Alpha-Charlie is a military term for Ass Chewing. Now I don’t mind one if I did something stupid or wrong. I do when I think I made the right call. So here’s a story of the best one I ever received.
As a Law Enforcement Officer that happened rather often to me. Probably the best, however, was by someone I couldn’t tell to just go to hell. I was working on Tales from the NCO Club, and two of my characters are sitting at a table, drinking beer and swapping war stories. They end up recounting the story.
So here it is for your reading enjoyment.
I was in my third year of working Military Police at Ft. Riley, Kansas, the home of the Big Red 1. Now Ft. Riley was good duty, but for an MP working garrison duty, it could rock and roll. We traded garrison duty with the other MP company once a month. Once a month they did the field work, and we handled the post. The next we flip-flopped, and we took the field, and they handled the post.
Well, New Year’s Eve was our duty. Because I’d been a civilian cop, a Sheriff, and Chief of Police, I was often patrol supervisor, a role usually held by a commissioned officer. That made me the top cop on the street for my shift. We had the graveyard shift. Typically, the graveyard shift is quiet. But I knew better than to expect that on New Year’s Eve. All the NCO clubs were packed to the rafters. We had drunk soldiers driving in from the bars off post, and my ten MPs and I had already referred a dozen domestics.
I’d made sure my people were doing walkthroughs of the NCO clubs because a show of force, even a small one, is often enough to keep trouble down. Not tonight. I’d done a walkthrough of one club, and despite our shows of force, the tension in there was electric. People were drinking, laughing, dancing, but I kept noticing the dirty looks some people were giving others. I could feel something about to happen. I’d told my people to keep a close eye on the place, and if something went down, we’d need all hands to put it down. I told them not to go in till we had everyone there. Numbers were our best bet.
Sure enough, along about midnight, hell broke loose. I’d been staying close, but other units got to the NCO club first. I was relieved to see that my young MPs had listened. They were waiting so once we got everyone there, we could go in. What I didn’t realize was they had done a good eval of the situation.
“Sarge, this isn’t a fight,” one said. “This is a riot!”
They were right. The capacity of the building was 400 people. And every soul in there appeared to be fighting. By now, everyone had arrived, and just as I’d gotten us organized to go in, and started to open the door, a chair crashed against the door, knocking the glass out of the door.
The chair was followed by a guy who quickly jumped back up to his feet, and ran into the fight.
“Shit,” I heard one of my MPs say. About this time the reality of the situation had settled in. I had ten MPs against 400 highly annoyed and ticked off individuals. That came out to our being outnumbered 40 to one.
In the civilian world, I’d faced worst odds. But I had tools at my disposal in the civilian world that evened the odds pretty quickly. A couple of well-placed tear gas grenades would take care of the problem entirely. Tear gas takes the fight out of just about anyone who comes in contact with it.
But the Army didn’t let us use the stuff. We weren’t even allowed to carry pepper spray. That left us with three weapons. Our hands, our nightsticks, and our guns. Our hands were already not strong enough because of sheer numbers. Nightsticks would have been a tremendous force multiplier, but people would be seriously hurt if we employed them, and guns were out of the question.
I’d been in this mess once before, and it hadn’t been pretty.
I realized I had one weapon in my arsenal that was a perfect crowd control device.
I keyed my microphone on my pack set radio and made the call. “Canine 5, Patrol 1. Are you in the area?’
Almost instantly Sgt. D_ answered. “I’m blocks away, Patrol 1. Be there in one.”
Canine 5 was Sgt. Kelli D_ (not her real name, of course). Kelli looked like a younger version of the actress Amy Adams, and because of that, you’d half expect her on stage or in Hollywood. But she came from a cop family and was following the family tradition. Kelli eventually did make it out to Hollywood, but not in the entertainment industry. Last I heard, she was a homicide detective.
She got out of the van the puppy dog handlers drove, went around to the other side, opened the door, and a German Shepherd almost as large as she was jumped out. Its teeth glittered in the light. I figured if the Landshark (German Shepherd) didn’t even the odds some, then we were in way over our heads.
“Will!” she yelled. “Want me to send him in?”
“Send him in, Kelli.”
“Come on, boy,” she said, almost like she was playing with him as they walked to the door. I held the door open for them. “Go get them, boy! Go get them.”
The dog ran in barking and snarling. Almost instantly I heard a chorus of screams, shouts, and curses, and then sudden silence.
We all had out nightsticks in our hands as we waded into what had once been a nice NCO club. The floor was littered with broken glass and puddles of beer. Here and there was a person down, moaning and bleeding into the beer. They were oblivious to the vicious predator in the middle of the room.
The dog sat, master of this little segment of the universe. Four hundred humans cowered against the walls, and the dog was looking around as if to say, “Go ahead. Move. I haven’t bitten anyone yet. Do I have a volunteer?”
“Alright.” I used my loud command voice, learned from doing this for years. It’s that tone that says I’m not about to be trifled with. “I want ID cards held up high. My MPs will be collecting them. And who’s responsible for this mess?” I gestured to the folks bleeding on the floor.
Surprisingly, everyone became very cooperative. A very large and very mean dog tends to do that. The ringleaders of the riot were quickly identified and carted off to jail. And we were able to identify those responsible for the stabbings. Within the hour we’d apprehended some thirty-six people. MPI would eventually arrest another dozen. And a whole lot of soldiers found themselves getting some attention they really didn’t want.
All in all, a good night’s work. No one got hurt, we handled the situation, and I was feeling pretty good about myself.
That is until the next day.
I went home after my shift, showered and gone to bed, only to wake up a few hours later to learn the Provost Marshall wanted me in his office within the hour. Think Chief of Police and you get a good idea what the Provost Marshall did.
I got into uniform and drove down to the Provost Marshal’s Office, basically the Army version of Police Headquarters. I was surprised to see Kelli there.
“What’s up?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “Haven’t a clue. But something tells me we’re not here to get a medal.”
A few minutes later the door opened, and the Sgt. Major told us to come in.
We snapped to attention and saluted at the Colonel’s desk. “Sgt. Will Ablan, reporting as ordered.”
Kelli did the same.
The Colonel returned the salute. “Stand at parade rest.”
Shit, being told to stand at parade rest meant this was not going to be a pleasant chat.
He let us stand for a few seconds.
“Where the hell did you two get off sending the dog in?” he growled. “The CG (Commanding General) is royally pissed.”
I started to talk, and that’s when he got in my face. “Sgt. Ablan, I didn’t ask for an explanation. What I’m telling you is how do you think he felt reading the report from last night? I mean a riot! Really? Three people stabbed. And instead of trying to get a handle on it, you escalated the mess with the dog.”
He let that one hang out there. The riot was bad enough. The stabbings were bad enough. Almost forty people arrested must have made the General go into low earth orbit.
It still felt like the right call.
“He read the reports and felt that the dog was an excessive use of force! He felt you should have used your military authority to get hold of the situation.”
Right, that crowd would have shoved my military authority right up my behind.
He turned and looked out the window. “If you’d have gone in there with nightsticks drawn, you could have handled this crowd.”
I snuck a glance at Kelli, and she returned it. We were both thinking the same thing. Are we going to leave here with our rank still on our collar? And would they give us adjoining cells in the stockade!
I knew I’d made the right call.
“Ablan, we’re going to be evaluating your performance on this incident and determine your fitness as Patrol Supervisor. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a desk assignment. And D_, we’ll determine your fitness and qualifications to continue with K-9.”
“Dismissed,” he snapped.
I was furious. I hadn’t had the chance to explain my thinking of why I’d made the call I did. And now I was being dismissed like a recruit.
But Kelli and I were pros. We both snapped to, saluted, waited for him to return our salute, and then we did an about-face and headed for the door. The Sgt. Major opened the door for us, and said in a low voice, “Wait outside for me.”
Kelli and I walked out into the secretary’s office. The door closed behind us.
I looked at Kelli. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead, and I realized she was as angry as I was.
“What was that about?” I asked, feeling like I just been whacked across the gut with a 2×4.
She shook her head. “I don’t know. We made the right call.”
“But I ordered you to send the dog in.”
She chuckled. “Will, you and I are the same rank. Our DOR (Date of Rank) is even the same. Trust me. It is possible to say ‘no’ to Sgt. Will Ablan.”
So, she was with me. As an NCO, integrity is the name of the game. Good call or bad, she was standing by her decision to back my decision with her actions. Sometimes standing tall is the best thing you can do.
A moment later the door opened, and the Sgt. Major came out. We both went to parade rest.
“Come on you two. Follow me to my office.”
In his office, he told me to close the door. He sat on the edge of his desk while we both stood at Parade Rest in front of him. “Stand at ease.” We both did, and for the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt like I just might relax a little.
“Sgt. Ablan, you were Patrol Supervisor. Correct?”
“Yes, Sgt. Major. I was.”
“Fine. Now please explain to me why you made the call you did?”
I sucked in a breath. “Sgt. Major, you’re aware I came into the Army with almost ten years worth of Civilian Law Enforcement under my belt?”
He shook his head. “I didn’t know that. What did you do?”
“You name it, I’ve done it. Everything from street cop to Sheriff’s Deputy to Chief of Police.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Let me tell you story of what happened to me when I was still a rookie,” I told him. “It was New Year’s Eve, just like last night. There was a little 3.2 bar in town. The place was rocking that night. Great band and everyone was having a great time. Now, their license said they had to close at midnight, every night.
“Well, midnight came, and went, and they were still open My Patrol Supervisor made the call for us to go in and use force to shut it down. This so ticked everyone off that they turned on us and we found ourselves in the middle of a nasty mess. I ended up spending the next two days in the hospital.”
He nodded. “What do you think he should have done?”
I smiled. “That’s easy. He should have told my partner and me to go in and talk with the owner. We were both good friends of his. All we had to say was, ‘Hey, Chuck. You’ve got a great party going here man, and we wish we were here to enjoy it, BUT your license says to be closed at midnight.’ Chuck would have wrapped up the party, and we’d have been out of there in ten minutes. Everyone would have left happy, and it would have avoided the situation that occurred.”
“Makes sense,” he said. “But that doesn’t explain your decision.”
“My decision was based on I’ll be damned if I’m going to get my people hurt. I didn’t have a lot of options. They’d have turned on us if I’d gone in exercising my Military Authority. We were outnumbered, and that meant nightsticks. Trust me. A lot of people would have gotten hurt if we’d gone in swinging, and we still would have lost. This morning you’d be asking me why we put a bunch of people in the hospital and why we’re lying in hospital beds with them. Guns were out since we didn’t know people had knives, and even still guns were the wrong call. That would have escalated the situation beyond my control. Let one scared kid fire, and everyone’s going to start shooting. That just wasn’t an option.
“The dog was my best bet for settling the situation quickly, decisively, and with few if any casualties beyond a bite or two. As it turns out, no one got bitten, and my boys and girls still have their teeth in their mouths where they belong.”
He nodded, thinking it over. “Good call, you two,” he said, finally. “Now why don’t you two outstanding NCOs get out of my office, go home, and get some sleep.”
“Thank you, Sgt. Major,” Kelli said. “But what about the Colonel?”
He smiled. “I’ll handle the Colonel, and he’ll handle the CG. Don’t worry about this. I’ve got your backs.”
We went to parade rest, and he dismissed us.
My explanation must have worked.
Two weeks later at morning formation, Kelli and I were called out and given commendations for our handling of the situation. I guess they figured if they couldn’t court-martial us, they might as well give us a medal.
And that was just fine with me.