combat writing badge

The Dance of the Acetate Commandos

A Modern Fable in Regulation Army Green
by Jim Morris [at Buon Beng RVN (c1964)]

          The big room was abuzz with motion, noise, and bustle. Clerks in baggy pants and wrinkled poplin shirts, ties down between the third and fourth buttons of their shirts, scuttled along the aisles between desks, with tall stacks of papers in their hands. The only noise above the clatter of typewriters, the schlurp of coffee, the ceaseless shirr of the WACs' nail files, was a radio on which a musical rendition of meaningless mumbo-jumbo, with a monotonous wubba-wubba refrain and a one key backup.

          The walls were covered with a selection of gloriously patterned charts showing the current status of pet adoptions, intermural sports recruitment, Red Cross donations, blood-bank deposits, Savings Bond sales, Airborne Association memberships ... the myriad things an army needs to function. The music was suddenly interrupted by a smooth voice which said, in a soothing manner, "We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin. The Army has just announced another glorious victory in the retreat from Washington, without the loss of a single man, except for a couple of divisions on rear security ....".

          "Mildred, see if youse can get some music," said one of the WACs. So the dial was turned, but the significance of the announcement had not been lost on all. In the far left hand corner of the room, a Sergeant First Class with lank hair and GI spectacles was wondering about the effect of the news on the bond drive. After all, when the slogan was "as sound as the United States" ... guess the Old Man will make it mandatory again, he thought. A Staff Sergeant suspected that the mail would be delayed, the sundry packs would go astray, and the beer will be warm again.

          In the office of the Commanding General, a cluster of colonels, light-colonels, and majors were quietly jiggling. They were gnawing their lower lips as if they wanted to go to the bathroom, but didn't feel it quite polite to leave. "Sir", said the Chief of Staff, "the retreat from Washington will call for fast decisive action on your part."

          "Right!" said the General. "Issue a directive ...".

          "Directive!" repeated the staff dutifully.

          "I want a report from all subordinate commanders, not later than next week, in reference to the number of handball courts at their respective installations." The General's jaw jutted and his eyes flashed. He glared decisively around the room.

          "Terrific!" an LtC remarked to a Major in the back of the room. "Didn't bat an eye."

          "In triplicate," the General roared.

          "Triplicate!" the staff thundered, and began to circle in a slow shuffling dance around the General's desk, chanting the ancient formula to ward off the enemy. "Acetate," the General intoned. "Acetate!" the staff chanted after.

          "Color coded."

          "Color coded!"





















          The dance was growing more frantic now, as they caught the sweat-lubricated rhythm, and a few of the senior members were dropping out, faint on the shining linoleum squares of the floor. The General was jerking and thrashing about on the top of his desk, and yelling, "Graphs!"

          "Graphs!" echoed the staff, while executing a neat leap into the air.




          "Elbow grease!"



          "Report!" the General commanded.

          "Report!" the staff echoed.

          "Mandatory!" he prompted.

          "Mandatory!" they responded.

          "Quintuplicate!" he frantically exhorted.

          "Quintuplicate!" they doggedly complied.

          All but the most stalwart had now dropped out, and suddenly the Chief of Staff broke ranks, and raced to the huge map on the TOC's wall. "Overlay," he screamed. "Christ, I've got to make a new overlay." He grabbed a handful of grease pencils, and began sorting them; throwing the ones he found wanting onto the floor, and grinding them under his immaculate paratrooper boots into the shiny linoleum. Green, blue, yellow, fuchsia ... "Where is my mauve grease pencil?" demanded the Chief.

          "Mauve grease pencils are on order, and are expected momentarily," said the G-4.

          "Don't you people know there is a war on?" muttered the Chief of Staff.

          At that moment, the door was flung dramatically open and an NCO in fatigues, bleeding from a dozen wounds, staggered into their midst. "Sir," he said, "I have news from the front."

          "Who authorized this breech of protocol?" asked one officer.

          "Doesn't he know the chain of command?" inquired another.

          "He needs a haircut!" observed one.

          "He's out of uniform!" observed another.

          "Kill him!" cried one, and they fell upon him and began pelting him with salt-tablets and map-pins. The G-3 finally beat him to death with a plaque depicting 100% participation in the United Fund. "Now, where were we?" asked the General's aide, while gasping for breath.

          "I was about to issue another directive," said the General.

          "That won't be necessary", said a dirty and barefoot savage, who was wearing a loincloth, and leaning in the doorway. He had a crossbow slung over his shoulder and was casually cleaning his fingernails with a punji stake. His gourd canteen and bamboo quiver were slung saltire, and a tribal bracelet encircled one wrist. "We won the war two weeks ago," he confirmed.

          "Why wasn't I notified?" demanded the General. The staff looked at each other sheepishly. "After all, sir," said the Chief of Staff, "the purpose of a staff is to prevent the commander from being bothered with alot of trivia, distracted by insignificant minutia, or diverted with unimportant details."

          The General brushed this explanation aside, and confronted his enemy. "Where did we go wrong?" he demanded. "We had more of everything; more acetate, more overlay paper, longer reports in more copies, more press releases and publicity junkets. Where did we go wrong?"

          "We fought," said the savage.

          The Adjutant General began thumbing through the regulations to see if this was authorized.