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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Huh? Drivers Demand Fair Pay from Walmart? Say What?

Image: nydailynews.com
Only in La La Land, the People's Republic of California. According to what I've seen published, Walmart is one of the top companies in the country for driver pay. I've read that their average annual compensation is between $70,000 and $80,000! Walmart runs a tight ship and their drivers work hard for their money. But this is ridiculous. How many millions of dollars will Walmart have to spend to defend itself? Story thanks to truckersreport.com Links provided:

Drivers Demand Fair Wages: Class Action Suit Filed Against Wal-Mart

The war over driver pay and minimum wage has raged off and on for decades now, but it looks like the tide may shift soon as a new legal battle is about to start in California courts. A judge has just approved class action status for a lawsuit being brought against Wal-Mart Transportation by a group of drivers claiming that Wal-Mart is violating state law by failing to pay them minimum wage.

You’ve probably heard this argument before, this ‘new’ case was actually first filed back in 2008, but it was only approved for class action status last week, which was the push that was needed to get the ball rolling.

Wal-Mart drivers are paid by the mile like most of the drivers in this industry, and also receive pay for any activity that Wal-Mart deems compensable. Some non-compensable duties drivers must perform are pre and post-trip inspections, completing paperwork, rest breaks, fueling, and maintaining and washing their rigs.

Again, all of this is fairly standard in the industry, but the plaintiffs in the case argue that while minimum wage requirements are satisfied if only driving time is taken into account, when you count the so-called non-compensable duties as part of the work day, Wal-Mart’s pay falls short.

It’s not only the below-minimum-wage pay that drivers are claiming is illegal. They also take issue with the lack of state mandated paid meal breaks, and failing to provide accurate wage statements.

There isn’t anything really remarkable about Wal-Mart’s treatment of its drivers, but that’s precisely what makes this case so important. It’s a high-profile company with a large class action suit being brought against it for the payment practices that the majority of carriers employ. If this domino falls, it could have a huge impact on the rest of the industry.

 http://www.thetruckersreport.com/drivers-demand-fair-wages

More in depth article below thanks to The Trucker.com Links provided:

9/17/2014
Truck drivers employed by Wal-Mart have been granted class action status in a lawsuit over the employer’s alleged failure to pay minimum wage in violation of the California Labor Code.
The California district court determined that the drivers met the requirements of Rule 23 after concluding that they identified common questions of law and fact concerning the alleged minimum wage violations and waiting-time penalties. The court also found that common questions regarding Wal-Mart’s pay formula meant that common issues predominated over individualized issues as required by Rule 23(b)(3).
However, certification was denied as  a class action for the employee’s wage statement claims.
Former truck drivers employed by Wal-Mart brought a class action suit alleging that the mega retailer violated various provisions of the California Labor Code and Business and Professional Code by failing to pay minimum wage, provide meal and rest breaks, and provide accurate wage statements.
According to the employees, Wal-Mart uniformly applied policies, detailed in its driver pay manuals, that rendered the issues in this case appropriate for class action. Specifically, they alleged that Wal-Mart’s piece-rate pay policies did not provide minimum wages and did not pay drivers for certain mandatory activities, in violation of California law. Wal-Mart pays its drivers based on mileage, activity pay (for duties Wal-Mart deems compensable), and non-activity pay (for events at Wal-Mart dispatch and home offices or unplanned events). The drivers contended that Wal-Mart’s piece-rate pay policies did not pay drivers minimum wage for all of the work they perform for tasks such as pre- and post-trip inspections; rest breaks; fueling; washing the tractors; weighing the tractors; completing mandatory paperwork; wait time and layover periods. When drivers are given a driving assignment, they also receive a projected estimated time of arrival. Drivers are to look at the estimated time only as an estimate and adjust it with the knowledge that they need a 10-minute rest break and/or a meal break under California law. The drivers have full autonomy to make changes to the estimated times.
Tasks including fueling, washing, and weighing trucks are not separately paid. Additionally, drivers must remain in the tractor when fueling at a regional distribution center and may be required to fuel their own tractor when fueling at a grocery distribution center. Drivers are also responsible for the cleanliness of the tractor and trailer and must wash them once per week, or as often as needed.
As to the waiting time issue, drivers are not separately compensated for all time spent waiting. Under the 2001Driver Pay Manual, the first two hours of wait time after arrival at a store, an hour after arrival at a vendor and when waiting at a return center, is non-compensable. The manual further states that drivers are not paid for wait time when routine scheduled maintenance is performed on equipment, when undergoing a DOT inspection, or for any time spent at a highway weigh scale.
Drivers were paid $42 for 10-hour layover periods. A layover is earned when taking a mandatory DOT break and is not paid in conjunction with any other type of pay.
In additional to an overall class of California drivers, the employees also sought to certify a waiting-time penalty sub-class. Wal-Mart argued that the employees’ questions were not capable of class resolution because the question of whether drivers were paid for various tasks required individualized inquiries. It also argued that the policies in its manuals were merely “guidelines” and that the employees’ inquiries required driver-by-driver and task-by-task analysis.
The court determined that the employees met the commonality requirement for the proposed class of drivers and found that the employees identified common questions of law and fact concerning minimum wages, including: whether Wal-Mart’s piece-rate pay plan violated California’s minimum wage laws by failing to pay drivers minimum wage for all hours worked; whether Wal-Mart’s drivers are entitled to payment of at least minimum wages for all hours worked; and whether Wal-Mart requires drivers to perform services during DOT-mandated layovers, for which drivers are paid less than California’s minimum wage.
Similarly, the court concluded that the drivers had also identified a common question of law and fact concerning waiting-time penalties: whether Wal-Mart violated Labor Code Sec. 203 by willfully failing to pay all wages due and owing to each driver whose employment ended at any time during the class period.
Again, the court found that the employees’ question can be resolved on a class-wide basis, and so they satisfied the commonality requirement for the waiting-time penalty subclass.
Observing that the employees’ theory of recovery involved Wal-Mart’s common practice or policy denying all class members minimum wage for all hours worked and that the  plaintiffs were subject to the policies and suffered the same injury as a result of the policies, the court found that they met the typicality requirement. Additionally, because Wal-Mart did not challenge the adequacy of the representative plaintiffs to serve as class representative, the court found that they met the adequacy requirements of Rule 23(a)(4).
With respect to the driver class, Wal-Mart first argued that the plaintiffs had not offered a way to determine which drivers performed which tasks or the amount of time spent on those tasks in California, so they could not meet the predominance requirement. However, the court found its argument unpersuasive. It found that the plaintiffs were California residents and worked out of distribution centers located in California. Further, it found that the plaintiffs presumptively enjoyed the protections of IWC regulations, so Wal-Mart’s argument presented no bar to the predominance requirement. The court also rejected Wal-Mart’s argument that the employees’ minimum wage claims required an hour-by-hour, driver-by-driver, and task-by-task analysis of how each plaintiff spent his workday, and these individual questions would overwhelm any common questions.
Instead, the court concluded that Wal-Mart’s pay formula raised common questions, and these common questions predominated over individual questions of whether certain drivers received additional discretionary pay after requesting such payments, or whether some drivers completed tasks like paperwork during wait-time or attended to personal phone calls during layovers. Accordingly, the court found that the plaintiffs satisfied the predominance requirement for their minimum wage claims. However, the court denied the employees’ motion for class certification for claims of inaccurate wage statements because they did not show that class members shared a common injury as a result of the missing wage statement information that could be adjudicated on a class-wide basis or that there were common legal question that predominated over the individualized issues for plaintiffs’ wage statement claims.
Wal-Mart also challenged whether the plaintiffs had established predominance for their waiting-time claims under California Labor Code Sec. 203. According to the plaintiffs, Wal-Mart’s policy of failing to pay drivers at least the minimum wage for all hours worked constituted a violation of Sec. 203. They suggested that Wal-Mart instituted a payment system that ensured its drivers were not paid the minimum wage. Under this framing of the waiting-time issue, the court found that common questions predominated and individualized inquiries into each driver’s underpayment were not required.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

http://www.thetrucker.com/News/Stories/2014/9/17/Wal-MarttruckdriversgrantedclassactionstatusinCaliforniaminimumwagelawsuit.aspx


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Florida Woman Cheats Owner-Operators out of nearly $250,000

Image: bizjournals.com
From the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida

Tallahassee Woman Indicted for Using Fraudulent IRS Stamps

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 2, 2014
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA– United States Attorney Pamela C. Marsh, Northern District of Florida, announced that Elisa Christina Avila Jackson, 30, of Tallahassee, Florida, was arraigned this afternoon in court after being charged by a federal grand jury with five counts of wire fraud and one count of possessing a counterfeit Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) stamp.
The indictment alleges that between June 7, 2011, and February 11, 2014, Jackson conducted a scheme to defraud owners of large tractor trailers around the State of Florida of monies that were to be paid to the IRS relating to the federal Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax.  Jackson operated Bee’s Carrier Permitting and Licensing, Inc. (“BCPL”), which purportedly provided assistance to owners of large tractor trailers in preparing and filing their annual applications for registration with the State of Florida.  As mandated by federal regulation, prior to issuing a vehicle registration, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles required BCPL and others applying for annual large tractor trailer registrations to provide a copy of a tax form stamped by the IRS as proof that the owner’s federal Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax had been paid.
The indictment further alleges that Jackson collected from BCPL customers the amount due and owing to the IRS for the Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax and promised to pay that amount to the IRS.  However, rather than paying the Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax to the IRS, Jackson created fraudulent IRS forms bearing a counterfeit IRS numbered remittance stamp, which forms falsely reflected that these taxes had been remitted to the IRS.  The indictment also charges that through this scheme, Jackson fraudulently obtained approximately $248,000.00.
Counts One through Five of the indictment charge Jackson with wire fraud.  For each of these counts, if convicted, Jackson faces a term of imprisonment of not more than twenty (20) years, a period of supervised release of up to three (3) years, a fine of up to $250,000, and a $100 special monetary assessment.  Count Six of the indictment charges Jackson with possession of an IRS stamp with intent to defraud.  If convicted on this count, Jackson faces a term of imprisonment of not more than five (5) years, a period of supervised release of up to three (3) years, a fine of up to $10,000, and a $100 special monetary assessment.
The trial of this case is scheduled for November 3, 2014, before the Honorable Robert L. Hinkle.
The indictment results from an investigation by the IRS-Criminal Investigation, with the assistance of the Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Bureau of Commercial Vehicle and Driver Services.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jason Beaton.
An indictment is merely an allegation by a grand jury that a defendant has committed a violation of federal criminal law and is not evidence of guilt.  The defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial in a court of law.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Truckers Celebrating Holidays Away From Home

Image: cardsdirect.com
The following is a guest post thanks to and written by Caroline Hill. The company she works for owns and operates an online job board for jobs in the trucking industry called AllTruckJobs.com. Check them out at the links provided:

Some folks decide to spend holidays away from home to do something different. Like maybe they feel that celebrating Thanksgiving in Hawaii would make them more thankful…or maybe Christmas in the Caribbean suits people who move to the beat of their own drummer. But the reality is, celebrating holidays away from home is not a choice for many; but rather, just another part of their job. Truckers commonly have to keep moving even when most are able to have time off celebrating with families.   

When an individual chooses a trucking career, they usually understand the endeavor they are venturing into.  Typically, truckers are away from home for about three weeks a month. A lot of times there’s no choice when it comes to getting home for weekends and holidays. After all, the holiday season wouldn’t even happen if it wasn’t for the truck drivers supplying store shelves with all the things we need.

The holiday season causes a lot of stress and it especially can take a toll on the morale of truck drivers. The season leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. can cause increase in deadlines and extra loads. Worse yet, anxiety builds, as truckers rarely know whether or not they’ll be spending the holiday at home or not until last minute.  

So how do truckers far from home celebrate holidays if not at home?  And how do they cope with the additional stress that comes along with it?

A lot of truck drivers come up with creative solutions to missing a chance to be home for the holidays. Like many military families, they learn to schedule holiday celebrations for days they will be home. For instance, a driver may not be able to be home for December 25th to celebrate Christmas with his wife and kids. But, maybe a few weeks prior or afterward they can schedule their own special day. In some cases, celebrating on a different day brings the true meaning to the purpose of the season; highlighting the main focus of holidays, which is time, spent with loved ones.

Another solution for beating the missed-holiday blues is to find a support network of others who are going through the same thing.  Finding individuals who are going through similar emotions is a great way to find comfort.  And thank goodness for the technology we have now that allows modern drivers to video chat with mobile devices to family and friends. Now, at least a driver can see their special people in their lives, even if it’s only on screen.

The best way to get over the seasonal blues that come along with trucking during the holidays, is to realize that although this is one of the hardest parts of your career, there’s still a lot to be thankful for. In the grand scheme of things, you have food in your belly, a steady career and income, and a warm place to stay. Although you may be missing your loved ones dearly, it’s important to be reminded that AT LEAST you have those people in your life. And, if that’s not enough reason to keep truckin’ during the holiday season…I don’t know what is.

For more like this, check out “The Tractor Factor” blog at https://www.alltruckjobs.com/blog/

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ticket Camera Companies - Amping Up The Rhetoric

ncbussafety.org
Please, before you believe the scare tactics of these companies, examine some of the real facts, as outlined below. The real purpose behind all this is revenue, revenue and more revenue. To the camera companies, state and local governments, and to "friendly" politicians. As in the name of campaign contributions and favors. It's more of the same from the ones that started "red light" and "speed zone" camera revenue generators. Example: put up a red light camera at an intersection and then reduce the time of the yellow light!

Article thanks to James C.Walker and the National Motorists Association. Help support the cause, you can join for FREE at http://www.motorists.org/
 

Cutting through the Emotional Rhetoric

Editor’s Note: The ticket camera companies are masters at exploiting the public’s emotional responses to traffic accidents and fatalities. Nothing like conjuring up a little fear and outrage to sell a few “safety” cameras, especially when the potential victims are school children. Nowhere is this cynicism more apparent than with school bus “stop arm” cameras that record alleged passing violations at school bus stops.

The camera companies would have us believe that school children are particularly vulnerable to careless motorists who don’t stop for the bus, but the truth is most school-age pedestrian fatalities involving school buses are caused by the bus. We’ve run the numbers here. Executive Director of the NMA Foundation Jim Walker provides his own provocative assessment of the safety value of schol bus cameras in this letter to officials in Rockingham County, Virginia.

Dear Rockingham County Officials,

I have several points.

1) Please follow the math carefully to relate the probability that the school bus stop arm cameras could prevent an injury or fatality to a school child in Rockingham County.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports School Transportation-Related Crashes each year, for a 10 year period. The latest report is NHTSA report # 811890 covering 2003 through 2012. It shows that 36 under-age-19 pedestrians were killed by passing cars in that 10 year period.  The numbers in the last 5 annual reports have been 36, 35, 32, 35, and 36 so the numbers are very stable over time. Note that this is less than one fatality per state per 10 years by passing vehicles, an extremely rare event.

Note also in this same 10 year time frame 83 under-age-19 pedestrians were killed by the school bus or a vehicle acting as the school bus, so 70 percent of the young pedestrian fatalities were caused by the bus, not by passing vehicles. The dangers to children are much higher from the buses than from other vehicles.

NHTSA does not produce reports for injuries of under-age-19 pedestrians in School Transportation-Related Crashes, but nationwide there are about 80 injuries for each fatality in all types of transportation crashes. It is likely that the number of such injuries for the decade of 2003-2012 is somewhere around 36 x 80 = 2,880. Dividing 2,880 by 51 for the states plus DC, and by 10 for the time frame, means an average of about 5.6 injuries per year per state for under-age-19 pedestrians in crashes with passing vehicles.

In the latest numbers I could find, Rockingham County had about 11,400 K-12 school children, so let’s look at the proportion for Rockingham County. The United States has about 54,876,000 K-12 school children, so Rockingham represents 11,400 divided by 54,876,000 = .000207741 of the countrywide total.

For fatalities: 36 x .000207741 = .007478676, so if every child in Rockingham County rides a school bus and the cameras prevented 100 percent of the fatalities from passing cars, the county would prevent .007478676 fatalities per decade, or .0007478676 fatalities per year. This means you could expect to prevent one fatality about every 1,337 years with the cameras.

For injuries: 2,880 x .000207741 = .59829408, so if every child in Rockingham County rides a school bus and the cameras prevented 100 percent of the injuries from passing cars, the county would prevent .59829408 injuries per decade or .059829408 injuries per year. This means you could expect to prevent one injury about every 16.7 years with the cameras.

I hope this proportional math makes it clear that any promises made to you or any hopes you have yourselves about actual safety results in Rockingham County in any reasonable time frame from the stop arm cameras are false. The numbers of injuries and fatalities caused by passing vehicles are very small overall, and Rockingham County has a very small proportion of the school age children in the nation.

2) In the above math, there are some assumptions that simply won't be true.

a) It is likely that not every child rides the bus every school day.

b) The cameras will not stop 100 percent of the possible injuries or fatalities. Some of the crashes involve drivers that are DUI, medically impaired, heavily distracted by something, or even fleeing police. The chance that a ticket would be mailed to them after the fact will not affect those crashes, because those drivers either didn't see the warning flashers on the bus at all, or deliberately ignored them.

c) Bad weather will sometimes cause some drivers to under-estimate their stopping distance, and they will slide into the danger area even when they see the warning flashers.

Ticket camera companies often promise a lot, but deliver a lot less, or sometimes deliver nothing of actual value for safety.

In short, in my opinion, the emotional appeal of stop arm cameras is very strong but the probabilities of actual safety results in Rockingham County are very near to zero.

Respectfully submitted,

James C. Walker
Life Member, National Motorists Association
Board Member and Executive Director, National Motorists Association Foundation

 

                




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Every Day a Holiday, Every Meal a Feast - Free Chapter!

11/11/2014 Today is Veteran's Day. This is a re-post from 8/15/2012 about a relative of mine who put his life on the line for our country during President Reagan's years in the 1980's. He wrote an excellent 400 page book about his experiences, of which you can read a free chapter below. It's a great read and I had a hard time putting it down! Enjoy:
 
True experiences of a boy from Wisconsin growing up and becoming a US Marine during the Reagan years of the 80's. Chapter 104 is posted below. Enjoy! Author is Edward "Jack" Dinse. Previously posted. Now, Amazon Prime readers can read the entire book for free, also instant Kindle purchase available.

#104  Thank You Louis L’Amour
We went to Marine Corps Base, 29 Palms for live fire training that would culminate in a CAX, (Combined Arms Exercise). But before that, we had to complete several training cycles on a platoon and company level. Being in Headquarters Platoon, meant that we mainly went through the company portions. This gave us enlisted men more downtime. That gave Captain Thompson ideas about how to use us in other roles. Since I had been through sniper training, he thought that would be a good time to practice my craft. There was no specific course set up for this, so he came up with his own plan. I would be dropped off at the base of one of the hills that looked like giant Hershey’s Kisses near Lavik Lake. I would make my way to the top with my rifle, web-gear, binoculars and a radio to act as a lookout. How this was to hone my skills as a sniper is anybody’s guess, but this was the plan and I was to be ready before first light. Actually, I was to be in place by first light, the jeep that would take me there was due to leave Tent City an hour before! I checked my gear and filled canteens the evening before. I even borrowed two extra canteens for the day. I hit the rack early knowing the new day was starting early!
I signed out my rifle from the Armorer and a radio from the Communications Chief just before getting in the jeep the next morning. Neither of these Marines were happy to get up extra early just to sign out my gear and I heard about it from them! I shrugged my shoulders and told them it was the Captain’s idea. I checked the radio and even took an extra battery because I knew that the one in the radio never lasts very long. I had two MRE meals in my backpack along with the extra battery, a small camo net and the binos. I had the company radio frequencies, the emergency frequency and a map of the area stowed in my cover. I was good to go when I got into the passenger seat of the jeep. The ride was uneventful all the way out to my post. It was a long way from Tent City, through several training areas, and at least twenty miles on the trails. This was my first trip to 29 Palms, but I had been out to Lavic Lake three times so far driving the blade tank. I had even bulldozed a couple of tank positions just below the hill I was to watch from. Because of this, I thought nothing of being left alone for most of the day. I was to be picked up at around 1500 Hours by a jeep sent from Headquarters. I started climbing as the jeep driver turned the jeep around and then watched as it disappeared into the darkness.
I made my way to the top mostly by feel, hoping the whole time that I did not encounter a sidewinder or a scorpion! I did not think that a sidewinder would slither up a rock pile, but the scorpions seemed to be all over if you looked hard enough for them! I made it to the top in one piece and set myself up just below the peak, where I could still see all around the mound. I moved some rocks around to make a small hole to sit in. Then I took the camo net and spread it over the top, holding the corners in place with rocks. It would blend in from the air and at a distance while providing me some shade. All I had to worry about was the wind making it ripple, so I dropped some small rocks in the slack parts to keep it taunt. I set up the radio next, trying to make the antenna jut out at an angle instead of straight up, which is a dead give away to anyone looking for an antenna! I called the company HQ to let them know that I was in place and asked for a radio check. I got a garbled reply, but I understood enough to know that I was breaking up to them also. There was a ridgeline of the Chocolate Mountains between us, so I assumed that was my problem. But since there would be three of our platoons training today, I was sure I could relay any message through one of them. As I sat back and enjoyed the sunrise, I wished that I had brought my camera, even though it was no picnic carrying the radio and pack up the hill!
I may have enjoyed the sunrise, but by 1000 Hours it was hot! After all, this was the Mojave Desert and it was the summer! I watched all morning and saw nothing. Once I thought that I saw dust and diesel smoke through the binoculars, but it was much closer to Tent City than it was to me so I had to assume that it was one of our platoons. Around Noon, I heard jet engines. Four A-4s flew past my perch and dropped their ordinance on Lavic Lake. One passed close enough to where I sat that I could see the insignia of VMFA-214: the Blacksheep Squadron. At first I thought it was great, they had dropped their 500 lb bombs just below me. Then I wondered if Captain Thompson had cleared my being there through the base Training Coordinator! If he didn’t, that meant that I was part of an impact area! Shit! But for now these pilots were bombing from about the same altitude or lower than I was at. I decided to get on the horn and report the activity, maybe it would get someone’s attention if I was not supposed to be here! I keyed the mike and tried to raise headquarters. Nothing. I tried 2nd Platoon’s frequency with the same results. I turned the squelch down and realized that the battery was dead. No problem, that is why I hauled that other heavy battery all the way up here in my backpack. Ten minutes later I had the batteries swapped out and found that the “new” battery was dead too! This was really nice! What in the hell was I supposed to do now, send up smoke signals? I was up a creek without a paddle! Okay, I was up a hill without a radio – same thing. The new battery had still been in its’ wrapper, it was brand new! Well, it had not been used anyway. For all I know, it might have been made during the Viet Nam War! Either way I was screwed. All I could do now was to wait for my ride to show up.
1500 Hours came and went with no jeep in the area. Maybe there was something going on and I was going to be picked up late. I hope this isn’t going to take too long, I was down to one canteen of water and had been drinking the one before sparingly! By 1600 Hours I was swapping batteries again and hoping to get out one last message. Still nothing. By this time I knew I had real problems! I had packed most of my gear before 1500, but now I went through things again. If I was going back to Tent City, I thought it prudent to plan on walking in! And if I was hiking back, I was sure as hell was not about to carry back two dead radio batteries! I dumped the one out of the pack and took the other out of the radio. I left them in the bottom of my little hole so that they could be retrieved later if it became an issue. I stowed the radio in the pack and surveyed the remains of my MRE meals. I still had one entrĂ©e, Beef Stew, and a couple of condiments; a jelly and a cheese packet. The packets of coffee and powdered creamer were useless, so I opened them and dumped the contents on the ground. I kept the sugar packets for the energy they might provide. I put what I could use in the cargo pockets of my trousers, the trash I stowed in a pocket of the pack. The binoculars and web gear went inside the backpack with the radio. I finally took down the camo net that had provided shade for me all day long. Once the gear was put away, I descended to the desert floor. Pack on my back, rifle slung over my shoulder and a full canteen hung at my hip, I saddled up for the long walk ahead of me. I still hoped to see dust from a jeep at any moment.
Now I had no idea about a number of things as I set out. I had no idea if a jeep was on its’ way for me, so I kept on the dirt trail so that I would meet it part way back. I did not know how far I would go before I ran out of daylight, so I set a good pace. I was not sure how long the water would last, but I vowed not to drink until I had to and not too much when I did drink. I did not know how far I had to walk, but I knew that was over twenty miles. I was not sure how I would navigate in the dark, but I had a map and matches from the MREs. All of these things I felt I could overcome. There were a few things that held unanswered questions for me. What about the sidewinders once the sun set and they came out to hunt for food? Would I have to slow down once it got dark? And then there was the big question; would I be walking into a “live” impact area? What about any unexploded ordinance that I might not see in the dark? How long could I jog before dark? Would jogging use up too much energy? Should I cache some of this gear to save weight? No matter what questions I came up with, I knew I had to move and not wait. I could not afford to take a chance on staying overnight. I would just be starting a new day with fewer supplies if no one happened to showed up. It was still hot but it was getting cooler and would get better as I went. It would be impossible to walk that far through the hot part of the day with only one canteen of water. And if I had to wait until tomorrow evening, I would be too dehydrated to have a decent chance. It came down to a simple choice; do I put my life in someone else’s hands or do I take care of myself? And since there had been no jeep to pick me up, I knew that I really had no option. Live or die, it was my choice.
I started out at a quick “route step” with all of my gear. It would be just my luck for it to be lost, stolen or destroyed before I could return to retrieve it. After the first mile, I turned to see how far I had gone. It was disappointing to see that the “Hershey Kisses” still appeared to be very close yet. And although the air was cooler, the heat was radiating up from the ground I walked on. It had all day long to absorb as much heat as possible, and now it was releasing it. This made for hot walking now and it would attract snakes, lizards and insects later on as everything else cooled off. Well, at least I had no problems following the road for now. Not that it was much of a road, just two dirt tracks pounded to dust by years of use by tanks, trucks, jeeps, halftracks and everything else the Marine Corps drove. I was worried about later on, once it got dark. I knew that there was at least one main branch that ran away from the main trail. Most trails branched into this one as I headed toward Tent City. I knew that one branch would also take me where I wanted to go, but it would add an extra mile or two if I took it by accident. There was an intersection that I must turn South at, but I should be there in an hour or two, long before dark. I stepped out with determination and put another mile behind me, and now the distance seemed noticeable. I just kept hoping to see a jeep headed in my direction! Two more miles and a half hour later, I could see the twin peaks where I started, but I could also see the lava flow to the North of a small pass I would get to a couple of miles before that critical turn. As I walked on, I remembered why I liked being in tanks over being a grunt! I hated walking, but it was better than when we were in bootcamp where a long line of recruits tried to keep up with the Company Commander! I could make my own pace here, and walking beat the hell out of dying while waiting for a jeep to appear! I made the turn southward as the sun hung bright red over the horizon. It would be setting within an hour and I would have some light for about an hour after that. I took a swig from the canteen and was grateful that the air was cooler now. Even the road was losing some of its’ built up heat. Now it only felt like a hot grill instead of a blast furnace under me! Thank God for small things!
I had made a good deal of headway by the time it grew dark. I was on the main trail toward Tent City and Mainside beyond that. I was hoping to see lights from the airstrip or Mainside to help guide me, but as of yet I had nothing. I had slowed down a little as it grew dark, so I kicked it up a bit after I took a sip from the canteen. Warm water, whoopee! I opened the beef stew at the corner of the package and squeezed the contents through the hole, into my mouth. My last meal? As much as I like beef stew, I sure hoped not! I told myself that this was the hardest part of the walk back to camp, it easily was the longest. I knew that the Chocolate Mountains were to my left, but the rest of the terrain was pretty much the same through here. When the trail passed through some small washout gullies, I would know that I was getting close. But for now I had fairly smooth landscape to pass through. This was an area where a lot of trails joined this main one toward Tent City. Maybe I could catch a ride if anyone was coming in from night maneuvers. That is if they didn’t run me over first! Now that I thought about it, I had not heard much for weapons fire in quite awhile. Good, let’s keep it that way! Now I thought about the sidewinders coming out to warm up on the trail. Damn, I was much better off not thinking of that! I shuffled my feet to kick up debris to keep from surprising any snakes. I soon gave this up though; it slowed me down and took too much energy. Well, I would just take my chances I guess. I tried to put it out of my mind, thinking about the mental picture of the trail in my mind. I was getting thirsty again, but decided to eat the cheese spread instead. And although it did have moisture in it, it also had a lot of salt and it did not help much. I was still thirsty. One more thing not to think about,
Somewhere along this stretch, I really started to get tired. I was not just sleepy, but just getting bone tired. If they would not be all on my case about it, I would dump the pack and all of its’ contents. I would leave the crap right here and move on. Not an option, so I kept moving. My pace was not what it was when I started out, but I was moving anyway. I thought about sitting down and taking a break, but I knew better because I would rest for too long. No, it was better to just keep walking. Besides, my eyes were adjusted to the darkness now and I could tell where Mainside was. So if I did miss Tent City, I should make it to Mainside instead, since it was only a couple of miles further. But I really did not want to go any further than I had to. I still stayed on the trail; I was still playing it safe and hoping for a ride. I ate the grape jelly and took a sip of water, then a second sip. I had half a canteen left and was still in good shape there. I was wishing for something to give me an energy boost when I heard machinegun fire. “Be careful what you wish for buddy boy.” I stepped it up a notch, (or half a notch), and thought about that burst of fire. I had been daydreaming and it took me by surprise. Then I heard a second burst. It was behind me, not very far away. I turned to look and saw tracers arc out into the darkness, then I heard the shots. .50 caliber and a mile away, maybe a little more. The tracers were headed away from me so I had nothing to worry about, unless they changed their direction of fire! Could they be vehicle mounted and moving? I didn’t think so; I would have heard tanks on the move. I didn’t think there were any amtracs out here, but I might have heard those also. Now if they were the new LAVs, then I might be in trouble, they were much quieter. It was probably a grunt heavy machinegun section. None of them should be firing in my direction as long as I stayed on the trail, I hoped. What I was worried about was the possibility of someone shooting from a range card toward “troops on the road”. It was possible; we usually set up our range cards with possible troop movement areas laid out. I headed away from the firing at a good pace!
I don’t know how long I had been walking now; it had seemed like an eternity by now. I had probably done a bit more than three miles an hour for a few hours and over two miles an hour for the rest of the time. I had hit the little branch in the trail a little while ago and was headed toward Tent City and the airstrip. Tent City was between me and the airstrip, and both were North of Mainside. I had to be getting close, but it was hard to tell just where everything was laid out. If I had a little altitude, I was sure that I would be able to see Tent City. The sun was just starting to turn the eastern sky pale. This meant that it was around 0400, I had been walking for about eleven hours! Damn, I must have overshot the camp in the darkness! I stopped for a drink and to think about my calculations. I only had a little water left after taking a good pull from the canteen. I needed to stop and think, panicking would get me killed now. Had I been walking slower that I thought? It was possible, especially when I was daydreaming. I looked around, trying to make out landmarks. The sky was lightening quickly in the East. I had to check the dark areas of the horizon before they faded into the bland nothingness that happens before the sun finally brightens everything enough to allow a person to distinguish things. To the South, it had already gotten light enough to hide the lights from Mainside. To the West, the Chocolate Mountains were where they were supposed to be. There was nothing to see to the North. To the East, the horizon was flat, except for that low ridge a bit toward the South. Hold on, what ridge toward the South?  That wasn’t right; it should be flat all the way to the mountains where Big Bear was! And from what I could make out, Big Bear was where it should be. It was hard to tell looking toward the backlit portion of the sky. All I could really see looking east was a bunch of silhouettes, but I was not familiar with that small ridgeline. It seemed closer than the rest of the horizon; at least I thought it looked closer. Maybe I needed a little more water to help clear my head. Then I realized what that ridgeline really was, it was the silhouette of the tops our tents! They were right there! I looked hard toward where the tanks should be parked and finally made out the form of an M-60 in the fading darkness! I was home!
I would have run the rest of the way, but my legs would only walk. And as I walked among the tents, I began to feel just how tired I really was! I walked into the Company Headquarters tent, Captain Thompson was talking to Lieutenant Simmons, and both looked at me as I entered. I said, “The batteries were dead, there was no jeep, I saw no enemy and I’m going to hit the rack.” They both just stared at me. I headed toward the tent flap and the lieutenant stopped me. He asked me where I had been. I told him that I had spent the whole day on one of the Hershey’s Kisses like the Captain had ordered. I could tell by the expression on his face that he had not been told of this idea. He dismissed me and told me to wait for him on my cot. As I left I heard the CO mumble, “I forgot”. There were more words being spoken, but I didn’t stick around to eavesdrop. I found my cot and laid my tired self down. I put my head on my dirty laundry bag and cradled my rifle in my arms. I didn’t care; I could have taken a rock and made a comfortable pillow at that point. Just as I was almost asleep the lights came on. Lieutenant Simmons walked to my bunk and asked if I was alright. I started to get up but he stopped me. I told him that I probably had blisters on my feet but I was okay otherwise. By now everyone else in the tent was awake and listening to the conversation.
I was asked to tell what had happened, with as many details as I could. I told my story and everyone listened. I told about the A-4s dropping ordinance and finding that both batteries were dead. I told of how I waited and then decided to walk when the jeep didn’t show up. The XO asked who drove me out. A voice back in the tent answered, “I did, but the Captain never told me to go back, I thought someone else did.” I continued talking about the walk itself and hearing the .50 caliber behind me. It turned out that it had been 2nd Platoon; they were parked under camouflage netting tents only a half mile from the trail! I finished by telling about how I found the tents. Everyone was silent; they were all shocked by what they heard. It wasn’t about how far or how long the walk was, they were shocked by the fact that the CO had sent me out there and then simply forgot about me! No one else knew where I was, I was basically just left to die. That was a sobering thought! Lieutenant Simmons knew that I was from Wisconsin, so he asked where I had learned my desert survival skills. I told him that I had only been out for about twenty-four hours, but I had completed the Marine Corps Institute course on Desert Operations and had read plenty of Louis L'Amour western novels. So I had some idea of what I was up against. I told him that I had extra water with me and shade all day long. He asked if I needed to see a Corpsman. I answered, “No”. Then he asked if I was up to some breakfast, I must need the energy. I said that all I really needed was some sleep. I would eat lunch and walk my post on guard duty after dinner. I thought he was going to choke! He had the craziest expression when I said that! I am a Marine and will walk my post as assigned. He wanted to know if I was angry. I told him, “No, everyone makes mistakes.”
How prophetic those words were! Less than six months later, a Marine died at 29 Palms. I never got all of the details, but he had been given the same assignment I had on the same little mountain. And like me, he was forgotten. He did not have the amount of water that I had, nor the shade. He had waited until morning to walk back. He was found less than a mile from Mainside; he had been able to see the buildings before he died. Everyone makes mistakes, and a mistake in the Marine Corps can mean that someone dies. It does not have to be a combat situation to be deadly. I am not saying that I lived because I was a better Marine physically. On the contrary, if he was a grunt he was probably stronger than I was. I was just better prepared for the situation. And for that I say, “Thank you Louis L’Amour!”

Book Review.  I will acknowledge first and foremost that I am a pretty conservative guy.  One of my personal heroes has been President Ronald Reagan.  Edward “Jack” Dinse wrote a book about his four years in the Marine Corp during the Reagan years of the 80’s.  It is a fascinating account of a boy from Wisconsin becoming not only a man, but a US Marine!  The title is “Every Day a Holiday, Every Meal a Feast”,  is published by my brother and is available at Lulu.com or link to his blog below.
http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?type=&keyWords=edward+dinse&x=0&y=0&sitesearch=lulu.com&q= 
At over 400 pages, it’s reasonably priced at $17 for soft cover and $6 for eBook.  It’s a very good read!
Russ Bridger's Book Publishing Blog
Also available at Amazon as a Kindle purchase at the link below. Amazon Prime members read for free!