Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mogart and the Minions of M&Ms

Basil's little video reminded me that GIs - all soldiers, I suspect - are not to be trusted when given lots of time and nothing to fill it with. This story is one of the "tales from the Sinai" over at GFT, about some of the things that took place during my six months there. Since it seems like a slow sort of summer I thought I'd repost it here for your entertainment.
(The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the fuckin' idiots who did this stuff and who might sue my ass off if I told anyone about them.)
His given name was Maurice, but he said that nobody called him "Maurice" after infancy. His older brother apparently shortened it to "Little Mo", and by the time he was in elementary school it was just "Mo". By the time his testicles descended I'm not sure he remembered his real name.

His family name was Hogart, though, and the stress of repeating the "oh" sound twice - "Mo Hogart" - was excessive for the grade schoolers in whatever little flyover town he grew up in. By high school his two names had become one all-purpose "Mogart", and it is as Mogart I remember him, standing atop an orange-and-white drum at the barricaded entrance to Sector Control North.Mogart worked for the battalion Supply and Transport (S&T) platoon, the small contingent of logistics specialists tasked with pushing supplies forward from our brigade out to the line companies. Officially he worked with me in Headquarters Company, tossed into the jumble with us medics, the cooks in the mess hall, the clerks in the Battalion PAC, all of us ash and trash that kept the battalion running.

Ask any line dog and he'll tell you that the Headquarters Company is full of more nuts and fruits than a Harry and David gift basket. And if I were to be honest, I'd have to say that we DID have our share of eccentrics, including my alcoholic old boss Monty Harder and the staff sergeant we called "Sergeant Jambo" because he spoke some sort of unintelligible Carolina barrier island dialect which, to our ignorant ears, sounded like something out of a Jungle Jim movie. Nobody in the company could comprehend anything he said including the First Sergeant, who eventually transferred him somewhere at the other end of post. COSCOM, I think.

I should add that this gomer also had a full length portrait of himself in uniform.

Painted on black velvet.So.

Mogart wasn't exactly the standout character in our Headquarters Company. But he was certainly in the running. The announcement of his entry into the HHC "Serious Sinai Freak" contest was probably Fluffy the Flatcat.

Our billet buildings in South Base had a small clowder of feral cats living somewhere inside, probably in one of the exterior stairs or under the building itself. These fugitive creatures were typically seen only at night, by the guys on Charge of Quarters or battalion Staff Duty, or by the night bakers interrupting their lightless raids on the mess hall dumpsters.

Every so often one of these cats would meet with a predictable mishap on one of the camp roads. This was where Fluffy the Flatcat and Mogart made their acquaintance.

Mogart was returning from an evening's amusement at the EOD Club; Fluffy had met his steel-belted destiny some days before and had been baked to a leathery consistency on the arid asphalt by the merciless Sinai sun. Mogart said he had seen the unusual lump from a distance and had ambled over to investigate; those who knew him better suspected that he had tripped on the thing and had practically pissed himself when he fetched up next to Fluffy's petrified snarl.

For whatever reason he peeled the flattened critter off the pavement and toted it back to his billet, carefully depositing it on a picnic table outside the main door. Fluffy was waiting for him there the next morning, and that was the beginning of the brief reign of terror of the Fear of a Black Cat.Because through Mogart's agency Fluffy began turning up everywhere. He perched grinning down from above the orderly room door and gloried in a brief - roughly five minutes, from the time Mogart tied him there until the commander noticed him - elevation to hood ornament on the Battalion Commander's quarter-ton jeep.

Perhaps the most terrifying Fluffy appearance was tied crotch-high to one of the piss-tubes up at Sector Control after dark, where he confronted an sleepy Australian helicopter pilot who came to full awakening at the sight of what appeared to be a vicious animal poised to bite down upon his unprotected and fully occupied penis.

His screams brought the duty squad tumbling out of the TOC trailer wide-eyed and fumbling for their single taped-closed magazine, his frantic evasive action sprayed the piss tube, Fluffy and his trousers with equal thoroughness, and the ensuing international hard words brought a quick and surreptitious burial for Fluffy, who passed from undead catness into legend.Mogart was distraught at the loss of his furry friend. Several of the other guys from S&T accused him of then trying to lure the Shithead from 3A into the road with meat-like food from a C-ration (or more likely an MRE - we were just beginning to get them in the early Eighties) to procure an even larger flat pet.
(Have I mentioned the Shitheads yet in Tales from the Sinai? No?

Well, the Shitheads were supposedly the brainstorm of some psychological genius from DA, who, after spending quite a lot of the government's money, determined that having "companion animals" was good for the boys' morale. Said animals, typically a sort of rangy greyhound-y looking mutt, were apparently obtained at very low prices from a nearby source - probably Israeli, since the Egyptians like most Arabs are not generally dog fanciers - and imported to their new homes to spend their doggie lives warming the hearts of the lonely boys in uniform.

There these poor lads immediately dubbed them individually and collectively "Shithead" and spent what time they didn't ignore them booting them around and cursing their uncleanliness, uselessness, relentless mooching and usual expression of morose self-pity. Which, given the attitude they met, was hardly unreasonable.

When more specific identification was needed, the shithead would be surnamed by its location.

"You hear about that Shithead got run over yesterday up on the MSR near Eilat?"

"Well, damn, that sucks. Shithead there was a cool Shithead. You mean the Checkpoint 3 Alpha Shithead?"

"Nah, he's fine. It was the OP3-1 Shithead."

"Well, there you go, then. That fuckin' Shithead was dumber the the goddamn Sergeant Major. No wonder he got his doggie ass run over."

"Dude, that's harsh. Dog's dead, you're insulting him by comparing him to the Sergeant Major..?"

"Sorry, man..."

My only other Shithead experience came during the Force change-of-command, when the new MFO Commander flew into OP 3-11 and proceeded to ignore all of our military cleanliness and knowledge-of-our-standing-orders sort of brass-shining we'd gotten up for him and instead asked the squad leader about the OP Shithead, of which we knew nothing other than his infuriating habit of crapping in people's unguarded boots.

Anyway, that was the Shitheads)
I went out into sector [a wonderful time and a story I'll have to tell another day, of Sergeant Howard's squad and our adventures as Wadi Ain El Fortaga; Leroy and Jutta, the camels in the wire, Suleman's kite, Old Selim, Sala and Salaha, and the ascent of Gebel Mikemin. But that's for another day] right after this; there was quite a bit of speculation about the effect the loss of his necrotic feline friend would have on Mogart."Fucker's going to really go Asiatic," warned several would-be China hands, "better watch out for him when we get back."

So it was with some anticipation that I looked over the white-painted siderail of the whining deuce-and-a-half as we rolled out of the mountains, crossed the MSR towards the Sector Control wire. My curiosity wasn't long unsated. For there, perched atop one of the empty drums at the main gate, was the man himself.

It was only after I spent a moment wondering what the hell he was playing at that I noticed his worshipers.These consisted of a raggedy swarm of fifteen of so assorted "Bedouin" kids. These weren't the genuine deep-desert Bedu, the like of which we had supped with the preceding two weeks. These were the scaff and raff of the seedy little settlement nearby; town Arabs, drifters, fellahin, really. And there were more than a dozen of these clustered in a sort of half-circle in the dusty waste outside the gate, ranging from borderline-lean just-past-toddlers to underfed-borderline-starvation-thin mid-teens. They were all gazing up at Mogart as if he was a baked chicken, Ramadan, Christmas, New Years and the second coming of Muhammad Ali all in a set of chocolate-chip fatigues.

As we grew closer to the gate, we could tell that the kids were watching Mogart for some sort of signal; this he gave, in the form of a sort of little jump or hop that included bringing his hands together over his head.

The response was immediate and explosive; suddenly fifteen little Egyptians were doing frantic jumping jacks - "sidestraddle hops", in Army terms - their little bodies jigging, spinning, and bounding with the frenzied motion, like jumping jacks performed by spastic methamphetamine users.

Mogart lowered his arms to shoulder height, pointing both index fingers at the ground, which was the signal for his little minions to drop to the bare soil and begin doing pushups. These were more energetic than efficient - most of the kids couldn't keep their backs straight and the resulting sine wave was pretty silly looking. The little toddler types just rolled around on the ground.

And then Mogart raised and spread his arms triumphantly, at which signal his followers jumped to their feet bowing at the waist like so many toy drinking birds. Even over the blat and whine of the trucks we could hear their little voices crying

"Hail Mogart! Hail, oh mighty Mogart! Hail Mogart! Oh mighty Mogart!"

And then the entire scene dissolved into scrambling, kicking, grabbing chaos, because their king scattered largesse among his people in the form of peanut M&Ms. The resulting riot was not pretty to watch, as the older kids snatched and clubbed with brutal efficiency. While the god of the steel drum looked down benignly and raised his arms again. The chanting returned as we rolled through the gate; hail, Mogart, oh mighty Mogart, hail...I don't think anyone said a word for the next mile, until from up near the cab, a low voice opined;

"Well. He's gonna burn in Hell for THAT shit..."

All there agreed that deserved as it was it was unlikely, since Hell was empty and the Devil Mogart was here.

And the sun went down behind the mountains to the west.


  1. Well, it seems Mogart broke, suffering a "Mosquito Coast" - "Apocalypse Now" moment of grandeur following the loss of his fearsome "pussy pelt" (as the men in the N.C. mountains call it.) And a valuable piece it is, and the Aussie soiled it for good, a true transgression.

    Not to go too deeply into the psychology of the thing, but for men of the p. pelt persuasion, these are rather special things, often hung on the workshop wall and valued for their ... attractiveness and softness. I hear tell that if you are a really good friend, you might be invited to, uh, pet it.

    You guys certainly had a wonderfully perverse sense of humor, calling Fluffy, the Flat Cat. Poor thing. Sorry the dogs were so morose.

  2. Something about groups of young men together . . . add monotony, lack of females and alcohol . . . Junior officers tend to do this sort of stuff when only among themselves undergoing training and not having any serious responsibilities, whereas the enlisted have to take whatever opportunity which comes along. Consider the incidence of DUIs by junior officers in training . . .

    Liked the "black velvet" reference as well . . . how many such portraits have I gazed at? . . . for Marines usually in dress blues . . . more than I care to think.

  3. @ Seydlitz above: Junior officers tend to do this sort of stuff

    Absolutely right!!! I spent 15 years enlisted and never saw any mass hijinks. And then SecNav messed up and gave me Warrant bars (candystripe bars we called them in the Corps). My first duty station after TBS our unit officers attended a formal mess night at the O club. They served punch in a thundermug (aka a toilet). Within a half hour it turned into a foodfight, 2nd lieutenants and ensigns on one side, 1st lieutenants and JGs on the other. Then they all mooned the chaplain. The senior brass all left except for a few majors who acted worse than the butterbars.

  4. mike

    Close you eyes and think about Army Aviation in Viet Nam. Typical unit had a couple of dozen Warrant Officer Aviators, mostly under the age of 24. I remember the sign in one unit's O-Club:

    Fly all day
    Drink all night
    Sleep when you get back home

  5. Al -

    I know the Army uses some hard charging first term enlisted guys as Warrant Officers. The Marine Corps and the Navy used to do that years ago. Not so much any more, or at least in the 70s, to be honest I do not know what they are doing now. They probably should. If you promote an E7 or an E8 to Warrant, you do not get too much in return years.

    In the foodfight I mentioned above, I managed to stay out of it. The only other warrant present was a crusty old ordnance CWO-4 (there was no -5 back then) who was older than Methuselah. He managed not to get trashed also. But he told me this was a regular occurrence. He was right I found.

  6. When bored there is almost nothing an American kid can't think up. Someday I'll post about Private Black and drainsurfing down Howard Boulevard in a Panama downpour. I have to give him credit - ol' Mogart was one sick puppy, though, even in the S&T crew who were considered something of a bughouse in the 2/325.

    Never having been privy to what the heck the officers did when we weren't around I can't say I'm all that surprised, tho. In effect young officers are nothing but EMs with some more larnin', and in some cases not all that much. My first infantry platoon leader as a line medic was a second john who had gone through ROTC at Texas A&M and had wrestled there. He was a serious bodybuilder and rejoiced in the nickname "I Love My Body" Baker. He was, and I say this with all due respect to the man's rank, dumber than a fucking bag of hammers. I used to try and talk to him and got more out of his Skoal Bandits than the inside of the man's head. He and Blackie would have got along like burning houses, surfing the drains and scoping out the hoochie-mamas.

  7. I will ever remain fascinated by the dynamic of men amusing themselves. From my experience, women do different things to amuse themselves; sometimes this includes being amused by the exploits of men left to their own devices.

    We see it from childhood on -- there is no denying gender differences. Vive la difference!

  8. mike: I know the Army uses some hard charging first term enlisted guys as Warrant Officers.

    Just in the Aviation program. During the Viet Nam War, we promoted it as "High School to Flight School". By late 1969, we needed to produce about 650 helo drivers per month to keep the seats full in VN. No way could we find that population in the older enlisted ranks, so the solution was to increase the number of folks enlisted directly for WO flight training.

    My class (began training in late 1966) was about 60% "veterans" and 40% new enlistees, which was pretty much par for the course for the previous year or so. When I returned to Ft Wolters as a flight instructor in Fall 1969, the WO Candidate classes were about 90% non-prior service.

  9. Al: When I was in the RA (early-late Eighties) the WOC program had a reputation for a savage level of "harassment" - the sort of apparently-mindless ferocity seemingly designed to make the candidates quit out of pure despair. Stuff like the tacs trashing the billets and then requiring the candidates to repair the damage in an insanely short time, mind-fucks like having the troops fall out in one uniform and then ordering them to change and be in formation in double-ought seconds...

    Could this have been a reaction to the number of NPS candidates in the late Sixties and Seventies? I mean, I could see how as a tac I'd be worried about how some kid out of AIT would react under pressure and as a result I'd stress the hell out of him in WOCS to see if he'd crack.

    Or was this just WOCS-SOP from the jump?

  10. Pretty much the WOC SOP from the beginning. First half of the program (Ft Wolters, TX) was highly disciplined and significant "harassment" took place, especially during the first month, which was "Pre_Flight" training. Second half (Ft Rucker, AL) was still disciplined, but less "hazing", and the last two months were in "Senior Candidate" status, affording within the WOC ranks, as sort of quasi-officer status. Through 1967, drop out/failure rate was about 50%. Basically, like the "Aviation Cadet" programs of the past, a WOC went through "Officer Candidate School" and Flight School concurrently. NPS WOCS in my class seemed to handle it pretty well. Actually, there was a fair loss rate of prior service folks who simply felt they had already "earned their bones" and pushed back at the discipline.

    There was a test of a so called "College campus" program in late 1965 - early 1966 to see if the discipline/hazing was of merit. Four consecutive classes were treated more like "officer students" following the traditional first month of "Pre-Flight" training. There was a higher graduation rate, but follow on studies of flight records and OER found lower performance indicators.

    A fair amount of slack was given in 1969-71, as the necessary output of 650/month precluded a high drop out rate. Where a WOC would be "eliminated" for a host of disciplinary infractions (e.g. bounced check, late return from pass, too many demerits), the disciplinary eliminations were significantly reduced. Also, more remedial flight and academic training was provided to get bodies through the program. We had students requiring as much as 300 flying hours (syllabus was 210) to make it through by the skin of their teeth. A fair number never progressed beyond co-pilot following graduation, but we needed the seats filled in RVN.

    The current program awards the Warrant after completion of the standard 6 week WOC course used for all Warrant MOS. They then take flight training as WO1.

  11. I would add that my WOC class turned out an unusual crop of fine Aviators and officers. We got off to a hysterically funny start, as we were programmed for 250 WOCs at entry, but the DAC at DA that was the flight School scheduling guru got sick and her stand-in somehow got the impression that she had only issued orders for 100, so in a mad scramble, the stand-in ginned up another 150 candidates from the waiting list and people who would accept an earlier report date. Thus, 405 WOCs showed up for our class. The Pre-Flight Company, an old WWII area was able to be ramped up for 360 or so bodies, so 40 or so had to be left behind for the next class or whatever. We lost another 80 in Pre-Flight due to academic or disciplinary elimination, so we reported to the Flight Company (1950s three story Air Force Dormitory style buildings - 3 to a room) about 280 strong. Day rooms on two floors of each of our two dorms were fitted with bunks to handle the overflow. Within a month, the day rooms were back to their intended purpose, and we were down to about 240 WOCs, as academics, discipline and failure to solo tool their toll. On graduation day, 170 of us were appointed as WOs and received our wings.

    From that band of 170 WO1s, one retired as a BG, 12 as O-6 and a raft as O-5 or O-4, along with many W4's and a disproportionately high number of the early CW5 appointments. Equally distinguished Guard and reserve service was accomplished, and many who chose civilian life became doctors, lawyers and business professionals. We keep in loose contact, and I have always considered myself fortunate to have been part of an unusually fine group.

    In the "small word" category, I had two classmates I knew from the Corps! Not well, but our paths had crossed while we wore the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. We had about 10 former Marines and about the same number of RVN SF veterans in the class, a crowd that banded together quite well. The Corps had sent me to Bragg for the SF Course in 63, and one of the SF guys had been one of my instructors!

    That's it from memory Lane for now.

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