This is the last in my series of "The Humans Behind the Uniforms" Memorial Day tribute series and I would be remiss if I didn't dedicate it to the sheer genius that can come out of young soldiers with too much time on their hands.
While the "Old Guard",and other military units for that matter, are known for their maturity and professionalism when in the public eye, we often lose sight of the fact that underneath it all they are still groups of young adults who find interesting ways to relieve the daily pressures of military life. I know because I was one of them.
There were all sorts of pranks and other shenanigans going on behind the scenes and in the down time of the Old Guard and I just had to share some of them for posterity's sake. I just hope I am not giving away any national secrets and may have to change some names to protect the guilty.
There were different types of pranks, tricks, and general tom foolery that were going on and some were traditions that were carefully orchestrated and carried on to make life miserable for the new additions to the unit. The Old Guard was the same as many other units in that new people or "new d*cks" as they were called (I'll give you a hint the second word isn't ducks) were often the intended victims. The thing about the Old Guard is that is was very different than other infantry units because of the specialized tasks they perform so it wasn't always the lowly private who was a victim. Oh no we didn't discriminate. Young, old, lowly private or lofty officer were all intended victims.
For example, if you were in a medical unit somewhere in the army you might find yourself being asked to go to the supply sergeant and pick up a box of "Fallopian Tubes" and to make sure you received the orange latex ones. If you were in an aviation unit you might be asked to pick of a 55 gallon drum of "rotor wash". Anyway you get the picture.
In the Old Guard we performed a great many military funerals. I personally took part in about a thousand in the four years that I was in the unit. We buried a great many American servicemen and women and their dependents at Arlington National Cemetery and every once in a while you would have to bury an infant which was always a very difficult funeral. Now when you think about it a veteran receives a flag draped across their casket and a civilian dependent (spouse, child) does not. Well one of the tricks that was very well known to those who had been around for awhile were the infamous "Baby Flags"
In this particular instance we were training one of our new squad leaders (a staff sergeant) who had just been transferred to the Old Guard from Korea. He had been in the service for quite a while and had actually served in Vietnam but was no match for us.
We had an area in the back of the barracks where we had practice flags and caskets that we used for training and to keep our skills up. We had been working with this particular NCO for about a month training him up to take charge of us. This was also unique about the Old Guard.
Today was the first day that this particular Staff Sergeant was going to be in charge of his first actual burial detail and to say the least he was a little nervous. You never want to show your weakness! At the beginning of the day we received a sheet that gives us the information regarding the individual funerals that we were to be responsible for. On this particular day we say that one of the funerals was that of an infant!
Without a second thought and with the precision and timing worthy of the Honor Guard I looked at the sheet and asked, "Sgt. Starks, Did you notice that we have an infant burial?" He looked at the sheet and said, "Yeah." I continued, "Did you get the baby flag from the Platoon Sergeant? There is no way that a full size flag will fit on such a small casket." A look of horror and embarrassment came across his face but only briefly and he started down the stairs to the Platoon Sergeant's office. I was so proud. Not a single member of our team let on for a second that this was a set up. As soon as we heard the door shut to the Platoon Sergeant's office we rushed downstairs and listened at the door. I could hear our Platoon Sgt. Smith opening and shutting his desk drawer and saying, "I swear I had a couple of baby flags in here!" "I have no idea what I did with them." "You're going to have to go to Battalion Headquarters and ask S3 for a box of them so that we have a couple extra"
Another proud moment! Our beloved Platoon Sergeant had taken the baby flags thing to the next level! We scattered before this poor veteran victim had exited the office and watched as he was running quickly the couple blocks down the street to Battalion Headquarters! It was almost like you had lit a really long fuse and now you were just sticking your fingers in your ears and waiting for the "Bang"!
As we were waiting in the Day Room spreading the word about our latest victim, the Company Commander came in and didn't look very happy. Is seemed the Battalion Commander, a full bird Colonel, wasn't happy that an NCO had come to his office looking for "Baby Flags". Gotta love S3! They took it all the way to the top! While our C.O. was acting angry I could detect a small smirk and a twisted sense of pride that only we could understand. It was a good day's work but a very somber day for our squad in the cemetery for more reason than one.
There were a million other pranks and tricks that were played from shaving people's eyebrows while they were asleep to tricking the new guys into getting the keys to Summerall Field or dressing up in Dress Blues to walk sentinel at "BlackJack's Grave" or frantically send someone looking for a set of "rain gloves" but If you could dish it out you also had to be able to take it which brings me to the explanation of the picture at the beginning of this post.
Toward the end of my tour with the Old Guard I was on TDY or temporary duty to Ft. Belvoir, VA where I was an instructor for about 6 months at the MDW (Military District of Washington) Air Assault School.
This was an awesome duty because it gave a welcome break from the usual duties that we had to perform AND you were off post so you pretty much avoided all of your bosses and other responsibilities. The drawback is that many times you would have people you knew and were actually friends with that would come through the school and you had to pretend that you didn't know them and torture them and treat them like dirt just like the rest of the lowly wannabees.
Anyway a group of my buddies had just gone through the course and I may...just may...have singled them out for extra torture just for fun. (don't try to understand it) Well these particular guys had just seen the movie "The Three Amigos" and gave their little group the nickname, "The Amigos" They also developed (because they had too much time on their hands) this thing called the "Amigo Challenge" They took a tent pole and decorated it with various pins and trinkets and called it "The Amigo Stick" It almost took on this look of some ancient religious artifact. The Challenge was that if you found "The Amigo Stick" next to your wall locker then you were challenged. If you decided to accept the challenge then you signified that by locking the stick up in your wall locker thereby taking the stick hostage and inviting the wrath of "The Amigos" which consisted of some sort of dastardly deed to be determined at a later time.
Well one day, while still assigned to the Air Assault School, I ventured back to Ft. Myer to the off-post area where people who lived off-post kept their military lockers. I observed "The Amigo Stick" leaning up against my wall locker. Keep in mind I had just recently tortured a few of the amigos for about a month while they were going through the school. I thought this would be a no brainer. I wouldn't even be around for them to exact revenge so I flippantly locked the stick away in my locker. I was much to smart for these guys and besides the U.S. Army had trained me to kill!
Well about a month went by and I had to stop back at Ft. Myer and stopped to pick up some of my personal items in the same off-post area and as I was in my wall locker I had this strange feeling. It seemed way to quiet for this time of day and I really did not feel right. Just then I heard this little snicker and it all came back to me! OH NO! THIS WAS IT! AMBUSH! No sooner had a thought that but four not three amigos jumped me while I was partially dressed and wrapped me up in "Hundred Mile an Hour" tape. Of course this was similar to civilian duct tape but nicknamed "Hundred Mile and Hour Tape" because they supposedly used it to patch bullet holes in airplanes and the tape would stick up to a speed of 100 miles an hour. Don't know if that is true but nevertheless it was some pretty tough stuff! They wanted to be respectful because I outranked them so they made sure since they planned on parading me around and very quite possibly outside they made sure to duct tape my Air Assault Instructor cap to my head and taped my rank to my shirt.
They then proceeded to parade their human trophy around the barracks re-introducing me to members of the other platoons and even taking me to sit for awhile in the Company Commander's Office. He made sure to mention how much it appeared that my men respected me. I simply said that I appreciated the sentiments and would salute if I had the ability. They then took me around for a short jaunt outside and even helped me call my wife to let her know that I would be a little late getting home because the guys wanted to buy me some drinks at "The Old Guard Lounge" which they did. Of course I couldn't pick up the mugs of beer but as friends do they provided me with a straw. I sincerely don't remember how or when I was released but some how I made it home.
I could go on and on and fill volumes with the stuff we did and it is a miracle that we didn't end up in jail or the hospital with some of it but it did make for some of my greatest memories of my brothers in uniform. I salute you all!