Some great recommendations this go around, but I couldn't fit them in without going WAY out on a limb :)
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(CAUTION: LIGHTLY EDITED)
The Fleet: Part 3
We almost had to run to keep up with Gunny Salvador, his strides somehow longer than ours despite not being much taller than either of us. We moved across the quad separating the circle of barracks from what I could only assume was the battalion building, a concrete rectangle standing three stories tall, nothing special except for the battalion guidon staked in the ground, the red flag lapped languidly in the still air. Summer turf, more weed than grass, crunched under our feet as we hustled to our destination.
The gunny reached the door at the end of the building and opened it like a whip sending a refreshing blast of cool air our way. Again we followed, keep our eyes forward, ignoring the stares of the Marines doing a variety of tasks involving mostly paper and old computers.
Moving down the middle of the building, those felt-like cubicle dividers lining the way, the occasional motivational Marine Corps poster pinned to them with flat silver tacks.
We marched through another doorway close on our company gunny's heels. Man could he move without even seeming to try. Never once did he acknowledge the nods of the Marines we passed.
Reaching another doorway, this one marked with a red diamond sticker with India Company in white letters in the middle. Gunny Salvador stopped abruptly and turned around. I almost ran into him, Gallagher right behind. Somehow I manage not to plant my face in his chest.
"This is our company area. You do not enter the company area unless you are ordered to or you're with me. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Gunny," we replied in unison.
He swiveled back to the door and opened it, giving me my first glimpse into the real Marine Corps. The room was probably five times as long as it was wide, each platoon commander and platoon sergeant given a barely ten-by-ten cubicle space, no door, for two desks and two wall lockers. Weapons Platoon, 3rd Platoon, 2nd Platoon on down to 1st marked along our path. At the end of the space were the company clerks and the company commander's office, the only one, other than the first sergeant's, with a real door.
Gunny Salvador stepped up to the company commander's open door and poked his head in. "Sir, I have the two Marines you requested."
"Send them in, Gunny," came the voice from within.
Gunny Salvador looked at us with that same penetrating glare, and in a low voice only we could hear said, "Report to Captain Monroe just like you've been taught. I'll be right outside. If either one of you fucks this up, I will choke your ass."
We both nodded, not really knowing what to say. He pointed to the company commander's office and I led the way in, stopping a foot from the metal desk and doing a perfect right face. Gallagher did the same a second later. Since I was the first one in the room I said, "Sir, Lance Corporal Stokes and Private Gallagher reporting as ordered."
I kept my focus straight ahead, on a speck of black on the off-white cinder block wall, not making eye contact with the captain.
"Have a seat, Marines," he said in a slightly gravelly voice, almost horse. I noticed his reddish hair, cut in a typical high and tight on the sides, the top longer and parted and combed over. His face sported freckles that were even more pronounced with the slight sunburn he had under his eyes. He looked lean and completely at ease, like a man who'd found his place in the world. Not a hint of animosity. It was the same officer who'd been outside minutes before. He must've taken a different route back.
We were still in boot camp mode, so we hesitated for a moment. I looked to Captain Monroe for guidance. He pointed to the chairs behind us, a look of amusement on his face.
We took sat down in the rigid metal chairs, the fake leather cushion more likely for decoration than for any real comfort. I wondered idly if the Marine Corps mass-produced the chairs, as we'd seen them everywhere since placing our feet on the yellow prints in Parris Island.
"First, welcome to India Company, three-six. You've already met Gunny Salvador, and you'll be meeting the rest of our staff later today. Second, I'm sorry to tell you both that you will not be assigned to one of our platoons." My stomach tightened. The last thing I wanted was to be a company clerk. "I just lost one of my radio operators to back surgery. I'll need a replacement, so Gunny Salvador suggested we take two and see who can cut it. I know it's not what you expected coming here, but you'll be going through the same training as the others, just not as part of a platoon."
I didn't want to be a radio operator either. Maybe there was a way I could get out of it.
"Sir, we, uh, didn't really volunteer," I said cautiously, with probably a hint of desperation in my voice.
Captain Monroe's eyebrows rose. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that. If a Marine gunnery sergeant says you volunteered, you volunteered. Got that?"
"Yes, sir," we both replied, the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach getting worse.
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