Home > Chains of Command(3)

Chains of Command(3)
Author: Marko Kloos


I fold my hands behind my back and start walking down the line of recruits slowly. They look so young to me, even though most are in their late teens and early twenties and only half a decade younger than I am. But the half decade between us seems like an eternity from where I am standing right now.

“I’m not pissed off because privates Barden and Perret wanted to let off some steam and have fun in town. I’m pissed off because they chose to be stupid about it. I’m pissed off because Private Barden got himself killed a week and a half before he had a chance to pay back the Commonwealth for the time and resources we spent on his training. I’m pissed off because now we will be two heads short next week when we send you all off to the Fleet or the SI, and four slots that desperately needed to be filled will now go unfilled.”

I’m talking in my drill instructor voice and cadence, which I didn’t know I possessed until I started my platoon leader rotation at NACRD Orem six months ago. I find that whenever I need that particular voice, all I have to do is channel Sergeant Burke, my own senior drill instructor, whose clipped drawl is still as fresh in my memory as if I had left boot camp last week.

“I know what most of you are thinking,” I continue. “You’ve been around the block in the PRCs, and you think you can handle your shit in the big bad world out there. You think you’re smart and tough. You think that dying is for other people. But I’m here to tell you that there are a lot of ways to die out there past those gates. And if you have to kick the bucket, I’d much rather see you go out holding a gun and manning a line against a Lanky advance than braining yourself on a hydrobus bumper while zoned. There are good ways to go and bad ways, and a dumbshit traffic accident just before graduating boot camp is a very fucking bad way.”

They all look at me, those young and earnest faces. Quite a few still have that welfare-rat attitude in their expressions, that cocky little streak of defiance that was a survival skill for them in the warrens of the inner cities. But whatever else they are, and whatever thoughts swirl around in those heads right now, they volunteered to be here, to join the thin green line that stands between us and extermination.

“Here’s the deal,” I say. “Leave is restricted from now until graduation day. You can stay on base or go into town, but you are barred from leaving Orem. And we’re having a mandatory chem scan this morning. Anyone with illegal jack in their systems is going to get a bad-conduct discharge and a maglev ride home. Are we clear, platoon?”

“Sir, yes sir!” the thirty-odd members of Basic Training Platoon 1526 bellow in unison. If nothing else, they’ve learned to stand straight and sound off at top volume.

“I can’t hear you,” I shout back, even though their combined volume rattled the polyplast windowpane five meters behind me, because that’s the sort of thing we do. Establish rituals, hammer them home, drill them to be executed until they become second nature.

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Better,” I say. Then I check the chrono on my left wrist.

“It’s field day,” I announce. “The buses will be in front of the block at 0800 sharp. You will all be geared up precisely according to the checklist. This is the last one of these you’ll get to do before graduation. If you graduate. The next time they call you out in combat gear, it may well be for real combat, so keep that in mind. The crucible is a bitch, but it’s nothing compared to what you’ll see out on a real battlefield, believe me.”

I turn to the drill instructors, who are at parade rest to my right and slightly behind me.

“Drill sergeants, take charge of your squads. Chow, then armor up. Weapons issue at 0700. Be ready for dustoff at 0750, including gear checks. Execute.”

I walk back into the building as my three drill instructors take over their charges. They’ll march the squads back up to the platoon quarters and light a fire under their asses, to simulate having to get ready for combat quickly and under stress. The platoon will spend the last week before the final graduation exercise out on the huge exercise area in the desert surrounding NACRD Orem, simulating an extended engagement against a Lanky landing. Much of our training has been focused on killing Lankies instead of other humans, and I can’t say that I dislike this shift in priorities.

 

I go back to the office and sit down at my desk. Then I pull up the personnel file of recruit BARDEN, J. and look at his picture. He was a cocky kid. Thought he was smarter than everyone else by half, and had a knack for tiptoeing the line with the drill sergeants. In the old NAC boot camp, he would have been sent packing after week two at the latest. But as I told the recruits just now—this is the new Basic training. We can’t afford to be ruthlessly selective anymore, at least not in the capricious manner of the old boot camp, where the drill instructors could wash you out for any trivial reason, or no reason at all. But I look at the holoshot of Private BARDEN, J. and find myself thinking that he would still be alive if we still ran Basic like we used to.

Outside of my window, the platoon marches off to breakfast, in a tight and precise formation, with Sergeant Lear calling cadence from the front of the group. Two out of my three drill instructors have no combat experience. Sergeant Lear is a female trooper from the Fleet’s military police, and Sergeant Dietrich is from Supply & Logistics. Only Sergeant Fisher, my senior drill instructor, has been in battle. He is a Spaceborne Infantry heavy weapons specialist, an autocannon gunner, and the only member of my drill instructor crew whose service experience is even remotely like my own. Strangely enough, I don’t get along with him as much as I do with Lear and Dietrich. He’s sullen, clearly suffering from grunt fatigue, and resistant to advice. Lear and Dietrich are motivated, personable, and eager to learn on the job.

There’s a protocol in place for everything in the military, of course—including the death of a recruit. This is the first time I’ve had to follow that protocol, and I hope it’s the last. It’s shitty enough to lose people on some godforsaken icy rock on the ass end of the universe. It’s several orders of magnitude shittier when they’re fresh recruits still in training.

I get out my PDP and tap in a message to Sergeant Lear to come and see me after morning chow. Then I start reading Private BARDEN, J.’s personnel file, to come up with eulogy material for the lieutenant when he goes to the funeral later this week.

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