Yesterday Kim and I both had appointments to donate platelets. I know the title says. “Please Give Blood.” Platelets are how we do that.
Our culture has a bunch of pithy little sayings about giving. “Better to give than to receive.” “No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank “We must give more in order to get more. It is the generous giving of ourselves that produces the generous harvest.” Orison Swett Marden “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill “Give until it hurts.”
Yesterday Kim was unable to give due to a high temperature that we both attributed to sitting in the hot car as we waited for our appointment. The staff was so caring and when they discovered Kim has a knee replacement surgery coming in the next 10 days, they told her it was best she not give.
I on the other hand was fully qualified and set my sights on the donation. In the past two years I’ve donated a bit over 5 gallons. only two of those donations have been whole blood. The rest of my donations have been platelets. Donating platelets is a 2+ hour event. Why am I telling you this? Why am I showing you the minor effects of a donation? Does the donation process cause pain?
I’m telling you about the process of donating, because I want to encourage you to donate. Is there pain? Yes, there is a minor amount, an extremely minor amount of pain. I have incurred some pretty inconvenient and an unsightly amount of bruising (as has Kim) from a donation. Mine was caused by my own actions, when they tell you not to move your arms, they mean don’t move them. Kim suffered a bad needle placement, that was corrected, but the bruising resulted.
But the pain and any discomfort is extremely minor. Especially when you consider what the whole blood or platelets mean to someone who actually needs those products. Whole blood and platelets are used to treat people in serious need. Whole blood and platelets are used to save lives. Yur simple donation of a product that will not be missed will, positively alter someone else’s life. And while that is the case, your donation will also positively alter the lives of the people around that recipient.
Please take a small amount of time to rest and relax while you give the gift of life. I truly doubt that you will miss it. And, I whole heartedly know that you will not regret it. You will even get a snack once your donation is complete.
This is not a day I anticipated or expected. Am I actually standing in line at the One-Stop? Didn’t I retire?
Welcome back? Yes, to all of the glory of working as a government contractor. I have been asked to come back to work by my previous employer. This will be a short-term, part-time gig. I started April 1 and will finish no later than May 31. I’ll work no more than five hours a day, four days a week. My task is to help acclimate the newest replacement for my previous position. Some writing may also be part of the task.
So, here I stand at the Redstone Arsenal One-Stop. What can I say nice about the One-Stop? Well, as an entity, it is the perfected epitome of a government agency. There, that’s a nice eloquent-sounding statement that describes it well. I must note that the people inside are warm engaging people and I have much empathy for them. However, I’m certain they rarely disclose the exact nature of their employment outside of the building.
There are things that cause me to shudder about returning to work, even part time. I have to get up early, this is quite stressful. But I will get to return to all of the joy of the acronym. to find out more about this exciting little word trick, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acronym. I recognize their usefulness, but have come to loath them and their use. I have divined that the word acronym is actually an acronym: All Clarity Removed for Obtuse, Nebulous, and foggY Minds.
I cannot begin to describe, with near the eloquence of Mr. John Piper, the American Tragedy.
“I tell you what a tragedy is. I’ll read it to you from Reader’s Digest what a tragedy is. “Bob and Penny . . . Took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their thirty foot trawler, playing softball and collecting shells.”
That’s a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. And I get forty minutes to plead with you: don’t buy it. With all my heart I plead with you: don’t buy that dream. The American Dream: a nice house, a nice car, and nice job, a nice family, a nice retirement, collecting shells as the last chapter before you stand before the Creator of the universe to give an account of what you did: “Here it is Lord – my shell collection! And I’ve got a nice swing, and look at my boat!”
I cannot listen to these words without a precipitous rise in the humidity levels in the vicinity of my eye sockets. Yes, those simple words bring tears to my eyes. From the first time I heard this message I’ve known that I did not want to become a part of that American Tragedy.
We bought the RV to travel, that is true. We do not want to waste our lives, that is also true.
Many years ago during or possibly after a week long trip to New Orleans working at Castle Rock Community Church, Kim and I began to talk about our future. Specifically we were talking about what retirement meant to us. How would it look for us as people who follow Christ? We had listened to John Piper preach his words about the tragedy of retirement. We had discussed many times the desire to do something bigger than ourselves.
Ever since our uncle Sam sent me on a six month camping trip to Southwest Asia, I have not wanted to camp. But as we talked about retirement the idea of an RV began to sound attractive to me. We also knew that the Evangelical Free Church of America has a Crisis Response mission team that we may very well qualify to be a part of.
Thus, a new strategy was born. We have been praying and are in the process of applying to be selected as team members of the Reach Global Crisis Response team. We know that we have skills that we have learned over time and we do not want to waste those skills. We want to put them to use showing the love of Christ to people in need.
There will undoubtedly be more to come on this side of our journey. For now, suffice to say, we don’t want to waste our lives.
We all make lists, or at least I do. Sometimes I make them to help me stay organized. Often I make them because it gives me the illusion of control.
A list is only of value when it is comprehensive. Does it clearly identify all of the major items? Are there sub-items and are they also clearly identified? Is the list in order of operations or is it just a list of stuff that can be done independently? Is this distinction known or clear to the list maker?
See why I like lists? They are kind of a puzzle and yet, still a plan. I enjoy planning. I must admit however that plans are not set in stone, they have to be dynamic and as the planner you must be willing to adjust.
The alternative to planning – chaos. Well that’s a little bit of hyperbole, but when you are in the midst of living out a poor plan or a lack of a plan it feels chaotic.
Alrighty then. The plan is rolling, buy the RV – CHECK, Retire – CHECK, Begin to Enjoy Life – what tha…. I‘ve written about the new motor coach, she’s a beauty. I’ve described my retirement, woo-boy. Now the easy part, enjoy life. Wait a minute! We need a car. No, we already have two cars. Imagine two drivers and three motor driven vehicles. Okay, we need a car that we can tow behind the RV, (a plan adjustment). Research begins and a car is located. We are in Alabama and are planning to travel to Minnesota, the car is in Kentucky.
We sell car one on the Saturday after I retire. Drove to the dealer and they bought it immediately, it’s a sellers market. Won’t have a check until Monday, November 1. We speak to the dealer in Kentucky and arrange to trade in car two for the towable car we are buying from them.
Here’s a sub list regarding cars:
Bring RV to repair shop, Thursday, October 28.
Move in with son and daughter-in-law.
Retire, October 29.
Move to hotel.
Sell car one, October 30.
Make arrangements to sell car two and purchase towable car
Pick up check for car one, November 1.
Drive to Kentucky and trade car two for towable car.
Sprinkled throughout all of this is the moving of various bits of property and enormous amounts of stuff. It is tiring and the legal crap involved in title transfers and taxes is exhausting.
Wait a minute, did we have to take the RV that we just purchased to a repair shop? Yes, yes we did. There was a problem with one of the slides that may or may not have been an operator error. None the less, we had to put our RV (home) in the shop. All of our clothing, medications, food, and stuff are in the RV which is in the shop. The very action of taking your home and all of your possessions to the shop is beyond traumatic. When will it be done? When will you get to move back in to your home?
We had to make a trip back to the shop to remove perishable food stuffs and get our toiletries, medicines, winter clothing, and other necessities of daily life. Still working that plan?
I could go on, but it would either bore you or make you wonder about our decision making abilities. Nobody wins in that scenario. We manage to survive all of the turmoil, we are enjoying life, we are rolling with the flow.
On the drive home from Minnesota I asked Kim how she liked living in a rock tumbler, she replied, “At least the rocks are not getting any bigger.”
My mother had an impressive life of joy, sadness, difficulty, and triumph. In the end it was capped by a dignified death. A death that revealed and exhibited grace. Not just grace through the kindness of her caretakers, but the honest to goodness love of God.
Over the past two years my mom had been responding to a gift of Storyworth. I won’t explain Storyworth to you, just search for them on the web. If you have a mom, dad, or grandparent – gift them a Storyworth account. It will be the best gift you ever give yourself! We learned so much about my mom’s life from her stories, it was fascinating and revealing. Some of the stories were crushing in the sorrow and so many more were inspirational in her strength.
November 2021 began with a trip north to see Mom and participate in a care council to look toward her long term living arrangements. Our youngest son and his family came from Hawaii to see grandma. The short term facility had a COVID case and had shut down to outside visitors. Fortunately our son is persuasive and the facility was humane. they were able to go into her room and hug her and visit. Praise God for common sense.
Speaking of common sense. Kim and I were not able to go inside the facility, but could ride in the car with mom as she went to outside Dr. appointments. I am unable to comprehend the nature of COVID. To be clear, both Kim and I have been vaccinated, had the booster, and now have both had COVID. It’s real and it’s real confusing. We were just grateful that we could hug her and be with her for those short moments.
After that too short visit with mom and family we headed back home with the desire to map out the future. We had not been home very long before we got a call that mom had been found non responsive in her room and had been moved to the co-located hospital. We began to coordinate a rapid trip to Minnesota. I cannot overstate the importance of the help we received from our older son and his family and our Hope Church family. I do not know that we could have survived the turmoil without them.
Late in the evening of the Monday before Thanksgiving we set out for Minnesota. We arrived at the hospital at noon on Wednesday. My sisters had been with mom and were exhausted. Kim and I tagged in and although mom was teetering on the edge of unconscious, she was aware of our presence and knew that it was Kim and I. She was in excruciating pain, but was able to smile. She was not able to talk to us, but we could talk to her and more importantly we could pray for her. And pray we did.
Mom was struggling to breathe. It seemed to me that she was actually fighting to control her breathing. The body wants to live. I say that because throughout Monday and Tuesday mom repeatedly said she wanted to go home. She had already told my sisters to give up the apartment, she was not returning to that. So what is the home she wanted to go to? It is clear to me that she wanted to go to the home the Redeemer has promised us. But the body wants to live. Around 8:00pm Kim and I had asked the medical staff to give mom medications that would relax her. Immediately she became much calmer and was not fighting to breathe, but was breathing with ease. This was a comfort for us. We prayed once more for God to provide His mercy and allow His will to be done.
It seems strange to think of the prayers we were praying as we knew mom was near death. But, it is also quite comforting to know we have a God who listens and cares that we pray. Mom was taken home early Thursday morning (Thanksgiving day). I mourn the loss, I miss her dearly. It hurts to know I cannot call her to have a chat. It is a sad and extremely hard thing to have to endure.
I take great comfort in knowing my mom had faith in and believed that Jesus Christ was her Savior. Her memorial service was a testament to the resurrection of Christ. Mom loved Easter and the good news of a risen Redeemer. She would have sung the songs we chose with a loud voice.
For all of the difficulty mom experienced, she also experienced great joy. How can we ever account for simple joy without the struggle. I miss my mom, I hope to live as well as she did.
I have started or rather attempted to start writing this several times. Each time I sit reading the draft I have written, I think the words are incomplete and what I have written is dreadful. I would prefer this not read like a dirge or like a spilling over of my thoughts. I don’t want to write a chronology of my end of work life. I seem incapable of capturing the emotion and feeling of the end of my work life as it is so intertwined with the death of my mother.
This is not the first time I have ended a career. I was a professional Soldier for 20 years. It truly, to my emotional detriment was my identity. It had become the hard coating of a wrapper around my befuddled soft inside. It also formed me in ways that have stuck and shaped the approach I’d taken in later jobs.
I am however not immune to time. I am aware that I have less time in front of me than I have already experienced. Consequently, I had begun to assess the end of my current career as a Technical Writer responsible for the work product flow of 15 colleagues producing almost 150 documents a month. The work was fulfilling, but it was also mentally and emotionally exhausting. That exhaustion was not made less by the effects of the work environment imposed by COVID-19 protocols. I had already notified my supervisors I planned to retire at the end of June 2022. Supervisors? Yes, I had lines of supervision that I could trace to at least 5 people to whom I felt responsibilities.
By October 2021 I was reeling, I had changed my life in multiple ways; We had a new home that required a good bit more transience and planning than I had experienced before. Most of our stuff had been sold off, given away, trashed, or was in storage. My work was endless and the ability to have any level of control near what I was comfortable with was slowly inching toward the chaotic and overwhelmed level.
At the same time, life far outside of our control was plodding along. Of most importance my mother had a series of incidents that had her at the point of exhaustion. She asked my sister Sue to take her to the hospital. She just wanted some rest and close care. Mom had been through several treatments for cancer and had a dormant form of blood cancer, so it was a concern for all of us. Toward the end of October she was well enough to be moved from the hospital to a short term transitional care facility. I along with my sisters and brother were at least grateful that Mom was making all of her big care decisions. Her blood numbers (medical stuff) were not stable and this was a big deal given her history with cancers. On Wednesday, October 27 my sisters called to tell me there were some problems with some of mom’s bloodwork and other tests.
Maybe I was impulsive, or maybe I made a decision out of regret for not having been present for my mom during other facets of her life. But, I knew I needed to be present for her in this time. I notified my bosses that I was retiring as of the coming Friday. Yes, in two days I would be done with work.
No matter how well you think you have planned and prepared for this moment of time you will have some questions. When your life takes a severe turn, even though you have set the course, you’ll wonder about the ifs. I was not actually fully ready for this. It was hard. It was exhausting. It was filled with second thoughts. And, there was even a good bit of fear. When you see in immediate retrospect that the firestorm is of your own creation, you will have doubts about the scorched earth you have set in motion.
There I’ve done it, I’ve retired. I will need to figure out how to get medical coverage, begin an income stream, and calm the questions.
At some point Kim and I had decided we wanted out of our house. More specifically we had a dream of purchasing an RV (Recreational Vehicle) and roam about the country.
We started following a few RV youtubers and began to research various manufacturers and models of the larger motor coaches. It was a bit daunting. I tentatively inquired about a few coaches and was intimidated by the cost and the steps needed to make the transition. Eventually we made the decision to list the house. We listed it in July 2021. It sold within the week and we had a relatively short timeline to clear out and close. Fortunately we had already pushed aside all of the trepidation and had purchased an RV in spite of the unknowns.
We had been toying and nibbling around the edges of downsizing. We really thought we had been doing quite a bit of work, but the incessant accumulation of stuff that we had managed to squirrel away or hide in plain sight was overwhelming. Many items we had regarded as timeless treasures and family heirlooms were rapidly being set out on the street mixed in with random junk, to be picked through by strangers. We struggled to shrink the amount of stuff to a manageable pile. Eventually with the help of We Chunk Junk and Neighborly we emptied the house and were left with a single 10 foot by 12 foot storage unit of stuff and assumed timeless treasures.
The house was sold, an RV was purchased and we moved from a large house with an oversized double garage into a 40 foot motor coach. Both of us were still working. We managed to secure a spot on Redstone Arsenal to park the RV and began this new life.
The last week of August and the month of September we stayed at a park down by the river! Yes, I am aware of the Chris Farley character that warned of living in a van down by the river. This location made me aware of the existence of mosquitos in Alabama. Basically we were living right next to the premier mosquito breeding swamp where the large mosquitos were raised. We also were in a site that did not have a sewer connection. The things you need to know and learn are many and the knowledge is needed last week! We survived and eventually moved to the larger RV park on the north end of Redstone where the sites had FULL hookups, what a relief. It’s the small things.
I recently became aware of Operation Song, www.operationsong.org. Their mission is to empower veterans and their family members to tell their stories through the process of songwriting. They need no musical or writing skills, only a willingness to share their stories and, with the help of professional songwriters, transform them into song. I was particularly moved to tears by the song “Machine Gunner” written by Marine Veteran Mick McElhenny, Operation Song writer Jason Sever, and Belmont University student Mykal Duncan.
“Chain of bullets, belt fed.”
Music has always been a strong influence in my life. I do not sing in a way that anyone other than Jesus Christ and possibly Kim would want to listen to, but I do enjoy a well-crafted song. I love songs that move me spiritually, emotionally, and may even cause me to sway and tap a foot, which is as close to dancing as I may generally get. Listening to music often moves me through many emotions.
“It’s hard to find cover in a poppy field, but I sure as hell ain’t no runner – machine gunner.”
The song “Machine Gunner” almost slipped past me as I listened to a pod cast from the Veteran’s Administration (VA). It has become the closing music for the podcast. One morning I had time to devote exclusively to listening to the podcast, I discovered that listening to the lyrics of “Machine Gunner” emotionally captured me. I was so ensnared by the lyrics and feel of the song that I was sobbing and could barely get my mind off of the Soldiers I know and consider my own. I thought also of the military members who find themselves in the predicament of this being their current daily life. I have not had this exact experience, yet I trained for it, I lived for it, and I (truly and fortunately) never thoroughly experienced it.
“The pretty ain’t a shield.”
I’m not a Marine; I’m a very proud and accomplished Soldier. My primary Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), my daily Army job, was Land Combat Support Specialist, 27B. I was an electronics technician responsible for testing and repairing the guidance and targeting systems of anti-tank weapons. My secondary MOS was Infantryman, 11B. It was my choice to have 11B as my secondary MOS. However, I never was assigned to an infantry squad. I admire the infantry and recognize the skill and dedication of the members of the combat arms.
“Lug a thousand rounds – and I ain’t bringing back one.”
I’m a veteran of the Cold War and Desert Shield Desert Storm. I spent a “lifetime” preparing for and prosecuting a war that stayed just outside of all-out terror. And then an extra 96 hours in combat. The stress was intense, the wounds are not visible, and the trauma is real. Each day is a gift that I had no expectation would arrive. I had prepared my mind for the reality of all-out combat. I resolved and oriented my thinking to permit me to point a weapon at someone and pull the trigger with the intent to kill them. Yet, unlike Mick McElhenny, I did not engage with the enemy. I did not participate in a way that had the consequence of seeing my enemy face to face.
There has been a cultural acknowledgement of the end of the cold war, I personally watched the wall come down. I’ve walked on the sidewalks of streets in small former East German towns. I know we won. And still the cold war rages on. I walked on top of the destroyed tanks of Saddam’s vaunted Republican Guards Tawakalna and Medina Divisions. I saw hundreds of defeated men with their hands up in surrender. I participated in a couple of parades at the end of Desert Storm and have marched in numerous Veteran’s Day parades. Why does this song intensify the flames of memories of war that continue to live in my mind?
After listening to the song, I wrote these lines and sent them to my son.
I’m not sure.
I’m not a Marine.
I’m not a veteran of this war.
I’m not an Infantryman.
Why am I sobbing?
Why am I so connected to this song?
Why do I feel like I failed?
What am I mourning?
I’m not sure.
The soldiers of today have been at war in Southwest Asia for 20 years. This conflict has been a heavy ethical, spiritual, physical, and emotional burden for the men and women of today’s military. They are burdened with deployments to a hostile foreign land, and when not deployed, they are preparing for the next deployment. They leave their families behind to go face constant daily danger. Then via a relatively short flight, they come home to Starbucks and street lights. Where is the emotional switch? Why do the lyrics of this song affect me so?
“Raining down lead, punching that clock. Get ‘em boys, I’m laying down cover – machine gunner.”
It has been more than 25 years since I stopped the daily donning of my warrior uniform. My life of preparation for combat halted some time ago. Yet I find that I deeply empathize with and identify with the pain and anguish of men and women like Mick McElhenny.
For an additional perspective:
My youngest son, Kenny, is a soldier currently on active duty in Hawaii. He has been deployed multiple times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He is a trained Military Intelligence analyst and has also been assigned to Recruiting Duty. He served as an advisor and evaluator at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin and is currently performing duties as a Training, Plans, and Operations staff Non-Commissioned Officer with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division “Tropic Lightning.” You can read more from Kenny at his blog: Kalex Content and Photography
This is his response to “Machine Gunner.”
I was introduced to something called “Operation Song” by my father whom recently had an interaction with one of their creative pieces. My dad listened to, then recommended I listen to, a song called “Machine Gunner” created by Mick McElhenney with the help of songwriters and musicians. The program appears to serve as a therapeutic vehicle of sorts to assist veterans in dealing with the often overwhelming and confusing emotions related to PTSD.
I initially wanted to believe and write that I did not share a connection with this song. I am not necessarily a fan of the genre and the majority of Soldiers today find it a little cringey when people make art in this vein. However, as I sat down to listen and write my perspective I realized that I do share a connection here, and it kept punching me right in the gut as I tried to write this. Mick and I experienced deployment very differently. I am an Intelligence professional by trade so my job was, inherently, not as dangerous. As Mick was patrolling and getting in firefights, I was analyzing satellite imagery from the safe confines of a secured Forward Operating Base. Regardless of formal training and job responsibilities, deployments are never safe for anyone.
I spent a combined total of 13 months in Iraq (and then an additional seven months operating in the skies above Iraq and Afghanistan), lulled into a false sense of security regarding my job and the negligible threat level which came attached. Four months into my first trip to Iraq, my life was altered forever as I pulled a weapon on a group of innocent Iraqi Nationals, ready to pull the trigger because my ire was up. I had just been bathed in a shockwave and was startled, confused, and scared shitless. A vehicle had entered the perimeter of our base and detonated a very large bomb which had been built into its engine block. A fellow paratrooper was in the cab (a signal Soldier), wrestling with the driver and attempting to thwart the attack. Edge was unable to stop the bomb from exploding and we all had a formation for him at the end of the day. Roll Call and Taps sounds a lot different when the person you’re sounding them for was just eating breakfast in the same dining facility as you that morning.
I didn’t share the same experiences as Mick and I think that is important to point out. Our experiences were different, but our traumas are similar. There exists a stigma in which a person says to themselves: “sure, I deployed, and maybe I saw some things which will live with me forever, but I wasn’t in direct combat and therefore do not deserve to feel this way”. The truth is, I belong to an entire generation of Soldiers who were at war for the better part of two decades and, though not all of us got in firefights, we still saw and experienced events which forever altered our outlooks on life. I still can’t say it’s over to be honest, and I think that bothers a lot of us.
The connection I share here is of the collective shared experience. The connection we share is speaking our experiences through the written word / song and helping ourselves overcome the mental blocks we put in place to cope with unspeakable events. It is very difficult for most veterans to speak about our experiences as we are either taught to internalize or ignore emotions and carry on.
I’ve stated that basic training was not physically difficult, it was more a time of learning a new culture and refocusing the mind on things outside of myself. But it is important to remember things are still happening to me and I am a young man. Young men are extremely focused on self. At some point in the future, I’ll address my time as an Army Recruiter. I can tell you that young men are very focused on the effect of basic training on them.
My first observation about basic training is that its official name is “Basic Combat Training”. That didn’t impact me very much in June of 1975. What did impact me? Well my last name starts with an A so I was assigned Kitchen Police (KP) duty immediately. You don’t get a badge, there are no doughnuts, and you have no power. You will miss a very important day with the rest of your platoon and you will get aggressively audibly reminded that you aren’t very wise, a lot. Oh, and there will be cussing.
About that important day with the rest of your platoon. While I was at the mess hall on KP duty the rest of the soldiers of 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Brigade, or A-1-3 were at the Central Issue Facility (CIF) drawing field gear and the essentials of our day-to-day uniform. They were given specific instructions about the setup and wear of the gear, instructions I did not get. From that day forward we sere to wear the helmet liner, a pistol belt with a poncho wrapped around and secured to the pistol belt.
I got back to the barracks late and went straight to bed. In the morning my bunk mate, Charles Fink, handed me a bag from his locker and told me that was my field gear. He explained the uniform requirement (sort of) and went off to attend to his duties. I got the pistol belt and poncho set up and was looking at the helmet when the call to fall-in was raised. I slapped that helmet on my head on went out into the darkness for formation and the march to the chow hall. During the march to the chow hall, I kind of figured out I had the wrong helmet setup going on. You see the helmet at that time consisted of two items – the helmet and the helmet liner. We were supposed to wear the helmet liner, but I had the whole package on my head.
At the chow hall we would line up and hold our meal card aloft as we shouted out our branch (RA for Regular Army, AR for Army Reserves, and NG for National Guard) so the Drill Sergeant (DS) could get an accurate accounting of the soldiers eating breakfast. As I got into position, I noticed Senior Drill Sergeant (SDS) Montoya the SDS for 3rd platoon was intently looking right at me. As I held my meal card up he shouted, “Look at what we got here, it’s f—ing John Wayne.” I was pretty sure it was not a compliment. Now all of the DSs and SDSs are out giving me some verbal encouragement about the uniform faux pax I’ve committed. I’m doing pushups and am no longer certain I want to be in the Army. Eventually I complete a number of pushup and am instructed to head back to the barracks and lose the steel pot. I did not get breakfast that day.
There was at least one more negative outcome from missing that first day of basic to KP. It seems that the company had taken a visit to a clinic and had their ‘ears sized.’ This ear sizing matters because we would require ear plugs when we began training with our rifles. I did not get my ears sized and so I did not know what size ear plugs I would need.
By the third week of basic we would begin training with the rifles and were issued weapons cards. Then we went to the battalion arms room and lined up to get our weapons. As we entered the arms room, we passed through a large room where SDS Montoya was seated. He was throwing things at soldiers as they shouted various things. I did not know what was happening. I got to the counter in front of SDS Montoya and just silently looked at him. He barked the question, “What size?” I replied, “I don’t know Senior Drill Sergeant.”. He shouted, of course, “Turn your head to the right.” He looked at the side of my head and said, “Mother F—ing Large,” where upon he threw a set of ear plugs in a case at me. As far as I know that was not a medical analysis, but I still have those ear plugs. Where can you find ear plugs in that specific size?
One more thing – If they ask, “Who knows the Army song?” do not respond in the affirmative or you will find yourself belting out a line or two of “As the Caissons go Rolling Along”. Then when they determine you really can’t sing, you will get to lead the rest of the platoon as they learn the words. You’ll be wishing you could jam those MFLs into your ears.
In January of 1975 I joined the U.S. Army under the Delayed Entry Program, with a plan to ship off to basic training in June and finish 3 years of service. After completing my time in the Army, I would then go to the University of Minnesota, Winona to study veterinary services. Ultimately, my plan was to attend the University of Minnesota and become a veterinarian.
I was entering an unknown and my future. I had no idea the forces that would impact my mind and my psyche in those first three years of service to my nation and its citizens.
Basic training was not physically difficult, it was more a time of learning a new culture and refocusing the mind on things outside of myself.
After a full day at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) where we participated in physicals, completing forms, and lots of organized forced wandering from location to location. We were shipped to the airport around 3:00 pm. The folks at the United Service Organization (USO) were nice and they got us to the next step – a trip onboard a plane, then a very long bus ride delivering us to the final stop of day 1, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Specifically, the Ft. Leonard Wood Reception Station where we were the initial arrivals at 11:15 pm of group 28A4, I was line number 158. There were forms to fill out, so many forms. What had happened to all of the forms we’d already filled out? We were strongly advised to send a quick letter to our parents to let them know we had arrived and were just fine. Then some kind of a meal, we were issued some skivvies (the first time I’d heard the phrase, “Boxers or briefs?”), a laundry bag, some olive drab (OD) green towels, sheets, a pillow, two wool blankets, and finally were assigned to a barracks for a short sleeping opportunity.
We were awakened to a clanging sound and someone shouting “28A4”. The next few days were a blur of various activities and lots of OD green. There was plenty of yelling, lots of speculation about some guy named Jodie, a good bit of cussing, and the occasional shove. We got haircuts, uniforms, some rudimentary drill and ceremonies instruction, and there were lots of rumors about when we would ship out to basic. Then the cattle cars arrived! We loaded on with our now bulging duffel bags. We packed in tight with the admonition to “make our buddy smile” which simply meant we weren’t squeezed in tight enough, and began the long slow and dusty trip across Ft. Leonard Wood. We were on our way to basic for real this time.
We arrived, the stories we’d heard were not even true. Senior Drill Sergeant (SDS-E7) Herrera, and Drill Sergeant (DS E6) Lansberry greeted us with a good bit of audible enthusiastic encouragement about our ability to move much faster, some rather specific questions about our parentage, and a pretty solid amount of joshing about our masculinity. There was a copious amount of yelling, occasional speculation about some guy named Jodie and our girlfriends, a serious amount of cussing, and the frequent mildly violent jostling and kindly reorganization of our immediate movement (shoving). This is not summer camp and the SDS and DS are not camp counselors.
Next time – Let’s learn some surprising things about me and my experience at Basic Training.