The Cast: Draper (Assistant Automatic Rifleman), Myself (Bagnall, the Automatic Rifleman), Nielsen (Rifleman, the “greased pig”), Schoenfeld (Platoon Sergeant)
As a U.S. Marine, constant training is the only way to stay combat ready. So, one sunny California day in a playground of my Uncle Sam, my unit was being instructed about the proper use of concertina wire: what it does, how to deploy it, and how to breach it. At the end of the lecture, my unit—unbeknownst to us—was going to practice breaching a simple barrier of concertina wire.
Once the instruction was over it was time for a volunteer team to try and see how quickly they could get through the wire obstacle. My Platoon Sergeant, Sgt. Schoenfeld, wanted my team to be the first to breach the obstacle. Now, getting through concertina under the best of circumstances is difficult enough, and at the time there were gaps in my team’s command structure—we had no team leader or Squad Leader to replace him with. I attempted to point all this out, focusing on the fact that my Fireteam had only three Marines instead of the usual four, and that we lacked experience. This did not dissuade him. Schoenfeld just smiled and informed us that he was going to be our team leader. Oh Goody! I think I may have said that outloud, but I know that when I said it inside my head it was full of sarcasm.
My team, lead by the competent and eager Schoenfeld, moved into position and I couldn’t help but visualize an afternoon of stitching up the inevitable multiple tears in my uniform, my gear, and quite probably my flesh as well. This was going to hurt. Bad.
For those unfamiliar with concertina wire and what it does/can do, it is a coil of wire created about 1930, covered with flat bits of metal and designed for ease of deployment and to entangle whatever comes across it. This stuff grabs anything and everything, your clothes and gear, anything hanging loose, straps, bootlaces, thread. A thread?!? Yes a thread! And then it holds you right where you’re at. If you were to breath on it, it’d catch your breath.
So we lay down in our assault positions (Did I mention this was going to be timed?), in front of us was a single coil of concertina wire, and at the go signal Schoenfeld begins barking orders, “Nielson! Breach the Wire!” We all knew this was going to take a while. Nope. Nielson just threw himself on the concertina to make a human bridge. Well he’s dead, and we’re gonna’ lose because he’s never coming off. Without hesitation, as if Schoenfeld expected Nielson to do what he had just done, more orders. “Bagnall! Rush!” I knew my role. Suppressive fire with the machine gun.
I bolted for the Nielson gap—the spot where all the enemy shooting would be happening if this were real—placed my right foot on his butt and launched myself up and to the left. I hit the ground, went prone, rolled to the left, popped the bipod on my weapon, placed it and began “firing” (pretend shooting was often just us saying “budda-budda-peanut budda-jam”). One continuous, smooth motion. Mostly.
“Draper! Rush!” Draper ran through and planted himself to my right. Schoenfeld flys through the Nielson body bridge and moves farther right. Three out of four in place. We just needed Nielson to move up with us and the clock would stop. It was all over.
I knew we were going to be laying there in the hot sun for hours. There was no way Nielson was coming off that wire. I glanced back to see how bad it was going to be…
Now, it needs to be understood what kind of Marine Nielson is. He is the son of a Marine, his older brother was in our unit, a younger brother joined our unit years later. Nielson is so Marine that I think he bleeds red and gold (Marine Corps colors). So, some kind of collective ancestral Marine fortune must have been with him that day.
I glanced back to see how bad it was going to be. Nielson began to move and low-crawled right off the wire. He moved off that super grabby coil of wire like a greased pig coming off a teflon cookie sheet. He didn’t catch on anything! He moved into position and the concertina coil popped back into shape like it would have in a cartoon.
We’re all still laying in the dirt when I hear a “thud” to my left. I turn my head and see laying on the ground, between the boots of the supervising engineer, is his jaw. “That’s time. Let’s go team. We’re done here.” says Schoenfeld. We all stood up, dusted ourselves off, walked over to the shade and sat down to watch the rest of the company try and breach the newly modified wire course—now with three coils! because of us—and revel in our awesomeness. No other team did as well as we did that day. No other team got through no matter what they did. And no matter what the other Marines would say, or how they would taunt us to try again; we were done. Sergeant’s orders. I think Schoenfeld knew the value of about sometimes going first.