It was just supposed to be an uneventful military exercise - you know, the one that makes sure neither pencil-pushing leaders or equipment have grown rusty from disuse, despite loud protests and claims otherwise.
All was going well, albiet grudingly, until the last night. The dry gully in which we had left the large equipment suffered an overnight a freak flashflood. The following morning found all squadrons at the gully, stripped to the waist and armed with shovels and buckets to attack the waist-deep mud that held our equipment hostage - a rather unexpected battle that hadn't been in anyone's plans or books.
I alone stood on the bridge that overlooked the gully and was silently grateful that the shoulder I had dislocated during yesterday's field excursion gave me exemption. The mood was unexpectedly elevated and casual despite the long and arduous labor, the enlisted footsoldiers cheerfully working alongside the commissioned officers, and remained thus when the noon hour approached. The soldiers were virtually indistinguishable from one another as they were covered in mud from the hairs of their head to their boots, faces smeared and ranks tossed aside with their jackets - except Hawkeye, who had made concession in rolling back her sleeves to bare her arms, but no one was going to encourage her to strip to the waist. (At least, not out loud or where she could hear it.)
With lunchtime drawing near, small groups began to drift away from work to wash up and fetch water and food while others remained.
And that was when a State Military car drove up to the bridge and a newly-promoted first lieutenant stepped out. The heels of his highly-polished boots clicked with each solid step forward. I hastily straightened upright and smothered my cigarette against the railing before saluting. I noticed that he waited a pointed split second after I finished before doing the same, and then turned to coldly stare at the mud pit below. "Where is Colonel Mustang?" he demanded as a soft breeze fluttered the end of his crisp coat.
"He's busy, sir."
"That would explain this chaos - anything remotely resembling work and the man disappears. You!" The lieutenant flung an arm wide to point at one man who was using some of his drinking water to wash some of the mud slathered from his face. "Get back to work!"
Oh, hurrah. Someone let his power go right to his head when he realized that no higher authority was in sight. The mood turned sour and ugly as more issues were snapped and threats were made when the men apparently weren't obeying quickly enough. I started to edge away from the lieutenant lest someone mistakenly lump me with the idiot, and pointedly turned my body to highlight the sling to avoid being ordered into manual labor.
One of the working men threw his shovel down in disgust, waded to the low bank, pulled himself free from the mud with a sucking pop, and silently marched up to the bridge. The soldier looked rather deranged, with mud plastering his hair to his head and beady dark eyes glinting dangerously. A hush fell over the ranks as work ceased and attention immediately shifted to the oncoming situation. Hawkeye leaned against her shovel in anticipation.
"Soldier! Did I say you could stop? You will turn around and you will resume your work immed - grrk!"
The man grabbed and hefted up the lieutenant by the lapels of his coat. He sat him hard on the railing and said in a voice that carried through the silence, "One more word out of you and I'm dropping you head-first into the sludge." Having made his point, the man roughly placed the lieutenant on the ground, disdainfully brushed away the mud his grip had left, and then turned heel to return to the mudpit, dusting off his hands as if touching the lieutenant was more disgusting than wading half-naked through the mud.
Cheers, and laughter erupted as the lieutenant stood in shock, his face beet-red with anger and embarrassment. He immediately turned on me. "Lieutenant Havoc, was that one of the sergeants? I demand you discipline him!"
I smiled as I lit a new cigarette. "No, sir, that wasn't one of my sergeants. That was Colonel Mustang."
author's notes: This is actually based off of a Humor in Uniform sumbission I read years ago in the August (I believe), 1948 issue of Reader's Digest.