It was somewhere towards the end of Infantry School, I can’t recall exactly which week, as time was a blur. The heat I’d started in during August had given way to the winter’s cold. Thankfully the winter at Fort Benning was not nearly as severe as the summer. Continual activity kept me warm… mostly. My feet always seemed cold, no matter what I tried to do to stay warm.
The training for that day was centered on small unit fire and maneuver. We started by working on the basic unit of two soldiers. One gives supporting fire, the other moves. Once the moving soldier is in place, the roles are reversed. It sounds simple, but the steps are actually quite refined. There’s a way to hit the ground, a way to get up. A way to move, and a way to support. The communication is also very important. Simple, basic verbal commands were enforced. There’s no discussion. Time won’t allow it.
And while the training was done in the safety of a designated area, we knew it was not simply done because we wore camo and had rifles and helmets. The purpose was to prepare for war. I think a lot of folks miss that.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
As my “battle buddy” and I got to the end of the lane we were working through, winding around the South Georgia pines, we headed back to the start to wait our turn to do it again. Continual repetition and critique, often reinforced with some physical motivation (Do pushups you!), transformed awkward moments into flowing teamwork.
Arriving at the back of the line, we stood as we’d been told…. side by side, rifles across our chest, eyes on the instructor, mouths shut. We each briefly popped open a canteen, and drew heavily on the plastic-tasting water. The two guys going through the lane had a pause in their advance. Someone had not given a verbal alert before getting up and moving. So the appropriate “discussion” of this failure was taking place. The discussion centered around an exercise called “the flutter kick.” 😉
Keeping my eyes to the front, lips hardly moving, I quietly said “Man, I am worn out.” Without looking back, he agreed. “Me too, bro. Me too.” And then I smiled.
“This is awesome.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him crack a smile too.
“It’s a grunt’s life.“
It’s Hard To Describe
I know many may think it’s a bit crazy to commit to the infantry. Looking back I sometimes wonder about it myself. It was towards the end of the Cold War, but the thinking was that at some point, a mass of Warsaw Pact tanks and infantry would come bursting through the Fulda Gap. The NATO nations would have to be prepared to repel that incursion.
I’d grown up assuming World War III was not too far off. It wasn’t that I was a warmonger, or that my family pushed such ideas. Far from it… we were about as typical as you could get in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Middle class America all the way.
Still, TV, movies, music, even the nightly news… all seemed to point towards an assumption that things would end up there. We could look back at the two World Wars from earlier in that century, and to the average Joe, those seemed almost inevitable. It’s difficult to explain now to folks who were born after it, but it almost seemed a foregone conclusion.
Yet for some reason, in deciding what I wanted to do in the Army, the notion of putting a large pack on my back and walking for mile after mile – only to arrive at a battlefront – seemed like a grand adventure. Age and experience have tempered that notion. But back then… not so much. It was for me that which youth finds most appealing… “cool”.
An Instant Appeal
When I started building Gunpla, I knew little about them. I’d heard people talk of how great the kits were. Still, in my “I’m a serious aircraft modeler” mindset of the time, I didn’t see how a snap-together, pre-colored kit made for kids (or so I thought 🙂 ) could really be engaging.
Until I built one. And then I was hooked. Plastic crack indeed.
I immediately began to explore the options. Many had an almost samurai look to them. Some had massive wings, or giant backpacks with rockets. All looked cool. Yet a particular design really caught my eye.
It didn’t have a big V-fin, or wings. The colors were fairly basic. The accoutrements were simple – a rifle, shield, and backpack. It looked ready to walk into battle. The infantryman in me took notice. Asking a friend who was very familiar with the Gundam Universe what it was, he said “That’s a GM. It’s a grunt suit.“
My ears instantly perked up. “A grunt suit?”
“Yeah. A mass-produced mobile suit. It’s like the infantry of the Gundam world.”
I smiled. I suppose it was “GI” meets “GM”.
A Bucket List Kit
Of all the GM models kits I looked up on Google, the Powered GM was the one that really caught my eye. However, because it was a “Premium Bandai” (P-Bandai) release, it wasn’t easy to get. So I looked for less expensive options. I built several Master Grade GM models, including the Sniper II, GM Command, and the older RGM-79. I thoroughly enjoyed all of them.
Still, I wanted to build the Powered GM. In terms of kit’s contents, it wasn’t particularly special. Essentially a re-release of the RGM-79 I’d already built, it had just a few parts that made it look different. But that difference really caught my eye. I could relate to its stance… it seemed to stand the way any infantry soldier from any place or time would. Shouldering a heavy load, rifle in hand, eyes forward to the battle. No flash, no fanfare. Just a grunt ready to do the job.
So it was incredibly humbling when a dear friend contacted me and said “You want to build one?” And just like that, a bucket list kit arrived on my doorstep.
Getting It All Weathered
In a previous blog post, I described assembling and painting the kit. For the weathering, I decided to go heavy.
In several of my more recent Gunpla builds, I’ve explored weathering variations. Scale appropriate, light wear was something I worked on. And though I certainly feel it is an important skill to master – appropriate restraint can be difficult – I will freely admit it just wasn’t quite as much fun. So for this one, I decided to chuck it all out and simply weather this one…. like a grunt.
The process was actually very simple. Panel lines and the area around raised detail was darkened with a simple mechanical pencil. While it does leave a heavy dark color, it will stand up to later weathering coats applied over it very nicely. And it’s Bandai plastic friendly.
Chips were applied with a sponge, both in low contrast and high contrast variety. Vallejo Light Gray and Beige were used over the white and orange respectively. A mix of Citadel Leadbelcher and Vallejo Black Gray (in a 5:2 ratio) was applied over all parts for the high contrast look.
Further leaks, splatters, streaks, and stains were added with several Vallejo Weathering products, the most used one being Oil Stains. This is a good, all around color, very similar to Citadel’s Agrax Earthshade. Once dry, Abteilung 502 Starship Filth was added in various places to further enhance streaks, stains, and even chipping.
The key to all this was just continually adding, adjusting, and manipulating. I didn’t really have a goal in mind, but rather I waited for the “I’ll know it when I see it” stage.
Almost too soon, it arrived. A matte varnish coat was applied, the photos taken, and the Powered GM now stands on my shelf.
From One Grunt To Another
I didn’t stay in the infantry long. While I enjoyed it, I wanted more. I volunteered for Airborne School, and became a paratrooper. Attending the JFK Special Warfare School, I entered the special operations realm as a psyop troop. Instead of carrying a large pack and a rifle, I carried a larger pack, and a rifle. And made loud noises that seemed to attract gunfire.
It’s a grunt’s life. With an additional 350 watts added on. 🙂
Of course, that time came to an end.
Today hairline is disappearing at about the same rate my waistline expands. I don’t have the strength I used to, not even close. And much of the difficulties of those days have faded, with mostly warm nostalgia remaining.
Still, part of me hated to see it all end.
It’s been that way with this model. I have really, thoroughly, and completely enjoyed it. In a small way, it reminded me of what drew me to Gunpla in the first place. It’s just fun. With so much social media, it becomes very tempting to listen to the voices swirling around. Not that they’re bad… most are good. Yet every now and then I think you just have to charge ahead and do it how you want. To heck with restraint.
And while this bucket list item is now checked off, I will build more of these GM type suits. It’s a certainty.
Grunt’s gotta stick together. It’s just solid teamwork. 🙂