I was on a lot of Army bases during my time in the military, either getting basic and infantry training, or attending different schools and taking cadets from West Point to different bases for specialized schooling. And besides the olive drab vehicles, olive drab uniforms, standard looking barricks and administration buildings, and close cropped haircuts, every Army base from Fort Jackson, South Carolina to Fort Knox, Kentucky to Fort Huachuca, Arizona and everywhere in between all had one other thing in common. Skunks.
I’m not sure why these odiferous critters seem drawn to military bases. Maybe it’s because of all the mess halls and the big dumpsters behind them. Maybe it’s because of all the green space on most bases. But whatever it is, I’ve sure seen a bunch of them in my time.
When I was in basic training at Fort Knox, there was an ongoing competition between the four platoons in my company to see who could outdo each other in different aspects of training, from marksmanship to marching to hand-to-hand combat. I know that this is all part of the training process to mold you into a unit that operates as one. During my time at Fort Knox, we had an inspection every Saturday morning by the company commander, and whichever platoon passed with the highest marks in terms of personal inspection as well as barracks inspection would get Saturday afternoon off, as well as all day Sunday. As you can imagine, everybody wanted to win. And there were some that would do anything to win.
A couple of guys from one platoon when into another platoon’s latrine and somehow managed to rotate the long pipe that ran the length of the communal urinal 90 degrees. This meant that when everyone went in for a quick pit stop before falling out in their dress uniforms for inspection and the urinal flushed, all of the water that was supposed to go out the bottom of the pipe to wash everything down the urinal drain instead squirted out all over their uniforms. It doesn’t look good to the company commander when you and a bunch of your fellow trainees are standing at attention, soaking wet at the waist. I know because I was one of those wet guys.
Now, I’m not admitting anything, but I will say that a week or two later, one of our guys on sentry duty at night spotted a skunk crawling into a garbage can and closed the lid, trapping the animal inside. And again, I’m not admitting to anything, but when the platoon that had pulled the latrine stunt was standing outside their barracks being inspected, a couple of guys from my platoon snuck in the back door with that garbage can and replaced the one that was there with it.
Once the outside inspection was over, they all went back inside for the barracks inspection. And when the company commander, first sergeant, and drill sergeant heard a noise coming out of that trash can, and someone lifted off the lid, a very angry skunk jumped out and sprayed its way down the length of the barracks and out the door. Needless to say, those boys didn’t get Saturday afternoon off. Actually, since nobody would admit to the deed, the whole company was restricted for the weekend. But except for the guys from that barracks, I think everybody else thought it was worth it.
Fast forward a couple of years and a couple of extra stripes on my shoulder, I was pulling Charge of Quarters (CQ) duty at West Point once or twice a month. The CQ is basically in charge of the barracks during off-duty hours. He’s there to keep everybody in line if there’s a problem, break up fights if there are any, and generally be the go-to guy until the next morning when the officers come to work. This is a routine assignment split up among the different sergeants in a company. The CQ also has a runner, who is a lower-ranking enlisted person, as his assistant.
One of our guys had an unauthorized pet, a de-scented skunk that he had bought at a pet shop someplace and named, appropriately enough, Pepé Le Pew after the cartoon character. Our captain knew about Pepé, but he was a good guy, and as long as there were no problems, he didn’t really care. Pepé had the run of the place and was everyone’s buddy. He would even use a litter box!
One slow summer night, the sergeant on CQ had ordered a pizza, and he and his runner were munching on it while the rest of the barracks slept. With nothing else to do, the sergeant stretched out on a couch in the CQ office, and the runner was sitting in a chair with his feet up on the desk, asleep. Nice to know they’re on the job, isn’t it? The sergeant heard a noise and looked down and saw Pepé eating a piece of pizza crust from the box lying on the floor next to the couch. Half-awake, the sergeant reached down and grabbed the little guy and pulled him up on his stomach to cuddle.
It turns out it wasn’t Pepé. It was a wild skunk who had wandered inside and was getting a free meal. It bit him twice on the face and again on his hand and then ran through the barracks spraying everything in its path. The poor sergeant had to get a series of rabies shots as a precaution and trust me, you never want to do that. Needless to say, after that incident, our captain decided that Pepé had to go.
I’m going to tell you one more skunk story, although this one had nothing to do with the Army. My father was a heck of a musician and could play anything with strings or keys, even though he could not read music and had never had a lesson in his life. Once, when I was a little kid, we were someplace where he was playing for a party, and I had to go to the bathroom. We were was out in the sticks someplace, and they had an outhouse. I was afraid to go out there in the dark, so my dad grabbed a flashlight and went with me. There was a piece of wood nailed to the front that you turned to keep the door closed when no one was using the outhouse. Dad turned it, opened the door and stepped inside, and yelled “Skunk!” as he pushed me backward so I wouldn’t come in, too.
Don’t ask me how or why I did it, but I jumped up and spun that piece of wood sideways so that black and white devil wouldn’t get me. The only problem was, my dad was still inside with it! Things got real ugly there for a while, but it didn’t take Dad long to knock the door of that thing off and come flying outside. A friend of his drove our pickup home with my dad sitting in the back, and my mom made him sleep outside that night so he wouldn’t asphyxiate the rest of us, the way he smelled. Dad and I never talked about that for some reason, but I made it a point never to ask him to take me to an outhouse again.
It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of The Ghost Who Wanted Revenge, Book 4 in my friend Bobbi Holmes’ excellent Haunting Danielle series about an Oregon seaside bed and breakfast with a resident ghost of a previous owner who has been dead for almost ninety years. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with U.S. addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.
Thought For The Day – If one door closes and another one opens, your house is haunted, and you need to move!