Colonel Garcia was a tall, slender, Caucasian man who showed no evidence of being any form of Hispanic, Mexican, Spaniard, or otherwise. That didn’t really matter except the name and the man’s appearance did not match. The colonel was very approachable and was almost too friendly. He always had a dip and didn’t mind bumming a chew from the junior Marines. He had a friendly relationship with me, the senior corpsman, Senior Chief Rick Matthews; once I had finally checked in that is. I was not totally at ease with the sociable nature of the rapport we shared, but as a Navy Senior Chief at a Marine Corps command, I felt I outranked everyone anyway.
I left a sweet shore duty billet 14 months before my rotation date to get orders to CBIRF. I was an Independent Duty Corpsman (IDC) with several operational tours under my belt. I figured that a tour at the BIRF, as unit members sometimes called it, would be my ticket to master chief. I had heard of the administrative nightmare I was getting into but took the orders anyway. It would not take long for me to regret that decision.
“Hey Senior,” said HM1 Wilson, using the abbreviated term of endearment for senior chief. “The sergeant major called over and said he can meet with you now.”
I had been checking in to CBIRF for most of the week and Sergeant Major Jackson finally made time for me Friday at 1600. Of course, when the call came over it was 1300 which was plenty of time to meet with the sergeant major and bug out early for the weekend. I waited though until my appointment time. I arrived at the head shed only to be told by LCpl Rollins that the sergeant major would be with me soon and he offered me a seat. Really?
Sergeant Major Jackson finally came out and called me in. There was no offer of the hand for a courteous greeting among warriors in the form of a handshake, no welcome aboard; nothing. I stood there for three or so minutes which seemed like an hour. Jackson was flipping through my service record with his reading glasses perched atop his head. Finally, the silence was broken.
“How long will you be here before I fire you?” Jackson said.
“Well, thanks for the warm welcome there, sergeant major, but as much as I’d like to chat, I will take my service record from you so as to return it to Anacostia,” I firmly stated. I was steaming mad and didn’t try hiding that fact. My reference to Anacostia was where Sailors’ service records were kept and maintained in the DC area.
“Senior Chief, you’ve inherited a mess.”
“So I’ve heard,” I said. “But the problems are not all medical in nature, and if you had actually read what’s in my record, you would have seen that I have excelled in critical jobs for many years,” I continued. “I will be here long enough to fix this mess, no matter who caused it.”
Jackson was now starting to get irritated.
“I don’t know what you’re implying, but I run this command like an infantry unit.” “Your corpsmens will get in line and perform like my Marines,” he added.
I wanted to get out of there, so I ignored his mispronunciation of corpsmen.
“Roger that sergeant major, and when will the CO be available for me to check in with?”
I arrived at work early the following Monday and spent most of the week meeting the rest of my medical personnel. I had met most of the corpsmen. They seemed to be a decent group who needed leadership. The two physicians were fairly new as well and neither had any previous operational experience. The other IDC was HM1 Wilson who had a couple of other FMF tours and seemed to be clinically competent. The nurse was a lieutenant (pay grade O-3) who had been there for a couple of years but had been held down from any leadership tasks by the previous chiefs. He was also really tight with the colonel and he had a good-looking wife. The Physician Assistant was a flaky dude who was always trying to go TAD and was usually successful in getting a trip somewhere. When in town though, he tried to act like he was in charge, even trying to pull rank on me, a senior chief for goodness sake.
I didn’t have to knock on the CO’s door when I went to check in. Colonel Garcia was in his high-backed chair with his boots propped up on his desk. When the old EOD school building was remodeled, E-8s and the sergeant major plus all majors and above were given executive office furnishings. The colonel’s office looked like it could belong to the CEO of Exxon Mobil. I stood in the doorway and the colonel immediately jumped up and walked around the desk with his hand extended. He said, “Welcome Aboard, Chief.” I corrected him respectfully as to what my proper title was. The colonel said, “All you chiefs look alike.” Being quick witted and sensing I could joke around with him a bit, I stated, “And all you lieutenant colonels look alike, sir.” Touché was Garcia’s reply.
The single corpsmen and Marines lived in the barracks and most of the married personnel lived in base housing. Since the departure of EOD School, most of the quarters were vacant until the arrival of CBIRF. Everyone was exploring the area and looking for things to do. Some had been to DC, some had started college courses, and a handful had joined the local volunteer fire department. HM2 Jennings was a sharp female corpsman and HM2 McDaniel, a male corpsman, was equally squared away. They were always together, and many assumed they were a couple.
There were two other HM1s who thankfully were on their way out. They were much of the reason for the problems in medical. An HMC was coming in soon from somewhere. Probably no operational experience there either. One corpsman of particular note was a character named Stevens. He was an older HM3 who was at a minimum squirrely, and quite possibly a sociopath. He had trouble making E-5 and was headed for the civilian world soon due to high year tenure. He was one who had joined the local volunteer fire company.
The other two E-8s were First Sergeant Hart and Master Sergeant Benelli. Hart was the Ops Chief and Benelli was in charge of the EOD techs. Of course, Benelli’s nickname was Shotgun. There was actually another E-8 but he was a retired Marine who was a CBIRF plank owner. He was one of the first to report when the unit was established in the middle nineties. He was now a civilian contractor who held the title of specialized training officer. He was also a qualified incident commander and was authorized to act as such, and did, even as a civilian.
Life at CBIRF was much like any other military unit. Marines did maintenance on gear, serviced and cleaned weapons, and spent lots of time at the Navy Exchange. Sailors did sick call, also had maintenance to do, and spent lots of the workday at the Navy Exchange. Off duty hours were spent as other commands do as well. Sports, family life, and hobbies were popular ways to spend time. One day that all changed