The army believed in getting the men up early in the morning. Bill was not, by nature an early riser, so in this instance, his son John did better with getting up at five in the morning than he did. They had sent Will home with details of what had happened to them, along with both of their baggies of personal gear. The army took them with nothing and gave them every single piece of equipment and clothing they now had. 'Street Clothing' was confiscated and, if the rumors were true, burned. The zombies were coming, and the army did not have time to deal with deserters or six-week long training programs. Team building was also secondary. Bill and John ended up in the same squad because they wanted to be in the same squad, along with them were eight other men from their town, including old Ruben Olson, who had been on the town council. The old man could not keep up with the younger men when it came to physical activity, but he could still fire a gun, which was all they needed. Plus the old coot had been in the army before and had seen some time in combat. Ruben, of all of them, knew how to game the system. When the squad was too tired to do things, Ruben had a breakdown and everyone had to stop. Ruben got them extra rations by 'forgetting' where he had put his, he pulled a couple other older men into the squad against at least two other men's protests and these men too, helped the squad out as a whole. The trio of old guys wheezed and moaned just enough that the officers had pulled the younger men aside one by one to tell them to look out for the old men. Once the entire squad knew what was going on, a process that took all of two days, everyone pitched in to make things look good for the brass, just good enough to get them out of kitchen patrol, the worst of the night watches and refurbishing rifles taken out of storage.
Training was to last ten days, with the possibility of it being cut short by three if the situation warranted it. The army was not pulling them in as regular troops, but as Iowa National Guard Militia. The 'militia' part was new, passed by legislation to indicate a streamlined training period that emphasized getting troops to the fronts as soon as possible. Of course, the impossible job of the trainers was to make the groups of unruly men and boys follow orders without questioning them. This was key to functioning as an army and not as an armed mob. So far the complaining and 'mob' mentality was ruling the day.
The third evening the sergeants got together and had a meeting, leaving the corporals in charge of the squads. Bill didn't know what was going on, but as a corporal he suddenly found himself in command of the unit, he kindly suggest they use his reign to get some extra sack time and the men heartily agreed; they had been woken up at three am for simulated 'night attacks' the previous morning and could use the rest. An hour into the squad wide nap the door to the nineteen fifties tent swung open and a group of twelve sergeants came in and woke them up. Their sergeant Mike Wilkes, stood at the back of the group, by the door, looking outside periodically. Another sergeant from a different platoon entirely stepped up with a laptop computer. He looked around at the half asleep men, all of whom had jumped up and stood at the foot of their beds when the door swung shut and said, “All right soldiers. I expect to have less trouble with you than with some of the other squads. corporal, gather your men around so they can watch this.”
“Come on men, you heard the sergeant, let's take a look!” the men all moved forward to stand in front of the computer screen. The sergeant sat it on a stool and gestured for the men to sit down.
“We have some preliminary feedback from army units that have taken some 'volunteers' in with them at the front. This is out east. These men had three days of training and were thrown at the front lines. Look what happens when they don't obey orders.”
What happened was a group of men, probably two platoons from what Bill could see, ran into a bunch of zombies. At first everything was going well for the humans, the zombies were being mowed down like wheat. Then the camera panned to the right flank where a non-commissioned officer was telling the men to keep firing, but one man's rifle had jammed and he got scared and turned to flee. The sergeant ordered him to stop and return to his weapon, to hold the line. The man fled, his squad mates, still well back from the advancing zombies and still with plenty of firepower, started getting nervous. The sergeant sent the corporal after the lone man and ordered the others to pick up the pace.
The squad next to the one on the end saw two men running back and one of them immediately bolted, despite being ordered to hold the line. The camera panned back out to the approaching undead, there were still a lot of them, hundreds, but with the rate they were being hit the remaining soldiers could have handled them easily. Easily if the soldiers hadn't run away. In the end half the soldiers there, about forty, were overrun because the other half had fled. The camera man was on some sort of vehicle and had filmed until the very end, firing his pistol as the zombies brought him down. The footage was graphic and violent, but nothing the men had not seen before in the course of their training. The short clip ended and the nameless sergeant pointed his finger at John and barked, “What happened here soldier?”
“Uh, the men ran away when they should have stayed?”
Bill cringed, he had learned that the sergeants hated nothing more than an answer that was phrased as a question, this one went easy on his boy and responded, “Is that an answer or a question? I asked what happened? Use your head man, this could be you out there!'
“The men disobeyed orders to hold the line and ran away. This resulted in high casualties that could have been avoided if they had just done what they were told to do.”
“Better. More mistakes than that were made here. You!” the sergeant pointed at a middle-aged man named Gene, “What else went wrong?'
“When half the men left the officers didn't pull the rest of the men back.”
“Very good. You!” Ruben was the next target, “What would you have done if you were in command and the men started to run away?”
“Me? Well, the non-comms tried to hold too much line, I think if they would have stepped back about fifty feet and re-formed into a tighter formation they could have still won.”
“Very good. Finally, you!” the sergeant pointed at Bill, “Why are we showing you this?”
Bill thought for a moment, then said “Because you don't want to die and you don't want us to die. Following orders saves lives.”
The sergeant laughed, “What's your name corporal?”
“Mike, you got a thinker in this one, watch him close! Following orders is paramount to success. You might not always understand why you are ordered to do what you have to do, but you need to do it. When the situation changes, becomes more challenging than expected, we have to change with it, sometimes quickly. There were mistakes made here, first and worst, were the men running away, if that could have been stopped this would just be more news footage of our success. Second was a lack of flexibility of the commander in charge to pull back his troops and re-group or, yes, retreat. We lost forty men out there and these are men we needed too, men who should have followed orders, so that hurts even more. Do you know what happened to the first man who ran away?”
The squad shook their heads, but all of them felt a tightening in their stomachs.
“He was executed as an example to the other men in his squad. His weapon failed him and he failed his squad by not being able to clear a simple jam. And forty men died. Make that forty-one. We are not here to make your lives miserable, we are here to teach you to operate your rifles, follow orders and stay alive. Why are we doing this now corporal Carson?”
“There has been some grumbling in the ranks lately. Complaints about food and training.”
“And the legality of our drafting you to serve. There have also been squads that haven't been pulling their weight, using various members to get out of their share of the duties assigned to them and we can't have that. Everyone needs to do their best, not just the younger, more fit for duty soldiers. Your group has more than its share of old men, but you are not the only ones suffering with old soldiers. We have seven more days of training and I plan to use them to their fullest. You will go out and fight the enemy, you will beat them and you will return home to your lives as quickly as you make it happen. There are no more activities planned for the evening, your squad needs to think about what I have said and get some extra sack time. Carson, come with us outside.”
Bill rose to his feet and followed the group out. Sergeant Wilkes stepped up to him, “Bill you need to stop supporting the sluggishness in your squad. The others have noticed it and half the complaints we have been getting have been about the favoritism shown to your boys. I am telling you this just as it was told to me by the other sergeants. The Lieutenant is not involved in this little house cleaning exercise and he will not be, do you understand? I will do my part and lead by example, but we will hold our own with the others for the next week.”
“Good, because chances are you are going to be in charge of this squad when you follow Lieutenant Jenkins to the front. Half of us sergeants are staying here to train, then we will go with the next group, my name is already up for the next training period and unless you screw up you will be promoted at the end of the week. Those men don't need a friend, they need someone to tell them what to do when things get tough. Someone to tell them the right thing to do. Be thinking about a replacement corporal and have his name to me by the end of the week.”
“Sergeant?” Bill asked as Wilkes turned to move on towards the next tent.
“I already have a name.”
“Good. I like that you were at least on the ball enough to think that far ahead, who?”
“He is one of the sources of the problems, not to mention old enough to be your grandfather.”
“It doesn't matter the other men don't give him a hard time and he is smart, even if he isn't fast.”
“He is a weasel too. Do you know his service record?”
Bill shook his head, “No, but that doesn't matter, he gets results.”
“Two purple hearts, a few war ribbons, combat infantry badge and you know what rank he was when he quit his military career?”
“Let me guess, a sergeant?”
Wilkes laughed, “Hardly, he made it up twice and got busted down twice too, he mustered out a corporal.”
“Good then he has job experience.”
This brought another laugh from Wilkes, who called over his shoulder as he ducked into the next tent, “I will think about. Get some rest corporal.”
“Good night sergeant.”