Chapter 12: The downhill run

We got a haircut, so I guess we are finally getting close to the end of the 10week recruit course at Kapooka.  Some guys grew their sideburns down to and in line with the bottom of their ears as per the limit imposed by Army regulations.

I had nothing but bum fluff.

The NCOs have noticeably backed off on the yelling, maybe they have finally brainwashed us.

We don‘t have to call the time any more. No more WAH, TWO FREE, WAH, but some of the newer platoons with guys in short hair can be heard singing it out across the rolling hills of the base, poor bastards.

We had weekend leave and then we got into the business end of the course, the final tests that we must pass to graduate on our march-out parade, the culmination of our course.

The weekend leave was a bit of a blur. I got home on the Friday night, hopped into my chick magnet vehicle, a Ford Zephyr ute that fired up instantly because it is a Ford; and I drove to the Albion Hotel in downtown Cootamundra where my mother was working as the waitress in the dining room.

I told my mother that I would be home early Saturday morning even though I knew I was coming home on Friday. I wanted to surprise her.

There I was in the main street of Cootamundra in full battledress uniform with spit polished shoes and Army beret. I parked opposite the hotel and strode confidently across the road and into the pub.

I was ten feet tall and bulletproof. I felt a million bucks in uniform, a rare sight in Cootamundra.

I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face as I burst into the dining room. Her eyes lit up and I could tell she was very proud of me, her number four son, standing there in my immaculate uniform.

She introduced me to her work colleagues and all the civie losers were staring at me. And why not – I was a soldier. Take that you peasants.

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All too soon I am back at Kapooka.

How many times have we done the confidence course?

A number of obstacles we negotiate, sometimes as a team, sometimes individually and, true to form, we are running uphill all the time.

Clambering over a 15 foot wall? Ezy. Crawling under barbed wire obstacles in the mud? No problem. The bayonet assault course? Yell until your voice disappears.

There was nothing that 22 Platoon couldn’t do.

I think we were the best the Army has ever seen. No risk.

The 20-click forced match was coming up, followed by a night in the field on rations, and a few of us were nervous, especially me. I’d never walked that far, let alone doing it carrying a weapon and pack and stuff that the Army makes you carry with you. Why can’t we be like those African hunters who have porters to carry all their gear? I’ve seen the movies.

The 20-clicker was ezy.

Well, it wasn’t, but our platoon sergeant, a very caring guy in his forties, whom we would have followed anywhere, knew what he was doing.

We had to do the march within a certain timeframe and we came in with ten minutes to spare.

I learned that at the rest stops it was easier to stay standing with all the gear on as the effort required to stand up and get moving again after a rest made us look like old guys in their sixties.

That night we got to camp out in the bush using issued field gear. It was really something. There was a horse blanket that wouldn’t keep you warm on a mild night let alone a freezing night in the depths of winter. But the 24-hour ration pack was terrific: lollies, cereal, meat, fruit and toilet paper (or was it notepaper to write home with?).

We didn’t have a tent, but rather a piece of plastic-type material that we clipped together to put a roof over our heads. Think of a tent with no sides and you get the idea.

We camped in pairs.

I slept on a mattress cover with blow up inserts that went down during the night. To add to my discomfort the NCOs decided to do a raid on us by shooting blanks, setting off flares and yelling a lot. I was scared shitless. Is this what war is like?

Next morning I awoke to a nightmare so to speak.

My body ached from the 20 kilometre forced march in full battle gear. My feet were sore and my legs and back ached every time I moved. I froze all night. I think I needed about another three horse blankets to keep warm; and the blowup inserts were a waste of time, as two out of the three deflated, which meant I slept crooked on my back.

We are going to look like a bag of shit for graduation rehearsals this arvo.

The graduation parade is pretty simple. March on the parade ground, listen to some speeches, march around the parade ground twice, the first time in slow march and the second time in quick time; then a march in review order (I think that’s right, it was a long time ago).

We had a couple of practice runs and sorted out any problems that developed. All us diggers had to do was to carry out the commands given to us.

By now we knew the parade format as good as the parade commander whoever he was.

Then came the final practice.

As we marched past the dais in the advance at slow time our platoon commander gave the ‘eyes right’ and as we turned our heads you could hear our eyes click in their sockets. Up on the dais was some big ugly bloke with a microphone and a deep voice.

“Looking good 22,” he said in a low modulated tone as we marched past.

Suddenly a voice thundered across the parade ground that startled the cookatoos up in some nearby gum trees, “get dem fucking mouths closed, 22!”

Back at the lines the platoon sergeant had our corps postings. This is where we learn our trade in the Army. If you wanted to be a cook you went to catering corps. If you wanted to be a tanky you went to armour. That kind of thing.

The posting were based on our preferences. That is, whatever you said you wanted to do, the Army sent you to where the numbers were required.

I volunteered for infantry. They needed the numbers to feed soldiers to the battalions in Vietnam.

We stood there as the sergeant read out our names and corps.

He came to my name, “Cavanough, infantry.”

He paused and looked up at me, “Is that OK Cavanough?”

I hesitated.

Was this a surprise to the sergeant?

Did he not think I would make an effective infantry soldier? Did he think I would be better suited to another corps perhaps?

“Yes sergeant,” was my reply.

I got to put the infantry ‘crossed rifles’ badge on my beret.

Darcy got armoured corps and Ian, ‘the professor’ got service corps (he was going to be a driver).

Up at the boozer, Darcy and I stowed our berets in the top pocket of our smocks so that the badges were clearly visible. We felt we had graduated already. We had survived Kapooka, we were super fit and a bit overconfident as we sat there grinning like Cheshire cats, while over in the corner I noticed a couple of nervous looking blokes with sad faces and very short hair drinking Coke and coughing continuously.

A few weeks is a long time at Kapooka.

 

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Reproduced with permission from FUN, FEAR, FRIVOLITY – A tale by an Aussie infantry soldier in the VIETNAM WAR. If you can’t wait, read more of this story now – or wait out while we reproduce it on these pages.

ian_cavanoughHi guys. I am a good-looking, opinionated old fart who relishes a spirited debate on any topic regardless of how much I think I know about it.
Ian Cavanough,
Tumut, NSW

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P.S. The photo shows CONTACT Editor Brian Hartigan, with his SLR and greens, attacking the bayonet assault course at Kapooka, in January 1991.

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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

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