The U.S. military may be a professional war-fighting organization, but it is also filled with people, and people can be very stupid sometimes. That’s why last week, Task & Purpose put out a call for readers to share the dumbest moments they had in uniform. We were not disappointed.
From drunken samurai sword fights to bored forklift drivers, a clear theme emerged: boredom is one step away from a chewing-out by the nearest platoon sergeant.
Marines: 0, Samurai sword: 1
The best example of this is a story that one Marine veteran named Mike Betts sent us about the time he and his buddies got drunk on salty dogs (a cocktail of gin or vodka and grapefruit juice) in Vietnam. One of the Marines pulled out “a cheap samurai sword he got in Japan,” Betts recalled. Our reader then took the sword and, as one does while inebriated, “commenced my best samurai impression, slashing at anything and everything in the hooch.”
You can see where this is going: at some point during the demonstration, our brave Samurai smacked something that loosened the blade and sent it flying from the handle, striking the sword owner in the chest “and inflicting a pretty nasty wound.”
Nobody wants to have to explain that kind of trouble to someone in charge, so our reader and his fellows snuck the wounded Marine past the officer and sergeant on duty that night and “hustled him off to the hospital” before anyone could notice. Luckily, he was “stitched up and pronounced fit for duty,” Betts said.
“Needless to say, I felt terrible about hurting him,” he added.
Nothing can stop the U.S. Air Fork
There is a surprising amount of pride among Air Force forklift drivers on the Air Force subreddit. In fact, one person on Reddit even called for forklift-certified people to “create their own branch of the military since they are the nation’s first defense.”
I have no problem with creating a U.S. Fork Force, but even their essential work has its silly moments. For example, one reader named Henry Hahn told Task & Purpose about how he and his buddies at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas “would pull a person in an office chair with a water ski tow rope and a forklift around the warehouse.”
Dyess is known for its B-1B Lancer bombers, which can carry 75,000 pounds of bombs and fly at speeds up to 900 miles per hour. Meanwhile, our reader was pulling his pals around on a forklift. Who ever said the military was no fun?
At one point, our forklift pilot and his friends really pushed the envelope of their machines. One night, they decided to pick up one forklift with a larger forklift. It somehow worked, and they had just set it back down when one of the new lieutenants walked around the corner, which would have made for a very awkward situation to explain.
“Looking back we’re lucky no one was hurt,” Hahn told Task & Purpose.
Advanced uniform safety in the U.S. Army
If you couldn’t tell already, many of these stories are like the military version of the satirical Darwin Awards, given to individuals who “improve the human gene pool by accidentally removing themselves from it in a spectacular manner,” according to its official website. Another service that Darwin Award winners provide is that they show us what NOT to do if we want to remain happy and healthy, which is basically what the military’s traditional safety brief, or liberty brief as it’s sometimes called, is supposed to do.
The safety brief, as Task & Purpose deputy editor James Clark brilliantly explained, is where a senior leader “tells everybody a bunch of advice on why they shouldn’t ‘drink and [insert poor life choice here].’” One of our readers, an Army veteran named Marion Tinsley, sent us a list of safety messages that I personally did not think had to be spelled out for people. But hey, maybe that’s what I get for never having served. The safety messages include:
- Soldiers could not burn off frays (threads sticking out from their camouflage uniforms), because two soldiers set their uniforms on fire and suffered second and third degree burns while doing so.
- Soldiers were forbidden from ironing their uniforms while wearing them, because several soldiers suffered second degree burns while doing that.
- Soldiers were forbidden from riding floor buffers after a private rode a buffer onto an electrical cord and electrocuted himself to death.
These messages are awful, but hopefully somebody on base learned something from them.
The Combat Operations Center can’t handle Power Rangers
Task & Purpose had the honor of receiving a story from Alex Hollings, a Marine veteran and editor of Sandboxx. Alex told us about a deployment to Africa where he learned that a few of his Marines had never seen the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the 1990s television show that spawned a pop culture phenomenon. Alex took it upon himself to change the situation.
“In the middle of the night, I low-crawled to the [Combat Operations Center] generator and plugged our projector in via a long extension cord,” he said. “With all that stuff to run, surely their [generator] could handle a little Megazord action, right?”
He was wrong, and the entire COC and generator went down. Try explaining that one to the brass.
“Worst of all, nobody got to watch the Power Rangers,” Alex said.
‘I’m glad I don’t drink anymore’
Some of the stories we received were so short they were more like poetry than prose. But what the story below lacks in length, it makes up for in its delivery. Here it is, from a Twitter user with the handle Áńdÿ.
“Got into a food fight with some other troops at the Christmas dinner which resulted in a WWII vet getting hit with a dinner roll… I’m glad I don’t drink anymore.”
The curse of the eviltron
It’s not just enlisted troops who get into hijinks in the military. One Air Force officer who wanted to stay anonymous told Task & Purpose a story involving a small device called an eviltron or an annoyatron. It’s about the size of a quarter, and its sole purpose is to annoy the hell out of your chosen target. All the machine does is replay a sound of your choice every four minutes or so. The thing is, the battery lasts several months, so if you drop the eviltron in some hard-to-reach place like behind a desk or in some out-of-the-way drawer, then your target is stuck with it.
Our Air Force officer made good use of an eviltron while he was a squadron executive officer, or the unit’s second-in-command. He found an eviltron saying “hey can you hear me” and he dropped it behind the commander’s desk before departing on a temporary travel assignment. He left chaos in his wake.
“Two days into it the [first sergeant] texts me to say the boss is tearing apart his office because his computer is talking to him,” our reader said. “By day three it’s even better because now the commander is ignoring it but everyone who comes into his office is confused when they hear ‘hey, can you hear me,’ and then the commander denies that he heard anything.”
“Nobody had a mental breakdown,” the officer went on, “but it was apparently epic that people are hearing this voice in the commander’s office and he denies it.”
The commander never found the eviltron, but our officer fished it out of the hiding spot when he got back. Unfortunately for his colleagues, it wasn’t the last time he used the infernal machine.
“I have had dozens of eviltrons over the years and they end up in all sorts of places,” he said. “We had a guy chasing a cricket in his office for two months with it.”
This efficiency simply can’t survive in the military
There’s an old tenet of Murphy’s law which says “If it’s stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid” which really upset one reader’s first sergeant back in the day. The reader, who goes by the name “RockOrSomething” in the comments section on the Task & Purpose website, had been punished with extra duty over the weekend after he got busted “with a few less-than-artistic magazines in my rack,” he said.
When Saturday came around, Rock’s first sergeant took him to the sheds behind the barracks. Shed A had all of the lawn care equipment, Rock said, while shed B had all of the barracks decorations. The first sergeant said he wanted everything from Shed A moved to Shed B, and everything from Shed B moved to Shed A, then he walked away. I’ll let Rock take it from here:
“I found him 10 minutes later in the cadre office and told him I was done. He jumps up, cussing and screaming, goes outside and sees that I swapped the name plates so now A was B and B was A. He just about had a stroke and told me in very colorful terms to go do something with my life. I was never assigned more extra duty.
Looking back, it was really stupid to tempt fate with a [first sergeant], especially one that was actually mad at me, instead of just mad at life. But it was a beautiful thing to see him chew his lip and get his forehead all twisted over my so-stupid-its-smart solution.”
The rudest awakening
You would think horrifying pranks are a bad idea aboard a military aircraft, but that never stopped Marine aviators from doing them anyway. One reader named Zach Richmond told Task & Purpose about a story his dad, a Marine KC-130 pilot, told him. When a member of his dad’s aircrew fell asleep in flight, the other aviators would tie him or her down, then take all of the parachutes except for one and hide it in the cockpit. They would then open the cargo doors and turn the eject lights on. Chaos ensued.
“The person who was tied down would then believe the plane was going down and that they needed to eject, but they were still tied down,” Zach said. “They would run toward the parachute and then get yanked to the ground by the cargo rope.”
Readers, if I ever say I want to become a Marine aviator, please drop a piano on my head.
The duality of man
This last story was sent in by my deputy editor, Marine veteran James Clark, and it’s just too good not to include. But to understand it, you first have to watch this scene from the classic Vietnam War movie Full Metal Jacket.
During James’ first deployment, his girlfriend (now wife) sent him a peace pin which he wore on his camera gear throughout the deployment.
“Nobody ever had an issue with it, it was just a fun head-nod to Full Metal Jacket since I was a combat correspondent, and like all enlisted public affairs folks, I really wanted to be Private Joker (even though I was probably closer to the dumb boot, Rafter Man),” James said.
James wore the peace pin throughout the workup for his second deployment in Twentynine Palms, California, but he soon found himself in a bizarre example of life imitating art. A regimental sergeant major showed up at a training event, spotted James’ pin, and called him out on it. I’ll let James take it from here:
“What’s that on your flak?”
Naturally, I assumed he was quoting Full Metal Jacket, so I replied: “It’s a peace symbol, Sgt. Maj.”
“Why’s it on your flak, Marine?”
“My girlfriend sent it to me… You know, the whole duality of man, the Yin Yang thing.” (I know it’s Jungian, but at the time I said ‘Yin Yang’)
Partway through my response I started to suspect that I’d misjudged the situation. The other Marines standing behind him, doubling up with laughter should’ve been a clue.
“What the fuck are you talking about, Marine? Take that fucking thing off your goddamn uniform’ was the Sgt Maj’s reply. I gave a quick “roger that, Sgt Maj” then slipped away as fast as possible and spent the next couple of hours hiding out with the 81mm mortar platoon and avoiding people with rank.
The simple fact is that the Department of Defense is an organization made of millions of people with serious and not-so-serious experiences. From fighting with cardboard suits of armor to buying a firetruck for the boys at Camp Lejeune, the dumb stories are often the funny stories, and the funny stories are often the ones best remembered.
Featured image: U.S. Air Force airmen face off before the 24th Annual Cardboard Boat Regatta on the sound of Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 29, 2012. (Air Force photo / Airman First Class Christopher Callaway)