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t was the winter of 1991. I was a Corporal at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport California. Life was good! As was the norm that time of year we were in full swing training Marine Infantry Battalions on the fine art of Mountaineering and conducting Mountain Leadership Course (MLC) and Winter Survival Skills Classes. Mine was the most demanding of jobs and I took it very seriously. Everybody depended upon me and I was a god· I was a warehouse clerk! As always, it was my duty was to issue out clothing and equipment to the Marines and students attending the local training courses.
Our warehouse staff was quite small by Marine Corps standards. There were 4 of us total: Sgt West was the Warehouse Chief; Cpl Menjarez, myself, and LCpl Costa were the resident "box-kickers!" Together we performed our jobs admirably. Our Supply Officer, 1stLt Woodruff, ran a tight ship. He had been a warehouse clerk, warehouse chief, supply chief, Warrant Officer, LDO, and then with LDO promotions frozen, was the "Senior Lieutenant" in the Corps. He knew "literally" everything and he trained us well! So "well" in fact, that the four of us could issue clothing and equipment, flawlessly, at neck breaking speed. Back then in supply we did not have all the sophistication of computers and scanners, etc. All we had for documentation were the Equipment Custody Card (ECR) and the Cold Weather Card. So to speed things up we memorized the order of the equipment listed on both cards and would pre-pack the ALICE packs so that every item we pulled from it was in the same order as the entries on the cards. Hey, like I said, we were good! It would go something like this, "Shell, Glove, one pair. Inserts, Glove, one pair. Cap, Cold Weather, one each." The whole time we were talking we were simultaneously throwing gear up on the counter as the students were reading the entries and initialing as fast as humanly possible.
It was always a pleasure issuing gear to the Officer Candidates, NROTC students, etc. because they were so unorganized compared to the regular Marines. And even more so, they were extremely unsuspecting and gullible: Two dangerous ingredients when there is a "practical joker" around!
We had just finished preparing the packs for an NROTC Class issue that was going later that day and Sgt West and myself went outside to see if there were any vehicles blocking the side hatch. One of the trucks that needed to be moved had an interesting passenger in the back. Underneath a thin layer of frost, in a grotesque pose, was a rather large house cat. Eyes open, tongue hanging out, it appeared to be frozen alive. Investigating the matter further we found out that a Base Maintenance Man had accidentally ran over his daughterâs cat the night before and the frozen ground prevented him from burying it. To keep her from seeing it he did what was natural and "just threw it in the back." And you thought Marines were sick! Well we are! Without too much trouble we were able to talk him into letting us take the cat off his hands. Thankfully, he didnât ask any questions; just raised an eyebrow and watched us carry "Stiffy" into the warehouse. We packed "Stiffy" in some snow out back and made the appropriate annotations on a few Cold Weather Cards.
At 1300 the class showed up and formed a single file line outside the side hatch. Since the issue point was small, we only let four students in at a time. The rest would stay outside the hatch and come in as someone left. Things moved quickly as the warehouse was about 60 degrees hotter than the parking lot. We surveyed the crowd looking for a victim. The first couple of students were the class commander and a few prior service cadets; not good picks. Before long the warehouse door slammed open and in tripped a Jerry Lewis look-a-like. He was tall and lanky, wore birth-control glasses, and had a bad case of "bed- head."
I tried to keep from smiling as he checked all his pockets for appropriate identification. As he was patting himself down I ran through my speal on what was going to happen and grabbed the special pack and issue card. Once I had his full attention I proceeded to issue his gear as fast as I could. He was trying desperately to keep up with the initials and was stuffing everything into his Water Proof Bag. I did not slow down even when he would drop something or lose his place. Before long there was gear everywhere. He was trying to hold item under his armpit and even his chin. As he squared himself away I prepared for the "grand finale."
The rest of the crew was fighting back the urge to laugh as they knew what was coming next. I reached down and grabbed "Stiffy" by the tail, lifted him like a tennis racket, and dropped him on to the counter. At the same time I barked, "Kat, Cold Weather!" The cadet jumped back and looked around to see what everyone else was doing. The place was dead silent. If there were Artic Crickets in the world they would have been chirping! No one else was laughing, so he grabbed "Stiffy" and started to initial his card. By now we were about to wet our trousers! LCpl Costa had buried his face in some poly-pro underwear! We were dying to laugh. Cpl Menjarez had stopped breathing and was beet red.
I was just getting ready to let our victim in on the joke when he spoke up, "Sergeant, somebody spelled Cat wrong!" With that, we all lost our bearing. Most of us were rolling around on the floor. We laughed so loudly that the Lieutenant came to investigate. He even laughed! Everybody was laughing except for the cadet. As per my request he didn't tell anyone else and I let him watch us get the next one. Before the day was up we had at least six. After our fun we gave "Stiffy" a proper burial and talked about what we could do next time. What else were gods to do?