I just saw an entry in my journal from a day when one of our drivers, “Willy P.” got his Stryker stuck in the mud right in front of our battalion headquarters on Camp Taji. It was January 23rd, 2008, and it had rained nonstop for about two days. While he was turning around in the parking lot by the headquarters building, he got too close to a ditch that paralleled the north wall of the building. The roads and parking lots were gravel and mud, and the weight of the Stryker caused him to slide off into the water-filled ditch. It appeared that the vehicle was dangerously close to tipping over on its side, although it didn’t. We had to have a recovery vehicle come and get it out of the ditch.
While this little incident doesn’t seem like a big deal, small things like that can certainly become a big deal in the army. All of the NCOs (sergeants) in my platoon got an ass chewing from our first sergeant. Then, all of the squad leaders in my platoon had to go and see the battalion command sergeant major. We were left standing outside of our battalion headquarters building in the rain. It was cold enough that we could see our breath, but we had to stand and watch shovel wielding soldiers fill in the ruts left in the mud by our platoon’s Stryker vehicle. Heaven forbid we might leave ruts in soggy mud causing a drainage ditch in Iraq to be unattractive.
Command Sergeant Major Ordonio was a little Filipino man, whom I had met when he was the commandant of the Air Assault School at Schofield Barracks. He was a funny guy, and his thick accent made him nearly impossible to understand. He seemed like the kind of sergeant major who didn’t like stupid. In my experience, he didn’t take shit from anyone, and he was quick to voice his opinion when he thought something was ridiculous.
He finally came out to address us after the ruts were nearly filled in. We were wet, cold, and irritated.
“Are you cold,” he asked as he approached.
He looked at me. “I’m good, sergeant major,” I answered.
He was wearing several layers of cold weather clothing, topped off with gloves and a Gore-Tex jacket to keep him warm and dry.
He stopped right in front of me and said, “You have plenty of fat to keep you warm,” as he tugged the zipper of his Gore-Tex up a little further.
Once he was done insulting me, we were lectured about standards, safety, discipline, and a whole bunch of other shit that had absolutely nothing to do with the driver of an armored vehicle misjudging his turn radius.
What I got from this whole speech, was that the 1SG and CSM were pissed that one of the vehicle’s crew was photographed posing in front of the stuck vehicle, and he was smiling. Somehow, that photo was supposedly emailed to our battalion commander, and he felt that it was inappropriate. We learned later that our first sergeant had also posed in front of the vehicle, and flipped a “shaka” for the camera. Wonder if that made it to the LTC Boccardi too?
A number of the leaders in my company and battalion were experts in the art of being dumb asses. We put so much emphasis on the things that didn’t matter, and then didn’t focus on the things that did. Reason number 7,249 that I was ready to leave the military.
Now, fast forward two days, January 25th, 2008. Our battalion S-4, 1LT Iorio, gets shot on Camp Taji. Apparently, our battalion XO’s M4 had been missing, but it hadn’t been reported. Next thing we know, one of our lieutenants gets shot in the back with it. All of the troops in our battalion get lectured on weapon safety and accountability. Somehow, it seemed that those leaders in the command group didn’t have to get put on lock down for hours and hours. It didn’t seem that they were lectured about basic soldiering skills. Strange, since it was their missing weapon, and their lieutenant who was shot. Our battalion commander even took us over to 1LT Iorio’s living quarters, and showed us the blood and chunks of flesh that were stuck on the front wall of the building. I guess they decided that he had shot himself accidentally. I never heard anything official, but I’m not convinced that he did it. Although, maybe he confessed or something. I’m pretty sure he was miserable there. Maybe he wanted to go home. Maybe he wanted to stage it to look like someone had shot him. Maybe it was an accident.
Now, let’s fast forward one more time, just over a month, to March 3rd, 2008. The fabulous and insulting CSM Ordonio was playing cowboy with his 9mm Beretta just outside of battalion headquarters. Apparently, he had his weapon locked and loaded, and he was practicing his quick draw skills. It got stuck when he was putting it back in its holster, and he forced it back in. After all of our lectures on safety, accountability, standards, discipline, and a million other things…CSM Ordonio’s pistol went off as he pushed it into his holster. He shot himself in the leg. Maybe if he would have been fatter, his holster wouldn’t have been directly above his calf muscle.
If I ever write a book, maybe I’ll dedicate it to my wife and to all of those leaders who preached standards, discipline, and all of that other shit. I would especially like to remember those guys who said that the civilian world was too tough, and that I wouldn’t be able to find a job outside of the army.
Good For You, guys, Good For You.