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Winter and Spring

In the winter and spring, all submariners desiring to heighten their combat readiness - every single one of them, from big to small - grab crowbars and shovels and head for the snow and ice. Here in a flurry of military precision they break it up into smaller pieces and toss it aside. In this way, their combat skills are constantly sharpened, and in this way they are able to make a smooth transition to a state of combat readiness.

Three sailors and some shovels are better than any snowplow. Those aren’t my words, those are the words of experience. And, as we all know, there’s no substitute for someone else’s experience.

Still, you shouldn’t think that our rank-and-file sailors were the only ones out everyday playing around in the snow. Even graying captains, their eyes filled with tears from the wind, would take metal shovels and with a compelling grunt heave the snow to the side.

Under these conditions of exertion the only thing that saves you from heatstroke is the special slit in the back of your overcoat which provides a necessary ventilation. This is a very wise slit. Historically, it served two vital purposes: (1) to cover the side of a rider’s horse; and (2) to make it possible to take a dump in a field. Really, I don’t know which is more important. All I know is that this overcoat is what we’ll be wearing when the time comes to do battle.

Of course, we could have asked the country to supply us with a bulldozer. (I mean for clearing the roads. For me the word “battle” immediately and uncontrollably calls to mind the image of a crowbar, then snowdrifts, and I begin to dream of bulldozers.)

Of course, we could have asked the country to supply us with a bulldozer, but the country might have raised its eyebrows. “Bulldozer?” the country might have asked. “What could you sub guys possibly need a bulldozer for?” And the country would have been right.

So with that, we would grab our crowbars and head back to the ice.

Eventually, though, we did get a bulldozer. In our division there was this guy, Neperechitailo, who was responsible for all classified documents. The guy was unbelievable. He could simply lose classified material, I mean just drop a whole briefcase of secret documents overboard, and then write them all off because he had connections anywhere and everywhere: friends and acquaintances and fellow sailors.

Of course sooner or later the briefcase would wash up on a beach somewhere in Kildin; but not until much later, when Neperechitailo had already received his discharge to the reserves.

He had the most innocent blue eyes you’d ever want to see.

The Division Commander would simply tremble when he saw the son-of-a-bitch. He would stop his car, call him over, and start chewing him out. The commander would chew him out for all things past and present. And future. He would chew him out so that feathers flew. He would chew him out in full view of the whole radioactive zone where our subs were stationed, where the ice-covered road lay covered in ice, and where we just happened to be standing in our overcoats with our crowbars.

Neperechitailo stood at attention and listened silently to this diatribe, and then, when he could listen no more, he spoke up:

“Commander, sir! Permission to fetch a bulldozer?!”

“Bulldozer?!!” the commander stopped his diatribe in mid-chew. “What bulldozer?!”

“Well, to clean the base...”

“And what would it require?” said the Division Commander without missing a beat.

“I’ll need a can of pork sausages and your car...”

Our division commander understood the implications almost before they were implied - that’s why he was our commander. He got out of the car, took Neperechitailo’s briefcase with classified materials, and stood there to wait.

Neperechitailo climbed into the commander’s car and drove off to get a bulldozer. Along the way he stopped in to the mess tent for a can of pork sausages. Thirty minutes later he drove up in the car, and behind him was a bulldozer that he’d hired for the can of pork sausages.

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