She had left her M-16A2 service rifle unmanned. She had left it in the fighting hole at the edge of the perimeter of our company’s position during a training field operation on Camp Lejeune, NC. She had left her M-16A2 service rifle in a fighting hole and climbed out of the fighting hole to pee behind a tree before any of the men came by, but one had come by and picked up her rifle and turned it over to the Platoon Sergeant.

She had left her M-16A2 service rifle unmanned, so they berated her. Sergeants X and Y and Z shouted trifecta style at her, and she leaned back into her heels, not to dig them in, but to shift her chubby body. She was always fucking up, giving us other women Marines a bad name.

She had left her M-16A2 service rifle unmanned and this meant that the platoon had to line up in the hot sun and stand with our toes 45 degrees apart with our thighs touching, sweating, and our foreheads sweating, our eyes—not shielded from the sun. It meant that we stood there and the higher-ups walked in front of us and told us we were pieces of shit for letting the enemy take our rifles from us. “How would you feel if some haji stole your weapon and used it to shoot a comrade? You’d feel like shit. Might as well kill yourself with someone else’s M-16A2. Blood and guts right out of your skull, brain maybe . . . hopefully.”

She had left her M-16A2 service rifle unmanned, and this meant that while standing in formation we had to, one by one, present our own rifle to the Staff Noncommissioned Officers who had decided that we needed an impromptu weapons check. When a Staff Sergeant stood before each Marine, he lifted his rifle, pulled the charging handle to the rear, inspected the chamber for a round, then passed it off to the Staff Sergeant who would snag the rifle, look into the chamber himself because the Marine’s initial check of the empty chamber was insufficient, then the Staff Sergeant would stick his pinkie finger into the chamber to check for carbon and, invariably, there would be carbon. He would hand the weapon back to the Marine who would then press the bolt release and close the ejection port cover before ceremoniously returning the weapon to the ground.  An inspection takes a long time for a platoon of sixty Marines.

She had left her M-16A2 service rifle unmanned, and after the berating, and after the weapons inspection, Marines sat around, smoked cigarettes, and bitched about Dawdy for fucking up. Weapons were stacked behind pockets of Marines. “What a shitbird . . . and she stinks like she doesn’t wash her crotch.”

Because she had left her M-16A2 service rifle unmanned, three Sergeants in our platoon decided that Dawdy should be punished further. Because she had left her rifle in the fighting hole while she went out to hide behind a tree to pee, she would dig an entirely new fighting hole in the middle of our platoon’s site, in between the vans full of electronic equipment, next to the tent where the Staff NCOs slept, next to the radio-watch tent. She stood in the middle of it all. She stepped onto the edge of her e-tool and pressed the small shovel into the dirt.

Because she left her rifle and would not have been able to fight as effectively without her rifle, and because the loss of the rifle would be a gain for the enemy, and because she would be a burden to the rest of the platoon who had to use their rounds to not only protect themselves, but to protect her, as well, she would dig that fighting hole in her full gear: a 3.5-pound Kevlar helmet, an 8.4-pound flak jacket, full cammies—1.4 pounds, leather boots—3 pounds, and an 8.8-pound M-16A2 service rifle, slung cross-body. She would wear her belt with full canteens of water, 2.3 pounds each. She would dig using a 2-foot long entrenching tool.

Because she had left her rifle and because she deserved to be punished and because she was already wearing her gear, the weather reaching black-flag temperature, that is to say, exceeding 90 degrees, did not matter. As some of the higher-ups noted: Does Osama Bin Laden care if it’s 100 degrees? Does Al-Qaeda honor anti-hazing regulations? Do we think that that long-bearded, dress-wearing bastard gives a fuck about anti-hazing regulations when he saws off the heads of his enemies after one of his men had confiscated Dawdy’s M-16A2 service rifle?

Because she left that M-16A2 service rifle, serial number 6985412, unmanned, the Sergeants ordered her to shout the serial number, so that each time Dawdy hacked at the dirt with the e-tool, she shouted the serial number. She shouted it and wiped her brow, then shifted the rifle with serial number 6985414 to a cross-body muzzle down position once Sergeant Z had said, “What the fuck are you doing flinging all that dirt over your shoulder right into the muzzle of your rifle?  How stupid can you be?”

Because she had left her M-16A2 service rifle unmanned, she was told by Sergeant Z, when she had reached for a canteen, that she was not allowed to drink water, that she could have a sip once she finished digging a proper two-man fighting hole, which is to say, the depth of mid-chest so that the elbows can rest on the ground in front of the hole, the hole wide enough for two men to stand inside of. Even with two large, strong people digging, a fighting hole in easy terrain takes 2-4 hours of digging time.

Because we were still pissed off that we were punished for her having left her M-16A2 service rifle unmanned while she left the foxhole to take a piss, we didn’t think that her digging a fighting hole was that big of a deal. We had run up mountains in the Mojave Desert. We humped with full packs, full gear, and weapons. Sometimes, we humped with gas masks on. What was digging? We walked past her on our way to radio watch, to go on service calls to repair electronic equipment at the other sites, to go on water runs. We passed by her and we smoked our cigarettes and blew our smoke—wherever. One Marine busted another’s balls for counting a Jack as a guarantee book during the last game of spades. Another Marine bitched that he was running out of Copenhagen. One Marine came out of the radio-watch tent and said to another Marine, “Your turn, fucker.”

Because Dawdy had left her M16A2 service rifle in a two-man fighting hole on the perimeter because she had to pee, she dug into the midday sun, which became late afternoon sun, and her dirt-covered skin looked as if she had put brown and gray camouflage paint all over it, over her lips, in the bushes of her eyebrows, and down the front of her neck. She had only dug about three feet. The Sergeants took turns watching over her. As we’d pass by, we noticed one Sergeant’s desire not to undermine the stricter Sergeant. We knew that the kinder-hearted Sergeant would not have stopped Dawdy from drinking water if nobody else was around, that he would have just looked the other way, but Dawdy didn’t test him. She just slashed at the dirt, shouting with each hack, “6985414.” She slowed, but she continued.

The stricter Sergeant quizzed her on her general orders while she dug. As she dug, because she had left her rifle unmanned, she recited that she would take charge of her post and all government property in view. She said she would quit her post only when properly relieved.

Because enough time had gone by and the prospect of her being finished any time soon was unlikely, and because it was still hotter than the devil’s tits, as some might say, and because, well, I’m not quite sure why, but when the congregation of Sergeants gathered around Dawdy as she dug herself deeper, and when all of us NCOs and lower ranked Marines came to formation before we broke from work for the day for evening chow, only one Marine said something about Dawdy’s digging. He said to everyone, “This is fucked up. She shouldn’t be doing this.” We rumbled disagreement. We said, “Stop being a little bitch.” We said, “You can share a fighting hole with her next time.” He walked away. Many of us laughed.

One Sergeant said to Dawdy, “Go ahead and take a sip of your fucking water,” then he walked away.

Another Sergeant said, “Go on and take off your gear,” and he headed over to the chow line.

The strictest Sergeant said, “Keep digging,” and he stood there packing some Kodiak long-cut into the gum well beneath his front two teeth.

Because she had left her M-16A2 service rifle unmanned, she would dig until she made a proper two-man fighting hole, and Marines passed by her on their way to the chow tent, and Marines passed by her on their way to their two-man tents for the night, or the two-man fighting holes on the perimeter for watch. Because one Marine made a big deal out of her digging without water, she was allowed to take breaks. She was allowed to sip water. On my walk out to the perimeter, I passed by her, and I said nothing. The North Carolina sun was setting pink against the straight-edged horizon. My rifle was slung on my right shoulder, the metal clasp of my rifle sling bit into the skin of my right breast—my rifle, somehow manned.

Janna Moretti

Janna is a fiction writer living in Gainesville, Florida, with her husband and daughter. Her work has been published in Raleigh Review, Every Day Fiction, and elsewhere. In 2019, she was selected as the recipient of an NEA-funded fellowship at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She received her MFA in Fiction from the University of Florida. She is a United States Marine Corps veteran.

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