It was like one of the Plagues of Egypt.
Not one of the very dramatic ones, like boils or water turning into blood. It was the one with the frogs. Frogs everywhere.
I grew up in another, more picturesque desert, so I have known since I was small that there is a kind of frog that hibernates under the dry ground until it rains. When it does, they claw their way free from the earth and get to the business of eating and propagating until it grows to dry, whereupon they burrow again to hibernate. However, while I knew about this, I had never seen it before.
As it turns out, when rain does come to MacGregor Range, it is frog spring break.
It started raining in the evening. We were out doing our Mission Readiness Exercise for our upcoming deployment to Turkey. Patriot units work very hard to do the most important thing you will ever be bored doing. The nights get late in the field. Things break. Personnel need to be pulled off the roster. Crews have a hard time certifying. Things break again. Another thing breaks. It makes for some late nights. So it was for that one.
I was holding command at the time, despite being the battery’s XO, as some bad things had happened. I was worn thin, not eating or sleeping very much in part due to stresses related to the bad things. That night, I was out late with the crews, waiting on their certification and trying to figure out a personnel problem. It’s dull and stressful at once, especially when you are in command. When you are in command, it’s all on you, even when you have very little to actually do with the task at hand. I had no idea what I was doing and I wasn’t getting a ton of support.
All the while, it rained and it rained and it rained.
I can’t say the ground was moving, but when a part of it close to my foot decided to start hopping in the half-light coming from the tents, I did not react with a lot of dignity. I jumped about a foot in the air and made a strangled sort of yelp (my best onomatopoeia: euuuyaaagh!) because I was aware that I’m an female officer and should try to avoid playing to type.
They were everywhere. If you looked somewhere long enough, you would see at least one frog hopping around. They were the least cautious amphibians I’d ever seen, only moving out of the way at the last minute. As the tents were not, shall we say, the most secured structures in the world, being primarily in place for shade, they got into the tents. We had no floor put down, so it wasn’t exactly a challenge.
Myself, the platoon leaders, and their crews had all hit the loopy stage of exhaustion, which wasn’t helped by the rain. We were sitting in what passed for the mess tent, some snacking, others just sitting and joking. I was sitting on one end of this, drinking hot tea from the Keurig, as Air Defense officers do.
One of the Platoon Leaders is a West Pointer, a tall fit Puerto Rican guy, fitting easily into dudebro stereotypes…until you start talking to him about culture and books. He is very smart and well-spoken. In the Army, you learn fast that people are complicated and are also very much individuals. This guy carried himself with the strange sort of dignity that West Point LTs seem to be trained in, but when it broke, it broke hilariously.
One of his crewmembers (Tactical Control Assistant; officers are Tactical Control Officers) stepped away from the table where this LT was telling West Point stories and chatting about baseball. He returned from the rain and moved back to the table was if he was going to sit down.
That was when he put the large frog on his LT’s shoulder, then bolted to another corner of the tent.
The LT jumped up from the bench with a sort of whooping scream and a stream of not-the-most-eloquent cursing (I don’t think they train them in eloquent cursing at West Point).
You wouldn’t think a grown man could make a noise like that. I’d attempt to reproduce it with letters but I don’t think I can. All conversation ceased as the TCA cracked up, unable to stand upright. The entire tent followed along, in part because the LT tried to regain his dignity, but the adrenaline rush of having cold and slimy suddenly crawling on your shoulder made it all a bit shaky. I think the frog survived, but there’s no way to know. It was a very impressive jump on the LT’s part.
I suspect it was not the only time a frog got cozy with someone sans consent on the field exercise, but it was the only time I saw it. No junior enlisted were harmed as a consequence of anything done with a frog, by the way—again, to the best of my knowledge. NCOs can and do mete out justice out of the sight of officers, for good or ill.
Oh, and you might be wondering if this Mission Readiness Exercise made us ready? Em, mrgh, um…