THE CON: TO SET THE SCENE! By Ashley (Pepe) Younie, 7 RAR
It was the summer of ’69 and I was just starting the third year of my gap year. I’d tried a few menial jobs but nothing seemed to cry out “this is you; you’re going to the top”. I felt my talents were being wasted.
I thought I’d give it another year & then maybe try overseas and broaden my horizons. About the same time I was putting my future plans into place, my parents said that enough was enough and to get out & find a job NOW. They said they didn’t care if it was with the circus or in the Army BUT I had to find a bloody job or find somewhere else to live. Well, that little wake-up call got me thinking. The circus was out as I didn’t want to be shovelling elephant shit. So The Green Machine it would be.
The next morning I went down to the recruitment office in Sydney to join the Army. As I was only 17, they informed me my parents had to sign the consent portion of the paper and to return it to the office. I thought a three-year enlistment to begin with was appropriate. I’d see a bit of the world while being paid. How good would that be?
When I returned the forms to recruiting, a very nice sergeant sat me down, offered me a cigarette and asked me what job I really wanted to do. There were many employment opportunities that would suit a young bright fellow like me he enthused.
As many of my friends already had their first cars and were hotting them up, I thought I would impress them so I chose to join RAEME and be a motor mechanic. Well, here the con job began. He told me that it was a six-year course so I would have to alter my enlistment for another three years. He added that I had the aptitude to be a great mechanic. Too easy, I mused. What’s three years when I’d come out a tradesman? So back I went to my parents to get them to add the extra time (my mother nearly broke a fingernail getting to the pen to sign).
I returned to see my new best friend – the sarge. Well, he must have had a bad night or was hung-over because he wasn’t the happy chappy he’d been a few days earlier. Nevertheless, I had a job for six years. Mother was happy & I would be a mechanic in no time.
To cut a long story short, I completed my 12-week recruit training at Kapooka. In those days you had three choices as to what employment you wanted to do on your rookie graduation (you generally got one of your choices). As I was already (I thought) employed as a motor mechanic, I chose RAEME etc. A fortnight before march out, a list was posted on the noticeboard as to where you were going.
It read:- A G Younie, Infantry.
WTF? No, no. Someone had made a mistake. “Oh, Sarge, someone
has made a blue. I’m going to be a mechanic.”
“Recruit Younie,” he informed me, “we need rifleman in Vietnam, not mechanics.”
Again WTF? Vietnam? I was too young. Next stop was the Infantry Centre Ingleburn Corps Training.
Corps Training meant one tough platoon sergeant.
After my initial disappointment and rage at missing out on not only
my first, second but bloody third choice of career (RAEME) and being saddled a grunt for the next SIX years, my urge to go AWOL was quelled by the fact that at least 60% of my rookie platoon were heading to Ingleburn with me and all of my civvie mates were more excited at me carrying a gun/rifle, throwing grenades and killing people than me swinging around a 1/2 inch ring spanner.
Having just spent 12 weeks in arguably one of the coldest places in winter in the southern hemisphere (Wagga Wagga), especially at 0500 Reveille with just your bed sheet wrapped around you, I was now heading into one of the hottest places for 12 weeks of corps training. Yippee! The circus – my mother’s other option – was starting to sound better and better. I was beginning to think I’d pulled the wrong rein.
On arrival at Infantry Centre, we were introduced to our new Platoon Sergeant, a Vietnam Vet, ex 1 RAR. We will call him Sgt Jack. He made Gunnery Sgt Hartman from the movie Full Metal Jacket look like a choirboy. He was old school and of German heritage. I reckon he taught Hitler how to rant & rave.
On one occasion we were doing a nine-mile forced march to an out- and-back checkpoint with our ancient 37 Patten webbing, boots and gaiters and slung SLRs when my mate (Bob) and I decided to sneak off into the scrub about four miles in. We’d lay doggo and wait until they returned before joining the end of the platoon and only arse-end Arnold would be the wiser. Too bloody good to be true! Sgt Jack had done a headcount at half way, realised he was missing two of his prize diggers and decided to come back in a Land Rover and check on our welfare. When he found us he asked WTF our problem was, Bob said he severe blisters and couldn’t continue. Sgt Jack removed his GP and poured blood from it. It seemed like a litre at the time, probably only a thimble full on his sock thinking back. He then bellowed to Bob to remove his. Well, I nearly busted a gut trying not to laugh. He had a water blister the size of a one-cent piece. He then exploded at Bob to GET MARCHING.
He turned to me and asked what was wrong with me. I explained that I had a severe rash in the crotch, and he asked if I thought he wanted to look at that. I was told to get my arse into the Land Rover (a win for the good guys).
However, my win was short-lived when Bob and I were called into Jack’s room (a room at the end of the hut for the platoon corporal) for a rev up. Sgt Jack told us that if he wasn’t a senior sergeant, he’d have punched the crap out of both of us. Now, Bob was a big guy and eyeballing Jack, told him that if he wanted to go on with it, he wouldn’t be a senior sergeant for long. HOLY SHIT! I swear that steam came out of every orifice. The next morning he informed us we were on punishment for a week. We were to report at 1600 with full battle order, run out to an unused bunker about three km away in an allotted time and retrieve two drawing pins he had put there. Bob was on fire. He was the Sgt Bilko of the day. He informed me that we could take our own drawing pins, go out until we were out of sight, have a smoke, come back, throw a bit of water over us and all would be sweet. I should have seen it coming and known what colour pin he would use.
I made it through Corps Training and was sent to Reinforcement Wing to bide my time while waiting to go to Vietnam, but first I had to turn 19.