The Highest Form of Flattery

My favorite comedians were always the guys that could do really good impressions, not of celebrities but of their friend, family member, or stranger with an odd, distinguishing trait.  Whenever I was in trouble growing up, it was usually due to someone catching me mocking the shit out of them, as I have this tendency to forget how obnoxiously loud I can be.  In the Marine Corps, this…talent turned on me.


Cobra Gold was awesome, mostly.  A month of skating on Foster in the same barracks as my best friend, followed by a month of living in an old Thai garbage dump, three days of liberty in Pattaya, and another few weeks of skating.  The leadership was pretty relaxed, specifically the NCO’s and lower Staff.  Our First Sergeant was a very motivated man that gave many speeches.  I usually disliked motivated DI types, but this guy could get almost anyone excited about being a Marine.  He was, of course, a former Drill Instructor and spoke with a voice you could feel in your spine.  He also had a unique tempo and gave extra emphasis on certain words, as if some of his words were written in caps, bold, and italicized.  For example, “Hey, listen up Devil Dogs; when we get to Pattaya…” turned into “Heylistenupdevildogs when we get to PATTAYA…”  Take that pattern and apply it to Patrick Warburton’s (Joe from Family Guy) voice, and you have the First Sergeant.


There was one other guy from my parent unit that came with me TAD, Lcpl Olsen, and our job was to look busy.  The Sergeant that was our…sigh…boss was from a “real” Amtrac unit and was banned from coming within ten feet of the AAV’s for locking some keys in one of the vehicles…the keys to ALL the hatches to every vehicle, and that made us banned as well.  While he was stuffed into the company tent doing paperwork, we dug ditches for gray water, carried MRE’s, PM’ed Motor T stuff, and did every bit of bitch work possible.  Whilst performing these bullshit details, we would have nothing better to do than joke and complain, especially about the leadershit.  This quickly led to me imitating some of them.  Olsen thought my impression of the First Sergeant was pretty dead on, and and it would be hilarious to fuck with one of the Motor T guys somehow.


We crept into the maintenance tent and stood behind the HMMWV.  I gathered my balls and boomed, “Heylistenupdevildogs I need to see a Lance Corporal PORTER!


The sound of a wrench falling through and engine compartment gives way to a Lcpl Porter cautiously creeping around the corner of the vehicle at parade rest timidly answering, “…yes First Sergeant…?”


Olsen and I nearly choke on our own stupid laughter for a moment while Porter walked around looking for a senior SNCO ready to chew his ass sideways.  When he saw there was no one there but us, he could not believe it was me and that seemed to make it even funnier.  Our schoolgirl-like giggling attracted the attention of a Sgt from Motor T who insisted on knowing exactly what in the fuck was so goddamned amusing.  We begrudgingly told him about the joke and he laughed as well, insisting on hearing me say something in that voice.  After hearing it, giggled gleefully and told us to find something to do.


That night, right before lights out, most of us in the company were sitting outside smoking and joking.  A female Staff Sergeant walked up and started a conversation with the Motor T Sergeant from earlier, and he began talking about some Marine that sounded exactly like the First Sergeant earlier.  She didn’t laugh at all, and wanted to know who it was.  This caused me to immediately sweat another gallon of bullets.  He said he didn’t remember who it was, then she giggled and said it would be pretty funny to hear it.  Enter the Falcon.  “Oh, hey Devil, wasn’t it you?  Yeah, I think it was this guy! Ha, do it for Staff Sergeant real quick.”


Nervous as hell at the thought of this Staff NCO taking a joke the wrong way, I told them I didn’t think it would be appropriate to imitate him in front of everyone, so they walked me away from the smoke pit.  I belted out my idea of the First Sergeant telling Marines to stay away from the whores across the street.  I thought she was going to have a heart attack or was maybe crying because she was shaking so bad.  I thought it was rage and I was about to get the Knifehand Of Justice, until she let her laughter out like a painful yet much needed fart.  The three of us agreed that it was funny, but I should probably not do it in front of anyone that could take it the wrong way.  Then she left to go do SNCO things, I guess.


As it turns out, my lack of vocal volume control led to everyone in the smoke pit hearing my impression, or at least enough of it for them to believe the First Sergeant was seriously just a few yards away telling three Marines to stay away from whores.  I did not want to admit that it was me and told them that yes, he had in fact just told us to stay away from the whores, and the Sergeant backed me up.  Everyone believed it until Porter came outside, listened to what everyone was saying the First Sergeant just said, then pointed to me and told them it was probably me.  Olsen backed me up when I said that I couldn’t have possibly imitated such a man, as I sound more like Randal from Clerks than anything.  They had their suspicions, though.


After all the “training” was concluded, the companies all got together for a Good Job Not Killing Each Other This Time Ceremony.  Being Marines, this meant we all had to stand in formation for an hour before the little old man came out of his hole, giving us plenty of time to kill.  Staff NCO’s and Officers don’t like standing in formation, so they usually post an NCO until a few seconds before the ceremony begins.  Not this time.


The female Staff Sergeant was out front.  “Company Atten-shun!  Lance Corporal AAVPOG, front and center!”


I report and stand at the POA while she tells me that for the next few minutes, I am the Company First Sergeant and need to give the Safety Brief before we can go on Liberty.  Not understanding for a moment, she told me it would be okay and that I would not get in trouble.  She posts behind formation with the Staff and Officers, and I blindly assume the responsibility.


Putting the company at ease, I scan for a moment and see the First Sergeant poke his head up, shoot me a shit-eating grin, and nod “yes.”

I had heard many a safety brief in my time, and in that moment decided that if I had to give one under those circumstances, I was going to own it and make it MY safety brief.  What follows is not word-for-word, but is pretty close:


“Alrightlistenupdevildogs when we get to PATTAYA, youmayruninto some ‘Ladies of the Evening‘.  You’ve been outrunningaround TRAINING in this former GARBAGE DUMP, and you are probably DISGUSTING.  You’regoingtowantto take a nice cold SHOWER before you go out in TOWN.  If the showers are DOWN, you’regonnawanttogetan MRE SPOON and scrape all that nasty gray CROTCH ROT off your grundle.  That’s your TAINT ifyoudidn’tknow.  If you drink, don’t drive.  If you drive, don’t drink.  Thatdoesn’treallymatter since you can do NEITHER here, butIhavetosayitanywaysdevildogsoorah?  Gentlemen, this is THAILAND, you’regonnawantto wrap it up.  LADIES, I don’t think you’ll wanttohookupwith one of these little guys, but if YOU DO, wrapitupoorah?  Goodtogo!”


This went on for several minutes until I had had enough and ended it with, “okay that’s it, I’m out,” fully expecting a SNCO to appear and give me the signal to hand the reins of power back.  Instead, I was told by random Marines to imitate others.  The problem with this was that only one other person in the company had a personality that I thought was worth imitating, and he was a very large Sergeant whom spoke as if he watched Scarface about 1,000 too many times, so I declined.  Of course, declining did not keep them from insisting, loudly, that it would behoove me to do it.


I have an intense hatred for that phrase; it would behoove you.  The intense heat, 9999% humidity, and my anxiety combined their powers,  forcing me to say fuck it, whatever.  I looked over  at Olsen and asked, “Gunny Fern?”  I have yet to see a bigger smile.


Gunny Fern was our boss on Okinawa.  He had a very heavy Tagalog accent because he was Filipino.  A very heavy accent.  Gunny Fern was the boss and he made sure you fucking knew it at all times, mostly by Devil Dogging whilst Knife Handing.


Someone asked who Gunny Fern was, so I explained, “What da puck Debil Dog?  You don’t know Gunny?  What, you ASVAB waiver, huh Debil?  Dat’s the prolam with you Marines; all queshin no asser!  Fix your chit Debil Dog or I haver ass!  Da puck you laff at, Debil?  Gunny funny?  Fix yaself Debil nuts!”


Officers and SNCO’s appeared to be amused by this as all I saw were teeth behind formation.  It was right about then that I realized there were people laughing behind me as well.  I turned far enough around to see every other company staring at us as if we had all lost our goddamned minds. Their peanut galleries peeked around their formations giggling like children.  Finally, the Company Gunny gave me nod which I interpreted as “put them at attention and stand by” so I did just that.  We did the here-now-you’re-in-charge shuffle and I took my place back in the Non-NCO section of the formation, sweating profusely and ready to be done with this shit already.


After the ceremony we were all walking back when the CO, Capt Tears, jogged up and pulled me aside between two of the maintenance tents.  He told me that they all seemed to think my impression of the First Sergeant was “pretty good” and that they were wondering if I could imitate anyone else.  I tried to explain to him that I couldn’t imitate just anyone in general, they had to have a personality quirk, speech pattern, voice, or vocabulary that stuck out significantly in my mind.  He understood that, but still wanted me to do an impression of him.  I had several problems with that.


First off, I cannot stand people who insist upon an impromptu performance.  Especially when the insisting is the result of vanity.  When you go to an art gallery and see a collection of beautiful nudes, you don’t insist on the artist sketching your naked body on the spot do you?  No, it would be quite rude.

Second, it is almost never a good idea to imitate someone directly to their face.  All jokes aside, some people get extremely upset when they hear another person openly mock them within punching distance.  Maybe they stutter a little, maybe it’s a slight lisp, it could even be a word like “Strategery” “Dumbassity” or a misunderstood word (I met a Sgt Maj that used the word “magnanimous” wrong…and constantly.)  My point being, folks don’t like being called out on their flaws.


Third, I had only heard him speak maybe a handful of times, and that was including when he pulled me aside just then.  He addressed the troops a few times, but only once was I around when it happened, and that instance happened to be when he started crying -literally- about how proud he was of all of us (thus, Captain Tears).


Lastly, he didn’t have any significant vocal or personality traits that struck me as anything but fully professional at all times.  He was one of those guys that seemed to disappear in a crowd, an everyman type.  He didn’t throw bass in his words, mince about like a hippie picking flowers, swear like a madman, or act like a weirdo of any kind, and that made him extremely difficult to imitate.


Sure, I could have pushed out a few tears and told him how proud I was of him, but that probably would have seemed insulting, and would have looked very awkward to everyone walking by; seeing a Lcpl crying and telling an officer how proud of him he was, all while at parade rest.


Damn, I totally should have done that.


He did eventually give up and began talking to me about something or another.  I don’t remember now, so it must have been unimportant.  Probably something like “that’s funny and all but watch it, Blue Falcons are everywhere” but, you know, in Officerese or whatever professional language they speak.


The First Sergeant never did strangle me to death like I imagined he would.  He did get me back, though.  I was waiting in line for the post Cobra Gold Let’s-go-ahead-and-make-sure-you-know-we-don’t-trust-your-ass piss test and he walked up behind, leaned in close, and asked, “heythereMarinehowwas PATTAYA?” then walked off laughing hysterically as I jumped and came dangerously close to filling my trousers with my test answers.