It is just after 0500 as I sit in the near empty parking lot waiting for the shuffle of people to move into the building for morning accountability. The company building is dark. The brutal, cold December wind seems to suck the life out of me in the Jeep Patriot that my last deployment purchased. “I could turn on the heat…” instead, I lean back into the plush leather seat and jam my hands deep into my black pants pockets.
Out my peripheral vision I see movement. Head down, the shadowy figure approaches the building, the closer they get to the warm safety of the enclosure, the longer their strides become. I reach for my door handle when I see the lights turn on. I step out into the frigid air, and quickly make my way to the warm building. A small, stocky man stands in the foyer, he looks at me as I enter the room.
“You must be the new Sergeant. I am Sgt. Head, but everyone calls me Space Cadet.”
“Um, okay. I am Sgt. Freeman. Nice to meet you, what do I call you?”
“Just call me Head. You ever been deployed?”
“Yeah, a couple of times.”
“You see action? I spent fifteen months pulling guard duty in my National Guard unit. Everyone acts like they are superior to me in every way. You have a problem with the Guard? I am a warrior!”
I step back from this five-foot fountain of rage. Quickly, I assess the situation and figure if I must be violent, the order of attack should be knees, ankles, and feet.
“Um, no. I have no problem with the National Guard.”
My answer seems to put him at rest. “We are going to get along fine. I can see you are a warrior too! The command should freeze us, place us in stasis until the next war, and then thaw us out because we are damaged men! All we know how to do is fight for lost causes! Are you married?”
His blonde high-and-tight haircut seems as agitated as he is. His eyes are the size of saucers and he paces furiously from one side of the room to the other.
“Jesus, this guy is high.”
“Uh, okay. Yes, I am married. What are you talking about? Are you high?”
The whoosh of the door opening startles me. I whip around and notice that it is the Platoon Sergeant I met yesterday. “Thargent. Come to my offices.” He spins around and walks up the stairs to the second floor.
“You don’t want to keep him waiting, he was a Drill Sergeant.”
“Yeah. Dude, are you alright?”
Sergeant Head seems less agitated. “Yeah, get upstairs.”
Taking two steps at a time, I make my way the up stairs. I make a right turn and walk down the narrow hall to the office. My Platoon Sergeant is sitting stiffly behind his desk. Folders are stacked on his desk in messy abandon. He glares at me.
“Where you been?”
“Uh, Sergeant I was in the parking lot at 0500. Sergeant Head opened the building and I came in. He continued to talk, and I didn’t want to be rude. I apologize if you feel like I disrespected….”
“No, in your career. Where you been? You have a patch on your shoulder. Iraq, Afghanistan?”
“You’s ain’t done nothing.”
“Excuse me? Say again?”
“You’s ain’t done nothing. You’s no warrior.”
I look at the broken husk of a man in front of me and veins stretch taut in my neck. My temper flashes red and it is all I can do to maintain my self-discipline.
“I suppose a TRADOC warrior is full of combat experience. Maybe, I will figure out how to stay in the Army’s school system for my whole career and miss actual war fighting.”
I drop to the floor and start knocking out push-ups. “I don’t like you Freeman. You’s arrogant.”
“Oh, it’s okay Sergeant. I’s don’t like you either.”
“Shut up and push.”
I do as commanded but inwardly I am seething. “Who does this worthless pile of human waste think he is?”
I leap to my feet. “You’s best watch yourself Freeman.”
“Don’t do it, keep your mouth shut.” Nope. I can’t do it.
“Sergeant, you are aware that there is only one of me here in this office, right?”
“Then why are you referring to me as you’s? Surely, you are aware that I am a singular being, but you are referring to me in the plural. Did you not pass English when you were in school?”
His bottom lip starts to tremble. Anger flashes in his eyes and for a moment, I consider that this may not have been the best course of action. “Eh, it will be fine.”
“Gets to the sand pits!”
“I just got here. Where are the sand pits?”
“I got him Sergeant. Come with me Freeman.”
Sergeant Head leads me out to the sand pit, laughing as we walk. “WOW, I have never seen anyone make Sergeant G that mad before. Do you specialize in irritating people to the point where they want to punch you in the face? Start running in place.”
I get in the pit and shuffle my feet back and forth. As I start to feel dampness on my neck, Sergeant G walks up. He glares at me, and I smile back.
“I’s am going to smoke you untils you die Freeman.”
Sergeant Head turns away from us, laughter threatening to burst from his belly if he can’t get it under control. G looks at me, then at Sergeant Head.
“You’s gots games Freeman?”
“Sergeant G, you can call me Milton Bradley. I gots games for days.”
“Get on the court. Its times for formations.”
Smirking, I run to the basketball court. Without realizing it, I have taken my first steps into darkness.