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August 04, 2005


This is a post I did last year. Given the recent uptick in readership here at the Castle, I thought I would reach into the archives and dust it off. The nature of blogs is that the archives are mostly for googlers. Who has the time to rummage through the archives of a newly discovered blog? I know I don't, however much I might want to. But I will say, looking through the comments - some of you have been readers for a long time. Thanks! Anyway, here is a reprise of a favorite of mine from last year. Duck.

No, not you. I'm talking about, 'Duck'.

A mother duck looks on as one of her brood falls over while trying to scale a curb. The duck was leading her six ducklings back to their nest in front of the Arkansas Arts Center and came back to help one who was too small to make it over the curb.

When I saw this picture a couple of days ago I was reminded of Duck. My last job on active duty was with the WMD Response Task Force - West (now Joint Task Force -West (CM) (Consequence Management), based out of 5th Army Headquarters at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Fort Sam is in San Antonio, and is one of the older forts west of the Mississippi. Fifth Army is headquartered in the old arsenal site, called the Quadrangle.

With 250,000 visitors a year, the Quad is a tourist attraction. It's a cool looking building, and has a zoo inside. Yes, a zoo. There are deer, rabbits, chickens, a turkey, ducks, geese, Peacocks, as well as the usual suspects, squirrels and pigeons. Yes, this was on purpose. There have been an assortment of animals in the Quad since the 1870's. The structure of the building also dictated that unless you worked in the Commanding General's suite of offices, you went outside of the building to go hit the latrines in the corners of the building.

I used to tell people I worked in a tourist trap with outdoor plumbing.

The legend about the zoo was that it was started when Geronimo was held captive at Fort Sam before being shipped off to Fort Sill and beyond, and that the deer and other animals were placed there to provide food (apparently Geronimo preferred to hunt his own). That's the legend. The reality is that Fort Sam was comparatively isolated (remember, no cars in 1870 and the heart of San Antonio was some miles away) and the zoo was established for the wives and children of the officers in Staff Post (where the Staff Officer housing was).

One of the joys of working at 5th Army (which wasn't really that bad, San Antonio is a nice town, and WMD work was important stuff - since it was the JTFs that responded to 9/11 for DoD) was weekend Staff Duty. Why? Because you had to feed the critters. If you weren't out the door by 0700 - and I mean don't be there at 0701 - you would be faced with the forest clearing scene from Bambi. A semi-circle of agitated critters, all prepared to squawk at once, if they normally made noises.

So you step out there, and immediately the formation would about-face and move tactically (although it was Soviet-style mass tactics) with echelons toward the feed shed at the far end of the Quad. The real Soviet flavor to the whole operation was the geese (annoying critters, geese). They functioned as the Commissars, following behind you, honking in a pissed-off fashion, and nipping at your butt if you weren't moving fast enough (which is to say you weren't moving as fast as they were). The peacocks would cluster over on the left, the deer would assume a line as the main echelon, the rabbits would bound ahead as scouts, and the ducks and chickens would fly in short hops like attack aviation. The Turkey, lonely creature that he was (he hung with the chickens) apparently was SF in an earlier life and would already be positioned close to the objective and keep 'eyes on'.

When you reached the shed - if you weren't moving fast enough to have gotten there ahead of the geese, you got your butt nipped again while you unlocked the door. If you'd been fast enough and got the door open - they left you alone. You then got the feed, and fed the critters, which of course was a mob scene. The deer were always polite, and the older ones liked ear and butt scritches. The youngsters were generally still a bit skittish. And you haven't seen sad until you see the look on a fawn's face when he fell and broke his leg - and had to spend weeks in isolation with a splinted leg, and couldn't be out with his family. That was one sad-faced baby deer. He was always pathetically happy to have any contact at all, so several of us softies spent breaks and lunch out with the fawn so he had some company.

You also didn't want to be the guy on duty when an animal died. Like the poor Sergeant who was grilled mercilessly when a fawn drowned in the 'cement pond'.

Another fun thing was how the critters cooperated. Hawk flew by one day, took a look in the Quad and said to himself, "Self, that thar's a smorgasbord!" and took up residence in the clock tower. He did pretty well for a week, scoring squirrels, baby bunnies, and the odd pigeon (and he was a messy eater, leaving his left-overs around for us to clean up).

Then he made a mistake. He scored a Pea-chick. The Peacocks and Peahens did *not* appreciate his dietary change. And from that point on, when he made an appearance, he was swarmed. The squirrels had learned to time their forays out from under the trees to never be so far out they couldn't get back to the tree before Hawk got there. When the Peacocks took on the Combat Air Patrol mission - the squirrels learned that if they went out among or near the Peacocks, when Hawk started diving for dinner, the Peacocks would protect the squirrels, even when there were no pea-chicks present. Good use of combined arms. Hawk gave up and left. The lesson there is the biblical one of gluttony, I suppose.

Oh, yeah - Duck. Duck was a Muscovy Duck who showed up one day. The ducks who lived in the quad were not Muscovys. Duck was unique among 'em. And Duck had obviously been raised near or with, humans (He was in fact brought there by one of the 5th Army DA civilians - he'd been found abandoned/lost as a duckling at that man's home). Duck didn't know how to fly. Duck didn't know he was a 'duck'. He acted more like a dog. He'd make the rounds from door to door, office to office, and check up on you and see if you had treats. He'd make his circuit twice a day, and he knew which of us were suckers. He'd even sit with you a while after he'd gotten something, then get up and go off on his rounds.

But Duck was a lonely fella. He'd sit by himself when all the other ducks were playing around, he'd sit there looking confused then the ducks took off and flew around the Quad. And every time he tried to move in with the ducks, they'd let him get only sooo close, and then they'd get up and move somewhere else. Poor old Duck was a classic wallflower.

But then one spring, a little girl-duck waddled over to duck and sat down next to him. She wasn't a Muscovy (Duck was the only Muscovy there) but she seemed to like him. Duck had been with us for about a year, and Muscovys have large red warty carbuncles (hard to describe, they are lumpy fatty deposits that are bright red) around their eyes. Quite dashing if yer a girl duck, I'm sure. Anyway, Duck had a friend. And just like the wallflower who is adopted by one of the 'in' crowd, Duck was now allowed to hang with the flock.

Duck still didn't know how to fly, and adult male Muscovys aren't that good at flying, anyway. So, when something startled the flock, or they just wanted to catch some shade, or go swim in the cement pond, Duck would be left behind, waddling over to catch up, with his girlfriend keeping an eye on him.

Then one day Hawk came back. And decided to score a duck. Duck's duck.

She had wandered away from the flock after something interesting, and was across the Quad in the open. Duck was on his afternoon rounds and was about as far away from his girl as he could be.

Then the Peacocks and Chipmunks started their alarm noise. I was out headed to the latrine when the noise erupted. Hawk was circling overhead, making his choice. And his choice was Duck's duck. Duck was waddling as fast as he could to her. And Hawk dove. And Duck suddenly learned he could fly. And fly fast. And he was heavy. And he knocked Hawk into next week before he got to Duck's duck. Hawk got up groggily, looked around, and left, never to return during my tour.

And Duck? He spent that entire afternoon flying from one side of the Quad to the other, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and made at least one foray out into the wider world.

But when I left Fort Sam for the last time, Duck was by the cement pond, under the tree, wing-to-wing with his sweetie, engaged in a little mutual grooming. I dunno if Duck has ducklings or not, but Duck made coming to work something to look forward to.

John | Permalink | Comments (28) | Observations on things Military
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