FOB DELARAM, AFGHANISTAN – In the middle of southern Afghanistan, a group of Marine officers have just completed an arduous six-hour meeting.
When battalion commander Lt. Col. Maxwell “Zip” Zapolski asks if anyone’s got any saved rounds, S-6 communications officer 2nd Lt. William Ross stands up.
“Sir,” he begins nervously, “I’ve completely messed up the communications gear EDL, and we’re going to have to do a battalion-wide inventory.”
Lt. Col. Zapolski knowingly smiles and calmly pushes a button, opening up a trap door beneath 2nd Lt. Ross and sending him plunging into a tank of water, filled with 300-pound, man-eating sharks.
“This is the price of failure, Lieutenant Ross,” said Zapolski, as the screams reverberate through the conference room.
He then turns to his staff and asks if anyone else has any saved rounds. The answer is a resounding ‘No!’
Not many units can boast their own shark tank, but the Lava Dogs of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines took a can-do attitude and made the impossible a reality.
According to Lt. Col. Zapolski, the shark tank was one of the best investments his battalion made.
“We really had to dig into our CERP funds for it, and while my CAG and Supply Officer initially questioned the wisdom of building a shark tank under the battalion conference room, their replacements agree it’s definitely worth its weight in gold.”
While he initially conceived of the tank as a way to remove the local chief of police, Zapolski quickly found the shark tank had a much greater impact on unit discipline.
“Back in garrison, if one of my lieutenants screwed up I would have to take him aside and actually mentor him, or explain how his MOS fits into my scheme of maneuver, but now I can just drop him into the tank and send for a replacement.”
Still, there have been setbacks.
“Once the shark must have been full or something, because he just kept swimming around the guy,” said Zapulski. “So I had to have my Sergeant Major take a PRC-116 Radio down there and bludgeon the Lieutenant to death. After that we just added more sharks.”
As part of the upcoming transition to Afghan-led forces, the Marines have been allowing Afghan National Army commander Colonel Haj Mohammed use of the shark tank.
“We definitely have a long way to go,” said Zapulski. “Right now Colonel Mohammed can’t get past the novelty of watching the sharks eat his men. I think he’s dropped at least twenty of them in there over the last month.”
“Just last week he dropped his chai boy in there, tea tray and all.”