The Dumbass Chronicles: Grin and Bear it!
By Leonard Benton
When stationed in Alaska I learned a very valuable set of lessons when dealing with bears.
Rule 1: Always travel in pairs. You cannot outrun the bear so travel with someone you can outrun.
Rule 2: If you climb a tree and the bear climbs after you, it is a black bear; if it knocks the tree down, it is a grizzly.
City slickers do not handle wilderness and wildlife well and nothing in the Army really trains you how to overcome those shortcomings. Training, field exercises, and other activities in the back woods simply does not give you a chance to encounter nature in all its glory.
Until you go to Alaska.
We were out in the field on one of our ubiquitous training exercises and had been simulating mortar fire all day long. By simulation, we would repeatedly fire a M16 blanks from a rifle without the blank adapter. It was loud enough and we could not get hand grenade simulators.
Every unit has that one guy, that one special retard that you really, I mean really, would rather do without. Well we had a prize winner. He was annoying and a complete knows it all with zero common sense. He was smart, but he was also an idiot at the same time.
Well since no one could really stand this guy, we put him out on far left security just to keep him out of everyone’s hair. All was well but we had to leave him communications, it was part of the job, and he started calling.
Private, “Sergeant, I saw a bear.”
Sergeant, “No you did not.”
Private, “Yes I did sergeant. I saw a bear and I am out here alone and you need to do something.” Or words to that effect.
We had been firing all day with our simulated shots and while it was possible that there was a bear in hearing range, they would be heading away, not closing in. Bears are not stupid. They might not fear man because most may have never seen a man but the ones on post had and gunfire is something that would definitely have sent them running.
Therefore, there was no bear.
After the third call I finally decided that I needed to stretch my legs and I guessed that it would be a good time to show some, “leadership” by inspecting and resolving the “bear” situation. My section sergeant decided to tag along. With the statement of course, “There ain’t no damn bears out here right now.” To which I agreed but nonetheless felt I was not going to get any peace until I dealt with it.
We found our erstwhile private and oh my god what a complete moron.
Let me set the stage, remember Rule 2? The private was placed next to a tree which was pretty much an exact copy of a 15 foot Christmas tree. A tree which was completely bare on one side after our private had cut away all the limbs on one side so that he could, “Climb out of reach of the bear” which might sound good but even a black bear, which can reach 500 lbs, could have knocked that tree over.
But that was not the end of it, no sir. He had also carefully crafted a set of nun chucks out of the branches of the tree but lacking chain used 550 cord to tie them together. Care to guess what a stick of light-weight pine will do to a bear?
Piss it off even more if you hit it with that stupid stick, that’s what it will do.
His crowning achievement was that he had carefully and deliberately set three cleaning rods in prepositioned locations and loosened the blank adapter on his rifle. His intent was to muzzle load a cleaning rod and shoot the bear.
That might sound like a plan until you realize that a 5.56mm cleaning rod fired from a blank is not going to penetrate the fur of a bear much less kill it. But it will make it mad—like enraged.
We see this and there really is not much to say so instead we kept going after asking directions to the last sighting of “the bear.”
We got to the bottom of the slope where there was a creek and could see with nearly perfect clarity on the sand and mud that not only was there no bear, but there had never been one in the first place. We decided that our pointless excursion into humoring this idiot had gone far enough so we decided to turn back.
I would love to claim credit but it was actually the section sergeant to who came up with the idea. It was a simple plan—we would continue back up the trail to where our private was waiting and I would get a few paces ahead and then the section sergeant would call my name; I would turn around and yell “BEAR!”
We would then both proceed to watch and see what happened.
We cleared enough trees to be seen and true to step one, he called my name. We could both see that the private was craning his beady little eyes at us. I turned and in accordance with step two yelled “BEAR!”
It took the movie the Matrix to give me an accurate representation of what happened. The private went into “bullet time.” His first action was a full-body spastic explosion with arms extended like one of the three stooges. Then he picked up his weapon and put it down, picked it up and put it down, picked it up and put it down, before finally deciding that he needed it.
He turned and took off at full sprint back towards the gun line and ran straight into a tree. I mean full speed, full sprint, full equipment, face first…….into a tree.
His helmet saved him and screwed him up at the same time. Of course this was the old style Kevlar with shock pad because we were Airborne, and being in Alaska he was wearing a balaclava under it so the fit was not tight, and to finish his ensemble, he also had on a mosquito head net. All of this mess caused his helmet to slide down and when he rebounded from the tree he was blind and still terrified.
He landed on his belly and all four limbs were digging for traction as dirt, rocks, and other forest debris flew out from underneath him until finally he caught a good grip of something and shot forward like a sprinter out of the blocks.
Right into the same damn tree.
Me and the section sergeant wanted stop him at this point. Do you know how much paperwork would be involved if this shit killed himself with his antics? But we were laughing so hard it was nearly impossible to stand much less yell at him.
He recovered from his second direct assault on the forest and vanished at full speed towards the gun line and we struggled to follow, sides heaving with laughter and pain in equal measure.
We came out into the clearing to see our new platoon sergeant, who would later in life be transformed into a sterling CSM who retired from a battalion in the most vaunted regiment in the Army, staring at the private who was now on top of a vehicle, weapon pointed the way he came, and vividly describing our dismemberment by the “bear.”
It should be noted that our new platoon sergeant found the situation funny after ascertaining what was going on but it was touch and go for a moment. Just imagine the paperwork for having two NCO’s eaten by a bear?