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2nd Fumble, Stumble, Stagger and Gag

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…


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Cpl. William Reed, RVN 68′-69′ - May 12, 2020

I was at the Stumps only once and for only two weeks t that. When 1st LAAM was pulled out of Nam, everyone in the Btn. went to 29 Palms. but I was Guard NCO with the battalion’s gear at the docks at San Diego. By the time I got there, I was the last MOS 2841 eligible for an early out which didn’t make me too popular. Don’t remember too much about the place except for the cute blonde tech. aat the dental clinic and the fact that I experienced my first earthguake there.

Ken - May 12, 2020

Master Gun, I still keep in touch with Esther myself. Call her every Birthday and other times throughout the year. Send her pictures through her daughters email of my grandson that’s named after Gunny. I miss the man, Willy Billy Four Intelligent Charming Fellow. Lost him and my father in the same year. It’s been tough. Semper Fi

MGySgt Jim Mackin - May 12, 2020

I knew Sam Dunn for many years…It’s been said they broke the mold when they made Sam !! He and I were both up at Camp Carroll in ’66-67, and I was leaving RVN again in ‘mid-70 when Sam was coming aboard to run the MARS station at FLC Red Beach (Camp Books)…We were together again at 2nd MarDiv until he and the family went to Okinawa for an accompanied tour…I ended up back in WestPac again about a year later, but this time with Task Force Delta at Nam Phong, Thailand…Sam and I met up again when he returned to CONUS and retired in Jacksonville, NC…I went off to Oregon on recruiting duty, and that was the last time that we saw each other, although we always stayed in touch right up until a day or so before he died…I can still remember the call that I got from his wife, Esther, letting me know that Sam had finally passed after a long battle with Type II Diabetes from the Agent Orange they sprayed while we were at Camp Carroll in the mid-60’s — all 79,000 gallons of it…Sure miss yakkin’ with old WB4ICF/Sam Dunn…Semper Fi, Sam.

G. W. - May 12, 2020

Me EIGHT, NINE, TEN,…… This should be a done deal by 0800 Monday

Shawn Kane - May 12, 2020

Great to hear from you DDick. Have not read one of your stories in a long time and I always looked forward to them. One small item I would like to correct. You said that back in the day all of the CAX’s were about evenly split between 1st and 2nd Division. That was not quite true. You see, my first duty station was 3rd Marines at MCAS Kaneohe Bay HI and I can tell you we made quite a few jaunts to the Stumps. You have to include a few spots for 3rd Mar Div as well!!!

Robert Aikman - May 12, 2020

I spent many a time at Camp Wilson. My first few times were with 11th Marines as a cannon cocker. Later as a CSSD CO for a number of CAXs and my last in a very large exercise called Gallant Eagle with army and Central Command. Those exercises prepared us very well for our deployments to Iraq. Yes, at one time Camp Wilson had nothing but some wash racks but has evolved into a pretty plush (by MC standards) base camp. The old corps. Bob Aikman

RobertSmith - May 12, 2020


Bill - May 12, 2020

I remember the px just being a mobile trailer at the stumps.

Bill - May 12, 2020

I remember the px just being a mobile trailer at the stumps.

Sgt Chuck Baker - May 12, 2020

Enjoyed the article. Love old stories about FSSG. Im so old I was in 2nd FSR (Force Service Regiment)Jan-Jul74 sent to 3rd FSR Aug74-Sep75. We called FSR Fumble Stumble Regroup. Semper Fi to the new MLG

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