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2nd Fumble, Stumble, Stagger and Gag
The name of the exercise has changed from ‘CAX’ (Combined Arms Exercise) to ‘Mojave Viper’ (If I’m up to date on that… no guarantees), but it involves infantry battalions, plus attachments and re-enforcements, moving to the Air-Ground Combat Training Center… or whatever they call that particular chunk of California Mojave desert… more commonly known as ’29 Palms’ or, ‘The Stumps’. There might be as many as ten of these exercises in a year, and were about half and half First and Second Division evolutions.
The logistics involved could be considerable… and the logisticians would be well involved, weeks ahead of the arrival of the trigger pullers. For east coast units, this always involved 2nd FSSG, and an advance party OIC… as the OIC of the Equipment Allowance Pool, and general factotum of the Installations Directorate at 29, (dash-four …beans, bullets, bandages, etc.). I had many occasions to interface with the reps from 2nd Fumble, Stumble, Stagger and Gag (as she were irrevently known), and there were two individuals from Camp LeJuene who seemed to always catch the advance duty… which for them meant weeks living in a CP or GP tent at Camp Wilson (today known as ESB or Exercise Support Base… buildings, showers, heads, a MCX, etc. t’wernt that way in 1980… porta potties, water buffaloes, etc.)… rudimentary at best. The two individuals who seemed to be the ‘go-to’ guys at Camp Swampy (CLNC) were a bald-headed CWO-4, and a Major, who I will call Phil…(’cause that’s his name…) Very competent guys, good at what they did… and interesting in their own right. The Gunner was a dedicated Karate Black Belt, and worked out every evening. The first thing to go up in his tent was his punching target. The Major had some sort of spinal problem, and had a harness sort of thing that he would rig in his tent… it fit around his head and jaw, and he would hang himself for some period of time every evening… he also was a health food devotee, and ate a lot of raw garlic. You generally were aware of the diet when you were within five feet of him…
Setting up these exercises involved ‘borrowing’ equipment from other west coast units at El Toro and Camp Pendleton… which required a signature from the borrowers. This meant trips… and come one November, on the ninth, specifically, Phil and I were done with our mission at Camp Pendleton, and were en-route back to 29 Palms… in a white over green, four door, USMC Plymouth Belvedere sedan (no radio… did have A/C, classic MOPAR 318 engine). We had stopped at a gas and gag, and Phil had come back to the car… with a six-pack of malted beverages. (California has an ‘open container’ law)… since I was driving, I had left the consumption up to Phil. After we had navigated to the Winchester Road turn-off, from I-15, which led via the ‘city’ of Hemet, to I-10 at Beaumont, Phil announced that he would like to make a brief stop in Hemet, as he had a GF there, who lived with her Grandmother… WTF?… it WAS the day before the Birthday… as we cruised into Hemet. I happened to glance at the rear-view mirror… to see behind us a motorcycle… with a rider wearing mostly black and white, with a gold-topped helmet… the dress colors of the California Highway Patrol!
I recall advising Phil that he had about five seconds to eat the can he was drinking from… and any other empties he could reach from under the seat. The motorcyclist was motioning that we should pull over… which is where I figured my 24 year career was going to end. We stopped, and I rolled down the drivers’s window (manual crank). The ‘CHIPee” approached… and said… “just wanted to wish you Jarheads a happy birthday”… one of us, not a member of the California Highway Patrol, just tricked out to look like one… probably just liked to mess with drivers’ heads. There was not a can or flip-top in sight inside the car. I dunno if Phil actually ate the cans or not, but we did stop in a trailer park for supper with the GF… and Grandma… got back to Camp Wilson well after dark.
It is said that the only place in CA that has more retirees from Iowa than Long Beach (Iowa by the sea) is…Hemet…