By Mark Lovelace
(click here for Chapter 1)
After the first week I was finally able to go to sleep without dreaming of marching movements. The total immersion system of boot camp was working perfectly on my limited mental faculties. I was getting by day-by-day, hoping to avoid being sent for disciplinary punishment. There was no time to think about anyone else’s lot in life, I had a hard enough time keeping my own head above water.
On day ten I was squaring away my bunk for a company inspection when the Company Commander called me into his office. I sprinted to the door, pounded on the knock plate three times, and loudly announced “Seaman Recruit Lovelace, reporting as ordered Sir.”
“Lovelace, get in here!” he growled.
I stepped into his office in the position of attention, eyes straight ahead, body rigid, chest poked out and gut sucked in tight.
“Recruit, I have been watching you.” He said. “I have decided to make you a company staff member.” He got up from has desk and paced back in front of my unwavering form. “From now on you will be my company Master-At-Arms. You are responsible for ensuring that the company’s fire watches are manned, and that those selected for disciplinary punishment make it there on time each night.” The strict protocol did not allow me to acknowledge the instructions in any way, other than continuing to stare straight ahead at a spot on the opposite wall. “Do you understand what I am telling you recruit?” he asked.
“Yes Sir!” I shouted in reply.
“I know that boot camp has been easy for you so far. If you do well in this position, it may mean a promotion for you after graduation. Do you understand?”
“Yes Sir!” I regurgitated.
“That’s all, go see the Recruit CPO for a copy of your instructions. Now, GET OUT OF MY F**KIN’ FACE ASSWIPE!”
I saluted, about faced and double-timed it out of that office as fast as I could.
The Recruit CPO gave me a copy of my instructions as the company Master-At-Arms. I read the booklet, and thought I understood what was expected of me, even though I was 19 years old, and had no idea what it meant to be responsible.
Over the next few weeks, I got to know my brothers-in-arms a little better. I was able to set up a rudimentary fire watch schedule, and learned the requirements for marching small squads of men to and fro. Any leadership I displayed came directly from the written instructions, which I relied upon heavily.
One day in week three I was assigned to the head (bathroom) cleaning detail. I was placed in charge of four other men assigned to the detail along with me. After drawing the cleaning gear required, we set to the task at hand. I took great solace in scrubbing down toilets with volatile chemicals. As four of us worked away, we could not help but notice our fifth sitting in the corner, quietly admiring his cuticles. The young man who was not helping out was Sam Leonard from Detroit, Michigan. He was the fellow that I had noticed at the bus stop the day we reported.
Since I was the “leader” of this group, I decided it was my job to get him to help out. “Say Sam, how ‘bout grabbing a scrub brush and helping out over here?” I asked. “We don’t have all day you know.”
“No thanks.” He said. “I’ll just set over here and watch you mopes do it.”
Of course all of the other guys looked to me, for my response. It seemed Sam was questioning my authority, and I had to respond somehow. Since I had taken the job as the Master-At-Arms, I had never really been challenged as to my authority. The thought that someone would question me had never entered my mind, and I struggled to come up with a reply. I could either come down hard quoting my authority from the Company Commander, or I could try to be buddy-buddy, and get him to help in that way. Stupidly, I choose the easy way out.
“Come on Sam, come over and help us out so we can finish on time” I whined. Sam was older than I, so I wanted to avoid confrontation if at all possible.
“Screw you punk, I won’t work for a snot-nosed kid like you.”
So he played the age card, never mind that I had been selected by the Company Commander. Now I thought I had no choice but to throw the book at him. There is nothing like a threat of punishment to negatively motivate a sailor.
“Look Sam, all we want is for you to pitch in and help, I don’t want to put you on report.”
Sam stiffened in his corner, then relaxed and shrugged, “go ahead you little weasel, go ahead and squeal on me if you want.”
Resigned that he was not going to help, I continued scrubbing, having had my dignity shredded in front of the other guys. Once this job was finished, I would place this loser on report.
After finishing the head, and passing the inspection, I went to the Company Commanders office to report Leonard. Once again, I pounded three times on the knock-plate outside the door.
That night I marched the punishment detail to the grinder, to find a very unhappy Sam Leonard in attendance. As we marched he uttered some very nasty sounds, which were directed at me, but which I couldn’t quite make out. I took great pleasure as I watched him don the lead-lined vest and lead filled rifle for one hour of grueling exercise that would leave him quivering in pain, and leave me quivering with delight.
As I marched the detail back to the barracks, I had no idea how much hatred was hatching in Sam Leonard’s heart. Nor did I have any idea of how far he would go to get back at me.
Some of us in boot camp would drift off to sleep quickly, and sleep the sleep of the young and innocent. I was never able to do that. For me, sleep was difficult to come by. It was only achieved after total exhaustion, and even then it was the semi-sleep suffered by those of us with guilty conscience, or a heavy agenda the next day. I had heard that there were some recruits that might start to sleepwalk as the pressure of boot camp mounted.
Over the next several weeks Sam Leonard did everything in his power to push me over the edge. He never put himself in a position to be placed on report, but he sure pushed the envelope. If there were any chance that he could demean me in front of the other recruits he would do so with great relish. He did just enough to get under my skin, without doing enough to be placed on report.
In week five, Sam started sleepwalking. The word quickly got around that several of the fire watches had watched him get out of his bunk at night and stagger around in the dark, only to be led back to bed before he hurt himself. Now sleepwalking in the Navy was a dangerous thing. A man aboard a ship could possibly walk right over the side out into the wide-open ocean. That person’s chance of being found were slim and none. I decided that if I ever saw Sam sleepwalking, I would place him on report, saving him from a fate worse than death. Nothing personal of course –yeah, right.
In week six, two weeks before our graduation, Sam and I waged daily battles, battles that I thought I was winning. After all, he would do exactly what I demanded after the threat of being placed on report was delivered. The tension between us was so thick that everyone in the company expected us to come to blows at any time.
The last week, the night before our final big inspection, I dropped into my bunk hoping sleep would come quickly. The next day was a very important day after all. Once again I tossed and turned in my bunk, thinking about the inspection, graduation, and a million other things. The sticky heat in the barracks made it uncomfortable so I kicked off the sheet and tried to get more comfortable by rolling over onto my stomach.
I felt the sweat beading up on my back, actually, it felt more like it was pouring down my back. At the same time I felt like someone was standing over my bunk. As I struggled to wake up I felt warm jets of liquid dribbling across my skin…this wasn’t sweat! In one motion I jumped out of my bunk and looked at the figure standing over my bunk. The red lights in the compartment illuminated the figure just enough to see a man, holding his prick, and pissing all over my bunk –and me!
I screamed bloody murder and swung my fist as hard as I could, hitting the target with my right fist directly between the eyes. When my fist connected to the bones of the face, I felt pain shoot up my arm, which felt like a lightening strike. Still in semi-sleep, or shock, I felt dozens of hands pull me away. The lights came on, and I saw Sam Leonard sitting on his ass in front of my bunk, holding his nose, with blood streaming down onto our soon to be inspected, freshly scrubbed floor.
After order was restored and Sam was dragged off to the dispensary, the company all pitched in to clean up the mess on the floor, and I stripped my bunk. The company commander called the fire watch in for questioning, and I knew I was next. I assumed I was going to be in major trouble for punching Sam, possibly ending my not-even-started naval career. I ignored the throbbing pain in my right wrist as I made my bunk, and worried that once again I had screwed up another opportunity.
Just as I finished making my bunk, I was called into the Company Commander’s office.
“Lovelace” Peevey asked, “What the hell happened out there?”
“Sir, I woke up with someone pissing on my back, I guess I just reacted, and slugged him in the face.”
He lifted his hand to his chin and started pacing back and forth, looked up at me and began to grin. The grin turned into a wide smile, and then his face split into a echoing laugh that filled the room.
That afternoon after the inspection I went to the infirmary where they x-rayed my right wrist, and place a cast on it. The doctor told me that since I was in the last week of boot camp I could graduate with my company. When I got back to the barracks, the guys told me that the holding company people came over and got all of Sam’s gear, saying that he was getting discharged for sleepwalking.
On graduation morning, as the company marched to chow, we saw Sam sitting on a bench at the bus stop in civilian clothes. He had two black eyes, and a piece of tape over his nose. He looked none too happy. The guys were snickering as they marched passed, and it was all I could do to keep the laughter from breaking out in the ranks.
After the ceremony was over, I went to the barracks, packing my sea bag for my trip across country to Florida for more training. As I was packing Petty Officer Peevey came over and offered congratulations, shaking my left hand. He looked me in the eye and said, “You know shipmate, sometimes leadership is about doing whatever it takes to influence someone to see your point of view.” As he walked away he turned and added, “and it’s always better to be pissed off, than to be pissed on.”