I’ve been trying to figure out where to start with all of this. So many tales, so many ambitions, so many memories all jumbling and rattling around. But there is probably one, above all else, that I tell people, partially due to it being funny, partially because I carried a little bit of guilt for what I said. This one comes from my days as a Marine. It was in roughly the last year of my contract and I had short timer syndrome like most of us get when you’re around that in your career. We fell terribly under-manned for a field op and I ended up sitting in as platoon sergeant as a lance corporal, with another lance corporal acting as the platoon leader. Needless to say, it was unduly stressful and the mosquitoes keeping us up all night didn’t help things one bit.
Before I continue on with this story, I feel I should give you some background on this guy, McKinney. He had been on both deployments with me, and we initially received him about a month from leaving for the first one. He was from the hills of Virginia and was what you would expect him to be from that statement. He was a good enough guy, but he had no business being in the military. He smoked, but never had cigarettes, and he did this thing, where he would kinda drool a little and then catch himself and slurp it back into his mouth.
Now this particular July morning, being mosquito ridden and humid before it was even light out, tempers were maxed. No one wanted to be in the field, no one slept well that night, and every one was grumbling. Every except McKinney, that is, because he was flat out bitching. The kind of bitching that just gets on your last nerve. Unfortunately for him, the mosquitoes had already taken that last nerve, and I was fresh out when he started.
The dialogue went something like;
Me: “McKinney, shut the fuck up! No one wants to hear your shit right now!”
McKinney: “Fuck this shit!”
(These particular ranges were called the “K” ranges on Lejeune, by the way)
Me: “You know what McKinney?! Why don’t you just go get lost in the woods?! Just walk out there and don’t come back! Then you can be the ‘Ghost of the K Ranges’ and all the fire watches out here will hear will be ‘slurp…slurp…hey man, you got a cigarette?'”
McKinney: “You know
|||||||, you’re a real asshole”! (He was right, and I did go a little far with it.).
Micky, my best friend at the time stepped in and had my back: “No McKinney, he’s right, shut the fuck up! No one wants to hear your shit right now”!
And then Mckinney shut the fuck up finally and our day continued in the manner of which you would expect a squad attack range to go after a night of no sleep.
Well about a month later, right before labor day, the snipers were having an indoctrination and Mckinney figured he would try out. Good for him in that regards, I should have done it then myself, but I was planning to get out, so I didn’t mess with it (one of few regrets I had in my lifetime). None of us thought he would get it, but hey, if he wanted to try you still gotta show encouragement for your platoon mates.
At about 2230 I was getting out of the bath and I got a phone call.
We got recalled.
You see what had happened, was that McKinney during the course of the indoc had pushed himself so hard that he began throwing up. This, in turn, dehydrated him and the snipers despite their better judgment let him keep going into the night landnav portion. Well dehydrated and exhausted Mckinney had become lost on the night land nav course. Now, keep in mind this wasn’t the “K” ranges, but nonetheless a month ago I had told this kid to get lost in the woods. As you can imagine, I was feeling a little guilty at this point, as well as pissed off that I had to go back to work at 1030 at night after just having had a bath.
So we all formed up back at the company, loaded up on CH-47-tons, and were transported to a range off of highway 24. We began pushing guys into the woodline with flashlights spaced about 5 meters apart. The idea was to box in the area he was expected to be in, and cut him off before he pushed deeper into the woods. Noise was made, lights were flashed, about 4 hours later, they called everyone back, and we went home, unsuccessful.
The next day was spent pondering McKinney’s fate. Many speculated he just took off, some bet (yes, BET, as in money) on his death. The command went about fact finding and wasting time trying to come up with a plan, like commands often do. NCIS came and interviewed us, suspicious of foul play on our parts or that he may have used this moment to go UA (Awol for you soldier types). All and all this complete day was wasted, meanwhile, McKinney (or what was left of him at this point) was still out in the woods somewhere, lost.
The command finally pulled itself together and committed the entire battalion to combing the woods in an organized pattern. In a 3 pronged pattern, A CO pushed east, B CO swept north, and C CO came in from the eastern edge of the base. The plan seemed solid enough, but as anyone who has ever pushed through the woods online knows, it never works that way. Initially a great idea, but once you’ve gone about 200 meters in woods, you start getting channeled and people naturally take the path of least resistance. Meaning we just ended up with squads in a ranger file behind each other walking and bullshitting. Not too much searching going on at this point because quite frankly, no one expected him to survive that long after the condition we were told he was last seen.
Then someone got the call.
They had found him. I say they loosely. Our entire sweeping battalion, had come up empty handed. Turns out a sheriff driving out near the triangle gate had drove by right as he stumbled out of the woods. He was alive, for what it was worth, and was immediately taken to the hospital.
We later found out, because nothing in an event like this stays secret for long, that while lost and stumbling through the woods McKinney became dehydrated, in turn drank stagnant swamp water and from there it was a downward spiral into sickness and hallucination. It was reported as well by the sheriff that he had been found with his pants around his ankles, no top on, one boot missing, and saying something about, “they raped me”. So yeah, that spurned a little more investigation of course. The MP’s had been called out to track him with dogs during the time he was lost and we were later briefed on the route they had tracked. It spanned over 9 kilometers through some thick woods. He had crossed 2 main roads, and had pushed all the way up to the fence blocking off Lejeune from highway 24 at the exact point that he would have been able to see a shopping center. We later joked that he should have just gone to taco bell and got a cup of water.
McKinney turned out to be ok although malnourished and dehydrated. He recovered and was back at work before long. He caught some jokes here and there, but after that, you expect its gonna happen. I still felt kinda bad for the kid myself, so when he didn’t have any lunch one day, or a ride to the store, I offered to take him. Now, I’m sure at this point you’re wondering, “alright, why are you still going on and why is this relevent?”. Well, wait for it.
I took him to the 7 day store, which was busy as typical for lunch time. We had grabbed our food and were casually waiting in the lengthy check out line. I noticed an MP in front of us. He noticed us, and was looking back quite often. When I say he noticed us, I mean he had noticed McKinney. Finally after you could tell it was just eating him up, and he knew that I knew he was staring, he fully turned and asked,”You’re the guy that got lost in the woods aren’t you?”. This came with a bit of an aggressive tone and immediately I knew there was something wrong here. But there was McKinney all being dumb and walking right into it. “Yeah. That was me,” he said solemnly with his head down. Then what I didn’t expect came next. “MY FUCKING DOG GOT EATEN BY A GATOR BECAUSE OF YOU!”. This MP nearly in tears as he yells this in the checkout line.
You may or may not be aware of the bond that handlers have with their dogs. Its a strong bond that you can only get from working one on one with someone and having that person rely on you day and night. And I’m looking at the face of a forcefully broken bond while trying to buy some lunch and its aimed at my general direction. So I wheel around and tell McKinney,”drop your shit, we’re getting the fuck out of here before this guy kills you!”. He sets it on the shelf, we hop in the jeep and spin some tires leaving that parking lot.
So, if any of you have ever heard the rumors of there being gators in the Camp Lejeune swamps, and then laughed it off in disbelief, well, you’re wrong.
Over the years I’ve lost contact with McKinney. I imagine that he returned back to Virginia after the Corps. More than likely, he went and got lost in the woods back home somewhere though this time it was on his terms and probably with some shine in hand.