When I was stationed at Ft. Bragg, I was misclassified as a truck mechanic. Even though I was an engineer, our shop dwindled down to two of us. We were originally slotted for at least ten of us and we ended up doing all the jobs. Since our equipment wasn’t used all that much, it wasn’t too bad. It only became a problem when we suddenly came up for an inspection. We had only a couple days to prepare.
Both of us were lower-ranking PFCs and even though we probably had the best excuse for failing, we had some pride. We not only wanted to pass the inspection, we wanted to do so with flying colors. Our paperwork was already in order (surprising because neither of us were clerks) and all we had to worry about was the state of the equipment. We had heard that they were focusing on the cleanliness of the equipment, so that’s what we focused on.
Some of our engines were filthy and it seemed like we could do nothing to fix this issue in time…until…
OTHER GUY: Hey, remember when we accidentally ordered that case of oven cleaner instead of lubricant?
OTHER GUY: It’s used to clean dirty metal…
ME: I’ll go get it.
We spent the next day and part of the evening cleaning all the engines with oven cleaner. We had a feeling while we were doing it that it wasn’t the right thing to do, but we were invested by this time and just kept going. By the time we were finished, the engines looked new and our heads ached from the fumes.
The next morning, we were greeted nicely and early by the inspectors. Our Commander and First Sergeant were with them and had already begun the excuse process because we were short 8 guys in our shop. They stopped this after the first couple pieces of equipment were inspected.
INSPECTOR: Look at this engine!
COMMANDER: Well, we only have the two PFCs and…
INSPECTOR: It’s the cleanest engine I’ve ever seen!
COMMANDER: …and we’re so proud of the way they’ve handled this!
Every piece of equipment they looked at got the same admiration. We passed the inspection with flying colors like we wanted with nearly a perfect score. After the engines, the inspectors overlooked any other minor issues and continued to praise us until even we became tired of it.
The next morning at formation, the Commander singled us out as having had the best inspection results ever in the history of the unit. He also put us both in for Army Achievement Medals. It was a good day and we felt pretty special. About a month later, we were both promoted to Specialist.
The next month or so, we put in a lot of evening work. The Commander was impressed with our dedication and used to brag about “his mechanics.” The First Sergeant also treated us well, but always had a look in his eye when he saw us. He had noticed something about our parts ordering after the inspection. On one of the evenings we worked late, he came by for a visit.
FIRST SERGEANT: So, what’re you guys working on that couldn’t wait until tomorrow?
ME: Just some leaking gaskets and hoses, First Sergeant.
FIRST SERGEANT: Why would they all be leaking all of a sudden?
OTHER GUY: Not sure, First Sergeant.
FIRST SERGEANT: Would it have something to do with all the cans of oven cleaner I saw in the garbage the day of the inspection?
We told the First Sergeant what we had done. It was obvious that the oven cleaner did a good job on the metal components, but it wreaked havoc on the paper gaskets and rubber hoses that got splattered. He just smiled at us, wished us luck, and went home.
A couple of months later, we both came down on orders to go to Germany. We still didn’t have new mechanics, but they did send us a couple clerks that outranked us. These clerks were suddenly in charge and we didn’t care for either one of them. We worked hard up until the day we turned in our toolboxes. After that, we ignored the two clerks until we were gone two days later. They actually wanted us to continue to work on equipment even though we were fully out-processed. I guess they should’ve been nicer to us…