Vinson: Military phanton: IG and the GI

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I’ll begin by identifying a couple U.S. military terms:

“I.G.” stands for “Inspector General.”

By all accounts, the term “G.I.” originated during World War I and is an abbreviation for “Government Issue.” History has it U.S. soldiers referred to themselves as “G.I.’s” because they felt they were as disposable and replaceable as their government-issued equipment: helmets, rifles, jeeps, tanks, etc. Still, some military historians write that G.I. originally stood for “Galvanized Iron,” since much of the military equipment used during World War I was made from galvanized iron.

Regardless, we can agree “G.I.” is a phrase/abbreviation that, over the decades, has established itself as a legitimate fixture in American culture and language. Heck, the “G.I. Joe” action-figure, doll-like toys are amongst the most popular of all time!

Phantom: 1a: something apparent to sense but with no substantial existence: APPARITION (reference: Merriam Webster’s Dictionary).

So goes this column . . .

It was many years ago, and I was an active-duty soldier in the U.S. Army, based in West Germany. My battalion had been laboriously prepping all week for an I.G. inspection. And, yes, as indicated above, this inspection team was to be headed by a man with the rank of general (one-star or two-star, can’t remember), with the rest of the team composed  of lower-ranking commissioned  officers/CO’s, such as majors, captains, lieutenants; plus a few high-ranking non-commissioned officers/NCO’s, such as master sergeants and sergeant majors. To give you an idea of just how serious were these I.G. inspections, careers were “made” or “lost,” depending on the outcome.

Regarding the barracks in which I lived (barracks being on-base housing for soldiers), we had been working around the clock for days: scrubbing, mopping, waxing, buffing, checking weapons, checking vehicles, filing paperwork . . . you name it!

The day of this particular I.G. inspection, the general and his team entered our barracks around 5 a.m. and someone hollered “Attention!”

Everyone immediately stood up and went post-mortem rigid, followed by a few seconds of dead silence. Finally, the general said “At ease,” and thus began the inspection, with everyone scampering around, whispering, and praying to God that his area of responsibility was “squared away”!

These barracks had latrines (restrooms) for both male and female soldiers. Of course, the latrines were on the list of items to be inspected, for reasons of cleanliness and hygiene.

The men’s latrine contained four stalls, side-by-side. However, every time we (soldiers living in the barracks, along with inspection team members) entered the men’s latrine, two of the stalls were filled, boots on the floor. Too, there were all these awful moans and groans and other you-know-what sounds coming from each stall. And this went on-and-on, time-after-time: The same men were in the same stalls, experiencing great difficulty, to put it mildly!

Finally, the general, a.k.a. “I.G.,” said something to the effect of, “There must be a bad bug going around these barracks because you have some G.I.’s with some serious GI problems!” Of course, when he said “GI,” he was referring to the human gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), an organ system responsible for consuming and digesting foodstuffs and expelling the resultant waste.

Luckily, we passed the I.G. inspection. However, even after the I.G. team left, the two stalls in the men’s latrine remained filled. We attempted to converse with the occupants—to no avail, though. Having become suspicious, we finally got a chair, and I stood in the chair so I could peer over the top of the stall door . . . and what I sight I beheld:
Inside both stalls were a pair of high-top, laced-up “jump boots,” pieces of cardboard stuck down inside each boot,  each of the pieces of cardboard covered in standard, military-green, camouflage material. On the back of each commode was a tape player with a recording that repeatedly played a male seemingly experiencing extreme GI difficulty!

Indeed, there were other latrine-like incidents afterwards, but we never caught the culprit in action. Conceding he was much too smart for us, we nicknamed him the “phantom,” and he would become the stuff of legends.

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Mike Vinson
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