Not So Perfect Storm

TJAGSA -- Charlottesville, VA

Major Roberts was in rare form that day.

“Reference to the last live fire training exercise.  I consider that one a success.”

He paused for dramatic effect before the group of 50 or so military lawyers assembled in the hall.

Surely, he must have been kidding us.  Our marksmanship scores were abysmal.

“Well, did anyone get shot?” he asked.  “No? Well, then you did a good job.”

The Future Major

The room broke up in laughter.  We loved our cadre officer, MAJ G.W. Roberts, an bone-e-fide, funny-as-hell, Arkansas razorback.  His job was to guide all our group of mainly “baby” Army officers through TJAGSA, The Judge Advocate General’s School of the Army in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Now, those of you who weren’t shootin,” he stated with weary look.  “I expected to see some concurrent training going on out in those bleachers.  Instead all I saw was a group of officers sittin’ around workin’ real hard on their nose-pickin’ skills.”

This guy was too much.

MAJ Roberts showing his officers how it's done.

“Y’all got some leave comin’ up.  More to follow…”

That was his favorite way of saying, “stand by.”

“But, I want to say a few words about the upcoming Dining-In.”

A dining-in is an Army officers’ fancy mess or dinner.  There is much alcohol.  Some singing.  And a lot of really funny skits.

I guess its a camaraderie thing.  It builds a team.

Personally, I enjoyed these events immensely.  Army guys are the funniest people I have ever met.

Skit attempting to portray MAJ Roberts. A future Superior Court judge is in this photo.

“Y’all be wearin’ your Dress Blues,” he said, referring to our formal mess uniform.

“Let me tell you, you attract a lot of attention in those blues.  A lot of positive attention,” he added with an over-the-top wink.

“Now, safety first.  Let’s think with our heads.  If you are going to go out to some bar or beer joint after the dining-in, before you go out give me a call…and I’ll join you.”

More laughter from the crowd.

“Y’all sure you know how to wear them blues?  I can show ya.  Heck, I’ve crawled out of a dipsy dumpster at two o’clock in the morning in my dress blues.”

We were peeing.

Some spring-butt [smart ass] raised his hand and asked MAJ Roberts if we should wear our military-issued trench coats over our dress blues.

Without missing a beat, he replied: “If you want to look like Columbo, then go ahead and wear than darn raincoat.  Hell, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing.”

He was clearly on a roll.

“If any y’all feelin’ under the weather the next day, you can crawl over to Prompt Care [the contracted medical facility].  Hell, they’ll give you two weeks off for hurt feelings over there.”

Major Roberts cleared his throat.  He finally got around to our leave.  We had been waiting for permission all day.

“You may have heard about this here snow storm fixin’ to hit north of here.  Those of you with leave requests to go to D.C. and north — denied!”

He continued, “I also hear that a bunch of y’all rented some houses on the Outer Banks.  You are going south.  That sounds like a wise direction.  Permission granted.”

Outer Banks house on stilts similar to the dwelling described in this story.

It was exactly what 27 of us wanted to hear.  We were going to the beach in North Carolina.  We had reserved two huge houses on stilts near the community of Waves in the Outer Banks.

A denial of our leave would have created a delicate situation.  Our wives had already departed that morning.  Presumably, they were already there, boozing it up in the hot tubs.

“Y’all are the finest collection of minds to grace Charlottesville since Thomas Jefferson dined alone here,” Roberts said, stealing President Kennedy’s famous line.  “Come back to me on Monday.  Dis-missed.”

As soon as we were able to change out of our uniforms, we hit the road.

We traveled down to OBX in about a dozen cars.  Running Girl had gone down earlier with a group of three other spouses.  She had driven our three-week old Honda Civic.  It was the first car we ever bought together.

After a boozy trip across the Carolina border (I kept suggesting a stop for barbecue — DENIED), the men and women officers arrived late at night.  There was a already a party going on in full force.

I was met at the door by a very merry Running Girl.  She was a sight for sore eyes after the car ride with the guys.

Running Girl feeling little to no pain.

Let’s just say she was very happy to see me.

The next morning, we took walks on the beach and admired the steadily rising surf.  The Atlantic was getting ready to party.

Later in the day, everyone was getting comfortable in the house.  Card games were in progress.  Lots of stories were being told.  A group of marines (one of whom was the brother of a fellow Lieutenant) stopped in on leave from Camp Lejeune.

The ocean side.

Many people were casting concerned looks out toward the ocean.  There was no sign of waves coming over the dunes and toward our houses.  People breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The dwellings were typical outer banks homes.  There was no ground floor.  The structure was on stilts.

I was in the kitchen making pizzas for the masses.  This would be dinner.

I glanced out the back window toward the bay.  Water had seeped in past the houses across the street and made its way to the curb.

The bay side -- at first.

A few minutes later, the water had crossed the road and was making its way toward our house.

When the sea had climbed half way up the lamppost outside, I got concerned.

“Hey, guys,” I said nonchalantly.  “Are you watching this?”

Everyone rushed into the kitchen and peered out at the rising tide.  The water had surprised us and come up by the bay as opposed to the ocean.

Someone suggested that we check for flashlights and candles.  “They’re in the drawer,” a responsible Lieutenant stated.  Things were under control.

The bay side -- later.

The water continued to rise.  The wind picked up.  We were in the middle of a major storm.

The power went out.  The plumbing went out too.  There was no heat.  There was no water.

There were no lights.  A check of the aforementioned drawer revealed one (1) single, stubby candle.

The winds grew in intensity.  The house began to rock on its stilts, making a pained, awful groan.

There was no means of evacuation.  There was no escape.  The water outside was well over our heads.

At about nine o’clock we opened the door and looked down.  The water was almost up to the base of the house.  The stairs down to the ground led into dark, black water.  Our cars were down there.

Oddly, we could see the cars.  The water was over their roofs.  However, somehow the salt water had made a connection in the batteries and our headlights were illuminated.  They casted an eerie glow in the dark water.

We spent a cold night in a house on stilts in winds approaching 100 miles per hour.  Running Girl and I clung to each other all night.  We did not know if we would survive.

Storm of the Century. Photo from Wikipedia.

It was March 12, 1993.

That night, we found out which of our colleagues were ready to go to war.  Some of them could not handle the strain.  Others coped the best they could — unexpected couplings of male and female officers took place.

By dawn on March 13, the storm had not abated.  The winds continued to blow.  We hunkered down.  Most of our food was gone.  The remaining supplies consisted of mainly beer and ice cream.

Primitive potty techniques were employed.  No further details are necessary.

That night, we sat around in a circle in the house’s kitchen.  We lit our single candle.  Someone found a box of Trivial Pursuit cards.  We took turns reading off the questions to the group for hours on end.

I can’t accurately recall when the storm ended.   The winds died.  The water receded.

Fish car after the storm.

Our cars were a mess.  I opened the door and water flowed out.  There were small minnows in the foot wells.  Three weeks old.  Total loss.

We were unable to call Major Roberts or anyone.  There was no phone service.  Cell phones did not yet exist.

The Marines missed their formation.  This was a big deal.

Two vehicles, a pick-up truck and a Jeep Cherokee, were still operational.  One of these vehicles was dispatched up to Norfolk to rent a 16-passenger van to take officers and spouses back to Charlottesville.

While in Norfolk, a call was placed to MAJ Roberts.

“No hurry to get back here,” he dryly replied.  “We’ve got two feet of snow.”

RG & TM and fish car in carefree times.

The trip home was long and uncomfortable.  Running Girl and I were among four people crushed into the back seat of the Cherokee.

Charlottesville looked great under a thick blanket of snow.  We were so happy to return.

The storm of March 12-13, 1993 was called the Storm of the Century.  It has gone down in history for its massive size, intensity and wide-reaching effect.  At its height, the storm reached from Central America to Canada.

Photo from Wikipedia.

310 people died in the U.S. and in Cuba.  Over 130 million people experienced the storm effects first-hand.  The massive weather system spawned feet of snow, cyclones and hurricane-speed winds.

We counted ourselves lucky to have lost only a car.

In fact, many of our cars were lost.  As officers, we all had insurance through USAA, a select pool for military officers and their families.  We decided to negotiate our claims en bloc.  Each time an adjuster would call, we would direct him to a single person designated to negotiate for us.  After a while, they knew us as “that group of lawyers from the Outer Banks.”

It worked.  USAA paid us an amount within $20 of our purchase price on our Civic.

We then went back to the same dealership with two of our friends who also needed new cars.  As Running Girl and I were purchasing our second car from them that month, we got a much better deal this time around.

Graduation Day

Shortly after these events, we graduated from TJAGSA.  We loaded up our new car and headed to our first assignment in Texas.

As Major Roberts would say, “More to follow…”

— The Former Lieutenant


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Gail on January 15, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    You owe RG big time for publishing that party girl photo! lol


  2. Lucky for me, that’s the most incriminating party photo you will ever find of me. I’m not much of a party-er.



  3. Posted by Eden on January 16, 2011 at 11:07 am

    I remember this! I was thinking about it the other day, for some reason. Great to hear the whole story. Wow.


  4. Posted by dattbay on January 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for putting up your first written report of the event. Will look forward to reading the book…


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