Proving Grounds – Chapter 20

There was a long pause. The sound of wind through the Carolina forest echoed through the leaves.  That sound would resonate through the team’s mind as the sound of deep disappointment and shame, though not all in the same measure. Romero was sickened by the casualties he caused, virtual or not, as well as his ignorance in operating the gear, making him, in his own mind, a complete failure as a warrior. Williams was torn by the fire team’s utter devastation and failure as a unit, a fault lying solely on no one else’s shoulders.
The Gunnery Sergeant’s voice softened again. He no longer had the same sardonic tone, tearing his troops to pieces with his caustic little jabs. He was then the stoic Gunny they had come to know, the distant warrior of many battles.
“Do any of you know why we do Capture the Flag drills as part of SERE training?” he asked.
There was a silence. Yafante wasn’t sure if they really didn’t realize it, or if they were just too afraid of breaking the silence and being the one sacrificial lamb.
“We do Force on Force simulated fire exercises like this as part of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Level B to train small teams, like yours, that the lone gunman heroism will just get you and everyone else killed. You do this training to discover that the team is all that matters when you are 0n hostile ground. The Marine Corps has forced more and more lethality and responsibility onto the lowest echelons of their force. That’s you. The four of you command more devastating strength and killing power than a whole company of Marines eighty years ago. The Marine fire team is a specialized fighting unit, made exponentially more powerful by each one of you working in unison to survive and complete your objectives.”
There was a continued silence.
“Suicide, the Gunny called out to the fire team’s machine gunner, Lance Corporal Fannon, “What is the mission of the Marine rifle squad?”
Fannon replied with stolidity, “To locate, close with, and destroy the enemy, by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat, Gunnery Sergeant.”
“That’s right Su,” said the Gunny. “Fire and maneuver.” Yafante repeated. “Maneuver is just as important as the weapons we fire. It is the ability to overwhelm the enemy, not with superior force, but by being everywhere at once. To apply force, not like an axe, but like a scalpel and being exactly where your strength can do the most harm with the least risk to the team. Anyone can outgun someone, but eventually someone you don’t see will have a bullet or piece of ordnance with your name on it. Marines master maneuver warfare. We practice getting around them, and putting fire where they are weakest, or to escape needing to fire, at all. That’s how we win time, after time, after time. That’s how you win the ten-thousand little battles necessary to win the war. Sometimes, you won’t be in the advantage.”
The Marines stood in silence listening to the seasoned veteran, not only those of the William’s fire team, but all those in witness of it.
“Sometimes you will be the prey, the hunted, as all of you were tonight. Remember your history. In every war the Marines ever engage in, they go in numerically at the disadvantage, but in the way we trained for tonight, this is how we survive. You survive and there is no limit to the good you can do tomorrow. You die, and all that ever mattered about you is in the history books. Our way of fighting demands that you live. That’s how we ensure that everyone else loses. That’s why the Corps wants you to know maneuver warfare on the squad and fire team level to survive. That’s why they want you to know how to avoid being killed, or worse, captured; fodder for some insurgent agenda and propaganda machine, being beaten and mutilated in front of a camera, waiting to die in a basement of some country you’ve never heard of.”
That sobering thought lingered as Yafante continued.
“You have to work together in everything you do to keep each other alive. That’s all that Capture the Flag is about. You aren’t supposed to fight. You’re supposed to live. You didn’t fail today just because you didn’t get a packet to some LZ safely, you failed from the moment the first shot was fired. You failed from that moment when you let Romero go off alone. The first person shooter video game heroic, the lone wolf antics, couch combat and Iraq war movie myths you all grew up with is nonsense. It’s complete and utter garbage and the Marine Corps has no room for warriors who think that they are here to be heroes. That’s not how war works. That’s what makes money for charlatans and petty entertainers. They couldn’t care less about how war really works. You copy that nonsense in the real world and you’re all dead. Say it with me Marines, ‘XBox got it wrong.’”
It was a little absurd, some of them thought. The comedic nature of them making fun of an old gaming system in the middle of a series of hard-core war games had an odd way of breaking the tension that had been building in the air over the last several minutes. The Marines did as instructed. They chanted back his saying, with more than a little apprehension, “XBox got it wrong.”
“Again!”
“XBox got it wrong, Gunnery Sergeant!” they recited, this time crisper and with more vigor. For some reason, it was so ludicrous to hear the Gunny say it, and to then repeat it back, that the team felt uplifted, if ever so slightly.
“You all got to remember… you stay alive. That is your purpose throughout this whole training – throughout your whole lives in the infantry. You stay alive and you keep each other alive. Each time one of you falls, life becomes exponentially harder for the rest to succeed, until you reach that last man and your chances of winning are practically zero. You can’t die. Not a single one of you can die. You can’t let each other die. You have to survive. You understand me? Each and every one of you never quits, never leaves the team, and none of you ever lets anyone else on your team die. That’s what SERE training is all about… Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Sometimes, you aren’t supposed to fight. Sometimes, you just got to live. You get me?”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!” The team shouted in unison. That is, they all spoke in unison, but one was much weaker in his response. Romero was still visibly shaken. He was standing as if in emulation of the walking dead. He was no longer in a state of shock, but he was done. Yafante could tell, whether the young PFC wanted to be or not, whether he would have admitted it or not, his body and mind were done with all of it.
After a moment in the silence, Yafante addressed Corporal Williams.
“Williams. Your team doesn’t move on until they complete the exercise. I’d like to see all of you stay until you can manage to get through these woods alive. As it stands though, I’m relatively certain if Romero takes another step, he is likely to die of exhaustion or become a psych-drop for getting all of you killed over and over again, not that any of the rest of you did any better or helped him with that. Last night was a wash.”
The team was sullen, but Yafante quickly interrupted the mood of the battered team. It was important to end their downward cascade before it bottomed out into a valley of self-loathing and blame. That sort of mentality, if left too long poisons the team, leaving only doubt in one’s own abilities and the abilities of those around you. It is the kind of mental state that erodes the collective psyche and the very unit cohesion that exercises like SERE II were meant to instill. The Gunny knew they needed to lick their wounds and move on from this night.
“Corporal, you’re to take your team and prepare for your next shot tonight. Get some chow and rack time. From you, I want an after-action report prepared and ready for the debriefing you will all have with the rest of the platoon at 2000. There, we will go over all of the numerous ways your team screwed up during last night’s debacle and how I expect you to succeed next time. There won’t be any of this super-warrior nonsense like we had already. I expect all of your team fed, rested, and hygiened before the 2000 formation. Oh, and Corporal, I want Romero to finish his physical with Doc Schubert. Make it happen.”
“Aye, Aye, Gunnery Sergeant.” Williams replied. Immediately, the fire team leader set to the new tasks at hand, eager to redeem the young team and wash away this complete failure. More so, the Corporal was as anxious to finally see the end of this day as anyone, besides perhaps PFC Nathaniel Romero. It’s amazing what a little bit of chow and the promise of a few hours of sleep can do for the mind.

Me 3

Here we get into one the chapter that deals with something that is near and dear to my heart – blaming people who weren’t even there. Marines know well the suffering that comes with command. Anything your boots did, is your fault… good or bad… even if you weren’t even there. That’s just the way it goes.

That said, this chapter does start to turn it around, we start to  the motivational element of training and why Gunny shines. Hope you enjoy it.


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Cover Art

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