The Court Martial of Sergeant Buff

This here story I’m about to unfold, took place somewhere in West Germany about the time we had all that trouble with the Soviet Union., in an Army unit called the 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. My Commander-in-Chief was President Ronald Reagan. I only reference this because it places the story in the 1980’s. We called it the Cold War. It was, in fact, the Cold War to end all Cold Wars.

The first time I saw Sergeant Buff, the thing that struck me was his intense premature gray hair. His large girth made him look like, if he grew a full beard, a department store Santa. The G.I. “Clark Kent” eyeglasses made him appear scholarly. This bookish look, with its fashion sense, has Army clerk written all over it.

Sergeant Buff was an expert in military red-tape. The man was the man to go to when dealing with administrative problems.

Red tape! That insidious military weapon designed to inflict only friendly-fire casualties.

If you are a new replacement and your pay hasn’t caught up with you, Sergeant Buff knew that a DD Form 139-A would work; but it would have to go to 32nd AADCOM (Army Air Defense Command) for approval by the F.O. (Finance Officer). That could take six weeks. However, if you fill out a DD Form 666-FFF, well, it will be just a matter of days before you’re purchasing a tax-free 300-Watt monster stereo at the PX (Post Exchange).

Sergeant Buff did not look like a soldier. The US Army is a world where shiny boots, pressed uniforms, and physical attributes, triumph over intelligence. If a soldier has spit-shined boots, and can perform 45 pushups in two minutes flat, and stiffens their cap with cardboard, medals and promotions will soon follow. Buff was at an extreme disadvantage.

Sergeant Buff did not have that recruitment poster look. Not that all successful soldiers had that look but Sergeant Buff was overweight and he was in the process of being kicked out of the Army for being fat. In a peacetime Army, where looks are everything, fat and wrinkled BDU’s (Battle Dress Uniform), are traitorous.

Sergeant Buff had just been ordered to the 108th from duty in South Korea. He met Mrs. Sergeant Buff there. It didn’t take long after setting foot in the new world that Mrs. Sergeant Buff wanted to be X – Mrs. Sergeant Buff. Now, she was back in the states with Baby Sergeant Buff.

I should have recognized from my first encounter with the Sergeant that things would turn disastrous. Upon first meeting the Sergeant, he handed me a wallet photo of his wife and son. There was nothing remarkable about the photo. I did suppose however, that Sergeant Buff’s baby was damn lucky to get Mom’s looks. If the Sergeant could find a wife like that, perhaps I should put in for orders for Korea.

In all good war movies, when a soldier shows another soldier a picture of his wife and kid, you know he’s going to get-it. With a sad violin song, the soldier dies slowly and alone on some square yard of dirt, holding his bowels in his hands.

Sorry for the melodrama but I have to lure you into the tale. Neither the Sergeant, nor this Private, realized the fate heading for one of them. I handed the photo back to the guy.

Sergeants are officers who have not been commissioned. Thus a sergeant is a Noncommissioned Officer or NCO. I’m sorry to all the good sergeants in the world, but another definition to NCO is No-Chance-Outside. Buff was an NCO. The Army was his only hope. It was his life, and someone was trying to destroy his livelihood. That someone was the Battery Commander, Captain Wesley Point and the Supply Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Shams.

Captain Point’s job was to keep his command in some kind of battle readiness and to carry out the punishment of soldiers who screw-up. Captain Point harassed Buff only by making sure things got done and orders carried out.

Shams had no cause for harassing Buff, yet talked about him behind his back. Shams was a schoolyard bully. He also had an overstuffed uniform but nothing gets a bully excited like belittling those like him. Like Buff, Shams’ life was the Army; he was a classic “NCO.”

At one time there was a glimmer of hope for Shams’ and Buff’s feelings toward each other. Buff was the man to go to when getting a profile. A profile allows a soldier with physical problems to skip PT (physical training). Being on profile allows you to just hang back at headquarters or have donuts at the AAFES (Army – Air Force Exchange Service) snack bar.

Shams wanted that profile. But he had to be nice to Buff to get it. To Shams, two-mile runs and field marches where even more vile than being nice to your enemy. Oh well, if it means being polite to the guy it had to be done.

For one glorious moment, Shams was polite to Buff.

But alas the stratagem could not possibly work, for Buff was a stickler for regulation.

Sergeant Shams, angry at loosing his profile and outraged for having to be friendly, began a campaign to destroy Sergeant Buff.

Sergeant Shams was a Staff Sergeant. That’s one rank higher than Buff, who was just a Sergeant. That allowed Sergeant Shams to make Buff miserable. Sergeant Shams, although overweight himself, was just a little less overweight than Sergeant Buff.

Paperwork for Sergeant Buff’s discharge was started. The official procedure for the discharge moved at a snails pace. As the discharge gained momentum, so did Sergeant Buff’s despair.

I remember Sergeant Buff trying to stop eating and loose some weight, but the effort was futile. The guy was addicted to food. He was a good guy and it was sad to see other soldiers rib him for being fat.

Like children on the playground, fellow soldiers laughed and cut-up while Buff attempted to do pushups.

Buff began to act strange. He was usually talkative but became gloomy and quiet. I asked him how he was doing and he responded, “Ten seconds to boom, one second to death.”

He said it to others. Buff became part of the 108th gossip mill. “Hey man,” one soldier would say to another, “Buff’s going around saying some crazy-ass-shit about ten seconds to boom and one second to death.”

Then disaster happened. Captain Point’s and Staff Sergeant Shams’ POV’s died.

POV, needless to say, is a T.L.A. for Privately Owned Vehicle. T.L.A., of course, stands for Three Letter Acronym.

Nothing would have happened, know one would have been the wiser had it not been for another soldier. I can’t remember his name; I’ll call him Private Snuffy. Private Snuffy had just become a private after being busted in rank from Sergeant. The cause for the bust was a positive (for marijuana) urinalysis.

Long-winded storytelling must continue:

Private Snuffy, upon his getting busted, wrote a letter of defense on why his urine had THC in it.

On the day the surprise “piss-test” occurred, Private Snuffy’s car broke-down on his way to work at Kleber Kaserne (the Post or Fort where the 108th was located). Not wanting to miss morning formation. Private Snuffy began walking to work. He was marching his way from somewhere in Kaiserslautern to Kleber Kaserne, when some German men in a van offered a ride. Not wanting to be late for formation, Snuffy hopped into the van and was on his way to Kleber.

One of the men produces a Joint, lights same, and passes it around the van to all parties. Private Snuffy, wisely saying, “No thank you!” He passes on the offer.

With the air becoming thick with noxious fumes, Private Snuffy, imprisoned in the back, pleaded with the pot smoking men to open a window. The demand went unheeded and Snuffy was forced to breathe the tainted air.

In the words of the author, “Snuffy caught a first-rate, second-hand, contact high.”

Upon reaching morning formation, Snuffy receives a report that hurls any military command into confusion, panic, and terror.

Piss test!

In the words of the author, “Snuffy suffers a major buzz-crash.”

Upon reading Snuffy’s letter of explanation, Colonel Gardner, the Brigade Commander, tore the letter into several small pieces, and told the brand new private, “You are to be reduced to the rank of private, perform extra duty, deducted in pay, and confined to the barracks for 90 days, now, un-ass yourself from my office!”

By-the-by, Colonel Gardner would later retire from the Army and be appointed and then fired by President G.W. Bush to command the rebuilding of Iraq.

Snuffy the private, a barracks roommate of Buff’s, confined to the barracks, feeling neglected and unloved, tattled on Buff.

It seems that Buff read in a Soldier of Fortune Magazine that if you put drain cleaner or Draino, into a ping-pong ball, seal with tape, and drop it into a car’s gas tank, conflagrations will occur. After some given time, the gasoline will eat through the wall of the ping-pong ball, react with the Draino, and produce a massive explosion.

Frag. Fragged. Fragging. To frag someone. To be fragged. The officer got a fragging. The word is Army slang that describes the violence used to get rid of a commanding officer. Sergeant Shams and Captain Point got fragged; or at least their cars did. Shams and Point came out of the fragging, unscathed.

“Ten seconds to boom, one second to death.”

Sergeant Buff was charged with attempted murder and destruction of private property.

I went to the court martial, mostly as a lark. The proceedings were not a lark.

At his Court Martial, Buff explained that when he attempted to drop the ping-pong ball into the two men’s gas tanks, the ball wouldn’t fit into the inlet. Not wanting to fail at yet another task, Buff cut open the ping-pong ball and poured the contents straight into the gas tank.

Sergeant Buff then stated, “I hunkered down and turned my face away from the car, expecting it to explode as soon as I poured it in.”

In the words of Staff Sergeant Shams’ witness for the prosecution of the events leading up to the death of his car, “I was on my way to pick-up my wife from her job at the AAFES Snack Bar where she works, when my two-year-old Saab broke-down leaving me stranded on the Autobahn. It’s been three months now, and my Saab still don’t run good.”

Ten seconds to boom, one second to death essentially just gums up the fuel injectors.

Sergeant Buff was convicted of destruction of private property. The attempted murder charge was dropped because of Buff’s own description of tearing open the ping-pong ball and pouring the Draino directly into the gas tank. The possibility there would be an immediate explosion injuring Buff negated the possibility that a time-bomb explosion would kill the intended victim.

Buff, the private, got several months at an Army prison followed by a dishonorable discharge.

I don’t know whatever became of Buff. I like to think that he did have a chance outside and perhaps grew a full beard and works as a highly paid department store Santa Claus.

Ten seconds to boom, one second to death.


1 Comment »

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