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Chapter One
Days of Wine and Song

Call me Bandit.

Okay, hopefully that's, like, the last time I'm going to make a literary reference. But you never know. Beware . . . bewaaare . . . 

There's a bunch of these stories out there now that people are getting back on the Net. I figured, what the hell? I've got one, too. Sure, we all do. But, you know, what the hell?

People started calling it the Hell Times after some pundit was spouting about it on TV. I mean, The Great Depression was taken and they didn't have the Plague or the Freeze thrown on top. I know, it wasn't a plague and all you nitnoids are going to point out that it was some fucking flu virus and plague is bacterial infection and . . .  Yeah. I know. Thank you. We ALL fucking know, all right? Christ, there are times you wished it had been targeted at nitnoids. Everybody calls it the Plague, okay? Get over yourself.

Anyway, people call it the Hell Times. I dunno, maybe I've got a better personal fix on hell than they do or maybe I don't. Personally, having been in combat and blown up and shot and seen people I care about blown up and shot and even people I didn't particularly care about blown up and shot and having visited a volcano once and thought about what it would be like to spend the rest of fucking forever in one, I don't call it the Hell Times. Bad as it was, seems to be an exaggeration. Me? I call it the Time of Suckage.

This is my sucky story about the time of suckage.

So there I was in Iran again, this is no shit . . .  It was my fourth trip to the sandbox in my short years as a soldier. And it was a maximally fucked up tour even before the Time of Suckage. Look, you spend any time as a soldier and you get good chains of command and bad chains of command. Good jobs and bad jobs. You deal. It didn't help that the Prez was a whiny bitch who really wanted us out of there but couldn't figure out how to get reelected and stab us in the back. Equipment was short, training was crap, the muj knew all they had to do was hold their ground and we were eventually going to leave.

And boy did we. Not that it helped them much, huh? Heh, heh.

Seriously, I met some Iranians (and Iraqis and Afghans) that were pretty decent people. And I'm sorry as hell for what happened to the good people, most of them, that inhabited those countries. But . . .  Ah, hell. I'm getting ahead of myself.

Way ahead.

Maybe I should talk about myself for a bit to give a little context. I was one of the very few remaining farm boys in the Army at the time. Seriously. I mean, most of my troops were from rural areas but that's not, exactly, the same thing as being a farm boy. I grew up on a family farm. Well, I grew up on one of the family farms owned by the Bandit Family Farm Corporation, LLC.

Wait? Corporation? Family Farm? How do those two go together?

Like bacon and eggs, my friends, like bacon and eggs. Forget everything you've seen in a bad movie about family farms. If you're going to survive in this economy, you'd better know what the hell you're doing. And I'm not talking some hobby farm where the "farmer" is a construction contractor and has a couple of cows or a chicken house or twain that are some added income. (Or more often a tax write-off.) I'm talking about making all your income from farming.

And it's pretty good money if you do it right. Farmers are the richest single income group in the U.S. Were before the Time, during the Time and after. Sure, some of them lost their farms during the Time but damned few. (Except for the Big Grab but I'll get to that.) Smart farmers weren't saddled with killer debt when the Times hit. And, hell, people always got to eat. Sure, there were less mouths to feed but the government was always buying.

Anyway. Grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota near Blue Earth. It was one of nine the family owned in six counties in southern Minnesota. That one was right on two thousand acres, most of it tilled in time. Pretty much the standard rural upbringing. Went to school. (Yes, I was captain of the football team.) Played with my friends. Dated girls. (I'm straight for all you pining fags out there.) And did some chores. Yes, I've tossed haybales. But not all that many. Baling is time and labor intensive and thus unprofitable. Better to roll. Takes one guy with a tractor the same time to clear a field of rolls as it takes fifteen guys with bales. Do. The. Math.

Did I ever get up before dawn and milk cows using a bucket and a stool? No. The family owned two cow farms. Both were run by managers. At o dark thirty the cows would walk to the barn and into their stalls. Why? Because they had full udders. Full udders hurt. The cows learned quick that if they walked to the stall the hurt went away. Cows are very dumb (if not as dumb as sheep) but they can be trained.

A team of people (usually four) would then hook them up to the milking machines. They'd drink coffee while the cows were getting their udder dump, unhook them, and the cows and crew would then have their breakfast. After breakfast the cows got turned out and most of the crew went off to day jobs. The milk was stored in a steel vat until the truck came by to pick it up and take it to the processing plant. Manager, who was full time, handled that. In the evening, repeat.

Again. Do. The. Math. Forty cows (smaller farm). I milked one cow, once, by hand when my dad made me "familiarize" with it. It took me a good fifteen minutes. Figure an expert can do it in maybe five. Four guys, thirty minutes. Or one guy doing it all damned day. Sure, the equipment's a tad expensive (like a half a million dollars). It's amortized.

Then there's the whole . . . sepsis issue. Look, milking by hand you put milk into an open bucket in a stall that's occupied by a cow. Bessy is not, take it from this farm boy, a clean creature. Bessy's tail hangs down the same spot her poop (which is mostly liquid) comes out. Bessy walks in her poop. Flies surround Bessy like politicians at an all-you-can-steal lobbyist giveaway.

Milk is also a prime food for just about anything. Including bacteria.

We had no interest in being in the news as the evil farm corporation that killed x thousand customers from salmonella or some shit.

Doing it by hand spells "Going Out Of Business." We liked our farm(s). We wanted to keep being farmers. We did it the smart way.

That extended to everything. Look, combine harvesters are very expensive. The flip side is, the bigger they are the more expensive they get but the more economic they are. So bigger, in general, is better.

However, some of our fields were too small for the really big combines. And a combine only makes its money a couple of weeks out of the year. Harvesting is about it.

There are companies that do that shit. Since harvests, for really obvious reasons, don't happen everywhere all at once, they move around harvesting and planting. Most of the guys doing the actual work were from South Africa or Eastern Europe. (Mexicans never got in on that racket. Not sure why.)

We had a couple of small combines (price tag right at a quarter mil a pop) to do some of the smaller fields and cleanup. For the main harvesting, Dad would arrange, like a year in advance, to get the combine company to come in.

Farmers are planners. The Big Chill and the Big Grab really fucked with us but it was fucking with everybody so I'll get to that later. Adapt, react and overcome ain't just a Marine motto. Of course, the Time of Suckage proved that it just might be an exclusively American motto and at the time confined to a relatively small fraction. Insert sigh here.

So. Grew up on a farm. Maximum suckage once a year picking rocks. (Another essay.) Went to college (UM, Farmington) on a football scholarship. Got cut sophomore year.

Dad had a college fund for me but . . .  Well, if I dipped into it for, you know, tuition and books it really cut into my discretionary income. The insurance for a twenty-year-old on a Mustang GT-175 is not cheap. And buying the ladies nice dinners tends to get you laid more than McDonalds dinners do. I did not want my discretionary income tapped.

ROTC was just sitting there. Most of my family had been Navy. (Don't laugh. I think most of the Navy is crewed by Midwesterners.) But there wasn't a Navy ROTC program. So I went Army.

Okay, yes, there was a war on. But, again, I did the math. Death rates in that war were pretty much on a par with death rates during previous peacetimes. Don't believe me? Check the figures yourself, I'm not going to hold your hand. But it's true. And death rates among combat forces were not significantly higher than in the Navy. Being at sea is an inherently dangerous process. Lots of people die from accidents. Most of the people dying in the Army were from accidents.

And . . .  Oh, hell. Yes, okay. I did have a "desire to serve in combat." Call me stupid. My life, my choice. I wanted to go over and fight. Look, I was twelve when those bastards hit the Twin Towers. I watched those clips over and over just like the rest of you. I knew I didn't want to cruise around on a ship. I wanted to fight. Insert appropriate lines from "Alice's Restaurant" here.

So I went ROTC. Got my degree and my brown bars the same day. Went off to Infantry Officer Basic Course. Which sucked. At the time it was my definition of suckage.

Got sent to the 3rd ID in Savannah. Which wasn't a bad place to be for a junior officer with a decent stipend from my shares in the corporation. All I had to do was put up with the bullshit aspects of the Army for six years, go get my Masters in Agronomy and I'd be manager on one of the satellite farms until Dad retired. I was shooting for the mixed crop farms near Hanska. The walleye fishing on Lake Hanska was great and we owned a couple of cottages over there. And since the Hanska manager was in charge of ensuring the upkeep of the cottages . . . 

And then we did our first deployment. And, oh, hell, I enjoyed it. Yes, I lost two troops to sniper fire, James Adamson and Litel Compson. They were good guys, both of them. Damned fine troops. I could talk about both of them all day.

But we were doing a tough job in a tough environment. Even with the support of the Iranian government, there were lots of people who really wanted the mullahs back in power. Not going to do an essay on that, this is about the Time of Suckage. We did our job and as a guy in charge of making sure that everything went right, well, for a first deployment I didn't do too bad. Farmers are planners; the CO and my platoon sergeant (Sergeant First Class Clovalle (pronounced "Clo-Vail") Freeman) didn't have to tell me about planning to prevent piss poor performance. And, hell, I always got along with people. I liked my troops and vice versa. Mostly. There's always a few assholes.

But for a first time deployment as a cherry LT I didn't do too bad. And my OER more or less said the same thing. (Actually, it sounded like I was fucking Napoleon but the decent ones always do. That got explained to me in detail.)

I was doing good work and doing it well. Frankly, that first deployment made me rethink the whole Hanska Plan.

Back we went to Savannah. I got promoted to 1LT and went off to Advanced Course. It sucked but not as bad as IOBC. Then I went to Ranger School and got a new appreciation for maximal suckage. (Edit by wife: The author of this is too humble to admit he got Distinguished Honor Graduate in Infantry Officer's Advanced Course and Honor Graduate in Ranger's School. He's an idiot but I love him.) Oh, sure, I like a challenge as much as the next over-testosteroned young idiot. But Ranger School wasn't a challenge in any way except staying awake. It was just suckage, day in and day out.

Oh, yeah, and I went to Jump School right after IOAC. Forgot about that until I remembered the maximally suck jumps in Ranger's School. Jump School, these days, just tries to suck.

When I got back we were getting ready for another deployment. I was too senior for a line platoon, it wasn't time to rotate the Mortar Platoon leader and I was too junior for XO. So I got stuck in battalion in the S-3 (Operations) shop.

There are jokes about Fobbits. Those are the guys who stay in the Forward Operations Base. Dude, all I'll say is that I'd much rather be out doing patrols than stuck in the fucking FOB. FOB duty is boring and stressful. There are more PTSD cases among Fobbits than line troops.

(Of course, most Fobbits are REMFs who wanted to avoid being shot at so they got a job that didn't involve shooting. There was one MI guy who had a nervous breakdown about once a week and had to go get "counseled" in a rear area. Smart guy, seemed to really want to do the job, just did not have the constitution for it. Can't even call him a coward, just . . . didn't have the constitution.)

Not being out where you could actually do something was the worst part. No, the worst part was constantly having to work with Fobbits. No, the worst part was the S-3 who was a dick and incompetent to boot. No, the worst part . . .  Damn, there are so many worst parts. The tour was maximum suck. Hanska here I come.

Back at Savannah we're doing all the shit that soldiers do when they're not fighting. I'm still in the 3 shop (new S-3 thank God and Major Clark was a real mentor during this period, wish we'd had him in Afghanistan) and we're in charge of making sure everybody gets trained back up to standard. Look, sure, combat experience is important and there are things you learn in combat you can't learn anywhere else. But . . .  There are things you forget in combat, too. Things that you could have used. But guys build up a small skill-set that works to carry them through. Getting them to learn a couple more skills on top of that skill-set is a good thing.

Okay, and we had to fill in all the fucking check boxes of some Pentagon weanie who'd sort of heard there was a war on but needed to justify his existence by creating check boxes for us to fill. Yes, that's a lot of it.

And we had a big part in making sure all the equipment that had gotten fucked up on deployment got unfucked. That was mostly my stuff and Jesus there was a lot of stuff to unfuck. And find. And then admit had disappeared and do reams of paperwork explaining why it had disappeared. I'd say "in triplicate" but most of it was electronic. We had to file in triplicate, though. Thank God I had a clerk for that. Rusty was a fine guy for a Fobbit.

I'd done extra staff time. Either because of that or because the battalion commander liked my winsome good looks I got the battalion Scout Platoon. Honestly, with the way that we worked it wasn't much different from having a line platoon. But the battalion had started to use the Scouts as sort of an integral special operations unit. When there was a high value operation to perform (like capturing a particularly bad boy) and the fucking SEALs or Rangers or Delta or SF were otherwise busy sharpening their knives or taking pictures of themselves doing push-ups we got to kick the door.

It was a very hoowah fucking time for me. We went back to the Sandbox, this time to Iraq which was still having trouble over by Syria, and we got to kick a lot of doors. The "real" spec-ops guys were busy in Iran and Afghanistan. They didn't care that various Sunni countries (Cough! Cough! Saudi Arabia! Cough! Cough! Syria!) were still funneling weapons, money and personnel into Iraq. The news cameras were all in Iran so naturally that's where SOCOM went.

They didn't, per se, end up on the news. But I took a little tour of the Delta Compound one time, (Okay, okay, I was being recruited, I'll admit it) and there were some very interesting news articles pinned up in cases with small comments underneath like "Detachment One, Alpha Squadron."

Now, don't get me wrong. The SOCOM guys are good folk who do a hard job. But, come on, it's like anything else. When they're looking for a guy to promote or give a special (i.e. interesting) job, they're going to remember the guys who did their job very quietly but also did it well enough that they ended up, unmentioned, in the news. Take the capture of Mullah Rafaki. Sure, supposedly it was 4th ID that got him. Nope. It was really a team of SEALs. And those guys are still unable to pay for their bar tab, not to mention the platoon leader is getting fast-tracked to lieutenant commander.

The point being, CNN and company were in Iran. Iran was the happenin' spot. We were in a backwater in Iraq which was, to most of the world, a done deal.

The downside? Nobody knew we were still fighting in Iraq and you had to explain it over and over and over again. The upside? Dude, I was the Scout Platoon Leader. Platoon leaders are supposed to sit back and direct. I did that. Sure. Absolutely. That's where I got these damned scars from a door charge I (very stupidly) got too close to. But we still did the house and pulled the bad-guys. Who? Me do a door? No, Colonel, of course I didn't do the door.

Very hoowah time. Rule One (no drinking, "fraternization" or pornography) was still in effect. Nobody paid a damned bit of attention to it. I was still an officer. I practically fucking lived with my grunts. We ran together, fought together, drank together and . . .  Okay, there was a degree of fraternization on that one trip up to Kirbil. With girls. Hookers. Let me make it clear that we were not fraternizing with each other.

Good days, good days.

And back to Savannah. And I made captain on the "short list" and I got a company. Bravo called "The Bandits." Six is the military designation for "commander." Ergo, I became Bandit Six and have used it as a handle any time I can get away with it since.

Now, taking over a company when you've never been an XO is a bit of an adjustment. I got my first "does not quite walk on water but can negotiate the top of mud" evaluation during my first eval period as CO. Deserved it. I was not succeeding in my primary tasks. Some personal issues but I was not succeeding.

I begged forgiveness and, even more, begged help. I'm not good at asking for advice. I'd gotten used to asking NCOs what they thought and then using it or not. But going to the battalion commander (Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richards, good guy) and admitting I was getting a bit lost in the swamps as a CO was hard.

He didn't kick my ass for it, though. He just gave suggestions. And they were very good suggestions. I got better very fast. (Getting over the personal issues helped. Okay, yeah, they involved a girl and no she did not get pregnant but thank God we also did not get married is all I'll say.)

The company considered me a bit rocky when we deployed but we sort of mutually got over that in the Rockpile. My performance was coming up even before deployment and, hell, I like deployments. I'd finally gotten over my tendency to (badly) micromanage the company. Just in time, too, because I was not going to be a Fobbit on deployment if I could help it. I did help it.

God forgive me for what I put my driver through, though. You see, I'd have at any time two or three things going on at once out in the boonies. In different areas. Most of the unit would travel fairly heavy, at least a platoon. I wanted to see all of it and especially when the shit was hitting the fan. So myself, my driver and two RTOs (actually, Bobby and Buddy were my bodyguards) would go raring off across a fairly questionable to hostile Kandahar Province countryside, mostly by ourselves. Occasionally this involved stopping and paying a visit to one of the local "friendlies." I put the quotes on it because you never knew until you pulled up (and sometimes not even then) if they were friendlies today.

Occasionally it involved attempts by unfriendlies to stop us.

Lord love my boys. They never seemed to tire of bailing the CO out of a firefight. Probably because they were trying to catch up. And they never seemed to tire, either, of being in the middle of a firefight and "Bandit Six" suddenly roaring in to jump in the fight. Days of wine and song.

(Wife's Edit: Sigh. "Attention to Orders. Bandit Six is hereby awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for conduct above and beyond the call of duty in actions in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, on March 15th, 2017.

"While travelling to meet with local friendly tribal leaders, Bandit Six was informed that a small group of Special Operations personnel had been ambushed and were pinned down by local Taliban related forces. Without any regard to personal safety, Bandit Six immediately ventured to the area of combat and closed with the Taliban forces. His personal vehicle damaged by concentrated rocket propelled grenade fire which injured both his radio telephone operator and himself, Bandit Six exited the vehicle and engaged the enemy with his personal weapon. With the support of continued machine-gun fire from his damaged vehicle, directed by hand and arm signals, Bandit Six advanced upon the enemy ambush location and using concentrated fire, the expenditure of all of his personal store of grenades and person-to-person combat skills, Bandit Six turned the flank of the enemy position. During the process of the advance Bandit Six was wounded three times but continued to move forward expeditiously against the numerically superior Taliban forces until they retreated from their positions. Upon analysis of the combat the relieved special operations unit commander credited Bandit Six with over twenty (20) personal kills including more than six (6) due to knife and bayonet.

"Entered service in the Armed Forces from Minnesota." End Wife Edit. I swear, he drives me nuts sometimes.)


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