12 December 2008

A SUMMER ALONG THE CHOPAWAMSIC

I returned to ISU for my Junior year, eager to get back to Quantico and the PLC Senior Course.

My PLC, Sr. summer (1967) began in June. It demonstrated how much change had occurred.

In 1966, our platoon sergeant, platoon commander, and company commander had all just returned from Vietnam. By 1967, we were seeing the quick movement of seasoned NCOs and junior officers to WesPac. While our company commander, platoon sergeant and sergeant-instructor were all combat vets of Vietnam, our platoon commander was a second lieutenant who had just graduated from The Basic School and was awaiting the start of his class at Communications Officers School.

This summer, we were mainside at OCS. Our barracks was at the Chopawamsic Annex, near Marine Corps Air Station, Quantico. (OCS is located at the former “Brown Field,” the original MCAS, Quantico.)

The classes on tactics were geared to Vietnam, and it was understood that if the war was still being fought when we were commissioned, we could expect to serve there.

Leadership and physical fitness were the main thrusts of the summer, with the Reaction Course, a timed exercise in which accomplishment of the mission was not as important as the candidate leader’s exhibition of basic leadership skills. This was especially difficult because the “troops” being led were other candidates. It was sort of like watching a litter of Border Collie pups, each trying to herd the rest of the litter.

We also learned to love the Hill Trail, a hiking course over seven steep hills in the woodlands adjacent to OCS. (Two years later, in Vietnam, we were moving into the foothills of the On Tau slope, just west of the Arizona Territory. My 1967 OCS bunkie, Neil Meier, had the point. When the Skipper, Frank Satterfield, asked for the condition of the terrain, Neil replied, “It makes the Hill Trail look like a table.” Every officer in the company who heard that description groaned.)

Towards the end of the course, in mid-July, the Platoon Commander sent word for me to report to his office. When I reported, he told me that there were a few regular commissions available to candidates who requested them. I immediately requested a regular commission.

(Most officers are commissioned into the reserve component of their branch of service. Then during their initial period of active duty (3 to 10 years), they have an opportunity to “augment” into the regular branch of the service, but there is no guarantee that they will be offered a regular commission.)

Of course, we were on the drill field almost daily. Like Staff Sergeant Winston, our Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Johnston, was, a former Drill Instructor. Drill was important to them and to us. Close order drill instills instantaneous obedience to orders and is still the most effective way to move a body of troops from one place to another.

It was during this summer that I saw something that I had never seen before. Because of a typographic error in the training schedule, we were rushed out of the squad bay one day and the company moved in route step over several of the steepest hills of the Hill Trail at almost double time. It was one of those muggy days so common to northern Virginia and DC.

We arrived at the instruction site on time and were ordered to ground our gear and sit. The class was a visual demonstration of the many combat formations of the fire team and squad. The squad leader wore a red helmet, the fire team leaders, black, the automatic riflemen, silver, and riflemen, orange.

As we looked for the first formation to come out of a tree line 300 meters away, I realized that our uniforms were actually black with perspiration. Moreover, we were steaming. Clouds of steam rose from our bodies. Corpsmen were rushing among us, issuing salt tablets, and watching for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. By then, however, we were in pretty good shape and no one dropped out.

I will leave for another day the Saturday that Staff Sergeant Johnston had finally had enough of our short-timer attitude and marched us into the Chopawamsic and then had us crawl back for close order drill with our wooden footlockers. (Did you know that if you really concentrate, you can stand at “right shoulder, footlocker” for nearly thirty minutes before the numbness causes you to drop it?)

Or the day that Neal Meier was denied liberty because he was wearing black and white loafers. “Damn, Candidate. My four year old daughter wears shoes just like that.”

And, of course, the night before graduation when Sergeant Hunt sent the “God-damned Candidate Sergeant of the Guard, out of the God-damned duty hut to tell those God-damned civilians to get their God-damned civilian automobile out of his God-damned Marine Corps street,” only to find that the car belonged to an Episcopal Bishop who was bringing his son back from liberty. All turned out well, however. The Bishop was a WWII Marine rifleman who was delighted to find linguistic standards had been maintained. (I was on a working party, field-daying the duty hut and saw it all.)

When we were ordered to secure and return to the squad bay, Mrs. “Bishop” and her reeeeeeeealy good looking daughter were still sitting in the car while Dad and Sergeant Hunt shared sea stories in the Duty Hut. I never knew that Bishops could talk like that. I suppose you can take the Bishop out of the Corps, but never really take the Corps out of the Bishop.

He actually accompanied Sergeant Hunt to our squad bay for lights out. After saying a pretty nice prayer for us and our leaders, he led us in The Hymn, followed by “God bless The Platoon Sergeant. God bless my new shipmate, Sergeant Hunt. God bless the Marine Corps. And God bless Chesty Puller.”

He was pretty good—it only took us three times to reach a sound volume that made it possible for God—and the Bishop—to hear us.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

5 comments:

Danielle said...

Sir,
I am not sure how often you check these comments, if ever. I am the press chief with the Quantico Sentry and we are working on a story about the Chopawamsic Annex, which you mention in one of your blogs. I was hoping you might give me a call. My work number is 703-432-0307.
Thank you for your help,
r/s
Sgt. Bacon

djemmett_86 said...

I was a member of Foxtrot company second platoon, first increment 1976 at the Annex. My CO was Captain Serpa, a former enlisted Marine we seldom saw except during forced marches. Captain Micklas was our Platoon Commander, a re-tread who spent some time in the insurance business before realizing his distain for civilians. Gunnery Sgt. Gilpin was our Platoon Sgt, and Sgt. Arrowood was our Sgt Instructor.

Most of us had been through PLC Junior together at Camp Upshur in 1975 and were good friends. We had our usual assortment of 10 percenter assholes but for the most part we were a good platoon. Sgt Arrowood was our DI for the most part as Gunny Gilpin was going through a divorce and was pre-disposed a lot of the time. Capt Micklas was a pretty good officer but not very dynamic. Our most impressive instructor was Captain Brookton Breese. He was a tanker by trade, former enlisted man and very colorful. Capt Breese would teach classes in the metal classrooms with no air conditioning dressed in summer service alphas and Sam Brown belt. He made a high and tight actually look good. I learned later he was killed in a motorcycle accident.

PT was brutal, even more so than PLC Junior. PT started as the sun was rising over the PT field, now the sight of the officer's club. There were two obstacle courses now gone which were used regularly, and runs were conducted on the field and in the woods adjacent to the field. In order to get to the PT field, we had to march past a swimming pool which was maddening in its cool appearance. The thought of people going to a swimming pool while we endured hell was disturbing some days.

The worst part of the program was the forced marches. I really hated them and there was never enough water. After your two quarts were expended, it was a free for all at the water buffalo to get refills On those marches we learned to deal with the pain of blisters that would cause any civilian to stop and take two days off from work. We had no such luxury and had many miles left to go.

Graduation came and we all returned to school. After I had been home for a few weeks, my OSO called and asked if Gunny Gilpin had borrowed money from the platoon. A platoon mate who's father was an officer had made the accusation that the Gunny had borrowed money from the platoon. We never actually loaned the Gunny any money and no force, coercion or intimidation was used to obtain a loan. We did provide a loan under the ruse of helping a local bar known as the Duty Hut where Gunny Gilpin bar tended on the weekends. We drank there on weekend liberty and it was a bit strange to order beer from your Platoon Sergeant. Invariably, candidates would drink too much, become too friendly with the Gunny and we would all suffer the consequences on Monday morning PT. I felt the charges against Gunny Gilpin were totally chicken shit and said so to my OSO. Apparently others buckled and the Gunny received a court martial and was reduced to Staff Sergeant. This was a travesty on many fronts. And, we were all paid back the 20.00 each we contributed. I have withheld the name of the chicken shit candidate and his dad as the dad who was prior enlisted is considered a fine Marine. I suppose he felt we were strong armed by the Gunny which we were not. I felt it was no harm, no foul and should have been left alone.

I have visited the old Annex on several occasions since 1976. Outwardly it looks exactly the same. Exactly. We were the last PLC summer to train there. Beginning in 77 all OCS training was moved to Brown Field. I always felt honored to have been among the last candidates trained at the Annex and always hoped Gunny Gilpin's career recovered. He was a fine Marine and I will always remember his favorite saying, "you are all as crazy as shit house rats." And, if you did not know the answer to a question, he would scream, "well who am I supposed to ask?" I think of the Annex often.

Dan Emmett
F2
TBS 2-78

djemmett_86 said...

I was a member of Foxtrot company second platoon, first increment 1976 at the Annex. My CO was Captain Serpa, a former enlisted Marine we seldom saw except during forced marches. Captain Micklas was our Platoon Commander, a re-tread who spent some time in the insurance business before realizing his distain for civilians. Gunnery Sgt. Gilpin was our Platoon Sgt, and Sgt. Arrowood was our Sgt Instructor.

Most of us had been through PLC Junior together at Camp Upshur in 1975 and were good friends. We had our usual assortment of 10 percenter assholes but for the most part we were a good platoon. Sgt Arrowood was our DI for the most part as Gunny Gilpin was going through a divorce and was pre-disposed a lot of the time. Capt Micklas was a pretty good officer but not very dynamic. Our most impressive instructor was Captain Brookton Breese. He was a tanker by trade, former enlisted man and very colorful. Capt Breese would teach classes in the metal classrooms with no air conditioning dressed in summer service alphas and Sam Brown belt. He made a high and tight actually look good. I learned later he was killed in a motorcycle accident.


The worst part of the program was the forced marches. I really hated them and there was never enough water. After your two quarts were expended, it was a free for all at the water buffalo to get refills On those marches we learned to deal with the pain of blisters that would cause any civilian to stop and take two days off from work. We had no such luxury and had many miles left to go.

Graduation came and we all returned to school. After I had been home for a few weeks, my OSO called and asked if Gunny Gilpin had borrowed money from the platoon. A platoon mate who's father was an officer had made the accusation that the Gunny had borrowed money from the platoon. We never actually loaned the Gunny any money and no force, coercion or intimidation was used to obtain a loan. We did provide a loan under the ruse of helping a local bar known as the Duty Hut where Gunny Gilpin bar tended on the weekends. We drank there on weekend liberty and it was a bit strange to order beer from your Platoon Sergeant. Invariably, candidates would drink too much, become too friendly with the Gunny and we would all suffer the consequences on Monday morning PT. I felt the charges against Gunny Gilpin were totally chicken shit and said so to my OSO. Apparently others buckled and the Gunny received a court martial and was reduced to Staff Sergeant. This was a travesty on many fronts. And, we were all paid back the 20.00 each we contributed. I have withheld the name of the chicken shit candidate and his dad as the dad who was prior enlisted is considered a fine Marine. I suppose he felt we were strong armed by the Gunny which we were not. I felt it was no harm, no foul and should have been left alone.

I have visited the old Annex on several occasions since 1976. Outwardly it looks exactly the same. Exactly. We were the last PLC summer to train there. Beginning in 77 all OCS training was moved to Brown Field. I always felt honored to have been among the last candidates trained at the Annex and always hoped Gunny Gilpin's career recovered. He was a fine Marine and I will always remember his favorite saying, "you are all as crazy as shit house rats." And, if you did not know the answer to a question, he would scream, "well who am I supposed to ask?" I think of the Annex often.

Dan Emmett
F2
TBS 2-78

djemmett_86 said...

I was a member of Foxtrot company second platoon, first increment 1976 at the Annex. My CO was Captain Serpa, a former enlisted Marine we seldom saw except during forced marches. Captain Micklas was our Platoon Commander, a re-tread who spent some time in the insurance business before realizing his distain for civilians. Gunnery Sgt. Gilpin was our Platoon Sgt, and Sgt. Arrowood was our Sgt Instructor.

Most of us had been through PLC Junior together at Camp Upshur in 1975 and were good friends. We had our usual assortment of 10 percenter assholes but for the most part we were a good platoon. Sgt Arrowood was our DI for the most part as Gunny Gilpin was going through a divorce and was pre-disposed a lot of the time. Capt Micklas was a pretty good officer but not very dynamic. Our most impressive instructor was Captain Brookton Breese. He was a tanker by trade, former enlisted man and very colorful. Capt Breese would teach classes in the metal classrooms with no air conditioning dressed in summer service alphas and Sam Brown belt. He made a high and tight actually look good. I learned later he was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Graduation came and we all returned to school. After I had been home for a few weeks, my OSO called and asked if Gunny Gilpin had borrowed money from the platoon. A platoon mate who's father was an officer had made the accusation that the Gunny had borrowed money from the platoon. We never actually loaned the Gunny any money and no force, coercion or intimidation was used to obtain a loan. We did provide a loan under the ruse of helping a local bar known as the Duty Hut where Gunny Gilpin bar tended on the weekends. We drank there on weekend liberty and it was a bit strange to order beer from your Platoon Sergeant. Invariably, candidates would drink too much, become too friendly with the Gunny and we would all suffer the consequences on Monday morning PT. I felt the charges against Gunny Gilpin were totally chicken shit and said so to my OSO. Apparently others buckled and the Gunny received a court martial and was reduced to Staff Sergeant. This was a travesty on many fronts. And, we were all paid back the 20.00 each we contributed. I have withheld the name of the chicken shit candidate and his dad as the dad who was prior enlisted is considered a fine Marine. I suppose he felt we were strong armed by the Gunny which we were not. I felt it was no harm, no foul and should have been left alone.

I have visited the old Annex on several occasions since 1976. Outwardly it looks exactly the same. Exactly. We were the last PLC summer to train there. Beginning in 77 all OCS training was moved to Brown Field. I always felt honored to have been among the last candidates trained at the Annex and always hoped Gunny Gilpin's career recovered. He was a fine Marine and I will always remember his favorite saying, "you are all as crazy as shit house rats." And, if you did not know the answer to a question, he would scream, "well who am I supposed to ask?" I think of the Annex often.

Dan Emmett
F2
TBS 2-78

djemmett_86 said...

I was a member of Foxtrot company second platoon, first increment 1976 at the Annex. My CO was Captain Serpa, a former enlisted Marine we seldom saw except during forced marches. Captain Micklas was our Platoon Commander, a re-tread who spent some time in the insurance business before realizing his distain for civilians. Gunnery Sgt. Gilpin was our Platoon Sgt, and Sgt. Arrowood was our Sgt Instructor.


Graduation came and we all returned to school. After I had been home for a few weeks, my OSO called and asked if Gunny Gilpin had borrowed money from the platoon. A platoon mate who's father was an officer had made the accusation that the Gunny had borrowed money from the platoon. We never actually loaned the Gunny any money and no force, coercion or intimidation was used to obtain a loan. We did provide a loan under the ruse of helping a local bar known as the Duty Hut where Gunny Gilpin bar tended on the weekends. We drank there on weekend liberty and it was a bit strange to order beer from your Platoon Sergeant. Invariably, candidates would drink too much, become too friendly with the Gunny and we would all suffer the consequences on Monday morning PT. I felt the charges against Gunny Gilpin were totally chicken shit and said so to my OSO. Apparently others buckled and the Gunny received a court martial and was reduced to Staff Sergeant. This was a travesty on many fronts. And, we were all paid back the 20.00 each we contributed. I have withheld the name of the chicken shit candidate and his dad as the dad who was prior enlisted is considered a fine Marine. I suppose he felt we were strong armed by the Gunny which we were not. I felt it was no harm, no foul and should have been left alone.

I have visited the old Annex on several occasions since 1976. Outwardly it looks exactly the same. Exactly. We were the last PLC summer to train there. Beginning in 77 all OCS training was moved to Brown Field. I always felt honored to have been among the last candidates trained at the Annex and always hoped Gunny Gilpin's career recovered. He was a fine Marine and I will always remember his favorite saying, "you are all as crazy as shit house rats." And, if you did not know the answer to a question, he would scream, "well who am I supposed to ask?" I think of the Annex often.

Dan Emmett
F2
TBS 2-78