Scouts vs. Mortars

“Three of ya’ll going to scouts” said the Specialist from S-1 who picked us up from 82nd Replacement Detachment. He said it like it was a big deal.

He closed the gate on the back of the LMTV and the plastic flap fell, darkening the back of the truck.

“Scouts” I thought to myself. That sounds cool. “I hope I’m going to scouts.”

I had no idea what it was, but I knew that I wanted it. It turns out the “Airborne Reconnaissance Platoon” (as it was formally known) of the battalion I was assigned to needed soldiers. Often, scout platoons hold try-outs at the battalion level where more experienced soldiers compete for the coveted slots in the platoon. I got lucky and they were hurting. They took three of us who had the highest APFT scores at 82nd Replacement and I got to spend about a year with the scouts before moving on to a rifle platoon.

That year with the scouts was formative. It’s where I spent my time as a joe. Scouts are normally a part of the headquarters company of an infantry battalion, which is an amalgamation of different kinds of soldiers who support the battalion: cooks, clerks, drivers, mechanics. And then there are the two specialty platoons: scouts and mortars.

Soldiers in the scout platoon are supposed to be the baddest guys in the battalion. It’s a small platoon with a specialized mission. As such, they often train independently and with less supervision than the rest of the battalion. This leads to amazing training opportunities, and lots of “big boy rules,” meaning life could be less miserable so long as everyone was doing the right thing.

Across the hall from the scouts lived the mortar platoon. The mortar platoon was made up of 11 Charlies (11Cs). To most 11 Bravos (11Bs), 11Cs were barely infantrymen. Their mission was to sit around and drop rounds into tubes while the rest of us walked all over the place with heavy packs. In the hierarchy of the infantry world, the more you had to walk, the harder your job was, or so it was thought. (And lest I get flamed by all of you 11Cs out there, I know that this is all nonsense. I’d hate to have to jump in a mortar tube or lug around a bunch of 81mm rounds).

The scout platoon was smaller than a normal rifle platoon. The mortar platoon was about the same size. Being across the hall from one another and being the only infantrymen in HHC led to a rivalry, which I am guessing is mirrored across most infantry battalions.

Scouts vs. Mortars.

We liked each other, and often hung out with one another on the weekends. But during the week, it was scouts vs. mortars. We loved ribbing one another, especially when the other group messed something up. “Well, well, well…” a snotty mortarmen would comment after a long mission out in the woods of Fort Bragg. “I heard ya’ll got compromised by OPFOR last night. Way to go, scouts!”

Out in the field, soldiers in the recon platoon would scowl at the mortarmen, chilling near the BN TOC, enjoying the hot coffee and amenities of life close to the flagpole.

My greatest memories of the rivalry manifested itself in the hallways after the duty day, when the officers and senior NCOs went home. Pranks were constant. Medicated foot powder to the face right after getting out of an open bay shower. A bucket of water dumped on your head as you enter your room. Coming back from off post to find all of your furniture set up in the formation area outside of the barracks.

No war cry was more horrific (or invigorating) than hearing “MORTARS!” which meant there was a battle raging in the hallway and every scout and mortar would be needed. The scouts, hopelessly outnumbered would strike fast and silently to avoid major confrontations. The ultimate score was to ambush a wayward mortarman in the hallways, kidnap him, tape him up and then throw him into the mortar CP before disappearing again.

I hope, that somewhere out there, the battle continues.

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