Picture this: you’re on day four of a two week long field op out in the harsh deserts of Texas/New Mexico. You’re an inch away from throwing your e-tool at the other boot sitting next to you in the fighting hole. Time is slowing down to a crawl and the ants that you’ve befriended with a couple of Skittles pass you by, leaving you to wallow in your sweaty, filth-covered misery. You knew this would happen though, which is why you brought your secret weapon: a soprano recorder. You bust that bad boy out, put it to your lips, and in just a few notes you accidentally start something that will follow you forever in the infantry.
That was my scenario. I had learned how to play some instruments before I went into the Marine Corps and the recorder was my favorite one to play with because of how cheap, light, and versatile it was (much like your mom). Surprisingly, I found that I was more capable of playing it than a five-year old child and soon began to build up a collection of songs that were readily available if needed. The Shire theme song from Lord of the Rings, some of the Star Wars melodies, Sweet Child of Mine, a couple of Katy Perry classics… It was something I did in the confines of my room when I wasn’t going anywhere that weekend and when my roommate was gone on his usual trip down to Wilmington, so no one had any clue what was going on.
When I had started to play in that fox hole, I thought that only my friend next to me would be the one to hear what I was playing. Apparently the wind carried the tune, because soon word spread through the fire team that “someone is playing a fucking recorder” and with nothing better to discuss while baking in the sun, it then spread to the entire platoon. What followed afterwards was the beginning of a small, silly legend. I had become a literal bard, wandering from fighting hole to fighting hole playing tunes for any and all that would lend me their ears. I was nervous that my platoon sergeant and platoon commander might find some issues with this, but when they found out, they were the biggest supporters of it.
Knowledge of these shenanigans stayed in my platoon until my squad leader made a small suggestion that would put me in the spotlight of the company. We marched out in full kit to stand trial before the eyes of First Sergeant, Gunny, and the CO. When they saw a squad of Marines stop in front of them, turn their way, and stand at attention under the sweltering sun, I don’t think they were expecting to hear the shrill sounds of a recorder belting out the National Anthem followed by the Marine Corps Hymn. Once I had finished my tune, we marched back, keeping our professional demeanor intact until out of eyesight. Laughter erupted from all of us, and I was asked repeatedly if that was my secret to “slaying massive amounts of pussy.”
From then on, that small piece of plastic was on me 24/7. When I had gone down to Pensacola to do a two week field op with a bunch of bearded guys that dressed in cammies and sneakers, the recorder was by my side and in full force. One of their attack dogs didn’t like me playing it too much, but the rest of the team was perfectly fine with it being played, going so far as to have me march around belting out tunes. Of all the cool things we did in those two weeks, I can safely say that somewhere in the SOCOM community, there is a video of me in silkies and full kit blasting away with a recorder.
There was also one time that our unit had gone to the rifle range for our annual qualification. A cease-fire had been called while we were all trying to wait out the rain in the pits. In a stunning display of self-preservation, a lone deer had wandered out onto the firing line. My platoon sergeant seemed to sense an opportunity was in front of him and quickly went into the head coaches area, striking up a lively conversation with him. Soon I heard my name being called up to the center of the pits and I nervously approached, half-afraid and half-hoping that I would be dropped for some minor infraction. My Staff Sergeant was looking at me with a mischievous grin and the announcer motioned me over. The range officer gave a brief introduction over the speakers, hamming it up as best he could, and then let me go to town as usual. By that time, I had learned how to play the entirety of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball so I started with that, followed up with a rendition of the Skyrim opening theme, and knocked it out of the park with the Jurassic Park theme song. I felt a wave of amusement wash over me when I stepped out of the booth to a small applause. This instrument made everything it touched too ridiculous to take seriously.
Even on my excuse of a deployment, it found a place. We were training with a group of Spanish Paratroopers and found ourselves done for the day, waiting on transportation to take us back to their barracks. I had no knowledge of the language, so I was at an unfortunate disadvantage when it came to communicating with them. Boredom soon came over me and like I had done so many times before, I pulled out the recorder and quietly played some tunes while gazing at the stars from the Spanish’s point of view. A quiet peace came over us, followed by laughter when they found out it was a recorder of all things. Once that training had finished up, we all had a combined warriors night where we swapped rations and all sat down as men cut from the same cloth, regardless of our country of origin. Many jokes were told at that table, but the biggest one was a small moment where the CO of the Spaniards was intensely focused on his phone conversation. The troopers motioned for me to come over and play some tunes into the cellular device, and erupted in applause when I did. My platoon commander looked over in embarrassment and motioned me back over. Apparently, he was talking to a high-ranking government official. It’s not the equivalent to setting the USS Maine on fire while docked, but a small part of me would have been amused had that been the grounds for an international incident.
It’s final moment of glory was at ITX out in 29 Palms, where it made two prominent appearances. The first was when the entire company was awaiting orders to begin another one of the training exercises. We were in a soccer field of sorts, it had just finished raining much to our disgust and most of us had brought no rain gear to speak of. Once we came out of hiding and things had dried off, someone suggested that I pull out the recorder and cheer up the company. It took a lot of coaxing, but I reluctantly agreed to it. I went through my entire book of songs, ranging from patriotic Civil War hymns to half-baked pop songs that worm their way into your ears. The eyes of the unit were upon me, and the new chain of command soon realized what laid before them: an untapped source of motivation that laid dormant, waiting to be uncovered.
The final day of the MOUT operation had come and soon passed into the final night, with everyone expecting to get their notional shit notionally fucked up. We were all on full alert, holding down our respective sectors in anticipation of some notional enemy. The mixture of tobacco and caffeine was wearing off for most of the Marines in our company, replaced by a realization that the Coyotes had all gone home for the night and wouldn’t be conducting any attacks. A call for my name came from down the lines, and a rifle took my place in the window as I rushed over to the COC. The company Gunny then asked me “Do you have it on you?” I knew what he meant. I climbed up to the rooftop of that squat, two-story excuse of a building and shielded the mouthpiece from the wind while I played a few songs. I’ve gotten a couple of comments on how that night went for most of the Marines, with them usually saying they thought it was a sign of incoming attack until they heard the Hymn being played. To my amazement, this somehow produced a feeling of motivation among the ranks. It’s the least I could do.
For now, the recorder has been retired in the armory cage. I serialized one of them and produced a couple of weapons cards with the hope that some war-fighter would take on the mantle and become the new bard of our company, but none have stepped up to this day. I don’t blame them either, because if I had to do it all over again, I’d probably just learn how to play the harmonica like an adult. At least then people wouldn’t make those “skin flute” jokes.