Around 1997, I was sent to CAX at beautiful, scenic Twenty-Nine Palms. In keeping with my hatred (which I have already explained) of the birthday ball, the fact that this exercise spanned the Maween Corpse birthday suited me just fine. This was a double, and halfway through the first exercise, I found that I actually enjoyed these things. I suspect it had something to do with not having to field day everything and deal with the rear echelon’s idiotic bullshit every day. In any event, it was my first arms exercise, and I was somewhat excited as a young jarhead.
During this exercise, I met Sergeant Thompson. A holder of the Skating Expert badge (8th award), Sgt. Thompson taught me more in two months than my own NCOs would in two years. I didn’t have much time in the fleet, so I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about how the corpse actually worked, just how it was supposed to work. In the two months I spent in this environment, I saw a lot. I saw piles of second bootenants (not something that was common in a MALS at the time) acting like spoiled children, taking out their frustrations on anyone who happened to come within arms reach. Most of them were upset and ‘having to sleep in the sand like rats’ and were going to make sure everyone knew it. Sgt. Thompson knew a simple way around this. In the words of Mr. Miyagi, ‘best way to take a punch, no be there’. In this case, by simply avoiding the mess area in the first hour after work, bootenants could be avoided. Small tweaks like this could make one’s life a lot easier with very little effort. From avoiding officers to knowing the right places to stand, and the right buses to catch, and how to spot the patterns in behavior that would reveal the characters I was dealing with, this NCO was like a mustachioed jarhead Jedi.
Eventually, word trickled down that the higher-ups weren’t willing to let a ball weekend go by without some sort of festivities. The rumors flew around that there would be free beer and supermodels. It came down to a couple of stand-up comics, two (moderately attractive) Miller Lite girls, ONE free beer, a DJ, and a piece of cake. Not too bad, for a birthday party for hundreds and hundreds of people held in a sandbox.
We stood for the speeches, ate the mystery meat tetrazzini, and listened to the comics, and enjoyed the DJ. About 2 hours into the festivities, Sgt. Thompson asked me and the other boots to look around. SNCOs and bootenants were starting to fan out along the perimeter. He said he thought we had about 10 minutes to get out before we were commandeered for the working party to clean up the mess. A couple of the others wanted to stay, but several of us left with Sgt. Thompson.
We walked out of the ball, and over the berm line. As we made it back to our lean-to (the Quonset huts hadn’t been erected yet) we piled into the van, and drove over to our shop on the other side of the flight line.
We hung out at the shop for an hour or so (until the end of second shift), smoking cigarettes and bullshitting. After we finished our smoke-n-joke session, we hopped back in the van, and drove back to the camp. Once we made it back to our hooch, we were alone for about half an hour. The guys who had stayed at the ball had been corralled, and ended up raking sand and policing cigarette butts by flashlight.
Over the course of this two-month exercise I learned many other indisputable maween corpse truths at the feet of the master:
1) It doesn’t matter how good a job you do, or even how long it takes, as long as your SNCO has the opportunity to look good doing it. It doesn’t matter if it took 23 men 4 days to make a sandwich, and you spent half a million dollars in the process. If gunny can claim that something innovative took place over the course of this epic sandwich-making for which he and his tremendous leadership skills are directly responsible, he’s a happy gunny. As we all know, happy gunnies equal happy lives.
2) If you have some sort of excellent idea, that will improve unit productivity, save money, etc. it will not be recognized for any reason. Even if you can demonstrate how incredibly efficient it is, nobody will have any interest in implementing it, unless a SNCO has the opportunity to take credit. Additionally, it has to have a built in blame-valve (someplace to put the blame if it doesn’t work as promised, usually the person who actually came up with the idea) to allow the SNCO in question to avoid the responsibility for the idea that was never his in the first place.
3) the fact that a punishment has been meted out is not sufficient. You must be seen to suffer. Cheerfully dealing with the most hideous punishments will only invite more creative torments at the hands of those who want to see you beg. The ability to put on a hang-dog look and appear downtrodden will get you out of far more than any gesture of obeisance ever will.
And many more.
At the time, I discounted many of his teachings as the ravings of a perpetual cynic but, over time, I realized the wisdom of his words.
The Yoda of CAX had gone back to his unit, and been tossed for failing to make SSgt. His wisdom was even lost on the corpse itself.
Thank you Sgt. Thompson, wherever you are.