The leaves had just begun to fall. They cracked underfoot as we ran, the crisp breeze swirling them in front of us. We were in a column of twos, winding along the cart path. The golf course had been sold to developers, along with the base housing which stood empty along the shore. By this time next year there would be condos here, our perimeter pushed back by progress.
The air moved across my face, making me aware of how hot I had become. Shortly after checking in to this unit I had given up my routine of relentless hydration. It was now more common for me to drink beer in the evening. The only change I could notice was the increased heat my body generated under exertion. I was not out of breath, but my legs ached from shortening my stride to accommodate the formation.
After an hour we jogged back into the parking lot. Forming a loose circle we walked clockwise, our heart rates slowly lowering.
"This is it for the day," the platoon sergeant said, "tomorrow morning, zero seven."
As the cars left the lot I leaned against my car, feeling worn. Sgt. A offered me a cigarette and I lit it. The smoke tasted strange after an hour of breathing through my mouth.
"Duty tonight, huh?" he said.
"Yep." I exhaled, not excited by the prospect.
Our regimental command was across the street from our company offices. Every night a Sergeant or above stood the 24 hour Staff Duty Officer post for both the company and the regiment. Tonight was my night.
The regimental headquarters was an old brick building, a relic of the era between world wars. The floorboards creaked as I walked down the hall to the duty hut. I passed an open hatch, glimpsing inside I saw a Lieutenant squinting at his monitor.
"Working late sir?"
He twisted his neck around quickly to address me "Just about to leave Seargeant." He seemed caught off guard.
I nodded, "Yes sir."
"Do you need chow or anything?" he asked.
"No, thank you sir."
"Good night then."
"Good night sir." I continued down the hall.
As I sat down behind the desk I thought about the Lieutenant's offer. It had been a nice thing to say, but I suspected that it had come from a sense of obligation rather than genuine kindness. Junior Officers always seemed slightly wary of Sergeants. We operated on a level that they had only the vaguest grasp of. Ask a Sergeant for something, and it would happen. Mention in passing that PFC Smith forgot to salute and you were suddenly greeted with more salutes than you were comfortable with, and was that a slight limp that Smith had developed? I was fine with this relationship. The details of our methods were best left unknown to the college educated.
I didn't have to tour the area for another few hours. This was, fortunately, a sleeping post. I set my alarm and lay on the floor.
I snapped awake. The alarm hadn't sounded. The wind had picked up. It howled through the poorly sealed windows. It was dark out, daylight savings time had ended last night. I looked at my watch. Five more minutes until I needed to make my rounds. I decided to set out early.
The area tour consisted of ensuring that various buildings were secure. The walk was a little over a mile in total. The motor pool and warehouse were empty. In the company office Gunny M was asleep on a cot. This had become his temporary home following his divorce. A few months earlier a Captain, our XO, had been in a similar situation. It had seemed shameful for an Officer to live in his office. The Captain could afford to rent a room in town. Every time I encountered the slumbering XO I entered it in the logbook. I never logged in the Gunny.
My legs had already grown sore from our run. As I walked back to the HQ I relished the pain. It meant improvement, progress. In the cool autumn night, legs aching, the deserted buildings around me, the war seemed ages ago.
I walked into the duty hut, set my watch, and lay down on the floor.