours of sleep a night. On night eleven, we conducted a raid on a bridge complete with simulated explosives to drop the span into the creek it crossed. We carried out the mission without a hitch and swarmed onto the bridge to collect our reward. We were perpetually hungry by then, burning four thousand calories a day and lucky if we took in half that. The smaller guys like Greg Tomatsu were especially suffering, because they had no reserves.
When we reached the middle of the bridge, we all groaned in anticipation when we saw the twenty pound bag of potatoes, the two bunches of carrots and the two big fat rabbits. The two big fat, flop-eared, cute and friendly bunny rabbits that had obviously been lovingly hand-raised. We all felt bad for the bunnies, but we were also happily looking forward to them starring in a stew come the next afternoon. It was all good until our fearless leader gave Pookie Ramos the job of carrying the rabbits and their collapsible wire cages when we beat feet off the bridge.
We headed to our last overnight camp in a very good mood. Tomorrow night we would link up with another team, conduct a raid on a radio tower, then escape and evade back to the McCall Drop Zone. If we made it to the DZ without being captured by the OPFOR (opposing forces) by ten AM on day fourteen, we would move on to the next phase of training. Getting caught or arriving late meant you either volunteered to do the entire two weeks again or you headed on up the street to the 82nd Airborne Division.
We arrived at our over night hidey-hole about two in the morning. Even though I had squat to show for it so far, I stubbornly moved into the woods and set a couple of snares that I carefully baited with some 'C' ration peanut butter. When I crept back into our camp, I found big Pookie laying on his sleeping bag with both rabbits snuggled up to him. The team leader and team sergeant were kneeling beside him in animated conversation. I had a bad feeling about what was going on when I saw the look on Pookie's face. I arrived just in time to hear him whisper angrily.
"You are going to have to fight me to get these rabbits, sir. We can do without meat for one day, and I'll carry the gear of anyone who is too weak to make it."
As luck would have it, our team leader was a JAG captain who would be headed to the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center as soon as he graduated. Being a lawyer, Captain Jones didn't order people about just because he could, especially when it might lead to getting his ass stomped by a big angry Samoan. Instead, he knew how to negotiate and lead by consensus. He called us all together and laid it out for us.
"The rabbits get a reprieve until 1500 hours tomorrow afternoon. Those of you who want them to live, better find something to put in the pot in their place. Because, gentlemen, tomorrow at seventeen hundred, I'm eating stew made from some dead mammal before I spend all night evading those OPFOR idiots."
I am happy to say that I was the reason the bunnies didn't end up in the stew pot. They got their reprieve because a huge possum caught himself in one of my snares. The thing had to have been four feet long from his nose to his rat-like tail. He wasn't real fat, but he weighed at least ten pounds or so.
A possum is not the tastiest of animals, but I'd eaten one in my youth, and it hadn't killed me. The one I ate was one I shot with my 22 rifle when I was a kid. My grandmother had a strict policy that I had to eat anything I shot, so I dragged it home and she cooked it up. It was greasy and gamy, but I ate it anyway. If I hadn't, my rifle would have been history.
"A man who would kill one of God's creatures just for meanness or sport doesn't need a gun, Junebug," Granny once told me.
Granny sure didn't have to worry about this big old possum, because not a spec of him was going to waste.
My teammates were less excited about the possum than I thought they'd be. My teammates who weren't from the city were from out west or Hawaii, where there aren't any possums, so most of them didn't know what it was and thought I'd brought home a giant rat for supper.
I finally grew tired of all the arguing they were doing and spoke up. Since I was the quietest guy on the team, me speaking up got their attention.
"Listen, we are supposed to be training to be Green Berets, guys who regular soldiers call snake eaters, yet you are turning your nose up at perfectly good food. We are in survival training and you want to eat some kid's Easter bunny, instead of something we caught ourselves. How's that going to look to the evaluators when they drop by this afternoon?"
There was some serious grumbling about it, but in the end, we cooked up some possum stew. Remembering how Granny cooked it, I boiled the critter for half an hour, poured off the liquid and then boiled it again in salted water. After the second boiling, we cut him up in small chunks and threw him in fresh water with the carrots and potatoes from our raid. We weren't permitted to bring food out with us, but condiments were allowed, so I had garlic powder, Steve had black pepper and Pookie had Tabasco Sauce. A good slug of each went into the pot. We soon had three number ten cans of stew bubbling away.
Mister Opossum had been stewing for a couple of hours when Master Sergeant Travis and two of the other cadre brought us our operations order for the link up mission. Captain Jones, feeling cocky at us being nearly finished with the exercise, asked them to stay for supper. Knowing we had the rabbits, and smelling the garlic and pepper, the sergeants were thinking hasenpfeffer, so they readily agreed.
The look on Travis's face when he chomped down on that first bite of possum was worth everything I'd suffered over the last two weeks. My teammates were acting as if the stew was actually tasty, so the three instructors grimly finished their portions. Captain Jones made a production out of draining his canteen cup and saluting me with it.
"Very tasty, Specialist Jamison," he said.
As soon as Travis and the other sergeants departed, we all had a good laugh about the meal. Putting the cadre on the spot like that boosted our morale, and we breezed through the next thirty-six hours. We were the first team to make it back to the assembly area and were rewarded with a hot breakfast and a chance to lounge around while the rest of the teams came straggling in.
While we were lazing around in the shade, Travis and the Sergeant First Class who had been our grader for the exercise came by and debriefed us. With a pointed look at me, Travis said that after a rocky start, the team had done well and he was advancing us to Phase Two. After he congratulated us, he pulled me aside.
"What did you feed me last night, Opie? I'm still burping it up that shit this morning."
I decided I'd better answer him honestly.
"Possum stew," I said.
He grunted and looked at me sharply.
"What happened to the rabbits?" he asked suspiciously.
I figured Travis thought we'd been eating rabbit stew while he was choking on the possum, so I set him straight.
"Pookie let them go after we caught the possum. We decided that since the possum walked into my snare, we'd eat what we caught."
Travis surprised me by laughing and shaking his head.
"You idiots are just crazy enough to make good operators," he said.
A third of the people who jumped into Camp McCall with us did not pass Phase One. Some of those were recycled back to a later class, but most of them ended up in the 82nd airborne Division. Our team was the only one with all twelve members advancing.
Phase Two was where we learned our individual specialties. Since Steve and I were both Infantrymen, we attended the light and heavy weapons course. We parted ways with our roommates the Sunday after we arrived back from Camp McCall. Greg Tomatsu was staying at Bragg for the demo man course, but would be in a different company than us. Pookie was headed to Fort Sam Houston for the Special Forces Medic course.
Steve and I moved two buildings down the street and once again roomed together. We were in another four man room, but by some quirk, no one was assigned to share it with us. We had a three week delay before our training started, so we were farmed out to the Special Warfare Center as post support soldiers. What that meant was that every morning after PT and breakfast, we were marched down to the back of the headquarters building, where a sergeant sent us off on some detail. We did everything from mow grass to unload beer kegs at the NCO Club. The detail pool was called the slave market, because of the way NCOs needing detail soldiers picked us out of formation.
The details were no problem, but the lack of doing anything interesting was. With nothing to occupy my mind, all I did was think about Megan. By then it was early April and I hadn't seen my wife since Christmas. The separation was driving us both crazy. We made plans for her to come up and visit when school broke for the summer, but that was still two long months away. My buddy Steve solved our dilemma the very next Friday evening.
We were in the barracks, just back from our details, when a guy popped into our room and told Steve some woman wanted to talk to him on the pay phone by the dayroom. Steve was only gone for a few minutes; when he returned, his smile was the biggest I'd ever seen on him.
"Put on your civvies, Jody," he said, "because we are going out to dinner."
Steve wouldn't give me any more information than that, so I shrugged and threw on some slacks and my nicest shirt. We had been standing out in front of the barracks for about ten minutes, when a sporty dark blue 65 GTO pulled up in front of us. The door of the car swung open and a well-dressed, statuesque woman stepped out. The woman was taller than me in her heels, and there wasn't an uncurvy place on her body. I gawked as Steve swept her up in his arms and laid a smooch on her that raised the air temperature ten degrees. When they broke their clinch, the woman stepped back and looked at Steve adoringly.
"I missed you, Baby," she purred.
Steve took her hand and turned her slightly to face me.
"Roxanne, this is my friend Jody. Jody, meet Roxanne Fuller."
Roxanne held out her manicured hand, I took it and mumbled out a greeting as I tried manfully to keep my eyes on hers. I recognized the tall redhead, because she was the woman in the pictures Steve had taped to the inside of his wall locker. She looked just as luscious with clothes on as she did in the cheesecake photos. Steve said Roxanne was in her mid thirties, but she looked much younger than that. She smiled wickedly as she held my hand.
"Steven has told me all about you, Jody. He said you were a great admirer of the photographs I sent him."
I turned four different shades of red, embarrassed beyond belief. Steve laughed and took Roxanne's hand from mine.
"Stop teasing him and let's find a place to eat."
We ate dinner at a very nice steak house on Bragg Boulevard, right outside Fayetteville. During the meal, I learned that the GTO was Steve's and Roxanne had brought it down for him. She was staying the weekend with Steve, then taking the train to New York for the spring fashion shows. Roxanne was a terrific person; she was funny and down to earth, despite her obvious wealth. Roxanne's feelings for Steve were as obvious as her wealth, and I could tell he had feelings for her. I think the high point of the evening was when Roxanne told Steve she had filed for a divorce from her much older husband. I know it bothered Steve that she was in a loveless marriage that revolved around money.
Steve told me I could borrow his car, and he goaded me into seeing the first sergeant about a three day pass. I was honest with Top, and he surprised me by giving me a pass and wishing me luck. I found that SF guys were always willing to help a fellow trooper connect with his woman, because they had all been in the same boat at one time or another. I called Megan that night and we excitedly made plans to meet in Atlanta on the following Friday. We picked Atlanta, because it was a five hour trip for each of us.
I signed out on pass at five AM Friday morning, and aimed that GTO towards Atlanta. It took all my self restraint to drive the speed limit, but I was respectful of Steve's property. I drove into the parking lot of our rendezvous Comfort Inn at a quarter after ten. My heart soared when I saw Meggie's 63 Impala already parked in front of the motel office.
Our little weekend getaway was even better than our honeymoon had been. I guess it's true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I am positive that we did not spend a second of that weekend when we were not touching, regardless of what we were doing.
As you can imagine, we spent considerable time in bed. After all, we were young and healthy, and we have always been very active sexually. Before I enlisted, three days was the longest we'd ever gone without making love; now we were going months. The men I worked with at Georgia Power teased me that the longer we were married, the less frequent we'd want sex. Actually the opposite happened, because the more sex we had, the more we seemed to want.
That was easily explained from my point of view, because quite simply, I thought Megan was the most beautiful and sexy woman who ever lived. Megan was five and a half feet tall, and weighed around a buck and a quarter. She wasn't huge up top, but her medium sized breasts were perfectly formed, and sat proudly on her chest. Her waist was narrow, her hips womanly and her legs were shapely and strong. She had thick, wavy medium brown hair with natural auburn highlights and those amazing big blue eyes. Her nose was straight and fit her face and her lips were full and almost always smiling.