A guy like Grunt is your basic well-trained soldier that does his job and does it well. If you’re called up to the elite GI Joe team, you don’t suck at what you do, and Grunt being one of the original 13 GI Joes means he did his job well enough to come to the attention of General Lawrence J. Flagg himself.
“What am I going to be doing?” Grunt may ask.
“You’ll mainly be fighting a terrorist organization dedicated to overthrowing the world.”
“I see. Is there anything unusual about this terrorist organization?”
“Well, the leader of this group likes to wear a mask or a hood. Sometimes he hisses, but that’s only if he’s animated. Otherwise, it’s your standard nameless, faceless gaggle of dipwads aligning themselves to an idjit with a dream.”
“Sign me up,” is a thing this man code-named Grunt says at this point. Signing up is a thing this man code-named Grunt does, because duty is duty, and the enemy is the enemy, regardless of what they call themselves. Grunt eats three square meals a day and cleans his gun regularly. He is a fighting man, and understands his mission in life is to be pointed towards an enemy.
Of course, you have to assume at this point in Grunt’s career, it hasn’t fully landed on him that he’s going to be fighting guys dressed as birds, color changing outlaws and killer frickin’ robots. Nor does it enter into his mind that he will at any point be shooting at someone made from the combined DNA of a bunch of historical legends.
But Grunt adapts. Because Grunt is, among all else, a damn good soldier. So Grunt aims his gun at the saboteurs and the leather-clad minxes and the Mad Max extras and the Robots and the metal masks and the ninjas and the members of an ancient society and he shoots at them. Because the pay hits his bank account with regularity, the food hits his stomach with clockwork precision, and these damn guns ain’t going to clean themselves.
Grunt’s original action figure was as standard as it got back in the infancy of the line. You got his figure, his backpack, his helmet and his M-16. He didn’t have the flashiness of Zap or Short-Fuze with their big bang weapons, nor did he have the mystery of Snake Eyes. But his basic soldier aesthetic meant that he was the earliest face of the Joe brand, with image appearing in the upper corner of the Joe comic. Grunt endured.
Inside the pages of the comic, Grunt did not fare so well. Despite being prominent in earlier issues, he was supplanted by far flashier Joes, and his character, like his toy, was retired. A similar fate befell him on the animated Joe series, staying behind on an alternate Earth to fight Cobra forces on a world where they were winning.
Grunt received a few other figures later in the line, but it was that first figure that is “Grunt” in almost every way. I never had Grunt’s action figure. The line started in 1982, but I didn’t get my first Joe figure until early 1983, when the second wave of figures were hitting, and those original figures were getting swivel-arm battle grips implemented. Grunt’s basic soldierness was overshadowed by the Gung Hos and the Snow Jobs of the line—the flashier, the more colorful, the more “exciting.” Unfortunately, I could have seen him on the peg and passed him right by, because he wasn’t flashy or showy. He was just a soldier, doing his job.