Gunnery Sergeant Yafante’s shouting continued. “It’s good, this was all just a simulation, wasn’t it Romero?” He paused, waiting for a response from the young Marine.
“Well?” he roared.
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!” replied back the PFC instinctively.
Yafante’s posture took on a distinctly forceful stance as he growled caustically.
“And why is it good PFC?”
“Because I died, Gunnery Sergeant,” the young Marine responded meekly.
“No!” retorted the aged warrior condescendingly. Yafante’s arm shot out, outstretched with his hand and fingers elongated and pressed tight to one another, forming a knife hand solid enough to cut steel. He pointed with his whole arm straight at Nathaniel’s face, unignorably inches away from his eyes.“Everyone’s dead, PFC. What makes you so special?”
“Aye, Aye, Gunnery Sergeant.” Romero said.
“Aye, Aye? What, did I give you an order? I said, ‘What makes you so special?’”He looked deeply, piercingly into Romero. His presence was like nothing any of them had ever seen before. Normally, he was a calm and collected force that lumbered around the bay or in the Non-Commissioned Officers’ offices. He rarely said anything louder than normal conversation. He could be relentlessly dogged in his training, some might go as far to say ruthless or even sadistic, but never raised his voice or broke a sweat about it. The Gunny was a true stoic warrior when he wanted to be. This man was nothing like that, though. They’d seen him get into the training before, but never break his detached stare as he led it. This Yafante, the one beating down Romero with every word, was like a beast on the end of a chain, barely restrained by some force none of them could see. The rest of the Marines there on the training grounds found themselves staring silently, intimidated by this new side of the veteran warrior they had never truly known before.
Nervously, Romero looked at the Gunnery Sergeant and shakily answered the Gunnery Sergeant’s question of what made him special?
“That’s right PFC. You’re not special.” The Gunny was snarling as the words seethed through his clenched teeth. “You’re no more special than all those other Marines in the plane you crashed. You’re no more special than the pilot, or the eight grunts either. You’re also no more special than the rest of your little fire team. Wonder how they turned out?”
This time Romero said nothing. He just stood silently and stared past the Gunnery Sergeant, far off into the distance at the empty field where the imaginary plane and its imaginary crew had crashed not long ago.
Yafante’s tone shifted. His stance softened and he began to pace around Romero and among the other Marines. He wasn’t the raging beast anymore. Now, he was venomous.“But that’s not your fault, is it PFC?” For a moment, Romero puzzled over the question. Romero’s team, then standing silently watching from a few feet away, didn’t miss the Gunny’s implication. They knew well what was coming, as they had already endured hours of it before this. “Williams!” barked the belligerent platoon SNCOIC.
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!” shouted Corporal Williams in response.
“So, it seems that the first thing you do when we give you a fire team is get them all killed? Is that what happened?”
“No, Gunnery Sergeant.” Romero’s fire team leader replied.
“Oh? That’s what seems to have happened to all of us watching the massacre. Still anyone left in the woods you’d like us to know about? Is there still some mystery Marine on your fire team I have forgotten? Did one of your Marines make it through and I simply didn’t notice it?”
The Corporal responded, “No, Gunnery Sergeant.”
“So then… your whole team is now officially dead?”
Accepting defeat, Williams relented, “Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.”
“And not only that, your PFC was so ill-trained, he didn’t even think about the fact that sending out a low-frequency ping would alert everyone within twenty miles to his exact location… including the enemy.”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” Williams again replied.
“I’m just curious if he even knew how to fix his screwed up radio after that tree, much less call in the 9-line through the secure channels. Who on your team can do that, Williams?”
“LCpl Fannon and myself are trained to troubleshoot the PRC-197s and we both know how to call in secure frequency 9-lines.”
“Oh, just the two of you? Then don’t you think it would have been wise if either of the two of you had lived rather than the boot fresh out of the schoolhouse with only the basic knowledge of the radio systems?”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” William replied.
“Why, might I ask, weren’t your other two members trained up if only the two of you knew how to do it? Do you think that all there is to running a fire team is PT and gear inspections?”
“No, Gunnery Sergeant.” Said the team leader ashamedly, still trying to maintain some sense of composure.
“You do realize that for that very reason, Romero was a dead man from the moment you two fell, right?” He asked again.
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” The fact had been made painfully obvious during that long night, where they had done dozens of remedial drills until Romero finally came to his unfortunate end. Every few hours, they received updates on his progress, realizing the entire time that, unless some miracle were to occur, he wouldn’t stand a chance, given his knowledge and experience, or rather, his lack thereof. The failures had eaten away at the young team lead, who by the dawn, grew to wish Romero would just get himself waxed so the night could finally end. After it had finally happened though, and they saw Romero quivering and flailing about after enduring a death march like none other, Williams felt nothing but regret in wishing for the death, virtual or not, of one of the members of the team. Seeing him fall was a bitter pill to take. The sense of failure and betrayal like the eating of poisoned daggers. Seeing the rest of the team wasted, and having it all perfectly spelled out for the platoon’s most junior Non-Commissioned Officer, the echo of the wish to see another Marine fail was almost too much for the team leader, barely even twenty years old by then.
“And would you like to tell the congregation why you elected not to teach everyone in your fire team how to properly use the PRC-197, especially considering half of you already knew how?” The Gunny hissed. There hadn’t been a conscious thought to ignore the lesson. Everyone else around knew this. It was just one of the thousands of lessons required to face nights like tonight; one that, unfortunately, the team just simply had not yet made it to. There will always be far more to learn than can ever be taught. As a team leader, though, Williams had been told countless times over, “It isn’t what you know that will get you killed. It’s what you don’t.” Regardless, here the team was, beaten and obliterated, all made painfully aware of the costs of even a moment’s complacency.
“No excuse, Gunnery Sergeant.” Said the Corporal again.
“No excuse, Gunny. Roger that. No excuse. And not only that…” Yafante jeered,“but your whole team seems to believe that this is some sort of video game. They think because it isn’t real here that they can just run out like they’ll get a second chance in the real world.”
“No, Gunnery Sergeant.” Williams still had a stubbornness even after the beating already endured.
“Oh?” The Gunnery Sergeant’s voice was yet more venomous and caustic upon hearing his young Corporal’s reply. His words were about to bite the junior Marine very deeply. “Your senior non-NCO, Lance Corporal Fannon, your machine gunner and the only other one, besides you, who seems to have a clue what is going on in this fire team, bites it first because your team doesn’t observe proper light discipline over the two boots. Thirty two seconds later, with you still flailing about, not knowing what to do, Kaiser goes down making a suicidal glory charge on some enemy he can’t even see. Next thing you know, you and Romero are running through the forest before you try to make some last stand for him to get away. Tell me, was you getting yourself killed the smart thing to do? Was it supposed to be heroic or something?”
“No, Gunnery Sergeant.”
“No, it wasn’t smart, but it was heroic. You all want to be heroes. They might make a movie about what heroes you all were today. You know what happens to heroes in the real world, Williams? They get their teams killed. Tell me, would Romero have been better off alone, or with his fire team leader there?”
“With me, Gunnery Sergeant.”
“Yes, especially considering that he’s still so boot that he nearly got himself killed three times on some five hour death march against people who can’t even fire real bullets. To top that off, he even miraculously managed to figure out how to take out another eleven Marines and a one hundred and five million dollar aircraft, before buying the farm himself, which is to say the least about losing the package, I guess, just to prove how complete a mission failure one could achieve in a single night. Isn’t that right, Corporal?”
Continuing with the “Old Corps verbal beatdown of Gunnery Sergeant Yafante”, I wanted this chapter to really spell out how everything that most people associate with military life and combat really makes no sense when you really think about it.
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