Chapter 14: We Settle In To Infantry Stuff

They called us the Cadre Company, 100 Nashos to be skilled in the fine art of infantry soldiering.

The stakes are high of course – 2 RAR is to deploy to South Vietnam in seven months and us guys are needed to round out the Battalion.

The role of the Infantry is clear and unambiguous: To seek out and close with the enemy,  to kill or capture him, to seize and hold ground and to repel attack,  by day or night regardless of season weather or terrain.

Gee,  will we be really moving around the bush in the dark?  I’m getting a bit apprehensive, as a kid I was scared of the dark and our home in Cootamundra had an outside toilet.  My parents bought me a lantern to help quell my fears. On reflection what I really needed was an AK47 But I am getting ahead of myself.

Our accommodation was excellent, if you don’t regard air conditioning as mandatory.  Each building housed a platoon of 30 men.  It was two stories with rooms upstairs completely surrounded by a covered balcony.  Each room had a central divider that didn’t go quite to the roof.  Each man had a bed, a desk and chair and a locker; the same as at Kapooka.  There were a couple of innovations.  The outside wall was a mixture of slatted windows and aluminium slats; the whole wall could be opened up to let the breeze in.  Insect screens kept out 90% of the insect life which we would soon know all about.  To assist airflow the wall diving us from the guys on the other side of the building did not go fully to the roof either, in addition there were ceiling fans.  The ablutions were sited at each end of the building.

Downstairs were laundry facilities at each end leaving a large uncluttered space in the centre for training purposes I guess.

 

Our staff were all highly experienced NCOs who were veterans of Korea and/or Vietnam, except for the platoon commander, a second lieutenant who looked like he was about 15 years of age.  The NCOs were tough and imposed on us the rigours of infantry training with a dash of humour.  The platoon sergeant was standard Army fare, wider than he was tall with a loud guttural voice.  When he yelled he opened his mouth so wide you could see his uvula rattling, sometimes back and forth, sometimes left to right.  He didn’t get close enough to affect my eyebrows though.  His problem was he was a mortar man and here he was teaching us Nashos all he knew.  It would be a short course.

A normal day started at o’early hundred with a PT session, this involved going for a jog up the road past the other accommodation buildings.  We jog in columns of three and we are supposed to be in step, sometimes the guys from Canberra get an exception.  The NCO calls the time, EFT ITE EFT ITE EFT ITE EFT, just like at Kapooka.  They are taught this at NCO school.  We didn’t have to call the time, so no WAH, TWO FREE, WAH, but we did have to do some yelling.  This is to strengthen our vocal cords for the bayonet assaults against the Viet Cong.

The NCO said, “This is A Company.”

“Good morning A Company!” we yelled at the top of our voices, all 30 of us.

“Shut the fuck up,  Fuck off,  Fuckin Nashos,”  were some of the responses.

“This is B Company.”

“Good morning B Company!”

And so on down the road, the responses were the same.   The rest of the day and night would be filled with weapons training, fieldcraft and lectures.  They were long days but at least we got the weekends off.  I think the NCOs needed the break.

The NCOs were quick to spot an undone button.  “You digger.  Button undone.  Gimme 20”.  The digger would assume the position and do 20 pushups.  Sometimes the NCO would count them, pausing the digger at the ‘down’ command where he was holding his body just inches off the deck without being able to rest his body against it.  Sometimes they would get you to clap.  As you rose up you clapped your hands while your body was suspended in midair then onto the next pushup and clap, and so on.

Warren from Temora was in a bit of strife.  I think they started to pick on him a bit.  They gave him a nickname, ‘Jungles.’

“Why ‘Jungles’ Corporal?”

“Because you are ‘dark and dense’, now get down and give me 20.”  Warren from Temora was henceforth to be known as ‘jungles.’

The wide bodied, ginger haired, he of mortars sergeant sprung him one day, “Jungles, 20.”

“Why sarge?” queried jungles, patting himself down checking for undone buttons

“Button undone 20, back chat 40,” grunted the uvula in full swinging mode.

Now jungles was a fit and muscley bloke, he quickly reeled off 60 pushups.  A few of us were watching the spectacle.

“Another 20, this time on fingertips” ordered the uvula.

Jungles struggled a little bit, as he slowly got to 16, sarge hollered, “Now clap.”

Jungles dropped to the ground, rolled over onto his back and clapped.

“You’ll do me jungles,” said the sergeant helping him up.

They left jungles alone after that.

No, wait a minute.  They got him again.  We need to be able to strip and assemble weapons with our eyes shut.  You can only strip and assemble these things a few times before getting bored shitless, the NCOs come up with ingenious ways to keep you working.

Competition is the best developer of skills, so they would lay out tracks of weapons, the SLR, M16 and M60.  If you don’t know what these are don’t worry, they are designed to frighten the enemy.  They can only kill the enemy if you actually hit them.  So imagine a line of various assembled and disassembled weapons, we’d break into teams and have race to see who could get to the end first.  This is fun stuff when you see guys breaking under pressure of losing to their mates.  It’s also great fun egging them on with words such as, well, you should know them by now.

“OK who reckons they can strip and assemble the M60 blindfolded?……. You, jungles!”

Jungles moved forward.  He is blindfolded and set before the M60.  Stripping goes quite well and he lays the parts out in the set sequence we were taught.  With the weapon fully  stripped,  jungles steps up and with outstretched arms he receives our applause.

“Good work jungles, now put it back together.”

This is a little harder as you now have to find the parts, pick them up and arrange them into some sort of weapon entirely by feel.  Jungles is doing well, because of our encouragement of course.

The NCO stands up, puts his finger to his mouth to signal us to be quiet.  He moves away, picks up another M60 and quietly removes a small part, then returns to give jungles more encouragement.  “Come on jungles, you should have the weapon together by now, just imagine the enemy are coming over the hill and you have to assemble the weapon in the dark.  Get a move on.”

“Who’s the silly bastard that stripped it in the dark when the enemy were coming over the hill in the first place?”

That digger received a steely eyed stare from the NCO.

Jungles only had a couple of bits to go when the NCO stepped forward and placed the part from the other M60 on the ground, it wasn’t long before jungles’ hand brushed across it.  He picked it up and examined it with his fingers.  “Shit!” exclaimed jungles, “I’ve fucked it up.”

We tried to contain our laughter, but jungles twigged that something was up and took off his blindfold.  We all had a hearty laugh.

This Army stuff is not too bad.  I wonder if the Viet Cong have a sense of humour?

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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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