Posted by Lex, on August 27, 2006
“Sgt. Harrelson, Sgt. Rockham’s looking for you.”
“Browder, how’s it going? Where is Rocky?”
“He’s over in Avionics. He said if I saw you I should tell you, he got his ID card back.”
“All right, I’ll see him at formation, anyway. All hands, I’ll see people I haven’t seen in a month. How are you, Browder? What have you been up to?”
“I’m ok. I feel better. I talked some more to the Chaplain, and I been doing some stuff on base. I want to out and do some shopping before we leave, but other than that, I’m done with going out in town.”
Tom nodded, and wondered, not for the first time, if his advice was so good, why didn’t he ever take it himself?
“Good, that’s good. If you go out to go shopping, go in the daytime and make sure to go with somebody, ok?”
Squadron formations were semi-military. With day shift coming on, mid shift leaving, and nights having to show up when they were normally asleep, it was a rare event for everyone to come together. A mixture of coveralls, uniforms, and flightsuits milled around waiting in the hanger. Two Marines in swimsuits, carrying fins and masks, loitered at the hanger door.
The Staff NCOs brought some sense of order, each shop gathering into a rough squad and counting heads. The officers formed up at one side, and as the CO entered, Master Sergeant Smith called the Squadron to attention.
The CO stood in a rumpled flightsuit, a battered utility cover in his hand. From what Tom knew of him, there was a heck of a story there. Enlisted in Korea, commissioned sometime in the early 1960’s, a couple of tours to VietNam, and now, commanding an F-4 Squadron near the end of his career.
“At ease, Marines. I’ll get right to the point. I called this formation to announce that the Squadron has achieved and surpassed it’s goals for this deployment. We have out flown and out performed every….”
Tom glanced around as the CO spoke. His mind wandered. The days had gone by so fast and now the det was winding down. The time he had remaining in the PI could be numbered in days now. The afternoon clouds they had noticed last week had started to drop sudden downpours. It was early monsoon. When he stopped to think about it, it felt like the end of everything. From where he stood at that point, he could not know how closely his thoughts echoed the thoughts of his commanding officer.
The CO’s words cut into Tom’s reverie, “…therefore, I am ordering an immediate stand down. Effective immediately, this Squadron is on liberty until Tuesday at 0700. Master Sergeant, the Squadron is yours. Officers, dismissed!”
Top Smith looked out at the Squadron. Liberty call, four and a half days of liberty, call it five. The carrier group had come in the afternoon before. Well, he had known what the Old Man was going to say. Now it was his turn. The murmuring group before him waited.
“At ease, at ease,” Top looked out across the men at the carrier berthed in the distance. He waited and the Marines quieted.
“All right, listen up. Five days of liberty, and today is payday. This is not an invitation to go wild. I want the shop NCOICs to have a head count. On base, the sign-in board will be at the barracks. Out in town, it’s Piso Jimmy’s. Every one of you, once a day, sign in one place or the other. NCOICs, if you have anyone not checked in by 1700, you come and find me. All of you, all ranks, make sure two people know where you are staying. I prefer you stay together, but at least make sure your buddies don’t disappear. I don’t care how long you’ve been here, most of you have never seen this town with the fleet in. Use your heads. Stay in around Olongapo, no road trips. Subic City is still off limits. That’s all I’ve got.”
Gunny Ceisak stage whispered, “Avionics, stand fast.”
“Squadron, attention”, Top paused, “Dismissed!”
Gunny turned to the Marines waiting for him, “Ok, circle up, and listen. I’ve been coming here since ’72. Town goes nuts when the carriers are in. So, I want to know who’s with who. I want you in groups of three or four, and I want that on this roster right here. You tell me who you’re with, I’ll give you your paycheck. You got an hour and half before the Credit Union opens, anyway, so relax. I see you in town, you better be ready to report on your buddies, their location, how drunk they are, their girlfriend’s name, what bar she works in, and how often they go creeping off together, got it? Also, if anyone is planning to stay on base the whole time, I want to know that, too. You tell me that, you don’t need a buddy, but if you change your mind, you find me or Top before you go out the gate.”
Tom grabbed Rocky by the sleeve, “You, me, and Bill. OK? You can stay with me, I’ve been renting a place by the week. We can all use it.”
Rocky nodded. Tom went across the hanger to find Bill Alders before he left, and then returned to the thinning group to pick up his check and scribble his info on the roster. He glanced at the names in the groups written there and smiled. If the brig was the worst thing that some of them found in the next few days, they could all consider themselves lucky.