“What the hell did you do, Lieutenant?”
George blinked in the dazzling sunlight, to see the smiling figure of an Army Corporal holding out a hand to shake his own.
“Jason, Jason Garwell—welcome to Guam, man! But I mean it, Lieutenant, we’re all wondering, what on earth did you do?”
“Not sure that I understand you Corporal—”
Corporal Garwell laughed good naturedly, “Must’a done something, they never sent us an officer out to do this job before! We’re the Try And Forget ‘Em Platoon, Lieutenant. It’s all right, though, out here you keep your head down, don’t get caught, and in a couple of years you’re a free man!”
George tossed his bag into the back of the Humvee, and climbed up onto the front passenger seat as the Corporal pulled away from the civilian airport. Spread out before them as they drove down a gentle hill lined by palm trees and bougainvilleas, filling the entire width of the Humvee’s windscreen, lay the delightful vista of Tumon Bay. A row of deluxe hotels lined a light blue expanse of ocean out to where waves crashed onto the reef beyond, all within the most spectacular setting sun in startling orange and purple. A serious and modest young man, George was quietly filled with a feeling of celebration, an unprecedented sensation of excitement: school was finally behind him, his first real job in life had begun—after struggling through ROTC and that thrilling, because long doubted, graduation, he was on the road! It was disconcerting, though, to be arriving on his first assignment in an environment that gave every possible impression of being a vacation spot.
“We have a mission to complete here, Corporal,” George began quietly, “toxic waste containment—”
“Ahhh! You gotta love the friggin’ Army!” Garwell laughed out loud, as he made a right turn onto a busier street, “Toxic waste! Is that what they told you? Man I’d like to read your orders.
“Well, you seem like a nice kid,” and here Garwell interrupted himself to lean out his side window to make eyes at a bevy of Japanese girls on an open-air t bus stopped beside them at a traffic light. Unable to interest the tourists in a date later that evening, once the Humvee was underway again he continued, “Anyway here’s the deal, Lieutenant. Up on the north end of this island there’s a big Air Force Base. And off one side of the base there’s some swank officer’s housing. And beside the housing there’s a golf course. And surrounding the whole thing is a mess of the densest boonies you ever saw! We are talking jungle, brother, bugs, snakes, vines, swamps, we have earthquakes, typhoons, you’ll make a fresh swamp from your own sweat every time you go out there—and wild pigs. And those pigs crap all over the golf course and churn up the fairways looking for food, and the Air Force General has a hard-on for ‘em! Of course, no one in the Air Force will touch a job like this—the only time Air Force guys leave air conditioning out here is to get in a swimming pool—so here’s you and me pal! When there’s crap to clean out—” and Jason Garwell lifted both his hands from the steering wheel and raised them above his head in mock celebration—“you send in the Army!”
Once he’d got over his own joke, he continued, “It’s OK though, it’s not such a bad gig. Every now and then we go and stumble around the boonies and let off a few rounds. Every now and then some Air Force asshole lines us up and bitches about the pigs still messing up the fairways. Then we all forget about the whole thing and go back to R&R.
“And here we are in the Rest and Rehabilitation capital of the Pacific!” and Corporal Garwell gestured contentedly towards the flashing neon lights of a row of tawdry nightclubs they were driving past. The bars lined an outdoor concrete balcony above a shopping arcade comprised of a Vietnamese restaurant, a used furniture store, and a bodega promising “Iced Beer, Chips and Spam.”
Already through the window as they drove, George had seen the flashing lights of Club USA, they had driven past The New Vikings Gentleman’s Club, The Marianas Gash, Club G Spot, the Money Lounge, by way of introduction to his new home Corporal Garwell had made sure George knew of the existence of the Hong Kong Health Studio, the New Ichiban Health Spa, Hawaiian Shiatsu, the Tokyo Full Body Oil Massage.
“So what do you like to do in your free time?” Corporal Garwell continued cheerfully, “I can guarantee you this place has plenty of it! Golf? Tourist chicks? Dope? LBFM’s? Name your poison Lieutenant—and welcome to Guam, man!”
On the first rung of his career, George was not interested in a vacation. By now the last rays of daylight were sputtering out and the bright happy impression of his initial arrival was being replaced by a feeling of something dingy, forlorn, sordid. They left the lights behind and were soon driving along a narrow winding street into darkness. George was aware of a sinister sensation of having been abandoned at the end of a long dark road. Just concentrate on the mission, he instructed himself, just focus on completing the job, and get out.
“What’s the story on the pigs, Corporal?” George demanded softly. “What sort of reconnaissance do we have on them?”
Garwell laughed nervously, “They’re just pigs, Lieutenant, they live in the boonies—what else do you want to know?”
“What do I want?” George replied thoughtfully, “I want to know how many there are, what they eat, where they sleep, what are their habits, feeding, waste, mating—if we’re going to search and destroy first we have to identify the enemy—”
“Lieutenant, you can’t mine the friggin’ boonies!”
“Well, if for no other reason, the locals go hunting out there, for pigs and for deer—and for fruit bats as well. What are we gonna say if we accidentally blow the legs off some drunk local—Guam’s American territory, Lieutenant!”
“Just pigs—” George murmured, perhaps only to himself, “well the meaning of pigs all depends on the length of your attention span—” and then he muttered dourly, “I didn’t choose this mission, Corporal, but the Army gave it to me, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to complete it!”
George settled into his new billet, but did not investigate the gaudy Rest and Rehabilitation delights, the “karaoke,” massage, and strip joints of Mongmong, of Harmon, of Lower Agana. George was painfully aware that his first assignment out of the officer’s gate was the lowest, the most un-glorious, the least amenable to notice or credit or promotion. Corporal Garwell was clearly a slacker, however friendly and well-meaning—George could really not imagine such a frivolous demeanor with any seriousness, he presumed that guys like Garwell would get trapped wherever they were put, being far too attracted to superficial distractions to ever see their way clearly. But the corporal was correct on one thing: George had been assigned to the end of the road, where no one cared what happened one way or the other. His orders were the first step on a career of interminable anonymity, and George was determined to rectify the situation. Between him and any career progress stood this pack of hogs—or was it a single great destructive pig, or was the island laced with a horde of malicious critters, was every tree hiding one of the brutes—George didn’t have a clue. But it was clear to him that it or they were the enemy to be vanquished before he could move on, and he set about it at once.
To find order underlying apparent chaos, George’s training had taught him that he must establish some fixed points, some objective data upon which he might gain some purchase. He spent his first weeks on Guam scrambling and crawling and slithering through the Air Force property, on his own. As Corporal Garwell had promised, the jungle was dense, often impenetrably smothered in vines and sharp spiny shrubs, and treacherously pock-marked with sink holes and crevasses where the coral plateau plunged into deep subterranean caverns. Even George got lost out there a few times.
One morning he called in his second in command. Garwell was clearly hung-over, and surprised. “All right Corporal, this is what I want,” George began without wasting any more time. “I want detailed ordnance survey maps of the north end of this island; I want to see our platoon investigating every cubic inch of our territory, I want to know the hills, I want the caves, I want the ponds and the swamps, I want accurate time and place data on every pig sighting, every underbrush track, every hunk of stool, every mangled tree stump, chewed up root, churned up fairway, every fight with local dogs, every hog shot by hunters! Corporal, what are you waiting for? R&R is over!”
George led his astonished squad out on round-the-clock information collecting missions. He systematically plotted every data point, and soon figured out why the Air Force General hated the hogs: the general had the biggest house on base, closest to the jungle, and the beasts mated out the back of his house. After months of jungle crawling, swamp stumbling, mosquito battling, leech tugging, George had collected enough data to begin to generate a model of the hogs’ behavior and movements, with a statistical analysis of the probabilities of interrupting them at several given locations. Following his calculations, he sent his men out on precise location missions to fine tune his model.
Where the men had thought of Guam’s feral hogs in a tolerant, amused, almost fraternal fashion—the pigs just wanted to root around, enjoy themselves, and be left alone, pretty much like the men—the lieutenant had clearly developed a single-minded animosity towards them, a strangely personal hatred, to what he referred to only as “the enemy.”
For men of an essentially tolerant, phlegmatic stance to life, such obsessive single-mindedness, maintained relentlessly month-in and month-out, was itself ominous and intimidating. Behind his back most of his troop came to refer to the lieutenant, in a terse synthesis of respect, ridicule, and fatalism, as “The Brain,” and no one any more would suggest around him that they were “just pigs.”
After six months of data collection, George was ready to make his move. They’d been picking off hogs one by one here and there, thinning out their numbers around the base, but George had developed a plan to bait them into a trap; he was prepared for a conclusive search and destroy mission.
All this left Corporal Garwell with mixed emotions. He didn’t blame Lieutenant McFelix for trying to make some noise, he could see the lieutenant was actually interested in an army career and had to extricate himself from this dead-end. He’d also rather come to like the lieutenant, who despite his formality and humorless devotion to military behavior, was actually not difficult to be around. The Brain set them fastidiously specific tasks, but once you were out on a patrol he didn’t look over your shoulder or second-guess what you were up to. Crawling face down in a swamp in pitch darkness, having taken far too little interest to actually know what they were really up to other than secretly trailing wild pigs in their battle fatigues, often somewhat intoxicated at night, the men would whisper to one another, “Gotta complete the mission—always complete the mission boys!” and break into laughter.
And yet the way the Lieutenant had planned out his final push had made Corporal Garwell extremely anxious. The Lieutenant wanted a big splash to get himself some notice, but Garwell and his boys were more than content with their place in the army on Guam and wanted nothing to interrupt the easy passage of time until they got out. A successful mission might mean promotions—which none of his boys wanted! A fiasco might land some of them, on probation as they were, in the brig.
George had waited until the General was off-island on business. He picked a night on a full moon, with dry weather, when the hogs would be mating. Late that afternoon, he drove with his boys in their two Army Humvees onto the Air Force base, and unloaded the materiel into the four-car carport of the General’s house: extension cords, lights, a boom box, plastic pool chairs, a cheap metal barbeque stand bought at the PX plus coals, lighter fuel, 25 kilos of cheap steak, two bags of dog food, and a pair of friendly boonie dogs which the lieutenant had been feeding around the mess for some months. And they unloaded a lot of ammunition. They were starting the mission shortly before sundown. They could smell the distinct aroma of barbeque lighter fuel coming from some colonels’ housing nearby.
“Sir,” Garwell whispered—he’d long given up on changing the lieutenant’s mind on anything, the corporal was far too un-motivated to do enough homework for that—“I don’t think it’s a great idea to actually use the General’s home as a base, sir, you know we could just as easy park on the other side of the golf course and hike over—”
“Electricity,” George replied at full volume, “we need lights to get the job done, we have to identify the enemy before we can engage. And we need to be facing in to the boonies, not out—”
“What’s with the barbeque, Lieutenant?” Garwell whispered.
“The pigs love the smell of roasting meat, they’ve got used to it around here, it means scraps to them, an easy meal—” George explained. “Hey you guys!” he yelled at a couple of his boys who were poking through the unlocked freezer at the back of the General’s carport, ”get on with your job! They can’t resist it,” he returned to Corporal Garwell, “they’ll smell the meat and come on in—”
“And what’s with the dogs?”
“Bait, and distraction—” George replied concisely.
“But Lieutenant, we’re in the Air Force General’s carport, we’re in the middle of a big suburb, people are gonna be suspicious.”
George waved his hand dismissively, “Air Force people are going to be suspicious of a bunch of Army guys in the carport of their General’s house while everyone knows he’s off-island? Corporal, you know what Air Force guys are going to think: they will assume we’re here to clean up, to take out his trash, to paint his walls, they’ll figure we’re plumbers!”
Jason Garwell sighed and tried one more gentle reminder, “We’re going to be a bit loud for plumbers, lieutenant, I reckon the neighbors are going to notice once we get started—”
To which George grinned tensely, “That’s right, Corporal, we here are all in the military. And they are about to be reminded of that fact.”
At last, the men realized that their commanding officer had changed the nature of their status on Guam. They were used to The Brain appearing austere and self-disciplined, but tonight his concentration was implacable: they were in a combat zone.
“All right boys,” George commanded, “move out!”
First they plugged an electric cord into an outlet beside the General’s swimming pool, then unfurled 300 feet of extension cord right across the fairway and into the rough on the far side, where they stomped down a circle in the long grass with their boots. Duct tape; electrical tape; the boom box wafting The Eagles gently into the boonies by the bright light of the bulbs set up to shine on the plastic pool chairs surrounding the barbeque. Then they fired up a giant mound of barbeque coals, and got cooking. By then the sun had gone down. Already they’d heard the sound of snuffling, of rooting, of nimble trotters approaching from somewhere back in the wall of dense jungle that lay between the fairway where they’d set up the faux party and the cliffs dropping into the Pacific Ocean beyond. The dogs were tied on cords to trees lining the rough, just out of reach of the barbeque circle, and provided with opened bags of dog food. Fifty pounds of fatty steak was barbequed and spread invitingly around on the plastic chairs. The Eagles were turned up just a little louder. And then the platoon returned to the General’s back yard, to get ready, and to wait.
It was just as George’s model had predicted—better, in fact. The information collected was correct, the calculations accurate, the weather cooperated, the bait was irresistible, and fate was on their side: half a dozen adult male pigs trailed by a dozen sows and their offspring stumbled out of the jungle to feast on the unimagined bounty of steak and docile tethered dog—altogether, by the aid of night-vision binoculars, George counted at least 40 to 50 boars.
The hogs never stood a chance. It was a classic turkey shoot. In a barrage of high-powered automatic fire emanating from the General’s back yard across the fairway, any stragglers picked off by snipers positioned on the General’s roof, the entire hog population of northern Guam was wiped out to a piglet at one magnificent fell swoop—obliterated, macerated, shreds of avulsed and smashed pork flesh and bone draped Dali-like across the palm and breadfruit trees lining the golf course.
Victory! Peace re-established in the General’s back yard. And George was out of Guam. Mission accomplished.
About the Author
U Ebiz has worked as a medical doctor from Manhattan to Afghanistan and on various islands in the Pacific. After some intimacy with U.S. military in action, he is currently writing a novel—”Whose Blood and Judgment?” He has short stories in or forthcoming in Asia Writes, Wilderness House Review, Ear Hustler, The Foundling Review, and Lowestoft Chronicle.