Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Inspection

For a time during my Army career I was assigned to the 66th MI Company, 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. At that time, the 3rd ACR was at Ft Bliss, TX, just outside El Paso.

My roommate Jim and I were both from the Detroit area. We tried to bring as much Motor City culture as well as creature comforts with us into our barracks room. When the First Sergeant said we could have cable TV, we had it hooked up within days so we could watch hockey. When we asked for a phone, he gave permission for that as well, provided we paid the bill.

We had things set up very nicely. At the time ESPN carried the NHL nationally, so we had "Hockey Night in Texas" on whatever evening they had a game. That was a night for pizza and beer.

And, not just any beer. I've always been a bit of a beer snob (much so since living in Europe, too), so we weren't drinking just any crappy beer. No, we had to have Molson Canadian. We found one store on the west side of El Paso who would see us Molson Canadian - but he had to special order it and would only sell it to us by the case.

That wouldn't have been a problem, except that the rules our unit had was that there could be only one six-pack of beer per person in a barracks room at any given time. With 24 bottles in a case, that meant two six-packs per person. We felt it was worth the risk, though. After all, what were we to do about it?

Over one Christmas holiday Jim and I both went to Michigan on leave. When we returned, we headed out to our favorite store to purchase our Molson beer. The proprietor informed us that he was closing up for a couple of weeks to go on vacation, so he got us two cases of Molson in case we wanted extra while he was gone. Of course, we took him up on his kind offer.

I had a small dorm refrigerator in which we kept our beer. In good military fashion, all the bottles were lined up neatly inside with the maple leaves on the caps pointed upwards; neat and orderly. Since I just came back from Michigan, I also had the extra room in the refrigerator stuffed with Vernors Ginger Ale, a soft drink which was not available in El Paso at the time.

The Monday we went down and outside for our first morning formation. When we assembled together, we were told the barracks people were going to have a Health And Welfare Inspection. During a "Health And Welfare" the people would go inside and stand outside their rooms until the Commander and First Sergeant came in. Then they went inside their rooms, opened their wall lockers and stood by while the Command, First Sergeant, Platoon Sergeant, and just about anyone else with stripes or bars who cared to would go through all their stuff looking for contraband and checking for cleanliness.

When we got upstairs, Jim and I took our team sergeants aside and let them know we had more than the permissible amounts of beer in our rooms. While in the middle of explaining why we had the extra beer, the Commander and his entourage arrived to check our room. They already weren't too happy as they found more than a few two-liter bottles of pee in the locker of one person who lived in the room across the hall. Apparently he was too lazy to walk down the hall to the latrine when he needed to pee in the middle of the night. I'm glad he wasn't my roommate.

As the people went through our stuff, Jim and I were summoned into the room. The C.O. queried me, "Specialist, why do you have a case of beer in your wall locker? I'm sure you're well aware of the rules about how much beer you can have in your room."

"Um, well, Sir, it's like this; we like to drink Molson Canadian beer. Only one store in town will sell it to us and the guy who runs the place special orders it for us, so we have to buy it by the case."

"Oh, I think we can let that go. What do you say, First Sergeant?" I don't recall what he said, but I assume he agreed.

They made their way to Jim's locker and found two more six-packs in his locker. "I understand one case, but there's another two six-packs in here. What's going on with that."

Jim responded to this one. "Well, Sir, the guy who runs the store we purchase the beer from closed his store for two week to go on vacation. Since we're regular customers, he was nice enough to buy two cases so we wouldn't run out while he's gone. He was so nice about taking care of us, we didn't want to refuse."

"Oh. Well, I guess that's OK."

Then he went to the refrigerator.

"More beer?"

"Yes, Sir," Jim responded. "We have to buy by the case, so we have two cases total."

"Oh, I see," the C.O. replied as he looked back into the refrigerator. "Hey, you've got Vernors in here."

"Yes, Sir," I responded. "I just came back from Michigan, so I stocked up on some while I was up there."

"Wow, I haven't seen that in years. I grew up in Ohio and we drank that all the time."

"Would you like one?"

"Oh, I couldn't."

"Please," I said, "I've got plenty. Help yourself."

"Well, Thank you. I won't drink it now, it's a bit early. I'll have it with lunch."

Then the phone rang.

Neither Jim nor I answered since we were in the middle of an inspection. After four or five rings the C.O. finally asked, "You've got a phone in here, too? Are one of you guys going to answer it?"

I picked up the receiver. It was my mom.

"Hi. Oh, hi mom."

"Oh, I'm fine. Things are going well."

"Yes. Hey, mom. We're in the middle of an inspection. Can I call you back later?"

"No, it's OK. You didn't know. Yes, I'll call you later."

"OK. Love you, too. Bye."

"You guys are living the 'Life of Reilly' up here, aren't  you? Well, everything looks OK here." And with that the entourage left.

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