The Village Idiot
About two weeks ago, I found myself driving back to Harvard from morning PT (physical training) at MIT. Exhausted, I drove past the Zipcar return point, only to realize that I had no legal means for making a U-turn without adding 5-10 minutes to my commute. The time was 0830; I feared arriving late to my 0900 Russian class, and I had no intention of incurring the wrath of my Russian instructor. Moreover, I disliked wearing my sweaty PT uniform to class, as the uniform simultaneously smelled and drew unwanted attention. As such, I was determined to return to Mather with enough time for a quick pre-Russian shower. Thus, I braved Mass. Ave., and—through a series of illegal maneuvers—attempted to slide the car back into its designated parking spot.
My passenger—a fellow grizzled cadet—yelled various creative obscenities as I dangerously approached the Zipcar parking spot. Smiling, I turned to him and threatened to drive the car into a street light, but at such an angle that only I would die, leaving him to inherit my responsibilities, as well as my smelly carcass. After a few seconds of silence, we erupted in laughter. I completed my dangerous maneuver, exited the car, and asked him if, perhaps, we had laughed too hard at my dark joke. His only complaint was that I didn’t materialize my threat. We stared at each other for a brief second, erupted in laughter yet again, drank some coffee, and went our separate ways.
When it comes to instructions that may one day determine whether you’ll live or die, you must ensure that your entire unit understands their equipment. As such, Army training often caters to the lowest common denominator. The guidelines on an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) advise one to lean the heater on a “rock or something,” the business end of a Claymore mine reads “Front Toward Enemy”, and the AT4 (an anti-tank weapon) is adorned with a childlike illustration of a soldier captioned “fire like this.” As it turns out, these illustrations and guidelines that I had until recently considered comical were designed for fools like me.
During our first day of summer field training, my squad was made weapons squad. For the uninitiated among you, a weapons squad is responsible for the maintenance, operation, and transportation of their platoon’s machine guns. The M240B, the machine gun that was soon to become my friend, is a large, bulky weapon than proves rather uncomfortable to carry regardless of how you hold it. Your typical weapons squad is comprised of your platoon’s most experienced enlisted soldiers, not some random square from Harvard. Nevertheless, the powers that be love laughing at my expense, and so after an hour-long weapons familiarization course, I found myself holding a machine gun for the first two days of field missions.
Following my humid stint at Fort Knox, I had the privilege to shadow a first lieutenant stationed with the 25th Infantry Division in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Although our weekdays were spent laboring at our company’s motor pool, the weekends were ours to explore. As such, on our last Sunday on Oahu, the other cadets and I decided to visit the memorial at Pearl Harbor.
The entrance to the park was largely packed with tourists. Children were playing with tablets, mothers tried their best to organize family photos, and various tourists were fiddling with their translator headsets. Our ticket to see the USS Arizona was for 13:30, and having arrived there around noon, we naturally stopped by the park gift shop.