G.I. JanernI Love a Gal in a Uniformrnby Christopher CheckrnDESFIREX, tlie Desert Firing Exereise, is a semi-annualrneelebration of eordite, steel, white phosphorous, andrnsand held at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center inrnTuents” Nine Palms, California. During the weeks before, thernhowitzers and trueks are prepared for the field; They are rushedrndirough a maintcnanee pipeline that at all other times of thernvear moves at a snail’s pace. Marines suddenly “find” the missingrnspare parts that the Corps’ by/.antine supply system has notrnbeen able to produec for months: everything from Ilumveerndoor handles and windshields to the red tube lights wliich fastenrnto the gun barrels and make the cannons legal for the freewavrnjoinney from the back gate of Camp Pendleton to die highrndesert three hours awa’.rnF,leen years ago, I was a second lieutenant experiencing myrnfirst DE.SFIREX. I was running “the box,” or Fire DirectionrnCenter (FDC). Here — in a seeming chaos of computers, radios,rnfield telephones, maps, slide rides, and charts — is, as P’reddvrnCannon put it, where the action is. At the eye of the storm isrndie Fire Direction Officer (FflO),rnthe “mortal engines, whose rude throatsrndread clamors counterfeit.”rnM- first trip to the desert as an F’DO was a baptism of fire,rndianks largely to a battery commander fond of quoting (hernclaimed) P’rcderick the Creat: “A soldier’s enemy in peaeefimernis his commanding officer.” We got Frederick die Creat whenrnthings were running like clockwork. More often the batteryrneomniander’s voice came booming over the landline: “LieutenantrnCheck! C]onie and see me when you get your FDCrnChristopher Check is the executive vice president ofrnThe Rockford Institute.rnwhose command triggersrnimmortal Jove’srnunf—ed!” hi finie I did, by the grace of God and with the paficntrnhelp of a first-rate Ops Chief, a “field Marine” if ever therernwas one: a st[uat staff sergeant as skilled at training second lieutenantsrnas he was at trigonometry and smuggling Jim Beam tornthe field.rn1^’or one of my fellow lieutenants, however, die exereise almostrnmeant the end of his career. He was die Assistant RegimentalrnComniunieafions Officer, hi that billet, he was forcedrnto tolerate something infinitely more unpleasant than a batten,’rncommander who took seriously the job of preparing his officersrnfor war: Women Marines, a.k.a. “WM’s”^riie American military’srnforemost oxymoron.rnFemale radio operators and tcclinicians are permitted tornserve with arfilleiy units in the Marine Corps at the regimentalrnlevel (which is sufficieudv’ removed from the fray, goes die justificafion).rnMy friend had a half-dozen such WM’s under hisrncare. On this trip to die desert, one of diem came down withrndie sniffles or a stomachache (not uncommon when women gornto die field) and convinced the corpsman to medi’ae her. Myrnfriend carried her ALICE pack up to die landing zone as shernshuffled along behind him. Dumping the pack on the sand atrnthe edge of the LZ, he turned to her, said, “You owe me one,”rnand left her there to await die incoming helicopter.rnThree weeks later, back at Camp Pendleton, he found liiniselfrnstanding on die carpet in front of die regimental commander’srndesk, responding to the charge that he had told die ladyrnlance corporal that, in exchange for his earrving her pack up thernhill to the LZ, she owed him one—well, you fill in die blank.rnA story riiat could have ended badlv did not. My friend hadrna reputafion as a solid officer; the WM in quesfion had anodierrnsort of reputation; and the man who ran the 1 Idi Marine Regi-rnFEBRUARY 2000/1 9rnrnrn