Some of the Marines assigned to mess duty were short-timers. After humping the rice paddies, clearing roads, walking night patrols, laying in ambushes and witnessing death, they were given a break. Mess duty allowed these battle-worn Marines an opportunity to decompress from the daily stress, but after a year, few of them were able to relax.
One Marine (I don’t remember his name) was taking a break after cleaning the mess deck. We talked for a few minutes, and he reminisced about his 12 months in country. He said, “It’s 99% boredom and 1% Hell.” Staying alert all the time is difficult, and many Marines would let their guard down. Poor attitudes were prevalent, and superstitions stuck like glue. Time dragged on, and the heat seemed to stall the calendar.
He said, “I’ve watched you and admire how you’ve stayed busy.” It was a curious observation and I asked, “How so?” He related the series of projects (building the walk-in, the hooch, the shower and the burner shack). “It makes your time pass faster.” He believed staying occupied with an agenda was a survival tactic.
After our conversation I thought of the two combat engineers killed back in January. * They let their guard down and slept in a tent during a 100% alert. The incident had shaped my attitude regarding survival; it was a harsh lesson. Staying focused on survival was transitory . . . a lack of activity would dull the senses. Incoming mortars and tracers kept the brain trained on self-preservation. Survival wasn’t just dumb luck.