Every night, we meet in between the row of trailers. Sometimes, there’s just two sitting in the red plastic chairs that would snap in two if Rosanne Barr sat down. Even though our job requires us to leave the camp a lot, normally the majority of our NCOs are present in the alleyway covered with cigarette butts and gravel. We call this place “NCO Alley.” It’s our refuge… where we get away from all the crap and just dump our brains for the night. And since we can’t enjoy an ice-cold beer made in Milwaukee, Wis., we get drunk off of laughter.
Joe is always the first one there – we call him the “King of sleep,” because he goes to bed early and wakes up late. The next to walk down the alley path are Sammy – he’s a little chubby, 40 + and laughs at anything; Tommy – he’s toothless; Johnny – Mr. Punchline; and then me.
We sit in a circle, talking about the strangest things imaginable. Oh, man, if hunks of rock and sheet metal could talk, we’d be in trouble. I won’t lie; we can be quite vulgar. As we open the latest issue of Stuff or Maxim, “God, did you see her rack?” (Sammy laughs) When we talk about an “active” girl on post, “It would be like throwing a hot dog down a hallway.” (Sammy laughs) Of course what good would a group of NCOs be if they didn’t talk about officers or their Joes’ shenanigans? “Yeah, I didn’t agree with that decision.” (Sammy laughs) “You know what I’d do if I were you, sergeant? I’d smoke her.” (Sammy laughs)
We also have are own little ritual or initiation per se. Most people would find this absolutely sick, but I assure you that nobody’s ever been hurt physically or emotionally. Joe, Johnny and I grab Sammy when he’s in the middle of one of his chuckles (he’s a big boy so it takes three), throw him to the ground and hump him from three angles, like a coyote ravaging a house cat. I don’t know why we do this, but it is hilarious. I even admit, it’s sick, but that ritual has gotten me through some tough days and made me laugh so hard that I once slobbered on myself. And no I’m not gay (but Sammy might be, because he seems to like it), not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sad thing is, this ritual is practiced in most combat arms units… so, we’re just carrying on a tradition of what I like to call “Stuck in a Foreign Country Fighting a War” (SFCFW) humor.
The jovial conversations and SFCFW humor are only broken up when somebody we don’t like walks up or when mortars fall. Tonight was the final gathering in NCO Alley. We have packed our bags and moved out of the trailers. FNGs will be moving in soon, as we have relocated to temporary housing (military for the projects) as we just count down the final days.
Because we wanted to share our joy, we gave somebody an honorary membership today and just sat there rehashing the past year. “Hey, you remember when so and so lost her weapon?” “Yeah, that was ate up.” We also humped Sammy. Even the honorary member understood… he laughed. Sammy, the oldest, baldest NCO of the group, laughed too. “Sammy, one of these days, Haji’s going to hear your damn laugh and hit us with mortars.” And just a split second after this sentence was completed, I kid you not (I swear this really happened), we heard whistling and saw flashes. Bullets were whizzing by our heads. I heard the ricochet of some pretty high caliber rounds and felt the wind of them flying by. We hauled our butts to the bunkers. Tommy’s ears were ringing. “I saw a flash in front of my face. I can’t hear.” We checked him for entry or exit wounds. None. The bullet must have flown right by his ear, completely missing him, thank God. “Everybody OK?” A near unanimous yes echoes off the bunker. “We told you they’d find us if you kept laughing, Sammy.” He started laughing and so did everybody else. “Well, I guess that’s the end of NCO Alley.” We all thought about that statement for a second. Many good times were shared between the five of us, some of which got us through some difficult days. It’s really a bitter-sweet ending to a beautiful thing – NCO Alley.