In Honor of Tank Crews Everywhere
A humorous and timeless window into how Soldiers live and think in the field.
It could be any Service Branch or Any War; but this time Vietnam.
Part 1 (Multi-Part Series): New Loader In School
Hot Zone Near Nui Ba Dinh (Black Virgin Mountain) / Iron Triangle / South Vietnam / August 1971 / G Troop – 2nd Squadron – 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment
Nui Bah Dinh – Black Virgin Mountain
The four-man crew is riding aboard “Buffalo Soldiers”… …a slow, loud, lumbering M551 Sheridan Light Tank in the back of a circular Recon In Force… …with turret rotated to the rear…
M551 Sheridan – Turret Forward Of Course – TC Left / Loader Right
…in the back of the Recon In Force because they have been assigned Rear Guard for this Operation – and are breaking in a new Loader…
…an FNG (as in F’n New Guy)…
“Loader” is an Army-Trained Armor Crewman but knows little about the situation he’s in and is “in school” yet again.
A Loader’s primary job is to load shells on-command into the 152mm Main Gun and keep the .30 caliber COAX machine-gun fed…
…and then secondarily to load, unload, and clean anything and everything in, on, and around the entire tank, assist all crew members with their jobs, and learn to be able to do everything they do… …multitasking in the true sense of the word…
The new Loader used to be a Methodist Choir Boy and dutifully earned an Associates Degree. He had to leave his Choir, Grade School Girlfriend, and Chevy when drafted into the Army seven months ago – and now hates life. He’s been assigned to Buffalo Soldiers, and is scared, nervous, bumbling and clueless. Additionally, he’s just met Sarge, chain smokes, smells like a cow lot, asks dumb questions, and resembles a horse… …but other than that he’s fairly lovable.
* Sarge (Tank Commander), +H Hazy (Gunner), and +B Bill (Driver), have been through a lot together, think alike, and have their CVC (Combat Vehicle Crewman) Helmets switched to Intercom and are on Radio Silence because of the Current Operation.
CVC Helmet w/Intercom Mike
They’ve temporarily hidden = Loader’s CVC Helmet because he talks too damn much… …so Loader wears his standard helmet, can’t usually hear what the crew says over the intercom, and SHOUTS TO BE HEARD while standing in the Loader’s hatch. He’ll get his CVC when he shows signs of actually being able to earn the right to BE a Tank Crew Member on Buffalo Soldiers.
It’s Loader’s first ride… …and the Crew refuses to call him by his real name.
Loader shouts above the noise and dust.
= “THEY SAID I WAS LUCKY TO BE ON “BUFFALO SOLDIERS” SARGE”
* No response from the T.C.’s cupola…
= “THEY SAID I WAS LUCKY… …WHY’D THEY SAY THAT SARGE?”
* No response
* “They hate me.”
* “They hate Hazy and Bill too.”
= “WHAT? CAN’T HEAR WELL. SOMEONE HATES YOU SARGE? WHO HATES YOU SARGE? WHO’S HAZY AND BILL?”
+H+B Chuckling over the intercom… …thinking about the wisdom of Army Recruiters and vindictiveness of First Sergeants…
* “Your Family, Loader”
= “WHAT? HAZY? BILL? FAMILY? WHY YOU CALLIN’ ME ‘LOADER’ SARGE? NAME’S ‘BOULDER’.”
++ “BOULDER !!!” – Outright Laughter over the intercom… …a perfect prophetically-fitting name?
They’re thinking: “Boulder” as in ‘Rock-Headed’ or ‘Fearless’?
+H “And NOW we pause for Boulder’s world-famous rendition of ‘Rock Of Ages’!”
+B “So: Over The Shoulder ‘Boulder’ Loader. You know the correct phrase – but say THAT three times fast instead!”
+H “Classic Bill – can’t make this $#!T up – “Boulder Loader”; could be damn confusing and inconvenient in a firefight though…”
* “You’re the FNG Loader.”
= “WHAT? WHAT YOU TALKIN’ ABOUT SARGE?”
* “You’re the FNG so your name is ‘Loader’ for now.”
= “WHAT’S AN FNG?”
* “You’re not cleared to know that yet Loader.”
= “WHAT? NAME’S ‘BOULDER’ SARGE.”
* “Where you from Loader?”
= “NAME’S ‘BOULDER’ SARGE!”
* “Where you from?”
*++ When that sunk in we pretty much lost it altogether… …and making it even funnier; Loader had no idea what was going on…
…Boulder – Colorado… …God HAS to be Doing Something Profound Here but we’re just not smart enough to figure it out…
…then, more thoughts about Army Recruiters, First Sergeants, and how Big Army’s dysfunctional family might be a plus…
The Crew mildly appreciates Loader despite his looks, smell, nervousness, questions, and shouting – but won’t tell him. If for nothing else, he’s entertaining – which is a big plus in the GAP (God Awful Place) they’re in…
From inside the turret Sarge begins drilling Loader on the Correct Placement of Ammunition as Buffalo Soldiers crawls along.
* “Beehives (152mm main gun shotgun shells) go HERE and NOWHERE Else, HE (high explosive) shells go HERE and NOWHERE Else, .50 Cal Ammo goes HERE and HERE and NOWHERE Else, COAX (.30 Cal) Ammo goes HERE and HERE and NOWHERE Else…
…etc. etc. etc. …NO Questions and NO Debate. Got that Loader?”
= “GOT IT SARGE.”
Schematic of 152mm High Explosive Round
To his credit Loader seems to understand that every crew member on Buffalo Soldiers has to know where everything is all the time – in case “Excrement Occurs” and one of them can’t perform their duty… …and he seems to know that every crew member of every other Sheridan in G Troop has to load everything the same way in case they have to quickly replace any other crew member on any other Sheridan…
Loaders and especially TC’s assure the Correct Placement of Ammo and everything else daily. It’s an annal life-and-death thing.
…NO Questions and NO Debate… …Excrement CAN Occur…
+B “Bothers me Sarge.
* “What Bill?”
+B “‘Bout how you’re tellin’ this story.”
+B “We’re professional reprobates, a lot more dark and profane than you’re lettin’ on, and you haven’t even dropped the F-Bomb.”
* “Doin’ it on purpose.”
“Doin’ it on purpose Bill.”
= (Pearly-White Loader overheard…) “What are F-Bombs? And, where do they go?”
Long Pause as Buffalo Soldiers crosses a small creek.
* “People readin’ this 4 or 5 decades from now will be polarized, judgmental, thin-skinned, sensitive, and ultra-politically correct… …and I don’t want them realizing just how much we’ve evolved into animals… …so am keeping it a little clean.”
+H “You’re an amazing piece of work Sarge.”
* “My job.”
G Troop forms a line 200 meters from a tree line where small arms fire just came from… …then on command the Troop begins lighting it up with everything that’ll fire… …to be sure – a very loud happy moment for Troopers…
Coming On Line
Loader, without the CVC Helmet to muffle the deafening crack of tank canons and roar of machine guns, dives inside the turret after ear plugs – but the mad minute stops and the slow crawl forward resumes before he can even find them and get them in…
When Loader reemerges the tree line had pretty much disappeared and so had the small arms fire. Loader was scared $#!TLess but ammo is free and G Troop had had a lot of fun.
Thats when Sarge notices a stray .50 ammo can wobbling on the back deck of the slow moving Sheridan to his front.
4 Ball / 1 Tracer Linked .50 Caliber Rounds
= No response
= No response – (It had been Loader’s first firefight.. …and not knowing what to expect next – he had put his ear plugs in, had his helmet on, and was cringing low in the loader’s hatch facing away…)
* BLAP – Sarge hit Loader’s helmet top with the fore-barrel of his .45…
M1911 .45 Caliber TC’s Army Issue Handgun
…whereupon Loader calmly took his ear plugs out…
= “What Sarge?” (He was shaking but not shouting for once…)
* “Un-ass yourself Loader and go tell KozmiKunt (name of the other Sheridan) that they have a stray .50 can about to fall off their back deck.”
= “Can’t you just radio them ‘bout that Sarge?”
* No response
+H “Anyone know what Loader’s degree is in?”
* “Human Engineering.”
…More intercom chuckling – though Hazy and Bill don’t exactly know what Sarge means…
* “Its a serious degree Hazy and Bill – and Loader’s not alone – I got one too – its all about communication and the proper methods of making and raising children…
…with regard to the communication part – been practicing my degree since birth…
…with regard to the making children part – been practicing my degree since puberty…
…with regard to the raising children part – been practicing my degree since taking on the full responsibilities of a U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer – especially as in ‘Tank Commander’.”
Hazy and Bill marvel at Sarge’s Quick Polished Army Eloquence, but inconveniently, Loader interrupts…
= “Use the radio Sarge?”
= “Why Sarge?”
* “On radio silence.”
= “Why Sarge?”
* “Because the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment is not in the business of supplying Sir Charles (enemy) with ammunition… …and to give you the excellent opportunity to practice your degree by exercising your personal communication skills in a timely manner with KozmiKunt – SO UN-ASS YOURSELF AND GO DO IT LOADER!”
…yet more intercom laughter…
Hazy and Bill have pretty much concluded that they too are lucky to be on Buffalo Soldiers…
Loader, in a blazing burst of recognition, immediately Un-Assed Buffalo Soldiers – though still moving, and relayed the message. The .50 Can was properly stowed, and Sarge got a nod from KozmiKunt’s TC. Then Bill stopped to let Loader re-ass his position.
Calmness Again. Successfully Re-Assed, Loader was making an effort to keep quiet, stayed focused, and look around as if on guard…
Loader might even graduate all over again if he keeps this up…
Part 2: How Buffalo Soldiers Got Named