The Art of Mea Culpa and Conduct Unbecoming

Bruce Koloane obviously agreed to plead guilty to his three charges at his disciplinary hearing which meant that no evidence was led and, hence, no red faces, particularly for No. 1 – that is if his face could turn red.  Thinking about it, even if he was melatoninally challenged like me, he still would not
blush as he has no sh

But I digress. Pleading guilty is very useful in certain cases.

Main picture: Uit klaar parade, Officers Course, Tech Services Corp, Dec 1981

In my particular case, I had not updated my address with the army and had thus avoided being called up for camps for 3 years back in the 80’s.  They eventually tracked me down and called me in to my unit, 29 Field Workshop, for a summary trial. (Being an officer, they couldn’t just send the MP’s out to arrest me).  I reported to my unit south of Johannesburg. 

Visiting the Law Officer, I found out how they had done it. On the
blackboard were listed the six databases that they interrogated – the bastards. The two that I remember which were the most prominent were SARS and the vehicle licencing departments. The unit Law Officer gave me some good advice: if I pled guilty, the fine was R75.  If I pled not-guilty, the
sentence was virtually anything the Officer Commanding wished it to be, particularly if I had tried to sell him a pathetic and unlikely sob story.

I was marched into the Colonel’s office. This in itself is quite a pantomime. One is now on orders and is addressed as such. For those of you who are not au fait with the army I shall describe this manoeuvre. I took my position across the passage from the door and stood easy. The Law Officer opened the door and got permission to march me in.

‘Orders!’ he shouted from a metre away. I bore up, which meant I straightened my slight slouch of the stand easy position and, although still at ease (ha, ha), went rigid, awaiting the next command.

‘Orders, aaaaandag!!!!’ the Law Officer stridently continued in Afrikaans, although both he and I were English. I crashed my boot into the linoleum and brought my fists rigidly to my sides with thumbs pointing down the seams of my step outs (Formal army kit as opposed to battledress.
Stomach in, chest out, eyes level and fixed at a distance beyond the walls, mind in automaton mode. When the army ran out of money in ’82, they stopped issuing step outs and just gave the troepe extra little flashes and gee gaws to adorn their battledress with.) The years rolled back and that year
of intensive training and drill on officer’s course reasserted itself.

An explanation to the readers: when issuing drill commands, the person /formation is first addressed to get their attention as in yes, I’m speaking to you. This ranges from troep through battalion, all the way to the SADF if ned be. Individually, you are referred to by rank and not name.

Although I was a Loot, that day I was on Orders, hence the epithet. Having got your attention, they proceed to issue the instruction. The first part is dragged out a bit so that you know what’s coming and the last bit screamed with a sudden finality to give the correct timing. This is the tricky bit as
you have to issue it on the correct foot. For example, a HALT consists of crashing the right foot to the ground next to the left foot. If issued on the right foot, the left foot has to first swing through before the right foot can be brought down into an ankle straining thump. As you can imagine, it’s tricky enough on the parade ground, but in the obstacle rich environment
of the office, the Law Officer really had to have his wits about him. Once he started me marching

like a Duracell bunny, with my arms swinging up parallel with the ground, according to my training – and I wasn’t going to be NAAFI 1 here in case the Colonel took offence – I would take two paces to cross the passage and then a further one or maybe two inside the office before he would have to
smartly command a left turn, a further two paces and then a halt to be rounded off with a right face.

If a fly in his mouth or a cough afflicted his throat at the moment critique of issuing the left turn command, I would be obliged to march through the wall behind the Colonel. If he just got the timing wrong, I would turn late and have to march through the Colonel’s desk. Not a good outcome for him
or the Colonel and, more importantly, me.

‘Orders! Vorwaarts mmmaars! Links, regs.’
‘Orders! Liiinks dra-ai.’ To be followed immediately by, ‘HALT!!!!!’
To the relief of the three parties concerned, the Law Officer had managed to safely negotiate the pitfalls of office drilling and brought me to a halt in front of the desk, albeit slightly off centre.
Actually, irrespective of the timing of his commands, it required a bit of help from the accused, me, to pull off the choreography as if we had been practicing it all day.

With that little pantomime over we got down to the next pantomime – the real business of the afternoon. With the Colonel looking sternly on and me looking sternly at the wall above and behind his head, the Law Officer read out the charge and asked me how I pled.
‘SKULDIG, KOLONEL!’ my words bravely coming out of my mouth in Bold UPPER CASE and at attention. This was no time for mealy mouthed slackness and sloping italics.
The Colonel slumped slightly, disappointed that he couldn’t take out on me his frustrations of his loveless marriage and a country that was falling to pieces around him. Nevertheless, he tried mightily as he harangued me about duty to God and country etc to which I either meekly said ‘Ja Kolonel!’ or ‘Nee Kolonel!’ while studying the brick pointing on the institutional facebrick wall behind him. It was like straf PT all over again – without the pushups. No matter how much they kakked on you, it was just a time equation. Irrespective of what you did, within reason, they would continue
until the allotted time was up. And so is was with the Colonel. He eventually ran out of things to say and pronounced a R75 fine.
‘Dankie Kolonel,’ I obsequiously replied. In disgust he signed the paperwork. Job done. The Law Officer about turned me and marched me smartly back into the passage – with a bit of help from the now guilty party again.

That was the best R75 that I ever spent.

To further signify their displeasure and extract their revenge, I was immediately called up for a month camp. Now I was wise. I moved addresses again but did not notify them to buy a bit more time. I still had 660 days of camps left but I was hoping that I could drag it out a bit more.

The R75 a pop when they caught up with me was a good deal. Luckily 1989 came along before they found me again and PW had his ‘hart beroerte’.  The rest is history. Phew! They never did notify me that I was put into reserve or to pasture or surplus to requirements. Perhaps they couldn’t locate me again and didn’t care anymore.

My ‘punishment’ camp was actually a cinch. For one month, I was in charge of the guard detail at the unit HQ in Bez Valley. At this stage in my life, I had designed missile seeker heads and helicopter gunsights, but found myself in charge of 12 guards. I would take roll call and inspect the guards after breakfast. Hair, boots and gun clean – the normal army kak. During the day I would tour the grounds and check the gate guards when I got bored. In my civvy job I was working on a program to identify the vibration modes of the Rooivalk attack helicopter from vibration data. I brought my PC and printer in, set up a nice little work station in the guard office and continued my work uninterrupted.

There were few highlights except for the last night when I decided to organise a little something to remember for my troops. That afternoon I changed into mufti, went into Hillbrow and organised three escorts to do a strip show and provide any services that the guys desired.  There was much
standing at attention that night but not much guarding.  

Being the guy who organised the ‘knees up’, I was forced, under durex, to endure a lap dance and I admit to squeezing a nubile breast out of scientific interest, mind you, (checking if it was real) but then I left the guys to themselves. – and myself to myself.

Luckily, the Colonel didn’t find out otherwise I would’ve had to plead serious mea culpa and I don’t think I would have got off lightly that time. The Military Disciplinary Code specifies all manner of offences but none specifically address strippers, or de-dress them for that matter. However, the military are old hands at this sort of thing and they have a catch all offence. No matter what section they charge you under, they always add this as an alternative charge just in case the main one doesn’t stick. It’s a charge that is almost impossible to defend against. It’s a case of you’re f…….d if you did and you’re f………d if you didn’t.

Field exercise, Officer’s Course, near Botswana – early morning ablutions

This is Section 46, to wit:
Conduct prejudicial to military discipline
Any person who by act or omission causes actual or potential prejudice to good order and military discipline, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year.

Any officer who behaves in a manner unbecoming the character of an officer commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.

Even a defence of being an upstanding officer that night would have left me in a sticky situation and ensured my comeuppance. Oh, to be young and irresponsible – mea culpa (my bad).

[1] NAAFI – No Ambition And Fuck-all Interest

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