Monday, September 8, 2008

Army Stories: Texas Tea

Spending 20 years in the Army gave me more than a retirement, it gave me a whole slew of funny stories. I plan to re-tell one of these humorous events at a rate of one a month. That should give me enough to last a few years anyway.

My first duty station was Fort Bliss Texas. For those of you who have never had the privilege of living in El Paso, congratulations. But I digress.

I was assigned to an Air Defense Artery Battalion as a medic. Back then our uniforms were starched fatigues, highly polished, black boots and white T-shirts. My field ambulance was the M792 Gama Goat.

I believe its design came from the loser of a third grade “draw a truck” contest. While it did have a unique ability to get across desert better than most vehicles, it was just plain butt ugly. Originally intended as an all-purpose, sort of amphibious vehicle designed around the terrain of Viet Nam, it never actually lived up to its claims. So the Gama Goat got shuffled off to the desert and other less wet stateside climates.

Staff Sergeant Cecil Young was my platoon sergeant. A nice guy but woefully mechanically inept. One cold day, which necessitated the wearing of our clean and highly pressed jackets, he decided he needed to show me how to change my vehicle’s oil. Having grown-up repairing cars, I had a pretty good idea of how to do this, but he insisted.

I drove my Goat up the ramp in the motor pool and positioned it over an open 55 gallon drum, half filled with waste oil. I joined SSG Young under the vehicle.

The Gama Goat was designed more like a boat than a truck. The wheels stuck out through its ‘hull’ and the bottom was a flat plate of metal. To access the engine oil drain plug, one had to unscrew a round plate, which was about five inches or so in diameter and weighed about one and half or two pounds. This process required a socket wrench or a breaker bar. SSG Young demonstrated the technique.

The round plate was directly over the 55 gallon drum. Once the plate was out of the way, the engine oil drain plug could be removed and the oil would flow into the waiting drum.

SSG Young unscrewed the plate but he forgot to perform the next step, which was preventing it from falling into the drum. The plate landed as flat as could be right in the center of the waste oil. After dropping about four feet the plate had picked up a bit of speed. The impact sent oil flying.

I was younger and quicker than SSG Young. He just stood there and watched as the front of his immaculately clean jacket and starched pants got covered in oil.

I didn’t say a thing. Didn’t crack a smile. Good Army discipline.

Undeterred -and without a word spoken between us- he grabbed a wrench and proceeded to “show” me how to put an arm through the now open hole to access the engine oil drain plug. He slowly unscrewed the plug and when it was loose, it dropped past his arm and landed –with less of a splash- into the open drum. After adding insult to injury, the plug had the decency to disappear to the bottom, coming to rest next to its larger cohort.

SSG Young looked at me. I displayed a stone like demeanor, reveling nothing of the fact that I was ready to drop to the ground and roll around laughing until I cried.

It was about this time that he realized his arm was still extended up through the access hole and warm oil from the engine was pouring down the inside of the arm of his jacket.

Slowly he removed his arm. He looked over the ruined jacket, pants and shirt. Still, without a single word spoken between us, he bent over and fished the plate and drain plug out from the bottom of the waste oil barrel. He placed them on the ramp and walked off.

We never spoke of it.

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Gama Goat pict:


Anonymous said...

I don't know. You tell someone to drive a goat, and my mind wanders.

Great story! :)

(My best friend is stationed "there" via her husband's military career.)

Les James said...

Thanks, you're also such a sweetheart. I was once stationed "there" I guess it was a secret, since I never knew the name.

Anonymous said...

Fort Bliss.

Les James said...

The name says it all.