A Glass, and Darkly
Chapter 10: Back to the Future
23 April 2003 – 3d Ranger Battalion, Fort Benning, Georgia
And now the fun starts.
Nineteen months earlier the world changed. It had taken Jeff that long to arrive at this point, to be a Ranger-qualified special operations combat medic in a Ranger platoon. Now it was time to put up or shut up.
Jeff carried a stack of folders containing his new platoon’s medical records. In the Rangers he was part of the platoon though his chain of command went through the battalion surgeon, whom he had just met with; he was a Ranger first though, one with a medic MOS. In other units medics may be attached to a platoon during training, but rarely on a permanent basis like he was here.
His assigned barracks room was a regular-sized room, but he wouldn’t have a roommate. The extra space where the other desk and bunk should be would give him room to do minor exams if needed. Anyone needing lab work or X-rays would be sent to Martin Army Medical Center. Jeff’s new platoon was now his Ranger family; he’d know these men better than a doctor would know a patient in civilian life. Jeff carried the medical records so he could try to memorize them as much as possible. Thankfully the platoon was understrength following their deployment; there were only thirty-one soldiers currently assigned to 2d Platoon where its authorized strength was forty.
He shook his head to chase the lingering weariness away. Ranger School ran him ragged; it would be a while before his PT was back up to his normal standard. His appetite was now skewed as well. Jeff found himself getting seconds – sometimes thirds – at meals because he was so hungry. In the Rangers you could take all you wanted, but you better eat what you took so he didn’t go crazy filling his plates. He would continue to select well-balanced meals each time to prevent gaining too much body fat while his body continued to recover.
Another source of his fatigue was his wife. Keiko wouldn’t let him out of her sight, or out of their bed, while they were on leave together; after Ranger School graduation they drove to Columbus and holed up in their hotel. Since graduation took place the week before the Massachusetts’ April school vacation, Keiko took the week off and enjoyed the time alone with Jeff before her parents brought the kids to Columbus.
Exiting the stairwell on the second floor of his barracks Jeff made his way to his new room at the end of the hall. He continued to chuckle at Keiko’s behavior while she was with him; the woman had been insatiable. There was this one thing she –
Flames shot across the hall just in front of Jeff, followed by an unpleasant odor. Tracking the flames to their source Jeff saw a hairy posterior protruding from one room. The posterior’s owner held a lit lighter behind it.
“Hahaha! That was a good one!” someone else inside the room yelled.
Jeff whirled and stepped into the doorway. “What in the actual hell are you two morons doing?”
“Hey, lighten up, fresh meat...” the fragrant soldier cautioned while turning and pulling up his pants, not recognizing the new face in the barracks.
Jeff got nose-to-nose with the man. “That’s Sergeant Knox to you,” he growled. The man’s gaze shifted to the rank on Jeff’s collar; he gulped and went straight to parade rest. The other man did the same. “What’s your name, Ranger?”
“Nauert, Terry S., Sergeant!” Nauert, Terry S. stared straight ahead at some distant point, careful not to eyeball this unknown sergeant. He also tried to ignore the fact he’d dropped his BDU pants again.
Jeff glared at the room’s other occupant. “You?”
“Schultheis, Dieter J., Sergeant!”
Jeff let them stew in the silence which descended. “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news for you two Rhodes Scholars. The good news is I’m not in your chain of command.” Jeff paused to let that sink in; once he saw relief in their eyes he continued. “The bad news? The bad news is I’m your platoon’s new medic.” Their eyes widened again. “That’s right, and I don’t do bullshit very well, as you may have guessed.” He refocused his attention on Nauert; Nauert felt like Jeff’s glare would bore a hole in the side of his head. “Nauert, do you know what a third-degree burn is?”
“Do you know what debridement is, then?”
“It’s where they remove dead or contaminated tissue from a wound so that it will heal. This happens after someone receives serious burns and it happens a lot at the beginning of treatment. The method they usually use with burns is known as ‘sharp debridement,’ which means they use something like a bottle brush to scrub at and remove that tissue. I hear it’s a bit on the painful side.”
Nauert gulped again.
“So, Ranger Nauert, unless you’re interested in that kind of experience I suggest you refrain from the human flamethrower routine, read me?”
“And if something other than your gaseous emission had come out of your asshole, my size elevens would be making a field goal attempt with your nut sack right about now, understand? Use the brain God gave you, Nauert.”
Jeff looked at Schultheis again; the man was sweating. “You two find something productive to do before I suggest something creative to your squad leader. Pull up your pants, Nauert.” He turned on his heel and left the room.
“RANGERS LEAD THE WAY!” echoed down the hall.
Jeff strode down the hall staring straight ahead, his displeasure clear on his face. He didn’t acknowledge anyone sticking their heads out of their rooms; most of them saw his scowl and ducked back out of sight. In his room Jeff dropped the stack of folders on the desk before sitting in its chair. He sighed, leaned forward, and began banging his head on the folders.
“Hey, are you our new doc?” someone asked after a few thumps.
Jeff picked his head up to see a staff sergeant in his mid-twenties in his doorway. “Yeah, can I help you?” he asked, rising to his feet.
“I’m Trace Dinkins, 1st Squad leader.” Jeff shook the outstretched hand and introduced himself. “Let me hazard a guess? You just met Nauert and Schultheis?”
“Yes. Nauert was lighting his farts on fire and nearly barbecued me while I passed their room.”
Dinkins rolled his eyes skyward. “God save me from those two. They usually don’t get that stupid but we’ve only been back a couple of weeks, so that might be part of it.”
“A couple of weeks? I thought you were supposed to be back a couple of months ago? Back in February?” Jeff waved the young squad leader inside, offering him a seat.
“They extended us, of course,” Dinkins grumbled. “We’re lucky we didn’t lose anybody during our extra six weeks, as intense as they got.”
“While they’re still blowing off steam should I expect to see them again? After some joint misadventure?”
“Of the soldiers in my squad those are the two you’ll probably run into first. I’m hoping everyone’s gotten everything out of their systems by now. By himself Schultheis usually has his head on straight, but Nauert’s my Baby Huey and is known to lead people astray. Those two together can get a bit dangerous.”
“I can’t believe you would give that big meathead live ammunition!”
“In garrison he does get to be a handful. In the field? Whether we’re in training or deployed somewhere, he’s the best soldier in this company.” Jeff stared in disbelief. Dinkins shrugged. “Out there, he’s Animal Mother. What can I say?”
Jeff snorted at the Full Metal Jacket movie reference. “Don’t run out of hand grenades.”
“Like that would happen in the Rangers,” Dinkins laughed. “Oh, in case you haven’t read Schultheis’ file yet, he’s one of your combat lifesavers.” In combat, Schultheis would assist Jeff with casualties where necessary.
Jeff stared at the younger man. “In the spirit of your previous comment: ‘You gotta be shittin’ me, Pyle!’”
“Serious as a heart attack, Doc. Believe it or not, he is capable of making good decisions.”
Jeff shook his head. “Anyway, I should introduce myself to the platoon sergeant. He around?”
“Not yet; we’re getting someone new. He’s finishing ROP, the Ranger Orientation Program for soldiers who are E-5 (promotable) and above.”
“I bet he’s having fun,” Jeff muttered. “When’s he done?”
“He’ll be here next week.”
“What happened to your old one?”
“Rotated out. He’s been promoted to first sergeant out in 2d Batt. This new guy’s coming from a stretch outside the Regiment for career progression. He’s already tabbed, though.”
“I hate to kick you out, Trace, but I should get the rest of the stuff out of my POV before chow.”
“I’ll give you a hand,” Dinkins offered.
“You don’t have to do that.”
“It’s no problem. Besides, I know where we can get some volunteer lifting help.”
Dinkins introduced Jeff to Sal Pellegrino, Josh Brogan, and Enos Torvalds – the other squad leaders in the platoon – before they all headed to dinner; they were the squad leaders of 2d, 3d, and the machine gun squads, respectively. Jeff locked the platoon’s medical files in his desk’s secure drawer without having looked at them. The five NCOs got acquainted at the DFAC.
“How come some of the folks from Battalion are coming over to welcome you ‘back?’” Pellegrino asked. “I thought you just got here?”
“As a member of this company I did, officially,” Jeff confirmed. “While you guys were on your nature hikes over there I was here for a month between RIP and SOCM, then again between SOCM and Ranger School. I was attached to HHC then and only assigned to our company after I got tabbed. I didn’t officially become a B Co. Ranger until this morning.” Jeff pronounced ‘B Co.’ as ‘bee-ko.’
“Were you here when Sergeant Major Springer had his heart attack?” Torvalds asked.
“Yeah, I was here then,” Jeff replied, not saying anything else.
“C’mon, don’t be so modest, Sergeant,” 3d Battalion’s current sergeant major, Efrain Bautista, said while placing his tray across from Jeff’s. “Okay to join you guys?”
“Of course, Sar’Major,” Dinkins said immediately. He turned to Jeff. “This is Sergeant Major Bautista.” Bautista reached across the table to shake Jeff’s hand. “The Sar’Major makes it a point to eat dinner with the Battalion at least once a week; he rotates through the companies so he can talk to and meet folks after hours. What did you mean by what you just said to Doc, Sar’Major?”
Bautista glanced at Jeff. “They’re gonna hear it at some point Sar’Major,” Jeff sighed in resignation. “Go ahead.”
“Gents, you’re looking at the medic who saved Sergeant Major Springer’s life.” The eyes of the squad leaders snapped back to their new platoon medic. “Pete Springer is telling that to anyone who’ll listen, and the staff over at Martin’s emergency room feels the same way.”
“They’re exaggerating,” Jeff muttered around a mouthful of fried chicken. “I just helped get him to the hospital.”
“Uh huh. Why don’t you tell these guys what you’ve been doing for the past decade, work-wise?” Jeff looked at the senior NCO. “Go on...”
He sighed again. “Ambulance work.”
“By that he means he’s been an EMT for over a dozen years. A civilian paramedic outside of Boston for almost eight. General manager of his EMS company for a year before 9/11. Your platoon’s getting a medic who knows his shit and has actually done the job.”
“I was only my division’s operations manager, Sar’Major.”
“Oh, excuse me, Paramedic Sergeant Operations Manager. My mistake.”
Jeff studied the platoon’s medical files all weekend, making up index cards on each of the Rangers assigned. He laminated the cards so he could carry them in the field and they wouldn’t get ruined. Making changes to any single card wouldn’t be a big chore now that he designed a format he liked. The only card he hadn’t made yet was the new platoon sergeant’s. Since he was scheduled to arrive today Jeff wasn’t too worried about getting the information.
Jeff tried to loosen up his neck; he’d sat hunched over his desk too long over the weekend already. He rotated his shoulders after doing twenty quick pushups to try and wake up. He was happy his PT seemed to be improving after getting back from Ranger School. He wouldn’t score his normal three hundred-plus any time soon, but at least he wouldn’t embarrass himself.
He opened another protein shake from his fridge. He was still down fifteen pounds from what he weighed before Ranger School. Jeff heard Trace and Josh talking in the hall; from the sound of things the new platoon sergeant was here. Jeff almost sprayed chocolate shake all over his room when he recognized a third voice, the platoon sergeant’s, which was one from ages past. Sticking his head around his door frame, Jeff saw the two squad leaders in the hall but the platoon sergeant wasn’t visible. The man must be in his room.
When Trace and Josh went back to their own rooms, Jeff slid down the wall and peeked into the platoon sergeant’s barracks room. The man’s back was to the door. Jeff crept in and slammed the door behind him. The platoon sergeant whirled and almost passed out.
“For Christ’s sake, Mendoza, are you trying to get yourself killed? Or maybe you’re trying to collect Article Fifteens? You act like you never want to make it past E-3! Be my guest, but that’ll make for a long four years.”
Rick Mendoza stood there, mouth agape, and blinked like he was seeing things. The words from his first official ass-chewing continued to echo in his ears.
“That girl you’ve been seeing’s gonna get wise to you and dump your ass; then her father is gonna perforate it with buckshot because you broke her heart. Or your lame ass will land in Leavenworth first because you did something stupid here. I won’t have to watch the train wreck for long either way because you won’t be around. Of course you could try pulling your head out and act like you give a shit once in a while. Pay attention to detail here, quit screwing around in town, and you might still be alive and able to make sergeant before your four years are up.”
Mendoza blinked again. “Sarge?” he squeaked.
“How ya been, Ricky?” Jeff smiled while holding out his hand.
“Holy effing SHIT! Where in the hell’d you come from? I thought you got out after we got back from the Gulf?”
“What are you doing here then?”
“I’m your platoon medic, Rick; I re-upped in 2001.”
“You’re our medic? That’s great! But why’d you change your MOS?”
“That’s what I was doing while I was out, Rick. I was a paramedic in civilian life. It seemed a better fit than coming back in as an infantryman.”
“What else have you been up to?”
“Other than scaring the crap out of people? I married Sergeant Takahashi’s sister in ‘96; you remember Ken, right? We’ve got three kids now, Keiko and I. How about you?”
“That girl you chewed my ass over? The one I was dating before we shipped to Saudi? We kept dating after we got back, and then I married her after you ETS’ed. We have four boys.”
“Are they here with you?”
“No, not until after the older boys finish school at the end of June; I just PCS’ed from Ord and they’re stuck with packing up our old place in the meantime. I guess the Army figured it’d be better to have me start here sooner rather than later. We’ll be assigned housing on-post, but the place won’t be available until 01 June so I’ll be here in the barracks until it is. What about your family?” Jeff told Rick the tale. “You’ll have a standing invitation to dinner with us once Tasha knows you’re here; she thinks you’re the reason we got married and she’s probably right. I know she’ll want to meet you at a minimum. Tonight, though, how about you show me where the NCO Club is here and I’ll buy you dinner?”
Even with 3d Battalion just back from deployment their training schedule restarted almost immediately, though it wasn’t quite back at its normal tempo. Jeff used the slow time to practice his pistol work at the base’s shooting club. The Beretta M-9 was an okay pistol, but he missed his Sig; he preferred the action of that weapon better than either the M-9 or his M-1911. He debated bringing his pistols down from Massachusetts.
As the platoon’s medic, Jeff restarted combat lifesaver training before the battalion restarted its heavy training rotations. The platoon’s six CLS designees reviewed how to apply tourniquets under Jeff’s watchful eyes.
“Good job, guys,” Jeff offered.
“Man, I see why you told us to put the gloves on,” SPC Norm Oteri from 2d Squad muttered while holding his hands over a towel; simulated blood dripped off the gloves.
“Are you left or right-handed, Norm?”
“With your left hand pinch the bottom of your right glove, here. Pull it off slowly, turning it inside-out while you do. Good, now ball that up inside your left fist. Slide a finger from your right hand under your other glove and pull that one off so that it’s inside-out also with the other one inside it. Good. That keeps the contaminants contained and you can throw the whole thing away. If they’re visibly ‘soiled’ like these are, they go into a biohazard bin. If not, they can go in the trash.”
“So, in here?”
“No, that’s the sharps box; it’s for needles. You’d have to use your fingers to push something as bulky as those gloves through the opening, and I don’t recommend that. That’s a good way to get stuck. No, put bloody gloves, blood-soaked gauze, and anything not sharp in a red plastic bag marked ‘biohazard’ if you have one. This isn’t real blood so they can go in the regular trash.”
After cleaning up the practice arms they sat in the training room chatting.
“Okay, guys, what did you learn from that?”
“That you can make a tourniquet out of a lot of things,” DJ Schultheis said.
“That they hurt like a bastard,” was PFC Rueben Holland of 3d Squad’s contribution. Everyone agreed with that assessment. Jeff made sure they put a tourniquet on each other, briefly, so they could understand how tight they needed to be before they worked as intended.
“Yeah, they’re definitely not designed for comfort. Your patient’s distracting injury, the arm or leg that’s not there anymore, will likely keep them from noticing the tourniquet until I can get some pain medication on-board.” Jeff tossed a strange-looking orange device on the table next to them. “We’ll be introducing these to the guys during the Ranger First Responder training next month; I just heard about them while I was over at Battalion meeting with our PA.”
“What is that thing?”
“A combat tourniquet, DJ. Everyone will be expected to carry one on them at all times while we’re in the field, and in the same place, too; that way we won’t have to search for it when we really need it. Like with the Mark I nerve agent antidote kits, you use the one assigned to the casualty on the casualty, and not your own. I’ll be carrying about four to six extras in my bag when deployed if we need more.”
“Why are they having us carry these? I thought tourniquets were no longer ‘in vogue.’”
“There’s already plenty of evidence – very strong evidence – that tourniquets are saving lives in the ‘Stan. Survivable extremity trauma is way up now that we’re all wearing armor; the armor protects the core in explosions but at the cost of the extremities. Preventable hemorrhage is the leading cause of death in combat and they want to cut the numbers. We can’t do too much about serious bleeds from the torso or abdominal area yet, but we can stop most serious bleeds from the extremities.”
“So the field-expedient tourniquet training just now was to help us think outside the box?”
“Right,” Jeff confirmed to PFC Tyler Williams, an assistant machine gunner; all three of the machine gun squad’s A-gunners were designated CLS providers. “This model is the one the Army’s decided to go with, though the ones we’ll use in the field will be black. The stick here is the windlass; see how it’s permanently attached and can’t be lost unless this piece here is cut? The manufacturer says about three turns is all you’ll need before it’s tight. After that, the windlass gets secured in this simple holder here with the velcro over it. You guys each play with one for a bit, then we’ll practice putting one on someone.”
“Well, I won’t go so far as to call it comfortable, but this one is more comfortable than the improvised tourniquets,” Norm said after DJ put one on his arm.
“So they’re rolling these out at the company’s RFR class next month?” A-gunner Kyle Petersen asked.
“Right, Kyle. You guys are getting hands-on time with them now so you can help demonstrate their use. We’ll get guidance about where they want these carried at that point, too.”
“Pretty slick work, Doc,” Terry Nauert offered after a raid exercise. “You’re a natural.”