Top Secret: Military Stories

January 11, 2023 | Scott Mazza

Top Secret: Military Stories

In many ways, the military is a whole new world—and nothing illustrates that better than these bizarre, hilarious, and nail-biting stories from service men and women.

1. Mission Complete

I was assigned to my 1st unit in South Korea, stationed at Camp Humphreys. Early on, I managed to get licensed on every piece of vehicle that we had, so naturally I was tasked out to drive...a lot.

One fine day I was tasked, along with another driver, to return our gear to the depot. So, myself and a group of our little detail set off in two that were packed full of gear cases for our laser system.

It was pretty chill. We drove a couple hours north, dropped off the gear, had a leisurely lunch at the Katusa Snack Bar, then drove back. We arrived back at the Hump around 3:30, parked the trucks in the motor pool, and were told to "just go hang out in our rooms until 5:00”.

Cool beans, I had HALO to occupy my time. The next day, I go to work, and a higher-up asks about the truck. I told him that is was parked, chocked, drip pan in place, air tanks drained, etc, etc, and dispatch was turned in. His next question threw me for a loop. He then asked if I had washed it.

Now, it was January in South Korea. If you have never been to South Korea, it gets COLD in the wintertime there. Usually, we didn't see a lot of snow, but we would get ice everywhere. While on night shift, I did not count the night as complete unless I had slipped and fallen at least twice while walking back to the barracks.

So, the conversation went as follows:

Him: "Did you wash the truck?"

Me: "'s like 19F degrees outside”.

Him: "You need to go wash the truck”.

Me: "You DO realize that it is below freezing outside, right now, correct? Water freezes at 32F degrees...washing the truck would be pointless…”

Him: "I don't recall this being a two-way conversation. Go wash the truck, Specialist!...and take one of your buddies to help!"

Me: "Rodger that!”

But I wasn’t going to let it go there. I had a plan. Cue “malicious compliance”. So, my buddy and I walk over to the Motor Pool. I start the truck and drive it up next to the bay, and walk inside to find my mechanic know, the one that you cultivate in training so that your trucks actually get fixed.

"Hey, man, I need to borrow your little pressure washer...I have to wash my truck”. We had some back and forth about the outside temperature, after which I secured the pressure washer, which was akin to one of the small ones you get from Lowes and use around your house.

After hooking it up, I proceed to spray the car, while my buddy grabs a scrub brush and starts scrubbing the canvas. After about a minute, he yells out to me that the water is freezing on the canvas, and brushing it is doing no good.

I shouted back that I was aware, and to move back from the truck. I then proceeded to hose down the entire truck. What I created was beautiful. By the time I was done, the truck looked like a giant ice sculpture. The only thing that I had left clear was the driver's windshield and window.

We then backed the truck off the giant slab of ice that had formed under it and parked it back on the line, locked, chocked, and drip panned. Went back to the shop, tossed the keys on the higher-up’s desk, and gave him a hearty "mission complete!"

The following Monday was Motor Pool Formation day. After we formed up, the commander had his say, and we were called out to conduct motor stables. I hear from across the crowd... "GODDARNIT!...WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED TO MY TRUCK!!!!"

Me: told me to wash it last Friday, so..."

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

2. In Or Out?

In basic training environments, recruits are given a standard set of responses that they're supposed to stick to. They vary from service to service, but generally, each of their responses should be: Yes, No, I'll do that right away, I'll find out right away.

Part of the game that's played during basic training is getting into the habit of answering questions using your standard responses. With that last one, part of the point is to try and remove "I don't know" from a recruit's vocabulary and replace it with "I'll find out”.

Unrelated to that entirely, people in the Army wear hats outside. Your hat gets tucked into your pocket or stuffed into your pants/boot when you're inside, and as soon as you're outside—boom. Hat goes on.

You always have your hat with you, just in case you go outside, because one of the first things you learn is that people here wear hats outside. This concept is central to our identity, as silly as it may seem.

So, there was a situation where a recruit was holding a door open for his company mates to pass through. He was standing outside, holding the door open, but he wasn't wearing his hat. We were on a pretty tight schedule, he was a good kid, and I wasn't trying to make a scene.

I walked over to him and in a hushed voice asked, "Recruit, are you inside or outside?". My intent was to prompt him to put his hat on. That was all. I was just trying to help a brother out. I couldn’t expect his reaction. He turned to face me and, at the top of his lungs shouted, "THIS RECRUIT WILL FIND OUT, SIR!"

I couldn't help myself. "Oh? You're going to find out? You're going to find out? You're going to find out if you're inside or outside? You know what, take five seconds. Look around. Go ahead. Gather as many facts as you can. Go go go go go go. Zero five. Zero four. Zero three. Zero two. Zero one. You're done. Recruit, have you reached a determination as to the description of your surroundings?"


"Well?! Speak freely!"


I then pulled his hat out of his pocket and placed it on top of his head. His eyes lit up with an "ohhhhhh" look. He got it. I was trying to help him out, not yell at him.

After he graduated, I linked up with him to tell him that situation was probably my absolute favorite thing that's ever happened in any of the classes that had come through.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPexels

3. False Alarm

I was stationed in Germany and our “mission” was to help secure the East/West German border via two outposts. There were more than a few of these along the length of the East/West border and our guys would man these outposts and have people stationed at these border points for 2-3 weeks and then back to our main base while another group took over.

We had a stretch of the border to monitor, and on the other side, there were East German towers with a few guys in each tower watching us watch them. This was my tour during the Cold War. All kidding aside it was a big deal. It was determined that if the Soviets were going to start something in Europe, this is where they would do it.

Our job was to let everyone else know and do our best to hold them back. One of our Lieutenants decided he wanted to have some fun and screw with the East Germans a little. There was only so much you could do out there, so you found your fun when you could.

So one bright sunny spring day, I drove my LT out to a hilltop in sight of an East German tower about 1/4 mile away. I stopped and he pulled out a lunch box, which was covered with aluminum foil and had a few coat hangers twisted around it to look like a funky “Device”.

We pulled up, he hopped out of the Jeep, and he set it on top of the hood (in plain view of the tower), opened the lid, and pretended to fiddle around with the insides of the box. He looked around a bit and then jumped back in the Jeep and we sped off very quickly.

That was Monday. But we were just getting started. On Tuesday, we did the exact same thing at the same time and sped off. On Wednesday, we were back and doing the same thing, only this time when I looked at the tower instead of just two guys with blasters and binoculars, there were four staring back at us trying to figure out what we were doing.

After about a minute he jumped back in the Jeep and we took off. On Thursday, same thing but there were more people down there staring back. But we kept the same routine, only staying a minute before leaving.

On Friday, we showed back up at the same time and now there were about a dozen people in the tower with a couple vehicles parked at the base. Everyone had binoculars staring us down.

This time, though, we both got out and when we opened up the box he pulled out a couple of sandwiches and cokes and had lunch. You could hear the yelling 1/4 mile away.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, Mike Leavenworth

4. I Have Ways Of Getting What I Want

This is a story about my father's deceased friend, Jesse was a Black man, about 5'2 but with really a wiry build. Total dynamo of a guy. Jesse came back from Vietnam a Sergeant E-7, and was placed in command of a group of white recruits, who were led by a bunch of E-6 "Good ol' boys" who couldn't handle having a Black man give them orders.

Jesse didn't care, he just did his job. One day, Jesse bought his wife a new Cadillac with white-wall tires, and he drove it on base his first day to get his DOD window sticker. The car was parked in their company's parking lot where all the NCO's parked. When he came back, he was shocked.

Much to his surprise, four tires were slashed.

The E-6s were all curious and asked, "What are you gonna do? It could have been anybody...are we going to question the whole company about your wife's tires? By the way, how are you getting home?" All as they snicker and chuckle.

The only thing they didn't say was "Boy" but it was understood that they thought he was going to have to either raise a huge ruckus and become a distraction to command right as he just got there, thus diminishing his reputation, or just eat this and keep on going. But there was one thing they didn’t know. Jesse didn't play that game.

He just said, "I'm not going to look for who did this. He is going to come to ME”. As First Sergeant, Jesse could authorize field training exercises and physical training at his discretion. He called the company to order and told them they were going on field training exercises immediately.

They were ordered to grab only their GI-issued gear and to be prepared to overnight for several days. Then he walked them out into the woods for about ten miles and told them to set up their tents, after they constructed the more permanent tent with the wooden floor and the portable stove for him.

He posted a guard at his door, lit a fire in the stove, and went to sleep. Did I mention it was December? And that everyone else was sleeping on the ground in pup tents with no heat? So the exercises began.

Jesse ran them like rented mules for two days through those woods. Long morning and evening runs. Push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, digging latrine trenches in frozen ground…you know, team-building, camaraderie-inspiring torturous stuff.

After two days, one of the E-6s showed up with two black eyes. Apparently overnight, the company pulled a Code Red on him and beat on him until he agreed to confess to the tire slashing because they were darned tired of living in the woods in winter.

Jesse docked the man's pay and made him replace the tires, but didn't file charges against him because he thought he had paid dearly enough, and more importantly, Jesse had made his point for everybody on base to see: Don’t mess with Sergeant Jesse.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, The National Guard

5. You Get What You Give

While stationed overseas for a few years, my wife and I had a baby...he's in for an interesting life of explaining his "city/state of birth" on forms.

We already had a toddler, and I got ten days of paternity leave which was nice. I didn't expect that I'd be going anywhere anytime soon, so I was around (outside of business hours) to help my wife. Since she'd had a C-section, she wasn't allowed to lift anything heavier than our newborn or drive a car.

Now my unit was planning to send a couple of teams to a nearby country for a training mission. Each team consisted of one NCO (sergeant) and four lower enlisted (private up to specialist), so two teams is only two NCOs and eight lower-enlisted...we had EIGHT sergeants in my section (including myself) that could run a team.

I had asked my supervisor if I was on the rear detachment, that is service people not going on a mission, and he said I definitely was. Great, makes sense since I JUST had a baby and my wife can't leave the house without assistance.

Fast forward to a few days before the 30-day training mission, and I see my name listed on a manifest...what the heck? So I ask my supervisor, who asks our First Sergeant (1SG). I did not like the answer. He confirms that ALL the NCOs in my section are going (eight).... for two teams’ worth of equipment.. when only two are needed.

So I appeal this decision earnestly, asking that they assign me to the rear detachment and take me off the manifest...this is a HUGE hardship for my family. Eventually my 1SG and commander (captain) call me into my commander’s office to talk with me.

I honestly thought that they just didn't understand the situation they were putting me in, and that if I just explained it to them they'd see how silly it would be to make me go. Oh sweet, naïve me. It was worse than I could have ever imagined. They took turns trying to humiliate me.

My commander told me how his wife was driving just a few days after her C-section and that he didn't see why my wife couldn't. I explained that she was just following doctor’s orders, and that our car insurance wouldn't cover her to drive so soon after surgery. It was around then that my 1SG took a call and left the room.

I was younger, stronger, bigger than my commander...I have ZERO doubt that I could have destroyed him in a one-on-one fight. But that didn't stop him (once 1SG left the room) from starting to take shots at my wife. Calling her lazy, entitled, stupid, etc...

You know how when you get really mad, you start seeing red? I was that mad. I was honestly getting ready to snatch him up and throw him out the window…before I caught on to what he was really trying to do. If I did anything he'd have a HUGE advantage. The Army will not excuse an NCO assaulting an officer just because he insulted him (or his wife).

And I wouldn't have had any witnesses. He was trying to (I believe) get me mad enough to do something physical to him, and it would be my word against his. I calmed myself, and calmly said to him, "Sir, it sounds like you are calling my wife lazy and stupid, am I understanding you correctly?"

He quickly backtracked and claimed that he was just speaking about dependent spouses "in general". Then the 1SG came back in and they both agreed that it was just "too difficult" to change the manifest at this point and that I would just have to "suck it up".

So I didn't punch him, but I wanted to. Turns out a friend-of-a-friend knew someone a few levels up, who filled them in on my situation. I had resigned myself to having to go, and had purchased a second refrigerator so that we could stock up on food before I left.

The day we were set to leave, my 1SG grabbed me and said I was on rear detachment and to get my bag off the pallet. So fast forward a few months, we're having a "mandatory fun day”. There is a raffle for throwing a pie in the face of your commander is one of the volunteers.

He generated a HUGE pile of cash, since so many people hated the guy. Sadly none of my (many) tickets were called when it was his turn. But my supervisor’s were! He had the winning ticket! I still relish the next moment. He turned to my wife and I and handed it over (thanks dude!).

My wife walked up, whipped cream pie in her hand, and just launched that thing into his face... her hand never left the pan. I heard him whining to the orderly room clerk that he thought his nose might be broken. It wasn't, he was just a wimp.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, Scott Ableman

6. The Tables Have Turned

I really hope that somewhere there’s a retired Drill Sergeant who likes to break this story out as one of the strangest things to happen to him on the trail…

Due to a combination of wildly overoptimistic academic goals and a fear of commitment, my first enlistment was in the US Army Reserves. I wanted to jump out of airplanes and shoot machine guns in order to pay for college, and Uncle Sugar extended an invitation to do all of that so long as I made a six-year commitment to Be All I Could Be one weekend each month and two weeks each year.

My training was scheduled to be about nine months long; basic training at Fort Jackson, SC for about nine weeks, a number of months spent at Fort Huachuca, AZ, all capped off by a three-week visit to Fort Benning, GA to enjoy the gentle ministrations of the black hats at Airborne school.

Through some heinous mess, on the day of my departure, I’d end up adding another month+ to my time waiting in holdover status for security clearance paperwork to catch up with me. All in all, I was gone for more than ten months, an important number going forward when things went a bit pear-shaped.

I finally came home, all fired up and still reeking of that new private smell, and quickly reported to my unit. On the first day of my first drill weekend, I’m called in front of the formation and am promoted…and then again. After the laughter calmed down, the commander tells us he has bad news.

The unit’s being decommissioned and we have to find a new home. CUE SAD TROMBONE

Good God. What have I gotten myself into? The options were simple. We could transfer to another Reserve unit (if there was space), find a National Guard slot (if there was space), or end our enlistment contracts without penalty, but also without access to the GI Bill and other benefits.

The nuclear option was to apply for an active duty slot with the regular Army. As it turned out, I quite enjoyed soldiering and was still too broke to afford college tuition, so that last option piqued my interest. The problem was this. Everyone was eyeballing that career option.

This was the mid-90s and the economy was very uncertain, which meant the job market was awful, and the US was still riding high patriotism. So recruiters in all branches of the forces were spoiled for choice and going gangbusters in their business.

Because my training exceeded six months I was classified as Prior Service ACTIVE DUTY, which put me pretty far down the depth chart as far as applicants went. It took some aggressive footwork and a lot of patience, but nearly a year later I was able to snag an active duty slot.

In the spirit of Things That Make No Sense, I was re-assigned to an Army basic training battalion, this time at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, along with about 150 other prior service people to await orders to my first active duty unit. No joke. As a prior service active duty soldier, one couldn’t just slide right out of a reserve slot and into an active slot.

We had to be properly “reindoctrinated” and the only place we could do that was, apparently, freaking Missouri.

Again: What have I gotten myself into? Here’s where things start to get fun. We had all sorts in our company. With 150 or so troops in the company, we had everything from 11Bs to comms folks to personnel clerks to intel wienies like me, as well as big a handful of prior service Marines.

We even had combat vets from the Gulf War. Through dumb luck, I wound up in the same squad, such as it was, with these incredible beasts. Thankfully the indoctrination process wouldn’t require us to actually repeat basic training.

While we were officially assigned as “trainees,” what we were really there for was to redo all of our paperwork, update vaccinations, draw new uniforms and gear, and then hurry up and wait for orders.

We lived in the basic training barracks and ate in the basic training DFAC, but were fairly strictly segregated from the actual trainees. For about two weeks the daily routine involved morning physical training followed by a generally mindless detail, and we were usually released after lunch to do whatever we wanted for the rest of the day.

Not a bad gig, and inarguably the only way to enjoy a place like Fort Leonard Wood. Upon drawing new uniforms, we were explicitly cautioned against taking them to any of the off-base cleaners for installation of rank insignia, badges, combat patches, etc. This was back in the day when everything was sewn on.

Because our orders could come down at any moment with minimal time to prep for departure, they didn’t want us to risk abandoning our new gear. This didn’t stop anyone from doing just that, because a bit of visible rank was a reliable way of inoculating us from the attention of the Drill Sergeants who were still everywhere and not necessarily clued in as to our status.

So generally we each had at least one top with all the gewgaws we’d earned, but our field jackets were almost completely sterile. Here comes the payoff. Very early one morning, some of my “squad” is tasked to prep one of the ranges for actual trainees. We’re promised a couple of hours of work with the rest of the day off.

At about 5:30 am on a chilly October morning, we’re corralled into the back of a five-ton truck for the drive to the range. It’s too early for much joking but the conversation is light and we’re expecting nothing beyond maybe raking some rocks, and then breakfast. What we get is a little different. The five-ton lands at the range and immediately we hear shouting.

The back gate is dropped and a bevy of Drill Sergeants are there to greet us in their own inimitable way. Flashbacks to basic training. We’re too slow for them, apparently. We say we’re not trainees. They don’t care and they start to pick us apart individually.

One of them instantly locks onto our SGT Ranger—one of the beast combat vets—who’s sporting a Ranger roll in his patrol cap. “Oh! What do we have here? A RANGER WANNABE?!?! Who do you think you are, wearing your headgear like that, Private?!!!!!?!!!!” Rabble rabble rabble.

SGT Ranger is both irritated and nonplussed. Remarkable, really. It’s too early for this, and given his service record it’s simultaneously too late for this. We’re all caught off guard, mouths agape. SGT Ranger collects himself and casually drops down from the five-ton, and the following exchange occurs:

“Listen,” he begins as he starts to unzip his (virtually sterile) field jacket, “Until you have one these…”

points to Airborne wings with combat jump star

“Or one of these…”

sliding one arm out of the jacket and pointing to his Ranger tab

“Or one of these…“

shedding the field jacket completely and pointing to a combat Ranger scroll

“Then you can talk to me like that. But until then you will SHUT UP!!!!”

Those last words vibrated among us. Time froze. So, too, the air around us. Tunnel vision ensued and the whiff of a wild west showdown permeated everything. Drill Sergeants frozen mid-shout furiously scrambling to do the mental math to figure out what comes next.

A scenario that clearly was not covered in any training block at the Drill Sergeants Academy. This is fun. Finally one of the drill sergeants’ CPU catches up to the situation and he speaks, “Who…who the heck are you?”

One of the other high-ranking combat beasts has quite enjoyed this but intervenes. He quickly jumps down out of the five-ton and introduces himself and us. “We’re all prior service, Drill Sergeant. On casual status just waiting for orders. They told us to report here to give you guys an assist”.

He extends a hand as a means of introduction. The last remnants of confusion settle into the dirt as the situation starts to come into focus. The Drill Sergeants look at each other and then back at us, and as the resolution improves so does their demeanor. Some nervous laughter.

“Well screw me,” one of them says. “No one said anything about prior service. They just told us to be here to meet a truck full of men from one of the training companies, so you guys got one of our performances”.

SGT Ranger has made his point and he’s not a jerk so no hard feelings. We get briefed on what we’re expected to do and where to find the right tools. The drills see an opportunity for a relatively easy start to their duty day so they’re happy to leave us be.

A couple of them jet to the canteen with a promise of returning with hot coffee and something to eat to make amends. And that’s how I got to see a basic training “trainee” tell a US Army Drill Sergeant to shut up and not only survive, but also earn an apology and coffee for it.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, @USArmy

7. Mistaken Identity

My grandpa was a short, hard man with a hypnotic accent and the ability to tell extremely captivating stories. My sister inherited this trait from him. I did not. He told this story to me a year or so before he passed and it's been years since then.

I'll do my best to tell it as it was told to me. Grandpa was French Swiss. He grew up in the Alps, and served in either the local militia or the Swiss Army (was always unclear to me) as a boy during WWII.

Thanks to a commendation he received for capturing some defecting Wehrmacht, he was commissioned into the Swiss Army once he came of age and became a lieutenant in their Bicycle Corps.

Yes, bicycles—the Swiss maintained a bicycle corps until the early 00s. He was immensely proud of his time in the bicycle corps. Biking up and down the Alps with a bunch of gear gets you into really good shape, and he continued to bike until his balance didn't allow for it, at which time he switched to a stationary bike in his basement and used that until his joints gave out on him in his 80s.

When he was in his 60s, he was given a Swiss Army bike like the one he rode as a young man. He rode it once around the neighborhood, then came back and said "It's a handsome gift, but don't expect me to ride it again. How we ever went up and down mountains on these, I'll never know”.

Anyway, one day his unit was tasked with assisting an artillery unit in their training. As he told it, they were sitting up on a ridge with a radio sending the coordinates of the training target. Grandpa wasn't the radioman, but he decided that he would be a hotshot and be the guy to radio the coordinates.

The transmission went something like this:

Grandpa: Target coordinates are 1234.

Artillery: Confirm, coordinates are 1243.

Grandpa: Negative, coordinates are 1234.

Artillery: Roger, coordinates are 1235.

Grandpa: NEGATIVE. Coordinates are 1234.

Artillery: Understood, 1134.

At this point Grandpa honestly thought they were messing with him, hazing the dumb bike LT who wanted to play big man on the radio. He sent the coordinates one more time, but they didn't respond or confirm.

He decided that they must have known the coordinates already ahead of time—they do this all the time, right?—and so he and his guys sat back to watch the show. He heard the sound of the guns: "An absolutely terrific sound, even as far away as we were, and made me wish for a little while that I had gotten into the artillery corps instead of the bike corps".

But then there was nothing. They heard a very far off impact...but the training target remained standing. The impact site wasn't even in view.

Artillery: How'd we do?

Grandpa: Hey, uhh...Could you repeat the coordinates you used?

Artillery: 1432.

Grandpa, to his men: Well, darn.

A quick look at the map. This confirmed his worst fears. They had just shelled Liechtenstein. As it turned out, they had specifically shelled a barn owned directly by the reigning monarch, the Prince of Liechtenstein. And despite it being artillery's screw up, and despite the numerous witnesses on both ends of the radio who stepped up in defense of the nice young lieutenant, it was clear it would be pinned on Grandpa.

He thought his career was over, and that he would be in the brig before the week was out. Hat in hand, he and his CO went to their highest-ranking officer, he said it was the equivalent of a colonel, so he could face the music and take his slaps.

The officer berated him for a while, then came the plot twist. He said that he was to do two things: get his dress uniform into perfect order, and report to so-and-so for etiquette lessons. That’s because Grandpa, a few other officers, and a general had an appointment with royalty.

He said that his lessons were the strictest he'd ever had. It was an old lady who taught them, an officer's wife or something, and she gave him the nun treatment—if he did something wrong, she hit him with a yardstick, but only on places that wouldn't show in his dress uniform.

He recalled he had little welts and then bruises on his biceps for weeks, but he learned everything he needed. The thing that stuck with him most was "eating on the square", as he called it. She made him lift the silverware in a straight line directly up from the plate to mouth level, and then move it in a straight line to his mouth, horizontal with the floor, and then back in the same fashion to the plate.

"I have never felt so foolish as when I had to eat like that. Every time I have done it since, people look at me like I am a lunatic. It did help me to slow down, and to not spill my food on myself, so perhaps that was the point in the first place”.

The cadre and their retinue drove into Liechtenstein and to Vaduz Castle, the royal seat. There they were greeted by the royal family. They had an exquisite dinner, which he did not taste at all because he was so scared.

They had an invigorating conversation over dinner, which he could not remember afterward for the same reason. Afterward, the Prince invited them to have a drink or something. Grandpa couldn't remember what it was, but his stomach was turning from the stress and he was afraid he would do something stupid if he drank, so he declined.

I don't know if they decided to take pity on him or if they wanted the LT out of the way while they talked business, but the Princess offered to give him a personal tour around the castle, which he gladly accepted. They walked and chatted for a long while until he had relaxed, and then they rejoined the group.

It was at this point that Grandpa's speaking ability came in, and he charmed them all with it. He spun yarn after yarn about being a young alpine cowherd through the 30s and through WWII, about how he got in a verbal altercation with an officer over a thieved cow, and a litany of other stories besides.

The Prince and Princess were kind people, his commanding officers were clearly pleased that their lieutenant had finally loosened up and shown some aptitude for entertaining polite society, and by the end of it all had been forgiven concerning the barn.

No one had been injured, not even an animal—Grandpa said it had been a feed store barn—and the Swiss government had paid for the cost of replacing it already. Hands were shaken all around and the Swiss cadre left.

I had been in the US Army about two years when Grandpa told me this story. It came up when I told him that I had learned a little about sending information over the radio.

He launched into this story, and concluded it with this: "If you're ever sending something very important over the radio, make SURE the person on the other end of the line repeats it back to you exactly as you said it to him. He's probably an idiot and will end up hitting Canada or something”.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, Defence Imagery

8. Three Cheers For Cookie

This is my dad's story. Many years ago now, my father did his time in compulsory service for the army of the Republic of South Africa. In that time, there was one man whose memory still to this day brings a fond tear to Dad's eye. We'll call this man Cookie, because apparently everyone did—from the lowliest private to the highest-ranking officers Dad ever saw pass through the mess.

Cookie was a cook worthy of legend. It's entirely possible the man would have set the kitchen on fire if asked to cook for under 50 people, but the man could turn out just right sunny-side-up fried eggs for 200 men such that every man's egg was perfect, hot, and fresh.

Outside the doors of Cookie's kitchen were some trestle tables, on which there would be stacks of glasses next to the cold vat of fresh milk—all there, Cookie would insist, because he didn't have room for them inside—and usually a big tray or two of roast potatoes, which he'd set out there to cool.

It was a shocking outrage to Cookie that the young men on base considered it at all acceptable to take his potatoes and drink his milk. Occasionally he'd come out of the kitchens to voice his outrage, waving a ladle very menacingly, but somehow there was always more milk and the potatoes would be replaced if they ran low.

Cookie's mission in life was to see to it that the young men on base didn't go hungry, and he took it seriously. Dad was once present when an officer stopped by the mess and asked one of the lads going through Basic whether he had any complaints about the food.

"Sir, no sir, it's excellent, sir!"

"You're sure? Nothing at all?"


The soldier observed that each of the long tables in the mess hall—seating twenty-odd people at a time—had one set of condiments. (Peanut butter, marmite, jam, that kind of thing). And it could be a bit time-consuming passing them around, and all.

"I see," the officer said. "COOKIE!" he bellowed. "GOT A COMPLAINT ABOUT YOUR FOOD!"

Cookie emerged from the kitchens at a run, looking wounded. "What?!"

The officer pointed out the issue with the condiments.

Come the next morning, there was a full set of condiments at every single place setting on the table. Cookie cared. Which made for something of a problem the time the fridge and freezer units on base broke down.

Cookie cooked up as much food as he could before it all went off. The lads feasted. The refrigeration didn't get fixed. Cookie did his best with what he had, cutting away spoilage and throwing away what was beyond salvaging, and spicing up what was left.

Nothing got fixed. But fresh steak was getting delivered for the officers' mess. The enlisted men were watching the deliveries with what might politely be termed displeasure. Cookie, it seemed, couldn't take having to cut away the green bits to look for scraps of usable meat for the lowly recruits while the officers were dining well.

The officers' steaks weren't enough meat for the enlisted, really, but it was better than nothing, and Cookie padded it all out with what edible vegetables he had and served the boys the best dinner he could scrounge together. Meanwhile, the officers got the stuff he had left.

It wasn't good enough for dog food, but hey...they'd thought it was good enough for Cookie's boys. The officers were not well pleased. The base commander came into the enlisted mess, a few other officers behind him, and saw the enlisted were eating the real food, and he was a little put out.

He thought he was furious, but if I said that he was furious then I wouldn't have a good word left for Cookie. Cookie was furious. In the middle of the enlisted mess, in front of God and the recruits, Cookie tore strips off the base commander.

He questioned his fitness for command, his mental health, and exactly what sort of favors the commander had offered to whom to attain his present rank.

He finished with a threat to accept Commandant-General So-and-So's standing invitation to become his personal cook and to tell the Commandant-General exactly why he'd left the job he'd loved and clung to for so many years.

The freezers and refrigerators were fixed within 24 hours.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, New York National Guard

9. A Phone Call You Don’t Want To Miss

My cousin Ashley’s husband passed while on duty in Afghanistan. She was obviously heartbroken. He didn't suffer, that much we know. I along with much of my family was by her side helping her cope with this tragic loss. They had only recently gotten married. In fact, I had never even met her husband.

Over the course of several days of grieving, Ashley had grown tired of all the well wishes. She had a son to raise without a father and was tired of people reaching out to her and just wanted some peace. That afternoon she told us she was going grab a bottle of red and relax in her room and didn't want to be disturbed.

About 30 minutes later the phone rings. My aunt answers and says "Ashley isn't taking calls". Then the next thing I heard was, "Yes of course she's available". My jaw still drops at what I found out.

My aunt motions to me, and tells me that Obama wants to speak to Ashley if she's available. Not every day the President of the United States asks you if you’re available for a call.

I rush to my cousin’s room to grab her. She yells at me to leave and says she's not interested. I tell her she's going want to take this call, and she goes, "I don't care who wants to talk to me," and I go, "It's Obama, Ashley".

She stops and goes "Obama?" I go "Yes, Obama is on the phone.  She hops out of bed and runs to the phone. Everyone got quiet and we asked her to put on speaker. A few moments later Obama came on the line.

Now I'll be honest, I wasn't sure what Obama could possibly say to a grieving widow, a woman he's never met to make her feel better about the loss of her husband, a man he never met.

How Obama could possibly get my cousin to see hope was beyond me but I was eager to listen. Obama was so good with his choice of words. He was honest, and direct. He said it would be a lie to say he can relate to her loss, he's not lost a loved one to combat.

That he can't imagine the pain she must be feeling, however he wanted to personally call her and tell her that he is in awe of the sacrifice he gave to his country, and feels terrible that our family has to carry this burden. It was eerie listening in that living room, filled with family with my cousin talking to the president.

At the end Obama did something that I didn't expect, he offered a legitimate help line. Obama said he was aware that she is entitled to certain benefits, and that he understands that none of those benefits will ever make up for the loss of her husband, however she should receive everything that she is entitled to as well, and should she have any difficulty in receiving those benefits he is going give her a number to a member of his team who can ensure she receives those benefits.

I'm reading my explanation, thinking back on that call. In no way shape or form am I even approaching to the level of elegance, professionalism, and comfort that Obama provided in that short call. My aunt wrote down the number.

Ashley thanked Obama for his call and told him it was by far the single most meaningful call she had received in relation to her husband’s passing, and the call ended. She never had to call that number. But she had it.

I googled it, but that number did not appear on any official government sources so I assumed it was a cell phone number to someone on the Obama administration team.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, NASA HQ PHOTO

10. Bag It Up

This was in Iraq in 2004. Me and my buddy were headed to the chow hall to get some food and one of my E-5 supervisors who was in a very heated spades game stopped us and asked where we were going. We responded "Chow”.

I then made an attempt to vacate the area as fast as possible due to a strong mutual dislike between us. The fewer words I spoke to him the better. He then told me, noting me specifically by name and rank, to bring him back a to-go box.

"Ok, what do you want in it, Sergeant?”

"I don't care".

"You sure?"

"JuSt GeT Me A To GO BoX SpECiAliST".

"Roger that”.

Now, I initially planned on filling it up with the nastiest stuff I could find at the chow hall. Whatever slimy overcooked veggie and meat slop they had. But it was a good 500-yard walk back and I didn't want to have to carry that glop-laden leaky Styrofoam to-go box back only to have him toss it. So I came up with a better idea.

Yup, "just a to-go box" is exactly what I grabbed for him. I knew he was going to be angry and at that point, I didn't care. What were they gonna do? Send me to Iraq?

I got back and set his to-go box down right in front of him. He opened it to find it filled to the brim with absolutely nothing. Oh, the look on his face was like gold to me.

"One to-go box as you ordered, Sergeant".

The three others playing the game of spades immediately began laughing, as did the others watching. He proceeded to tell me to get in the "front leaning rest " (push-up position). Then one of the others playing piped up with, "How you gonna smoke him for giving you exactly what you asked for?"

He fumed for a few seconds, "Recover and screw off”.

I quickly got up and continued to chuckle as I left the area. The repercussions were the worst guard shifts and details, but still was totally worth it.

Top Secret: Military StoriesWikipedia

11. David And Goliath

We were a total of eight people. We were the cripple brigade. The useless. The invalid.

We, at around the midpoint of a two-week FTX, were the ones that had injured themselves somehow.

There was a broken arm, a mild concussion, a partially torn Achilles’ tendon (that was me), a broken finger...In short, we were incapable of training in a meaningful way. So, we were put to the most useful work we could do: Guard the ammo dump.

The entrance area was two 40-feet sea cans, side by side, with about 20 feet between them. A third one was laid across one end of these, forming a rudimentary gate house (This had been done because the actual gate had burned down a few weeks prior).

We had wood stoves for heaters and a generator out back, so it was an okay life, especially since one of us had brought his (at the time) newfangled 3G modem, and we could just barely get Polish Vodafone internet if we taped it to a long stick.

I personally was near the tail end of my second day there, particularly angry about it because I knew I'd be missing the Ammo destruction shoot, a thing we do with ammo close to hitting its use-by date. On that evening, another unit that was playing in the same training area and using the same dump. They showed up to dump the ammo they hadn't used that day.

No problem, lemme check if you're on the list, y'all are, go right on in, and don't forget to sign out or we'll be mad and shake our invalid fists at you and maybe even give you a dirty look, have a nice evening.

Later that night, a single Marder from that unit rocks up to the gate, at speed. Broken finger gal goes out there, checks the occupants against the list, and....reaches for her radio. "Yo Klaus, this guy's not on the list, but he's a Captain, and he doesn't like it”.

"Yeah, I'll be out". So I grab my weapon, equip myself with crutches, and mosey on down. "Evening Captain, what can we do for you?"

At this point, he's being nice. Asks how I got injured ("Rope bridge wanted to go left, I went right, crack, ouch"), and wants to be let in.

"Sorry Sir, you're not on the list”.

"Sergeant, I very much am”.

"No Sir. I'll check it again just to be sure...No Sir, you are not on the list. Let me call Battalion about that, maybe it's just a mess-up”.

I radio battalion, they say no, that guy isn't on their version of the list either, I am to tell him to go away,

"Sir, my apologies, but Battalion confirms, you're not getting in. Your guys can come, but you have to hang back”.  This is when it got interesting. He turns around and shouts to his driver to come down. Driver does so, and he orders his driver to take him in there as a guest, on his ticket, so to speak.

"Sir, regulations forbid that. You will have to wait outside”.

There's a bit of back-and-forth, and both him and I are getting riled up at each other. He mentions that he can just “crash your dinky gate with my Marder". In the end, I reached a decision.

"Captain, I am placing you under arrest. Attempts to resist or flee will be met with lethal force if necessary”.

"What IS WRONG WITH YOU…” Guy starts going off. My guys see this and haltingly make their variously injured way from the container shelter to the actual gate, and prepare to open it. Mr I'm a Special Captain kicks the gate.

And that's when Finger came through. She took her MP7 from where it was slung, took it off safe, and chambered a round. "Sir, get on the ground immediately. Belly down, hands and legs spread”. Mr Captain screams wordlessly, assumes the position, and mutters about how he'll "have you for breakfast".

We secure him, take him inside, ask the rest of the Marder crew to please go away as we have kind of a situation here, and wait for the MPs. They arrive about 40 wordless (except for a courtesy cig offer) minutes later, take him off our hands, and leave.

I write a report, planning to deliver it (and have my rank ripped off) when relief arrives in the morning. A few hours later, the radio chirps. I answer, and identify myself. The other end identifies themselves. At that moment I know I’m in trouble. It's Big Man. Big Man who should be sleeping.

"What did you do?"

“Detained so-and-so"

"Did he give you a reason?"

“A good one, sir. He kicked my gate, and threatened to run it and us over with a Marder”.

"Did you stick to the regulations?"

"Yes Sir!"

"We will talk about this in the morning. Back to your post".

We get replaced, and then a specialist is making the rounds, gathering us all up. He says he is to find everyone on ammo dump guard duty that night and deliver them to Big Man. Oh no. We tag along, get shown into Big Man's tent, and it's basically an interrogation.

Who did what, why, where. What exact words were spoken, where was the Marder, etc. Curiously, nobody is chewed out. We're just told to leave and get to bed, in preparation for more guarding.

Days, later, and I have been living in fear for six days. I have been hazed nearly constantly about The Event.  People arriving at the ammo dump would get out of their vehicles with their hands in the air.

So final formation is being held before we pile into our vehicles and head back home, review and recap of what we did, yadda yadda. Commendations are being handed out, the mood is very light-hearted (including an award of one day's leave for "most chow calls missed"), and I hear "Sergeant Klaus and associated guard detachment, front and center!"

There's Big Man, with some paper in his hand. We line up, get given the piece of paper, and finally Big Man addresses the Battalion: "For exemplary execution of their guard duties in the face of overwhelming force, a commander's commendation and three day's leave to these fine people, to be taken immediately after our arrival in base”.

And he says to us, sotto voce: "I hate that guy. Thank you. Never again, but thank you”.

"Understood, Sir”.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, Virginia Guard Public Affairs

12. Ask And Ye Shall Receive

This happened toward the end of my enlistment (we conscript in my country). At the time, I was a signaller in the air force, and in that particular year signallers were a rare commodity.

Don't ask me why, but in my final year, signallers were like diamonds that units would fight like heck to keep.

Anyway, my CO got a call from someone even higher-up, insisting that he send one of his much-needed signallers to the Air Force School, of all places. He was furious, and pointed out that he needed to conduct actual exercises, a major one coming up the very next month, and he was not about to use the signal storeman in the field (this was a last resort).

But since he's overridden anyway, he decides to play games of his own. He sends me—one week out from clearing leave and completing my service—to the Air Force School. I get there on a Monday. They orientate me around the camp.

They show me my bunk. The familiarize me with routine orders, etc. At the end of it, they ask if I have any questions. I do.

"I have two weeks leave and I need someone to sign off on it”.

"What? You just got here, why are you taking two whole weeks?"

"Because after that I'm in the reserves, and uh...I'm not coming back”.

Man, the new CO went WILD, since technically he did get what he asked for: He got a signaller. Just one that would only be around for a week. He took one look at my papers, and then just went "get out of here”. But the story didn’t end there.

To make it worse, this new unit now had to handle my out processing, including medical, return of equipment, discharge papers, etc, burdening them with extra paperwork. They also had practically no use for me, given the short time I had there.

I did feel a bit bad though, so I contributed one way: I'm really good at painting miniatures, so I assembled and painted all the airfix models in the aircraft identification display.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

13. On A Technicality

I had a long advanced individual training, and we took an Army physical fitness test every month or so. I consistently ran the two-mile in a little over 14 minutes. At my age, a low-14 was a good score, but there was room for improvement.

Before a test, my drill sergeant (DS) would pull everyone's physical training card and could see your last few test results...mine were all just over 14-minutes. He didn't like that. He called me out, and said that if I didn't run a 13-something that he was going to smoke the heck out of me.

No problem, I figured I'd step it up a bit and knock out a high-13, how hard could that be? I had no idea what I was in for. It was a BIG group, and my drill sergeant wasn't my scorer...when I came across the finish line at 14:06 my heart sank.

I thought, “Welp, maybe I can slip away and avoid him for a while, and he won't remember the threat he made".

No dice.

While I was slinking away I hear:

DS: "Get over here!"

Me: "Hooah DS moving DS"

DS: "What'd you run?!?" looking at me expectantly

Me: "Uh... 13:66 DS"


I slipped away, cringing, expecting him to realize that what I'd just said didn’t even make any sense at any moment. But it didn't happen!...right then.

A day later I was walking by the DS office and my DS called me in. He was going through the cards...uh-oh.

DS: “I thought you said you ran a 13?"

Me: "I said I ran a 13:66 DS"

DS: turning red while glaring at the card on his desk, "get out of here”.

Me: "Hooah DS"

It was never spoken of again.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPxhere

14. Got ‘Em

I was on active duty, getting ready to deploy from Camp Lejeune to Iraq. I was going as an Arabic interpreter for Marine Civil Affairs, fresh off my graduation from Monterey, CA. Another female NCO, we'll call her Yi, and I go get drinks that night at the bar right off base called Gus's.

She’d just got back from spending a rainy week in the field on Fort Bragg. We're just chilling at the bar, having a few drinks, when these two guys come up and start trying to chat us up. They looked so young, with a bit of baby fat and cheek fuzz on their rather flush faces, and you could just tell they had barely been in the fleet more than two minutes.

They start making small talk (Where you ladies from? Whatcha doing tonight?) but Yi and I were just trying to have a couple drinks, not catch a date. As I opened my mouth to politely let them know we weren't interested in their company, Yi chirps up, "Oh my God, are you guys Marines?!"

I am a bit perplexed by this, wondering to myself what the heck? We're Marines—then it clicks with me. Oh. Ohhhhh. This might be fun.

"Yep!” They introduce themselves and their ranks.

"That's so crazy”. I chime in. "I don't think I could do that, your boot camp looks really scary. I'd probably cry. Glad someone else is doing it!" They've got to know that we're not a couple of college girls, right?

"Have you guys like, ever blasted at someone? Have you gone to Iraq yet? That's insane! I'd be terrified!" Yi contributes, giggling as she spoke.

I mean, someone has to have told them that every woman for a thirty-mile radius around Jacksonville was either active duty or married to someone who was...right?

But nope, all of this goes right over their heads and we spend the next half an hour getting these two to make up stories about what it's really like to be a Marine, paying for a drink or two to kind of make up for the joke.

As the evening winds down, I start feeling a little guilty about the ruse and ask if they need a lift back to the barracks. After all, they're way too toasted to even see straight. They think this means love and accept, without wondering how two civilian girls could possibly drive on base.

So we pile into my car and I head to the main gate. I get to the guard shack, hand the sentry my ID, and after he looks it over, he hands it back to me. "Have a good night, staff sergeant”.

"You too!" With that, he waves us through.

The guys in the backseat are suddenly very quiet and very awake. My friend is snickering under her breath, and as soon as I got to the parking lot of their barracks, they bailed out of the car like it was on fire.

Yi and I start laughing our butts off as we watched them hightail it into the night. It was probably the only time I'd seen a Marine running away from ladies. Hahaha, got 'em.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

15. The Dawn Of Internet Karma

Before Desert Storm kicked off, around the time of Glasnost, but before the Soviet Union dissolved, I worked at the Job Control center at the 1962d Communications Group at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa Japan.

Job control was a lot like lots of Air Force jobs. Hours of boredom, punctuated by minutes of excitement, and the occasional threat to your career. We had a brand-new TEMPEST IBM 286 running Easy Menu and DBase IV to keep track of outages, which we wrote out on Wordstar to be printed out for briefings.

We also had an overhead projector and grease pencils for staff briefings. Whenever a unit on base had any sort of electronic outage that was in any way connected to communications, we would get the call.

Phone outages were called into a base operator, who also called into us for repair. We performed triage, decided priorities, and controlled maintenance on anything from a Weather Fax with its spinning helical blade to the Air Traffic Control center, to Giant Talk.

And we dealt with phone outages. At that time, getting a phone installed on Kadena took time. Sometimes up to a month before it was approved and installed for the average enlisted Joe who just wanted a phone in his base housing or dorm room.

And if the phone went out of order for any reason, then Job Control was directed to get maintenance on it super-fast, no longer than five duty days. There was one loophole. All this was unless you were on the list. If you were on that very special list, a maintenance tech would be at your door like Domino’s. 30 minutes or less.

This list was a listing of "who's who" of Kadena. It contained unit commanders, pilots for the 376th Strategic Wing (SAC), and others. Some people were so important that they had more than one phone. The SAC command post had a red phone that got serviced instantly by secret squirrels if it went down.

Kadena is a big air base. Lots of people had phones that were not particularly important, but the people with those phones would get extremely panicky when they went down. The main reason why people were panicky about downed phone lines was because of computer Bulletin Board Systems.

People would dial into these systems, make a few comments, log off so that someone else could dial in, and then do it all again the next day. It was like Reddit, but slower, and with more drama. One dark and rainy Friday night or Saturday morning, I got an escalation call from the base operator.

When I picked up, I was immediately set on edge. The first thing I noticed was that she was crying. She was being chewed out by a Marine Major who lived in Kadena. He was angry because his phone had gone out. I suspected that the rain had something to do with it.

I got his name from the operator, checked the special list, and he wasn't on it. So after I got the operator calmed down, I said he wasn't on the list. She told me that she knew this, and told him, and that his reply was blistering.

According to the Major, of course he was on the list, he was a MAJOR after all! And how could she be so stupid. I had him transferred to me. At the time, I was a lowly Buck Sergeant. A rank that doesn't exist in the Air Force anymore. All the responsibilities of an NCO, and none of the authority.

But I still had some power. As Job Control, my commander (a Lieutenant Colonel) told me personally that while doing my duties, I spoke with his voice. Presumably, as long as I made the right decisions. This wasn't mentioned, but I had observed that a couple of other people working in Job Control had made decisions that negatively impacted their career path.

But this decision was an easy one for me. The Major wasn't on the list. I spoke to him, got his details about the outage, and then did my standard spiel about how we had up to five duty days to send a technician. I wasn’t quite prepared for his reply.

He went from being firm and polite, to DRILL SERGEANT, in a half second. He actually ORDERED me to "Fix my phone". And he wasn't kind about it. He didn't actually curse, but he sort of "frothed". I could imagine the spittle.

Now, on some occasions, our sacred list wasn't accurate. It was rare, but it happened. One way to check was to see if a person worked for one of those magic units. Being on a commander's staff would qualify. Having more than one phone was also an indicator—we were very stingy with phones, and very few people not on the list had more than one phone.

So I asked him where he was calling from. He was calling from his neighbor's phone. Okay, one strike. I asked him what unit he was connected with. I don't recall the actual unit, but it was not on our list. Strike two.

His function in that unit was also unremarkable—definitely not part of his unit commander’s immediate staff. Strike three. I told him that we had up to five duty days to repair his phone, and that I'd add his ticket to the queue.

That wasn't good enough. He said he was going to call my commanding officer right now and, "get the problem taken care of". He would make sure I was demoted to dishwasher. After a few more threats, I got him off the phone.

Then I followed procedure. I called my commanding officer. At his home. And woke him up out of his comfortable bed. After the initial grumpiness of being woken at 2 am, we discussed what had happened. As my commander was formulating a response, I got another incoming call on the outage line.

I informed my commander, and per procedure put him on hold. It was the base operator again. She was bawling. The Major was on her incoming line, and said really mean things to her. In my experience, this woman was usually unflappable.

Like all the operators, she was a local, and she was very fluent in English. She told me she didn't understand all the words that the Major was using. I told her to hold on, then switched back to my commander.

He had apparently woken up completely, and was starting to get angry. When I told him the latest development, he got that special kind of quiet angry that dangerous people get. He told me that he would take care of it, and hung up.

20 minutes later my immediate boss came rushing in, soaking wet from the Okinawan rain, and still pulling on his uniform. The commander had told him to get to work NOW and assist me in gathering information.

I gave him a briefing on what had happened, as he read over my notes. He then called the base operator, and found out she had gone home for the morning. Her replacement had been called in early to cover for her, since she had lost her composure and wasn't performing her job very well.

My boss got a briefing from the new operator, and then called the other at her home. They talked for almost 45 minutes as he took notes. The rain had really picked up by this time, and I was busy handling other outages. So my involvement was reduced.

But during this time my commander arrived, along with some members of his staff. My boss briefed them on the status, and they left for a while. But things were just heating up. That morning, as my duty shift ended, I asked my boss what was happening. He told me that the Wing Commander was now involved.

My next duty shift wasn't until Tuesday morning, as I rotated from the graveyard to day shift. When I came to work on Tuesday, I was immediately called into my boss’s office. According to my boss, this Marine Major was so uptight because he was running a popular computer bulletin board system.

Apparently, he didn't want any downtime since that would reduce the popularity of his own system. He tried to use his rank to force a change in our policy. Since he wasn't under Air Force command, we couldn't punish him directly.

However, there was an early morning chat between the Kadena AB commander and the Marine General, who then apparently had something to say to this Marine Major's chain of command.

The result was that the poor base operator received a huge bouquet of apology flowers, along with some expensive drink of her choice, and an in-person apology. It's my understanding that the Major did a lot of bowing and that his commanding officer was with him during this apology.

As for me, I received a letter of apology, addressed to me by name and rank, by this Major. It explained why what he did was wrong, that he had no authority to make these demands, and that he was deeply sorry for his actions. Unfortunately for him, that wasn’t the end. My commander was vindictive.

He had Job Control send a technician to the Major's residence and remove his phone and phone line. He mentioned that he wanted to get the Major kicked out of Air Force quarters, but wasn't able to do so.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, Morning Calm Weekly Newspaper Installation Management Command, U.S. Army

16. Do You Know Who I Am?

Setting: sometime in 2009, somewhere outside of Waco, Texas. Let me preface this by saying that I switched services. After eight years in my beloved Corps, I joined the Army. I took some leave, and the wife and I were going to head to her parents' place in SW Missouri.

We get on the road pretty early, and I had bought two Rockstars to slam to wake myself up as we left "The Great Place" as I wasn't sure if the massive amounts of coffee I had prior to getting in the car would do the trick.

So we get on the road, start driving, and somewhere around Waco…nature calls. I have GOT to find a bathroom sometime soon or the car's gonna have a new liquid running through it that it was never meant to have. Luckily there just happened to be a rest area a little farther down the highway, and sweet release was achieved.

I wash my hands and walk out. I'm almost to the car when I see this distinguished-looking gentleman pass me wearing a "USMC" baseball cap. As we are wont to do, I wanted to take a moment to shake the hand of my elder brother Devil Dog and tell him "Semper Fidelis".

So I wait until the gentleman finishes in the restroom and comes back out, I walk up to him and do exactly what I had planned on doing. He smiled, but the next sentence out of his mouth sent a chill up my back that I've never had replicated. "You don't recognize me, do ya Marine???"

My hands, of their own volition, began to move to the small of my back; my posture became far straighter than it had been previously and I managed to stammer out, "Unfortunately I do not, Sir”. To his credit, he smiled broadly when he noticed what I was doing, and stuck out his hand again this time for me to shake.

However, my body flatly refused when he introduced himself as "I'm General Carl Mundy, former Commandant of the Marine Corps and it's nice to meet you, Marine". In case you don’t know, he was VERY famous and VERY high-ranking.

Y'all......I did not know that my body had the capability to go to the position of attention at the speed of light. I did not know that I would suddenly lack the ability to speak. I did not know that the corporeal forms of my four Drill Instructors would suddenly appear as I stood in the presence of God, USMC, Ret.

For what it's worth, General Mundy quickly told me to relax (he was laughing). We shook hands again, I told him that it was an honor and privilege to meet him, and we went our separate ways.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa


17. Father Old Flame

I get to my first duty station and Squadron Commander has this policy of meeting all new people. So a couple of pipeliners—people straight out of basic/tech school, including myself—go to the front office to meet the commander.

We are escorted into his office and take a seat around his table. He walks in from another meeting and immediately starts going around the table shaking everybody's hand, saying things like "nice to meet you” or "glad to have you as part of the squadron".

As he is walking around the table, I'm thinking to myself, "This guy looks familiar. Why does he look so familiar?" He comes around to me and gives me a hearty handshake and says, “It's been a while! How have you been?"

I respond very confusedly as I was still trying to remember where I would know him. "Good sir, How are you?" Thankfully he took the cue that I wasn't able to place him and filled in the blanks with this: "I've been good. I can't wait to call my daughter Millie and tell her that you are a part of my command”. That’s when it all became far too clear to me.

Me and his daughter dated back in the 8th grade for about three months and I actually had dinner over at his place one time. The one and only time I met him. The holiday party was interesting when she left the VIP table to go to my table and drag me out to the dance floor.

Lots of rumors flying around the following weeks.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

18. Class Is In Session

During my time in the Marine Corps, I completed a total of four tours in Iraq. During my second tour, we took over an Air Base from the 82nd Airborne in the AL Anbar province. The transition period was quite “fun”.

We were in tents that were nowhere near the bathroom. We were also instructed to hydrate like our lives depended on it. Like a good Lance Corporal I, usually, did what I was told. This turned out to be a mistake.

One night I had to use the bathroom, but was not going to make the distance to the designated facilitates. About half of the way there, I found a Hesco Barrier and relieved myself. Right at that time, the roaming patrol observed my actions and asked what I was doing.

I let them know I could not make it to the bathroom, so here marks the spot instead. The next morning I was brought up to the Sergeant Major my Staff Sergeant to explain myself.

My answer was not good enough so I got to stand at the position of attention for the next 30 minutes getting chewed out for it. I was counseled on how disgusting that was and how it could be a health issue.

This was followed by an order to make a presentation about health effects of being close to bodily fluids. Game on. I did just that. I used my time finding obscure articles about groups of people who save their urine to drink it later for the "nutrients and vitamins lost".

I went all out on this, talking about the process of sterilization of the urine to the storage of the urine for later consumption. Next, I found articles about holding in your pee for too long and how it could adversely affect your bladder. But the capstone to my argument was me going into the Sergeant Major’s tent and taking pictures of the mounds of bottles filled with pee they were holding onto still.

I did the same for the officer tents. When I gave the presentation I had a blast with it. I was quite professional and presented one heck of a class in my opinion. They were fuming that I did not go the route they were expecting and finding articles about the negative side of peeing just anywhere.

But what got me into more trouble was when I showed them the bottles THEY were hoarding and ended with this question: What do you think is more acceptable, me trying to go to the bathroom but not making it, or unnamed people peeing in the same area as they sleep and then holding onto the bottles?

I really would like to say that was the end of it, but my antics bought me three weeks of sweeping sand for two hours after a normal 14-hour shift. I still smile about this to this day, but sweeping sand in the desert was a complete waste of time. Then again, it was meant to be. Still worth it.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

19. Friends In High Places

Years ago when I was attending Naval Nuclear Power School in Orlando, my best friend and I were involved in an incident at the Navy Exchange on base.

It was payday, so after class, my friend and I headed over to the Exchange to cash our checks and pick up a few things. The Exchange was part of a cluster of shops with a covered area connecting them. With the blazing Florida sun that day, there was quite a crowd gathered in the shaded area.

As we were headed for the door of the Exchange, we saw a well-dressed, late middle-aged woman carrying a large number of packages trying to get through the door. Why she didn't have a cart for all of her packages, I have no clue.

My friend and I each grabbed one side of the double doors and opened them up for her. Just as she is coming through the door, a lieutenant comes charging through, nearly knocking her off of her feet and sending her packages flying. The lieutenant joins with a cluster of other junior officers to start chatting.

I catch the woman's arm to steady her, and once she's regained her balance, I run to get a shopping cart while my friend starts gathering up her packages. When I return a moment later, we put all of her packages in the cart and present it to the woman.

She gives us a huge smile and Thank You. My friend is a bit of a smart mouth and sees that the offending lieutenant still chatting with his buddies. He pitches his voice loud enough that he's sure the lieutenant will hear and says, "Our pleasure, ma'am. Some of us don't require an act of Congress to be gentlemen!"

Even though I'm laughing at this verbal barb, alarm bells are sounding in my head. Sure enough, the lieutenant has indeed heard and is striding our way, red-faced and breathing fire. My friend and I pop to Attention, and he proceeds to ream us each a new one.

I must admit, his command of “language” was impressive. And coming from a sailorthat's saying something. During this rant, I notice that the lady we assisted had pushed her cart over to another small group of officers, and she’s talking to them and pointing in our direction.

One of the officers detaches himself from the group and comes striding over. I swear, I had never seen as many gold braids on a hat in my life. And his shoulder boards have two stars! It's the base Commanding Officer! Oh my god, I think, we're done for now.

My friend and I are starting to reach for our IDs and getting ready to be put on report. But something else entirely happened. He looks at my friend and me and says, "Gentlemen, thank you for assisting my wife. You may go now”.

We snap out salutes and a brisk "Yes Sir!!!!' and beat feet into the Exchange. We look back through the glass wall to see the lieutenant standing at a very rigid attention while the Admiral reduces him to a quivering puddle.

I don't know what happened after that, but it's likely that he had very limited advancement potential and wasn't very happy with the choices of duty stations he had available to him.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command

20. Double Dipping

This all started in 1981. My dad had always wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps and join the Air Force. My dad was eager to get out of his small town, and as soon as he was old enough he signed up for the Air Force.

However, as things were, the Air Force was slow to ship him out to basic for various reasons. After what he says seemed like nearly a year of waiting, he finally caved. The Army recruiter had mentioned my dad would get shipped to basic fast, and start his career fast.

My dad was very much in love with the idea of being in the Air Force, but decided he'd rather get out of his small town now, rather than wait for the Air Force. Now, this was before computers may have caught something like this, but my dad decided to go down to the Army recruiter and sign on up.

He was sworn in, signed his contract, etc. The Army was moving quickly, however with perfect timing, he finally got his ship date for his Air Force basic training while in limbo with the Army. My dad decided, “Screw it, it’s the same thing I'll just ship off with the Air Force".

So he heads for Air Force basic training. He's about 3-4 weeks into basic when one day he gets called in to go speak to the commander. Two Army MPs are with his commander, and his commander asks my dad if he enlisted in the Army as well as the Air Force. My dad confirms he did.

I'm pretty sure his commander was like "what the heck,” as it’s not every day you get to be enlisted in two branches at the same time. My dad was told he was being pulled out of his class as they figured out what the heck was going to happen, as it’s not that common for a soldier to go AWOL because he's becoming an airman.

Eventually, this gets escalated to a two-star General who, after reviewing the situation, decides that since my dad joined the Air Force first, he technically belongs in the Air Force and the Army should just forgive him for also joining the Army and drop their AWOL case against him...since can you really be AWOL when you’re sitting in basic training?

Apparently, the two-star General got in contact with whoever on the Army side was chasing my dad and got them to agree to "release" him from the Army, and not consider him AWOL. Luckily the Army agreed.

This took several weeks, and my dad was then called back into the commander’s office where he got a good talking too about the importance of not joining multiple branches at the same time and the confusion it can cause.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

21. Private Turned Public

So, enter me and my current friend-with-benefits. One thing leads to another and I’m tied to a bed with a clothesline. I end up with rope burns and chafed wrists. The next day before work, I decide to pour calamine lotion on my wrists and wrap them in bandages so my sleeves don’t rub on the rope burns.

I go about my work all normal…until after lunch when my supervisor pulls me into an empty office to talk. She asks me a bunch of questions about if I’m feeling fine: am I too stressed, do I need to talk to someone, she can take me to mental health etc.

I am totally oblivious, so I tell her I’m fine and don’t need anyone's help. I honestly got really defensive when she brought up going to mental health. I ended up going back to work after telling her I was fine and basically to leave me alone.

A little while goes by and then two security forces guys walk in and tell me I have to come with them. Now, I had been having a weird day and honestly got kind of belligerent until they informed me I could walk out with them or be cuffed and dragged out.

They refused to tell me why they were there and put me in the back of a squad car. At that point, I thought they found out I had been underage drinking and didn't want to say anything. They took me to the base clinic and took me upstairs where mental health is.

I get shown into a room with a therapist. That’s when it all becomes clear. The therapist asks me why I’m hurting myself. My supervisor saw the bandages on my wrists and concluded the worst. After showing my wrists to the doctor and explaining what happened (which was mortifying) they finally believed me.

I still had to fill out a bunch of paperwork about my mood and such but was released an hour later. My supervisor was in the waiting room and wanted to know what happened. I told her on the car ride back because at that point what did I have to lose.

I wasn’t written up or punished, but because I caused so much hassle she made me put down “intimacy” on my High-Risk Activity Sheet. Of course, gossip spreads quick as heck and everyone in the office found out, so I got to deal with that for a few weeks. There was one more surprise.

A year later, we got a new commander. She apparently went through the High-Risk Activity sheets because I got to explain the whole thing over again. It has been a few years and honestly, looking back, my supervisor managed it pretty well.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

22. A Very Bad Boy

The first ship I was on went to heck when our new CO showed up. I’m fairly sure by the time he left two years later everyone hated him. My ship had gone into the shipyard for a complete re-fit in '88. At the time, the Old Lady was about 35 years old and starting to show her age.

For instance, the bulkhead between the #1 Engine Room and the #1 Boiler room went away the last time someone had taken a needle gun it—a big ol' hole between the two. Anyway, among other things the shipyard completely opened up our boilers and rebuilt them all.

All told, we were in the yards for about five months while the shipyard took its sweet time doing the work. And when they finally got the boilers finished and closed up, our CO was already planning the Engineering Inspection as soon as we cleared the yards and got to Norfolk.

See, his replacement was waiting, and he had a set of orders to go to the Pentagon where he could put all his knob-polishing skills to work and get advanced to full Captain. Enter: the biggest problem.

One of the shipyard workers showed up, and if we lit off our boilers, they were going to explode.

So, the Navy sent in a bunch of inspectors to take a look at them. Among other things, they found that over 90% of the welds on the exterior of the boilers were bad, the tubes for the superheaters were installed wrong, and that those boilers were waiting to explode if we had lit 'em off.

And the CO lost his mind, because the new CO (rightly) refused to take command of a ship that was broken. Big Navy hammered the heck out of the shipyard, and they basically had to fix the boilers for free...and wouldn't get prosecuted/sued down to their shorts IF they did it right.

But all of this was not the shipyard’s fault, apparently. Oh no, it was the CREW’S fault for deliberately sabotaging our CO's chance at that all-important Pentagon slot. All of this was made crystal clear to us at Captain’s Call where he all but frothed at the mouth while screaming at us for two hours or so.

So, we began working 12-hour days/7 days a week. I was a Gunner's Mate, I had nothing to do with Engineering, and the Engineering Department had been all but replaced with the shipyard guys when they opened up the first boiler, so how was this our fault?

There were a LOT of angry sailors, to say the least. And it just got worse from there. He had the shipyard finish ONE boiler, and then promptly left the yards, sailing us up to Norfolk with two tugs attached in case that one boiler went down, and I kid you not, scheduled the inspection for two days later.

Inspectors show up, walk down into the #1 Fireroom, and the two boilers are completely open with guys inside them, replacing the piping on the super-heaters. They literally went the heck, we failed the inspection (no, really?) and left.

The CO was chasing them down the brow as they left screaming at them to give us a pass on the inspection because, y'know, we did have ONE working boiler after all.

Again, this was the crew’s fault for not, somehow, miraculously finishing up three boilers in the two days we had between arriving in Norfolk, and the inspection team’s arrival. Oh, and the shipyard was shuttling workers to the ship every day to continue working on the boilers without yard support.

So, I will never forget when our new CMC (higher-up) showed up and just shut this guy down hard. We honestly thought this guy was going to be a completely useless CMC. He had 30 years in, it was his twilight deployment, and he was an Oceanographer's Mate for Christ’s sake.

He was there to get his pin to cap off his career, that was it. Our last CMC was a spineless yes man, and we all thought "here we go again” with this guy. Man, we were so very wrong. This guy had big brass ones and he shut the CO down hard and fast.

Told him to his face that he could do whatever he wanted with the officers, but HIS sailors were HIS responsibility and the CO had better stick to the wardroom, or he'd be getting a thrashing. All of this happened on the mess decks...during front of all of us, at considerable volume.

We went back to working a normal work week. We loved this guy! Shortly after that, everything hit the fan. The Admiral in charge of our Squadron showed up on our ship one day and passed the word ship-wide, plus topside, so every ship on the pier heard it too: “Commander, get to the quarterdeck NOW”.

The CO came out of the hatch screaming his head off, “Who did that?” and the Admiral told him, “You are fired, get the heck off my ship and report to my office right now”. And the CO was escorted off the ship by a JAG officer.

Two days later, the new CO showed up and took command. Our old CO was Court Martialed for his role in this, as I can just imagine the tale the inspectors told when reporting our failed inspection back to Squadron. But that wasn’t all.

Probably a lot more important to Big Navy, the CO was charged with six counts of breaking international maritime rules, Navy regulations, and a host of other things from what I hear.

Seems that, somehow, our engineering logs showed up on the Admiral’s desk, the ones that the CO had ordered re-written because they showed that on six different occasions, while we were doing an underway replenishment, we had dropped to one boiler.

This should have resulted in our doing an emergency break-away from the replenishment ship, but our CO had given written orders to go through with the evaluation of both the regulations and the law, and it was all in those logbooks.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

23. The King Of Mozambique

I still believe in, and love America. Not the geographic borders, or the fortunate accident of my birth of being born inside them. I mean the greater metaphysical concept of what it is to be an American.

I do have a very complicated love/hate relationship with Americans as a people, finding them often to fulfill many of the negative international cultural stereotypes. But I love the spirit of independence, the endless optimism, the generosity, and the ideals enshrined (and occasionally even upheld) in our Constitution.

But one of the things that I love the most is that almost anyone can become one of us. Shortly before my Afghanistan deployment, I spent a few weeks in Mozambique training peacekeepers for the African Union. Well, that’s what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t end up doing that.

My unit sent me there because I was the “Subject Matter Expert” (SME) on Mozambican affairs. How did I become the SME on Mozambique you ask? While overhearing a conversation between two officers about an upcoming training mission in Southeast Africa, I suggested they take SPC Fabio (Name Changed), as he was born and raised in Brazil.

The paraphrased conversation cemented my position as an expert.

“Why the heck would we want to send SPC Fabio? He’s from Brazil and Mozambique is in Africa. They speak some African language. Stop eavesdropping and get back to work”.

“You do know that Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony, right? And that their national language is still Portuguese…”

Long Pause

“What else do you know about Mozambique?”

“Not that much. Colonial history, geography, exports, I’m more up on South Africa though”.

“Well, I guess the both of you are going. Fabio as he speaks the language, and you because you know more about Mozambique than anyone else here. Pack your bags, you leave in three months”.

My small detachment arrived in Mozambique at the beginning of summer/their winter and linked up with the Marine regiment that would be conducting most of the training.

Initially, the Marines were just as foreign and incomprehensible as the Mozambicans, but after learning their language of exaggerated gestures and grunting noises, we were able to communicate with our beloved jarheads.

All joking about inter-service rivalries aside, the Marines were a joy to work with. Watching them do weird things like bayonet practice with live bayonets or drinking hot sauce was all part of the mission’s entertainment.

They managed to get all my attention while setting up an expeditionary water filtration system in the local river. To do this, a Marine PFC waded out deep into the river to set a weighted hose to suck up the river water away from the bank.

The river water then passes through some magical box that makes the water drinkable. What was more interesting to me was the Marine PFC wading through obviously crocodile-infested waters.

This was obvious because of the signs warning of crocodiles, the locals hooting warnings from the opposite side of the river, and the crocodiles that were clearly swimming in the river.

When I pointed this out to the Marine SGT in charge of the detail (in particular, I emphatically gestured to the ACTUAL CROCODILES in the water), he calmly spat out his dip and said, “It’s ok, he doesn’t have any sensitive items on him”…Marines, man.

SPC Fabio quickly made himself indispensable, as he was the only American service member who was fluent in Portuguese. Honestly, that is selling him short. He’s also older and wiser than the average SPC (10 years older than me in fact), has traveled all over the world, speaks five languages, and has this amazing ability to magically get stuff done.

He also has this supernatural sixth sense that no matter where we are, he seems to always find other Brazilians even in exotic locations such as Maputo, Mogadishu, Kandahar, and Dallas. I’ve witnessed this inter-Brazilian radar on many occasions, and it never ceases to amaze me. But there’s another thing.

My friend also has a massive leg up on most of the US-born recruits in that he grew up, quite literally, in the Amazon jungle. He understands the people of the developing world that we work with, because he grew up in a similar environment.

It’s not unusual for him to casually bring up in conversation the age he was when he owned his first pair of shoes (14), the number of times he had malaria (five), and the number of anacondas he has slain in defense of hearth and home (many).

His language skills, life experience, innate problem-solving abilities, and work ethic make him the best soldier I’ve ever commanded. And finally, since the Marines don’t have the rank of Specialist, his funny (Army) uniform and strange rank insignia further impressed our local allies and marked him out as someone even more unique.

He was called in to solve and fix all sorts of problems from the mundane to the serious. Initially, the Marines were providing the Mozambican recruits with three Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) a day. Now, even well-fed Americans can’t eat three of these things a day.

The locals were going digestively bonkers trying to process this amazing caloric windfall. And they were eating the silicon packets. And drinking the hot sauce. And burning themselves with the chemical heaters. So SPC Fabio conducted an amazingly informative class on how to eat food that I’m sure literally saved lives.

After mastering the ins and outs of MREs, the Marine cooks began providing prepared meals and materials to the locals. The first cross-cultural hiccup occurred. The Marines provided them with several giant bags (the size of pillows) of powdered eggs. Just add water and you get that lovely egg slime you know and remember from overseas service.

The Mozambicans were instantly skeptical of this white man sorcery. They know what eggs look like. They know what yellow dust looks like, and they noted the lack of similarity between the two.

So, again SPC Fabio sat down with the Marine cooks and Mozambican cooks and provided a series of Brazilian Gordon Ramseyesque classes on cooking in an industrial field kitchen. Then the change happened.

In a matter of days, it became obvious to the Mozambicans that SPC Fabio was the real brains behind the entire American operation in Mozambique. The local officers would ignore Marine colonels and majors, brushing past them to talk to my lowly E4.

More amusing to me, they thought I was Fabio's assistant, and I did exactly nothing to dissuade them of that notion. It was a lot of fun pretending to be Fabio’s valet. Carrying things for him, getting him drinks during meetings, taking notes for him.

Ultimately, it was more efficient this way. Me trying to step in and assert authority or add a link in the chain of translation wouldn’t have helped anything. After operations were established and SPC Fabio got us everything we needed (including roughly half of the buildings on camp).

He and I departed to work with a mobile medical clinic that would travel the countryside near the training area, winning hearts and minds with modern medicine. Well, that’s what the doctors were doing.

I was stimulating the local economy by purchasing soda, food, and souvenirs on behalf of the Marines, Airmen, and Sailors who weren’t allowed beyond the barbed wire.

When I found time, I helped organize and triage the patients, coordinated with local leaders to streamline the patients in processing, collected medical statistics, created language translation pamphlets, and planned operations for the next village we planned to visit.

Shortly before our departure from Mozambique, the mobile medical clinic returned to the main training camp. I collected my first non-MRE/non-local meal in weeks, my first shower, and my first non-solar-powered electrical socket to recharge my phone and camera.

As I walked around camp with SPC Fabio, we were repeatedly approached by Mozambican recruits. They wanted to talk to us, strangers from strange lands in their native Portuguese. Fabio with his natural knack for friend-making and storytelling regaled them with descriptions of life in America, the ultimate land of milk and honey.

I like to think that hearing these stories from Fabio, an immigrant to America, carried a greater significance to those Africans. We sat and talked for hours with them, under a light pollution-free starry sky.

My friend pointed out the Milky Way and named for me all the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere that he grew up under in Rondônia. Then something beautiful happened.

On one of our last mornings at the camp, I was walking down the dirt road from the training classroom to my pup tent with Fabio. We saw a formation of Mozambican recruits marching toward us with the glorious swagger and grandiose movements of a nation influenced by Soviet traditions.

Legs kicking high, arms swinging, necks rigid, and faces frozen in masks of solemn pride. Adhering to custom, Fabio and I stepped off the road and snapped to the position of Parade Rest as the formation passed.

The officer in charge of the formation saluted and shouted “Isto e Fabio, O Brasileiro! Olhos Direito!” (It’s Fabio! The Brazilian! Eyes Right). The entire formation in one solid movement snapped their necks 90 degrees to render honors and salute the humble Army Specialist from the deepest jungles of the Amazon.

Another company followed the first, and the cry and salutes were repeated. Fabio snapped to attention and saluted the officer of each passing company. His returned salutes became more and more grandiose, causing some of the locals to begin to cheer and whoop. “I think it’s their entire regiment,” he said, with a smirk.

“Do they know?” he asked me. I stood a respectful half step behind and to the side of him, as a fake subordinate should. “Know what?” I replied.

“You know, my real rank, who I really am? That I’m not an American American”.

“Doesn’t matter to them bud. Look at them. If they do know, they don’t care”.

We watched the remainder of the formation pass, stamping off and leaving us in a blood-red earth dust cloud of their own creation. I smiled at Fabio, and we both knew the charade was coming to an end.

At home, he’d go back to being one of the most junior guys in the battalion, and not the celebrity he was in Mozambique. For a few weeks in our little fairytale land, he was more than a Specialist, he was THE King. We would deploy together three more times.

Afghanistan and twice more to Africa. He proved his value on every deployment and is one of the best men I know. Our country is blessed to have men like him. Americans are born all over the world, every day…some of them just haven’t come home yet.

The other day I watched the mad scramble at Hamid Karzai International Airport, and the tragic and ignominious end of America’s longest conflict. I watched coverage of planeloads of Afghans fleeing the country, most of whom worked with NATO forces for the noble but Sisyphean goal of bringing the light of democracy, enlightenment, and equality to their blood-soaked land.

I wept as I watched the dream of a democratic and free Afghanistan die on the dusty tarmac. I weep when I think of all that we lost, the lives shattered, forever changed, the loss of innocence of millions the world over who traveled to that nation and tried to do righteous deeds.

Through all the painful coverage I watched, I received what I felt like were heartfelt, but ultimately empty, platitudes from senior leaders and politicians, from my family and non-veteran friends. It all rang hollow as I sat on my couch weeping, unable to look away and feeling an indescribable feeling of loss. But then yesterday I saw something.

A picture of a little girl, wrapped in an Air Force uniform jacket, napping in the cargo hold of a C17. I blinked back my tears and realized something. While we lost Afghanistan, we gained herShe will be an American. She is too young to realize it, she isn’t leaving home, she is coming home.

In the belly of that C17, I stopped seeing refugees. I started seeing Americans. Men and women who were born as Afghans, who strived and suffered with their blood, sweat, and tears to grow a better nation, but failed. The tragic loss of Afghanistan is our gain, as their best and brightest follow the setting sun westward over the horizon.

We are gaining men and women who will be the best Americans and they are coming home. In our nation, we strive so that a person’s worth isn’t measured by their tribe. Here we won’t care about their ethnicity, skin color, or religion.

They are not the sum of their wealth, title, or property. In our land, a foreign stranger, a penniless immigrant seeking a new life in distant lands, an American by CHOICE, not by the luck of birth, can arise to become anything.

Who knows what our newest Americans will become? They could follow in the footsteps of many selfless and brave immigrants and join the forces of their new home. And maybe with just the right amount of luck, they could be just like my friend, who at the right place, in the right moment, for just a few weeks, was the King of Mozambique.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, U.S. Army Southern Europe

24. Dressed For Success

I have an ex-girlfriend whose grandparents were, essentially, an extra set of grandparents for me. It really chapped her that they treated me as such and introduced me as “one of theirs” years after we had broken up as a couple.

The grandpa was a Navy vet who worked on patrol aircraft back in the day, and his first and middle name was Daniel Boone but everyone called him Jack. He passed after a long battle with congestive heart failure, and his wife informed me that he requested I be one of his pallbearers even though he had six brothers and five sons.

I was concerned they would be left out and she very firmly told me, "Well, none of them were sailors like Jack and he asked if you would wear your uniform for it”.

So, I bought a brand-new dress blue uniform, neckerchief, medals, and rank/rate patches, and hash marks and took them to a local dry cleaner that did alterations right off base that was owned by a friendly Iraqi immigrant.

Actually, “friendly”' is an understatement. He was always positive, upbeat, and generally an awesome guy. You never got out of his shop without chatting for a few minutes and he always, always, seemed happy to see you.

He took the measurements for the pants and asked when I needed it all complete. It was a Wednesday and I told him needed it completed by Friday. He looked at me with a pained expression and said it might be possible but it would be a bit expensive and asked what I needed it for so fast.

As gently as I could I told him it was for a funeral that Friday and said that whatever he charged, it was fine. His expression immediately changed and he glanced up at the clock and asked what time I had to be at the ship in the morning and what time I drove by his shop on the way.

I told him I would be driving by at about 0600 and he waved his hand and said, "No problem, it will be here for you”. They didn't even open until 0700.

He waved me out of the store, all business now, "Tomorrow morning, early. I will have it”.

I stopped at the cleaners the next morning and one of his young sons was there and let me in. The dad had done everything: all the alterations, rolling and measuring the neckerchief, mounting my medals, all my rating and hash mark patches, dry cleaned and perfect.

When I took out my wallet, his son waved me off. "He stayed here last night to finish it and told me not to accept payment. He would be insulted if you tried to pay for this”.

I mumbled and insisted a bit and the kid smiled and said, "We owe our lives to this country and you who serve. That's why my dad has this place close to the base. It made him very happy and proud to do this for you”.

Consequently, I told my buddies on the ship about it and we made sure he had as much of our business as we could throw at him. He never really mentioned it to me again, but the next time I brought something in he just gave me an extra smile and nod at the start of our conversation.

It was, and remains, one of the nicest gestures I can recall during my 10 years on active duty.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment

25. You Talking To Me?

Setting: Camp LeJeune, NC in 1998. French Creek area, to be exact. As a mechanic, it's not always turning wrenches and making things go vroom. Sometimes, you actually had to sit down and order the parts you needed to turn wrenches on to make things go vroom.

That's where young me found himself one morning, sitting in the maintenance office filling out EROSL's for parts (old school, I know). In the office with me was our shop chief, Sergeant Roy, and another gentleman who was easily the biggest fountain of information and knowledge I met throughout my entire career.

Y'see, somehow someway, my shop had a CWO5—an extremely high rank—as our maintenance officer. CWO5 "Mac" was a skinny dude on the shorter side, wore glasses, seemed to have a coffee cup surgically fused to his hand, and just kinda roamed the shop to be available if anyone needed him.

You'd never see him at a formation, but if you needed knowledge inside the shop he was always there. I might also add that none of us were wearing our blouses that day (summer in North Carolina in a building without AC). Sergeant Roy and I both were in rolled-down coveralls, and CWO5 Mac was in "boots and utes".

The truck I was working on was for one of the grunt units across base, and the darned thing was snake-bit. We'd get one part fixed, another part would break. Get that one fixed, something else would break.

This had been going on for about a month or so at this point. I think every mechanic in the platoon had had their grubby meat hooks on it at one point or another. So I'm sitting there ordering parts when our platoon office door BLOWS open and some Sergeant that none of us had ever seen before strides into the room like he owns the place.

The first words out of this dude's mouth are: “WHO'S THE SHOP CHIEF OF THIS IDIOT UNIT". Sergeant Roy responds, and the new guy tells him, "Good, you stand right there SERGEANT". Then he makes his fatal mistake.

He then turns 90 degrees to his right, sees the short skinny guy with glasses and a cup of coffee in his hand and says "YOU!!! GO GET YOUR MAINTENANCE OFFICER RIGHT NOW".

Y'all.....I wanted to speak up, I really did. I could have saved this guy, had I just had the fortitude to flap my jaws at that exact moment. However, this is an angry Sergeant, and I am but a mere lowly who doesn't yet rate speaking to a Staff Non-Commissioned Officer without being spoken to first.

CWO5 Mac doesn't let on, he just takes a final sip of his coffee, kinda shrugs, says "okay" and leaves the office. The new Sergeant jumps knee-deep in Roy’s throat about how we've had "his truck" (the one I was working on) in our shop forever, how that truck was needed for a mission, blah blah blah.

All the while, CWO5 Mac has turned two corners into his office, put his blouse on (the one with the matching silver bars with the red stripe down the center), buttoned it up, poured himself another cup of coffee, and walked back to the platoon office.

I guess the new Sergeant felt his presence or something, because as CWO5 Mac entered the office, he turned around. Y'know how in the cartoons they show the ghostly figure of the character's soul leaving their body when they get scared??? Exactly what happened here.

The guy tried to speak, but CWO5 Mac just looks at him and says, "Heard you wanted to speak to me". Long story short, I got to take a four-hour lunch that day, and at our formation after lunch, we had a Captain and a Master Sergeant in front of our platoon apologizing for the guy’s behavior in regard to our work.

I never actually saw that guy again, come to think of it......

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26. Private Idiot Strikes Again

When I was in the service, I worked with power generation equipment in an M1A1 Abrams tank unit. One type of tracked support vehicle had a small generator mounted on the top to power the equipment inside (radios, computers, etc).

The vehicle driver was responsible for normal maintenance checks for the gas engine that ran the thing, which was pretty small. I get a call during a field exercise that one of my track-mounted units was having a serious problem and was putting a ton of thick white smoke out of its exhaust and wouldn't stay running.

"Thick white smoke?", I resignedly confirmed. "Don't tell me; lemme guess. Private Idiot, right?"

"Nailed it in one!", beamed Corporal Schadenfreude, our motor pool scheduler.

This particular soldier was one of those truly special individuals who couldn't pour water out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the bottom. I head over to the vehicle line and follow the still lingering smoke signals to his rig.

"What did you do to it now?", I asked.

"Nothing. It stopped running, so I checked the oil this time like you showed me” he proudly replied.

My eye twitched at the memory of the untimely demise of the previous generator belonging to this vehicle. "And was it low?" I queried, starting to confirm my working hypothesis.

"Man, was it ever!" he excitedly replied. "I filled it back up, but it took the entire oil can. Then I started it back up, but it started doing this white smoke thing. I've been trying for the last 30 minutes, but it won't stay running!"


"Would you mind showing me exactly where you were able to pour nearly five gallons of motor oil into this engine that holds no more than a quart or so normally?" I asked with a deceptive calmness.

This guy couldn't find his own nose with both of his hands and a flashlight, but he was finding his way to the conclusion that he had messed up somehow fairly accurately. To my utter lack of surprise, he began unscrewing the generator's gas cap. "I poured it in there”.

"And where do you normally fill it with gas?" I asked ever so sweetly.

He looked at me, looked at the gas tank of the generator, looked at the empty five-gallon motor oil drum, and then looked back at me. "Oh!" he explained.


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27. Working Up A Sweat

So back when I was in training, the instructors come up to one of the guys in my group. One Gunnery Sergeant, four Staff Sergeants, and a newly promoted Sergeant, all to ask why this Lieutenant Corporal told an Army General to “freaking push”.

He responds that he was working out on the weekend. At the base gym, this older gentleman comes up and asks to work out with him. He was fit and in shape for his age. He had the salt and pepper look.

So they work out together, when the older gentleman starts to struggle with the last set. So he encourages him…by telling him to “freaking push”. The workout ends and the older gentleman says: “Do you know who I am?”

Of course you hear that and your first thought is “I’m screwed”. The older gentleman says I’m an army general, and you motivated the heck out of me, who are you with? The guy tells the officer who he is with, and the Army General says thanks for the workout.

He proceeds to get yelled at by all of our instructors.

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28. Taking The Short Cut

On my last deployment to an undisclosed location, Air Force Security had one of the first presentations during the Wing in-briefing in the base “community room” tent. They told us that they were going to have a simulated active shooter enter the tent at some point during the remainder of the in-brief, and they said we were free to respond in the manner we felt was appropriate.

I was operating on about three hours of actual rest in the previous 48 hours, including a 14-hour flight as a crewmember, pre-flight and post-flight duties, and cargo upload and offload in the August heat.

I really wasn’t in the mood for games by this point, so I told my Aircraft Commander I was going to address the shooter and take them down. We were sitting in the back row closest to the main tent entrance, so I didn’t think I would have too far to go.

About two hours later, during the chaplain’s presentation, a man with a blue plastic training pistol stormed in, screaming and pointing the pistol at people, with another guy right behind him smacking two pieces of 2x4 together to simulate the sound of blasting.

While about half the room dove for the floor, I grabbed my chair and charged the shooter, doing my best angry former jarhead "I’m gonna END YOU!” face and yell.

The looks of confusion morphing to terror on their faces as I charged them is a memory I both cherish and laugh at every time I think of it.

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29. How Dare You Be Better Than Me

Today’s story takes you on the journey of Lieutenant Nozzle attempting to council me for doing physical training, I kid you not. I. To preface, I was what people call a “Physical Training Stud” but I tried to not be arrogant and think it replaced what a good and effective leader I was.

Prior to joining the Army, I ran half-marathons, marathons, ultras, and competed in endurance racing. So when I got to my unit I tried to keep with my old regimen. Now onto the story.

My morning would start at about 0430 when I’d either go on a long run, ruck, bike ride, or swim. 0545 I’d head over to the Company and do PT with my guys. After PT I’d head over to the gym to lift weights, for which a lot of times my guys joined me.

This was my routine for my whole time in the Army. Something that LT Nozzle picked up on. One morning, I arrive at the Company after finishing a five-mile run.

As soon as I change into fresh PT clothes, LT Nozzle informs me that instead of the PT session I had planned (tires, kettlebells, sandbags, and fireman carries) that he’d be leading us on a run.

I agree and we set off on the run. We begin this run with LT Nozzle donning this self-satisfied grin across his face. At about Mile Two, we arrive at a tank trail, to which LT Nozzle informs us we’ll be doing sprints back and forth, five times each person.

We complete this and then set out back on the run, stopping at Mile Three to do stair climbs. Again we complete this and continue on. As we progress, that grin is gradually fading as he is slowing down more and more.

Once again we stop at Mile Four where he wants to do buddy carry exercises. Once again, this is done and we embark to finish up this run. To this day, I think he was trying to exhaust me and show who was bigger. Not to brag, but I’ve competed in 36-hour endurance events.

By the time we arrive back at the Company, LT Nozzle is gassed and upset. When he dismisses us, I go to make my way over to the gym. He proceeds to stop me and calls me into his office. When I arrive he is writing something down and the conversation goes like this:

Me: Sir

LT N: Sit down, we need to talk


LT D: Being a Commissioned Officer you’re trained to be in peak physical condition.


LT N: Standards for Officers are quite different than standards for Enlisted. Which means I’m expected to be in better shape than the men underneath me

Me: (Blank Stare)

LT N: But at the same time I mustn’t always brag or showcase my physical conditioning.

Me: (Blank Stare)

LT N: I notice you do PT early, do PT with the Platoon, and then go to the gym afterward. That sort of thing will cause the men to never respect you as they respect me. So I’m going to need you to cease either working out before or after PT.

Me: Sir, the men come with me before and after PT. None of these guys recorded a 300 score or Rucked a 2:30 12-Mile before I got here. Not to mention we use those times to bond with each other.

LT N: That doesn’t mean they respect you. Please sign and date this statement acknowledging I’m counseling you for this.

Me: Wait, you’re counseling me for doing PT? No, I’m not signing that.

LT N: You know what will happen if you don’t? Fine.

He then leaves the office and calls in my First Sergeant. He walks in and sees me.

1S: What did you do?

LT Nozzle hands him the counseling statement, and the sergeant’s jaw hits the floor.

LT DN:*Hands 1SG my counseling statement

1SG: (to me) Go get changed, we’ll talk about this later.

Needless to say, I wasn’t counseled and LT Nozzle was given a stern talking-to by the CO over what actions constitute a counseling.

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30. Revenge By The Book

It’s 1990, and I am a relatively new corpsman medic assigned to a surgery ward at the Naval Hospital. Our patients are all post-op and there are 60 beds. There are six or so medics assigned to take care of these patients.

As part of our duties, we are to chart our findings and observations as we make our rounds. This surgery ward is usually a first assignment for medics and nurses coming fresh from school. I joined the Navy at 21 years old, so am a little more world-wise than my peers who are all 18 or 19.

I know there is the book way of doing things and the effective way of doing things, and they aren’t always the same. We had volumes of manuals that covered every aspect of our jobs and duties that you could imagine.

Cue the new nurse who has been assigned and wants to show how good she is at managing the lowly corpsmen. She was merciless. Always looking for opportunities to embarrass or cause trouble for us.

One evening, I observed her shouting at one of the corpsmen for using an unapproved abbreviation in a patient's chart. What was the offensive abbreviation? ASAP. He had written that the patient needed an evaluation ASAP.

You would have thought that he had personally offended her honor. I went and looked in the approved abbreviations section of our operations manual to confirm that it was not there. It was not. But I knew just what to do. I did find that there was a very extensive list of approved abbreviations available to use though.

Cue my revenge. I pulled all of the corpsmen on the shift and told them to bring their charts to the break room. We then charted all of the notes together using nothing but approved abbreviations. The notes looked like another language!

I made sure everyone could read their own notes and sent them out to put the charts back. Nurse "pain in the behind" came in to review the notes with the corpsmen. I take the first round. This is done while standing at the bedside of the patients.

She opens the chart, looks at the note, and says the following:

Nurse: WHAT IS THIS?!!

Me: I do not understand. What do you mean?

Nurse: I do not understand anything you have written.

Me: It says that the patient is recovering well with little difficulty but will need further evaluation based on his comments and visible demonstration of discomfort and reduced mobility in his left upper limb.

Nurse: That is not what it says.

Me: Ma’am, I assure you that it does and that those are all approved abbreviations. I am sorry that you do not know them. I do realize that you are new.

I smile. She does not. This is the first of 60 charts she is to review. I have never seen corpsmen so eager to review chart notes. We did go get the manual for her, just to be helpful.

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31. When In Doubt, Run Away

Baghdad, June 2004. I was doing 12-hour guard shifts. The uniform was full kit, 24/7, unless we were inside of our sandbag-hardened sleep areas. We were taking an incredible amount of incoming fire.

Just a week or so earlier, the tent next to mine got blasted by a 107mm. Fortunately, all the Bros were at the shop working. The constant threats, the uniform, coupled with the 90-day extension that happened the previous month, crushed the morale.

If you got caught without your gear, punishment was this thing called night patrol. Night patrol, the brainchild of our amazing Commander, consisted of walking around the sleep tent grid and verifying everyone was in uniform.

You also had to check in every 30 minutes and sign a log. The only way to get off night patrol was to catch someone out of uniform and report them. They became your replacement. Anyone of any rank could fall prey to night patrol.

One evening after a blazing day of checking vehicles with mirrors and patting down the stinkiest people I had encountered thus far in my life, I passed out almost immediately after my shift. I awoke to the fiercest desire to poop I had ever felt.

There was no time to kit up (in my mind). The porta potty was like 15 meters away. I decided to roll the dice. I’m not sure if it was the heat, being 19, or just plain stupidity, that led me to this decision, but I felt good about it as I crept stealthily to the porta.

I slipped in, did work, and listened for the sound of crunching gravel. Silence. I quietly cracked the door and peeked around. Nobody. I stepped out and made my way across the street. It was a moonless night and I was feeling like a regular Solid Snake as I crept between the rows of tents toward mine.

“HEY SOLDIER! COME HERE!” I heard someone bellow from the road behind me. My back was illuminated by the red lens of a flashlight. To get caught would mean losing rank and then getting a two-hour break to sleep in between my guard shift and starting night patrol. I had no choice.

Without hesitation, I bolted. I ran as fast as my 59-cent shower shoes would carry me. The guy behind me was screaming and running too. Surprisingly fast. I was his ticket off night patrol. Hound and Fox we became. The game was afoot.

Our sleep area was massive. I’ll estimate 40 or so tents in a 200m X 200m square. I ran away from my tent in the southwest corner towards the northeast side. He stuck with me. Huffing a puffing, gear clattering behind me.

Every once in a while he would yell something, but mostly he was just running as fast as he could. We continued this Scooby Doo-esque pursuit between the tents until I felt confident I had put enough space between us to get back to my tent and slip into my cot.

I made my way back to my tent and slipped into my cot. Breathing hard.

The guy must have been a lot closer than I thought as like 15-20 seconds later he busted in, huffing and puffing, into my tent. He walked the tent checking everyone. I tried to steady my breathing under the cover of my light sleeping bag. I just held it until he walked out.

I felt like my lungs were about to explode. He finally left and went to the tent next door. A few days later, night patrol ended and they downgraded the uniform. Gear just had to be within arm’s reach at all times.

In the intervening 16 years, I have done lots of dumb stuff that was a lot worse than that, but nothing so openly defiant as just running from a summons. I told my higher-up about it about a year later when we were drinking back in Germany at a going away thing and he laughed so hard he cried.

He told me he remembered the first sergeant put out an APB on a six-foot gangly white guy with blonde hair living in our company footprint that was out of uniform and out of control.

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32. Capture The Flag, But Make It Real

So in boot camp, at the end, you have a roughly one-week-long extended field exercise to essentially conduct a final exam on everything you've learned up to that point. Myself plus three others were selected to play the opposing forces (OpFor), essentially getting to pretend to be the bad guys.

We were in Alpha company, and Echo was conducting their final stuff in roughly the same area at the same time. It was still quite a ways away, so it's not like we could see or hear each other, but we managed to learn where they'd be due to some attentive eavesdropping on the drill sergeants, plus there were some married couples who got split up into both companies.

They got to see each other on Sundays so we figured out where Echo would be. Our little group of four was under the direct control of a single drill sergeant who was a bit disgruntled at having been kicked out of special forces for medical issues (shattered eye socket and had to wear glasses after that and some other stuff I forget).

So he felt like the "normal" duties were too soft, and wanted to step things up. He split us off from the main group during the ruck march out, and we made camp in our own little "secret" spot far away from the main company.

While they spent the first day starting to dig foxholes and stuff, we basically just had to set up a couple poncho lean-tos and he told us, "Do whatever you want, just be ready to go mess with your buddies in Alpha company tomorrow. I'm going to sleep early”.

Well...what we wanted to do was go mess with Echo. So we did. We waited till a little after midnight, figuring everyone would be pretty tired from the marching and initial site setup and whatnot. The four of us marched off, found the fire road, tracked down Echo's location, and infiltrated their perimeter without being spotted by anyone, not even other drill sergeants.

We then proceeded to wander around looking for unsecured items, and by the time we went back through their perimeter and back to our campsite, we managed to make off with almost a dozen M16s, two radios, and—here’s the best part—two platoon guidons plus their company guidon.

For those who don't know, a guidon is a little flag that every unit has, and is sort of the holy grail. You do not mess with the guidon. You respect the guidon. You salute the guidon. You most definitely are not supposed to take it apart and stuff it down your pants to stroll casually past a night guard and when he calls for you to halt, hiss that you're just lost and looking to go take a pee.

But that's what I did...and it worked. He let me pass. When we got back we dumped it all in a pile right next to our drill sergeant and woke him up like when a dog brings you an animal and dumps it on your bed.

He flipped on his flashlight to look. There was a bit of momentary confusion as he surveyed our loot and asked "where the heck did you get all this...” then he trailed off and started laughing as he saw the guidons.

We explained, "Hey, you said do whatever we want so we figured we'd do a practice raid on Echo". He chuckled more and told us to get some sleep and he'd wake us in a couple hours (it was probably 3 or 4 am at this point).

The next morning, we threw all the loot into a truck and he drove us to Alpha's campsite under a white flag of "this is not part of the normal exercise". Anyway, he drives us right up to the command tent in the middle and gives everything to our company commander.

We'd gotten a new commander a few weeks in. So I'm not sure what her thought process was for this, but she took Echo's guidon, stuck it upside down in the dirt, stepped on it, then pulled out her cell phone and snapped a pic.

She then sent the pic to Echo's commander. Annnnnnd that started the Great Conflict. The remainder of our final was twice as hectic. Alpha didn't just have to watch out for our own OpFor (me and my three buddies), they were watching out for an entire company.

Echo tried to raid our perimeter to get their guidon back. They tried sending an angry drill sergeant through our main gate. She got taken down, tackled, and hogtied. They tried to sneak just a couple of guys in at night on one side while seemingly half their company besieged the other side of our base.

They ended up as POWs in Alpha's command tent for the next few days, tied up and made to wear gas masks with the eyes taped over, only taken off for regular meal intervals. Guards walked them to utilize the latrine line one at a time at intervals.

As revenge, Echo came and kidnapped two of my OpFor buddies while we were conducting a lane ambush on Alpha squads. They brought four drill sergeants and about 10 guys. I managed to get away with one other.

On the last day, after some more back-and-forth skirmishing and sabotage, they sent a messenger with a truce flag to negotiate a prisoner exchange. They'd give us back our two guys if we gave them back their two guys + drill sergeant + guidons. (Our commander I think gave them their rifles and radios back on the first day so they could conduct training).

Well, my drill sergeant decided to go scout out the location where they wanted to do the exchange. What he found was crucial. He came back reporting they'd laid a trap on the bridge with smoke grenades and CS grenades.

For those who don't know, CS is riot control gas, and everyone in boot camp goes through the gas chamber at some point where they basically hotbox a room with CS gas and make you take your mask off and breathe it.

It's not pleasant, and it's effective stuff. Upon hearing they weren't planning on being nice, our first sergeant got angry—and we hatched a better plan. For starters, we moved the exchange location to this bridge over a creek. We let their drill sergeant go back with the messenger as a sign of good faith if I remember correctly.

As for the prisoners themselves, we had two of our guys swap tops with them, and we put gas masks on them but without taped-over eyes. We drove to the site of the exchange, with Alpha on one side of the bridge and Echo on the other.

The exchange was going to be done by sending "their" guys on foot across the bridge as they sent ours across at the same time, and only the prisoners would ever be on the bridge, no escorts or anything. Well, our decoy guys walked as if their hands were still tied behind their backs...with a couple minor differences.

Their hands weren't actually tied, and they carried CS grenades themselves, given to them by our first sergeant. When they reached the halfway point of the bridge, they broke cover, yelled at our guys to run to us, and chucked the grenades at Echo's guys gathered on the other side of the bridge.

Our first sergeant ran up and threw a couple more for good measure, yelling at everyone to get back in the trucks. They sent one of their biggest drill sergeants across through it on foot anyway, bellowing that he was going to get the guidon back one way or another.

Giant dude probably 6'6", 280 lbs, just yoked out of his mind. It took six of us to take him down, but he didn't get the guidon. I tackled his legs while others held his arms and sat on him till the trucks were mostly loaded. Then we ran once he gave up—the flag had been on one of the first trucks to leave.

After that, we pretty much just broke camp, cleaned everything up, and marched back to the barracks area. I don't remember how Echo eventually got their flag back. Our commander didn't give it to them until after both companies were back in the barracks, so that they had to do a march of shame across the training area with no guidon.

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33. Doing Exactly As Asked

I attended Basic at Fort Benning in 1981. For some reason, our most Junior drill instructors took an extreme dislike to me and would make me do push-ups and such every chance he got. One evening at about 2100 hours, he sends his runner up to our barracks with orders that I am to report to him immediately.

I head downstairs to his office, where he locks me up and starts chewing me out for some nonsense that I do not recall. Then he drops me for 500 (yes, five hundred) squat thrusts. In his office.

While this is happening, other cadres are going in and out to take care of whatever business they have, the phone is ringing, etc. Everyone getting ready for the next day’s work. Typical evening business during training I guess, as I had never been in there before that.

So I drop and start doing squat thrusts. And using my very best command voice to call out the count:




All while he's trying to talk on the phone and conduct business. I got nowhere near 500, more along the line of 60 or 70, when he jumps up and screams, crimson faced, "GET THE HECK OUT OF MY OFFICE!!!!"

That had to be the most fun I've ever had doing squat thrusts.

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34. Kick-Backs Kick Back

This happened back in 2002 at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. I was stationed down the way at 32nd Street Naval Base for my schooling and was a new Lance Corporal at the time. I had a 1994 Dodge Spirit with 180K miles or so and I’d just driven it across the country.

I bought it a few days before at an Auto auction. A couple weeks into my school, it stopped working, at the gate, next to the sentry. After an initial freakout that I was an enemy and the subsequent search of me and my car, everyone calms down and they help push my car to the top of the hill so I can coast down the other side and into the auto repair shop, which thankfully went without incident.

Before I go in, I call my dad and then his cousin. My dad knows a ton about cars and his cousin is a mechanic. I know a fair bit about cars. Between us, we decide it looks like the distributor or the distributor cap is the issue.

My dad’s cousin says it’s a common issue on Spirits from this time and recommends I get it fixed here. Now at this point, it’s important to note that his shop did a very thorough once-over for me after I bought the car and gave me good notes on the condition of the car in writing, from his shop.

I go in and talk to the guy at the counter. They’re not too busy and pull it into a bay and run their diagnostics, same thing. Distributor cap. Cool. I get the services agreement saying they’ll replace it and call me if they find anything else.

I hear nothing until the end of the week when they call and say my car is ready. When I get there, they present me with a bill for like $1,400! Wow. Just wow. Now my heart has stopped beating and I say something about that being a lot for a distributor cap.

The guy who owns the place (I find out he’s a Marine vet from way back) breaks off, talking to a Sergeant, and comes over to talk to me. He starts telling me about how it was much worse than they originally thought and they ended up having to replace my radiator (plus hoses) and my timing belt and a head gasket.

I’m still in shock and say something like the head gasket was fine two weeks ago and so was the radiator and the timing. He puts his hand on my shoulder and tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about because they’ve been waiting for it to fail for a long time now.

I’m confused now and say that’s not possible. I bought it two weeks ago and... He cuts me off and says I was sold a complete lemon and I should have had it checked. He says he felt bad for me and this should have cost over $2,000 but he cut me a deal and he can work with me in an installment plan, but will have to charge me interest.

Now I’m suspicious and starting to get angry. I say the only repair I authorized was a distributor cap and they should have called me before doing anything else. I start to explain that I’ve got paperwork from the inspection I had done that said those other things were fine.

I’m going to get it and the Sergeant grabs me by the arm and starts telling me I’m being ungrateful and disrespectful to a respected mechanic and business owner and asks me if I’m implying he’s cheating me.

Every time I try to open my mouth he cuts me off and keeps telling the owner not to worry, he’ll make sure this young pup pays what is owed. It went from bad to worse. He’s threatening to take me over to admin and have my pay docked. Now I’m angry and a bit scared.

Another Marine intervenes and says that’s a little extreme and to let me say my piece. I get permission to get into my car to get my maintenance history, which includes an oil change, the inspection documentation, and the original quote for the distributor cap work.

At this point, there’s a crowd of customers and some other passersby and the owner and Sergeant are in full theater mode, talking about how I’m not appreciating the huge help they’ve been and I’m trying to get out of paying for work I asked for.

Now I’m mostly just angry. I come in and the Sergeant cuts me off and tells me to be careful how I talk to his friend. I ask the Sergeant if he’s going to let me speak or keep interrupting me while I’m in a private conversation with a business owner.

I ask him if he owns part of the shop (no) and ask why he’s so interested in not hearing a Marine out. Then I get out the original statement of services and say the distributor cap is all I agreed to.

I also ask why he didn’t call me and he says he called my barracks several times and left messages, including ones telling me the car was undrivable until the repairs were made so he went with the lowest cost option to get me back on the road. But this made something big click in my head.

I say, that’s interesting, the only number I gave you is my cell phone and I don’t have any messages or even attempted calls until the previous evening, when they left a message that my car was ready. I show everyone my call history (including a Captain who’s very interested and standing quietly by).

The Sergeant has backed off and the Captain is quietly talking to him off on the side. Now the owner is backpedaling a bit and saying he was thinking of a different customer but he’s already made the replacement and has to charge me for the work.

Then I pull out the stuff from the inspection and it has some fun little statements in it. Statements like: Timing belt good, timing good. Check again in 30K miles. Radiator: appears to be recently replaced. All hoses: new in last six months.

Nothing on the head gasket but there’s a statement that there are no leaks in that area which was why he said he had to replace it. I say he can put all of my original stuff back on because all I’m paying for is the distributor cap work.

He gets red-faced and starts demanding I pay for the labor and he can’t put things back on because they were too badly damaged in the removal process. The final nail was about to come. Now some old, retired guy chimes in from the back and asks, “What kind of mechanic damages things when they take them apart?”

The owner drags out my radiator and there is a giant hole in one side that looks like it was hit with a crowbar. Now a couple of other people (locals) are questioning past situations where he “helped them out” with repairs they didn’t know they needed.

The Sergeant tried to walk off and a Colonel and a Sergeant Major in civies post him to the side for a later conversation. The Captain pulls me aside and asks to see the info I have and to see my phone again. He steps behind the counter to photocopy it all. He has a truly evil grin.

Turns out he has suspected this shop of being crooked for a while but never had enough proof. He’s on the commanding general’s staff and they were looking into complaints from permanent personnel and retirees in the area.

The owner is sweating bullets now. I only pay for the distributor cap and get a statement that says my balance is zero so he doesn’t try anything in the future. The Captain takes me to dinner and gets my info and basically a statement from me of what happened.

After dinner, he takes me back to his office while he types up something for me to sign about the whole incident and I call Verizon to get them to fax over the incoming/outgoing calls from my number from the past week.

He explains that the particular Sergeant has been steering a lot of customers to his buddy and they suspect he’s getting kickbacks. He and several others have been taking their cars there for months to try to catch the guy doing what he did.

The Sergeant sealed his fate when he started threatening to take my pay. The Captain was thrilled and bought me a six-pack for using up so much of my Friday evening. I wasn’t around long enough to see the outcome, but when I left there were auditors from base services going through the business with a fine-tooth comb.

It still boggles my mind that one vet would try to use that status to take advantage of others. Or that a senior Marine would do that to other Marines.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

35. Damsel In Distress

The Coast Guard is at war. This is a well-circulated sentiment within the US Coast Guard’s search and rescue community. In this conflict, the enemy is not a traditional adversary, but rather a growing army of morons with boats and money whose imagination and incompetence know no limit.

As a Response Officer and Search and Rescue Team Lead in the Coast Guard, I found myself on the front lines of that conflict for several years. Today’s Coast Guard can trace its search and rescue roots back to the mid-1800s, with the founding of the United States Lifesaving Service.

The storied history of the community is chock full of noteworthy lifesavers like Joshua James, Ida Lewis, and Bernie Webber. From the days of ”You have to go out, you don’t have to come back” to the integration of advanced computer modeling and heat-seeking cameras mounted on unmanned aircraft, the search and rescue community has evolved to continually reassure the maritime community that it is ready to answer the call, whatever that call may bring.

Search and rescue coordination is a planner’s game and information is king. Computer models assist with real-time drift simulations based on live feeds of wind, tide, and water-current data. Safety devices that seafarers use are more portable, durable, and GPS-friendly than ever before.

More tools and better methods exist today for the search and rescue planner than at any other point in history. However, the fact remains that all of these processes require information to be operationalized. From my time at the National Search and Rescue School, I recall “We make decisions with 100% consequence based on 50% information”.

Operationally, I found that to be accurate. Knowing that we were rarely dealing with all of the information we would like, it was very difficult to discard any information we did receive when searching for someone. In the late summer of 2017, a local 9-1-1 call center forwarded a distress call to my team.

This wasn’t uncommon—we maintained good working relationships with the local 9-1-1 call centers. When people called 9-1-1 with issues that could be more appropriately handled by the Coast Guard than local authorities, the call centers would patch the caller through to us and we’d take over.

In this instance, our dedicated search and rescue phone line rang, with the Caller ID showing a county’s 9-1-1 call center. As a matter of practice, everyone on our team picked up their headsets to listen.

As one person would take lead on the call, someone else would take notes, another would start notifying partners, and the rest of the team would start creating search patterns, preparing broadcasts, running drift simulations, or documenting the situation as we all listened.

“Hey. We have a guy on a sailboat whose girlfriend fell overboard. They’re in the river and he’s not a sailor”.

“Got it. Thanks”.

 “Alright sir, we’ve got you on with the Coast Guard”.

Process engage. Knowing that we were already behind and working against a ticking clock, we were fishing for the critical details that would allow us to launch the appropriate assets. Where did the woman fall overboard? When did it happen? Who and what are we looking for?

Later on, the caller would explain that his girlfriend (an experienced sailor) had taken him on an evening cruise. It was his first time on a sailboat. While hanging over the side of the boat to adjust some rigging, the wake from a passing ship rocked their boat and caused her to fall overboard.

The sails and rudder were locked in place to allow them to cruise, and our caller didn’t know how to turn the boat around or what to do. She was not wearing a life jacket.

Embarrassed, the caller admitted that they didn’t have a GPS and he did not know where he was, but he knew the name of the marina they left from, a rough estimate of when they left, and which direction they proceeded in the river.

That would have to be good enough. His girlfriend had fallen overboard around five minutes prior to this point in the call. Then came the final question for our initial push:

“Can you give us a description of who we’re looking for?”

"What do you mean?"

"Your girlfriend. Can you give us a physical description? What does she look like?"

“Oh, yeah. Yeah. She’s...uh...tall. Thin. She’s wearing blue bikini bottoms, a black bikini top, and I’ll tell you what, she’s beautiful. Just stunning. Oh, she is gorgeous”.

As mentioned above, information is king. Per our search and rescue protocols, we documented things like the description of missing persons exactly as they were communicated to us, as a way to limit the potential for misinterpretation. This time was no different.

The description of the woman was entered into our documentation and information-sharing system (and immediately sent to each of our assets and partners) exactly as it was told to us.

As soon as I saw the description flash on my screen, I turned to face the girl who entered it into the system and shot her a look of, “Did you really?” She gave me a shrug and whispered, “What? That’s what he said”.

With a description posted for everyone involved in the operation to see, we cranked away at our drift simulations, search and rescue patterns, and we somewhat successfully talked our caller through some sailing fundamentals that allowed him to stop sailing away.

Our search and rescue assets were alerted to be on the lookout for a beautiful, bikini-clad woman who was described as both gorgeous and stunning. About an hour after the initial call, one of the boats from the local Coast Guard Station spotted a woman sitting on the riverbank waving at them.

They confirmed that she’d fallen overboard, swam to shore, and aside from a bruised ego, was no worse for wear. We reunited her with her boyfriend and closed the case. Successful result. As a matter of routine, we issued an invitation to those involved in the operation to participate in our debrief.

Following a standard review of decision-making points and the effectiveness of standard protocols, the question was posed to the group as to what, specifically, led to this search and rescue case’s successful result. After a few seconds of silence, the coxswain of the Station boat chimed in.

“Accurate description of the missing person”.

Immediately, someone else followed.

“Yeah. It was a VERY accurate description”.

Let it be known that if I’m ever missing, I would like to be described in the initial report as handsome, charming, well-proportioned, and if not outright striking, some variant of conventionally attractive with a great personality.

That’s just what I would prefer.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, US Coast Guard Academy

36. Girl Power

I was an Air Traffic Controller back in the busy days of our trade at a northern NATO fighter training base. It was an awesome place back in the 90s—small base, large training area, isolated, and for eight months of the year so busy at work that there simply wasn't time for the normal workplace drama.

A couple of things to set the stage. First, mixing slow and fast airplanes coming into land can be tricky. Landing a bunch of jets is pretty easy, landing a bunch of jets with a few civvy airliners of transport aircraft can get a little sporty.

Second, aircraft landing in good weather is pretty straightforward, but once the clouds come into play it gets tougher. Third, aircraft landing in bad weather will use landing aids to get to the runway—either a machine that's on the field will guide them in, or a person can talk them into the landing using a radar designed specifically for that purpose.

So there I was, and we had a pretty good recovery going. The average launch sequence was around 125 jets, and everyone was up. The weather was bad so the Radar unit was hopping. I had a Turkish Herc mixed in with the jets, and he was doing a Precision Radar Approach (PAR) with a female controller talking him in.

Partway through his arrival, the controller yelled at me that she had lost comms with the Herc. I tried to find him (we have a common frequency called "Guard that everyone is supposed to monitor”) no joy…and then Tower calls in that they have the Herc, who is still in the clouds.

I got tower to climb him up (safety first) then got his comms switched back to. Stuff happens sometimes, but this was a weird one. I soon found out what was really going on. Still busy with the remaining fighters, I got the Herc turned back to make another run at it when he asks me not to give him the female controller again. (???)

Turns out that real men (???) don't take direction from women. They had switched frequencies while in cloud and aimed at the ground because they didn't want to take direction from a woman!!!!

We had a short, sharp discussion about taking what you get, and discussed his options should it happen again (not landing here dude!) and his second run (with the same female controller!) was without incident.

We always debrief large recoveries, and my female PAR controller was shocked when I told her the reason the aircraft went off radar. Here's the fun part: the Herc was scheduled to leave the next morning.

Without telling anyone else, the females in the unit swung into action to sort the Herc crew out. The next morning when the crew went to brief their flight, all the support staff were female. Met brief, start crew, Ops crew, the works.

When they called for a start, women. Ground controller, tower, and airways were was the departure controller and Terminal. I suspect they were angry, and probably really glad to leave our airspace....and it continued.

The girls had called around, and the entire Air Traffic Control trade was in on the deal. The next facility had all female crews, and even the oceanic transit was under female control. They finally made landfall and got switched over to Euro control—and you guessed it, more women.

Amazing to think that one stupid comment was enough to galvanize at least six different control agencies spread out over half the world into action! In the “for what it’s worth” file, women make great air traffic controllers—but man, don't make them angry.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, Travis AFB

37. Par For The Course

I did a short four-year active-duty enlistment with the US Coast Guard beginning back in 2013. I got sent to a great unit with mostly great guys doing great work (buoy tending). One thing that was NOT great was unit morale days.

Morale days at most units are a day during the week, where instead of work everyone but the duty stander goes out and does something fun to build camaraderie. Some common activities included paintball, fishing trips, beach BBQs, etc.

Just some time to gather as a group, hang out with each other's families and knock back some good food and drinks. Our unit, however, was “different”. Our chief was a great Officer in charge and fantastic to work for, but he was also obsessed with golf.

I mean obsessed beyond just the trope that management/bosses seem to be. The man lived and breathed golf, and his office TV was perpetually running some sort of PGA coverage.

We all have our hobbies, but golf isn't for me. I'm terrible at it and the appeal of hitting a ball, walking after it, waiting around for your turn, and then hitting it again ad nauseam just never materialized in me.

I can understand enjoying the nuances of physics in improving your shot's power, and the challenge of selecting the right club and angle for your shot. However, for someone as terrible at the game as me it was just an exercise in tedium.

As a result of our chief's passion for the game, every morale day inevitably wound up with all of us meeting at the golf course. I volunteered to take duty when I could so the guys who did enjoy golfing could go. Sometimes though, the duty stander would be my buddy who loathed golf as much as I did and didn't want to trade duty days, so off to golf I went.

Normally, Chief was relaxed about morale days and if you didn't want to play, you didn't have to. I would usually just ride along in the cart talking to my buddies and drinking. However, this time was different.

I don't know what crawled up the chief's normally relaxed behind that day but in the golf course parking lot he pulled me aside and sternly scolded me that my refusal to play wasn't in the spirit of unit cohesion and that he was "ordering" me to play. Herein lies the problem.

I don't own my own set of clubs. Never have, never will, and as a lowly E3 at the time, what little money I did make was spent on food and libations of the alcoholic variety. The unit morale fund covered the cost of the tee reservation for the group as well as cart rental but would not cover rental money for a set of clubs.

Now it's also verboten for the command to "order" me to spend my own money full-stop, but especially on morale events, so the chief couldn't "order" me to rent clubs. Sure, I could have borrowed clubs from one of my buddies but I've always been the irreverent sort and I wanted to make a point. Some of you may see where this is going.

It's a beautiful and crisp October morning and everyone is smiling and enjoying the refreshing autumn weather and the pristine golf course. One by one, the members of the unit tee off from the first hole until only I remain. I'll be Me and Chief will be Chief as I approach the tee and place my ball/tee down.

Chief: W-where are your clubs?

Me: Don't need 'em

Chief: Ummm okay *clearly assuming I was going to borrow a driver from someone*

I take an agonizingly long time "analyzing" my shot. Going prone behind the ball as if judging the angle, running my hand along the grass to get a feel for the terrain, licking my finger and sticking it up in the air to judge wind speed/direction, the whole nine yards.

Although it was clear I had no idea what I was doing and was clearly just being an idiot. Then I executed my perfect plan. Finally, after about five minutes, I reach down, grab my ball, and throw it baseball pitcher style down the green.

My buddy immediately spits a drink all over his shirt from laughing and Chief begins to glower as he realizes what I'm doing. I'm sure this was against club rules but being that we had the entire course to ourselves, I was free from reprimand by the powers that be.

The best part is that the rest of the group can't move on to the next tee until I finish the hole. The first hole, a par 3, finishes with me scoring a very modest 19. I might have come under 15 but my putt (read: bowling) game needs a bit of work.

This proceeds on for the next three holes with me alternating between kicking the ball, throwing it shot put style, and throwing it like a basketball. Everyone but Chief thinks it's a riot. We approach the 5th hole (a par 5) and I can see the dismay gather on my chief's face like oh so many rainclouds on an otherwise gorgeous day.

Chief: Hey so…you don't have to golf if you don't want to.

Me: Nah Chief, I don't want to bring down unit cohesion. I'll finish the whole 18.

Chief: If you agree not to, your drinks are on me the rest of the day.

Me: Deal.

I spent the rest of the day like I normally did. Drinks flowing into my cup and taunts flowing from my lips. He sulked a bit the rest of the day, but the next day he admitted that what I did was pretty funny and that he wouldn't try to order me to golf against my will if I don't act like a complete fool.

The rest of my morale days at said unit went off without a hitch.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, Captain Eric Willis

38. This Is Not A Drill

I was an accident investigator for the Navy and Marine Corps. I was the one they called when somebody passed or there was more than $1M in damage. Usually, it was the former (someone passing). I got called out to figure out what happened, why it happened, and more importantly, how to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

In August of 2002, I got called out from Norfolk to Camp Pendleton, CA (CPCA). Seems a young Marine had been shot during a force-on-force MILES training exercise. MILES is basically changing an M4 or M16 to a laser-tag weapon, where you screw on a Blank Fire Adapter (BFA) to the muzzle, attach a laser to the underside of the barrel, and put on laser tag receivers onto your uniform and helmet.

Using blanks, the BFA traps the gas in the barrel, blowing the bolt back to the chamber the next round. The recoil/sound triggers the laser to “shoot” at an opponent. If someone hits you with a laser, your gear buzzes until someone with a key turns it off.

Some of you are already thinking, “How can someone lose their life when everyone has blanks?” which is the right question, but it’s far more common than you think. There was one separate case where some guys doing MILES training should have been firing blanks, but in fact, had a belt of live ammo.

Thankfully, nobody perished in that one. As an aside, I have respect for the SEAL, Delta, Rangers, Recon, and such folks out there, but your arrogance and complacency kept me really, really busy.

Some of these guys in SEALS and Recon were so good, they never discussed SOPs or other practices while cross-training and were so good that not only would they not inspect each other, they wouldn’t let themselves be inspected.

At the outset of the training week, the trainers set the tone that “you are all grownups, manage yourselves”. Not those exact words, but they gave them the ammo on pallets at the platoon’s CP and a training schedule.

The platoon had to figure out the rest. So each guy would check the schedule and load up the magazines required for the day’s activities. And this was 100% normal and expected for this unit and this exercise.

Prior to training events, they DIDN’T line everybody up like a bunch of recruits and inspect their equipment, it was up to the individuals to prepare themselves. On one particular day, the unit was scheduled to do a live fire in the morning.

They did and everything was fine. Later that day, there was a building helo takedown training, which is where the team slides down a rope from a chopper to a four or five-story building. I don’t believe they are attached to the rope other than with a hand and foot grip.

They enter the building and the first four guys line up against the wall next to the first door they encounter. Once the 4th man is in a place he signals, and the 1st guy enters and blasts whoever he needs to. The 5th guy into the building is the first guy in the second stack on door #2.

Once that room is cleared, they find the next stack to line up on. Speed is absolutely critical—stack, enter, blast/clear, secure, move to next stack. It’s going to be fairly chaotic for the shooters as it becomes fairly randomized, moving from the top floor down to the ground floor.

It’s even more chaotic for the bad guys. Multiple teams clearing multiple rooms at the same time sprinting door to door, floor to floor.

So it’s training day. The unit embarks on the chopper and does rope onto the roof. Our Shooter, Sgt O, was nearly the last one off, so the first door he stacked on wasn’t the 5th, it was around the 3rd floor or so. I believe he was the lead guy in the stack and therefore the first through the door.

The opposing force (OPFOR) in this room consisted of PFC P. Sgt O raised his weapon and fired six in a matter of seconds. What Sgt O and his ENTIRE CHAIN OF COMMAND FAILED TO ENSURE DIDN’T HAPPEN, did in fact happen. He had loaded a full magazine of live rounds for a MILES event that should have had blanks.

The first round blew off the BFA and the compensator (muzzle) of the rife. The second round went into PFC Pat’s shoulder. The Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth rounds went center mass into PFC Pat, who was wearing a ballistic vest, but no armor plate inside. Rounds 3-6 penetrated the vest and PFC Pat didn’t survive.

Sgt O didn’t comprehend what had happened initially. He said he was “In the zone," which I actually believe and understand. It was the others who could tell that the incident didn’t match the sound of the rest of the cacophony in the building.

So in short, the Recon Sergeant mixed up his magazines, didn’t inspect them prior to the training event, was not inspected by anyone else at ANY TIME DURING THE ENTIRE TRAINING PACKAGE (week of training), put the magazine in his weapon without even looking at it, blew off his BFA and entire muzzle and put five more shots into a PFC.

We interviewed the unit members individually and—to the man—each at one point or another said, “29 guys went in, 28 did the right thing”. Meaning, they are all big boys, and still don’t need an inspection by anyone at any time. Nothing needs to change.

The level of arrogance was just incredible. Meanwhile, the training unit higher-ups? Those guys were masters at deflection. Pinned it all on the unit. No responsibility, no accountability. They absolutely failed to set any sort of tone or expectation that training units inspect themselves or be inspected by the controllers.

They set the training schedule: live fire followed by blank fire on the same day. They basically gave them an ammo dump on Monday and said, “Good luck guys, see you later”.

Now, being Recon, I do expect some level of independence and maturity, but a fundamental leadership principle is “Inspect what you expect," and that applies if you’re a Delta team member or a recruit at basic.

For better or worse, PFC Pat’s father was a Navy Chief, I believe. When the Marine Corps tried to sell their line of “not our fault”, he was having None Of It. Saw right through it and knew the levels of incompetence that had to exist for this to happen.

It couldn’t have been a single person to result in this—multiple levels of incompetence and gross negligence had to exist for this to happen. Sgt O was initially convicted of Negligent Manslaughter and took a 12-month sentence, but on appeal, it was reduced to 10 months of time he had already served, a letter of reprimand, and a reduction in rank.

Which should be insulting to every good Corporal who has ever served in the Corps and a complete insult to the face of PFC Pat’s family. What didn’t happen still makes me angry. The training apparatus managed to duck and dodge all accountability. I’m sure they made some curriculum changes, but in my mind, this started with them and ended in disaster.

If you want details, this was covered in a lot of papers at the time. A google search will lead you to trials and lawsuits that followed. I checked and a lot are online still. It was ugly. Disappointingly, not a lot of good came from this investigation.

It was the only one that I’m aware of where someone actually did any time, and even then it was overturned, adding insult to injury for the family of our PFC. But there’s one more horrible thing.

This wasn’t the first time I had investigated this exact same unit. The previous one in the Summer of 2001 involved a parachute that opened on impact.

That one was probably the most detailed and technical investigation I ever did. I did around three dozen investigations in three years. They covered everything you can imagine and some you can’t. I’ve since moved on to a civilian career in heavy industry and use the lessons I learned daily.

My hope is that some of you can glean some nuggets to use along the way (inspect what you expect, one single small action can stop a catastrophic chain of events, etc). Also, if I ever appear too jaded or disinterested in the Marines or Sailors who perished, that’s not my intent.

I’ve wept for these guys I never had the opportunity to meet; met some of their families and wept with them; and laid awake at night with their autopsy photos looking back at me. I don’t ever mean to disrespect their memory or sacrifice.

After this gig and a few other gems, I’m just quite a bit jaded at life sometimes. Semper Fi, stay safe out there.

Top Secret: Military StoriesWikimedia Commons, US Army Africa

39. Don’t Mess With Me

I knew a guy, I’ll call him Lieutenant Idiot, who was…an idiot.  Today’s story takes you on the journey of him attempting to curb my promotion. Now to preface, the Battalion I was a part of had a sort of rule, and I don’t know if it is common Army-wide.

When someone was newly promoted to Sergeant, they were transferred to another Company. This way they could cycle new NCO’s with new Platoons and not stay with their current Platoon. Now to the story. After going through the boards, memorizing regs and traditions that will eventually be brain dumped, I’m notified I’ll be promoted soon.

The excitement was short-lived in finding out that LT Idiot was looking to curb my promotion for the time being. I was the Supply Sergeant for my unit, I was also an E4 slotted into a position for an E6. Now not to brag but I was pretty stellar at Supply.

I was passed around the Brigade to oversee Change of Command inventories after word got out that I did a Change of Command Inventory for a Mechanized HQ’s Company in one week, a task that can normally take 30-45 days.

To continue on, my First Sergeant, who was not a fan of LT Idiot, let it slip that LT Idiot approached him in hopes of stalling my promotion. Enraged and at moment I was for sure was going to result in a demotion, I walked into his office and unleashed 1 1/2 years of pent-up anger on him.

LT Idiot tries to justify it, saying, “This would mean you’d be moving to another Company and I don’t feel the necessity to build up a relationship with a new Supply Sergeant, this just makes it easier”. Now some of you may think “just go to your CO” but my CO was a spineless coward.

If LT Idiot whispered in his ear to halt my promotion, that’s what was going to happen. Standing in his office, I’m at Pre-Stroke Rage mode when I hear a knock.

I open the door and who’s standing before me? Our Major, Major J.

Major J: I wanted to make sure everything was alright in here

LT I: No, this soon-to-be PFC felt he could walk into my Office and speak to me in a certain disrespectful tone.

Major J: What? WHY?

Me: *turns to LT I. Yes, why?

LT Idiot freezes up and explains. I’m dismissed by Major J to return to my Office. Now I do get chewed out by my CO and Major J, but nothing comes of it.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFlickr, Navy Medicine

40. An Eventful Father’s Day

My Infantry officer Ranger managed to tick off the Battalion Commander. I happened to publicly embarrass him for deliberately disobeying an order from the Brigade Commander. But that’s a separate story.

This popularity managed to get my tactical self a job as the Battalion S-1 for a full year in Iraq. For those not familiar with the US Army, have you ever heard a story of someone complaining about how their paperwork was lost, awards were messed up, or promotions didn’t happen on time? That’s all the S-1’s responsibility. It was a joke job.

One of my “highly respected” responsibilities as S-1 was managing the Battalion leave plan. Essentially, I had to ensure 100% of the service men and women on leave in an eight-month window, but never allow more than 10% of our unit-strength gone at any time.

It was a manageable plan, but it didn’t give me a lot of flexibility in allocating leave slots. I gave each first sergeant several slots each week, and they’d send me a manifest two weeks prior. One afternoon, I came upon a very upset Staff-Sergeant “B”.

He was supposed to be on the leave manifest for that evening, but he wasn’t. His first sergeant had submitted a manifest change a week prior as an emergency measure, and someone in my office never submitted the change up the chain-of-command.

I then learned the reason for the manifest change was that his wife was about to be induced for labor within the next 24 hours. That was the reason for the change. Well, darn. I had no choice but to make it right.

I walked over to the Sergeant First Class from Brigade who was managing the manifest and told her in no uncertain terms that SSG B was getting on this flight. Of course, she protested about rules and manifests and documentation, etc.

I pulled rank, used some moderately unprofessional language, and physically walked SSG B onto that plane and waited for it to take off. This earned me separate massive chewings-out from my Battalion XO and the Brigade S-1.

I hadn’t heard language like that since Ranger School. But I had never been so proud to get chewed out over doing what needed to be done.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

41. Manners Make The Man

I was Air Force and I loved the job I had been assigned there. A job I had not been trained for or expected. It was great nonetheless. One of the things that irked me, however, was watching all of my fellow Americans ignoring customs and courtesies with allied officers.

No, I am not exaggerating...I once watched men completely ignore a British, way higher-ranking officer, just because they just didn’t know allied ranks. I made it a point to salute allied officers and even sent up a PowerPoint to bosses detailing the ranks of allied services and reminding them of regulations.

It improved things. I don’t think the foreign services knew to point it out and the leadership never saw it. But I was a new NCO and I had to at least try to fix it. In my eyes, we were ambassadors to our allies.

So one day I’m walking to work and I see this Aussie walking up. I did a double-take. I look at his rank and it’s nothing like I had seen. Most ranks were stripes for enlisted and bars for officers. He had a crown. I had no idea, so I tossed out a salute and just said, “I have no idea what that rank is, but a crown seems important”.

He laughed, returned the salute, and told me he was a warrant officer and no salute was needed. We had a chuckle and left off. It was always fun times.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

42. Very Important Passenger

It's 2000, Sarajevo. I was sitting at my desk munching on an apple when I heard a suspicious crunch in my mouth. I spat out the apple and part of a tooth. Knowing my Colonel had seen a dentist while deployed here, I had asked him how it went.

He provided a horror story about going to a German dentist at Raylovac (the Germans provided dental and hospital care for NATO in Sarajevo). He had a filling done and they drilled without any pain medication.

He suggested trying to get an appointment with an American dentist. We found out much later that the Germans provided pain medication; you just had to ask for them. So, I called the US medical folks at Tuzla and got an appointment. Now how to get there.

It was a four-and-a-half-hour drive, but it was winter and that was out. My Colonel and I regularly took flights to conduct training, inspections, or investigations, so I knew the drill on how to request flights. I faxed a request to flight ops, which was run by the Italians.

Our letterhead was the Office of the Inspector General, and with that magic wording, we always got a flight. Even though it was just a Colonel making the request, the Italians always thought a general officer was making the request. I received a fax back from flight ops, telling me when my flight departed the next day.

I wondered what type of aircraft it would be, because it could be from any of the NATO countries that had aircraft in theater. The next morning I wandered out to our helipads and found a US Blackhawk and crew there. The Blackhawk's blades were slowly turning as I crawled in and took a seat.

So far I was the only passenger. Flights to Tuzla were very popular as they had a lot of American amenities. So, I was content to wait awhile while others showed up. Then it got weird. After 15 minutes with no one else getting on board, I picked up a headset and asked what the delay was.

I was told, "We're waiting for a very important passenger". I thought about that for a moment (remembering our letterhead) and inquired, "Would that be the Inspector General?". The reply was affirmative. So, I told them "That's me".

So, we cranked up the rpm and I had a nice private ride to my dental appointment. I got my tooth fixed in an aircraft bunker by a full Colonel who slipped me the needle so well I didn't feel it.

Top Secret: Military StoriesWikimedia Commons, Jonathan Mallard

43. Small But Mighty Moves

So this would have been in 2006. I was a Captain on temporary duty as HQ Company XO for the Combatant Commander for Centcom for my branch, which was in Tampa Florida.

I was a little jaded and bitter in my career at this point, but still trying to do well. One of the O-6's in Ops rings drags me into his office one day and says, "There's this new movie out that I think would make a great Professional Education for all the officers to go see. It's The 300 about the Spartans and Thermopylae. Set up a viewing for us at the local theater”.

Not in my job scope, but whatever, I can figure it out. "Oh, and also prepare a battle study and analysis of the move to brief". Ok, so the battle study AND movie breakdown was way outside of my job scope, but whatever. This Colonel was just a piece of work. Unnecessarily so.

So I go and figure it out. I figure out where it’s playing, and the short of it is that I not only get them a private viewing, but I also get them a private viewing on an IMAX screen for like $4 per person. Amazing deal. I set it up with the theater manager and everything. I even pre-screen the movie for my breakdown.

So the battle study is fairly cut and dry. My analysis of the production of this retelling is basically along the lines of "The director could be drawing a parallel between the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 300 Spartans. They are grossly outnumbered, defending what they see to be their homeland against a far superior technologically advanced force, being us. While they will inevitably lose in the end, they will wage a conflict of attrition against the invading Persians, etc…”

This Colonel about lost his mind. "Do you think we're in an unjust fight?!” "Are you calling us the Persians, the bad guys?!" No and no. Just simply giving you my take on what the director of the movie is conveying. This Colonel would have called me a commie-pinko had he thought of it.

He basically balled up my analysis and said, "NEVERMIND, I'LL DO IT MYSELF!!!" Cool. Should have done that in the first place. Then came the revenge. Circling back to me locking on the IMAX to begin with, I was the only face that the manager of the place knew. And she knew nothing about rank or whatever.

So on the morning of our private viewing, we all gather in there and the Colonel starts to give his analysis, and about a sentence into it, I nonchalantly look back to the projector room and nod my head. Lights immediately go out, and the movie starts to roll.

Colonel is shut down hard. At the end of it, the Colonel starts again, but the manager comes in and boots him out as there's a public showing coming up. Small but petty revenge can be satisfying.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

44. Out Of Their Depth

When I look back on it, being on a submarine was pretty stupid. Yeah, we don’t have to worry much about others taking us out. Our biggest threat is ourselves or the ship itself trying to kill us. This story is about the time the submarine tried to kill us instead of someone making a mistake.

We were in transit somewhere in the Pacific Ocean and were moving pretty fast. Submarines are trimmed with a slight up angle at slow speeds, so when the ship is moving faster, water is pumped into tanks as ballast to keep the ship from going up.

This is an important part of the story. The Trim pump is the usual method to pump water in or out of these tanks. It was around 7:00 in the evening and everyone in maneuvering (control room for the reactor plant) was settled in.

Suddenly, the reactor SCRAM alarm came in. A reactor SCRAM is an emergency shutdown of the reactor. Darnit! Now we have to do stuff.

So all of us operators in maneuvering start taking our immediate actions for a reactor SCRAM and wait for the Engineer to enter maneuvering and tell us the SCRAM was for training so we could perform a fast restart.

I looked through the window of the right side door and see the Engineer about to open the door, then looked over at the digital depth meter next to the door. 400ft. The Engineer comes in and says the magic words, “SCRAM was inserted for training,” and we proceed to verify the initial conditions for the start-up.

So far so good. Business as usual. For some reason, I looked at the depth meter again. 550ft. Hmm, that’s odd. We should be going up. After being on a submarine long enough, you can feel the pulse of the ship. You become almost a part of her and you can feel it when something isn’t right.

Well at that moment I felt very much that something was not right. I perform the switch lineup for the reactor start-up after verifying initial conditions. Depth 600ft. Oh, screw this noise. I look back at the Engineer, point at the depth meter, and say, “Hey”. I'll never forget the look on his face.

The look of concern on his face was terrifying. As he grabbed the phone to call control, there was a click from the announcing system that is made when someone keys up the mic. In a very stoic and monotone voice, we hear this:

“Let me have your attention. This is the captain. The trim pump has broken. The ship is sinking. Secure from the drill. START UP THE REACTOR”.

Remember the part about the ship going fast and being heavy to maintain depth? Well...when you have a SCRAM you can’t go fast anymore for reasons that I signed paperwork saying I would forget.

If you can’t go fast and you’re heavy, you need to pump that water off. If the trim pump decides to stop, you can’t pump that water off expeditiously anymore, as the alternate method takes more time. Therefore the ship sinks.

You have until crush depth to sort it out and the time that takes depends on the sink rate and the depth you started out at. Unfortunately, I can’t go into much detail as to how efficiently we started up the reactor but I will say we set a mother freaking record that would still be in the books.

Some limits might have been ridden a bit closer than they ever have, but it was a long time ago and memories get fuzzy, right? I will say that as soon as I got the reactor to the point where we could use the main engines, I yelled, “Open the throttles!!!!!!”

It was at that point we noped the heck up out of that and got back to our original depth. I got the reactor lined back out and sat back and started to question why the heck I volunteered for submarines in the first place.

As the Engineer made his way towards the door he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Nice job”.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl

45. Give And Take

So, I'm in boot camp, and after we've been issued our rifles, we're shown how to sleep with them. Now, what we get shown is not something any sane person would ever do, but they basically tell us we have to sleep on top of it, with it across the small of our back, sideways.

That’s so that no one can take it from us while we're asleep. Because theft is a thing there, and they end up in the hands of our enemies. Lots of detail about how if it’s taken away or lost for any reason you're going behind bars for years, etc, etc.

I assume this instruction was given just to make us more uncomfortable and “break us down”. So, it's time for bed. I’m super tired (it's boot camp), and I immediately realize there is no way I can sleep like that.

So, I place it right next to me, all hugged to me, but I carefully twist the shoulder strap around my wrist, and lay on that side, so there is no way you're taking it away without cutting off the strap. At least not without practically dumping me off the bed.

And I'm out like a light. But there was one thing I didn’t know. That night, in the middle of the night, the drill sergeants come in and take them from anyone they can, and then when we wake up and have to be lined up in threes outside, they let the folks who can't find their rifles panic.

Then they get dressed down for not having it. Then they do a ton of push-ups. Then they get told they're getting court-martialled and going behind bars. Then after a while, they get it handed back with a "You better have learned your lesson". At least that was the plan.

You see, this sergeant sees mine next to me, and tries to take it. Doesn't notice the strap. My arm gets yanked. I wake up. As far as I know, someone is standing over me. I snap out of bed and lunge at him, cracking the guy in the face.

He goes over to the next bunk, while I pick up my piece and insert a magazine, pull the charging handle, and point it at the intruder while screaming at him to stay down. The entire barracks is now awake.

Then I see the drill sergeant stand up. The entire exercise is clearly ruined, and I immediately lower the weapon. He's now steaming, and he orders me to hand over my weapon (I do). The next thing he says makes my stomach sink. He says to get into my dress uniform (I do).

Now, a dress uniform is for one of two things. Going on leave, or going on trial. I highly suspect at this point, I'm not getting some extra leave. It's about 4 am, and I'm marched to the on-call officers’ area. This sergeant calls for an officer, who eventually comes out.

It's clear he just woke this poor Lieutenant up. He tells him that, "This recruit attacked me, then pointed a loaded weapon at me, and we need a field trial immediately”.

This is where I'd like to say that I coolly and calmly explained my case. I'd like to say that, but I basically burst into confused tears and tried to explain myself, and got told to shut up, I'll have my chance to talk.

The Lieutenant goes into the formalities, "Do you agree to be tried before me" etc, then asks the sergeant what he's accusing me of. He makes a bunch of TECHNICALLY correct statements (He pointed a loaded weapon at me. He threatened me, etc). Then the Lieutenant asks me if I have anything to say in my defense.

I explain that I woke up, and I didn't know who it was, but he had my service weapon, I immediately defended my weapon, and as soon as I realized who it was, I lowered it...but as I'm explaining this, I can see this look of realization come over the Lieutenant’s face.

He knows exactly what sort of exercise was going on now. I still had no idea what the plan originally was, I would only find that out later in the day. The Lieutenant just calmly tells me, "You can go get back into your uniform and rejoin your squad”. Which I do.

But as I'm walking away, I hear him angrily yelling at the sergeant about purposefully misleading him, and it's his own fault for being sloppy, etc, etc. The sergeant busted my chops for the rest of boot camp.

Luckily, he wasn't actually assigned to our group, but the same platoon, so he was around often enough for us to have several more run-ins. Still, overall, worth it for having the story to tell.

Top Secret: Military StoriesWikimedia Commons

46. A One-Two Punch

I’m in the Navy, and every year we have a joint exercise with other nations off the coast of Hawaii called, “RIMPAC”. This story takes place at the end of the exercise.

We pulled into Pearl Harbor and were preparing for an end-of-RIMPAC celebration with the nations that participated; it was going to be great—all nations invited were going to bring traditional food, drink, history, and celebration rituals.

The night before, sailors piled into the base club/bar and did what sailors do best. At one point, a buddy of mine heard what he thought was someone talking trash about the USA. Unable to confirm, he kept his ears open to see if he could figure it out.

It happened again, but this time it was clear:

“Screw America! Screw their sailors, screw their people, screw America!”

My buddy’s head swung around and identified the offender: an older man, mustached, yucking it up with his cronies.

“Hey, man,” my buddy says to the guy. “You know where you are, right?”

“Oh,” the guy replies, “I’m sorry, yeah, you’re right”.

You already know what happens next. The guy says it again, laughing and making fun of my buddy confronting him.

Now it’s on.

My buddy taps the guy on the shoulder and says:

“You need to shut your mouth, or I will shut it for you”.

The guy mocks him, saying again “Screw America!”

Well. That was it.

My buddy leant back, put his weight into it, and with one punch knocked the dude out—fell straight to the deck.

Men swarm the area, cuff my buddy, and a whole scene happens. When they drop my buddy off at the ship, the whole story comes to light. The dude he punched was a Captain of one of the foreign ships. Now it’s an international incident.

So off my buddy goes to see his Commander. It’s his turn to see the Skipper and Skipper says to him, “You know why you’re here, right?” After brief formalities, Skipper goes on.

“Now here’s the thing. I heard from several sources what actually happened. And I’ll say this to you: I would have done the same thing”.

My buddy’s eyes go wide.

“Now I can’t let you off the hook completely, but I can give you a seven days’ restriction, and if you’ll approach the podium, a crisp high five”.

Now at the post-RIMPAC ceremony, I’m standing in my whites talking to my senior chief, when the skipper walks past us. We notice he’s greeting a group of foreign sailors and one of them presents him with a gift, a handshake, and an audible apology.

“Is that the Captain he punched?” my senior chief asks me.

Sure enough, it was, and he was here to apologize for his actions that night in the club.

Top Secret: Military StoriesFreepik,wayhomestudio

47. Thinking With Your Stomach

Nearing the end of Army basic training, we were doing our one-week field exercise. The Drill Sergeants have us in a half-circle around their tents where they're cooking (for themselves, of course) and talking about how they're going to be using CS gas grenades on us.

He holds out one of the grenades menacingly, and pulls the pin. 57 out of 60 recruits immediately turn and run. Three of us just continue to sit there like we're watching television. Drill Sergeant turns to me: "Why didn't you run?"

I point to the food and say, "I did not believe you'd willingly contaminate your own food Drill Sergeant!" He puts the pin back in the grenade and just gives me a nod, and goes to round up the ones who ran away.

Top Secret: Military StoriesPicryl


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