At the end of the school year in early December, 2003 Gerry is posted to the 3rd Royal Armoured Guards, the Brown Raptors, as a corporal in charge of a squad and a tank commander. He knows plenty of theory on how to use the tanks in the field, but he's never been inside one before. He's there on a three week temporary posting while the tank's normal commander is on compassionate leave to look after his family while his wife has an urgent operation. Corporals with the relevant training aren't readily available. Gerry is the only available option, so they approve the leave and send him along.
Arriving on the base at 9:15 a.m., in a private car with driver, Gerry greets the regular tank commander when he's about to leave the base. Gerry says, "Hi, Painter, how are you planning to travel?"
Full Corporal Steve Rubens, aka Painter, is an old school mate of one of Gerry's older cousins and they know each other well. Steve turns around, "Hi, Gordie. Where'd you get the fancy dress?" He doesn't know he's passed the manhood tests or joined the Guards.
"Passed my manhood tests some time back. Mother suggested I join the Guards and get out from under foot, so here I am. I don't have a driver's licence and can't reach the pedals, anyway. Not tall enough to load the cannon or aim the machine-gun. So they sent me along to take over as the commander. I think they figure the worst I can do is direct the driver into a ditch and he's smart enough to avoid it while making me look good. I'm the reason they can give you leave, because there's no one else they're prepared to trust your crew with. They don't want them contaminating any regular tank commanders."
Laughing hard, Steve says, "Well, I know they can't hurt you. Just don't damage them too much while I'm gone." Patting the tank, "And take good care of this hunk of metal. I'm kind of fond of it."
Smiling, he replies, "I'll try, but I can't promise anything. Give my best to Betty and the kids. Take my car and driver, because it'll get you home much quicker than the public transport. And if you're prepared to share the time at the wheel you needn't stop for meals, either."
Steve smiles, "Thanks, I appreciate it." He throws his bags in the car's boot. Turning to his crew, "I'd be careful if I were you lot. Gordie isn't big, but he's smart and tough. The scuttlebutt is he's tougher than his father, and I know you've heard of him."
The tank crew of Baker Three Three (B Company, 3rd Platoon, 3rd Squad) are very wary of their new commander. They know he's never been in a tank, never fired a tank cannon, and is so young. He's also so small he needs a special cushion on the tank commander's chair to look out. There's some concern, despite the fact their regular commander likes him and thinks well of him.
Picking up his duffel bag, Gerry says to one private, "Right, show me where to drop my kit and take me to the Company Commander's Office." The private addressed is about to blow him off - after all, he's only a kid; but something in Gerry's eyes makes him stop and think. Turning around, he leads the way.
While they walk to their squad quarters, the private says, "Painter seems to think we should be careful of you, why?"
"Mother thinks I'm a lot tougher than father and some of my past commanders agree with her, they'd served with him. He served with the Foresters and Rocks. Retired to get married." The private still doesn't see why this son of a retired Guard should be a worry. They drop Gerry's gear off and head for the Commander's Office.
When they arrive at the office the Company Commander, Captain Daniels, is just leaving. He says, "You my replacement for Rubens?" Gordon nods, "I haven't got your posting message or short file yet. All I have is a phone call saying you're coming and you've never been inside a tank before. That true?"
Gerry replies, "Yes, Sir, it is. I passed the Tank Commanders exam with ninety-seven percent marks, but I've never been in a tank before. Not tall enough to do any of the other jobs so there wasn't much point in putting me in one. Command thinks I can safely command a tank, and doubts I can do you any serious harm in three weeks."
Daniels smiles, "Well, they're probably right about that. At least you know the theory of what to do and how to do it. We've exercises starting the day after tomorrow, we'll see how you put it into practice."
Gerry nods his agreement, and says, "Sir, request permission to take my people out to the practice grounds after lunch and all day tomorrow so I can get a feel of what it's like inside before the exercises."
"Approved, good thinking. Do you know why the regimental commander isn't having kittens over getting a boy tank commander?"
He responds, "I don't know why, Sir. But I can take a good guess. I've met the colonel before, he knows my father, and he's seen me in rifle and martial arts competitions. I'd say he thinks I can do the job. I'm sure if he'd the slightest feeling I couldn't do the job he'd have screamed blue murder about it, Sir."
Daniels says, "Knowing that myself is one reason I haven't screamed blue murder. I still don't know who you are, because they didn't tell me that over the phone. They were very abrupt."
"Sorry, Sir, I thought they'd told you. Senior Corporal Gordon Mannheim reporting for duty, Sir."
All in the room are listening, especially the private who showed him the way. Now they all stare, the boy is a senior corporal. The field jacket he's wearing doesn't show rank. No field jacket does, for field security.
Daniels asks, "Any relation to Granite Mannheim?"
"He's my father, Sir, and mother swears I'm tougher than him. I can only vouch for being able to out stubborn him, Sir." There's a few gulps around the room, Granite's son. Oh boy, this could be interesting.
"Well, I know you didn't win your rank in a raffle, so you must be able to handle troops, and that's the main task of a commander. We'll see how you go in the exercises. Dismissed." Both Gerry and the private with him snap to attention and salute. Turning sharply, they leave.
They arrive back at their tank, to find Full Corporal Masters and his crew, they're from another company, having shots about them having a toy tank for a boy to play with. Gerry decides to nip this in the bud, and says, "Thanks for the comedy relief, corporal. You may leave now. Some of us have work to do."
Masters, a large man, turns on Gerry, saying, "Who do you think you are?"
"I'm the commander of this tank and am ordering excess personnel to move away so we can get the tank ready for training exercises. Move along please, corporal."
Masters replies, "You're lucky you're so small, kid. Otherwise I'd punch you to pulp for sassin' your elders."
Gerry looks him over, and doesn't like what he sees or senses of him, "I doubt you've the skill, strength, or ability to do that. If you feel the need to eat dirt that badly, I suggest you speak to the RSM about organising a time. So he can have the medics on hand to put you back together after I tear you apart." Both crews gasp, Masters is about half as tall again and triple the mass of Gerry. Regardless of what happens now, they all know he's not taking any shit from anyone.
Masters says, over his shoulder, "Right, Smithy, get the RSM. We'll settle this according to the rules."
Gerry says, "Yes, please, Private Smith, get the RSM for us."
Masters stands there staring at Gerry, who turns and starts issuing orders to his crew to ready the tank for exercises after lunch. From the orders he's giving they realise he knows what he's doing, even if he hasn't been near a tank before. When they get to a discussion about a particular part being OK or not he looks at it and orders it replaced; he's also fast filling in the proper paperwork. One of the crew takes off to Stores for a replacement part.
About fifteen minutes after Private Smith leaves the RSM and a few other NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) arrive to see what all the trouble is about. They're surprised to see the size discrepancies. The RSM asks what limitations they want.
Gerry says, "Whatever you and Masters want. I doubt he can touch me, so it's a non-issue for me."
At that point Major Barrington arrives, saying, "Not today, RSM. If these two want to fight they can do it after the field exercises. I need Masters in his tank for the exercise, not in the hospital." They all stare at him, as he's saying flat out Masters is going to be creamed. He turns to Gerry, "You won't object to a delay, will you, Corporal Mannheim?"
Gerry shakes his head, "No, Sir, I don't. I don't really care about a fight, one way or another. I've more important things to do, Sir."
"Good, maybe I can convince Masters he doesn't need to get his arse kicked all over the place by a small boy." Nearly everyone is openly staring at him now. Smiling, he says to the RSM, "On my last leave I was privileged to observe Sensei Mannheim's last competition bout. And Masters isn't in his league, not by a long shot." Masters gulps, this boy is a Sensei. Most of the audience are now staring at Gerry.
With a big smile, the RSM departs, he thinks Masters is going to let this ride. With his departure everyone else starts to move away, leaving Gerry and his crew in peace. The crew of Baker Three Three are starting to have a bit more confidence in their new commander.
.... There is more of this story ...