Stuff That Almost Killed Bowmen* (Name altered to protect identity) Part I
I shared this three-part series on Facebook a while back, long before I started this blog. I find it mildly entertaining and worth sharing. I hope you enjoy.
Private Bowmen was probably the smallest Trooper in our Battery when we deployed to Iraq in 2005. He was a socially awkward kid from Florida that stood just under 5’5” and couldn’t possibly weigh any more than 130 pounds. Bowmen had a perpetual limp that seemed to switch legs from one day to the next depending on what we did for physical fitness training, but based on his ability to hurt himself I believe there may have been actual injury. By trade he was nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) Soldier. At this stage in the war there wasn’t much concern over enemy use of NBC weapons, so Bowmen needed to be gainfully employed elsewhere. Having been reorganized from an artillery battery to a convoy security company, there was a need for qualified drivers and able gunners. As it turns out, Bowmen was neither. He couldn’t charge the .50 caliber in the turret and I’m pretty sure he couldn’t see over the steering wheel. The truth of the matter is that Bowmen was the single most accident prone individual I have ever met in my life and couldn’t be trusted to drive a 2.25-ton Army vehicle. So, he was designated as the tool room custodian in our maintenance bay.
Bowmen didn’t take well to the inevitable banter that goes on between Soldiers and was prone to fits of rage when included in our verbal sparring. Like any good Soldier will do when discovering an injury in a buddy, we stuck our figurative fingers in the wound. If you ever join the military, for the love of all things holy, do not let on when something bothers you physically or emotionally. Bowmen did eventually join in the game but was quick to blow up when what he dished out was fed back to him. We never physically abused the guy except for our section’s tradition of “birthday pink bellies”. (*Disclaimer: This has since been deemed “hazing” and has no place in our organization). Besides, he was far better equipped to damage himself than we were. After a short period of something like mild neglect, he found his place in the pecking order and began to be seen like an annoying younger sibling who we wouldn’t allow others to harass. He was something of a motor pool mascot to us and a source of endless and humorous distraction.
Coming out of his self-inflicted isolation, Bowmen expressed an interest in doing more to help out. Our Chief gave Bowmen over to me so that he could learn the use of cutting torches and plasma cutters. What could go wrong? At this stage of the war there was a great many units that fabricated their own add on armor to supplement the poor protection offered by standard equipment. This became one of my areas of responsibility. I had to reclaim armor from obsolete fabrications by the previous unit then design and build armored items for our use. In a muddy patch of unused ground, the unit we replaced left large steel boxes that were designed to go in the back of the trucks they used for convoy security missions. There was a raised platform inside with a swiveling seat and gun mount since the trucks they used did not have roof turrets. My task was to instruct Bowmen on the use of cutting tools to dismantle these boxes. Not comfortable giving him fire attached to rubber hoses filled with volatile gases, I opted to give him the plasma cutter. After all, he couldn’t blow us up with an electric arc shielded in argon gas.
I say all of that to set the stage for what began a list of items that very nearly killed the little guy.
Item 1: Iraqi dog. A three legged stray dog had taken up residence under a platform in one of the gun boxes. While I began setting up the plasma cutter for Bowmen and attempted to teach him how to do it, he became distracted by the gunner’s seat in the box. In a display of childlike glee, he hopped around the corner and opened the door to the gun box to go get in the seat.
It was at this point we were introduced to the dog. She was startled by his entrance into the box and decided she should be elsewhere as quick a manner as her three legs could get her there. She never made a sound but shot like a bolt straight for the door. The door currently held a small, shocked, and now frozen Bowmen. As the dog lunged towards freedom, Bowmen simply went over backwards with a scream I haven’t heard out of anyone other than 3rd grade girls. This was good for the dog though as she didn’t have to get her paws stuck in the six in deep mud since Bowmen now filled a five-foot stretch of that. Upon regaining his senses (the dog was long gone) he extracted himself from the mud and darted (still screaming like a little girl) around the gun box in the opposite direction the dog had gone. Upon noticing my uncontrolled mirth Bowmen became enraged, and kicked the steel box with his good foot, screamed and fell again. This only added to my glee and he stormed off towards Chief’s office with his middle finger over his shoulder. I gathered myself and finished setting up for the day’s work. It was only six in the morning. This was going to be a good day.
Item 2: Gun box door. Chief managed to calm Bowmen down and send him back out. Bowmen apologized for his outburst and asked me to show him what to do. I needed repair parts to get the plasma cutter up and running. So against better judgment, I schooled him on the use of the oxygen/acetylene torch and boarded the six-wheeled Gator to retrieve tools and parts. “He’ll be fine” I thought. “I’ll only be gone for five minutes”. An unsupervised Bowmen, plus fire, plus five minutes proved to be an equation that Chaos Theorists would be proud of.
I returned to the mud pit where I’d left Bowmen with the gun box only to find that he wasn’t there. I looked around thinking that he couldn’t have gone far, not on that limp. I drove the loud diesel driven Gator to the other end of the mud lot to see if he’s wandered over to a group of Soldiers nearby. They hadn’t seen him either. So maybe he was in the latrine. I drove back over to the gun box and shut the Gator down. I immediately heard Bowmen screaming again, but didn’t see him.
“AHHHHH!!! Get this F#$%*&^ thing off me!! Getitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoff!!!!” Was just the first few seconds.
I ran over to the gun box entrance to find that he had been standing inside the gun box with his feet under the door made of armor plating when he decided to cut the hinges off of said door. It only dropped a couple of inches, but it was heavy and the ground was soft. The door was standing upright in the mud on Bowmen’s toes. He was on his back in the mud again, sunk to about mid-calf and thrashing about like a drop of water on hot steel. He was trying to reach an upright position, face red with rage, veins popping out of his neck and forehead. He was still screaming obscenities and other words un-separated by the natural breaks often heard between verbiage. I grabbed the door and lifted it out of the mud. Bowmen burst upright then hurled himself over into the mud again in a dramatic display of relief.
He never did come back out to help finish the job.