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Aleksandrov Sergei
The Bungler

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  The senior lieutenant, with an original name of Leopold, had been holding the palm of bungler among the officers of our regiment for a long time. He was a decent man, but one couldn't see a military core in him. And destiny smiled upon him, his glory of bungler was outshone, and what way!
  Lieutenant V. arrived to the regiment to replace one of the officers. (Soviet officers served in Afghanistan a definite tour (usually two years), but sometimes longer due to the lack of officers to replace them.) He arrived to take a post of one of the most important platoons, the protection platoon. What exactly? I am not going to reveal it. He was walking lurching, he always had a look of a man who had drunk petrol instead of vodka. If it is true that eyes are mirror of a soul, then his soul wasn't burdened with emotions. He always had his mouth open and it is clear what diagnosis a psychiatrist would determine.
  He arrived in the middle of a huge army operation, was given new garment, armed and sent to a combat area. The platoon officer, he was to replace shook his hand with gladness and went to the area of constant dislocation to get ready to hand over all deals and prepare a banquet for all who had to stay in that country.
  The next morning V. was bringing up the rear of the walking column, which was combing some ravine. Having got tired of unused march, he sat down on a stone to have a small rest and said to passed by soldiers that he would be resting for a while and then walk in the rear of the platoon. The sun was shining brightly, the lieutenant drowsed off and then, waking up, rushed to overtake his platoon, but failed. His absence was reported from the next halt. What happened after that! All platoons of the regiment were taken from executing combat tasks and began to search for him; a large part of available helicopters, which we always were short of, was used for that; the air got hot of curses overthrown from up to down. The lieutenant was rushing about "dushman" (the general name for local Afghanistan partisans the Soviet army was fighting with.) ravines, hungry, tired and scared. Somebody else would have been shot within an hour, this one wandered for almost three days. He saw, at last, on the top of a hill, a flag and barbed wire - that was an observation post of the "heroic" (the Soviet troops didnТt trust the Afghan allies as they often worked for лdushmans¦.) Afghan army. He climbed up the hill somehow, got over the barbed wire and, like a bolt from the blue, fell down on the "sorboses" (a name for the Afghan allies) who were eating the last sheep. They just forgot about the food. Because the lieutenant had walked through a mine field larded with different types of mines: pressure mines, stretching mines, alarm mines; like a bream with bones. Somebody else would have been hopping on one leg, in the best case, this one was just fine.
  They delivered him back to the regiment and he wasn't even punished just due to his young age and lack of experience, but taking into consideration how many "endearing words" the head of the regiment had had to listen to, one can imagine how he "liked" that bungler. That one, as if nothing had happened, just went on to put fuel into the furnace of that hot "love". He just destroyed the platoon, he was always late everywhere, he made everything inside out. The head of service the platoon was reporting to, a very decent officer, was a regular investigator of the regiment, and as one third of the regiment was always executing special tasks somewhere far away and the majority part of accidents were generated by that part, he appeared in the regiment very seldom. So that side of the personal file of the platoon commander where penalties were registered was written with small handwriting.
  The head of the regiment was exasperated by the case with an armoured carrier. We had one in the platoon with unworkable special equipment, but it couldn't be written off and it was so not in demand that it was impossible to "sham" its "death" during combat. Plus, thanks to Bungler, that carrier was completely pillaged by friendly soldiers (it was a very prevalent custom among almost all officers and soldiers to steal everything that could be sold to local people in order to have some money).
  One of the seldom arrivals of the head of service to our regiment coincided with the moving of another regiment through our base. And two sly heads agreed, drinking "cup of tee", that the passing by regiment would leave their good carrier at our disposition, and the "host" would try to destroy his, out of repair, and if all that worked out, the stranger regiment would "lose" one of the carriers in action. Nobody knows what was promised for that. The head was sent on another investigation but he took his time to instruct the platoon commander, besides the last one was interested in that himself as he was responsible for that carrier. The stranger regiment left its carrier and went on, planning to come back in a week.
  We didn't have enough time before their return, but luckily we got "proper" mortar shooting from "dukh". A watch man, following Bungler's instructions as exactly as they had been issued, just having heard the first burst and alarm signal, poured half a jerry can of petrol into the carrier, threw a grenade in a hatch and rushed to a shelter. The armoured carrier burned to the ground. But the stranger's, means good one.
  That beat everything. The head had a choice - either to judge Bungler and thus to reveal an accident and then got many troubles; to judge him by judgement of honour of minor officers, which wouldn't allow to remove him from the regiment either; or to pass him off as an excellent officer and send him somewhere to a higher position. The head took the last variant. Luckily there was an order to send a very skilled and useful officer to Kabul airport. The personal file was replaced very quickly, and now that side, where encouragement are to be written, was filled in small handwriting. The characteristic was made brilliant by the head of service. Bungler went to Kabul, but Leopold lost used glory for ever. Since that time everybody considered his actions a child's pranks. We got rumours that our Bungler had turned over inside a gas track on the runway, had been shot from the close distance by the guardians of Afghan brandy plant, had been drown in a canal. Nothing happened to him. Probably bunglers are born with a silver spoon in their mouths.
   (c) Sergei Aleksandrov, 1998

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