My name showed up on a long list of people assigned to take part in a 3-day military exercise. When I reported for duty, I learned I had also been added to an even shorter list: perhaps twenty Marines, including myself, had been selected to play the aggressors in the up-coming mock war game.
Everyone on my team, including myself, felt fine with our assignment. The rest of the group of about two hundred men did not look as happy, but who could blame them? None of us on either team were seasoned veterans, but to be guerilla fighters sure sounded more exciting.
The others in the company probably wanted to return home to warm meals, beds and wives.
We lived like nomads for the entire time, with only a youthful but intense sergeant in charge. We ate our rations cold, took no baths and slept fitfully on the desert floor, but we also got to do fun things like dig spider holes, which enabled us to surprise and “kill” scouts sent out by the larger unit.
We also got to do “hit-and-run” attacks, which tickled our guys to no end. Who does not like to win at war?
In fact, we won every time we engaged our unfortunate opponents, which happened often, both day and night. We confounded them thoroughly, too. But the best moment came last, although it was not exactly our best show.
The operation was scheduled to end at 0700 on the fourth day. At 0357 of that same morning, our crafty sergeant, who smelled a sure victory, laid out his final plans.
The enemy camp lay six miles in that direction, he pointed out. Six men would circle the camp while the troops slept. The sergeant and his team would find a way to infiltrate the site, and then wait for a signal flare from our outer perimeter.
The ensuing attack would then be two-fold -- get them from the outside as well as from within. Brilliant, we each agreed. Let’s go!
But a problem soon arose: the young sergeant became emboldened after our initial success and decided to become a hero.
He picked me and another man to accompany him. We had snuck into the sleeping camp easily enough, for there was no watch on duty. The only other movement was smoke rising from a smoldering campfire.
Me and the other guy stood shivering in the shadow of a mess tent while he went to scout around the area. When he came back you could hear excitement in his whispered voice.
“That truck over there has the Oppositional Commanding Officer asleep in the front seat. What a lucky break! If we capture his vehicle along with him inside, it will eliminate the need for a fire-fight, and we will easily win this whole damn thing.”
Hey, why not, I thought. We were all using blanks anyway, so the less I have to fire now, the less mess I have to clean later.
The three of us crept forward, inching our way slowly. I tried not to chatter from the cold. The sarge sent the other man around to the passenger side while he and I hunkered down low, heading for the driver’s door.
When we stood up at last, I could see the shape of a man wrapped in a warm field jacket sitting behind the steering wheel. The hood was drawn tight around the sleeping person’s face. The sarge grinned as he put a finger to his lips, and then he banged on the door with his rifle butt before pointing the barrel up at the window. Then he yelled loud enough to wake coyotes.
“Surrender! We got all you bastards surrounded!”
One bleary eye opened before the head inside the truck turned to peer down at us. Then a hand slowly came into view. It patted around the neck before finding what it sought, and then the hand turned a set of silver bars into the moonlight. A half-awake voice of a dead-tired captain then came floating down to us from the cab.
“Fuck you and your surrender!”
And with that, he snuggled back down into his seat and went back to sleep.