Operation Scorpion

Vieques to Farjardo
April 16, 1998

It used to be that we got from Isabella Segunda on Vieques back to Farjardo on the main island of Puerto Rico aboard La Nina, a 200 passenger ferry-boat. La Nina, built in the 1930's, was a spartan but fun way to travel, unless the seas were rough. Then the trip was a 90 minute ordeal, the ship bouncing around like a cork on the waves. On La Nina you either stayed below, in the passenger hold, sitting on welded steel benches, in a sweaty, stuffy room, full of vomiting passengers; or you sat outside on the upper deck, getting soaked every time a wave crashed across the bow. On sunny, calm days, Lydia and I loved to sit on La Nina's bow, next to the door of the captain's bridge. The crew always had a portable tape player, booming out merenges and plenas. The captain and crew would sing along at the top of their lungs, while Lydia and I held onto the rail, like Jack and What's-her-name on the Titanic, the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair.

 Today, as we take our cushioned seats in the second row of the air- conditioned passenger compartment on Deck A of the 800 passenger cruiser, Farjardo 2, the movie is already in progress. As I stow the last of our bags in the hold, I look up to see the movie screen showing a roomfull of twentysomething guys with their heads shaved bald, shouting "Suck my dick!", chanting on and on, like a mantra. 

"This should be an interesting film." I think, as I pull sweaters and jackets from my duffel. The temperature inside Farjardo 2 must be 63 degrees. I haven't felt this cold since we left Albany. I settle into my seat next to Lillian and Lydia.

 In a series of cross-cuts we learn that the object of their attention is a twentysomething woman, head shaved bald, played by Demi Moore. She looks exactly like one of the guys, but she's not doing any chanting. We watch her: leading a commando training exercise; alone in her barracks; in a heated discussion, sharing a cigar with a man who must be her lover; facing down one of the shaved-head guys who tells her "No split-tail's getting through this program. No way, Jose!"; looking at the documents which have appointed her to the Navy Seals training program, signed by Lillian DeHaven, the U.S. senator who is her sponser; through the lens of a surveillance camera with a 600mm telephoto lens; in a series of snap-shots showing her at a party, dancing with another woman; and finally facing a hearing with her commanding officers who are charging her with 'Conduct Unbecoming an Officer', i.e. lesbianism, based on the photographic evidence. The hearing board says they are not going to ask her directly and that she does not have to tell them anything; but she is being drummed out of the program. Demi Moore shouts that they're not going to get rid of her that easily and storms out of the hearing room, and in a jump-cut, into the senator's office.

 Senator DeHaven, played by Anne Bancroft, listens to her story, but cuts her short, telling her that circumstances have changed and she can no longer support Lt. O'Neill as the first and only woman to train for active combat duty with the Navy Seals. O'Neill says it's her only way to advance in rank and that she's not giving up without a fight. DeHaven tells her it's a done deal, case closed. O'Neill puts her face in DeHaven's, shouting thath she's pissed off. "I thought you liked pissed off, senator!" she spits. She spins around and heads for the press office, prepared to tell the media her whole story. "I'll look great on CNN!" she bellows. DeHaven runs after her, grabbing her at the door of the press booth. "O.K. O'Neill," she says, "I'll see what I can do."

 Jump cut to Demi Moore, back at the training camp, then aboard a Navy submarine in the Mediterranean, on an exercise mission. Lots of quick cuts of sweaty bald guys doing situps, punching each other, arm wrestling, and generally getting pumped-up for some kind of action. We're left to wonder, with no separate facilities on the submarine, where does Lt. O'Neill sleep and go to the bathroom? There's no separate-bed-separate-head here. 

There's no time to ponder this question because the Master Chief has just announced that they've been ordered to break from their training exercise to participate in an actual mission: they are going to send a landing party onto the shores of Lybia to recover the weapon's grade plutonium that someone's left in a shack in the desert. Red and blue lights flash, interspersed with white flashes. We're in paka-paka mode. One of the shaved-head guys shouts "Let's rock and roll!"

 Cut to the shoreline. Three rubber-raft-landing-craft are hitting the beach. Demi's on one of them. Everyone is outfitted in desert-style cammoflage, travel packs, big guns, and wireless microphones and headsets. They're all talking to each other as well as the commanders on board the aircraft carrier which is providing backup support, the top-brass in a situation room at the Pentagon, and the pilots flying air support nearby.

 They are in three teams. One headed by Master Chief, another by one of the bald-guys, and the third by Lt. O'Neill. Master Chief leads his group to pick up the plutonium. Bald-guy's team stays behind to secure the escape zone, and Demi's team provides backup for Master Chief. Getting the goods is easy; getting away is not. Suddenly Master Chief is running for his life as both teams are surrounded by Lybian Border Patrol Forces. The Seals are outnumbered three-to-one. They're caught in a fierce fire-fight. The scenes are jump-cutting like crazy. The camera zooms in and out at a nauseating pace. The images look like 16mm and Super-8 all chopped together. We're bouncing around like a pinball on the movie-set. I'm literally getting sick to my stomach. I look away and see that Fajardo 2 is rocking and rolling on 8-foot swells which crash against the window-panes. Demi Moore is the one still point in this storm. She's using her microphone to call for air support. Master Chief falls to the ground, shot in both legs, blood spurting like a water-fountain. Demi dodges bullets to run out and save him. The other bald-guys look on in amazement. A helicopter gun-ship zooms in and blasts away all of the Lybian soldiers. Another oversized helicopter lands and everyone runs inside, Demi and another Seal carry Master Chief on board.

 Jump cut to a formal state-side ceremony. All the Seals are standing in a straight line. Master Chief, outfitted in dress whites, limps down the line. "Welcome aboard, sir!" he says to each Seal, as he hands them their combat medal and shakes their hand. When he gets to Lt. O'Neill, he pauses, then says "Welcome aboard, ... Maam!". She smiles and a cheer goes up from the assembled crowd.

 We next see her alone, back in her barracks, sitting on her bunk, looking at her medal. The Master Chief limps in, hands her a book, and limps out without saying a word. She looks down at the book and it falls open to a page which has been book-marked with a purple heart combat medal. The book is D.H. Lawrence's "Selected Poems". The marked page is the poem, "Self Pity". In close-up, we see the lines:

I never saw 
a wild thing
feel sorry 
for itself.

 A frozen bird 
will fall
from a branch
without ever
self pity.

The screen fades to black and I look out the window to see that we're nearing the harbor at Fajardo. I get up and take a walk around the ship. The seas are calmer now, so walking around is fairly easy, although I am pitched from side to side and I need to grab onto the seatbacks to keep my balance. I check our luggage which was tossed around during the rough crossing; I put things back in order. As I waddle my way back to my seat, I see that the film is starting over. The opening credits are rolling... "G.I. JANE, starring Demi Moore and Anne Bancroft. Directed by Ridley Scott". 

The Farjardo 2 is pulling up to the dock. From the seats in front of us, which I thought were empty, a women, who had been laying across the seats for the entire trip, slowly stands up. She looks pretty wobbly. She's wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt. 

On the back in big letters it says: NAVY. She turns around, stretching her arms to the ceiling. 

The front of her sweatshirt has a round insignia. Around the circle it says: UNITED STATES NAVY SEALS TRAINING CENTER VIEQUES PUERTO RICO

She heads for the exit. 

I stagger over to collect our bags.


Copyright 1998

Jan Galligan
All Rights Reserved
Last modified Aug. 8, 1998