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Chapter Two
I Was and Am an Idiot

And then we were back in Savannah. About halfway through our "Stateside deployment" Colonel Richards left and we had a new BC.

Okay, here's the skinny. I can get along with just about anybody. I'm a very laid-back guy in most ways. It is rare that I deal with somebody that I just cannot fucking stand and the feeling is mutual.

Mitigating circumstances. It didn't help that the new BC was a long-term Fobbit. He'd never led so much as a platoon in the Sandbox and we were scheduled to go back to AOR Iran. Not only Iran but Fars Province, which was the center of the Resistance. It was going to be a very fucking hot deploy.

Here he was, knowing everyone was looking at him, like, "who the fuck are you to be leading this battalion in combat?" And there was Bandit Six grinning and spoiling for a fight.

The problem being my time was up as CO. Up or out, baby, up or out. They only give you so many days of wine and song in the Army and mine were about over. Oh, I wasn't up for the ultimate butt-fuck, being promoted to major (the one shittiest rank in the Army) and having my mandatory lobotomy performed. But I was looking at doing more staff time. Look, I can do staff work. But it doesn't mean I like doing it.

But there's staff work and there's staff work. Now, adjutant fucking sucks as a job. But it's a good position for a guy like me. It looks good on your military resume if you will. Assistant S-3. Better position for my interests and looks almost as good as Adjutant. Brigade S-3 (Air). These are good positions career-wise.

Fucker stuck me in S-4. I nearly threw a shit-fit. I probably should have. It looked like I was a fuck-up. Nobody goes from company command to S-4 unless they've fucked up. He might as well have sent me over to Protocol Office at Corps. No matter what my fucking OERs looked like, it was going to hang over my head for the rest of my career.

So I deployed to the Fars op as an S-4 weanie. The actual S-4 was a major and a total luzer. I mean with a capital L. Even getting ready for deployment, even on deployment, doing his job wasn't hard. Trust me, I did it. He sure as hell couldn't and somebody had to make sure the battalion had beans and bullets. (Not to mention batteries, water, fuel . . . ) But it wasn't fucking hard.

That was sort of why I didn't throw a shit-fit. I threw myself on the grenade instead. The BC sweet talked me into the position. Manipulated me was more like it. "We're going over to Iran. The S-4, who I can't get rid of, is not going to do the job we need, the battalion needs. I need somebody there I can trust."

I hadn't realized what a back-stabbing prick the BC was at the time or I would have swallowed my care for the battalion, which was high, and told him to stick it. But I sucked it up and saluted and went to do the job.

Here's the thing. Remember what I said about that first OER. If your OERs don't make you seem like the reincarnation of Scipio Fucking Africanus it's a death knell to your career. Bad enough that I went from company commander to S-4. There are ways to write an OER for that position that make you seem like, at least, the Scipio Africanus of Supply Officers.

"During this period Bandit Six performed his duties in a manner which were fully acceptable . . . " is not one of them.

But what do you do? Go screaming about "fully acceptable"? The fact was, I'd done my duties in way that was "fucking outstanding." I was doing the job of my superior the whole fucking time. It wasn't a hard job, but it also was well above my paygrade and in a field that was radically different from mine.

I knew my fucking career was toast if I didn't get some sort of positive movement after the deployment. I reconsidered the Delta offer. They could smell bullshit in an OER and I knew I had to wait until I was Captain Promotable to go Over the Wall. Of course, Selection was maximum suckage and the training period took out almost everybody that made it through qual. But I figured I was the best fucking infantry captain in the Army. I could make it into Delta. Which would wipe out "commander to S-4" not to mention "fully acceptable."

Then I got an e-mail from my dad. When I'd been a Fobbit in the 3 shop I barely could keep up with home. I was working my ass off eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. As "assistant S-4" I'd considered starting a blog. God knew I had the time.

I don't know if you remember, I don't know if you realize it, but both bits of news hit the same week. Most people didn't notice the one my dad sent me for months. But it was reported the same week.

The article my dad sent me was from a British source. See, there was this solar physicist in Britain who had sort of gotten out of the solar physics field and entered the long-range forecasting field. Weather, that is. We all know, Lord God do we know, that all that baloney about "greenhouse gases" and "man-induced global warming" was so much horse shit. But back then it was all "global warming! CO2 will kill us all!" Man, we wished we'd had that sort of CO2, didn't we?

But the thing about this guy, don't recall his name, was that he did long-range weather forecasts based on solar activity. He'd studied the sun until he should have been blind and had figured out that just about everything related to the sort of weather farmers cared about came down to solar output. Forget CO2, it was all the sun. We all know that now. Most of you probably know who I'm talking about. Damn, why can't I remember his name?

Anyway, Dad sent me this article. It was complicated. I had to dredge up some long-stored memories from my "Weather and Agriculture" classes but I finally figured it out. Basically, the guy was being very cautious in saying that Our Friend the Sun had turned off.

Oh, not completely. But his predictions were way more cautious than normal and just fucking dismal for the next growing season. He even put a caveat in the end. I recall it to this day.

"Based upon these indicators, NYP (Next Year Predictions) indicate significant chance of severe cooling regimes."

Severe cooling regimes. That would be 2019. Nobody has to be reminded about 2019.

And then there was Dad's note at the end. "Investing heavily in triticale."

For all you non-farmers and non-Star Trek buffs, triticale is rye. See, there's a couple of things about rye. The first thing is that it's not exactly a big need crop. Wheat? Lots of markets for wheat. Ditto corn. (Maize to you Europeans and Canoe-Heads.) Soy? Always good markets for soy. Beans of various sorts. Peas. We grew it all, even seasonals like broccoli. All good markets.

Rye is a niche market. Not a bunch of people lining up for rye. (Didn't used to be back then. Less so now, too. Thank God we're past eating nothing but rye bread from the lines, huh?)

But the main thing about rye is that it grows fast and is cold hardy. Winter wheat's cold hardy but . . .  Oh, it's complicated. There's also only so much winter wheat market and it's touchier than rye in certain cold and wet conditions. Look, I'm a professional. Do not try this at home.

Bottomline? Dad trusted this guy enough to be prepared to take a big hit economically on the basis that that was going to be the only way to survive.

Farmers are planners.

I looked at it and shrugged. "How bad could it be?"

Well, we all know that, don't we? I thought I was a grown-up. What a fucking maroon. You're about to find out how much of a fucking maroon I was in those days. (Still am I'll admit. But at least now I know it.)

The next day was the Battalion Weekly Reorientation Exercise. It says a lot about our battalion commander that he couldn't call it a Battalion Command and Staff Meeting or even a Battalion Weekly Meeting.

I'd been an assistant S-3 and a company CO under previous battalion commanders. I knew the weekly staff meeting like the inside of my mouth. That was until this dickbreath came along. Weekly staff meetings, are, by and large, ritual dick-beating exercises. Everyone stands up and presents their action items for the previous week, completion function thereof and action items for the upcoming week, schedule thereof. They're actually necessary but God damn they're a pain.

My previous COs had been big on maximal info, minimal dick-beating.

Not so the new guy. If the previous meetings had been, say, a Catholic High Mass of dick-beating, this guy was full up Aztec Sun Day ritual dick-beating with a cast of thousands and everyone has to give up their still beating heart. The best and the brightest were flayed and he wore their skin around for the next week. I thought when I was a CO I'd had a little micromanagement issue. I grew to understand a whole new term under this CO. One staff meeting the motherfucker took, I shit you not, four hours to "properly implement" issue of bottled fucking water. It was like he simply could not let it go. Look, you take the number of troops in a unit, add ten percent and send them that much fucking water. It's not rocket science.

At one point the Adjutant, the motherfucker who had my job and who had his office right outside the BC's so that he could slip in there from time to time and give the colonel a right nice sucking, suggested implementing issue based on individual body mass.

Body mass. He wanted his clerks to compile all the weights of the guys in the unit and issue water based on that. Potentially with each "aqueous packet" being detailed to individuals.

Dude, I'm a big lad. There was one of my troops when I had that platoon on the first deployment who was a fucking shrimp. Barely over minimum height and they had him on the weight control program to get his weight up. Drank about three times as much as me. I didn't get heat stroke, he didn't die of dihydrogenmonoxide poisoning.

Two bottles per head, four bottles per head, six bits a dollar. I don't give a rat's ass. Pass the fucking water out and let's be DONE.

Speaking of not being able to let it go.

The point is, what had been a two to three hour meeting now had to be scheduled for most of the fucking day. And I'm not talking about starting after 0900. I'm talking about from "cain see to cain't see."

It was late afternoon. We'd eaten MREs in the meeting for lunch. My tummy was rumbling. I wanted nothing more than to go back to my hooch, put in my iPod and wash this day out of my brain.

And it got up to the battalion surgeon's presentation.

The guy practically sprang to his feet. I'd noticed he looked as if he had to piss his pants all day long. Usually he sort of checked out like the rest of us. But he'd been practically bouncing in his chair, like, all fucking day. When the XO pointed to him he bounced up like a fucking land-mine. I actually tried to pay attention.

"We've got an important directive from the Chief of Staff," he said.

"The Med Branch chief of staff?" the CO asked.

"No, sir," the captain said. "It was sent through Med Branch from the Chief of Staff of the Army. The Chief of Staff's portion is two lines. I'd like to read it and then expand."

"Go," the colonel said pompously.

" 'Indicators indicate significant outbreak of Human-to-Human transmission of H5N1 virus in China Operational Zone. Begin immediate Type Two immunization procedures for all DOD and affiliated personnel in your AOC upon receipt of vaccines. End.' "

H-Five-N-Motherfucking-One. I snorted and went back to sleeping with my eyes open.

Th-th-th-that's right, people. I got two months advanced warning of what was about to occur. With both the Great Cold and the motherfucking Plague. Two. Months.

And I went back to sleeping with my eyes open.

Okay, here's a few of the things going on here. Item the first: The Battalion Surgeon.

Now, the guy had a set of brass ones. I knew that, intellectually. We'd been over there long enough, and soaked up enough casualties, that he'd been out there with his teams keeping them alive. The line commanders thought he walked on water. If I'd been a line commander I probably would have thought he walked on water.


The guy was just a geek. Look, I never beat up the geeks in school, not even when I was a kid, and I tried to stop it when I got to where people listened to me. But that didn't mean we were pals. Some of them thought we were because I stopped it. They were like the adjutant, I swear. Bottomline: I don't talk geek; they don't talk me. I can pick up most of what they say. I'm not stupid. I just don't get off on what they get off on.

And the battalion surgeon was the geek's geek. Rumpled uniform, glasses, pens sticking out any which way, that geek scrunch. Social skills? The guy couldn't get laid in a Bangkok brothel if he was holding a billion dollars in small bills. Balls the size of the great pyramids, total fucking Grade-A-Number-One geek.

He flapped his hands when he talked. I don't mean used his hands to talk. When he got excited, which was often if he wasn't cutting on somebody, he held both hands out bent inwards at chest height and flapped them like he was trying to take off.


I tuned him out. It was that or grab his extremely good surgeon's hands and rip them off at the wrists. It drove me fucking nuts.

I did, however, check back in when he said "Experimental polycoat serum . . . "

Wait, what was that? Back up . . . retrieving voice file . . .processing . . . 

"Wait," I said, sitting up. "They're not using us for guinea pigs again?"

"Yes, it is experimental . . ." the surgeon said.

"Oh, no," I replied. "No fucking way. Anybody recall the studies on the anthrax cases? I don't want to have Alzheimers at forty. Besides, most flu vaccines don't even work!"

"It's an order, Captain," the CO said, angrily. "And you will carry it out."

"May I explain, sir?" the PA asked.

Now, the physician's assistant was a Warrant Officer Three. He was new to the battalion, but he had all the right merit badges. He'd been a medic before going to Mister and got his combat medic's badge. He spoke the language of the grunt. He was asking the CO but I knew he was asking me as well.

I let the CO nod. Hell, he thought it was his battalion, why not?

"Getting the Type Two polycoat immunization serum, if we do get it, is a very good thing, sir," Warrant Lomen said. "H5N1 is a slippery sucker if you don't mind my putting it that way. The standard serum attacks binding sites. H5N1 has been shown to have mutated binding proteins. What that means, sir, is that some variants of H5N1 may be resistant to the standard immunization. The Type Two is actually a broad-spectrum flu vaccine that detects flu protein coats across almost the full spectrum, possibly the entire spectrum, of flu viruses. Thus the mutated binding sites become unimportant. What that means is that we're more protected. Yes, it's experimental. I've seen the raw reports on it and they all look quite clean. I wish they'd fast-tracked it; as it is most civilians won't be getting it and that could mean significant public health issues."

("Significant public health issues" I'm putting that down for the classic, all time, there is nothing to top it, understatement of all time. I know I repeated all time. How many of you disagree?)

"Bandit Six, I take it that resolves your issues?" the CO said.

"Mitigates, sir," I replied. "But it's going to be hell to sell to the troops. I still don't like it."

That's right people, we got the good stuff. We got it two months before the Great Outbreak. And I was bitching about it. I was BITCHING about it.


Fuck that person. Me I mean. The person I was then. The lame-brain fucking maroon I was then. That know-it-all, I can lick the world person. Even now, thinking back, I just want to fucking cry.

The only important part of the meeting, which I mostly still tuned out, continued when Bravo spoke up.

"Is there any supplementary information besides the Chief of Staff's order?"

Bravo had been one of my JOs and, thus, was a good guy. Otherwise he'd never have gotten a company. I did not let cock-ups get ahead. It also meant he was not one of the BC's ass-buddies like Alpha. But it was a germane question.

"There's a WHO bulletin indicating a possible human-to-human outbreak in Western China," the WO said. "But that's all we've got and it's currently unconfirmed. CDC has not issued a warning."

Look, I'm not sure who all is going to read this. So I'm probably going to be covering stuff that most of my readers know. Little kids (sorry about the language) might not be as up on it. Hell, maybe nobody will read it, but I feel like I need to include stuff that about anybody knows. Like the story of Jungbao and how people viewed flus in those days.

Hardly anybody knew much about the World Health Organization in those days. I sure as hell didn't give a rat's ass about them. The WHO was just another nongovernmental organization that occasionally got in the way of soldiers doing their jobs. I didn't see, didn't care about, the WHO reporters in foreign lands. Or that their job was to be soldiers on the front lines of the battle against disease. Disease was licked. That was most people's attitude. Sure, some people had gotten scared into a frenzy over this "bird flu" thing. But they were just the usual sort of "I'm afraid of everything" idiots. That's what most of us thought. You got the flu, you felt sick for a couple of days and you got better. Flu didn't kill anyone.

Hard to believe, now, I know. But that's how we thought. That's how I thought.


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