Friday, October 28, 2005

The Rules of Combat
The Great Escape
And Capitol Hill

Steve McQueen in "The Cooler"

When I worked on Capitol Hill, I had a photograph of Steve McQueen tucked into my bookcase. It was a shot of him from The Great Escape where he is sitting in the "Cooler" with his back against a wall, holding his baseball glove and ball. I suppose the picture was a commentary on my working in a stressful job and feeling trapped. I also kept a defused hand grenade in the same case with a printed copy of The Rules of Combat. My coworker Tim handled military issues in the office, while I handled veteran's issues (among other things), and every year the Pentagon woud send him a book with the latest in every piece of weaponry you could think of from assault weapons to missiles. I called it my "Wish Book," and there were times Tim would pass it over to me so I could peruse a flame thrower to use on a coworker, or a suitable tank for going out into Washington rush hour traffic.

We both loved war films and were always quoting from The Great Escape. "They've found Tom! Open up Dick and Harry!" (the escape tunnels), or Kelly's Heroes, "There you go again with those negative vibes," or our favorite of them all, Patton. When things would get bad around the workplace, I could count on Tim to know to say "Thirty years from now, when you're sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you, "What did you do in the great World War II," you won't have to say, "Well...I shoveled shit in Louisiana," or, "Now an army is a team - it lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap," or "They're ivory. Only a pimp from a cheap New Orleans whorehouse would carry a pearl-handled pistol" (referring to his pistol grips), or our all-time favorite, "Rommel, you magnificent bastard. I read your book." There were times when all Tim had to say was "Rommel," using George C. Scott's voice, and I would lose it. Patton was always going on about the Carthaginians, and that was another trigger word that would make us laugh. The Rules of Combat came about because we worked with people who would come straight out of college full of piss and vinegar, thinking they were taking on the world, or their coworkers, and they all seemed to love Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

The Rules of Combat

If the enemy is in range, so are you.

Incoming fire has the right of way.

Don't look conspicuous: it draws fire.

The easy way is always mined.

Try to look unimportant, they may be low on ammo.

Professionals are predictable, it's the amateurs that are dangerous.

The enemy invariably attacks on one of two occasions:

when you're ready for them, and when you're not ready for them.

Teamwork is essential: it gives the enemy someone else to shoot at.

If you can't remember, the Claymore is pointed at you. Claymores are labeled "This side toward the enemy" for a reason.

If your attack is going well, you have walked into an ambush.

Don't draw fire, it irritates the people around you.

The only thing more accurate than incoming enemy fire is incoming friendly fire.

When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is "not" our friend.

If it's stupid but works, it isn't stupid.

When in doubt, empty the magazine.

Never share a fox hole with anyone braver than you.

Anything you do can get you shot, including doing nothing.

Make it tough for the enemy to get in and you can't get out.

Mines are equal opportunity weapons.

A Purple Heart just proves you were smart enough to think of a plan, stupid enough to try it, and lucky enough to survive.

Don't ever be the first, don't ever be the last and don't ever volunteer to do anything.

The Quartermaster has only two sizes: too large and too small.

Five second fuses only last three seconds.

It is generally inadvisable to eject directly over the area you just bombed.

Tracers work both ways.

Sometimes Tim would grab the hand grenade (defused, of course) and pretend to pull the pin and lob it deeper into the office. The funny thing is, the Congressman liked to sit back in my area, and I'm sure he saw all of these things, but he never commented on them. Well...maybe the grenade, but he loved it as everyone did. Ultimately I gave it away as a birthday present to one of my agency liasions that had admired it, and he told me it was always a conversation piece in his office.

Tim was a fantastic driver and had owned many racy sports cars, including a Lotus Elan. He told me driving that car was was like sliding into an envelope. The pedals were so narrow, he had to drive shoeless to have better control. One day, during a lunch hour, we played hooky and took a sports car for a test drive. It was wonderful having Tim at the wheel with his mastery of cars (not that I'm a slouch in that department), and feeling the wind blow all the cobwebs out. We had another fun thing to do for "cobwebs." We'd drive out to Gravelly Point by National Airport and hit the spot in the grass where the planes come in at their lowest, sometimes just 100 feet over your head. We'd lie on our backs and take in the rush of it all: the sheer power of the plane and it's force. The planes were so low, you could actually count the rivets on the underbelly. It's one of those great things about D.C. you won't find in the guide books. D.C. Park and Bike Guide - National Airport

Emma Peel

Tim's nickname for me was "Emma" after Emma Peel in The Avengers. I will have to write about all of the nicknames I've acquired over time, but Tim was the only one to ever call me Emma. A great coworker, and a great guy. He died two years ago, much too young, and I do miss him.

Emma Peel and her Lotus Elan


Blogger Phil said...

Great post - one of your best (Mary Worth strips aside).

2:55 PM  
Blogger wunelle said...

First-time visitor. Very nice post.

Anything to do with airplanes, cars or nostalgia has me at "hello."

9:08 PM  
Blogger MissThi said...

Some of the rules of combat made it into my earlier awareness, but I'd never seen the entire list before today. I love your stories about inside Washington DC, as well - can't get those just anywhere ;)


7:55 AM  
Blogger Megarita said...

That's a great series of memories about a man must have been truly incredible. Thanks for sharing them!

9:10 AM  
Blogger DCLastCall said...

Cube - thanks for sharing. Loved the Rommel comment.

I look forward to the Murphys Law of Combat.


2:43 PM  
Anonymous John said...

I'm entirely smitten with the Rules of Combat. And kudos on the hand grenade. I have an anti-tank shell myself, which is extra fun in the context of working in a peace studies department.

11:36 AM  
Blogger ThaiMex1 said...

I don't remember Sun Tsu mentioning hand grenades but it must have been in a revised version of "The Art of War."

But isn't it interesting that it's funnier to say "DUCK" rather than "INCOMING"?


4:37 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Please tell us about all your nicknames, please! Please?

5:38 PM  
Blogger DC Cookie said...

Now if only there was a picture of Steve McQueen with his Mustang...

2:54 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Good idea, Miss Cookie. McQueen in Bullitt has been added.

5:36 PM  

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