Turning Blue

That was the Place. At Harmony Church, Ft. Benning GA. 1981

NOTE: EACH BRANCH OF THE US ARMY HAS IT’S OWN DESIGNATED COLOR AND INSIGNIA. THE INFANTRY BRANCH, WHICH IS THE OLDEST BRANCH OF THE ARMY, IS IDENTIFIED BY A LIGHT BLUE ROPE WORN ON THE RIGHT SHOULDER OF THE DRESS UNIFORM OF ANY SOLDER WHO IS A QUALIFIED, SCHOOL TRAINED INFANTRYMAN, WHILE SERVING IN AN INFANTRY UNIT. THE INFANTRYMAN ALSO WEARS AN INFANTRY BLUE DISK BACKING TO HIS COLLAR AND HAT BRASS WHICH IS REFERRED TO AS DISTINCTIVE INFANTRY INSIGNIA .THE ARMY WISHES TO IDENTIFY INFANTRYMEN FROM OTHER SOLDIERS DUE TO ITS MISSION, WHICH IS SIMPLY TO CLOSE WITH AND DESTROY THE ENEMY, AND THE UNIQUE HARDSHIPS AND HAZARDS THAT THE COMBAT INFANTRYMAN MUST ENDURE IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH ITS MISSION. THE INFANTRY IS CALLED THE QUEEN OF BATTLE, REFERRING TO THE PIECE OF THE CHESS SET, THE ONE PIECE THAT CAN MOVE OR STRIKE IN ANY DIRECTION, AT ANY DISTANCE, THEREFORE THE MOST LETHAL WEAPON ON THE CHESS BOARD. INFANTRYMEN OFTEN REFER TO THEMSELVES AND EACH OTHER AS BROTHERS OF THE BLUE CORD, OR OFTEN, JUST SIMPLY BLUE, AS IN INFANTRY BLUE. WHAT FOLLOWS IS MY SHORT STORY ABOUT MY TIME   ATTENDING BASIC AND INFANTRY TRAINING AT FT. BENNING GA. IT IS TRUE, AND THE NAMES ARE REAL. Ft. Benning, Ga. Early August 1981. 

Hot, Hot, Hot. Tough week. Tougher than most weeks, all of which were tough for me. Very little sleep. Drills crawling all over and around us, around the clock. We are exhausted. When the hell do they sleep? Bravo Company is humping down the road from one training site to another. On the left, a river. Perhaps the Chattahoochee? Don’t know if we are in Georgia or Alabama. Doesn’t really matter. Miserable as an infantryman can be. No one could possibly know just how miserable and painful that can be unless you humped a full combat load from point A to point B without rest or sleep, in  searing humid temps, always around 100 degrees. It’s always either too hot or too cold, they say. Every part of my body that came in contact with a strap or piece of equipment was on fire, chaffed and / or bleeding. Drill Sergeants are like sharks  hovering all around us, pouncing upon the weak, and those who can’t keep up this blistering pace. To be fair, the Drills are also humping, carrying a load, running around us like crazy men but without rifles. Suddenly, the company is slowed on the road. We are ordered to get into step. Drill starts calling cadence. It’s an administrative march now, no longer tactical. 

Quick time, MARCH!

Left Flank, MARCH!

We execute. We do so sharply and without thinking about it. Automatically, as if we were robots. But robots don’t feel pain. As miserable as we were, we were coming together. The Drill Sergeants were our common enemies this week in particular. We were focused on showing them up. Or, at least showing them we could hang. We hated it, but we were going to show them we could take whatever they dished out. Fuck ‘em, one and all. We were past the point where the Drill Sergeants and their Campaign hats, which they wore with their brims tilted forward at a menacing angle, covering their foreheads, impressed us. 

No Sir. Those days were gone. We long ago reached the point to where our Drills had to earn our respect. However, what we did clearly understand is that the Drill Sergeants still had the ability to make our lives miserable, even painful. However, we were at a point where we almost didn’t care. Almost…  

Yo(ur) Left, Yo(ur) Left, Yo(ur) Left Right… the drill sergeant barks out, in a soulful kind of cadence.

BRAVO! “ we respond in unison. Each time the drill sings “right”  we scream BRAVO at the top of our lungs, as tired as we were. For not doing so would demonstrate a lack of motivation and we would be immediately stopped and motivational physical training would be administered to help “motivate” us to a proper level. We learned it was better to feign motivation and expend energy sounding off, than to be punished for not demonstrating it to the Drills’ satisfaction. 

Problem is we are only a few yards from the river. We continue to march off the road down into the river. Trying to stay in step while getting deeper into the river. What a foolish and strange sight it must have been. We may not be the toughest soldiers yet, but we are disciplined enough to know that we are to continue to march, and dare not question the fact that our Drill is marching us into the river. It would be no different if we were being marched off of a cliff. 

For a fleeting moment, I became somewhat alarmed with the fact that I do not know how to swim. I could not swim if I were naked, nor if my life depended on it, so I sure as hell couldn’t swim carrying a full combat load. My instincts told me that, no, they wouldn’t purposely drown any of us. But still, these guys have made me believe that their idea of sane and crazy, and the very thin line that separates the two, are somewhat different then how you and I may view the issue. 

Our Drill Sergeants never did instill in me the idea that, as hard core as they were, they were only interested in our well being and the ability to facilitate our transition from civilian to soldier. Something the Army calls the “soldierization process”. 

In all actuality, the message I got from them was that we, the trainees, were some disgusting life form that they were forced to contend with, sometimes toy with, but always make our lives as miserable as possible as we struggled to master the lifestyle and basic skills to transform us from civilians to soldiers. 

As we marched forward, well into the river, my past, my recent past, flashed through my mind. Kind of what a dying man is supposed to experience when he is about to die. Or so I’ve always heard. “No, no! I really can’t swim!” I silently protested as we marched forward. Always forward. Never back.  

The first days at our Company Area. New grass had been planted and we were instructed by our Drill Sergeants to talk to the grass each time we passed by, in either direction, coming or going. The directive was clear, our first mission as new members of the United States Army was to persuade the grass to grow. That, along with moving piles of rocks from one side of the company street to the other, for no apparent reason. Personally, I thought the rocks looked fine where they were. 

As a result, the first week or two one could see as many as 240 new soldiers stopping at the area which was newly seeded, and in sing song voices, imploring and with somewhat incredulous voices trying to convince the grass to grow: “come on grass” or “please grass, grow, please grow,” all under the stern watchful eyes of whichever Drill Sergeants happened to be present. Once satisfied, the Drill Sergeant would then order us to move on, or, if he wasn’t satisfied he would reward us with additional motivational physical training. This motivational “PT” could come in many variations. Pushups, Body Twists, the Lunger, or worse of all, the Low Crawl. Today, there are less than 140 or so of us left in Bravo company. Just like each of us individually, Bravo company has trimmed down quite a bit. Bravo-8-2, like those of us who remained was becoming lean and hard. 

So, back in the middle of the river, and after brief consideration, although I knew they were all crazy, I thought, no, even they wouldn’t drown any of us. I don’t think. At least not purposely…     

We advance to just about to the middle of the river. Not quite the middle. Thankfully, we are halted before we go any farther. Locked up, in formation, at attention, we wait further instructions. Cannot imagine what’s coming next. We’ve learned to expect anything, with a cynical and healthy fear of what may come next. What could this possibly be about? Certainly can’t be anything good. Surely they are about to mete out some tried and true method of punishing us which we have not experienced previously. As long as they can say whatever form of torture they decide to inflict on us has training value, it will conform to Army standards and regulations. This was especially true here at the Infantry School. For the life of me, I don’t know what we have done to deserve whatever is coming…

We halt. Streams of sweat roll down onto my face, down my neck and back, and into my eyes. Stinging, salty, and running like a faucet, it makes my eyes burn. I dare not blink, much less wipe the sweat away, for I am at the position of attention. The slightest movement will draw unwanted attention to me. So I suffer these little discomforts, which, as they fall upon me and accost me, make me indescribably miserable, which is actually the norm, more often than not.  

All is quiet. We are still. The river flows in a direction to our left. The cool, muddy water swirls around my knees and thighs. It is actually the only sound I can hear. On the opposite bank of the river, I see the red clay, which is indigenous to this part of the world. Have to watch out for Jake the Snake. Jake is aways around. Watch out for Jake the Snake we were told when we arrived a few months back. 

While standing in the river, sure enough, almost as if on cue, Jake swims by the formation, in front of us. All snakes are named Jake. It’s an Army thing. What if it’s a female snake?… I wonder, deep in intellectual meditation. Maybe the heat is getting to my brain. Is his name still Jake? If he’s a her? Jake moves in kind of a combination of floating and at the same time slithering through the water. If our presence is of any concern to Jake, he doesn’t show it. He just moves on by. Very leisurely. If we moved in such a relaxed fashion, there would be low crawls through the mud or red clay, preceded and followed by pushups on hot asphalt that would literally burn our hands. Could never walk in the company area. Always had to double time. No, we learned that painful lesson early on, even before we were instructed to talk to the grass. “Move like lightning, sound like thunder”. It wasn’t just a motto, it was a way of life, the only way to survive here. 

As I continue to watch Jake float by, I can see he’s decided that there is need to involve himself in some outrageous adventure with this collection of idiots. It’s too hot. Even in the river. Jake the Snake glides down river, out of sight, fortunately without showing even a hint of interest in the rest of us. 

Still waiting, in the middle of the river, for the other shoe to drop.  

As I await the next adventure, my mind slips back and recalls a hot night when we were bivouacked near a river. Possibly the same river. We were allowed to swim. Jake stopped by. Not the same Jake, as you will see, however when he appeared, we scattered. Seeing the privates scatter, one of our Drills investigates. He heads directly towards the snake, who didn’t have enough sense to leave the area. The Drill then grabs Jake, held him up for all to see, and then bites him in half. Our Drill Sergeants would never let an opportunity as fortuitous as this pass by. Another chance for them during which they would be able to demonstrate to us that there was no limits to their insanity. Regardless, adult swim was over that evening. At least it was for most of us northern city boys. 

I try to keep my eyes locked and focused on some point in front of me. But I can’t resist watching Jake the Snake pass by. I almost envy him. Thankfully, none of the Drills notice my eyes following him while at the position of attention. 

While I was awaiting our fate, I continued to obsess over the fact that nothing good could come of this situation. My mind wanders back to another time, after we first arrived at the Ft. Benning School for boys, in a rare moment of pity, one of my drills informed us that they could not kill us, and they could not eat us, so, we really don’t have anything to worry about.

What we learned since then, was that as encouraging as that assurance was at the time it was given, the boundaries in between killing and eating us were pretty wide. Our cadre were experts in making us miserable. They told us on arrival that we would shortly hate them, and they didn’t care that we did. They had a job to do, and we will be worthless trainees until after we depart Ft. Benning. They weren’t physically abusive, that is to say that they never laid a hand on us. But, at times, I would have preferred an occasional moderate beating to what passed as the norm for existence here. So, what was this? What’s next I wondered. Absolutely nothing could surprise me. 

As I stood in the river, I heard a soft splashing noise coming from up river, to our right. It got louder and louder as who ever was stomping though the river became closer. “Here it comes” I thought. Around the bend he came. Shit, it was the Company Commander. Bad news, I am sure. Actually marching though the river. Not walking, but marching. 

Marching perfectly, or as perfectly as he could in knee deep water. He wore his usual scowl on his face or at least on the part of his face that showed from beneath his helmet, which was always tilted forward. Definitely moving with a purpose, on he came, approaching our strange, waterborne formation, unlike Jake. Our Guidon Bearer is standing in front of our formation, with the Senior Drill in front. 

The company commander  and the rest of the cadre wore camouflaged covers over their steel pots. The helmet covers fit tightly, without a crease or wrinkle. Perfect. We were not allowed to wear helmet covers on our steel pots until later during basic training. Our helmets were Olive Drab (OD) green, with our roster numbers (not names) stenciled upon a piece of tape fixed to the back of our helmets. Roster number 143. I remember the day we made the tape and placed it on our helmets and helmet liners. Another simple project, made so bad in a way that only the US Army could turn a seeming simple task into a major exercise with a lot of motivational PT mixed in for good measure. “Attention to detail” we were told, time and time again. 

“What’s wrong with y’all” “It’s a simple enough task!” Instructions were simple. So many inches wide, numbers such and such a height. We thought we were done. But then the drills showed up, each with a ruler. They measured each piece of tape. Each numeral. Where it was located on each helmet. Top to bottom, left to right. 240 helmets until roster numbers were identical in appearance and placement. Each measured time and time again until they were satisfied that every piece of tape was placed correctly. 

FFSI they barked out time and time again as corrections were made. Failure to Follow Simple Instructions. FFSI. 

We were not allowed to place camouflage helmet covers on our helmets until we earned that privilege. Later I found out that the only way to achieve perfection placing the helmet cover on one’s steel pot was first soak the cover, then place it on the helmet, pulling it tight in all directions, as tight as humanly possible, and then placing the helmet with cover within a heated oven, and actually baking it. The only acceptable way to wear the helmet and required cover in a garrison environment. Only in the Army could these seemingly mundane tasks turn into major, labor and time consuming projects.

Here comes Good Old Captain Schroeder. We are never happy to see him. He is an Infantry Officer, Expert Infantry Badge, Airborne Wings, Ranger Patch, who knows what else. If we were a nuisance to our Drill Sergeants, we were a wretched group of subhumans to him, so he made us believe. 

I remembered his introduction to us shortly after we arrived. I had already questioned the wisdom, or lack of it that I displayed by joining the Army. But they really hadn’t done too much to us up until that point. Not compared with what was to come. Still though, I knew I was in a bad way. 

I thought back to my recruiter’s office, Quincy (Massachusetts) Square, 1980. Sergeant Matthews was my recruiter. He showed me films about different job opportunities (MOS) within the Army. 

Me: “I want to go Infantry.”

Him:“No, you don’t.”

Me: “Yes, I do.”

“Listen, Marty, there are some nice slots available. I can get you a slot as a Dental Assistant. Maybe after a few years you can go to school. Maybe even dental school, at the Army’s expense.”

“Hey-ell no. I’m going Infantry!”

“Listen to me.” Almost pleading.  

“You are smart. You can do almost anything. You Do not want to go Infantry! I can assure you.” 

“I want Infantry.” Well I got it. It didn’t take me long to begin to think SGT. Matthews may have been correct. 

My mind continues to wander. We are in a large WWII era classroom for our official Battalion Orientation. If it was 100 degrees outside, it was 120 inside. Bravo Company, 8th Battalion, Second Infantry Training Brigade. Sounds exciting. I am really here. Except I am 26 years old, out of shape, overweight and very homesick. I miss my family. Might as well have been on the moon. 

Senior Drill, SFC Bobo gets on stage. Starts to talk to us, then goes on and on about I don’t remember what. What I do remember is that whatever he was saying, it didn’t make me feel any better. As the training cycle went on, Drill Sergeant Bobo, was the most calm, collected and quiet Drill in the company. Didn’t often raise his voice. 

While the other drills screamed at us, cursed us and punished us, (low crawling our asses was the preferred motivational tool of the Bravo Company Cadre) Bobo never lost his cool. All of which made him the most dangerous member of the cadre. We made sure not to piss him off, at any cost. We failed often. 

Our Company Commander arrives. Bobo leaves. CPT. Schroeder is his name. Marches into the classroom. Jumps up on the stage, introduces himself. Then makes the following pronouncement:

‘Nobody asked you to come here. Nobody wanted you here. You volunteered to come here. You want to go home? The quickest way to go home is to keep your eyes open, your fucking mouth shut, do what your drill instructors tell you to do, when they tell you to do it. Then you can go home if and when you graduate’. I took that advice (or threat) to heart.

Next up, the Battalion Chaplain. He marches in. Down the aisle. As though it was a parade field. Boots like mirrors, Airborne Ranger insignia, etc. Jumps onto the stage. Tells us he doesn’t want any of us sons of bitches crying to him about going home or what the drills are doing to us. He then told the Drill Sergeants present to keep doing whatever it was that they were doing to us. Keep our mouths shut and learn. No sympathy from him. No words of encouragement. 

During the months that followed, the Chaplain, who I learned was a Southern Baptist Minister, not that it mattered, did provide some encouragement. However, it was encouragement of an unexpected kind. He would accompany us to the ranges. He would run around, demanding we knock down our targets. “Kill the Sons of Bitches” he would roar. This man of God was demanding we learn to kill, kill, kill. Everything in this world was twisted around. At least it appeared so to me. 

I knew then, at that exact moment, when the Chapalin made his appearance, I had made a serious mistake. Even before he opened his mouth. A mistake I could not get out of. As if to emphasize the point, we were then marched out of the classroom. As we exited the classroom, into the sun, we were all hosed down and soaked by Drills with firehoses. Everything inside of our pockets was ruined. Any letters, papers, booklets issued etc. All disintegrated from being soaked. 

The Captain gets closer, slogging through the river. My mind continues to wander. Six weeks after orientation. Standing in formation outside of our barracks. Saturday morning at Harmony Church. First inspection wearing our dress greens and with weapon. Very bare dress greens I might add. 

Except for our Platoon Guide. Sam Deviore was from San Fransisco. Served in Viet Nam. 1965. 1st Calvary Division. For some reason, he decided to rejoin the Army. This is the first time I have seen him in Greens. He was allowed to wear his awards during this inspection. Highly decorated. Wore the Combat Infantryman’s Badge among others. I was 26 at the time, Mack and Sam were older than me. 

Mack was the 1st Squad Leader. Don’t remember his first name. Also a Vietnam Vet. Served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, if I remember correctly. Also wore the Combat Infantry Badge and Jump Wings. He also decided to come back to the Army in 1981. The sad joke was, although Mack and Sam were more decorated than some of the Drills, Uncle Sam made them repeat basic, and infantry school. Both combat veterans, both seasoned infantrymen. Sam, as platoon guide, sure did a lot of pushups for my mistakes. All of our mistakes. For that, I always felt badly.

One thing though. We had all received or would receive bonuses for signing up. Don’t remember how much, I think it was a few thousand dollars disbursed to us in increments over the next six years. When Mack joined, his recruiter never told him he was eligible for this bonus. Mack spent much of our time at Ft. Benning swearing that the first thing he was going to do when he left was track down his recruiter and kill him. After a while, I began to believe him. I especially believed him on days like today. 

CPT. Schroeder is conducting the inspection. I was learning to dislike the captain. Misery seemed to follow him around. Misery he liberally issued out to us like so much equipment or chow. He always seemed to have a case of the ass for us, and always brought bad shit down onto us. 

Except, there was one thing. Everything we were required to do, he did. He led the way. Out in front of the Drill Sergeants even. And, the ultimate insult. Everything we were required to do, he did it better. Made us hate him even more. But then, as time went on, I grudgingly and slowly started to respect the man. As tough as he was on us, he never asked us to do anything he himself would not do. And, he would do it much better.  We learned to dislike him. But, the more we disliked him, the more we tried to perform to earn his respect. Same went for the Drill Sergeants. An early lesson in my career about leadership. Why had earning their respect become more important to us as time went by?      

The Senior Drill and Captain finish verbally eviscerating the soldier to my right. A moment before, he was standing tall and proud. After they got through inspecting him, he was turned into something that reminded me of a quivering slice of cranberry sauce at the dinner table, as it waits to be consumed. 

They execute a perfect column right, from the halt, as in marching. March to my front, halt, then execute a perfect left face. Lock step. Both of them. A beautiful thing to behold. What ever else they were, these were sharp, motivated and disciplined soldiers. For a moment, I was proud to be in their company. Of, course that moment was fleeting.

Inspection, ARMS!  

I conducted the movement as taught. The Captain (C.O.) grabbed my M-16. His arm came out of nowhere, from somewhere outside of my peripheral vision. He snatched the weapon away from me with surprising speed that caught me off guard. He then scrutinized the weapon. Spun it around. Pulled it close to his face. Examined every inch of it. His movements were precise, exaggerated and sharp. He then thrust the weapon back towards my face. I had to move quick to receive it without being knocked on my back and losing teeth. I had worked on and polished that rifle for hours that day. I swear the black color was coming off of it. Then he started on me. 

What was wrong with me? 

How could I have been here for six weeks and not learn anything?

I am actually regressing! 

How could I hand him this filthy, dirty thing for his inspection? 

Why am I still here? 

How could I ruin a piece of taxpayers property like this? 

He then told me he had something for me, not explaining what it was he had, but I knew it wasn’t good.  

He then inspected my person and uniform. Yelled out one deficiency after another in an annoyed manner, as the Senior Drill took copious notes of my shortcomings and failures. 

The CO was embarrassed for me. He was embarrassed for the Army.

What was left for me? 

What was left for him to do? 

He and the Cadre had done their best. 

How much more time could he waste on me? 

How much perfectly good food would he be forced to allow me to eat?

It was a waste of the taxpayers money.  

Who was my recruiter? 

What did the CO ever do to my recruiter that he would send someone like me to him?

I wanted to tell him ‘No shit. My recruiter did try to talk me out of it’. I didn’t. 

Is it possible that I was an agent of the Ayatollah Khomeini sent to disrupt the United States Army? 

Did the Iranians send me? 

During this time, while making notes on my many deficiencies, the Senior Drill glared at me from under his campaign hat, his eyes drilling into my face while I tried to swallow and keep my composure.  

Then he discovered it. One glaring, outrageous deficiency. He appeared genuinely offended and disgusted. 

Nasal Hair Protruding from the left nostril! “

Unbelievable! 

This brought the inspection to a complete halt. “In-FUCKING-credible”, so said the Commander.

The CO  was shocked. Drills seemed to wring their hands together with indecision and disbelief. How could this happen? Who is to blame for this abomination? What is wrong with Swirko? How could he have missed such a thing. The presence of this protruding nasal hair was treated as the ultimate insult towards the cadre, which had nurtured and cared for me as they tried to bring me into the fold these last several weeks, without success they added.  

I was ordered to double time to the latrine and remove it. Immediately. No scissors or tweezers. To provide motivation for me, as I broke ranks, the company was placed into the front leaning rest position, otherwise known as the push-up position. There they remained until my return, minus one offending nose hair. 

Inside the latrine. Nasal hair? Where? Oh, OK. I think I see something sticking out. Barely. Tried to grab it with thumb and forefinger. Several times. Fingernails cut short, immaculately groomed. Grabbing the tiny hair and pulling it out was almost impossible. Drill Sergeants cursing me outside, telling me to go ahead, take my time. Continue to waste their daylight, they advised me. I never heard my name being used in conjunction with such foul and obscene oaths and descriptions in my entire life. Not even at Quincy Point Junior High.   

I also knew that by then, my company was pretty pissed at me as they sweat it out waiting for my return in the hot Georgia sun.

Finally, after much frustration, with sweat pouring down my face, I got hold of it, no easy task with my recently clipped and cleaned fingernails. I yanked it out. It hurt. Back out to formation. My green dress shirt under my jacket was now soaked with sweat. 

We were now told how miserable we performed. Why do we not work together? Why are we so slovenly and undisciplined? How did they inherit such a group of scumbags, they lamented, clearly feeling sorry for themselves. OK Bravo Company. One hour. Correct all deficiencies and stand another inspection. Back to square one. Almost. 

Later that afternoon, they loaded us onto buses. The buses took us to a minor league baseball game in Downtown Columbus. Watching the game was actually enjoyable. We forgot our miseries for a short time. But, like all good things, the two hours or so it took to enjoy the game had slipped past quickly, almost unnoticed. Game over. “On your feet” one of the drills bellows. We react and execute. “Police Call,” orders the Drill. The entire stadium. Lined us up at the top, side to side, in back of the seats. 

“Move out!” 

“Pick up anything that isn’t growing”

As though something would be growing out of these concrete steps. Once the management of the stadium realized what a good deal this was they made sure we got trash bags to help us with our endeavor. Or was that the plan from the beginning? 

Worked our way down through all the rows of seats. Step by step, row by row, seat by seat. No wonder the team allowed us to come watch the game. Picked up all the trash. 

After that was complete, we are in formation in the parking lot. Buses waiting. Civilians nearby, watching, taking it all in.   

“Open Ranks, MARCH!

Half Right, FACE!

The Eight Count Pushup!”

In fucking credible I think, as the anger wells up, boiling to the surface.They just never quit. Don’t they ever tire of being pricks? 

We respond. 

The eight count push up! “

After a while, we get relief.

Position of Attention, MOVE!”

More PT Sergeant, more PT. We like it. We love it. We want more of it. Make it hurt drill sergeant make it hurt”  (clap hands twice) was the required response, then snap to attention.

Had to ask them to smoke us! If we did not, they’d punish us even more! 

The civilians who stopped to watch love it. They are eating it up. 

My mind snaps to. Back in the river. Water from the river continues to rush by. The Captain is getting closer. But, I continue, thinking back to the day we went to the baseball game. 

The Drill Sergeants finally seem to have had enough. Mercifully, they allow us to board the bus. On the bus heading back to the base. We all are pretty pissed off at this time and are not happy campers, no pun intended. Threats to harm specific Drill Sergeants abound and are uttered throughout the ride. 

We arrive at our barracks. Maybe about 11 PM. We find two shiny, new trash cans in front of the entrance to the barracks. Each packed with ice. One is filled with soda, the other filled with beer. The Senior Drill informs us we can each take and drink two cans, any combination of beer or soda we wish. Told us first call would not be until 0700 next morning. 0600 if we wanted to eat breakfast. But it was up to us. No PT in the morning and first formation, for church, was at 0900. If we wanted to attend. Unbelievable! Sleeping in! Is there a mistake? 

Sat on the bleachers and drank our beer / soda and the Drills went away.  It was the best beer I ever had. All is forgiven. For the moment, anyway. The Drills really aren’t that bad. That are trying to teach us. Mostly, they are trying to make us hard. Maybe we will make it through after all. Small gesture by the Drills. Huge morale lifter for the troops. The next morning, training did not begin until noon!  

The following Monday, CPT. Schroeder conducted and led PT. I thought I was going to die. Training got worse, and more difficult. The drills turned the screws tighter and the temperature up, which we would have though impossible. Back to business. No the Captain says, from here on out we were going to get serious about training. The previous six weeks were a cake walk. So he says. 

Back to the river. That weekend seems so long ago. So, here he comes. CPT Schroeder halts in front of the company. Faces it. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he has in his possession an Infantry Blue streamer. He unceremoniously affixes it to our guidon. Then he announces, without fanfare or congratulations, that the members of Bravo company were now fully qualified Infantry soldiers. We had officially turned blue. Infantry Blue. The only shade of blue that mattered.

“About FACE!”

“Forward, MARCH!”

Out of the river, awkwardly we stepped, trying to remain in step, together, with our squishy boots filled with water, we pressed forward, up and out of the river, onto the road. 

“Left flank, MARCH!”

On dry land once again. We execute. We get into step. Once again, Captain Schroeder in the lead.  

“Double TIME, MARCH!”

Here we go again. Is there no end to this?  

Captain turns to face us, running backwards for the moment. He them pumps his fist up and down, into the air several times, the signal to increase speed. He faces front. We are off again. He then leads us on another hell run. But, the CO was in the lead, and, as usual, we had to struggle and work hard to keep up with him as the sun scorched us. 

Didn’t matter. The prick. “Go for it Captain” I thought as he increased the pace. I was feeling a mixture of bitterness and stubborn pride at the same time. You can’t shake us off anymore, I silently declared to myself. You can’t scare us anymore and we can hang despite your best efforts. We are not anything like the nervous, sweaty homesick youngsters that were in your classroom that day during the first week we arrived. I grudgingly came to conclude that perhaps this was due in no small part to Captain Schroeder, Sergeants Bobo, Morris, Lawrence and the rest. Like we were taught to say, “fuck it and drive on!” You can’t do anything to us anymore. Bring on your best. We are mentally and physically tough, and we are starting to realize it. We are becoming hardcore. We are soldiers. We are something beyond ordinary soldiers. We are ground pounders. We are blue now. INFANTRY BLUE.

Some Friend…

Some Friend You Turned Out To Be…

As some of you who know me may know, I worked for a chain of convenience / dairy store called Cumberland Farms for three years after I got out of high school. That would have been from 1973-1976. Cumberland, which still exists today up here in the Northeast, had something like 1800 stores in New England / NY / NJ area and more in Florida at the time. 

I worked mostly in their inner city Boston stores during my three years with them, occasionally working at saner stores just outside of Boston. At some point in 1974, I became the manager of one of their stores located in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood, a bit poor and blue collar / working class on the Southwest side of the city. 

One problem I had to confront was that the convenience stores in the area, which became known as Stop and Robs, were getting held up all the time, and my store was no exception. There were several other Cumberlands in the nearby area, as well as competitors such as White Hen Pantry and Li’L Peach stores. We were all regularly being clobbered with armed robberies. It was so bad that the Manager of a nearby Cumberland, also in Roslindale was shot and killed during a hold up on Christmas Eve Day. Also during that time period a customer in the Cumberland Farms in the nearby town of Dedham was shot dead during a hold up. He walked into the store during a hold up with the intention to buy some model airplane glue to use with his son on a model at home. Wrong place at the wrong time. As for me, I was an unfortunate veteran of a few armed robberies by that time, including the two that I have previously wrote about on this site. 

The Boston Police Department was under a lot of pressure to take action to curb these robberies. They came up with a solution. The old Tactical Patrol Force (TPF) was a special city-wide unit within the BPD. They were the department’s ass-kickers, and sent in to tackle problems and stop the bleeding (figuratively and literally) in high crime neighborhoods. Not long after this event, they were disbanded due to their reputation of being a bit heavy handed, if you know what I mean. 

The TPF came up with a solution. It was an alarm system. They selected convenience and Mom and Pop type stores in a close, geographical area that had been targets of robberies. They placed them in the stores at no charge, with the consent of the owners. The alarm had a clip which was placed into the $20.00 bill slot in the cash register, and a $20.00 bill placed into it. If the bill was pulled out, the two metal clamps would make contact, which signaled a hold up alarm. It was transmitted out of the store electronically through a flat antenna, which was inconspicuously placed near the register on the wall. It was unremarkable and unnoticeable to even the most experienced stick up man. No buttons to press or step on. When the robber ordered you to give him the twenties, once you complied it set off a silent alarm. Remember, this was back in 1974. 

What was unique about this alarm was, that is tied into an alarm console which was placed in the back seat of an unmarked TPF cruiser, which was assigned to patrol the immediate area. The alarm didn’t go to an alarm company, or to a police district. It went right to a couple of well armed plainclothes officers that were usually nearby. So, in addition to the alarm consul in the unmarked cruisers, the cars themselves became virtual war wagons, with well armed policemen to confront and deal with these stick up artists who were often violent. 

The system began to pay dividends immediately. Sometimes alarms came in when the TPF car was just too far away, but other times they got alarms while they near by the hold up and they started to make several apprehensions at the scene. I myself was robbed four times in this store, and on two of those occasions the police made arrests on the spot. Those are all separate stories in themselves, possibly for another time. 

I grew up with a kid from my Quincy Point neighborhood named Mark. We were very close friends he and his family eventually moved to a quiet town, south of Boston. However, we stayed good friends and he worked a full time job just north of Boston. I don’t remember which of us came up with this bright idea first, but, I had a need to hire a couple of part time people, including one I could trust to work a few evenings a week and close and lock up the store. I had the brilliant thought that Mark might want a decent part time job. My store was sorta / kinda located between his job and his home, and anyway, driving from his job to his house during rush hour everyday was not fun, so the nights he worked at my store, he only had to drive half the distance, and when he was done rush hour was over, and he drove the rest of the way to his home. What a match I thought! A dependable friend I could trust, and I could do something good for him with the job. A classic win-win situation, if there ever was one. As it turned out, maybe not so much for my childhood friend. 

Anyway, Mark agrees to go to work for me. He worked a few weeks, maybe even a month or two, I don’t remember how long. It was working out well, for me anyway. 

When Mark came to work for me I trained him and we already had the TPF alarm in place, and the possibility of becoming an armed robbery victim never really seemed to bother Mark too much. That stuff always happens to other people, right? Looking back, I realize I should have told him it was likely that he would become a robbery victim at the store, especially working nights in that neighborhood. But, I never lied to him, and told him about some of my exploits. Anyway, it didn’t seem to bother him. 

Well, one evening, Mark was working, and sure enough some guy comes in, points a pistol in Mark’s face and told him to give him the money. All the money. Mark complied and also gave him the $20.00 bill, which tripped the silent alarm. The guy took the money, and was gone in a matter of seconds. Typical convenience store robbery, if there is one. In and out, in seconds. That normally would have been the end of it. But not this night. Not for Mark. 

The store was located on the corner of Hyde Park Ave. and Mt. Hope Street. Unknown to both the unfortunate robber and Mark, the TPF cruiser happened to be about a block away from the store, actually on Mt. Hope St.when they got the alarm. The robber turned left out of the store and then left on to Mt. Hope Street. The cops, by then on foot, ran Up Mt. Hope St. towards the store. They ran into each other on the corner, outside the store and a pretty hefty shoot out occurred. Blam, Blam, Bang, Bang! Shotguns and pistols were unloaded. They were within feet of each other. They couldn’t miss. 

Meanwhile, Mark is inside the store while all this shooting is going on outside the door. Bullets flying and pinging around, around, cops and robber yelling, screaming, cursing, all while Mark dove onto the floor in fear for his life and made himself as small as he possibly could. And, that’s no exaggeration. I’m not sure, but I think while Mark was ducking he was doing a bit of cussing himself, and I’m sure he was cursing me as well.  

Suddenly, the shooting ended. Almost as quick as it started it was over. Final score, no hits, no casualties, one robber under arrest, and he was pretty shaken up and amazed he was still alive. Too good for him. The Boston cops had no compunction against blowing this guy away, but it wasn’t in the cards for any of them that night. 

The arrest and experimental program was widely publicized in the days that followed. Later that week, the Mayor of Boston Kevin White and the then Police Commissioner Robert diGrazia held a press conference in my store. The Boston TV stations were all present, and I was interviewed along with the Mayor and Police Commissioner. I was on all the Boston stations. I was there, plus the TPF guys who made the arrest. The only one not there was my friend, Mark. 

As far as Mark goes, considering the circumstances, he took it all in good stride and good humor. Although he wasn’t laughing at the time it happened. He told me the story that night, as he did several times to the police and company officials. But, in the end, Mark turned over the store keys to me and told me thanks for the job, but, no thanks. He valued his life a lot more that the $2.25 an hour (or whatever it was) I was paying him. As he handed the store keys to me he said, with a strange smirk on his face, “Some friend you turned out to be! Please don’t do me any more favors.”  

Murderous Intent

I was working one night with my partner, Danny Guerin. Danny and I worked together for about 2 1/2 years while assigned to the MPD Domestic Violence Unit. He was senior to me, and wasn’t shy about pointing that fact out to me on a regular basis. So, unofficially at least, he was my boss. Dan and I had one or two pretty significant blowouts between us while working together, but generally speaking, I liked to work with him and even though I had more than 6 years on the job when I was partnered up with him, I still learned a lot while riding with him. 

On this night, we reported for duty at 6PM, which was normal. When we arrived, we found a case left for us for follow up by the supervisor of our unit who normally worked days. Anything important from dayshift was often left for us to follow up on. To make a long story short, or as short as I can make it, it seems that a guy had visited a pawn shop in Manchester earlier and attempted to purchase a pistol. Normally not a problem, but in this case the guy had a Domestic Violence Protective Order in effect against him. The protected party in this order was his wife, and she lived, I believe, with their children (it may have been three or four, don’t remember which) in a small town north of Concord NH called Boscawen. 

Because there was a protective order in place, it was a crime for him to purchase or possess a firearm. It was a violation of that order. Furthermore, at the time it was also a federal felony to possess a firearm if you were the subject of a restraining order (RO), and the issuing state or jurisdiction process complied with the Federal law.

So, this individual, I’ll refer to from here on out as our suspect, went into this shop and handled several pistols to examine them, which itself was a violation of Federal Law in his case. He also selected a pistol and tried to purchase it. In doing so, he filled out the normal ATF form that anyone who purchases a firearm from a dealer completes. In this form, he lied about the RO. There is a question on this form that specifically asks if the purchaser has an active RO against him. He checked the box NO, then signed under penalty of perjury that he was telling the truth, which he wasn’t. 

The shop owner then called in the purchase, which is required when someone tries to purchase a firearm in NH. When he did, he was told by the NH State Police Gun Line that the suspect was not eligible to make that purchase because he had a Final RO in effect against him. This now was an additional Federal felony. The first being his handling of any firearm at the time, the second was trying to purchase it, and the third was that he lied about the RO when he filled out the ATF form.  The violation of the RO was also a state crime, but only misdemeanor. However his attempt to purchase the gun in Manchester at least gave us local jurisdiction to follow up on the case. But, what case or crime exactly? He hadn’t left the shop with the gun in his possession, and we technically didn’t have the authority to investigate federal crimes and arrest for federal warrants. At least not unless we were working with a federal prosecutor on a specific case. 

However, due to the fact that the suspect tried to purchase a pistol after being ordered not to possess a firearm by a judge in a domestic violence case raised all kinds of red flags for us. We were worried about his intent, as well as the safety of his wife as we were for any DV victim. In any case, the NH State Police notified MPD that day of the attempted purchase and that was standard anytime a gun purchase was denied by the gun line. 

Danny and I decided we’d start the night off with this case. So, we answered our phone messages left the office and then and were off to the pawn shop while it was still open. We were in luck. The clerk who waited on the suspect earlier in the day was still working. We had done several of these types of cases by then at various gun dealers in the area so the proprietor at this shop knew us from those cases. I’m sure he thought we were pains in the ass every time we came through his door, but, that went along with the type of business he was in. He was able to outline the encounter he had, that the suspect had handled several pistols and selected one for purchase, filled out the paperwork and was then denied. We then confiscated the original paperwork that had been filled out by the suspect, with his signature and took it all into evidence. 

Danny and I then got our first cup of coffee in what turned out to be the beginning of a long night. We kicked the case around and over and over in our car as the radio crackled with various calls. The DART Unit (Domestic Violence Response Team) as we were called, were pretty autonomous, and only required to answer calls where we were requested or we felt required our response. We had to go back to MPD to handle the evidence we had just seized. We also read up on the related Federal and State Criminal codes as well as the NH AG’s Manual, to see what our options were, if any, at the time. 

We both felt it would be worth while to track this guy down and try to determine what his real motives were for attempting this purchase. It was not lost on us that the RO was made final by the court either that day or the day before, I forget which. Since we both worked DV cases, we were seriously concerned that he tried to buy the gun to kill himself, or worse yet, murder or threaten his wife. We took this seriously and felt compelled to drop everything in order to investigate further. So, we called out of service and rolled up our sleeves. 

During that time frame. Danny and I were given a lot of latitude by the Chief of Detectives to determine what we worked on, what we didn’t, and we were allowed to stay late on overtime without permission if we felt it was prudent. It often drove the shift commander crazy, but, the Chief of Detectives told us he trusted our judgement, so in that respect it was a great assignment. This night, before we were finished, we would have to use all that latitude.

Dan and I talked and debated. The obvious solution would to arrest him, then at least we’d have him off the street and his family would be safe for a short time anyway. The problem is that the felonies were federal crimes. We could arrest on a federal warrant (always a highly debatable subject during my time at MPD) but we had no ability to obtain a federal arrest warrant for a federal crime, and thats what we would need to arrest him for the felonies that night. One dynamic with federal law enforcement is that generally speaking feds  and the federal courts generally did not work nights, weekends or holidays. There was no one from either the ATF or FBI or the US District Court that we could contact for assistance. 

We continued war gaming the case and decided the next step would be to visit the wife. We could interview and to try to get a sense of how dangerous this guy was. We also felt obligated to inform her that he had tried to purchase a pistol, but we had to find her first. Also, not all victims of domestic violence would cooperate with police for various reasons we know all to well. We started by contacting the Boscawen Police. There was one officer on duty that night, and we had to contact him through the Merrimack County Sheriff’s office. We did and we met him at his station a short time later. 

One thing I love about small town cops is that they knew everybody in their town. This officer was no exception. “Yes”, he told us. He knew the victim and her family. Knew all her relatives and grew up with the suspect. Yes, the suspect was a pain in the ass. Yes, he had responded to domestic disturbances at the house over the years. And, finally, yes, we should take this attempt to purchase the firearm seriously, although none of us had any idea how we could act on it immediately. As far as Boscawen PD went, he hadn’t committed a crime in their town. 

Dan and I met with the victim. Her kids were home and we spent quite a bit of time with her. She filled in many blanks for us on both the suspect and their abusive relationship. She was immediately terrified when we informed her he tried to buy a gun, and she talked about going into hiding, but with the kids and no family nearby, she didn’t know what to do. We tried our best to make her feel a bit safer. We talked again with the Boscawen Police they promised to keep a close eye on her house as well as a lookout in case our suspect meandered into town. 

Finally, after along discussion, we left and headed back to Manchester. In the end, we felt it was weak, but we decided to attempt to get an arrest warrant for Attempting to Violate a Protective order. I had never tried this before or since. It was the best immediate solution we could come up with. Normally, someone would either violate an RO or doesn’t. The one thing we had going for us legally in this case was that the suspect took an affirmative step to attempt carry out this violation by trying to buy the gun. This was the main element in charging someone with an Inchoate (attempted or incomplete) crime in New Hampshire. I was however, concerned that if we bothered a judge at their home in the middle of the night for a seemingly minor matter (the rule was never call the duty judge overnight unless it’s an urgent matter that can’t wait until the court opens in the morning) and Danny and I were forever looking for arrest and search warrants at night. We did not want to fall out of the good graces of the duty judges at the District Court. We figured this case was exigent enough to wake a judge. 

Being the junior guy, I authored the affidavit for the arrest warrant. Danny helped with the verbiage for the affidavit and the complaint itself. When we were satisfied, we called the judge that was on duty. In the affidavit, as well as when we saw the judge at his home we emphasized our specific and substantial training in DV matters, as well as our concern for the safety of the suspect’s family. My hope was that if the judge saw the charge and at first glance thought we were attempting to lock someone up for the Mickey Mouse charge of Attempting to violate an RO, he would see from the facts we presented this was potentially a serious incident. 

I needn’t have worried. This judge was in tune with Domestic Violence issues and the dynamics that go on below the surface. He had prosecuted several DV related homicides before he was appointed to the bench, so we were in luck. He signed it and wished us luck in finding this guy. We left his house with an active arrest warrant. We went back to MPD and placed the warrant in the statewide system. We also sent it to Boscawen PD. Because it was for a misdemeanor, we could not send the warrant nationally in case, for example, he was located nearby in Massachusetts or Maine. However, If we accomplished nothing else that night, he was now wanted throughout the state of NH. If he did show his face in Boscawen or anywhere else in NH he would now be arrested and returned to MPD. But there was more work to be done before this night would be over. We actually had to find this guy and arrest him or I wouldn’t have slept well later. Then, if possible interview him to try to determine his intensions.  

I won’t go into the details, but sometime later that night we caught a break. We learned that he was staying with a new girlfriend and her infant son on the West Side of Manchester. I don’t remember where we got that info. But, we did. We went to the apartment, and low and behold, we found him there, within our jurisdiction. His new girlfriend was there, along with the baby. The suspect was not the baby’s father. We placed him under arrest, and had a chat with his new girlfriend. She was not happy we locked him up, but we did tell her about his attempted purchase of the gun and the RO in effect. I hope that gave her something to think about, meaning her safety. 

Back at MPD, we booked the suspect. Even the booking officer, when he saw the charge started giving us crap. Talk about chickenshit he went on. All this in front of my prisoner, a real No No in this line of work. You don’t shit on other cops in front of civilians, and especially not in front of their prisoner. The sympathy showed by the other cops present seemed to embolden him, and like all batterers, he played up the role that he was the victim in this case. He was a good guy, he assured us all. He worked hard. His wife was a bitch and now he can’t see his kids and be a good father to them. On and on he pled his case to anyone who would listen.  

Actually, this ended up working in our favor. “Absolutely” he said when I asked him if he wanted to tell us his side of the story. He wanted to tell us how foolish and minor this misunderstanding is. In fact, he demanded to do so. It was his right! OK then, come with me… 

He came upstairs with us where we presented him with a Uniform Miranda Rights Form. He went over each item. We explained each. He signed off saying that he understood his rights, he wanted to talk with us and waive his right to an attorney. I had no idea at the time, where this interview would lead us. I was hopeful we could get a glimpse of his state of mind as it related to his wife and his behavior. Perhaps, I hoped, he’d tell us something that would make the judge he went in front of later in the morning take the charge seriously. 

The interview started. He painted himself as a victim. A victim in life, the victim in his relationship and so on. This went on for a while. I nodded sympathetically as though I understood. Danny and I talked to him, but we couldn’t get much more out of him. It was a low key interview in that we figured that being confrontational with him would only cause him to shut up. We wanted him to talk to us. We told him he was in a lot of trouble. We talked and talked. He talked about his life, wife, anything to deflect any blame from himself as to how he ended up in handcuffs in that room that night. 

At one point I was ready to end the interview. I just spoke up. It was a long shot, but it had worked for me before. I told him that I could see he loved his wife and loved his family and I knew deep down inside he would never want hurt them. I went on to tell him that I thought he was in extraordinary anguish, and the only way he could ever receive help for himself was to tell the truth. About his relationship, his marriage, his behavior and his intent when he tried to buy the gun. All of which was true. 

Well, sometimes, you never know what works. I was grasping at straws at that point. I wanted to find out, with some certainly whether or not he intended to hurt himself or his wife. Suddenly, out of the blue, he started to sob. He cried. He cried about his wife leaving him, his having to leave his house, not being to be able to see his kids. He just broke down and cried. Danny and I told him we understood and encouraged him to go on. 

And then he shocked us. There haven’t been too many times during my career that someone said something that left me speechless. But this was one of those times. We told him we could see he was in agony, and one of us asked him if he was thinking of killing himself. “Yes!” he suddenly blurted out. He hadn’t completely made up his mind when he went into the shop, but that’s why he tried to buy the gun and lied on the ATF form. To kill himself. We talked a bit about that, in a sympathetic way, and that he needed to get help. Then the real admission came. 

He told us while continuing to sob that he had planned to first kill his wife, their three kids, then go to the apartment in Manchester, kill his girlfriend and her baby. He then wanted to turn the gun on himself. It just poured out of him, as though a dam had burst. On and on he went. No additional prodding was needed from us. I was astounded at this revelation. It hit me like the proverbial bolt of lightening. And, although it took a while, the entire interview didn’t last more than 90 minutes. This man had just admitted to us that he was seriously considering murdering as many as seven innocent persons and then killing himself. Would he have really done it? Who knows? But to have him admit it, this would have to be taken seriously, although thinking about killing someone isn’t a crime in itself. I do believe that he was seriously contemplating this course of action. Apparently, the issuance of the Final Protective Order had brought him to this precipice. To me, his saying he was thinking about it was more than enough to get him held on a high bail, at least until a bail hearing. 

However, the interview was not recorded in any fashion, other than our own handwritten notes. At that time, we routinely did not record interviews because we were always fearful that the presence of a recorder or camera would inhibit any suspect we interviewed. This was pretty much standard practice back then. We weren’t worried about that at the time. I don’t believe it would have mattered anyway.

We talked about these issues for a while, told him it was important to be honest about this to himself and others so he could get the appropriate help he needed and maybe one day in the future he could begin to rebuild his life. He actually thanked us for arresting him, preventing him from hurting those people in his life that he loved and thanked us for being so decent to him. Although I was appalled at what he had just told us, I never was one to kick someone when they were down in life, and that included most people I arrested. We handled him with kid gloves that night. 

We returned the suspect to the cellblock. We made sure that he was held on a reasonable bail, at least until he saw a judge later in the morning. We then went back to Boscawen and later the girlfriend’s house to let her know what we did and what he told us. Of course, we wanted to make sure the prosecutor had the whole story the next morning, so as the sun started to come up, we were still typing our reports and the details from the interview. The fact was that, we had only charged him with an attempted misdemeanor, and regardless of the seriousness of the matter, there was only so much that we could do to him for an attempted misdemeanor. 

The suspect was arraigned and held pending a bail hearing on a relatively high bail. The judge apparently got the message that this guy was a serious threat to the community. After he was arraigned and held, we were able to shop the case to a federal prosecutor in Concord. The Feds took the case, and he was eventually indicted by a federal grand jury for lying on the ATF form as well as being a prohibited person from possessing a firearm (while he was shopping for the gun) while subject to a final protective order. 

A few weeks went by. I never heard much from the girlfriend. I don’t know if she felt she dodged a bullet that night, or took what we told her seriously.  But we did stay in close contact with his wife. She breathed a little easier knowing he was locked up at the Valley St. jail on the state charge, and he wasn’t going to make bail on the new federal charges any time soon. The wheels of federal court system started to turn. He was now detained on the federal felony charges as well. 

The suspect had a federal public defender assigned to him, and they developed a defense for these very serious allegations. His defense was that we badgered him so badly, so throughly that he would have told us anything to get us to leave him alone. He admitted during pretrial motions that he told us he was going to kill all seven persons and himself,  but, he said, he only told us what he thought we wanted him to say. We wouldn’t leave him alone until we got him to say he wanted to kill them. 

The fact of the matter was that aside of suggesting he really loved his wife, and his kids, we never mentioned that we thought he was going to kill them. Nor did we ever bring up the woman he was living with and her child. The fact that he voluntarily told us, when he tried to buy the gun he was thinking of using it to kill them all and then himself, as I said earlier came as a complete shock to both of us. Also, the interview was very low key. No accusations, no yelling, threats, nothing like that. We wanted to get this guy to talk to us so we could make an honest evaluation of the threat level that existed, if it did, for his wife. The idea that he may kill the other children and his girlfriend never entered our minds. 

Eventually, there was a hearing for a Motion to Suppress his statement to us in Federal Court. Danny and I both testified to the presiding justice of the United States District Court of New Hampshire. I answered all the defense attorney’s questions in as  reasonable fashion as possible. I told the judge of our concern about the safety of the suspect’s wife after he tried to purchase the gun. I was allowed to testify about my training (much of it federal by the Justice Department) regarding the dynamics of domestic violence and quote various statistics.

The judge then caught me by surprise by asking me a strange question. He asked me if I ever watched the TV show NYPD Blue. I told him occasionally, but I normally worked nights. He then asked me whether or not the interrogations depicted on the show were accurate depictions of police interrogations in general, and could they describe the “interrogation” that my partner and I subjected the defendant to, when we extracted this confession. 

Once again, I was shocked. This time by the question itself, and the apparent naivete of the this federal presiding justice. Now anyone who has ever watched NYPD Blue was often treated to the sight of Andy Sippowitz threatening and manhandling child molesters and rapists around the interrogation room at the precinct, which always resulted in detailed confessions. I knew as an experienced investigator that this type of treatment only worked on TV. Furthermore, I learned that if an investigator hoped to get a rapist or some other deviant to talk to him about these deeply personal issues, the interviewer must establish a rapport with the suspect, and give that suspect some kind of motivation or rationale to do so. We could rarely coerce an admission to this type of behavior from an offender. To me “leaning” on a suspect (figuratively, not literally) was a last ditch attempt to get a suspect to talk to you. So, to me, the suspect’s defense that we sweated or coerced these admissions from the suspect was laughable. I explained all this in a patient and respectful way to the judge. Later, when the hearing was over, I compared notes with my partner who also had testified, and the judge asked him exactly the same question. 

The decision came down. The judge wrote that he believed the suspect had knowingly and freely waived his Miranda Rights when we explained them. The judge further found that he believed that both my partner and I were truthful when we testified about the suspect’s admissions thinking about killing his family when he tried to buy the gun. The judge went onto say, however, that he believed the defendant was in a state of mind where he would have told us anything to get away from us. Otherwise, why would he say so? The judge ruled that he would admit the statements during trial, but he warned the prosecutor he would give them no weight whatsoever. He would advise a jury of the same.  Apparently, this judge had the ability to look into the suspect’s heart, if he had one, and was able to determine the suspect really didn’t mean what he told us. At least, I thought, the judge didn’t outright call me a lair. But, it got worse. 

Based on this ruling, and the judges comments, the entire federal case was dropped. I never understood that in as much as he wasn’t charged with trying to murder anyone, he was charged with lying on the ATF Form, a felony. And, we had plenty of evidence to convict him of that. I believe that to this day. And, I think it was worth presenting our testimony to a jury and let them decide. However, in retrospect, if I was the defense attorney, based on this ruling, I would have opted for a bench trial rather than disclosing our testimony to a jury. The judges message was clear. We weren’t going to get a conviction in federal court. 

The case now went back to the Manchester District Court for the original charge of attempting to violate the RO. A deal was struck. The suspect pled guilty to that charge. In light of his statements to us, which were still admissible in state court, he was given a brief jail sentence and given pretrial credit for the time he had already been locked up. The maximum amount of jail time he could have been given was a year, with a third deducted for good behaviour. I think maybe he did five or six months at most. 

For a while, his wife, or ex-wife which I believe she became, was able to sleep at night. That was a good thing, even if temporary, but I felt good about that. Although Danny and I occasionally spoke with the wife from time to time, we never heard anything about the suspect after he was released from jail. We may have even driven out to Boscowen once or twice on slow nights to check on her, and I hope that made her feel a bit better. At least, I thought, she knew we cared. 

As for the suspect, I think if nothing else, at least I hope, he realized he dodged several bullets.  The outcome for him was as good as it could have been. I also hope that the court forced him to get the help he needed. But then again, the Criminal Justice System is designed to protect the rights of the offender, not the victim. I was astonished that the Presiding Justice of the United States District Court could be taken in and manipulated by this see through defense. Also, I was even more dumfounded that this judge’s knowledge of real world police procedure came from watching a fictional TV show. 

As for me, I never doubted, not for a minute that this guy seriously thought about killing all those people he named when he decided to purchase that pistol. He had much to lose and nothing to gain by making these disclosures to us. 

The good news was that in someways the system worked that night. The wife obtained the RO, the suspect tried to purchase the pistol, the salesman followed the law, and he was flagged by the State Police due to the fact that the RO had been issued and it was properly filed within the system. Furthermore, the State Police reached out to us and notified MPD of the attempt. 

Finally, the case was given to my partner and I to follow up on and figure out a way to protect his wife, if only temporarily. We did. Mostly because we were hard working detectives who believed in what we were doing. It didn’t hurt that our bosses gave us free reign to figure these things out at night and then do them. The case also provided proof positive that for a victim of Domestic Violence, the most dangerous time for her is when she decides to leave that relationship. In this case, her having obtained the final restraining order against her husband, truly turned out to be that moment of peril. Not only for her, but for her children. And others.  

This case began what eventually became for me, a serous distaste for fictional TV series about cops and movies as well. Both often portrayed cops as corrupt and brutal, and I saw how these things colored the perceptions held by honest citizens about cops. Not only did these shows influence a sitting federal judge in this case, but as the years went on, and defendants lied about how they were teated by me, or tried to impinge my integrity during court proceedings, I saw that many, many people who sat on juries were too often persuaded by these false defenses and outright lies. Yeah, they believed the defendant’s outrageous claims because they often saw cops behave like that regularly when they watched these fictional dramas play out on TV regularly.  

The years flew by. Danny is gone now, and I miss him. We were partners for about 2 1/2 years. We rode together eight hours a day and often much longer. I had two more great partners while I worked in the DV Unit. I lasted there for almost six years. Looking back at this arrest, despite the fact that at first glance the case charging the suspect with an attempted misdemeanor may have appeared trivial, and although it resulted with a short jail term, this may have been one of the most important cases which I participated in during my police carer. Although I was and still am unhappy about the outcome, I feel good about it. 

Late For School

Old Photo of the Kenny School

By the time I was in Kindergarten, I was living on Pierce Ave in the Dorchester section of Boston. I had been exposed to cops where I lived previously, also in Dorchester, primarily due to my alcoholic neighbor and the battles and dramas that played out regularly which often included the police. The police had never come to my house at that point in my life that I can remember. The cops had never dragged my old man out of the house nor did they ever have to whack the crap out of him in order to do so. 

This was, I later discovered as a cop myself, not always the case in every household. Early in my career I remember going to my first few domestics or family problem calls and finding the young kids hiding under their beds or in their closets. And, to my horror, I discovered that they weren’t hiding from the jackass that was acting up in their household that resulted in the visit from the local constabulary. They were hiding from the police. They were hiding from ME! I was the bad guy, who apparently was the one to be feared.  As a new policeman I had a problem with that dynamic and had to get used to it.  

However, in my case, I never had reason to fear cops. I saw them take my friend’s dad away several times after he had administered beatings to his wife and others, so my first exposure to the police was more or less that I was in awe of these guardians who magically appeared like white knights to quell these nasty disturbances. I was always impressed when Boston’s Finest rolled up in their old Gray and Blue cars with the forward blinking blue lights on the roof. 

However, that didn’t mean I wasn’t somewhat intimidated as a child when I looked up at a guy who looked to me like a tall oak tree and was carrying a gun, handcuffs, a large baton and who know what else was on his on his big, thick black belt. I knew enough that I would never want to be spanked with that belt! And then there was always the hat, the brim usually pulled low covering his forehead. 

So, by the time I was in kindergarten, I had no real fear of cops. I’d seen them around quite often. They always seemed to me to be the good guys. 

This week, I was going to the Thomas J. Kenny School, which was and still is on Oakton Ave, pretty close to my house. I was going to the morning session every day. Usually, I walked there each morning with several friends my age. Oakton Ave ran parallel to and in the back of Pierce Ave, so my Mom would stand on our back porch and wave to me as we walked by heading up to the school. 

This particular weekend, a rumor reached my friends and I and it spread like wildfire through the neighborhood, as rumors often do. This particular rumor was very serious and it disturbed every  6 and 7 year old kid for blocks around. It seems that it had been confirmed by unnamed sources that an elderly woman who lived in a house on the corner, a house we passed twice everyday to and from school, was a witch! Can you imagine, a witch in our neighborhood! Furthermore, the buzz around the 1st grade community was that she was making kids somehow, nefariously disappear as they passed by. There was even some talk about a broomstick and big black pot having been seen. Well, this was terrifying news to those of us in my crew of kindergarteners and first graders. 

And, so, after discussing this scuttlebutt all weekend, Monday morning arrived. I would have to head out to school. We had all pretty much decided we would take a different route to school to avoid the newly confirmed witch’s house. 

For some reason, I was running late. Usually my Mom would see that I got off to school on time, but I was late on this morning. I wonder if I lingered just a bit watching an episode of the Three Stooges or the Little Rascals. Perhaps I was moving slow on purpose. Either way, by the time I left the house, all my friends had already gone ahead and I was alone. I protested to my mother about the witch at the end of the street, however she just told me this was all nonsense, but I thought, ‘what do grown ups know about these things?’ They don’t even believe there are such things as witches, ghosts and goblins. We kids knew better. 

Well, I probably don’t have to tell you this was a problem. Especially with all this unsettling witch business and the sightings. So, I headed up the hill to school, instead of my usual route which would have taken me by the witch’s house. Sound reasoning, or so I thought at the time.  

So up the hill, around the corner and suddenly I was on Adams St. pretty much the main drag in my hood. I finally made it to school having gone the long way around. The only problem was that when I finally arrived, all the doors were locked! I couldn’t get in. I knocked and knocked, no one came to the door. Perhaps due to the fact that I hadn’t yet attended Infantry School at Ft. Benning, where were required to pound the hell out of the door of any office we were summoned to enter, my timid knocks on the huge doors went unheard and unanswered. Since I was so late, maybe it was just as well, or so I reasoned. I turned around, and slowly headed home. There would be hell to pay from my Mom, and even more so later when my Dad got home from work. Missing School? Unforgivable in my family. At that time anyway. Low and behold, almost as soon as I turned the corner back onto Adams Street, what did I see but a policeman meandering steadily towards me at a leisurely pace. 

Now, normally, the sight of an approaching policemen to me, unlike many people I’ve encountered later in life during my police career, would not be a concern. But at some point in my early childhood it was explained to me that all children had to go to school because it was the law. I was also told what a truant officer was, and they and the police would arrest kids that skipped school. Now at this point in my life, at age six, I had managed to make it thus far without accruing that criminal or school “record” that I was told would follow me through life. Not a good thing to have I had been assured of many times by my parents. 

So, as I saw this policeman come closer and closer, I knew I was in trouble. I also I knew I was officially “Truant” for school. I was scared! For the first time in life, I experienced the Fight or Flight syndrome. For some reason, I figured the only rational course was to continue walking like nothing was going on. Maybe if I just kept quiet and just walked passed him he’d never even know I was there, or at least figured if I wasn’t at school where I belonged, there was an acceptable reason. And, what the heck, I thought, there really was a good reason for my being late. After all, I couldn’t be expected to walk past the witch’s house by my self! 

So, I put my head down and walked forward, trying to be cool about it. As I write this today, it reminds me of all the times that, when I was in a cruiser and pulled up next to someone at a red light, and that guy in the next car gripped his steering wheel tightly with both hands, and the entire time he was next to me stared straight forward, never moving his eyes, as if he was searching for a ship to appear in the far off fog. I always knew that guy was either wanted or had a suspended license. And, the times I got to check on that hunch, I was usually right. So, the 6 year old scofflaw that I now was, walked on, trying to be cool but heart beat racing. 

Yeah, in case you didn’t guess, the cop stopped me. Naturally, he asked me where I was going and why I wasn’t in school. I guess cops in Boston back in the day actually inquire about such things. Anyway, it was then that I knew I’d never make a living as a criminal. I immediately broke. I explained everything as quickly as I could. About the witch, about my friends, about being late and finding the doors locked at the school. About everything. After all, I didn’t want to find myself being pitched head first into a wagon like happened to my drunken neighbor so many times! 

Surprisingly, the cop didn’t seem too upset about any of this. He actually listened patiently and if I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought he was somewhat sympathetic to my circumstances. In fact, after I finished spilling my guts, he then did something that shocked me and to this day I never forgot it. He said “let’s go”. He then picked me up, and put me on his shoulders! He turned around and headed back to the school with me on his shoulders while he held onto my feet as they dangled down onto his chest. I didn’t know what to think. It didn’t appear that I was headed for the back of a police wagon after all. Dare I relax a bit? He walked right up to the front door with me on his shoulders! And for him, someone actually opened the door. He talked to someone, and after I told him I was in Mss McGinntey’s class, he set me down and I led him to my classroom. 

Miss McGinntey opened the door. In way of an explanation, he told my teacher that I was a good kid and it wasn’t my fault I was late. I remember him telling her not to yell at me. I was relieved beyond belief. I guess this explanation from a cop was good enough for my teacher. My appearance at my class that morning in the company of a police officer did cause a bit of a stir among my classmates, the other kindergartners. The kids in my class looked at me just a bit differently, in a good way, after that. My teacher sent me to my seat in the play circle and not another word was ever spoken about my tardiness. Of course, I had to tell and retell my story to my friends and the other kids in my school. 

Mostly though, that encounter formed my foundation regarding how I looked at cops growing up. I’ve thought a lot about that beat cop over the years. I never knew his name, nor did I know anything about him. He wore a badge, and he took care of me in my moment of need. No small thing to a six year old. He was understanding, and once I realized he was on my side, I instinctively knew he was going to make everything alright. Sadly, I’m sure we never crossed paths again. 

Today, as I look back and reflect on my own police career, I can’t help thinking that if I have ever done anything as meaningful as that, if I ever helped anyone in need, if I ever did any good at all throughout those years, those folks I may have helped may well owe that to the cop I ran into so many years ago. It’s too bad that police officer never knew that the way he treated me that day would effect so many people, so far away, through my behavior. Am I overthinking this thing, like I am oft to do? I don’t think so. I’m sure he’s long gone by now. But, I wish I could have told him. Who knows? Maybe if he was as good a man as I thought he was he does know…

Newer Photo of the Kenny School which is still open. That’s the door I knocked at so many years ago.

Deadly Force

I know this sounds like the lead in from Jack Webb and an episode of the old Dragnet TV show, but I am going to use it anyway. 

It was a warm summer night in Manchester. I was working the 6PM to 230 AM shift in patrol. It was after dark when I got this call. It may be a cliche, but it is true that in police work, you never know what you’re  going to come across or what your next call is going to be.  

I always felt lucky to have been assigned to that shift when I was fresh out of the academy. I learned a lot that first summer. It was a busy summer, and that was normally a very lively shift. It wasn’t unusual to handle 20-25 calls during that shift and making multiple arrests. Sometimes up to four arrests during an eight hour shift. You could never do that today because most calls now require a report to be written and filed and the process for booking a simple misdemeanor arrest has become very arduous and never simple. Forget about a felony or DWI. 

Back then, you could go to a call, give a stern warning, clear the call as Solved At Scene (you hoped) then go on to the next call without writing a report. And, if you did make a report, the report itself, unless a serious felony could be cursory and you could be back on the street 45 minutes after an arrest. Some simple reports could actually be-and get this-hand written! No more. 

Furthermore, back in the 90s we had a dictation system where when we complied notes for several reports, we could go to one of the local hospitals or whatever business that was on your route and call in and dictate those reports over the phone! The reports would be typed by stenographers and the next shift at roll call you would receive the reports, be able to proof them, then sign them and pass them in. The only time that you actually had to come into the station house to type a report right away was in the case of an arrest, or something that required to be entered into NCIC (nationwide) such as a missing juvenile, stolen firearm or car.

It was a great system. And it ended the day the PD installed mobile computer units in all the cruisers. To this day, I never understood that. 

Also back then, the unwritten rule was that if you had to go back to any call a second time, then there had better not be a third time. So as polite and reasonable as we tried to be, if we had to go back because the behavior continued, arrests were often made. 

On this night I was assigned to an “X” car, which most of the 6-230 AM units were. An X car covered overlapping routes of the regular route cars and provided back up for the route cars at calls and were also sent to calls when the route cars were tied up. It was a great assignment if you were a cop that liked to work. 

Years later, the department went to a sector car system, with several route cars within a sector. Those cars were allowed to roam their sector freely and spend time in whatever locations that were a problem, even if it was off your route. However, calls on your route had to be answered by that route car. It gave the patrol cops a lot more freedom than previously allowed. It was a good system and adopted when MPD adopted the Federal Community Oriented Policing model. This incident occurred before the Sector Patrol System had been adopted and implemented. 

The call was for a man with a gun. The information given to me during the call was there were four male subjects, and one was brandishing a handgun and pointing it at people and cars as they walked along. The suspect with the gun was described as a white male, wearing a purple football shirt and the caller even got the number on the back of the shirt. Number 82.

The caller stated that the group was walking north on Wilson St. which is located in the inner city in one of the higher crime neighborhoods. As it happened I was only a block or so away. I immediately responded. I arrived at the location, probably not more than a minute later. I turned out my headlights and glided to a stop. There they were, walking away from me. I called off on the radio and got out on foot. They are walking away from me in the rear of a strip mall. For those of you who may know the city, they were walking behind the old nightclub City Limits and where the Stop and Shop would later be. The suspect in the purple shirt was holding a pistol in his right hand and was pointing it towards the rear of a building to his right. 

I drew my pistol, and sighted in on the suspect. I looked over my sites and lined them up with the center of his back, right on the number 82. He couldn’t have provided a better target for me. He continued to walk leisurely away from me while pointing his pistol. 

I yelled “POLICE! FREEZE!”  It wasn’t a request. My finger was on the trigger. Back then, we were trained OFF TARGET, (FINGER) OFF TRIGGER. ON TARGET, (FINGER) ON TRIGGER. In retrospect, maybe I should have ordered him to drop the gun. Maybe he would have. But, I didn’t. The suspect, apparently startled, turned to look at me over his right shoulder. As he did, he swung the pistol around and momentarily pointed it at me. That millisecond seemed like it played out in slow motion. As I think about that night I’m pretty certain his turning and pointing the gun at me was an instinctive reaction, not necessarily a conscious prelude to killing me. But, as we all know, in real time we often have to make instant, instinctive decisions without any time to consider options. 

The Deadly Force Law in NH for law enforcement at the time basically said that when a cop reasonably believes a person is about to use deadly force on him or a third person, then deadly force is lawful. In certain, well defined circumstances, deadly force can be used to apprehend a fleeing felon if the escape of that felon constitutes a threat to the community. 

You don’t have much time to evaluate the situation you may find yourself in VS the use of force laws for cops. Like I say, that decision often must be made instantly and instinctively. 

On this night, after momentarily pointing his gun in my direction, he and his friends decided to run. To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t pull the trigger when he turned on me. I actually had pressure on the trigger when he turned and ran. He did not drop the weapon, so I gave chase on foot, knowing I was chasing an armed subject. 

The four ran westerly across Lincoln St. and into a complex of little league baseballs fields and split up. I screamed my location into my radio. I said the suspect was armed. Nothing gets other cops attention like when the radio is broken by the sound of another cop, huffing and puffing while yelling directions into the radio that he is chasing someone. Most times, you never know why the copper was chasing the suspect in the first place. Was it a robbery? Was the suspect wanted somewhere for murder? Or is he fleeing for some foolish reason, like an unpaid speeding ticket that he never took care of. In this case, I confirmed this suspect was armed with a gun. Almost instantly I heard multiple sirens wailing and headed towards me from all directions. I soon lost sight of all four suspects. I was out of breath, the adrenalin was flowing and I tried to shout instructions over the radio until a supervisor took control. The perimeter was sealed off, and a dog was brought in to conduct a search for all four subjects then an object search for the gun itself. 

Within a half hour or so, all four subjects were in custody. I think they all “went to ground” in different locations and were located by vigilant cops and or the K-9. Eventually, the gun was found. It had been stashed somewhere in the park. 

After I calmed down, I headed to station to process my prisoners. But I wasn’t calm for long. Walter came to me with the gun. I was shocked. It was a paint ball gun. The person who had the gun owned up to it being the gun he had when I confronted him. All four did. I had no reason not to believe them. Especially since a K-9 tracked the gun back to where the suspect had been found hiding and then from there back to where I first confronted him. This guy had no idea how close he came to being killed that night. And worse, yet, it was me who almost killed him. Over what? 

I was livid. When I entered into booking I found the four subjects, now under arrest handcuffed to the bench. They were all young men but adults who should have known better. Each of them were over 18. I screamed at them. I howled at them about how close this behavior came to causing me to kill him. I bellowed about squeezing the trigger, how I would never have missed at that distance and I went on and on until I was physically spent and couldn’t yell anymore. I kinda lost it. There were several cops present, and they kinda stood off to the side and let me cook off. I think they understood. Any of them, believing they were chasing an armed suspect could have, under certain circumstances, shot him themselves. 

Finally, when I ran out of steam, the other guys decided it was best if they searched and booked the four suspects while I left the booking area, took a deep breath and start on my paperwork. I was grateful for that. 

I have no idea whether or not that guy appreciated how close he came to being killed by me that night. His behavior was more than foolish. I went on about having been justified if I did kill him. He put his own life in jeopardy…And no police board or jury would have punished or convicted me for it. 

Mostly though, I was angry about this man putting me in a position where I could have killed him. The fact that I knew that I would have been justified for shooting him did not make me feel any better. The fact was that although no one could have determined that this paint gun was not a real firearm in the dark under the street light, coupled with the information I had received when I was sent to the call didn’t make me feel any better. I believe that had I taken this man’s life, although legally justified, doing so would haunt me for the rest of my life. It certainly would have been a life changing incident for me. 

I don’t remember what I charged this guy with. I’m sure he was charged with Disorderly Conduct and Resisting Arrest. Maybe Criminal Mischief for shooting buildings with paint balls. I don’t remember if I charged him with Criminal Threatening or not. I probably did since I did in fact feel threatened when he turned towards me. The case never went to trial. I assume they pled out. 

That was not the first time I drew my service weapon or confronted a suspect at gunpoint. It certainly was not the first or last time I came close to shooting someone on the job. There were several deadly force situations in the years ahead during which I would have been justified in using deadly force. Fortunately, on each occasion circumstances dictated that either the moment passed or I didn’t have to resort to shooting a suspect to save my life or take him into custody. 

Furthermore, late in my career, I was assigned to investigate a shooting by an on-duty NH State Trooper. He had shot and killed a suspect in Manchester after a car chase into our city. I did what I had to do, but in the back of my mind I never lost sight of the fact that I wasn’t there when he pulled the trigger. It wasn’t my role to determine whether or not the shooting was justified, which it turned out, it was. That decision would be made by the Attorney General’s Office based on the results of our criminal investigation. 

But that summer night, as I think back on it, I still don’t know why I didn’t pull the trigger. I know that as he ran, I knew the moment had passed. I holstered my pistol as I chased him, but when I stopped to search, I drew it again. Oh woe is the person who stepped out of the shadows that night while I had my pistol drawn. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. 

Over the next few days, cops throughout the department, especially those on duty that night scrutinized my behavior when I confronted this jerk. And they weren’t shy about offering their opinions, either behind my back or to my face. I was still a rookie. Worse, I was still a probationary patrolman. Cops are great Monday morning quarterbacks and gossips if nothing else. It’s something they excel at. I received some support and a lot of criticism. Several cops told me my decision not to pull the trigger the moment that guy turned towards me with the gun was wrong. They told me that guy could have killed me at that moment if he chose to. I’ve thought about that night often. They are all correct, of course. Maybe, just maybe, that guy had his guardian angel with him that night.  

My attitude towards those who were critical of my decision not to shoot is to shrug my shoulders and say, “Hey, you weren’t there”. And, that attitude often causes me to hold back on judgment of other cops often in controversial situations. That is especially true when bosses who haven’t worked the streets for years or civilians rush to judgement regarding split second decisions cops make on the street.

I really don’t know why I didn’t kill that man that night. I guess maybe I hesitated just an instant. Thats not a comforting thought. And for sure, that hesitation could have cost me my life. If he had a real gun. If he wanted to kill me. How would I have known? 

In the end, in that situation, in that circumstance, I thank God I did not pull the trigger. Even though I know I would have been justified. But, believe it or not, that decision not to shoot has haunted me in my dreams for many years. I’d like to think this is because I have an inherent desire to never hurt or kill anyone. But I know, the real reason, is that I was always afraid that the next time I found myself in a similar situation, hesitating could cost me my life. Despite my ability to overthink things, I know I made the right decision that night. 

Iraq-The Year Grinds On 1

3rd Public Order Battalion Advisors prepare for another combat mission

Iraq-The Year Grinds On 1

We lost Colonel James and Sergeants Tuliau and Howe. The loss of those great men was a huge hit for us, as you may well imagine. It also left a large void in both our chain of command as well as our day to day leadership. Our four teams were allowed to stand down for about a week, while the teams themselves were reorganized. We also established a new training regimen for any days we didn’t have a mission outside the wire. I was thankful for that period of time to reorganize and deal with these losses. It wasn’t easy. However, life and the mission continued. 

I was sent back to the 3rd Battalion Team after filling in for Master Sergeant Tuliau as 3rd Brigade NCOIC, but when I went back to that team, I went back in a leadership position as the Senior Non Commissioned Officer in Charge. This team was mostly comprised from a Regular Army Unit out of Ft. Drum, NY. I was from the Massachusetts National Guard and that had created a problem for me from the first day I arrived in Iraq. Now, I was supervising a team consisting of Regulars. They were not happy. They did not like working for a reservist. 

I went to my Team Leader Major Cureton. Cureton was also a regular army officer, but unlike the rest of the team, he was a Cavalry Officer from the 82nd Airborne Division that somehow ended up with the rest of us. My team had several E-7s (one grade lower than I) and I told the major that if he wanted to assign one of the Regular Army guys as NCOIC, I would understand. Major Cureton told me that as far as he was concerned the Army had promoted me to Master Sergeant (E-8) and until I proved I was otherwise incompetent, I would be his NCOIC. I don’t have to say that this vote of confidence at this crucial moment was very important to me. 

Later in the week during which we lost our people, we had to mount a mission to Adnon Palace  which was located near downtown Baghdad. It was a patrol consisting of three vehicles, and the personnel had been selected from our among our four teams. Needless to say I was involved with some folks from my team in my vehicle. My brother was also part of this mission. I think we were all kinda messed up at that point. I know that I had it in my mind that we were going to get hit this day and I may not survive. 

We were a pretty salty group of rebels up to this time, although the shock of losing James, Tuliau and Howe set us back on our heels quite a bit. Apparently we looked like a collection of outlaws or soldiers of fortune. At that point, I didn’t really care to enforce some of the fine points of Army Regulation 670-1. We were in contact with the enemy every day, unlike most US Soldiers, and we were pretty much on our own when we were going outside the wire daily. So, I ignored certain, what I thought were trivial violations of that regulation by my NCOs and Officers. This drove some of the Sergeants Major on our FOB out of their minds, but that’s a story for another day. 

The purpose of this mission was to pick up two soldiers that were newly assigned to us. One was a staff sergeant from Georgia, I believe from the USAR, and the other was a captain from Guam. Both were inbound to Iraq, but after we were hit, they got plucked out of wherever they were in Kuwait, put on a plane, and sent to us. Luck of the draw, but bad luck for them. They were not supposed to be going to Iraq as advisors, they were not originally headed to a combat assignment.  It was so sudden that neither of them had been issued a weapon. I learned during the operations order prior to leaving the wire, I would pick up the new Captain and he would ride in my HUMMVEE. 

So, dutifully, this mishmash of a combat patrol sucked it up and left the FOB going into harm’s way without complaint as we did everyday. I think most of us truly believed we would die this day. Of course, we didn’t actually say that to each other… 

We eventually arrived at the Palace. When we pulled up, we all got out of our vehicles and congratulated each other for making this perilous trip in one piece. I personally felt like a huge weight had been temporarily lifted from my back. It was my first mission where I was the new NCOIC for my team. First combat mission in a leadership position, and we made it safely. At least the first leg. 

So, most of us were out, backslapping each other and cameras came out and people started to snap pictures. I can’t really explain the euphoria that apparently hit us, other than to say that, at least in my case, we were alive and it felt really good at that moment in time. And, that’s where trouble started for us. 

My gunner that day, an E-7, was sitting in the turret of my HUMVEE. He had removed his helmet, revealing a sweaty, dirty bandana on his head, looking like some kind of deranged gang member. He was also smoking a cigarette. Now you have to understand that it is a serious violation of Army regulations to smoke in or close to any army vehicle. He didn’t care that day, and neither did I. His appearance was pretty shitty, but we all looked pretty bad. Tired, dirty, mentally beat, and we certainly didn’t look as though we had come from a Regimental Ball. We were front line combat troops that were worn out and we looked it. 

I was standing on one side of my truck, and none of us noted the One Star General on the steps surveying the scene. We learned that he was also the Deputy Commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, to whom we were assigned. We’d already had some not so good history with the 3rd ID. At one point, the commander of the FOB where we worked from and lived actually threw us off the FOB. I’m not really sure why, but maybe in another story I’ll give my guess. He was told that he could not “EVICT” an American Army Unit off of an American Base within a theater of war. We never got thrown out, but the Command Sergeant Major of that unit gave me no end of grief regarding my teams appearance. He constantly singled me out because I was now the Senior NCO standing in any of our four teams. 

This CSM was a guy who often met my team and others as we re-entered the FOB after a grueling combat mission. Instead of greeting his retuning troops with ice cold koolaid and a warm welcome, he gave us a bad time if, God forbid, one of us unsnapped our chin strap or removed our helmet in the 130 degree heat. But, that was his leadership style. Back during WWII they used to call this stuff chickenshit. And, chickenshit it was, as far as I was concerned. The man never once asked me what my troops needed or how I or they were doing. It was always “why are your people (insert trivial issue) and why don’t you do anything about it? “

So, back to Adnon Palace. Suddenly the General yelled out “Why are you smoking in that vehicle?” It was an exclamation more than a question. The gunner yelled back (to the General) “Because I’m too Fuckin tired to climb down!” The General, who by now was pretty irate followed up with a comment about the dirty rag on his head. I walked away. I know, it was a cowardly act on my part. I admit it. I thought at the time it was best not to get into a pissing match with a general. 

The general’s aid, a captain came down the steps. He told the gunner he wanted his name and unit info. What I didn’t realize was during that time, my brother, also an E-7 was snapping a photo of the gunner. The captain then approached Frank and asked for his information. The captain apologized and seemed like a reasonable sort, but Frank asked him why the general wanted his name. The captain replied that Frank was taking pictures of the gunner wearing his doo rag and smoking, instead of correcting this. Frank didn’t bother to tell the general’s aid that he did not out rank the gunner, nor was he his supervisor. Truth is, we all kind of lost our military bearing at that moment, and this episode would not endear us any further to the 3rd ID Command staff. 

This encounter returned us to reality and the mission at hand. I met the Captain that was going to be riding with me. After introducing myself to him, I explained where we were going. I sat him in the back of my truck, behind the driver, but we did not have a headset to give him to communicate with the rest of us. This was due to the fact that we had decided to never fill the HUMVEE to capacity unless it was a mission requirement. Our rationale was that if we took a hit, we’d lose one or two less soldiers. We normally ran with a driver, Truck Commander and Gunner. Often an interpreter was along, or our medic, but that still freed up one seat, one less soldier to die if we were hit with an EFP.

I explained to the captain that we were going through or near Sadr City, and his only job was to watch the roof lines along the route for snipers. I told him if he saw anyone who could have been a sniper to kick the drivers seat as hard as he could. I told him if we did get hit and have to react, he was to stick with me and do what I told him to do. 

I wasn’t used to giving curt orders to an officer, but this was serious business and my thought process was until he got some combat seasoning (which he soon did) at least on this mission, he was taking orders from me. I still called him Sir, and was respectful to him, but my instructions were not suggestions and I expected him, for our safety, to follow them to the T. To his credit, the captain didn’t argue or take exception with my instructions.

In fact, the captain’s only response to me, as he gazed at me with the widest eyes I had ever seen, was “SNIPERS?” More of an expression of horror than a question. That’s when it hit me. At that moment I immediately realized two things: 

  1. I was a combat veteran now. I had not looked at myself in that light until that very second. And, 
  2. Because of that fact the new guys, including the Captain were looking to me for guidance and assurance. 

I then put my arm on the captains shoulder, patted him a few times (something I would never have done to a commissioned officer before that time) I told him “Don’t worry Sir. We’ll be alright. If something happens, just stick with me”. I could see it helped him. Months later this captain told me that he appreciated the way I treated him that day.  He was candid and told us that he was scared shitless that day. He also told us then when he saw us pull up, we looked so bad that he thought we were some kind of secret black ops unit. He muttered to himself “who the fuck are these guys?“ He was mortified when he found out we were there for him, and worse, he was going with us! 

The captain became a fine combat officer and leader and it didn’t take long for him to earn the respect of the veterans in the unit. When he talked about meeting us, me in particular, we laughed about that, but the truth was I learned that there was no time to feel sorry for myself. Others now considered me a combat veteran and looking to me for leadership. 

We finally made it back to Rustamiyah safely with our two new troops. The euphoria we felt earlier was gone as we immediately received a warning order for the next days missions. Yes, we had survived, but the reality was we had survived that day only, and tomorrow we would do it again. And the day after that and the day after that…

That night I met with Major Cureton and gave him a heads up about the confrontation we had with the Deputy Division Commander. The Major seemed to take it in stride and told me not to worry about it. I was told at a later date the general did try to make trouble for us, wanted to punish our gunner, my brother and the leadership, which would have included me. I was told that he was advised by someone senior to him, (I’m assuming the Division Commander) to let it go because we’d just lost a bunch of people and were going through a tough time with a tough mission. I never heard another thing about that breach of discipline. 

A short time later, our teams received some more fillers. Troops new in country assigned to our teams. One morning I was with a team getting ready to head out. The patrol leader this day was Major Cruz, team chief of our 1st Battalion team. We were combining teams because we were still short of personnel and at that point had lost two of our twelve trucks during combat operations.

Another patrol from our FOB had left a short time earlier on a different mission. As my patrol was getting ready, there was a huge BOOM outside the FOB. I immediately knew it was bad . It was. My stomach tightened up and I got that sick feeling inside that had become so common for me by this time. Some small arms fire also erupted outside the FOB. Major Cruz got on one of the radios and relayed reports to us. “Several US wounded…one vehicle lost…one US KIA…more US KIA…and his report went on. 

We had a new medic, and one or two others that were going on their first combat patrol. As they listened to this and prepared to head out into the fray, I literally saw the blood drain from their faces. Being the Senior NCO present, I instinctively felt their eyes on me. It may have been Major Cruz’s patrol, but they were looking to me, the senior sergeant. For what? Something. 

I went to each, despite my own misgivings and fears, told them they were going to be alright and said just do what I do or what I tell you. I really think it helped each one of them. I was no longer in the leadership lab of OCS or an NCO school. No time to discuss theory here. I was expected to provide real and crucial leadership in this deadly environment. I was quickly learning how to survive, I was learning what it meant to be a leader in combat. The lessons were stark, often paid for with blood, and they came quickly, one after another. I had no time to feel sorry for myself. I was now responsible for the lives and well being of several soldiers, both enlisted and officers. I could only hope that I would be up to the challenge.

One of the photos taken upon arrival at Adnon Palace, just before the general came out on to the steps. That’s me at the far left!

The Wagon Run

Wagon Run

Warning: The following story contains some adult material and a few bad words…

I completed both police academies in NH in June of 1991. After that, I went to Ft. Jackson S.C. for three miserable weeks working as a Drill Sergeant. Some time in July of that year I returned from military duty and entered the Field Training Officer (FTO) period of my training. It would be the first time I worked on the street as a police officer. I always thought I was very fortunate to be one of only two academy classmates to be assigned to the 6PM to 230AM shift that summer. It was the busiest 8 hour shift in terms of calls for service, and that suited me just fine. We had 7 shifts in Patrol at that time (two days shifts, two night shifts and two midnight shifts) and I loved the 6-230AM shift. Didn’t help my social or family life, but what the hell, I thought. Those things are often unimportant to cops when they first start out in their careers. 

As long as I can remember I wanted to be a cop. I often dreamed about it. So, I hit the street for the first time during the very hot summer of 1991. I was 35 years old, certainly the oldest rookie at MPD. It turned out to be a wild and crazy summer in Manchester that year, and when in September I was assigned to day shift, I came to hate it, and I had to wait for several years before I had enough seniority to bid for and get back on the 6-230AM shift. 

It was the first week of my street training, and for some reason, I was assigned to a wagon much of my FTO period. This was fine with me. When I was a kid I listened to the Boston Police calls on my scanner and each district had one or two wagons, and I always pictured myself ripping around District 4 or the old District 9 in a wagon, going from call to call. Life had certainly come full circle for me in many ways!

On this night, I was driving and my FTO was the passenger. Back in those days, when we had a prisoner or prisoners in the wagon, they had to be seat belted in, and the cop who wasn’t driving had to ride in the back with the prisoners. That night was the exception. I drove, in order to get to know the city, but when we had a prisoner, my partner made me ride in the back because I was a trainee, also junior to him, but that was good enough for me. Normally, whoever was senior in a two officer assignment usually called the shots anyway. Riding in back always sucked, but that was the way it was. 

There were two wooden benches in the wagon, and they were hard. There was a cushion, for the cop, who sat on the right side of the rear, by the door. Prisoners would be seat belted in starting up front on the left, as far as possible from the where the cop sat. Often prisoners stunk. It wasn’t unusual to transport people who were bloody from fighting, or who had vomited, urinated or defecated themselves. I never saw this on Adam-12, nor did I ever see this in any recruitment brochures or videos.

It was not unusual, on a busy night, to have multiple prisoners from different arrests as we went from call to call around the city providing a sort of Uber or taxi service as cops made arrests, often simultaneously. It could be a dangerous job, as often times the prisoners we transported were intoxicated and / or violent. 

This night, after getting my assignment during roll call, I met with my training officer and we signed out our wagon. I was still brand new on the job, and not having grown up or lived in Manchester, I had no idea what to expect as far as crime or how busy the city was. I came from Boston, so I wasn’t expecting too much. That summer proved just how wrong I was.  

So we hit the street. My Field Training Officer (FTO) gave me a few ground rules, the first of which was to head to the Dunkin Donuts at Valley and Elm Sts. before we called into service. We might not get another chance to grab a coffee, he explained. 

It was still light, but probably close to 8 PM when we got this call. “Valley and Elm. 20X is off with an arrest and has one to go.” (meaning a prisoner to transport back to MPD). I missed both the original call for 20X as well as 20X calling for a wagon, but I didn’t miss the call for us. My partner copied the call and I headed there. A few minutes later, 20X called us directly and told us to “step it up!” That meant he was requesting a code three-blue lights and siren response from us. When he called us, I could hear tension in his voice and people yelling and screaming in the background. My partner hit the blues and siren and told me to step on it. I did. 

Valley and Elm was a busy intersection several blocks south of downtown. Elm Street’s notoriety came from the fact that it was listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the longest street in the country that dead ended at both ends. It ran from a housing project on it’s south end, through a busy downtown up to the North End of Manchester where the old Notre Dame College was once located. It was also an upscale neighborhood . Driving from Valley and Elm to Manchester’s northern end was like going to the moon. The difference was remarkable. 

We arrived. There was a large crowd of on lookers, and they were taunting Jimmy C. Jimmy had a black female in custody. She was barefoot, and screaming obscenities at Jimmy, and trying to break away. Jimmy was a salty veteran cop, had a dry sense of humor and could be funny as hell to ride with but I didn’t know him at that point. I had learned that this female, I’ll call her Holly, not her real name, had a pile of rocks and bricks and was throwing them at passing cars. Since this was a busy intersection, this was a problem requiring a police response. Jimmy was sent to the call, and the situation deteriorated the moment he arrived. I looked about and saw rocks and bricks strewn around the sidewalk and street. I remember wondering where the hell she got all those rocks from. 

Anyway, Holly was handcuffed, hands behind her back as per SOP, and Jimmy sort of flung her at me and said “Welcome to the Jungle”. I grabbed her while Jimmy went back and got her two shoes that somehow had come off during his struggle with her. He tossed her two shoes into the back of the wagon. I seated her up in the front corner, and I reached out my right arm across her front to grab the seatbelt. She bit me, on the forearm, just below the spot where one usually has blood drawn from them. However, she didn’t just bite me, she clamped her teeth down hard, and wouldn’t let go. She bit down into my arm, harder and harder, as though she was trying to rip a piece of my arm off. It seemed like she was trying to take a bite out of a turkey leg.  

I let out a yell, and I tried to pull my arm away from her, but she wouldn’t let go. I must have looked like a cartoon character whose arm was in the mouth of a bulldog and couldn’t shake it loose. I waved my arm up and down, to no effect. 

Suddenly, my partner / training officer appeared in the back of the wagon. “Marty!” he exclaimed. “What the fuck are you doing? We have calls waiting”. I must have glanced back at him over my shoulder with a stupid look on my face. He immediately sized up the situation, as she was still attached to my forearm by her teeth. Without skipping a beat, he threw a fist at her, striking Holly in the face. She flew back, and her head bounced off the inside of the wagon. I was in a lot of pain. I was afraid she had taken a large piece of meat out of my arm. When I looked there was blood, but thankfully, my arm was more or less intact. However, I was  bleeding from the open wound she caused. 

My partner, if he had any sympathy for me certainly didn’t show it. In fact, he went on to chastise me, asking me why I was fooling around when we had calls piling up. I think he thought that I should have whacked her right away, instead of waiting for him to do it. The truth was, I didn’t know what to do. I was a probationary officer, just starting my FTO period, and we never covered something like this at either police academy. Also, since Holly was a female, the idea of punching her in the face was kind of abhorrent to me. In the end, I had no problem with my partner punching her, and I should have done it myself. She did enough damage to me and could have done a lot more. Still though, I figured an excessive force complaint during my first week wouldn’t have boded well for me. Eventually, over time, I realized that it was more important to go home at the end of the shift in the same condition I left the house, and worrying about complaints became a secondary concern working the street. You did what you had to do to survive. But, I wasn’t there yet.

I took my seat in the back of the wagon, my partner closed the door and we were off to another call, siren wailing. On the way, Holly started in on me. Chowing down on my arm like a dog with a bone wasn’t enough for her. It was just the beginning. She started to taunt me. Without going into details here, she went on to question my manhood and my anatomy. She talked about my sexual ability, and how white blue eyed devils could never match a black man’s sexual prowess. Of course, that wasn’t the language she used. I was dumbfounded, no one had ever talked to me in such a manner. I said nothing to her. She put together a string of obscene insults the like of which I had never heard before in my life, and certainly never directed towards me! She would intermittently take breath and spit at me. I had to dodge her spittle as she “hucked” lungee after lungee towards me. After a few minutes they were dripping down the wall behind and all around my head. I had to keep moving to avoid the things she spat at me the entire ride. It was like playing Dodge Ball without the ball. And I certainly didn’t want to become “it’ in this game. The more she cursed me, the louder she got and the worse she sounded. 

Mercifully, the wagon came to a stop, but Holly did not. Her tirade continued. The wagon doors opened and there was a cop I had never met before. He had a middle aged white woman in handcuffs. He started to put her in the wagon, but Holly was still carrying on. The new prisoner had been stopped in her car, and I think her license was suspended. She looked at Holly with horror, and started begging us NOT to put her in the wagon with her. Someone thought better of it, removed the woman.  My partner told me to hang on. The doors closed, and thankfully, we were off hurtling towards the station with blue lights and siren.

By the time we arrived, I had already had more than a day’s worth of exercise while I rode in back with Holly. Holly had quieted down as we backed into the sally port. Thank God, I thought. When we came to a stop I CAREFULLY removed her seatbelt, fearing she would spit on me, but she did not. We got her into booking. She was brought to the booking window and the arresting officer Jimmy carefully removed her handcuffs. Suddenly she went off once again. Several of us wrestled with her, and we all fell together to the floor.

Suddenly, as we struggled with her, someone appeared with a straight jacket. Yup, an honest to goodness straight jacket that up until now I had never seen except in the movies. Guy (pronounce GEE, as in Guy LaFluer) was a traffic cop with a pronounced French Canadian accent. Guy happened to be nearby and came to our aid. I have no idea how many of us were fighting with Holly on the floor at that point. There were other prisoners within the cell block who were cheering her on. Guy grabbed a handful of disposable gloves, and as we wrestled, we each stuck up one hand at a time while he placed a glove on each outstretched hand. 

My problem was that I had no idea how to put this thing onto our prisoner. They never taught us how to do that at the police academy. We were involved in a long, protracted knock down drag out battle on the floor with Holly. In addition to punching and kicking, Holly was spitting and trying to bite anyone close to her. At one point, Jimmy, who had left the room for a moment came back, stood looking at us wrestle with his prisoner, and then said “Hey Marty, how do you like your new fucking job so far ?” I was unable to answer. Guy, kinda the senior cop present told Jimmy to get out and slammed the door. Eventually, we did get the straight jacket on her, and she was put in a cell. I’m not sure what happened to her after that. I was filthy, uniform ripped, out of breath and covered with spit. Not to mention, my arm, where she bit me was a mixture of fresh and dried blood. 

When we were done, I finished my shift in the emergency room of one of the local hospitals. It was my second trip there as a patient since I had started this new career. I made many more trips to the ER as a patient before the year was up. All relatively minor injuries, but never the less, I got tired of calling my wife at night, telling her I was going to be late coming home because I was in the hospital. She didn’t care to receive those calls very much either.

Fortunately, I didn’t need stitches. Doc told me that because the wound was where it was, stitches wouldn’t  do any good anyway. So they patched me up, gave me a tetanus shot and eventually released me. However, the staff was VERY concerned about the human bite. In the end, I had to be tested for all kinds of diseases I could have contracted, and in the following weeks I had to endure a series of painful injections to immunize and protect me  against who knew what. It was not the last time I was bitten at work, and sadly, not the last time I had to endure this series of nasty injections. 

As for Holly, she had already been designated by the courts as being unfit to stand trial, so nothing ever happened to her for that day or any of her future arrests. My first meeting with her, was the first time I had shed blood on the job and may have well have been the first time I was assaulted on the job. Such a great milepost for my career. Unfortunately, it was certainly not the last. 

Post Script. 

Several years later, I was working a quiet midnight shift on the West Side when I stopped a car for blowing a red light. The driver pulled into the driveway of her house, which was the only reason she stopped. I walked up to the car, already determining that I was going to summons the driver for the red light. I made contact with the driver, who was a black female. I asked her for her license and registration and an explanation as to why she ran the red light. She gave no explanation. I went back to my car. I pulled out my clipboard and a blank summons and started to write. Date, time ,location…then I looked at her license. Yup, you guessed it. It was non other than Holly. I immediately went back to her. I noted that several adult members of her family had come outside to see what was up, even though it was about 2AM. I handed her license and registration back to her, gave her a brief oral warning, went back to my cruiser and couldn’t get away from her fast enough. I got the hell out! I tore up the summons. I cleared the stop with a warning, wrote the contact in my notebook. 

For many years, every so often I would hear her name over the radio, called in for a stop, and occasionally she would be arrested for whatever. I always chuckled to myself and silently wished good luck to whichever cop had the misfortune to have stopped her. As for me, I wanted no part of her, ever again.  

A Prayer, a Kick, Pain and a Deflated Ego

I was once given a pretty good beating by an elderly woman. She was well into her 60’s, probably close to 70. Yes, it’s true, but I have an alibi. It was one of the first really warm spring nights up here in whatever year this occurred, kind of early in my career. That evening, I was called into the station, where I was met by a sergeant. He filled me in, informing me we were going to a particular address to pick up an older woman, bring her back to MPD where she would then be picked up and transported to the State Hospital by the Sheriff’s Department. Once brought to the state hospital, she would receive an involuntary mental health evaluation. 

This woman’s family had successfully obtained this order, or mental health “Prayer” as it is called in NH. She would not be under arrest, that is, she committed no crime, however we were required by the order to pick up and bring her in, even if we had to do it forcibly, against her will. This was not an uncommon assignment in Patrol. 

The sergeant and I arrived at the house a short time later. When we entered, we found the woman’s husband and daughter were seated at the kitchen table and told us simply “she’s in there” pointing to a bedroom near the front of the apartment. 

Beyond that, the family members didn’t seemed to be very concerned one way or another that we were there. They appeared and sounded very laconic as we spoke with them. I figured they had just had enough of this woman. We went to the bedroom, and there we found a large woman, and her most notable feature appeared to me (in addition to her size) was the dark and rather thick mustache that was growing on her upper lip. She was wearing only a house coat and I would soon discover that she wore nothing else underneath her housecoat.  She was walking in circles, talking or praying rather loudly to Jesus in a mixture of English and Spanish asking him for help and who knows what else. In my friendliest and most persuasive manner I could, I introduced myself and tried to talk with her. I explained that she was going to the hospital for an examination, and we were there to give her a ride, which of course was true. 

She immediately became even more distraught, which was understandable, and then asked for her bible. Soon the requests turned into angry demands and she was quickly becoming incoherent. After trying to find her bible, without either success or help from her family who sat impassively at the kitchen table, it was becoming more and more obvious she was not going to with us voluntarily. It was beginning to look as though we would have to handcuff her, forcibly  escort, or drag her out of her room, never mind the apartment. This type of thing never ends well. To complicate matters her family was present, and even though they initiated this action, my experience had already taught me that when we had to get physical with someone and other family members are present, it often gets even more violent and rarely ends well. I found that to often be the case even when the other family had summoned the police for help in the first place, which was the case here. I had been around long enough to get that feeling that not only was this not going well, I rapidly assessed that we may have a real problem here on our hands. It was important that we get some kind of control over her immediately lest she get her hands on a knife or gun, or any nearby dangerous weapon and use it on us, or the other people in the house. The sergeant gave me the high sign, and I grabbed my handcuffs. 

In the Police Academy, and many other types of Use of Force Training I had received, it was always pointed out that when you confront someone who is potentially an assaultive subject, whether its someone encountered on the street or someone you decide to arrest, there are certain physical stances you should take to prevent a sudden attack from seriously injuring you or leading to the loss of your weapon. Without going into the specifics of this training and best practices, suffice it to say I did not exercise prudent caution that day.

Whether it was her age, or the fact the she was a woman, both I guess, I chose to try to be friendly, talk to her in what thought was an affable manner. I didn’t take up a guarded position. As bad as this situation was becoming, I still didn’t recognize that I was in real danger and as  result left myself open for the assault that was to follow. I reached for my handcuffs in a casual manner I grasped one of her wrists. Now the prudent thing to do was for each one of us to grab a wrist simultaneously and get the cuffs on both wrists before she could resist. That way we could maintain some sort of control over her if she started to struggle. But no, instead I acted as though I was handcuffing a compliant subject who was being arrested for some relatively minor infraction. 

Within a microsecond, she swung around, freeing her wrist from my grip. Simultaneously, she delivered a devastating blow to my groin with her (shod) foot. This blow caused me to immediately collapse onto the floor, like a house of cards when a card is suddenly pulled out from the bottom. I found myself crawling around on all fours, like a puppy dog, in extreme pain I can’t even begin to describe. I remember eventually glancing around from my position on the floor and seeing the Sergeant rolling around the floor with, and trying to get control of this woman. I was, at the time useless as the sergeant wrestled with her. I couldn’t even call for help. (I never would have lived that down!) By this point, her housecoat was open and in tatters, and for the most part she was completely naked, with the exception of her housecoat wrapped around her head and shoulders. It wasn’t a pretty sight and I’m sure the scene looked more than absurd. 

While this debacle was playing out, the family remained in the kitchen, apparently deciding not to intercede on either side. Eventually, the sergeant was able to handcuff the woman, with very little, if any, help from me and he was getting her somewhat under control. He called for a wagon. Meanwhile, I was slowly able to get off the floor, and I started to slowly recover. 

Eventually, the wagon shows up, and she comes along as the three of us exit the house. I must have looked like hell, I certainly felt like it. Like I said earlier, it was a warm spring evening, in an inner city neighborhood, and like most warm evenings in the early spring, the neighbors were sitting around on their front steps and porches, the daily drinking ritual having begun much earlier due to the nice weather. We had already figured during roll call that we would be in for a long and busy night. 

Suddenly, as we left the house, our prisoner started to act up again. We burst out of the house pulling and dragging, pushing and pulling this poor woman who coincidently got her second wind when she saw the neighbors were looking on. We struggled with her as we forcibly assisted her to the wagon. Add to this that the lady was still mostly naked. The sergeant had tried to cover her with a blanket, but she was having none of it. She was yelling and screaming, asking for help, the police were beating her, kidnapping her, etc. I learned early on during my police career that when someone does not want to go with you, there is never a nice way to take that person into custody. No matter how nice and professional we tried to be, the sight of the three of us must have looked terrible to any onlookers who never had police experience. 

In a moment’s time, the neighborhood turned on us. They started to move closer, near the cruiser and wagon. They taunted us, screamed, demanding that we let her go. They shouted things I wouldn’t repeat here. They had no idea what brought us there not would they have cared even if they knew what had transpired minutes before inside the house. I can only imagine how bad and ridiculous the scene was that unfolded in the middle of the street and how we must have looked as we dragged and tried to stuff the older woman into the wagon while she pleaded for help. I was beginning to fear for our safety, and I was in no condition to fight. There were four of us there now, the two wagon cops and the Sergeant and I. We were outnumbered by a large crowd, many of whom had been drinking. The situation was starting to get out of hand. 

Before you feel too sorry for her, I do have to say she got her licks in. She didn’t go without a fight. And, as far as I can tell, the only one that got hurt that night was me. We eventually got her into and seat belted in the wagon, but not without an ongoing battle. The fact that none of us wanted to hurt her in the process just made things more difficult. We did not have OC spray at the time, so it was wrestle and drag, and no one wanted to us a fist, stick or a baton. The situation that unfolded on the street got uglier by the minute. People started to throw stuff at us.

I figured we were going to get attacked en masse at any moment. The wagon was behind our cruiser, so it couldn’t leave with her until we did. The sergeant yelled for us to get the EFF out, we ran up to the cruiser, and along with the wagon we fired up the blue lights and hit the gas, effecting a close escape along with our reluctant passenger. We didn’t wait for back up to arrive, nor did we bother to locate and obtain witnesses to what had occurred. By this time, I was still in a lot of pain, nauseous, if somewhat functional. 

But, that was the night I figuratively and literally got the crap kicked out of me by a senior citizen, who happened to be a woman. I’m sure my previous defensive tactics instructors would have been appalled. None of this helped my ego either. It was a very painful lesson I learned the hard way. There were other lessons as well. Such a large part of our job in the Patrol function was to deal with persons who suffer from an assortment of mental illnesses. Back then the police in this country referred to such persons as MDPs, meaning mentally disturbed persons. They were always unpredictable, and you never knew who or what you were facing when you had contact with them. 

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last time I took a good pasting from someone unusual during my police career. I laugh about them now, but they weren’t funny at the time. 

My Christmas in Iraq

The Author consulting with his team preparing for a combat mission

I think many of us have heard stories or seen movies about our fighting men and women spending Christmas so far away from their family and loved ones during wartime. Different conflicts, different circumstances. The one constant was the threat of violent, sudden death weighing on everyone’s mind. When death did visit, it often did so suddenly, often unannounced and with a ferocity which can never be imagined if one had never been exposed it. Death often struck arbitrarily, with a random unpredictability that causes survivors to ponder their continued existence and ask the question “why not me? ” for many, many years. I’ve heard this dynamic referred to as survivors guilt, and I can assure you is does exist. 

In December of 2005 I found myself in a combat zone on Christmas Day. My advisory team had been assigned to and working off of a FORWARD OPERATIONS BASE (known as a FOB)  called Rustamiyah. Rusty, pronounced Roosty, as we sometime called it, was located in South Bahgdad. It was originally called Camp Cuervo, named after a US soldier killed during the 2003 invasion. 

Rustamiyah was a bleak place, very close to another hell hole called Sadr City. We did have a good mess hall, and we were fed well when we were on the FOB and not involved in combat operations. No one came to Rustamiyah unless they were forced to do so. It was an outpost not unlike some of the Army outposts in the 1800’s out west, isolated and surrounded by hostile forces. Like those calvary soldiers of old we often referred to everything outside the wire as Indian County, with apologies for using the term to all my Native Americans friends out there.

My mental state wasn’t very good as Thanksgiving came and went and Christmas approached. In the fall we had lost our Commander, LTC Leon James, along with MSG Tulsa Tuliau and SFC Casey Howe during combat operations. Several soldiers stationed on our FOB had been killed on or nearby and we lost dozens of the Iraqis we served with up until that point. I didn’t think it was possible, but those losses would dramatically increase in January of 2006 after a Shia Mosque was attacked and blown up by Sunni terrorists, and dozens of innocent worshipers were slaughtered. 

It seemed as though we were surrounded by carnage, day in and day out, and I came to the conclusion that I was living on borrowed time. I just couldn’t convince myself that I was going to avoid the fate of others while I was participating in combat operations day in and day out, sometimes multiple operations a day. Additionally, the FOB itself was coming under mortar and rocket attack more frequently with increasing accuracy. No one was allowed to walk around the FOB without being armed and weapon fully locked and loaded. A soldier, or for that matter, any bystander could be standing nearby one minute and gone forever the next. And that my friend, is not over dramatization. 

The command cell of the FOB did their best to cheer the soldiers up. There was a large inflatable Santa Clause outside the PX, yet at the same time there were small bunkers strewn around the FOB for personnel to duck into for protection when the enemy, somewhere outside started lobbing mortar rounds into the FOB. I always thought the Santa, near one of those sandbag bunkers looked ridiculous and out of place. There were plenty of phones with which to call home, assuming you had a valid AT&T phone card with money on it. There was also an internet cafe operated by some enterprising local Iraqis, some of whom moonlighted as enemy agents. Maybe it was the other way around. 

But no matter what the command staff did, the fact that we all had to walk past the Mortuary Affairs building to get to the mess hall certainly reminded us that people were dying here and what fate may await us before we were done. At night, when the light was on inside that building, I knew there was one or more dead American Soldiers being prepared for the beginning of their last, long trip home. Daily, sometimes hourly, the medivac helicopters, always two at a time landed. The crews quickly offloaded their wounded, dying and dead to the Battalion Aid station, which we lived above. Those birds also took out the deceased soldiers that either couldn’t be saved, or had been prepared by the FOB Mortuary Affairs Team. I learned to hate the sound of those Blackhawks coming and going. Even today I shudder when I hear them flying past. I can say the only thing that kept me going day to day was the fact that I found myself in a leadership position, and when one mission ended, I had to help plan and prepare my soldiers for the next one. That didn’t leave very much time for me to mope around. 

As Christmas Day approached, my brother and I, who shared a room together on the FOB tried to cheer up our windowless room by putting up some decorations. I think we had three little Christmas trees sent to us by various people, and an endless pile of snacks that were sent to by both family, and many people who we never met. My wife sent us a Christmas CD, and we often played it when we were in our room together. Unfortunately, the more we tried to make it seem like Christmas, the more it made me miss home and my family. 

Unlike Thanksgiving, when we got a couple of days to stand down, our operational tempo remained high (it did throughout my tour there) and it became obvious to me that we would get no such break for Christmas. Sure enough, we conducted a combat patrol on Christmas Eve, and another one early the day after Christmas. Fortunately, someone cut us some slack, and my team did not have to go outside the wire Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve arrived, we went out on a mission, I don’t recall what it was, but we made it back to the FOB safely. I let loose a sigh of relief, as I took my sweat soaked gear off, layer by layer. I knew that at least I probably wouldn’t die on Christmas Day. After taking care of necessary business, I went to the internet cafe room to email my wife, let her know I was safe, at least for the moment, and relieved that unless something bad happened, we would spend Christmas Day on the FOB. 

As soon as I sat down, the dreaded communications blackout went into effect. Anytime an American Soldier from the FOB was killed in action, a commo blackout would occur, and all forms of communications with the outside world was cut. The blackout remained in effect until after, on the other side of the world, the wife, husband or parents of the newly deceased soldier was notified in person by officials of the death. Often that took between 12-24 hours, and during that time no one could contact anyone lest word of the death get to the family before the official notification.  

Needless to say, these all too regular commo blackouts were very nerve wracking to me and depressing. I remember going to eat on those evenings, the lights were always on inside of that ghastly building. After leaving the internet cafe rather frustrated with not being able to email or call home, I walked up the stairs with the knowledge that somewhere at home, a family doesn’t yet know it, but their loved one is dead, and the mechanism the Army used to notify the family was already triggered, and the dreadful news was on the way. 

As I climbed the stairs I was approached by a Chaplin who I’d never seen before. I don’t know why he chose me, maybe because I was a senior NCO, perhaps I just looked harmless.

“Master Sergeant” he called out to me. “What’s going on? Whats happening?” he implored, hoping I could enlighten him. It was obvious to me that he was referring to the announcement of the commo blackout that had just gone into effect, and he was also reacting to the behavior of some of the troops who knew what that meant. 

I sized him up momentarily, and I saw the 4th Infantry Division Patch on his shoulder. A unit from the 4th Infantry Division had just arrived on the FOB, relieving a unit from the 3rd Infantry Division which had rotated home earlier that week. ‘He just got here’ I thought to myself, which explained his ignorance on the matter. I stopped, respectfully explained the situation, and although he was Black, I swear his face turned a pale shade of white. He answered me by exclaiming “Dear God help us!”  I explained further that it was the third blackout of the week. I tried to be a bit reassuring to him while at the same time not feed him any BS. He was in the middle of it, and I wasn’t going to downplay life at Rustamiyah. The sooner he learned that, the  easier it would be for him to adjust and do his job. I knew he was going to be a busy, overworked Chaplin during his time here, but he didn’t know that yet. We parted company, and he walked away from me obviously shaken by what I had told him.  

Later on Christmas Eve, my brother and I decided to get some rice and soup at a little Iraqi shop on the FOB. While we were sitting, a female Major walked in, with another female. I had never seen either before, but they wore 101 Airborne Division patches, so I figured they had also just arrived. While Frank and I silently nibbled on our rice and goat meat, the Major, I discovered later, was a Physician’s Assistant new in-country and assigned to the Battalion Aid station on the FOB. I overheard the Major tell her companion about all her plans for her time here, the clinics she was going to set up in and around Rustamiyah and Sadr City, how she was planning to tour the area, and spend much her free time amongst the Iraqi people.

By this time, my brother and I were pretty salty veterans. We had seen, survived and learned a lot. The more I overheard of the Major’s conversation, the more silly she sounded, and the more irritated I became. She was apparently very naive. That was understandable. We all were at one point. But I thought that her ignorance may cost some soldiers their lives if she actually tried to do some of the things she ticked off her list. My brother and I exchanged knowing glances and as we left the shop, I stopped and candidly told the Major to forget all that. I told her that here in Rustamiyah, the number one rule was that you never went outside the wire unless you had to. Not unless you were ordered to do so. She was apparently annoyed by my intrusion, showed it, and acted as though I didn’t know what I was talking about. I could tell she was thinking I had a hell of a nerve to address her in such a fashion. After all, I was an NCO (albeit a senior NCO) and she was a field grade officer. My approaching her in this fashion clearly violated the etiquette that exists within the U.S. Army. However, by that time I didn’t worry about those niceties that work OK back in garrison during peace time.  

I shrugged my shoulders and we walked away. We both commented that she had a lot to learn. I figured she’d learn soon enough. Eventually, back in our windowless room Frank put on our sole Christmas CD. I changed into my P/T gear (the only clothes you could wear outside your room if not in complete uniform). I was certain we would get mortared that night. Hell if I was the enemy, that’s the least I would do to the American Infidels on this night. I put my shoulder holster on, made sure my pistol was loaded in case I had to defend myself during the night. I also had my M-4 locked and loaded nearby my bunk. My brother had a hand grenade next to his bed. 

I sat down on my folding chair while Frank tried to make a video to send home. At one point, tears welled up in my eyes, and I had a hard time talking on camera. I missed my family, friends and home, but I was also convinced I would never see them again. 

Eventually, I hit my rack and slept fitfully. I listened to the tanks and Bradley’s line up in the darkness outside of my window. The engines were growling like inanimate beasts. The crews and ground troops shouted and cursed as they got ready to go outside the wire. They would conduct various missions and patrols on this early Christmas morning before daylight came. I was thankful that for the moment, I wasn’t going with them. I was also happy that I could sleep in when morning came. I pulled my poncho liner up over my shoulder and I drifted off to sleep.

It seemed as though I had just closed my eyes, when I was jolted out of my sleep by someone  pounding on our door. For a minute I didn’t know where I was. It was my Team Chief. He told me to get the troops up and dressed because the Commanding General was coming to see us. He wanted to spend Christmas morning with our advisory team. The General, having met him before, was, I thought a good man. I immediately liked him, which was more than I could say about many of the other general officers I had interacted with during my tour. However, now I was highly pissed about his intrusion into my one day off. I was up late, thought I was going to catch up on my sleep and may never have left my room that day if left alone. It was 7 AM or so. 

Now I had to shower, shave, get fully dressed and also find my troops and get them ready. I was really unhappy, to say the least. As it turned out, I was up and about just in time to learn of a KIA being brought into the Battalion Aid Station. He was the driver of an M-1 tank that had left the FOB earlier and it was struck by an EFP (Electronically Fired Projectile), which was the same deadly device that killed our team members back in September. The driver was dead on arrival, I won’t describe his condition, but I’ll never forget it. To this date, this device was the only device or weapon to ever penetrate the crew compartment of an M-1 Abrams Tank. One of the projectiles penetrated between the tank’s front and second road wheel, going through the drivers compartment, killing the driver instantly. Was it possible that his was one of the tanks I listened to while I tried to sleep just a couple of hours earlier? In any case, this is what I awoke to on Christmas morning. 

Eventually, all four teams met in our Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and awaited the arrival of the General. Suddenly, there was a loud boom. The building shook. We knew what it was, and we instinctively knew it was bad. We went to check, and we found that a HUMVEE that was leaving the FOB was hit by an EFP as it left the wire. There was one dead, two seriously wounded, one of which would die shortly thereafter. We watched as the wounded and dead soldiers, after having been pulled out of the mangled, smoking wreck that until a minute ago was their HUMMVEE and rushed to the Battalion Aid station. They hadn’t been here a week. So now the tally for the day (the devil’s arithmetic, if I may borrow the term)  is three dead and one seriously wounded on our FOB, and here it was not yet 10 O’Clock on Christmas Day. We had lost several troops earlier in the week, and of course one more on Christmas Eve.

As it turned out, the General never did make it to Rustamiyah. It seems that our FOB was declared unsecure, and the General was advised not to risk going there. Of course this place  wasn’t secure, I thought disgustedly. They didn’t know that up there? Was the steady flow of dead and wounded from this place not enough to tip them off yet? While we existed day to day, fought and many died here, some staff NCO or Officer, safe in one of Saddam’s many former palaces finally got the idea Rustamiyah really was a dangerous place and decreed that Rusty was too dangerous to travel to. My contempt for certain elements within our higher command was never higher than it was that day, but the day continued. 

While speaking with my brother in the TOC, waiting for the General, he told the following story. 

After being rudely awakened, he got his shower and shaving stuff and headed across the little street to the shower trailers (hoping as always he didn’t get picked off by a sniper or vaporized by a random mortar round). There was no plumbing or water in the building we lived in when on the FOB. He walked by the Battalion Aid Station, and he came upon the Major that he and I had briefly spoke with on Christmas Eve, She was dressed in hospital scrubs, and they and she were covered with blood. She seemed very distraught, and my brother being the professional NCO that he was walked up to her and asked if she was OK.

The gulf between Officer and NCO suddenly disappeared. She told him she was not OK. At 6AM she reported to the Aid Station for her first tour on duty there. There was no doctor assigned there, certainly no surgeon, so the Major was the highest level of medical professional on duty. It was her job to triage and patch up wounded soldiers who, if still alive would be flown to the near Combat Army Surgical Hospital for life saving care.

She went on to explain that the first casualty of the day was the tank driver who I saw being brought in a short time earlier. She said she could do nothing for that young soldier, and she further declared that after seeing his condition, if she had her pistol with her, she would have gone outside and killed the first Iraqi she came across. My brother said she was serious. 

Well, she talked to my brother for a bit, and being a cop, Frank kinda knew how to talk to her and she eventually went back to work, not knowing the worst was yet to come that day.

As time went on there was a small group of NCOs that would get together and eat evening chow at the dining facility together whenever we could. The Major often joined Frank and I in that group (there were also one or two other officers) and we all became fairly good friends and she became a member of our little Supper Club, which is what we called ourselves. In the months that followed, she often talked at length about her first duty day on Christmas at Rustamiyah. It didn’t take her too long to get the picture and become a combat veteran herself.  

Going back to Christmas Day, after we got word the General was not coming (he came a week later on New Years Day) since we were all up and dressed, Frank and I went to the mess hall and ate a good meal. I was so distraught at what I had seen that day, I don’t remember what I ate. 

I don’t know if I ever did call home that day due to the commo blackouts which were most likely still in effect. I went back to the room, very depressed and I sulked for a bit. I had lost count of how many troops we lost the week of Christmas. We lost too many, that’s for sure. How could I possibly believe I would be lucky enough to make it out of there in one piece? I was in a tough spot there, assigned to a dangerous mission. We all were.

Fortunately, I wasn’t able to feel sorry for myself for very long. Before the evening was over, I was called to meet with my Team Chief. He had received a new warning order regarding our combat mission the next morning. He briefed me, we made a tentative plan and I went back to work. Christmas, if it ever did come to Rustamiyah, was for all practical purposes over. That was Christmas Day at FOB Rustamiyah, 2005.