Guest Post: “Mandatory Fun” by John Ready


The beatings will continue until morale improves.
-Standard Operating Procedure in most US Army units

So we’re sitting on our asses in Camp Doha, waiting impatiently for the word to get on a plane to go back to The World. By this time, I’m completely disenchanted with our brigade staff who’ve tagged along on the long haul from Baghdad to Kuwait City. These people can’t get out of their own way.

About three days after we arrive in Kuwait, someone in the Supply Section realizes they are missing approximately $725,000 worth of equipment. Most of the missing items are secure communications radios. Now, maybe they aren’t actually missing, but each piece of equipment in the military is supposed to be present; if not, then there had better be a piece of paper documenting its location or status. These bozos have neither. After that 360 mile drive south from Baghdad, after all that bullshit, the Headquarters Company Commander, who is personally responsible for the gear, has to go ALL the way back to Baghdad to locate the stuff. This is no simple task; it isn’t like turning around on your way to work to check if you’ve turned off the iron. Southern Iraq was now No Man’s Land, The Great Unknown; insurgents were sowing IEDs like dandelions all along MSR Tampa.

The new commander, Colonel Buzzkill, is irate about this and other incidents that have happened since he has taken command two months ago. His staff is clearly not working together. By now, he’s probably thinking a deployment under his belt and a Bronze Star on his chest may not be worth all of this horseshit. He comes up with a plan to build unit cohesion.

Colonel Buzzkill drops the bombshell that there is no camaraderie amongst his officers. So, he orders us to participate in a volleyball tournament. Now, my first reaction, besides shock, is that if you’re not able to build camaraderie and unit cohesion during 10 months in a combat zone, I really don’t think organized sports will fit the bill. But, of course, I’m a team player, so I figure that it will help pass the time before we finally get on the Freedom Bird.

I’m in the first match of the Mandatory Fun Invitational. I’m also the first to serve. I suck at volleyball; absolutely horrid at organized sports as a whole. The only thing in volleyball I don’t suck at is serving. The first couple of times I serve the ball, it actually makes it over the net, surprising everyone, including me.

Our team begins to practice and it’s painful to watch. Colonel Quickdraw is on my team and he’s positioned right in front of me. Even with his thick Birth Control Glasses, he’s blind as a bat. He’s also less athletic than me. The entire time we’re practicing, he’s never quite able to keep his eye on the ball. No matter where the ball goes, Quickdraw is out of synch; it’s like watching a tape delay inside a tape. He just keeps whirling around in his own little game. It’s then that I decide Quickdraw invented disco.

The first match: oh how exciting! I wind up and hit the ball over the net. To my dismay, it goes right to the bodybuilder, Adonis. He spikes-no-he launches the ball upward. It hits the gym ceiling with an audible WHAP! and streaks down toward me. I put my hands together to spike it in self-defense, but I’m just a little bit too slow. The volleyball hits my left thumb at full force.

Shit. That hurt.

My thumb smarts, my hand is numb, and my arm begins twitching of its own accord, but the match must go on. Now, I’m not even playing; I’m in a defensive posture, trying to hit the ball with my right hand while my left is doing Tourette’s.

“Use both hands to spike!” yells Colonel Quickdraw.

No shit! Didn’t you see me try that! On second thought, you probably didn’t…

By now, I’m begging for a substitute to take my place. I’m finally removed from the game, and seek out our PA, CPT Hammond, for medical attention. He tells me that my thumb is broken. Broken! I survive eleven months of dodging rockets and barely avoiding friendly fire, and my thumb gets broken in a volleyball match just before I return home. Forgetting that there’s an eight-hour time difference, I call my friend, Bob, who works in Officer Recruiting back at my old unit. It’s 3am back in the States as he awakens and asks me groggily why I’ve called. I tell him that the people I’m with are dirt stupid, and that I want to join the National Guard Witness Protection Program.

John Ready served in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves for a total of 21 years. In 2003, he was deployed as a Civil Affairs Officer to Iraq, where he sat at a desk in an abandoned building equipped with air-conditioning. He lives in Oneida, New York, where he was a Mission Continues Fellow, and now, a published author. He was interviewed on CNN in 2010 about his experiences in Iraq, specifically about how humanitarian aid contributes to our national security.

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