The Civilian Report of Survey

Army persons know that “Report of Survey” means job death. One of these babies means that the subject of the report is going to owe zillions of dollars to Uncle Sam because of property lost on his or her watch. Ugly!

This fear casts a long shadow or short fishing line well past the end of active military service. You resign or get discharged, but you still do not lose stuff on your watch! Take the case of this good unnamed male citizen six years after resignation, now 35 years old, with a family including a couple kids, minding his own business, floating absently on a rented air mattress one hundred yards off the shoreline of a crowded Ocean City, Maryland, summer beach. This unnamed citizen, no longer a 23-year-old soldier stud, but still in reasonable shape, finds himself slowly drifting toward that rock jetty 30 yards to the right. Him and his rented raft.

“Dang rip currents!” I sez to myself. “Who in Douglas MacArthur would have thought those things happened on structures built 90 degrees from the shoreline? I hafta’ find that invisible current gate back & away from those jagged gray boulders. I suppose I could just let the dumb-ass raft go into the rocks, and I’ll paddle around until I find that gate. Nope. I rented this raft for two whole dollars, but they’ll charge me a zillion for losing it. The Civilian Report of Survey will nail my butt.”

Unluckily, the handsome lifeguard in my beach sector, from his Baywatch high chair starts gesturing in a friendly manner out toward the ocean, my direction, something about “Get the hell away from the rocks!” Turning around, and seeing no one between me and Spain, I kind of knew he meant me. Time to paddle a little harder. Me and my rented raft. Trouble is, the watery gate just wasn’t right there.

“Oh good grief, that guard just dived in and is coming ‘save me.’ Oh, the humanity, oh, the humiliation! Paddle like hell for the open water!”

Then God intervened. Across my visual front, left to right, and between me and the shore drifts this teenager, obviously struggling with that same rip current. Although his dark complexion indicated his Indian or Pakistani descent, his entire panicked face and neck was paler than mine. Clearly, he got caught in the watery force field heading rockward and had no idea how to get out of it, him and his raft. The handsome lifeguard now closing in muscularly, came within hailing distance, so George Patton rushes from my abdomen as I point to the young struggling man and shout to the guard, “He needs help!!”

Thinking about this later, I did not care if this hero guard thought that a young man was more worthwhile saving than a 35-year-old half-stud, or if George Patton did the trick. The stricken young man got Red-Cross chest-carried safely back to shore, during which time I found the invisible gate out of the rip, pride unsprained. From there it was an easy paddle to a place many, many hundred feet away from my gaffe. As Stephen Crane wrote in Red Badge of Courage, “I had made my mistake in the dark.” Something like that.

After all that, it was no problem walking back to the vendor where I had rented said raft, whistling happily, me AND my rented raft. There, a large-lettered sign, hand written, said, “Closed for Dinner. Back shortly. Leave rentals by bench.”

“Oh, no you don’t, you Report of Survey dinner-eating AWOL vendor-checker!” my brain screamed. “That kid pitched his raft, now nestled in the jetty somewhere, and they ain’t swapping that out for my raft.”

Moments later the vendor returned, however, thanked me for the return, and told me, “The rip currents turned ugly pretty fast this afternoon, so we figured we’d be losing some floating stock, and we’ll take the loss again. No big deal.”