Failure to Adapt

“Patterns of Misconduct” preview chapter

Dub’s Dump

Right at the end of Sgt. Windsor’s time with our unit, we had a top-down drug screening with the entire HHC portion of the 101st.  This drug screening was a part of an installation-wide effort to crack down on post-deployment drug use, specifically marijuana, cocaine, and pain pills.

Because the PAD and HHC were on their own, we were responsible for submitting our own samples to the headquarters.  As such, we were free to do our drug screenings away from the rest of the other units, which were normally comprised of fifty soldiers each.  Try picturing that, by the way:  an aviation hangar full of people who are all irritated about having to get up too early to pee in a cup in front of somebody.

Oh, yeah… I might have left that part out.

As a part of the drug screening, you’d have to be supervised in order to assure that you don’t spoil the sample.  For those of you who are unaware of how to do such a thing, never you mind.  There are quite a few gross or dumb ways to cheat the system, but the military cuts out the chance of those tricks working altogether by assigning a designated supervisor to stand and watch you produce your sample.

For many, this was an exceedingly bad day.  There are people out there who simply can’t pee while they are being watched.  Even I was one of them at first.  The first time I had to provide a sample at MEPs, it took me hours to be able to do it, and it only happened because I kept pounding coffee and water until I basically couldn’t hold it any more.

And that ride home was miserable.

Honestly, though, I had gotten used to the lack of privacy over time.  I never enjoyed the screenings, mind you, but I knew they were a necessary evil.  If anything, I liked taking the screenings.  It helped to dispel suspicion about me temporarily.


The day of the screening came.  On the grounds that Sgt. Windsor was the junior of the group of supervisors (the group consisting of only he and SSG Cooper), he was assigned the duty of “observing” the sample collection.  SSG Cooper further suggested that the experience would be good for his junior companion, as it would no doubt bolster his promotion file.

I felt bad for Sgt. Windsor.  He had a tough morning ahead.  Though there were maybe a dozen of us, this was not dignified for anyone involved.  You see, normally when it is a company-wide collection, it’s a lab tech or a medic who takes the sample.  In other words, it’s normally not somebody you have to see all the time.  I was going to have to urinate in front of my leader, and then go back to work with him.  I felt bad for all parties involved, myself included.

But I handled my business.  I smacked down a Diet Coke when I woke up, and I was able to produce with no issues.  Windsor faked like he was going to knock the jar out of my hand when I turned around, and I almost dropped the thing.  I laughed loudly in a situation that really didn’t have much room for laughter.

When the echo of my outburst stopped, Windsor called for the next soldier.  It was supposed to be Randell, but Dub was behind Randell, raising his hand.  He asked Sgt. Windsor if he could go next, and Windsor morosely agreed.

Hastily, Dub scurried over to the stall where we were supposed to pee, then promptly turned around and took a seat.  I suppose he didn’t know Windsor was in the stall, because they both let out a few startled noises and curse words.

“Dub!”  Windsor shouted.

“Yes, sarge?”

“Where’s the cup?”  Windsor asked

“Oh, I didn’t need it.”  Dub said, matter-of-factly.

“The hell you mean you don’t need it?”  Sgt. Windsor was somewhere between laughing and screaming.

“It was an emergency.  I had to go.”  Dub said in meek earnest.

Sgt. Windsor laughed.  “Yeah, I see that.  Well, couldn’t you do both?  Can’t you take the damn cup and stick it down there?”

“I only had to do ‘number two,’ sarge.”  Dub replied indignantly

Sgt. Windsor sighed.  “It had to be one of those days, didn’t it?”

Dub grunted in agreement.

So, whoever the poor saps were who had to give a sample after Dub were not so terribly pleased with him.  Sometimes, I swear I understood why people didn’t like him.  He did some off-the-wall stuff sometimes.  Things like this happen and you just can’t believe the awkwardness of it all.  I felt sorry for everyone, and even a little ashamed for being such a stupid little kid and eavesdropping on such a weird scenario.

And on top of that, we had to wait forever for the dude to pee!  Guys were really starting to get mad at Dub.  Me, I was just saying a prayer for the dude.  I’d seen it happen in basic training and I knew it was a long road if a soldier got stage fright.  We might be there all afternoon if Dub didn’t manage to collect himself.

Thanks to the help of a Diet Coke that Sgt. Windsor had in his car, Dub was able to produce.  It was a long wait, but we were practically cheering for him by the end.  Personally, I’ve never been so excited to hear the sound of urine in all of my life.


There was a lot I took from this incident.  Sgt. Windsor actually played it pretty cool with Dub in spite of how weird that whole situation ended up being.  I tried to imagine what would have happened if SFC Smalls ended up being the guy taking our samples.  All things considered, Sgt. Windsor allowed my buddy Dub a lot more dignity than a lot of others did.

Another thing I noticed was that Dub was tragically accustomed to being shamed.  He prostrated himself greatly when the ordeal was over, but the worst anybody did was SFC Cooper, who made a few fart noises throughout the day when Dub was in his midst.  Other than that, nobody said much of anything (save one or two who had to enter the smelly latrine).

It was hard watching Dub carry on.  It was clear that the army broke him.  I’d watch him bumble through these situations and wonder to myself how on earth he made it as far as he did.  There were times just like these when I thought to myself that Dub was incredibly high maintenance.  I felt like the system should have eliminated him somewhere in training.

Much like it should have eliminated me.

And was he really the one responsible for my treatment?  Struck called out Dub’s name when my knee gave out and I was accused of shamming.  Was I doomed because of Dub?  I never really got to the bottom of the animosity towards him or towards me, for that matter.

All I know is that the army just isn’t for everyone.

“Patterns of Misconduct” preview chapter

This is another story from the original first draft, but I have rewritten it to add more detail.  In either event, it didn’t make the cut because once again, it was too upbeat.

            I’m extremely fond of this story as well, as it was, in my opinion, the first time I told a good stand-alone story.  I had to chop up the chapters about Boke and Sid to make sure to preserve the continuity of the narrative, so I thought it to be a display of versatility to have at least one isolated story that would not disrupt the flow.  After all, my idea up until I re-started in 2017 had always been to make the book a series of vignettes with an underlying narrative.




When I was re-cycled (or recycled) in AIT, I took it pretty hard.  Even the addition of alcohol to the barracks was not able to lesson the sting of failure.  Though I suspected that my failure was a deliberate kneecapping, it’s not like I didn’t give them a reason.  AIT seemed like a joke, and I treated it as such.  I’m not saying I was right, but that’s certainly how I saw it.

But I still needed to pass.  Watching AFI soldiers on the sidelines waiting day in and day out for word on their release was enough motivation to keep going.  Even the soldiers who were in trouble were taking forever to process, so there truly was no choice.  Out the door by way of graduation was the fastest way to get away from everyone.

As I said in the previous story, the classes were even easier the second time around, and I also liked my classmates a lot better.  I don’t know why I didn’t get along with the first group, but I just didn’t.  There was a girl from the air force I really liked, and there were also two guys from the navy that I sat with in class, but as far as any of my other classmates, I actively didn’t like them.

And I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

Word was out at the school that I was cocky and a little unpredictable.  Certain personnel always seemed to have their eye on me when I came back through on my second rotation.  I’m sure I made it no secret that I was drinking and smoking, but eff them.  I was being punk rock.

For whatever reason, the marines were very tough on me.  Though I was no way involved with their affairs, their officers and NCOs would go well out of their way to break my balls, anywhere on that base.  I was even stopped by an officer who was in his regular clothes because I didn’t recognize and salute him as he was jogging by.  I knew I was an untidy moron to them, so I took everything the way I should have.  By no means was I rejecting their words, either; I simply doubted I could live up to the image of the person they all said I could be.

So, you could imagine my surprise when, a month into the new cycle, I was assigned a marine corps sergeant as my partner for the photojournalism class.

I had watched this particular marine around the courtyard at school.  She was a veritable watchdog among her own Devil Dogs.  A strong, stocky build, a block shin, and a mat of curly brown hair all centered around two of the sharpest green eyes I had ever beheld.  In those eyes was the look of a person who could snap your idiot neck if you made her angry.

To add to the severity of her appearance, this female marine sergeant had a rather pronounced scar over the top of her mouth.  The scar was at a weird angle, as it seemed to split her mouth a second time on the left side of her face.  The scar began underneath her nostril, but curved oddly up and through the corner of her mouth.  Whatever caused this scar had to be ugly and, in my overactive imagination, it was more than likely related to being a marine.

It was hard not to be absolutely terrified of this woman.

She also kept company with two other fellow female marines.  One was taller, thinner and blond, while the other was about the same height but with a regular build, black hair, and glasses.  Both seemed far less severe than the marine with the scar, though all three could be seen policing the campus for marines who were not doing what they were supposed to do.  Furthermore, it was everyone’s charge to look out for the army and the air force sneaking a cigarette, so that, too, fell under their umbrella of spare-time activities.

As a guy who didn’t much care for the rules, they were my natural enemy.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, at our introduction.  The marine sergeant with the scar cheerfully introduced herself to me at lunch, as I had snuck out of class in an attempt to not meet her right away.  She made note of this, too, but playfully slapped my arm and told me she wasn’t upset about what I did.

My fears temporarily suspended, I stammered through an introduction of myself.  I came clean with her and let her know that I had been recycled, but she shook her head and interrupted my groveling:

“Hey, hey.  It’s cool, alright?  Just don’t dick around on my watch and we’ll get through this, copy?”

“Roger that, sergeant,” I replied, trying to sound a little more confident.

“And call me Jess,” she added.  She was smiling, but I was too distracted by her scar.  It only made her look like she was about to kill me.

Furthermore, I was absolutely certain that she had not just told me to break a rule.  You don’t call anybody who outranks you by their first name.  You’re not even supposed to do it with each other when you are in uniform if you are in the lower ranks.  I know it’s an odd rule among equals, but you’d have to imagine that it just makes sense when referring to a superior.

Just to clarify, I countered, “Well, I’m Devon, but I can’t call you that, sergeant.  Your fellow marines would chase me up and down this campus.”

Jess chuckled.  “You let me worry about them.”  But she thought about it for a few seconds, and said “How about ‘sarge?’” she asked.  This time I chuckled, but I silently shook my head.

Jess sighed.

“All right,” she said.  I take your point.  “Well, Devon, you need to smoke before we get started?”

I’m sure my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

I casually tried to feel my pockets, and sure enough.  The outline of a pack of cigarettes was clear as day.  I looked at Jess guiltily.

“It wasn’t that.  I saw you with that Hudson guy a few days ago.”

I cursed under my breath.

Though she was smiling, I still did not believe what I was hearing.  No, this was a test.  Calling her by her name was the first one, and ‘sarge’ was the second.  Now she was tempting me to light one up.  Nope.  I wasn’t going to fall for it.  I appreciated the challenge, but she wasn’t going to make me slip.

We went back to our photography class early.  There was another ten minutes left on the lunch break when we returned to the classroom.  I came clean with Jess about not really understanding anything about the camera.  She assured me that I didn’t need to worry.  That did nothing for me, of course, because I was certain that this well-polished marine was testing me.


As I said before, the classes were much easier the second time.  Actually, the grading was easy.  The class never changed.  I still sucked.  I just never caught on.  Jess never said anything about it in the beginning, but one day she finally offered to set the camera for me.  For this one, I didn’t put up a fight.  This didn’t sound like a trick or a test; this sounded like somebody being nice.

Since she was my partner, I hung around with Jess while I was at school.  I’m sure people drew their own conclusions about us hanging out together (if only I were worthy to bed such a warrior), but if anybody thought it, they sure didn’t say anything.  Marine subordinates certainly didn’t seem to like the spectacle of an underling casually chilling with a decade-long veteran, but I kinda didn’t give a shit.  I think nobody needed to make a problem about it, and so that is the way it stayed.

Furthermore, Jess was for real about the smoking.  She’d cover me during breaks when we were out doing one of our photography exercises.

For every photography class, they would release us for the afternoon to go do our shots for the day.  The exercises would vary, but we would have until two or three in the afternoon to come back with enough photos to pick out the best two or three for submission.  Instead of going to do our shoot, we would leave the campus.  A PFC by himself on the base during the day looks suspicious, but a PFC with a supervisor looks normal.

Pretty clever, right?

So, Jess and I would duck out and go get protein bars and mineral water from one of the Class Six shops.  We were both dieting and were trying to skip the rich, fatty foods that were prevalent in all the DFACS.  We would take our protein bars to the navy barracks, and I would smoke with a bunch of nervous squids.  None of them seemed to buy into Jess’s friendly persona, so her presence more times than not cleared out the smoking deck.

During lunch, we would do our shoot.  Jess normally had her shots done within fifteen minutes, so she would simply take my camera and take photos with the correct settings.  We’d come back to the school early, print out the photos we wanted to submit, then we would wait until the teacher came back.  We’d either let the teacher simply see us before we took off again, or we would submit our work early.  In either event, we wouldn’t come back until the end of the day.


One afternoon, Jess announced to me that she was bored.  Though the saga with this unusual marine had already reached what I thought was peak absurdity, I was certainly surprised to hear such a childish remark coming from her.  I didn’t say anything, however; I waited for her to either elaborate or let it pass.

“Let’s take a funny picture,” she said, grinning.  I was halfway endeared with her by this point, but the smile never ceased to scare me.

“Take a picture of me in some flowers,” I blurted jokingly.

“Perfect,” she said, “let’s go.”

I balked.  “Go?  Sarge, hold on.  They will kill me,” I said, of nobody in particular.  That was the first time I called her Sarge, too.  That was actually a very deliberate thing.  I was making that concession instead of the current one.  Though I doubted that’s how things worked, I still gave it a shot.

“Come oooooonnnnn,” she said, mimicking a squeaky teenage voice.  Good Lord, what the holy hell did I start with this woman.

“Fine.”  I said, though it was hard to pretend I was reluctant any more.  What the hell did I care, anyways?  They’d have to bitch at her too, right?

We returned to school early once again, and we went around to the far side of the school where all the smoking decks were.  In front of the decks was a huge arrangement of flowers, so Jess told me to lie down in between them.  I carefully positioned myself among them, making sure not to break any of them, and I place my head thoughtfully in my hands while crossing my legs behind me.  Jess took a few quick shots, then told me to hop up so we could get the hell out of there.


With the classroom still empty, we selected the best photo and sent it to the printer.  I beheld it in all its majesty.  The photo was hilarious.  Somehow, I pulled it off amazingly, though a lot of credit goes to Jess for the depth of field technique.  Me gazing thoughtfully at the sky in a bed of tulips while wearing a standard-issue army uniform was so amazingly absurd that I asked Jess to print out a few more copies.  I was going to send one to Matt Ross, and another to my mom.

The class came back, and Jess and I were just about finished printing out our assignments for the day.  When I looked up from my computer, however, I noticed that the marine gunnery sergeant from the previous cycle was talking with my teacher.  I wondered what had brought him to the classroom, though I honestly didn’t think much about him.  The bad man was gone, and he couldn’t hurt my GPA anymore.  I had a nice teacher now, so the best he could do was scowl at me.

I finished selecting my photos for the daily submission, and I got up to walk to the printer.  The gunnery sergeant was no longer talking with my teacher.  Now, he was standing at the printer and looking at me.

I tried not to make eye contact, though I was sure he was about to nitpick something on my uniform or asking me what my score was for the semester.

But then I saw that he was holding a half-crumpled piece of paper.

Shit.  I forgot that I told Jess to print more copies.

I approached the printer, guilty and ready to get it over with.

Looking very much like the gym coach from Beavis and Butthead, the gunnery sergeant spoke.

“Perkins,” he said in a low growl, “can you tell me what in Our Blessed Lord’s Name I’m looking at right now?”  He shoved the crumpled copies of what is arguably the best photo I have ever taken in my life into my chest.

I chose the fifth.

“Where is Hudson,” he growled, “are you two idiots still hanging around each other, because we’d love to reclass you to a cook and…”

“It wasn’t Hudson, gunnery sergeant,” I interrupted.  I’d heard that spiel before, and though the guy still scared me, this was much ado about nothing and if he asked me what I thought he was about to asked me, then…

“…then who the fuck took this dumb-shit photo with government property?”  He was now roaring in a whisper, a large red line appearing on his forehead.

I looked over at Jess, who was smiling.

The red in his face quickly vanished.  In place of his typical rage, I saw something I had not yet seen from him:  the guy was stumped.  Had I just infiltrated his beloved marine corps?  Were my shenanigans so irresistible that even combat veterans couldn’t resist mucking around in my presence?  I know that’s what was going through his head.

But gunnery sergeant had regained his cool.  He shook his head at me in what appeared to be the way a dad looks at his son the moment he disowns him. “Take your little portrait and go sit down, Perkins.  God help us all, soldier.”


As luck would have it, I was seated between Jess and the other two female sergeants at our graduation.  Two of the three were furious about me reeking of alcohol, too.  Jess was trying not to grin about it.  She simply told me to keep my head down and don’t say a word.

That was the last I saw of her, too.  She was actually the class valedictorian, so she ended up giving a speech at the close of the ceremony.  I remember being a bit in awe of her at that moment.  It made me wonder if I could actually get away with being my own weird self in the army.

If that was the case, then maybe the military wasn’t going to be that bad.

“Patterns of Misconduct” preview chapter

“The Broski Incident”

We had a soldier on the first floor who was one of the long-term students.  He was a Hispanic dude named Pvt. Gonzalez, and in addition to being a little loud and self-centered he was kind of a bully.  Gonzalez seemed to only pick on new soldiers, however, and ones who didn’t seem so capable of defending themselves.

It was rumored that Gonzalez was a surfer.  Any time he was not in his uniform, he carried with him a humongous skateboard, which I would later find out was something that surfers used.  Around 4 p.m. every school day, he would parade out of the barracks in his civilian clothes, his cd player in one hand and his absurdly oversized board tucked under his opposite arm.  I didn’t find anything wrong with any of that, by the way, but I did think it was a big, dorky, cumbersome piece of equipment to be having in training.

Gonzalez also called everyone “broski.”  I don’t know if that was a word where he came from, or if he was trying to get it popular, but he used that word all the damn time.  Even to female soldiers.

Gonzalez was known for his temper.  I remember one day we were at the DFAC for lunch and he dropped something from his tray.  A female soldier said something like “Nice one, ‘Longboard,’” and Gonzalez got extremely mad at her.  He was shouting so loudly that two soldiers had to talk him into leaving the DFAC.  But before he finally left, Gonzalez had called the female soldier “broski” at least a dozen times.

And if you’re thinking there wasn’t a story behind ‘Longboard,’ you have not been paying very close attention.  Apparently, our friend Gonzalez was hit by a car a few weeks before I arrived.  He was on his ridiculous longboard, cruising down a steep hill while listening to his CD player.  He did not see a car coming at a four- way stop, and he ended up smashing right into it.  The car blew their horn and even tried to swerve out of the way, but Gonzalez still managed to hit the car with such force that he completely dented the passenger’s side door.  As the legend goes, he arose from the ground, bleeding, and growled at the driver “You broke my CD player, broski!”

The next formation, one of the drill sergeants called Gonzalez ‘Longboard’ in reference to his accident.  Gonzalez had left the scene after running into the car, and the driver called the police.  Some MPs found him sitting on the side of the road.  It ended up being a huge, embarrassing ordeal.  According to what I was told, the drill sergeant absolutely tore into Gonzalez the next day for it, and that was about the time that he became a bully.

The name Longboard stuck.  You couldn’t get away with saying it to his face, but people liked to say it when he was within earshot just to make him get all hot and bothered.

His reaction was always the same, too.  First, he called out the alleged heckler out in an unnecessarily loud fashion.

“So, what’s up, broski?  That you who said that stuff just then?  Was it, broski?”

Then, he would wait for the alleged offender to reply.  Meanwhile, he’d be looking the soldier up and down for something to insult.

“Whatever, broski.  How much were those shoes?  Fifty?  Forty?  These are the new Jordans right here, broski.  Cheap ass.  Can’t afford shit.”

And that would normally be it.  He’d walk away, idly promising a whipping to errant onlookers, and life would return to normal again.  I can’t tell if people were afraid of him or just completely in awe of him, but it would not have surprised me to find out he had a big mouth but a glass jaw.  To me, it seemed like an awfully lot of work to carry around that persona all the time.

I never heard whether or not he had been in any fights, but he sure looked like he wanted to fight the female soldier who mildly teased him.  Not only did that looked pretty real, but it made me lose even more respect for him.  A guy who even acts like he wants to fight a woman is already walking a line where he is going to have a high probability of being completely in the wrong.

Plus, it sounded like the car accident was his fault.

For whatever reason, Gonzalez would often visit the second floor to use our latrine as a repository for his hair.  From time to time he would come in on a weekend, shave his head, then leave his clippings on and in front of one of our sinks.  Everyone knew he did it, but nobody ever said anything.  They simply cleaned up the mess.  This also made me mad about the guy.  Not the hair, either, the fact that he went to so much trouble to be a piece of shit.

One Saturday afternoon I was tooling around the barracks, in uniform because I had taken somebody’s fire guard shift, when I went upstairs to use our latrine.  As I walked through the door, I noticed Gonzalez doing his usual thing.  I sighed and shook my head.

I went to the back to pee, and I said to myself, Not this time.  I was the floor leader now.  I was a screw-up in just about everything up until this point.  This asshole was not going to be pulling his normal disrespect on my watch.

Today was a new day.

I came around the corner again, and Gonzalez had taken off his clothes.  He had begun shaving his pubic region.

I walked by him, shaking my head.

“What, broski?  You got a problem?” Gonzalzez taunted.  I exited the latrine, and walked to the supply closet.  From the closet, I selected a broom and a dustpan.  I returned to the latrine and held them out to Gonzalez.  He chuckled.

“What, broski?  You like looking at my dick?”  He began swinging his hips like an uncoordinated ladyboy.  I was unfazed.

“I like looking at a clean floor.”  I said.  Since I had re-entered the latrine, I had never broken eye contact with Gonzalez.  I did not want to fight him, as I didn’t really know how to fight.  However, the position of the floor leader meant something to me, and I wasn’t going to have this idiot mess up the one good thing I had going for myself.

Besides, I was fairly certain that he wasn’t going to fight me naked.  I personally would have never wanted to find myself in that position, so I imagined that Longboard wouldn’t be up for it, either.  Second, I felt like I had the upper hand since I walked in.  I didn’t yell and nobody else was around, so the setting was not a hostile one.  I was certain that I had set up the situation for it to be clear, even to a moron, that I was in the right.

Gonzalez was smirking, but he snatched the broom and the dustpan from my hand.  Much to my surprise, he began sweeping.  He didn’t do it quietly, but he did it.

“Here you go, broski.  Have a look at that.  He was swinging his dick as he swept.  He then paused to dramatically prop his leg on the sink and dangle his willy as he pushed the final clump into the dustpan.  He then dropped his foot heavily onto the floor, took a mock deep breath like he had just done hard labor, then put his clothes on.

I emptied the dust bin in a nearby toilet.  I could see that Gonzalez wasn’t leaving.  This was not yet over.

As I walked by him, he put his hand on my shoulder to stop me.  His grip wasn’t particularly strong.  Maybe I could take this guy.  His weak grip made me want to take my chances.

I turned around, and he scooted up a few inches to try and get into my face.  I wasn’t quite as scared of him in that moment.  After all, he had just done what I told him to do.  I didn’t yell, I just spoke to him like I meant it.  As far as I was concerned, the score was 1-0, in favor of yours truly.

But Gonzalez wasn’t looking particularly angry.  He was just staring at me rather blankly.  I could not even begin to imagine what was going through his head, but what was going through mine was that I was about to be the barracks legend for kicking the shit out of this little coward.

Though I had braced for action, Gonzalez relaxed.

“Feel better now, broski?”  He said, morosely.  He sounded bored with me.  He sounded like he had somehow processed the whole situation and determined it to be a win for him.

I calmed myself before I responded.  “I do, Gonzalez.  I do feel better.  I feel better now that my floor is clean.”  I turned and walked to the latrine door.

I opened the door, turned to face Gonzalez, and motioned like I was holding the door for him.  Gonzalez clicked his tongue in bored disgust, then strolled out of the bathroom, still acting like somehow he came out on top from that exchange.

As far as I know, Gonzalez never pulled the stunt again.  I’m not saying I scared him off.  I just think my God-ordained authority as the floor leader was shining through that day.

Sometimes, a little courage is all you need.