In the U. S. Army an enlisted man has a worm’s eye view of practically everything. What little I recall regarding Sergeant McCarter (First Sergeant of the 187th AHC) is hardly worth writing about as I had very little to do with him on a daily basis. Surely he made brief announcements at company mass formations and so forth but I recall only two personal encounters with him and both, I think, didn’t play well.
First, let me say that, for what ever reason, he reminded me ever so much of the Hollywood actor Forrest Tucker. Sergeant McCarter struck me as a tall, lean, kind of gangly man with an authoritative voice. I wonder to this day if anyone else ever made that association.
As I said, my encounters with him just didn’t play well. In the first, I’d just been transferred from the Maintenance Platoon (the hangar) to the Rat Pack. I was driving the Rat Pack’s assigned ¾-ton pick-up into the company area. (I fell in love with that ol’ truck because it was on it I first learned to drive stick.) First Sergeant McCarter just happened to be standing there just as I made a very tight circle to park the truck in front of our hooch. I’d taken the turn just a little too fast, kicking up a lot of gravel and nearly went up on two wheels while doing so. When the truck came back down I just stopped and shut it off. Sergeant McCarter yells: “How long you been driving that truck?”
I looked over at him and sheepishly replied: “Uh, two weeks?”
The second encounter was a little bit strange as a result of a lack of communication. I was laying on my bunk fully clothed in the heat of the day when Sergeant McCarter walked through our hooch. He stopped at the foot of my bunk and curtly inquired: “What are you doing?” (Oh Christ! Shades of Beetle Bailey!) I hesitated to answer – I looked around the open barrack bay and searched my mind for an honest yet respectful answer – I responded, “Reclining?”
What I should have said was: “Sergeant, I’ve just been assigned as a Cobra Maintenance Crew Chief (They were delivered to the company 3 and 3 and mine was one of the first three) and, as you probably know, the flight crew on a Cobra helicopter consists of only a pilot and co-pilot and, therefore my workday only starts after the ship is on the ground, unlike the other Huey Crew Chiefs (C, D & H models) who are always with their ships and can perform many of their daily maintenance tasks throughout the day.” – or simply, “I’m waiting for my ship to come in?”
What no one recognized, not even myself, was that we were being sleep-deprived because the Cobra Crew Chiefs were, except for occasionally re-arming the ships, idle during the day and, axiomatic in the army, idle minds are the devil’s playground and idle hands the devil’s tools; so we were given “fatigue duty” instead of being allowed to sleep. Fatigue Duty is more often than not picayune or pointless work assignments whose sole purpose was to wear us out through physical fatigue. “Fatigue Duty” – Get it?
But I never communicated any of that to First Sergeant McCarter. I simply answered his question, “What are you doing?” with the inane, rhetorical, hesitant and plaintive response “Reclining?”
As he stalked away I’m sure I left him with the lasting impression that I was just another Beetle Bailey-esque slacker-draftee.
Life is a temporary inconvenience and a huge misunderstanding.