I have never been a history buff, but in my research for a school assignment, I discovered one interesting fact: Canada, Germany, and France were at war at the same time during the Battle of the Atlantic. Well, they weren’t actually on the same side, but as it goes, after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, France, Canada, and a few other countries rallied their forces in the fight against Germany. After battling for several months, Germany finally got the edge and invaded other countries, one of which was France. Although prevailing temporarily, Germany was eventually defeated in 1945.
I thought a smaller version of this historic battle would repeat itself right before my eyes when I recently attended the international Combined Arms Control Verification CFE Inspector/Escort Course at the NATO School located in Oberammergau, Germany. I was the only female in the class, the only civilian and the only Black American. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to attend the NATO Intelligence Course. Oberammergau is a quaint Bavarian village a few kilometers north of the Austrian border and within a bird’s eye view of the Alps.
As in that crucial battle, weather played a significant part in an incident, which occurred during my attendance at this course. The temperature in Oberammergau had dipped to single-digit readings, signaling prime weather for skiers and other snow sports lovers. Yes, I love the powdery, white stuff too (not cocaine, mind you), but I am nobody’s snow bunny. I am from New Orleans, Louisiana, where temperatures in the low fifties amount to an Arctic cold snap, forcing native New Orleanians to bundle up from head to toe like Eskimos and huddle around space heaters.
Although I have lived in Germany for a few years, I am still not used to its winters. However, clothing wise, I am always amply prepared to shield my southern-bred torso from the chilly air and keep the body heat I desperately need to stay comfortable.
At the school, distinguished lecturers from different countries and prominent guest speakers from several NATO nations were on tap to present lectures for the weeklong course. A VIP from the United Kingdom and a Marine lieutenant colonel who saw action in Iraq were the ones who impressed me the most. The class consisted of officers and a few civilians (including me) from various foreign countries. Prior to settling in for the lectures, each of us had to introduce ourselves to the rest of the class.
First up, was a German captain, who sat in front of me. He annoyingly distinguished himself from the eclectic mix of attendees by ranting incessantly about his little village, in northeastern Germany near the Netherlands’ border, meaning he was accustomed to extremely cold temperatures. For a good reason yet to be revealed, I dubbed him, “”The Nuisance”.”
At the first break, “The Nuisance” dashed to the nearest window and brazenly yanked it wide open. I think that he thought that this irrational act validated his self-imposed authority to do this by saying loudly to no one, “It’s too stuffy in here with so many people. I need fresh air.” Shocked and pissed at his reckless action, I didn’t budge because it wasn’t my fight…yet.
As the blast of cold air hit me, I wrapped my arms tightly around my torso to fend off the cold air, but to no avail. Yet, “The Nuisance” grinned broadly as he stood by the window and took in several deep breaths of the crisp, frigid air. Unfortunately for “The Nuisance”, the window he opened was right next to the seat of a Canadian lieutenant colonel. Luckily for “The Nuisance”, the Canadian lieutenant colonel was not present to witness this prelude to an act of throwing down the gauntlet.
Truthfully, the air in the room reeked of a thick, unbearable stench, which I could have cut with a dull butter knife. Adding to the misery was the room’s warm temperature which intensified the foul smell, which emanated from a few Eastern European officers who probably had no access to deodorant. However, I crept closer to the opened window to take advantage of the fresh, but severely cold air. I sucked in several breaths to re-supply my lungs before I returned to my desk. Even though the fresh air brought me some relief from the room’s stuffiness, I thought that “The Nuisance” displayed extremely rude behavior by exposing the entire class to the unforgiving temperature without regard for anyone else’s comfort except his own.
Sufficiently invigorated, “The Nuisance” headed towards the rear of the class, leaving the window wide open and subjecting the entire class to the unmerciful harsh winds, which blew bits of snow into the classroom. After I started to shiver, I got up and headed for the break area in the rear just outside the classroom where hot coffee and tea were available. Actually, I would have closed the window myself, but as a United States Army Retired Veteran, I did not want to risk starting an international incident, which could subject me to my requisite 15 minutes of fame and a barrage of intrusive questions from those polite, playful sharks known as reporters. Besides, I thought it would be more fun to see if an unarmed conflict would erupt between “The Nuisance” and the Canadian lieutenant colonel. After two cups of tea, I returned to my seat to await the start of the next lecture.
Finally, the Canadian lieutenant colonel returned to his seat and expressed both surprise and bubbling irritation at the open window near his seat. I could tell he was pissed when he spat out in French, “Zut! Sacrebleu!” (Crap! My goodness!), as he raced to the window and slammed it shut. Trembling from the cold air as he headed to his seat, he folded his arms across his chest, using his hands to vigorously rub his arms trying to generate some heat to his torso. Amused, I thought that this event had the potential to eventually get out of hand. I could hardly wait for the next break to see if this impromptu battleground would escalate at least to a good fist fight.
At the next break and as if guided by some internal asinine cue, “The Nuisance” conducted another sneak attack. Wisely waiting until the Canadian lieutenant colonel had left the room, he headed toward the same window and flung it open, smiling as he repeated his deep-breathing routine. Without closing the window, he strutted back to his seat, again with his lungs sufficiently refreshed. A few minutes later, the Canadian lieutenant colonel returned to see that ’someone’ had ambushed the window again while he was away. Clearly angry, he sharply spun around to face me and with a furrowed brow, erupted with, “Who keeps opening the window, is it you?” Naturally, I was ticked off and appalled that he showed the audacity to dare assume that I was the culprit. But, I did not want to take this issue up with him because I could see he was ready for some action, but not the nice kind.
Though he had a slight build and was about my height, I thought I could take him out with one strategic kick to his Canadian jewels, and from there I would go ahead and kick his Canadian ass. But “The Nuisance” needed someone in the military to set him straight, and I did not want to join forces with the Canadian by any means in this brewing dispute. Opting to sit this one out, I responded like a neutral American foreign observer. Without hesitation, I ratted out “The Nuisance.” “No, not me; it’s that guy up front,” pointing to the culprit.
The Canadian lieutenant colonel turned around quickly and found his target. He contorted his face like a seasoned general ready for war and produced a threatening look, which could probably peel coats of paint off an old tank. Though “The Nuisance” was within earshot of this short conversation between the Canadian lieutenant colonel and me, he wisely did not turn around. Yet I could tell from “The Nuisance” ’s body language that he knew he had tipped the scales of the Canadian officer’s tolerance and was headed for a possible showdown if he tried to pull this window-closing shit again. I also noticed that the Canadian officer’s supply of military bearing was beginning to slip away. I watched him glare at “The Nuisance” as if drilling an invisible hole in the back of “The Nuisance” ‘s head. I could hardly concentrate on the next lecture for waiting to see how the next chapter of the Canadian colonel’s battle of wits with the German nitwit would unfold.
At the next pause, I observed “The Nuisance” boldly head for the same window again. Scratching my head, I wondered if he was a glutton for punishment, a competitive cretin who got high on challenging authority or just plain stupid. However, before “The Nuisance” could reach the window, the Canadian lieutenant colonel stepped in his path to block him. With his nose mere inches from “The Nuisance” ’s chin, the Canadian lieutenant colonel stared up at him and in a classic US Marine Corps drill sergeant ass chewing, he clearly explained to “The Nuisance” the severe consequences he would suffer if he opened that window again.
Well, it was getting harder and harder for me to concentrate on the lectures because I knew that “The Nuisance” would not be satisfied until he could push all the buttons in the Canadian colonel’s waning military demeanor. “The Nuisance” turned beet red in the face after his ass chewing, but he kept his trap shut, giving the Canadian lieutenant colonel the proper military respect. I think if “The Nuisance” possessed the gall to attempt any disrespect, I envisioned the Canadian lieutenant colonel punching him in the face, tossing his butt out that same window and then slamming it shut. I am sure that the war in ’39 was nowhere near this much fun. Yet, I remained more anxious than a new Army recruit as I waited impatiently in my ringside foxhole for the next possible skirmish.
At the following break, “The Nuisance” wised up, or so I thought. Some people never learn. He actually avoided the area of the window in dispute. I thought that “The Nuisance” had finally accepted defeat as he headed towards the back of the classroom, I assumed, to get some hot coffee or tea. However, that was wishful thinking on my part and I was giving “The Nuisance” far too much credit to be capable of operating on a somewhat sane level in this environment. From former historical war plans and my 22 years of experience in the Army, I just knew “The Nuisance” had a ‘Plan B.’
Suddenly, I felt a wave of cold air coming from the rear of the classroom. I turned around to see that “The Nuisance” had brazenly opened not one, but two windows in the back. I waited to see if anyone would intervene and halt “The Nuisance”’s escalating, irritating battle tactics. Suddenly, a French officer, who also outranked “The Nuisance” and had observed the initial window-opening conflict up front, sprinted towards “The Nuisance”. I thought he was going to grab “The Nuisance” by the neck of his Battle Dress Uniform and fling him around a bit, but, unfortunately, that was not the case. Getting eye to eye with “The Nuisance”, the French officer loudly chastised him for opening the windows again and exposing everyone to the frosty air. Although that spit-producing ass chewing sounded lightweight and hilarious with a French accent, I stifled my laugh because these confrontations appeared to be getting serious enough to start a good knock-down, drag-out fight, which I surely thought would ensue. With his ass in another sling, “The Nuisance” merely remained silent and red-faced as he took yet another verbal beating at the hands of the French officer. Again, he kept his mouth shut and his thoughts to himself, a wise move since the opposing French forces were stacking up against him. Surprisingly, he mustered up enough audacity to respond to the French officer with, “There are just too many people in this room. The room is stuffy. It stinks!” I had to agree. But, “The Nuisance”’s pointless excuse fell on deaf ears as the French officer rolled his eyes towards the ceiling, quickly executed a precision military about-face, headed towards the windows and slammed them both shut.
Clearly whipped and stripped of his self-imposed window-opening authority, “The Nuisance” stood chest deep in a field of embarrassment as other officers who had witnessed this awkward scene whispered among themselves and stared him down with obvious disdain. Clearly defeated, “The Nuisance” stomped back to his seat to join the rest of the ‘troops’ sharing the funky air.
After those two swift losses, “The Nuisance” did not attempt to open any more windows that day. But for the rest of the week, he shifted his strategy by stepping outside at each subsequent break to inhale all the cold air he wanted to and at no one else’s expense. But I craved to see what would have happened had the Canadian and French officer joined forces to kick The German Nuisance’s ass. If I weren’t such a lady, I would have done it myself. As with all bad boys of any war, this jackass truly deserved it.