11. February 2006 · Comments Off on The First Time I Disobeyed a Direct Order (and almost peed myself a little) · Categories: Memoir, Pajama Game

Note: I’ve stripped this and changed some of the details in order to ensure that OPSEC is maintained. I know one of the Presidents declassified most of this but old habits die hard. Shrug. Most of this happened the way I put it down here as best as memory serves.

So it’s in the late 80s and I’m part of a deployment “somewhere south of the Mexican border.” I’ve got all of two stripes and I’m mostly typing out message traffic on an old manual with OCR font built right onto the strikers when I’m not filling sandbags or rearranging rocks. No, I didn’t do anything wrong, that’s just what most of the support folks were doing. I’m mostly there to support the Lt Col who’s in charge of the base but he doesn’t have a lot to do either so we mostly kept as busy as we could to make the days go by. I don’t care if you’ve summered in Alabama; no place has ever been hotter or muggier than this place. It’s the kind of place where mosquitoes are rumored to have stolen small children right from their parent’s sides.

I’m with a RED HORSE unit who’re clearing jungle and building something where there used to be nothing. The official story is that we’re not here. We’re training somewhere. And yet, we still have an energetic Public Affairs Captain who keeps taking pictures and pissing off the engineers because she keeps stopping them to pose them as they’re working for a better shot. Ya ever hung out with the HORSE? They just LOVE being stopped in the middle of something to act like models.

One day the PA Captain decides she needs to get to the town and somehow manages to convince the Lt Col that this is a good idea. Guess who gets to drive her? So we got in this thing that might have been a military vehicle at some point in its lifespan, but now was mostly exposed tires, engine and a windscreen. Somehow, third and fourth gear has switched places.

So I get her to the town with minimal grinding but maximum vibration and she does what she needs to do and I get a couple of tacos with questionable meat and a miraculously ice cold Miller. We had beer back at base but it was “cooled” in a river and that may have been a “chilling” 70 degrees. She joins me and tries to tell the waitress, in perfect scholarly Spanish no less, that she wants a taco salad. The waitress looks at her like she’s crazy, looks at me and I shrug, looks back at her and finally the Captain gives up and just orders a glass of water. The waitress and I both stare at her. “Ma’am. You’re better off ordering a beer. The water here isn’t so good, remember?” She looks mildly startled, as if for the first time she realizes we’re not just camping out and that we’re really someplace we’re not supposed to be. I guess the local guys and some gals mostly in old fatigues walking around with guns, most bigger than ours, and the fact that we’re armed and in clean fatigues and no one’s said boo didn’t seem weird to her somehow. She finally orders what I’m having. I don’t think she knew what was in the tacos either.

It’s heading toward middle afternoon and we’re on our way back to base on what passes for a road in that part of the world. We hear gunfire off to our left. Not close. Not far enough away. Because of the landscape it could have been either closer or louder than it sounded. It sounds like a couple of groups of folks trying to do each other harm. The Captain acts all excited and grabs for her camera bag and sees a break in the foliage to the left and she tells me to “Hang a looey!” I stop the vehicle and stare at her for a moment, trying to figure out how best to say what I have to say. “Ma’am, we have a general order NOT to engage with any local hostilities. We are NOT to be anywhere near anything that sounds like that sounds.” She gets all pissy and tells me that I’m to “Get this vehicle moving now Airman and make a left.” I shook my head and told her simply “Ma’am, we have general orders, we can’t.” She gets her lips all firm and tells me “One way or the other Airman, this vehicle is going down that road.” I sighed and grabbed my M-16 and got out of the vehicle and told her, “Then it’s going without me Ma’am.” And I started walking down the road straight ahead. That worked. “Fine, get back in the vehicle and get us back, but don’t think for a minute this is over.” “No Ma’am, I don’t imagine it is.” We got back to the base and everyone was relieved to see us because they had heard the gunfire in the distance.

The Captain ignored all the concern and storms into the Lt Col’s office and I hear her poodle voice all shrill and harsh through the door and the Lt Col getting a question in here or there and then I hear him begin to get all German Shepherd-telling-the-cat-what-for on her.

YIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIP and he thought it was funny when I ordered water.YIPYIPYIPYIPPITY YIP wouldn’t take the vehicle where I told him YIPYIPYIPYIP YIP

WOOF? You wanted him to go TOWARDS the gunfire?
WOOFWOOFWOOFWOOFWOOF Did you not READ the general orders?
BARKBARKBARKBLANKETYBLANK and you WILL apologize to that Airman for your stupidity….WOOF! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?

She came out all quiet and apologetic and I didn’t say I told you so, thought that would have been piling on, but I never wanted to get up and dance and NYAHNYAHNYAH anyone so much in my entire life.

The Lt Col came out of his office shaking his head as she walked out the door. He looked at me and smiled and said, “Good job Timmer, but you’re not going to like this; From now on anytime THAT woman leaves this base, YOU are to accompany her. I’ll try to keep those trips to an absolute minimum, but considering what she’s using for judgment…” He gave me kind of a weird grin, “You really just got out of the vehicle? You wouldn’t have left here there?” I smirked (I have a great smirk by the way, my mouth’s kinda crooked) and told him simply, “Don’t know sir, but I knew I did NOT want to be where she wanted to go.” He put his hand on my shoulder, “Don’t blame you one bit.”

The deployment ended without any other Captain related incidents. The HORSE did a miraculous job of making something where there used to be nothing’. I’ve never seen anything like that before or since. We made another couple runs to town but she didn’t take any time and we never got another cold beer. Mean woman.

I ran into the Lt Col as a full bird during DESERT STORM while he was with a Constellation Tour (group of Generals wandering about looking at stuff). He just grinned and said hello and asked how I was doing. My boss was a LOT more cordial toward me after the officer’s dinner that evening. Just kind of looked at me funny sometimes.

The Captain got out of the Air Force to practice “serious journalism” and I’ve never seen anything resembling her name on anything since she left.

And that’s the first, and in my memory, only time I’ve ever disobeyed a direct order.

That’s also the only other time when I’ve been involved in anything resembling real danger in my career. To this day I’m still not sure which was worse, the town or the gunfire.

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