September 14, 2011
Name: J.P. Raab
Returned from: Afghanistan
Returning to: Afghanistan
Hometown: Rochester, NY
Milblog: With a Bible in My Ruck
Specialist McFlurry is in his late thirties and doesn't look a day over fifty. He's short, stocky, has a wrinkled face, teeth blackened from years of coffee, tobacco use, and a liver and kidney system undoubtedly pickled from years of hard drinking – habits developed on active duty and refined during his years as a correctional officer.
He's been in the Army a long time, and he likes to remind us of that every chance he gets. In the National Guard, it's not uncommon to see older guys (even veterans) in the lower ranks. On Active Duty, soldiers get promoted up or they get promoted out. But if you wanted to stay a Specialist E4 (“the best rank in the Army”) for twenty years in the National Guard and retire at that grade, there's nothing stopping you.
“Let me tell ya about this one guy I had to deal with,” his stories begin, or “There was this time in Korea, we were out on this field exercise, trying to dig sh----r holes,” or, more often, “So this one chick I was banging back in the early nineties...”
Laughter erupts from the platoon, usually followed by a chorus of “Shut the f--- up, McFlurry!” or “I love you, McFlurry!” When the Suck Factor is high, boredom is rampant, and the training is tough, it's good to have someone to turn to for a laugh.
“Tell us a story, McFlurry!”
Admittedly, his commentaries or his accounts are not always welcome. Sometimes soldiers will literally shout him down, while sometimes others will stand up for him because, well, they're bored as hell and want to laugh with – or at – someone.
“McFlurry, finish the story,” my squad leader said one time, “and it better be funny, otherwise I'm gonna kick your ass. Don't just start out with something funny and then bumblef--- your way into something stupid. Finish strong.”
Regardless of rank, McFlurry will usually mumble something offensive under his breath: “Pretty-boy mumble mumble telling me I ain't funny mumble mumble."
“What?” my squad leader snapped.
“Uhh, uh-huh, nothing big Sarge!” McFlurry said, smiling and looking away.
“Tell the G—damn story!” someone yelled.
From there, McFlurry's story – like all of his stories – meandered down a complex and ever-winding path of vulgarity and self-deprecation. McFlurry isn't the best storyteller, but he knows how to make everyone laugh. In that way, he's good for morale. Even though he often presents himself as a disgusting slob with his dirty face and pound of dip sitting not-so-snugly in his lower lip, he enjoys the attention, even negative attention, and relishes the chance to be the platoon (and company) clown. He's an older man among the young, and spending time with us is his way of recapturing some of the magic of his prime.
It is no surprise, then, that when our battalion S-3 (Operations officer; the man in charge of much of the battalion-level planning, sort of a right-hand man to the commander) wandered through our circus tent in search of soldiers as part of a “sensing session” (getting on-the-ground opinions and observations), that McFlurry of all people would be the soldier to meet him.
I was sitting on my cot, trying hard not to fall asleep, when I looked over at the entourage of officers and senior NCOs in crisp, clean uniforms stop at Specialist McFlurry's garbage-strewn bunk.
Shirtless, sweaty, grungy, and with a giant dip in his lower lip, McFlurry slowly stood up to the position of attention. He looked somewhat uncomfortable as the officer asked him questions.
“What the hell is this?” I said to myself, sitting up. I watched without looking like I was watching – a skill all soldiers develop in Basic Training. After several minutes, McFlurry sat back down and the procession marched on to find some other soldier to bother.
I got up and went over to McFlurry's bunk.
“What was that all about?” I asked.
“Oh, just the S-3,” he said. “Asked me what unit I'm in, and about my family and about the training.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Told him the family's good, the training's been alright,” he answered.
“Did he say anything about the fact that you're sitting here with your hairy chest out, covered in dirt?”
“No, didn't seem to notice, actually. He was a nice guy.”
“Well, if someone had to represent Alpha Company, I'm glad it was you, McFlurry. You're the face of the American fighting man.”
“Thank you, Sergeant,” he said, smiling, sure that there was a joke in there somewhere.
“Carry on, hero,” I said, walking away and shaking my head.
If you have never been in the military, you probably have never met him. But if you have served – especially in a combat unit – you have. Guys like him keep the Army (or the Marines, Navy, or Air Force, for that matter) fighting. Everyone has a job in the Army. There's no Military Occupational Specialty designator for “Platoon Clown”, but there should be. It is just important a role as Rifleman or Medic.
I'm not sure what all of his reasons are for being with us, but I know that many months from now, we're going to need a good laugh. And we'll know where to look for one.
Jonathan Raab is a spokesman for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America who is currently preparing for his second deployment to Afghanistan with the New York Army National Guard. You can follow his blog at www.withabibleinmyruck.blogspot.com.