8. Mefloquine Dispatches: Dr Pepper, 2011 then 1992 (Final)

by Shane Granger

I don’t keep more than a hundred photos or trophies from my life. In the 1990s photos were expensive and meant going to a Kodak shop to drop them off and pick them up. When I deploy with Company Group to the USS Tarawa in 1992, I’m glad that the US Navy are handing out brochures as we board in Freemantle. I stow it away in my pack somewhere. It survives long enough to be added to my 1992 photos. I look at it every couple of years. Bits and pieces come back.

The first real big ‘flash’ (memory) is a book. We have a library at Mincom, where I am working during the Noughties. We are still reading in 2006 when I pick up John Birmingham’s, World at War 2.1: Weapons of Choice book, the first in a long series. John Birmingham writes ‘splodey’ books. War. Fast paced. Easy to read on planes.

In the first book, John is writing a future defence system that incorporates a Gatling gun using ceramic bullets. Next generation shit. It reminds me of the Gatling defence system I see on the USS Tarawa. It’s early 1990s so no drones. The missile they shoot down is towed behind what looks to be a private jet. It’s impressive. A rip of bullets shreds the missile to pieces in milli-seconds. They fall into the sea. Everyone on the Australian side is impressed. We don’t have that level of protection yet. I hope we do now.

Twenty years after the missile take down, I’m telling that yarn to John over dinner, plus many beers and maybe a few whiskies. We were both in Canberra for work. He talks about the importance of having strong female characters in his pub-chat during a government funded book tour. I’m doing my last big Workforce Planning gig with a government department. He has an ability to both talk and to listen. I’m a total nerd after I get out and really enjoy his books. He is fine company.

1111 - John Birmingham (1)

Many years later my kids are talking about Dr Pepper at the corner store. I’ve recently come out of hospital after a bad turn. My memory is popping. I remember my first Dr Pepper. It was in the Recreation (REC) Room on the USS Tarawa.

The ship is so big it has its own PX (Exchange) store. We all buy souvenirs. I buy a pair of Oakley’s which I’ll never wear. My best friend and I smash the old-school arcade games using quarters from our change. The Australian Navy has nothing like this. We watch the US Military news channel in the small cinema. I ask M* would he like a soft drink. I have a pocket full of quarters ready to go. I get him a Mountain Dew. I get myself a Dr Pepper.

As it turns out Dr Pepper is disgusting. Like drinking battery acid. Too much corn syrup, I think. I prefer the Mountain Dew. M* agrees to swap. The news channel bores us to tears so we go back to the couple of older arcade games the ship has. We chat with the Marines. I always think fondly of Marines after this trip. USMC. Hoorah! These guys have just recently sailed from Kuwait. We all get three-days liberty on this trip. Good times.

Before too long we get bored of arcade games. M* is excited to find out that the news is finish and they are now showing ‘In Living Color’. I’ve never heard of it but before long I’m giggling away like an idiot. Jim Carrey and the Wayan boys. Some USMC lads join us. They are amazed that this is one of M*’s favourite shows. White guys shouldn’t like that sort of humour, but we do. Australians are ok, they say. We are all talking shit by now. One of marines offers to buy us a round of soft drinks.

“Don’t make it Dr Pepper mate, that stuff will kill ya”, I say.

Everybody guffaws. The Yanks love our accent. Semper Fi.