Last night, my mind wandered back to my time in the military. It’s not like this is unusual or anything. Yes, it was a dark period of my life, but I am not without fond memories of my time in the army.
For example, as a young Private First Class I wanted to go to the Solider of the Month Board. I spent hours studying the material until I knew it like the back of my hand. My friends would quiz me. They’d shout questions at me as we worked.
My squad leader, Sergeant Rivers, came to me one day as I walked the line of vehicles in the motor pool.
“Freeman, the board is next week. Take this time to get your uniform squared away. I will check it Wednesday evening.”
That Wednesday evening, he looked over my uniform, corrected me where I was wrong, and told me to meet him at the Squadron Headquarters at 0730.
I arrived fifteen minutes early and walked into the building. My heart was in my throat. “Breathe,” I whispered to myself. “Don’t lock out your knees.”
Sergeant Rivers saw me and motioned for me to join him. I walked to where he was, and he had me stand at attention while he looked over my uniform again.
“You’re sweating,” he said, as he measured my ribbons.
“It’s hot, Sergeant Rivers.”
“The air is on, Freeman. It’s nerves.”
Well, I couldn’t deny that. My stomach swirled with butterflies, and I kept muttering answers to myself. As I looked around, other people seemed as nervous as I was.
“Oh, dear God. What have I done?”
Sergeant Rivers was my sponsor for the board, and I didn’t want to embarrass him. The other sponsor gathered around, and it was decided I’d go first.
A staff officer came out and took Sergeant Rivers into the room and told me to stand outside the door.
“Wait until I come out,” he said. “Then knock three times on the door.”
He came out, and I knocked three times. A loud voice snapped, “enter,” and I walked in. The board members sat in front of a large horseshoe table, and I shut the door. Then, I marched straight into table.
Unfazed, I marched up to the board members and rendered a snappy salute and said, “Sergeant Major, Private First-Class Freeman reporting to the President of the Board.”
“What was that back there at the table, Freeman?”
“A screw-up, Sergeant Major!”
The board members laughed, and I blushed. “Sit down,” my sergeant major said. I sat, and soon the quizzing began. I answered to the best of my ability, my polyester suit was soaked and seemed to stick to my body.
When I was done, I stood and exited the room. Sergeant Rivers joined me in the small room where the other competitors waited their turns. He looked over my uniform, again, and said, “you did good, Freeman.”
We were all called into the room, and the board members judged our appearance, our hygiene, and anything else they wanted. Then, I was awarded the title of Solider of the Month and presented with a coin.
I won many more competitions during this timeframe and received many more coins. Some, I earned from being competent at my job. Others, I received for competing in events.
The last board I attended was during my first deployment. It was an NCO of the Month board. “You’ve got two days to prepare,” my sergeant told me.
I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself either. So, between missions, I prepared. On the day of, I walked into the building, and my sergeant major waited for me.
“Are you ready, Corporal?”
“I hope so.”
“There’s only one other competitor. His sergeant major is grooming him for the Audie Murphy Board. Go in here and crush him.”
I did. Although, I screwed up the facing movements they shot at me, when I sat in that chair, I nailed every question and scenario given me. As we stood by to be inspected, the sergeant majors walked by and shook our hands.
“You won, Freeman,” my sergeant major whispered to me. “You crushed him.”
Other sergeant majors shook my hand and congratulated me, except for my competition’s. He glared at me and snarled, “you’re the most arrogant piece of garbage I’ve ever met.”
“Thank you, sergeant major!”
“It’s not a compliment,” he yelled.
I admit, I had a hard time not laughing. He stormed out, and his soldier turned to me and extended his hand.
“Congratulations, Corporal Freeman. You’re something else.”
“You too, sergeant. Good luck to you.”
I miss those days. I never served in another unit that bred that type of competition, and I never earned another coin from any other unit. We were the wild ones, the war fighters, and on this day I’m less than I was.