J.E. Holmes

Punished Armorer, A Fallen Grunt


A Bard’s Tale

November 21, 2016

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.



J.E. Holmes

Punished Armorer, A Fallen Grunt

I Used to Grunt: Life in the Armory

October 20, 2016

It is a quiet Saturday morning in the armory cage with an analog Skillcraft clock on the wall, the face of it saying 5 AM. I can hear it ticking away as I brew up a pot of coffee because I’m planning on driving the fuck out of Jacksonville as soon as this platoon turns in their weapons. I take a warm slow sip and I remember that it didn’t used to be like this. I remember the days when the only time I needed to count in the Marine Corps was when I was having to do some super-motivated course of fire under a Lieutenant’s supervision or when I was trying to awkwardly explain my sexual exploits to my platoon. Now I count what feels like thousands of black-matte objects twice a day, the monotony of the experience leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth to accompany the coffee.

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Before I was put into the armory cage with the motivational billet title of Armory Custodian, I was an 0311 – Infantry Rifleman. There’s not much to brag about in this because it was during peace-time and all I really ended up doing on my first deployment was a trip into the Heart of Darkness (Africa) where I stood post for hours on end and then bitched about it on the wi-fi in true Marine Corps fashion. Still, I was motivated about the whole experience and when we came back I was made a team leader for a few months. I saw a few because the armory had an opening and the company needed a human sacrifice. My name popped up, and when I was told by my Staff Sergeant at the time that I was up for being the new custodian, my heart sunk.

I begged and pleaded with every NCO, SNCO, and officer possible to let me keep my team leader billet or at the least keep me in a line platoon. There was no worse fate than being stripped of a title that I wore so proudly then to be promptly forced into a desk job. Sensing that I was desperate to avoid the fate of being stuck in the armory for the rest of my four-year career, the XO (my former platoon commander) himself tried to ease my fears. “Don’t worry,” he said. “This doesn’t mean you’re a bad Marine. We’re actually choosing you because so many people fought to keep you in their platoon.” If his words ring true, then I would have been better served if I had just picked up an extensive drinking habit and let my work performance suffer until they’d chosen another Marine. Nope, instead they stuck my ass in the armory.

You see, when I bitch about being in the armory, understand that there are a lot of super chill things about it. Sometimes I’ll bring in my laptop and literally just play video games while people are sweating their ass off of in hundred degree weather with a ninety-percent humidity rating. I’ve also snuck in a cot one day so that I could sleep in any clime or place, but when you wake up from your armory naps, you usually end up sitting there with this lingering sense of guilt that you’re skating while everyone is suffering constantly. I didn’t sign up to do a POG job, I didn’t want the skate life. I had a 98 ASVAB score, a 136 GT score, and an average size penis which meant that I could have had any job in the military and not feel like any less of a man. Most combat-arms Marines will understand though that you’d rather do it the 03XX way instead of the POG way. I wanted to be in the infantry more than anything, and when I was taken out of it and put in a desk job, my morale sunk.

What really bummed me out for a while is that I have a completely sober idea of what it is like out there in the field. You don’t have this idea of some super radical camping trip where you all get to shoot guns and then go sleep in your sick-ass tent. You know that your friend is going to be sitting there in the cold, soaking wet, waiting for a notional enemy to walk by so he can yell “bang bang”. It’s one thing to go through that with your guys that you’ve been with since you first hit the fleet, it another thing entirely to wake up and be the asshole that turns away your weapon because it has rust on it. You know why its rusty after a five day field op, you know that it makes sense to turn the weapon in and come clean the day after, but you’re also being told that the CO is coming by in the afternoon and that if he finds a single dirty weapon, the whole company will be drawing and won’t get to leave early for the upcoming 96. Sorry bro, you’re weapon is dirty.

The thrilling sensation of regularly being an asshole to people, coupled with the constant counting of similar objects and readings of serial numbers has resulted in what I’ve taken to calling “POG Fatigue”. Your brain starts to get fried from all the mountain of paperwork that you grind through, you can’t wash the smell of carbon off of your hands for some reason, and you’re having to come in on the weekend for the third time in a row because a lone squad of Marines was out in the field. It seemed to confirm my theory that no job in the Marine Corps is truly skate. Everyone thinks that some super POG MOS is going to be the chillest thing ever, but whenever I’ve talked to a POG I always make a point to ask them what sucks about their job and they find plenty of things to bitch about. It’s gay all over, it seems.

I knew it was starting to be too late for me when I was seeing a transformation brought on by the armory cage. Besides a more pale complexion from the lack of sunlight you’re getting, you also will regularly compare the quality of pens and develop a strong opinion on certain brands. G-2 Pens are pretty solid but will bleed easily, so don’t take them out in the rain on your brief hike to the chow hall and back. Zebra pens are the poor-man’s G-2 and should be used sparingly. Skillcraft are okay, mainly because their free and you can hoard twenty of them in your desk. Space pens are just an expensive way of throwing your money in the garbage because they seem to break really easily halfway along the middle. There’s a commercial that sometimes pops up in the on-base theater, where what seems to be a rifle is being assembled in a really close-up view while the Rifleman’s Creed is being spoken. At the end, it’s revealed that it is a pen and that your weapon is actually your vote so you should go register right now. Before I was in the armory, I always laughed at that commercial and joked around that it was a POG weapon alright. Now I can tell you that it is a thinly disguised Zebra Pen, stainless steel, with a 0.7mm tip.

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You know that moment of panic you get when you realize you’ve lost something really expensive? That can happen to you any day in the armory cage. I’ll be counting everything for my closing counts, and realize that I’m coming up short one pistol. Okay, no big deal. I’ll recount maybe two, three, four times until everyone in there agrees that “holy shit, we’re missing a pistol”. Keep it on the down low and then start the frantic search for answers. Sherlock Holmes levels of detective work are sometimes necessary to find out that a weapons card was blown under a cage, or that a broken weapon was taken out today and the armorer’s forgot to give you the paperwork saying “Don’t freak out, we took that shit.” While I’m searching through all the hastily organized paperwork in the cage, flashes of horrors come before my eyes: vehicles being searched by MPs, rooms being thrashed apart fruitlessly, bases on complete shutdown an hour before leave block starts. NCIS will probably rape me in both a literal and a metaphorical sense of the meaning. One small serialized piece of metal can result in so many ruined plans.

It honestly isn’t all that bad though. Since I went in, I’ve been able to work out regularly and get to a better level of physical fitness than when I was in the infantry, which is depressing to think about. With all the excess amount of time that I spend not going in the field, I’ve managed to work on a lot of my hobbies so I can continue to be an eccentric weird guy that sits in his room most of the time, but does it productively! And the chief thing that we all know in our hearts, is that when my roommate goes out to the field, I can strip naked and dick around in that small abode with no worries that the door will swing open and I’ll have to explain to my squad why I’m trying to play the recorder. Plus, that Skillcraft clock keeps steadily ticking on, counting down the days until I EAS.