15. GUNNY AND THE GREAT AIR CONDITIONER HEIST
It had been about a month since Bumpo was fired as our platoon sergeant for the breakdown of the platoon’s discipline, and we had kind of been in limbo. Before the dust had even settled on that, First Squad’s leader, Olly, was also fired and sent to the command cell to push paper. I’m still not really sure why they fired Olly.
He was an incredibly skilled leader with decades of experience, and he should have rightfully been made our platoon sergeant. The only reasoning I can think of was the disaster known as Red. He was one of Olly’s team leaders.
Red always seemed out of place in Afghanistan. During our first patrol, someone stepped on an empty water bottle, and the crunching sound made him dive into a ditch. He had perpetual look of overwhelming fear in his eyes and his soldiers absolutely hated him.
One day, Red lost his night vision goggles and the shit hit the fan. Losing something like night vision goggles is a huge deal because it can mean the Taliban could get their hands on them. The idea of the Taliban being able to see us as we crept around at night was unnerving. His total incompetence led to Bugsy becoming the real leader of his team while Red only kept the title.
Red always seemed to be in trouble but was never demoted. Instead, Olly was given a severe dressing-down for not making sure one of his leaders had all his gear at all times. It seemed unfair because Olly didn’t pick Red to be a leader. The Company had left Olly to deal with all of his fuck-ups, and there were plenty.
Thankfully, they found his night vision goggles right before Red was due to go on leave. The same leave he would never come back from. He vanished off the face of the earth and we didn’t hear from him for months. This, of course, was blamed on Olly for some reason. By the time we did hear back about Red, and why he went AWOL, it was too late, and Olly was already riding a desk in the command cell.
Red’s excuse for disappearing was that he wanted to see his son —something he didn’t actually have. He was banging a girl who happened to get pregnant with someone else’s kid. He thought it had to be his, even though the girl said it wasn’t. I’m pretty sure Red was grasping for an excuse not to go back to Afghanistan. He was just too goddamn scared to operate efficiently as a soldier, let alone as a team leader. It was impossible to respect someone as a soldier or NCO when he dived for cover at the sight of his own shadow.
To make things even more convoluted, Dweebly was the next person to be fired. One day, without warning, he just vanished from Grizzly Base. He was a weak, ineffectual leader who burned many talented young soldiers to make himself look better. I don’t think anyone was sad to see him go.
Our new commander was a man named Rocky. He appeared at Grizzly Base as quickly as Dweebly left. He was short, stocky, and sturdy looking. He was a full head shorter than I was, but the way he carried himself made me feel small in comparison. He wasn’t at Grizzly Base long before he appointed Gunny as our platoon sergeant.
Gunny had earned his nickname because we all joked that he was so much of a strict hardass he should have joined the Marines. Of course, we would never call him that to his face. He had been working in the company’s command cell since we had been in Afghanistan and it had been driving him insane the whole time. Gunny was a tried and tested combat leader who was stuck riding a desk only because he had a great track record of planning operations. Not that Dweebly ever let him do his job effectively.
We all hoped that Gunny would do well. It could be a breath of fresh air after Bumpo. Although Bumpo was a good guy, he had allowed the platoon to fall into a bit of chaos, to say the least. He was too laid back. Even so, Bumpo had been a stark contrast to our original platoon sergeant.
Everyone knew that Bumpo would shit the bed when he got promoted to platoon sergeant. He wasn’t even Dweebly’s first choice for the job. He had come into the position because a month away from our deployment, our first platoon sergeant, a guy named Scar, was fired.
Scar was a model soldier. He sounded like Clint Eastwood, sported a massive scar on his neck from a parachuting accident, and absolutely never bent the rules for anyone. He was the rare leader that really fostered a family feeling within his unit. He knew, while we were in Afghanistan, that each other was all we were going to have. We all loved him.
Scar’s love of all things regulation and order would eventually bite him in the ass. While out in the field training, he screamed at a soldier for leaning against our company commander’s truck. Scar could not tell from a distance, but that soldier was actually a company commander from another unit.
This fact was quickly pointed out to Scar by the commander he was yelling at. Scar didn’t care what rank the guy was. He was breaking the rules, and that was all that mattered to him. The next week, Scar was quietly fired and we were stuck with Bumpo.
Our platoon did not take Scar’s firing lying down. Scar had always taught us that regulations apply to everyone equally, regardless of rank. We, as a platoon, marched into our sergeant major’s office and filed a complaint. Before long we were gathered into a room to talk with our sergeant major about why Scar was fired.
“Scar is a great combat leader,” the sergeant major told us. We already knew that. No other leader in our company was more qualified to lead a group of men into combat than he was. The sergeant major went on. “I wish he were surrounded by glass that said IN CASE OF WAR, BREAK GLASS. Then I would free him,” the old, fat bastard droned.
Where did he think we were going? Canada? We were going to war and by his choice he put a lamb in charge of lions. Then we were stuck with Bumpo and we all learned a valuable lesson about how full of shit higher army leadership was.
Now Gunny gathered us all outside our sweltering, still very much un-air conditioned tent to say his hellos. We stood in a lazy formation, most of us half undressed due to the ungodly heat inside our tent. Our NCOs had no such problem and were wearing their full uniforms. This, of course, was the first thing Gunny noticed.
“Why aren’t most of you dressed?” he asked calmly. He had this weird nervous habit of not making eye contact when he was mad. Instead, he would cast his glance anywhere and everywhere else. The whole time with a small sneer on his face.
“Their tent has no air conditioner,” Slim answered quickly.
“But yours does?” Gunny asked Slim. The tone of his voice said there was no right answer to this question.
“Yes, Sergeant,” Slim said.
“Just letting your soldiers bake to death in there while you were comfortable. Wonderful.” If you followed his eyes, it looked as if he was really pissed at the gravel for some reason. “Heat is no excuse not to wear your uniforms. Go change,” he said, glaring at the sky. We hurried back to the tent to get dressed. It was so hot in the damn tent my belt buckle burned my hand when I touched it. Being burned by my clothes seemed to me like a good reason not to wear them.
Later that day, we were ordered by someone to go grab mail from Camp Nathan Smith, which would also be Gunny’s first mission with us. As we got the trucks ready, Gunny was all over the place. He watched us intently while we worked. He stopped Cali as he was working on the radios to ensure he was doing it right.
“Ugh, micromanagers,” Cali complained, spitting dip spit into an old water bottle. “Say what you want about Bumpo, but he left us the hell alone.”
“That’s because he was afraid of Slim.” I laughed.
“He was afraid of everything,” Cali corrected.
“And he had no idea how to do any of this stuff. Gunny obviously knows what he’s doing.”
“You say that like it’s a good thing.” Cali shook his head.
We climbed into our trucks and drove out. The ride over to Camp Nathan Smith was uneventful, except that we hit half the speed we normally did for fear of pissing off Gunny any further. We pulled into the camp’s gate and parked our trucks. The mail would have to be signed over to Gunny before we could do anything, so we just sat around and waited.
Before I could light a cigarette, Gunny was already walking back to the trucks carrying a box. He looked pissed. “Why aren’t you guys getting an air conditioner for your soldiers?” he yelled at the NCOs.
“We tried before here, Sergeant. They won’t give us anything because we aren’t in their unit,” Slim answered.
Gunny dropped the box onto the ground and started looking around at the massive motor pool we were parked in. There were probably close to a hundred different military vehicles of varying types around us. “So take one,” Gunny spat. “These assholes have everything they’ve ever wanted here, and they won’t help us. So let’s help ourselves. Find an air conditioner.”
The air conditioners the army uses aren’t a window or house unit you would normally see. They are massive, about the size of a compact car and attached to their own trailer. In other words, we wouldn’t be hiding it. We would just be attaching it to one of our trucks and hauling ass out of the camp.
Quickly, but not quietly, Perro, Nan, Cali, Slim, and I spread out and started searching through the expansive motor pool.
“No AC over here!” Perro called out.
“Nothing over here,” I screamed back.
“I got something!” Slim yelled. There was a huge AC trailer that was sitting unguarded, attached to someone’s truck. Slim and I quickly started unhooking the trailer. Everyone else spread out and made sure no one was coming.
We pushed the trailer over to where our trucks were parked. We struggled with the big unit, attempting to maneuver it in between the various vehicles around us. We failed and smashed the trailer off just about every vehicle we tried to get around.
“Hey! Those motherfuckers are stealing our AC unit!” we heard an incredibly angry voice scream.
“Oh, shit,” I laughed. “Our master plan is ruined!”
“Shut up, asshole, push faster!” Slim yelled. We hoisted the trailer up onto the hitch of one of our trucks and frantically connected it.
“Let’s roll, boys!” Gunny called out, jumping into his truck. Before we even had all our gear on we were hauling ass out of the camp’s gate. A group of screaming soldiers left in our dust.
“Suck it, assholes!” Nan laughed at them from his gunner’s hatch sticking up both middle fingers as we pulled out. We laughed and high-fived each other. Within hours of taking command of our platoon, Gunny had done more for us than Bumpo ever had.
Back at Grizzly Base, we excitedly hooked our shiny new AC unit up to our tent. It chugged, coughed, and roared to glorious life sending a dark plume of black smoke into the air. Within minutes, our tent was cooler than it had been in months.
That night, lying on our cots, we were freezing cold. I had to rummage around for my sleeping bag, which had been buried deep in my belongings ever since I’d moved into that horrible hell tent. I was unbearably cold the entire night. It felt absolutely amazing.