If you read military manuals, you can learn a lot about the military principles necessary to run successful operations. When you're a young Marine, you absorb the lessons unconsciously, and indeed, frequently no manual is even needed, because the principles are basically common sense, distilled through generations of observation, written in blood, punished harshly, and frequently the innate response of clever warfighting naturals, with or without benefit of a written manual.
Today's case in point was a battlefield that until this moment was likely never written about, but the lessons on display are nonetheless timeless in the annals of great military exploits.
This all happened one fall Saturday aboard Camp Lejeune, during the brief period of months during my service when I occupied the territory most familiar and least-beloved by everyone who passes out of boot camp, and into the Fleet Marine Force: that of private first class, and lance corporal.
Saturday was a magical time in those days. No reveille at 0600, no morning PT in the chilly fall air, no three formations a day, no uniforms, nowhere to be, nothing to do, the first of two entire days most weeks in garrison when one could sleep in, go about their day in leisurely fashion, spend it any way they saw fit (consistent with military order and discipline), eat whatever, whenever, and generally behave like a kid on summer vacation.
So that particular Saturday, in the warm comfort of my military rack, in the common squadbay athwart the WWII-era brick barracks I first called home some months prior, I lazed in peaceful repose in that happy twilight one can only appreciate after sleeping all the way beyond sunrise, instead of waking up in the cold dark to the squeal of distant bugles, and nothing to look forward to at the bottom of the military totem pole but getting dressed, stressed, and oppressed.
Lazy, comfortable, and warm beneath my olive drab horseblanket, battle was about to be joined, and only those of laser-bright tactical acumen would emerge unscathed.
As twenty-five or so of my platoon comrades dozed in somnolent Saturday splendor, the other fifteen or so not present being locals, married, or cleverly having left for weekend liberty Friday night and hence gone all weekend, through slitted eyes I watched dust motes dance in the sunbeams. And heard the unwelcome but familiar clatter of boot heels and dress shoes on concrete, approaching the squad bay double doors.
It was Corporal Hammerclatter, one of the motor transport NCOs stuck on weekend duty, but also joined by Lt. Newbar, one of the motor T officers for our artillery battery, as well as being the Officer of the Day for the battalion.
And I remember the words I overheard as they talked at the middle of the squadbay like it was yesterday.
"Well, Corporal, if your assigned Assistant Duty NCO hasn't shown up by now, just grab the first enlisted man who wakes up and post him as your A-Duty, then get down to the motor pool and finish getting those trucks ready for Monday's exercise. Call me at the battalion OOD shack when you've got your "volunteer" posted, and I'll get you to the motor pool and open the shop for you."
"Aye, aye sir."
Intelligence: Proper intelligence preparation of the battlefield means you have some idea of the enemy's location, strength, and intentions, and enables commanders to forsee, thwart, and overcome enemy plans while executing their own plans and operations successfully.
As the footsteps and conversation retreated out the doors and down the central corridor, without word nor whisper, six other enlisted Marines at various points along both sides of the squadbay silently and stealthily slipped out of their racks, opened wall lockers with the acumen of cat burglars, withdrew civilian clothes from them, closed them, made their bunks up to military spec in about five seconds, and joined me in the narrow safety lane between lockers and outside walls and windows, as we all speedily got dressed out of sight and hearing from the OOD, the Duty NCO, or our sleeping comrades. Showers were down the hall, where the OOD and DNCO were chatting. We don't need no stinkin' showers today.
Surprise: Acting quickly, decisively, and most of all, at places and in ways the enemy doesn't expect, yields disproportionately successful outcomes in military operations back to antiquity. When you know what you're up to and the enemy doesn't, you win, and he loses.
We could have tried to awaken our sleeping comrades and share the unhappy news, but the Duty NCO could return at any moment, looking for his pigeon. And some of those guys were either jerks, or stumblef*cks and sleeping drunks from Friday night revelry, who would clatter and bellow, and give the whole thing away. Semper fi, mac. Serves you right for sleeping too soundly, even on a weekend.
Economy of force: A good commander takes only the forces necessary to accomplish the mission, and no more nor less than that.
Without so much as one word of discussion, eyes peeked out through windows on both sides of the barracks, with a view in all directions. One man peered through the crack in the doors, and noted both OOD and Duty NCO had proceeded down the hall to the Comm/Motor T squadbay, at the farthest end from First platoon's squadbay. A couple of silent finger gestures, and no discussion later, found all seven of us poised inside the window on the second deck, next to the fire escape landing and ladder to the ground thoughtfully installed there.
Speed: "A good plan now is better than a perfect plan in fifteen minutes." - Gen. George S. Patton. Once you settle on your plan of operation, execute it swiftly, decisively, and ruthlessly. This prevents the enemy having time to react, and by the time your operation is discovered, you'll already be executing the next phase.
The barracks were in an "H" shape, with an extra leg between the ends of the bottom of the "H". The sides were the squadbays, the middle crossbar the central corridor, and we were on the second deck. The Duty NCO was posted on the first floor, and Bn HQ and the OOD were to the side of our squadbay, with a direct line of sight between it and us, first along in the row of barracks along the regimental street.
But Lt. Newbar was heard downstairs, near the dayroom, nowhere in sight of the outside, and Cpl. Hammerclatter at his side, so the outside was all clear. With lightning rapidity and co-ordination the full equal of a team of recon Marines, all seven of us opened the fire escape, sliding the sash window up with but a metallic swish, without awakening a single sleeping NCO nearby, and we all clambered out and down the ladder. In less time than it takes to describe, and again, without a single word of conspiration, we all bombshelled in seven different vectors at a fast walk. (When in trouble, never run in the open; the human eye is especially attuned to pick out movement above all other things. Doubly so for OODs seeing seven Marines climb out the second floor window of the barracks at 0730 on a Saturday morning.)
I made my way to the back road, followed it three armories up the street, and cut over to get the last few minutes of morning chow (breakfast for civilians) at the regimental mess hall. Green eggs and ham ain't pretty, but you can't beat the price. After breakfast, I traced a quiet morning walk in the woods, enjoying nature on a quiet day on post, before emerging two regimental areas away, then making my way to the just-opening main PX on base. I proceeded to kill several hours there, and then had a fine luncheon at the newly-opened actual Burger King on base, before deciding it was time to return to home sweet home.
Upon my return, I noted Second Platoon's Pfc. Smuckatelli in cammies and duty belt, sitting in the DNCO chair, staring at the TV, with a sad and pissed off look on his face after being shanghaied into duty on a day he didn't have it, because some derfball was absent without leave from that post. Derfball would pay on Monday morning when the first sergeant got ahold of his stacking swivels, but that wasn't helping out Smuckatelli's Saturday plans, or his mood, not any little bit. Several of my stealthy fellows were enjoying a football game on the lounge TV in their civvies, and with big grins and knowing nods about Smuckatelli's fate.
And the seven survivors, including me, enjoyed a perfect and blissful fall weekend at our own discretion. Needless to say, every man-jack of us made sure the scheduled Sunday Asst. DNCO knew he had the duty on Saturday night, and was ready to go before we retired to our bunks. Those guys, like me, would have found SERE training rather repetitious after a few weekends like that.
An enlisted man could always feel the love in the Marine Corps, especially in 10th Marines. But if he kept his eyes open and his wits about him, he didn't feel that love trying to slither up his tailpipe and screw him with his pants on quite as often.