Once upon a long time ago sometime in May 1994, Basics was over and we were in what was known as the second phase of training. We were on parade and the call for volunteers to go to the border was made.
I stayed just where I was and watched the future heroes of our nation step forward. If I had known at the time what I know now I would have run forward.
It was a psychological test, The army wanted the heroes kept safely in the states and all the careful fellas got sent to the border, I am not going to name any names for reasons that will become apparent. A few days later we were given orders and told to get ready to ship out. Myself, the rough and tough boy from the bluff and two others were being sent to 32Bn in our capacity as REMF's as the American army has dubbed the people that make sure that the heroes have ammunition, clothes and food.
At this point I had never heard of 32Bn, but some of the other blokes were in awe and wishing that they had that posting. The Bluff boy was in tears, he wanted to get a cushy job in Durban and now we were being sent to a flipping war zone. What's wrong with these people.
The next few days are a blur, I can't recall exactly how we got to Rundu but I suspect a flossy falling out of the sky and having all the scabs leaving break marks in their underwear had something to do with it. Let me tell you about this so that you understand. The two main forms of transportation of men to Rundu was by road and by air. Some will tell you tales of rudders being shot off, I won't. What the bloukoppe learnt by experience is that they were easy targets when doing traditional landings, so they didn't do them.
They would fly at 20 000 feet or so, I am not sure of the heights so feel free to correct me, and arrive at Rundu and basically drop straight to earth in a spiral, The landing took minutes, but your guts were in your mouth, your butt cheeks clinching and for a first timer it was terrifying as nobody, and I mean nobody tells you what to expect.
We arrived at Rundu HQ and I am not convinced we were expected, The people receiving us seemed a little surprised there were so many of us. There were two jobs at Hq, One at Buffalo and One at Omauni, So we were told we could choose where we were going to go, we'd be swapping places in 4 months, so I figured what the hell Omauni sounded like a tropical paradise, so I volunteered to spend the first 4 months there.
In for a penny, in for a pound right. Best decision I made for a bad reason ever.
After a 6 hour journey on the back of a Buffel (Armoured Troop Carrier) fully armed for the first time, waiting for an attack that never came we arrived at Omauni. At this stage I was under the impression that there were terrorists behind every bush. The commies were coming and the swart gevaar were right along side them. I was a little boy right from the city and the bush was frightening.
Omauni was a small base with high sand banks surrounding it. As you drove in the workshop was on your right and the stores in front of you. The base had bunkers in the corners and a bunker in the centre of the walls. Each of these central bunkers was outfitted with a machine gun, type 50 Browning. There were a few mortar stands in the base but at the time I had no knowledge of this. At another time I will tell you more about the layout.
I met Pappa November on a sunny day and was then introduced to Alpha November who would be in charge of me, I was to be in the stores, but found very quickly that the stores needed an extra man about as much as a fish needed a bicycle. Alpha November however was the armourer and soon I was cleaning and repairing weapons, sorting out the store and being a good troep.
My duties changed dramatically as time went along but for the first few weeks I was right there doing exactly what the army had trained me to do and the few extra tasks.
A few days after arriving one of the corporals on base walked in on me in the shower and was really impressed by my weaponry.(This is my rifle, this is my gun, this is for shooting, this is for fun) and I was dubbed Lollipop, which name haunted me for years afterwards.
I had been there about 4 weeks when siesta time arrived and Romeo Golf decided he needed me to do something. As a smart arse I figured that this order was not totally necessary, nor would it pass the scrutiny of a legal team. I declined and told Romeo Golf, that this was not on and I was refusing as this was not a lawful order.
Romeo Golf got a tad narked at me and I was reported to the brass. I was brought up on orders before Whiskey Romeo, who was read the orders, listened to my defense and made a judgement. His adjudication was that the bungalow that I slept in was not military specification and was thus unsound for Mom's sleg troep to sleep in, I should set up a bivvie at one of the bunkers which would be inspected regularly. (a bivvie for you girls and boys is basically a canvas tarpaulin stretched between some poles or trees as a cover with a groundsheet as floor covering)
I believe that it was expected that I would lay out my sleeping bag on the groundsheet and put up with a few days discomfort to teach me a lesson. As a regular smart alec I figured my bed, my kas and trommel were army issue so promptly organised for them to be moved to my bivvie, us sleg troeps stood together. With my bed, kas and bivvy all to strict military standard including pressed corners, I was ready for inspection at 18H00.
Pappa November, Romeo Golf, Whisky Pappa, Lima Mike and Whiskey Romeo arrived promptly for the inspection. Romeo Golf looked really unhappy, but the glint in the other's eyes was visible. I heard howls of laughter as they left. I am unsure who was laughing the loudest, My makkers or the brass. I spent about a week being inspected 3 times a day before I was told to pack my shift and get back to my bungalow.
At one point the signaller went on a 14 day pass and I was promptly taught how to handle the radios. So in the dark of the night when everybody else was sleeping I'd be on duty listening out on all bands for the guys out in the field. Whisky Romeo wrote about an event that had gotten lost in my memories, The reconnaissance teams would do anti tracking exercises and the Bushmen would be put on their tracks to track them.
The story goes that Lima Mike aka Meatballs was most assuredly not going to be tracked by the oldest of the bushmen trackers, He scoffed at the very idea of this being remotely possible. At 07:00 the recces started off from Omauni leaving a trail for the first 100m or so and then they would start disappearing. At 08:00 the trackers would be set on their trails. At 09:00 the radio squawked and it was Lima Mike reporting in.
He advised Whiskey Romeo that the tracker was right behind him in a very sheepish tone of voice.
I know you are wondering about the AKA meatballs so I suppose I better tell the tale. Military stores had meatballs in 20kg tins, These tasted like pets mince and gravy. At one point due to some clerical error Omauni started running a little low on stores of meat and other fresh produce.
The Chef had a store room full of canned meat balls so hauled them out and started feeding them to us. After about 3 days of a diet of meat balls Lima Mike lost his cool and got a little aggressive with Kobus the magnificent. He was an army chef without equal, He could take perfectly good meat and turn it into pet's mince in no time.
In reality we ate well and Kobus was my makker so the odd braai was had behind the bungalows as well, I digress back to the meat balls. The way it worked is that the food was layed out in bain maries in the mess, The first bin contained the meat and the next ones normally contained veg and so on. Kobus got a little peeved at Lima Mike and decided he would get back at him in the only way he knew. Lima Mike was a man of habit, He would walk into the mess and open the lid to check what meat we were being served first. Kobus had spotted this idiosyncrasy so he played his hand.
Instead of the real meat he placed meatballs in the first bin and the real meat in the second. Lima Mike would walk in, open the "meat tray" and storm out in disgust. Lima Mike would go operational and eat rat packs on his jaunts in Angola. The options in ratpacks were fairly limited, Meatballs and bully Beef were a firm favourite as far as the planners of those were concerned.
He would get back after three weeks in the bush and would walk into the mess and find a tray full of meatballs. He would go red and stomp out muttering Effing meatballs this, effing meatballs that, to the smirks and laughter of the troeps. I don't know if he ever found out but I suspect not because Kobus left the base on the same day I did, very much alive.
In these tales you will meet many other very interesting fellows, and hear more about my experiences. If I forget ask me about the Elephants, the school, the guard who left his post very suddenly, The night I almost shot Allan and the day Duggie climbed under the buffel seats.