Three years ago I went on a trip. I spent a weekend with a few dozen WWII vets, hearing their stories, watching them remember, and seeing what the honor of service really means. I came home to my own WWII vet, and an agonizing decision to make.
It turned out the decision wasn’t between do it or don’t – it was between fear and what I needed to do. I was at the recruiter’s office within the week. I was signed up and scheduled for a ship date to Basic Training within the month.
I was old enough at Basic that they called me “CID” thinking that I was a 21-Jump-Street style embedded secret investigator. I WISH. I left with notebooks full and the honor of being on the receiving end of this comment from a Drill Sergeant at our final dress uniform fashion show,
But in between tears, I learned how to call cadence (thank you musical theatre) and march a company of 200 (without ever figuring out my lefts and rights.) I was Student 1SG, Distinguished Honor Grad, Soldier of the Quarter, and promoted before my first rank was two years old.
Frank knew I had made it through and he got his final salute before I got my first duty assignment. You will never be able to convince me that the reason I got sent to Italy to be on the radio in the Army isn’t entirely because of the Colonel up there, directing the movement of his troop. I absolutely believe that because of him I was given a job where I could actually make a difference, a job where I met Ryan – a meeting that ultimately led me away from Afghanistan and now, that leads me on to a different path. Away from the Army.
A good officer knows how to best use his soldiers, and how to lead them. I followed orders. And I gave him my best.
Phrases I turned in along with my boots include, “Roger that,” “tracking,” “hooah,” “squared away,” “high speed,” and “too easy.” What I will keep with me is the motivation behind them, the people who taught me their meanings, and thoughts for everyone who still puts on the boots every day.
And I will forever keep what started as a trip, and ended as a journey.
Five years ago today, I got on an airplane with some kids I met in San Jose. As the oldest by 100 years, I was put in charge of keeping our Basic Training paperwork packets. I don’t remember the plane ride, I don’t remember if I read or did anything normal to pass the time. I do know that it was the first time two of the five kids had ever been on an airplane. And I remember spending my government food check on frozen yogurt at the Atlanta airport.
I have a picture of them, on a recently found photo card – but instead of posting it, how about one of the puppy I saw on the trip to the mall with my recruiter the day before I left?
My recruiter took me to the puppy store. That probably should have been my first clue that I wasn’t going to have a standard-issue experience.
Nonetheless, an element of the next six months crosses my mind, without exaggeration, every day. There are details I’ve forgotten, though thanks to a friend still having the text string that dates back that far, I’ve recently been reminded that at one point in the enlistment process, I was referred to by the color of my underwear. Twice.
In those six months, there are the things they want you to learn – and then the things you figure out on your own. Though it’s possible that’s the sort of thing you ARE supposed to learn, even if it’s not explicitly on the syllabus. Attention to detail. Positive control of sensitive items. Poker face in the event of interrogation. OPSEC. The art of not getting caught.
I mean, allegedly. Like, allegedly the best place to dispose of correspondence you don’t want read out loud to the entire company in the chow line is not in the toilet – it floats. Certainly not in the garbage can, that’s going to be turned
You tear it up and shove it in a half-full shampoo bottle. Allegedly.
That one’s free.
Everyone knew I was writing a book about the whole process while I was there. They knew I kept notes. They asked how they were going to be portrayed. And five years later, I have all the notes. All of the photos. All of the texts. All of the letters. Everyone’s out of prison.