As Specialist Turnkey pivoted to his left and stepped through the doorway into the crowded, moderately sized room where the other half dozen or so soldiers, all dressed in green, were sitting around, chatting, and waiting for the work day to officially end, he heard Norton exclaim to Private First Class Bates (in a somewhat hushed burst):
"You have some balls Bates! Taking that jump like that.
"Dude, we could see the whole undercarriage of the HUMMV as it went over!"
Muffled chuckles melted into the grey cloth covered dividers of the crowded office as Bates just smiled slightly and embarrassingly muttered:
"You know meóalways making a big entrance."
"Yeah, next thing I know weíre looking straight at the ground and our Kevlars (helmets) are flying towards the windshield," put in Turnkey. "It was crazy."
After chuckling along with the others good-naturedly for a minute, Sergeant First Class Cantrell, an older, weathered Sergeant who was in charge when the accident happened, brought Turnkey and Bates back to reality by reminding them they had to see the First Sergeant.
Bates and Turnkey filed out of the office and turned left towards the First Sergeantís small office filled with metal shelving stuffed with manuals. They stopped at the threshold and were promptly motioned inside as they resolved within themselves to do what they had to.
"Private Bates, I need you to fill out a sworn statement about what happened. Go ahead and sit down and get to it.
"So youíre Specialist Turnkey," he commented turning towards the waiting, living skeleton of controlled nerves in the uniform to his right.
"Nice to meet you, First Sergeant," and what a situation to meet you for the first time, he thought.
"The same to you, TurnkeyóIíll have you give your statement next."
It was clear that First Sergeant Spartan, with his professional and solid demeanor, was calmly going about the proceedings as though nothing unusual had happened that day. It had and the climate of the office was already wrought with a sort of fear of the First Sergeantís position coupled with a not-knowing-how-it-would-all-go-down, expectant vibe.
Turnkey stood just inside the door, waiting anxiously until Bates finished his side of the story so that he could get on with his part of the task. When Bates had completed his portion, the First Sergeant told Turnkey to "go ahead and erase Bateís statement and then write yours."
As he sat down, Turnkey paused long enough before erasure to scan his colleagueís words just to make sure their stories would not conflict. He then typed this:
I, Matthew Joseph Turnkey, do make the following sworn statement. The unit was conducting off-road training with four HUMMVs. I was riding with Private Bates through tall grass. I looked behind us to the side to make sure there werenít any other HUMMVs around. When I turned back towards the front of the HUMMV, the next thing I knew we had hit a ditch and the truck stopped moving. I looked over at Private Bates and asked him if he was ok. He said yes and then we both got out to look at what was wrong. We then saw the damage that was done.
Sergeant Cantrell stepped into the First Sergeantís office as Turnkey and the First Sergeant where signing and initialing the statement paperwork in all the proper places. The First Sergeant asked him to sit down and give his take on the accident, with the same instructions that he had given Turnkey previously. However, Sergeant Cantrell didnít quickly scan Turnkeyís remarks but rather read it obviously, leaning back slightly in the office chair, and then said:
"I have to make a change to this statement."
"Say what?" exclaimed the First Sergeant as Turnkey and Bates looked at each other astonished.
"He misspelled a word here."
Sergeant Cantrell pointed the error out to Turnkey who promptly gave him permission to correct it. The First Sergeant didnít seem to mind.
Once Turnkeyís statement was reprinted and re-initialed and re-signed, he and Bates were dismissed to go to the motor pool (where the HUMMV in question sat dying) to fill out an accident report.
The two survivors made their way down stairs and out the door towards the motor pool. They ran into Norton, who had gone to the supply office across the street while they where in the First Sergeantís office and was now on his way back to the main office. Now, out of earshot of anyone else, Bates, Turnkey, and Norton quickly discussed the sworn statements that had just been made.
After relaying what he had typed, Turnkey added, facing Norton, "Thanks for giving me tips on what to say."
"Sure, we donít want anyone to get screwed on this."
"True. I just put down that we were driving through tall grass and I didnít see the ditch," added Bates.
"Yeah, I read yours to make sure we were on the same page as we discussed earlier with everyone," assured Turnkey.
"Smart," interjected Norton.
"And, Sergeant Cantrell read Turnkeyís as well," relayed Bates.
After parting with Norton, they rambled over to the motor pool and into Staff Sergeant Solanoís small office, much smaller than the First Sergeantís. Being the keeper of the HUMMVs, you would think that Sergeant Solano would be a little upset or even very mad that one of his trucks had been totaled. It was quite the contrary. He was relaxed and understanding and even laughed at one point.
"These things happen. Itís hard to see in the tall grass and you guys couldnít see that ditch. At least you are not seriously hurt."
Sergeant Solano said other similar sympathetic remarks while Bates typed up the accident report on the computer and Turnkey gave what little information Bates needed on him. They occasionally gave glances of knowledge to each other as Sergeant Solano said something else concerning the accident. The most striking thing that he told them was that he didnít think Bates would be charged for the damages as it was a "training accident." However, this statement did not keep Bates from wondering what would happen to him.
When they finished there they made their way back up to the First Sergeantís office to fill out more paperwork and after getting started on it, the First Sergeant commented to Bates that: "Not to make light of the situation but at least you wonít have to drive a HUMMV for the next year. Youíll get to start from scratch once the one year suspension of your license is up."
A smile surfaced, but didnít unleash itself on Bateís face as he said, "Thatís true First Sergeant. The only logged miles I have are the ones we drove today since I just completed HUMMV training a month ago."
"Before I let you two go, I want you to tell you to call me after you are checked out by a doctor. I highly recommend that you do get checked out even though you may think that youíre ok. You need to get documentation in case you have problems in the future."
After being dismissed, Turnkey drove to the nearest military hospital while Bates decided to wait until the next day to see how he felt. Turnkey waited a while at the triage center of the hospital, as it was now past normal hours, dozing off now and again. Eventually, he was examined and x-rays were taken. Fortunately the x-rays came up negative but he was still in pain and would be for over a week.
While being checked out, the doctor asked Turnkey what exactly happened. Knowing he had nothing to lose in the hospital, he told him:
"Our unit was training with HUMMVs just south of Lodi in a field where locals go four-wheel driving. The guy I was driving with is an inexperienced driver and I was trying to give him more time behind the wheel to gain experience.
"Well, he was driving too fast towards a steep up and down little hill. He started to slow down a little as we started up the incline and so I thought that he would continue to do so because we had already been over this hill slowly and knew what was on the other side. But, he sped up again and before I knew it we had gone Dukes of Hazard style over the other side and crashed into the ground face first. Both our helmets flew off. He realized later that his helmet strap had actually snapped.
"Letís just say it was like jumping off of a ten foot cliff and smacking head first into the ground. The HUMMV teetered almost perpendicular to ground levelóabout an 80% angleóand fortunately dropped back down on all fours. We both feared for a split second that we would roll over end over end.
"I donít know if I hit the windshield or not but we were both dizzy after that. We stumbled out of the truck and saw that the front axle was broken, the hood was cracked almost in half, and that tranny fluid was quickly forming into a bright red circle on the ground to the left of the truck, like a puddle of blood."
It was the first time he had told the full truth all day.