“What?” He asks, looking into the eyes of his Officer Commanding (OC) who is the only one standing, and facing of a group of squatting soldiers from Charlie Company. The multi-purpose hall (MPH) floods with the noises from the talking of thousands of excited soldiers waiting to go home, and the noises are burying what his OC was saying. He squats alone, few feet away from his group of Company mates who should be his comrades. Being the only person dressed in the pixellated uniform, it isn’t difficult for his OC to spot him at all.
“Did you just hear what I said?” His OC asks, shouting to his best trying to bring across what he is saying.
“No.” He shakes his head, shrugging his shoulders as he speaks. He heard nothing, and he tries to use his shoulders to explain that he has no idea.
“It’s fine. Just pay attention later.”
He looks back down to where he was originally paying attention to – his boots. It is the last day in camp for them, and rightfully, he should be happy. In the hall full of noise and laughter, he knows he has no one to chat with. His buddies – the guys who share the same sense of camaraderie with him – are with their respective groups. It is a battalion-level gathering in the MPH, and his buddies are with the Companies that they ought to be with. He is alone, in the hall of thousands of soldiers.
The time ticks as he waits for the order to go home. The yearly affair that activates the whole battalion back for a 14-days training is finally coming to an end. As much as he hopes to bid his temporary farewell to military life for another year, he can’t shake off that strange feeling in him. He loves being a soldier, and that’s something he secretly doesn’t want anybody to know. Something that he can’t – because of conscription – show. He looks down, on to his newly polished boots that he is wearing. They’re dry. He wonders why will that be something his Company mates hate him for. He closes his eyes and tries to find peace within, yet all he sees are the sights of the coastal line that he had departed from two days ago.
– 6 days ago –
“Sir.” He tapped the shoulder of his Platoon Commander (PC), who stood quietly by the beach looking at the waves of the sea. He stood on the boulder that stretched from waters to the coast. The PC turned his head around, and saw him standing behind. “Here, take this.”
“No. You guys have it. I’m fine. Thanks anyway.” Lieutenant Tim politely declined his offer.
“I insist. Take it…no one gets left behind.” He held up the hand of his PC, and left the burger in his palm. “They’re for everyone, and you are part of everyone.” He assured.
It was a just chicken burger; easily purchasable anywhere in the complacent world everyone lives in, yet it became a luxury for the hungry soldiers in the field. They’re just starting their evaluation exercise, and God knows how long more they’ll be there in the wild, feeding mosquitoes and eating military rations. The burgers came as a treat from their platoon’s store-man, who had the privilege to leave the exercise ground with the logistics platoon to stock their necessities. The storeman had requested a detour from their Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS) and their 5-tonner driver, in order to buy back 30 burgers to feed the hungry soldiers guarding the coastal lines of their homeland along their way back to the field.
“Thanks.” The PC said as he took the burger over from him.
“Don’t worry too much, sir.” He patted the shoulder of his PC. “It’s only day one. Let’s not let the miscommunication lower the morale of the troop. Bulk up; we’ll need you.” He said, smiling.
His PC nodded his head, and smiled back. He knew that his PC wasn’t going to go down this early into the military exercise. After all, they had been preparing years prior. Leaders are not elected and trained based on nothing. He knew how PC was feeling. He is a leader in his civilian life. He knows how lonely a leader can be, and how most humans hate any leaders because of their ranks, positions or appointments. He understands the nature of humans very well.
He turned his body around and walked away after offering the burger to his PC. The sound of waves hitting on the rocky beach buried his footsteps as he dragged his boot. The first night was over, and they had not cleared any missions yet. Exhaustion was starting to kick in as the scorching sun shone on him, and he realized his legs were getting heavy. But, he walked on. Swinging his rifle from his front to his back, he picked up a burger for himself and started to eat alone on the other end of the boulder that his PC was standing on. He unwrapped the burger, and positioned it nicely before putting it to his mouth in this dusty environment. The trees were dry, and the ground was hard with dried, hardened sand with no grass in sight. He heard footsteps coming towards him from his back.
“What are you working as?” His PC asked as he sat down besides him with his burger still wrapped nicely.
“I run my own business.”
“Wow. Care to share with me?”
“Maybe next time, sir.” He humbly rejected. “How about you?”
“I’m a lawyer.”
“Can be stressful at times.”
He nodded his head. He seemed to understand what his PC was saying. After all, he has lawyer friends running their own law firms. He finished his burger, and reached for his 10-year-old water bottle that was kept safely in the pouch of his Skeletal Battle Order, or SBO as they always called it, uncapped it and took a sip quenching his thirst after his meal. He was always the guy who’d not hesitate in offering whatever he had, and his habit soon caught up with him when he offered his bottle to his PC who was sitting besides him.
“No thanks. I’ll get mine later.”
He gave his PC a wink, and put his bottle back into his pouch. His SBO was still on his body, although there was an unofficial order for them to go clean fatigue. There weren’t any missions until further orders from their OC, and for now, it’s a rest time for the troop. Store Dump is the field name for the random area that soldiers chose to put together their equipments, and it was full of SBOs and rifles as everyone took their personal equipments off their shoulders to enjoy the moment of relaxation. But, he’s still wearing his SBO on him.
“Why didn’t you take off your stuffs, and put them in the store dump. Relax.” His PC suggested.
“Oh, that’s a good idea.” He unbuckled his SBO’s buckle in front of his belly, and took it off. “Sorry, just used to carrying it around in the field.” He put his rifle and his SBO besides him and wiped his perspiration off his face with his sleeves.
He wasn’t lying. He never once cheated on his promise since the day he told himself that he’ll do what it takes to be a soldier worthy to protect his country and family. He just wanted to train in the most realistic situation. He didn’t believe that in times of war, enemies are going to give him the benefit of the doubt to put on his equipments before engaging. It’s either a “do it to your best” or “do nothing at all” for him. That’s just him. His character that no one would understand.
Complacency was never an option for him; he uses the same attitude in every aspects of his life. He just purely wanted to do his best, including protecting the sovereignty of his country.
“Sir.” The signaler, who had been sitting in the 5-tonner with the signal sets called out to the PC. “OC on the line.”
The PC shoved the last bite into his mouth, and crumbled the wrapper before standing up to walk over to the signaler. The PC took over the comm set, and conversed with their OC on their next mission. Soldiers were still lying on the ground, trying to catch some loss sleep, despite the sun shining on their faces. He looked on, preparing himself to move off by the orders of his PC.
“Guys.” The PC called for the attention of everyone. “Time to move. OC comm-ed over and informed us of the enemy’s potential route. Let’s pack up our stuffs and go up the tonner..”
“Could it be another mis-communication?” Corporal Jason, one of the least enthusiastic soldiers, spoke with sarcasm.
“Hey.” He called out to Jason. “Stop it. He’s not feeling any better himself.”
“We wasted one night’s sleep because of his so-called miscommunication, and we were constructing and dismantling obstacles for his imaginary enemies till the sun came out. You think it’ll be fun to try again?”
“I was with you guys on that, and no one thinks its fun, but now we’ll have to put last night behind and move on. We’re still days before we can see the civilization. Now don’t be a Neanderthal and move your ass; we’ve missions to complete.” He retorted. Jason said nothing, because he knew he wouldn’t win this war of words. He patted the shoulders of the rest and grabbed his SBO from the ground before walking towards the tonner.
From a distance, the evaluator of the exercise, Captain Jonathan from the training institute who was attached to them to evaluate their performance, watched their conversations quietly.
The tonner raced down the sandy lanes, and after few minutes, they reached the intersection where intelligence had gathered to be the area that enemies would be passing through. Their job, as the Combat Engineers, would be to hinder, and if possible, halt the advancements of opposing troops. He got down the tonner, with his SBO on his back and his rifle in his hand. He jumped down, only to see his platoon mates still sitting comfortably and not budging.
“Come on guys. Let’s move.”
“You go ahead. We’ll wait for instructions.” Jason called out from inside the truck, smirking.
He shook his head, and walked to the front of the tonner to join his PC. “Sir, where’s the location?”
“There.” Lieutenant Tim pointed to the intersection behind him, and asked, “Can you go over and check the ground?”
“It’ll be best to leave it to the commanders.” He suggested, carefully hinting that he should not cross the chain of command. “Sergeant, PC’s looking for you.” He called out to his Platoon Sergeant, Second Sergeant Sam, who was walking towards them.
“Sir?” Said Sergeant Sam.
The commanders, from section commanders to PC, discussed on the manpower distribution, the equipments they’d need, and the frontage that they would have to cover to effectively restraint the movements of the advancing troops. He stood by, watching their discussions while noting down the points with his notepad and pen. He wasn’t required to, but his habits die-hard. He has been a careful person, no matter what he does or where he is. Meanwhile, the remaining soldiers were still comfortably sitting in the tonner waiting for further instructions.
To be continued…
Andy Lawson is the average man on the street that you’ll not even trouble yourself looking at him if he passes by you. He’s sensitive to bullshit, and he hates mediocrity in most people. He is the author of his self-published book: Facts and Fiction of Fengshui: Facts that Masters are NOT Telling You. He doesn’t have Facebook or Twitter, because he hates to be associated with people who tend to be passive-aggressive online, but he does have a very limited set of vocabularies, terrible grammar, a twisted mind that makes himself God in his own twisted world and an ability to communicate with people who wish to be his friend.