Memories of Rhodie and my beginnings as a soldier..AWID….

I have been up half the night struggling with the loss of my friends, in a war which now seems to be some pointless endeavor.

Chunk wants in my lap, and I want this part of my story to be over. I suppose I will start at the beginning.

November 2001:

Fort Jackson in the wintertime is a wet, cold area in which trainees struggle to survive in. I personally believe it to be a training area where trainees who don’t know any better test out cold weather gear. My arrival to basic training is preceded by two weeks of rain, and plummeting temperatures. Our trip from the airport is in the back of cattle trucks with no canopies. Upon arrival, we are escorted into a dark room where we are handed a pile of paperwork and told how to fill it out. Hours later, we are escorted to the barbershop and we receive our haircuts. Integration goes fine, until the fattest guy in the platoon decides to show us how to do clap pushups. Bravely, he struggles to get in the ready position. Hands placed shoulder width apart he descends toward the ground,  he forcefully flings his body back up and puts his hands to his side. Momentarily confused about what comes next, his face crashes back into the floor with a sickening thud.

“Oh my God! I’m bleeding!”

I glance over and look at his face. Blood covers the lower half of his face, and there appears to be a crack in his chin.

“Yep, you’re bleeding.”

“Freeman, go grab the drill sergeants with a battle buddy.”

“Wait, please don’t tell the drill sergeants how this happened. I don’t want an Article 15 before I get to basic!”

For those not sure what an Article 15 is, it is punishment in the military. The Army takes half of a month’s pay for two months, 45 days of extra duty, and you are restricted to the barracks.

“Okay.”

My buddy and I make our way to the office where the drill sergeants hunker down to avoid the cold. I knock on the door. A six-foot, muscle bound behemoth answers the door in a huff.

“What private?”

“Um, drill sergeant we need you to come upstairs, something has happened.”

The drill sergeant eyes me suspiciously. “What happened?”

“This private slipped and didn’t have time to catch himself, his chin is busted open.”

“Dear God….”

We haven’t even made it to basic yet, and people are already finding ways to injure themselves. Somehow, I manage to make it through the rest of training with no cracks in my face, or any other bodily injury which would keep me from fighting in the War on Terror.

Lucky me.

2002:

Advanced Training goes smoothly, no injuries to report, just class upon class teaching us how to perform our job. Basic Training is where you are taught to kill in the name of your government. AIT is where you learn to do your job until called upon to kill.

After 24.5 weeks of training, I finally move to my first duty station. I leave the frigid cold of Virginia and move to the hot sands of Texas. A massive room is crammed full of soldiers waiting for their unit assignment. Finally, I hear my last name called, followed by my birthdate.

“Here, Sergeant!”

“You’re going to the Seventh Cavalry.”

The room erupts into laughter. I feel a hand on my shoulder, so I glance back. A First Sergeant looks at me and smiles. I hope you like the field troop! You’re going to get plenty of time in it.”

I force a smile and make my way to the door. My sponsor informs me our next stop is CIF. After I get my assigned gear, I am taken to the Squadron Headquarters to be in-processed. My First Sergeant is a crusty old soldier, he smiles broadly and gestures for me to enter his office.

“Alright private, do you know the Army Song?”

“Yes, First Sergeant.”

“Wait one, private.”

Two other privates are brought into the room.

“Alright privates! I have to use the bathroom, but you will serenade me with the Army Song. Ready?”

The three of us look at each other.

“Come on privates…”

“First to fight for the right, and to build the nation’s might, and the Army goes rolling along…”

Our First Sergeant throws his head back and belts out the lyrics. Finishing, he comes into the room and looks at all of us.

“You guys suck. Get out of my office.”

After completing all the pre-requisites, I am taken to my unit which is housed on Turkey Run Road. Row upon row of equipment fill the parking spaces in our motorpool. “Private, we are HHT troop, our equipment is over here, away from the tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. All the other soldiers are doing maintenance, go on over there and help out.”

“Roger, Sergeant.”

I walk through the motorpool until I find a group of soldiers cracking jokes and looking over vehicles.

“Hey new guy, come here.’

I nod and walk over to them.

“What is your MOS? You a fox?”

“Yeah, I’m a fox.”

“Cool, I am a mike. Walk with me to the maintenance office.”

“Okay.”

We walk around the building to the motorpool office. The quad holds 8 bays; each bay holds a vehicle. “Go over there to that truck, and help the mechanic change the hydraulic fluid. “

“Yeah, I got it.”

Sticking out from the vehicle are a pair of black boots, I kick one and wait for a response. A young man with a tousled mop of yellow hair rolls out from under the vehicle. “You like that foot?”

I nod. “Yeah.  I’m Freeman. Mac sent me over to help change the fluid.”

“Rhodie.”

“Nice to meet you Rhodie. Tell me what I need to do.”

Rhodie and I spend the day changing fluid in one truck after another, by day’s end, we are the best of friends.

March 04-05:

“Freeman, Rhodie, this is your room. Put your gear in here and report to the formation outside.”

We grab our bags and throw them on the bed. I walk out and grab my trunk and wheel it into the room next to the bed. “Can’t do anything without a formation eh Freeman.”

“I guess not. Let’s get out there.”

“Yeah, I need a smoke.”

 We pull the door shut and walk out into the hot air of Iraq. “This place sucks Freeman.”

“Yes, it does, but in their defense so does your home country of Canada.”

Rhodie laughs and punches me in the shoulder. “Screw you, Freeman.”

“Rhodie, you are my favorite Canadian.”

“And you’re my favorite redneck, Freeman.”

The year passes quickly, laughs are had, and sorrow fills our chalices. Before we know it, we are getting on a plane to head back to our beloved country. Sixty days later, I am living in Germany.

June 07:

“The more things change, the more they stay the same. Chow here in the sand still smells like body odor.”

I am standing at the salad bar looking it over when I hear a familiar voice call out to me. Turning, I recognize my old motorpool sergeant standing behind me.

“How ya doing, Freeman?”

“I’m making it Sergeant, how are things?”

“I’m okay. Thought I should tell you about Rhodie.”

“Oh no….not Rhodie.”

“Yeah, son I’m sorry. I know ya’ll were close.”

“Thanks for letting me know.’

The darkness feels so close. Standing in a filled DFAC, crammed full of soldiers and cooks, I feel so alone.

I want to die.

12 November 2019

AWID…Bad days and lonely nights…

“I can’t help what you hear!”

Veins taunt, her eyes clouded by anger, she screeches these venom-filled words at me. I wait for my moment to respond back with my own venom, there will be no coming back from this argument.

“Ok.”

“Every time I say anything to you, you reach for your wallet!”

“I’m a generous guy, not to mention your husband.”

“By what standard are you a husband? You are a provider, a means to an end.”

I bite down on my tongue, hard. The taste of blood fills my mouth.

“Okay.”

“What are you trying to do? Buy my affection? If it was for sale, you couldn’t afford it!”

“Oh, so now I am a whoremonger. Wonderful. Any other accusations you care to air out before I destroy your grid square?”

She balls her fist up, her face contorted with rage, she swings and strikes my face. I wipe my mouth, blood stains the back of my hand.

“ Ok. Do your worst, we will settle up after.”

20 October 2019

Harms way….A Walk in Darkness…

“Gentlemen, we are going to put ourselves in harms way today, prepare yourselves for what is going to happen.”

After three months on ground, the briefing needs to change. Harms way or not, the mission beckons. Half-heartedly listening, my mind wanders to my pregnant wife and beautiful daughter. “Are they okay? Am I a daddy twice over? How will I find out when I am halfway around the world? What if….no, no, NO….I can’t think like that…” For a moment, my emotions want to run rampant, but I maintain control of them. The briefing continues, I come back into the small room where only a select handful of individuals sit in the chairs listening. I glance around the room, every face resigned to the fact we are walking into the deepest depths of hell for those we love.

“The survival rate of this mission is…” Silence falls on the room, the speaker suddenly loses his voice. I look at the floor. We all know where we are going, we’ve heard the stories, and now it is upon us to make sure the horrors we have heard never happen again. “um, guys….none of you may make it back. Your sacrifice will be remembered, songs will be sung in your honor, and remember Fiddlers Green.” My chair is uncomfortable, and I squirm in it trying to get in a position where I feel better. No one says anything, we knew walking in we would hear this in the briefing, it just confirms we are riding into hell.

“This concludes the mission briefing, thanks for coming.” We stand to our feet and silently exit the room. It is as quiet as the grave, soon it will be too loud to hear ourselves think. As I make my way down the dusty hallway, I feel a hand on my shoulder. Turing, I realize it is my First Sergeant. I snap to parade rest; he waves it off. “Freeman, you have a wife, right?” I nod in affirmation. “Yes Top, is everything okay?” He smiles and slips his arm around my shoulder and we continue down the hallway. “Yeah. She gave birth to your daughter; it is your daughter, right? Anyway, mom and child are healthy and doing well at Evans Hospital. I know what you heard in the briefing; now you have a reason not to die. You understand me, Corporal?”

“Ride or die, First Sergeant.”

I walk out into the sun, Fallujah beckons.

10-4-19

Hot socks and t-shirts…A Walk in Darkness…

The clean smell of Irish Spring body wash lingers in the air, as I stand on the mat drying off. “Another day, another headache.” As I dry my back, the early morning silence is broken by the quiet hum of the dryer going through its cycle. I have an affinity for hot socks and t-shirts. As a soldier going through basic training, my Senior Drill Sergeant informed me that somedays nothing beats a clean pair of socks and t-shirt. “I have been clinging to clean socks and t-shirts for three years, when is it going to get better?”  It’s not Colorado I hate; I love it here. Rather, it is myself that I can’t stand.  “You can’t do anything right!”

“Can’t you do laundry during the evening like a normal human being?’

As if on cue, my spouse appears behind me. “I didn’t mean to wake you, I wanted to heat up my socks and t-shirt.”

“Whatever.”

I sigh deeply.  It doesn’t matter what tone I use, nor does it matter if I differ my approach, the result is always the same. We are completely detached from each other. Instead of becoming one as it is states in the marriage vows, we are now two individuals. Angrily, I wipe the unexpected tears from my eyes. The laundry cycle is complete, so I open the door and remove my hot socks.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what? Being a broken man, you can’t do anything right. You are a drunk, and not even a man.”

“Ok.”

I shake my head in disappointment at another failure. “I can’t help what you understand.” She turns and makes her way back upstairs. I slip on my hot socks and a smile crosses my lips. Thanks, Drill Sergeant.

“Somedays you can’t beat a hot pair of socks and t-shirt!”

Years….a poem from my walk in darkness….(be gentle…)

I spent years, waiting for you to love me back,

You didn’t,

Time is meaningful only because there is a limited amount,

You wasted years I will never have again,

On things that will never matter,

Only to watch me slip through your fingers.

We could have been wonderful together,

Overcoming troubles, turning our dreams into reality,

Alas it will never be,

For you were to preoccupied to care about me.

Why won’t you try again? A Walk in Darkness…

“How far can you push a person away before they reach their breaking point and walk away from the situation forever?” Asking for a friend.

Obviously, some of us are gluttons for punishment (speaking from a place of introspection, sorry.) We line up for our forty lashes and ask for more. “Please kind sir, strike me again and put some stank on it!” It matters not the realm this occurs in, (romance, career, religion etc). some of us know better and do it anyway. Why? Because we want something so bad, we don’t care what it cost. I wrote a post the other day and deleted it, but I will summarize it in a few sentences. “We are our own worst enemies. The same trap that snared Adam and Eve trips us up time and time again. If it looks good, we sample it. For some reason or other, we never learn when it comes to matters of the heart. Our heart overrides our brain and we end up in a world of crap.” Let me rephrase that statement, most of us are wired this way, the rest are wired to never get past the overthinking stage.

I could make a blanket statement concerning pushing folks away, but I won’t. Instead, I will say this: Life will continue to pummel us, regardless if we get back on the horse which threw us off or not. It doesn’t matter if we never feel ready to try again, nor does it matter if we continually get up repeatedly. Life’s hands are rated “E” for everybody. I would pose one question to bring the whole point home: Why wouldn’t you try again?

If you never get up from the dirt, you may avoid some pain. Yet, you have decided to quit living and only exist until its your turn to check out. When my divorce was final, questions filled my mind, but one day during my darkness I hit upon a truth. “She didn’t let her loss keep her from moving on to the next stage of her life.” Any remorse felt was discarded and she went on her way. I was jealous of her ability to move past the hurt and find something to make her life better. I still am.

When people leave you when you need them the most, it hurts. The feeling of never being enough is hard to shake. Being treated like an option to break the monotony of someone’s life if other plans fail is also difficult to overcome. However, these same people don’t invest in you, why would you let them keep you down when you weren’t good enough to begin with? They cut their losses and moved on, why won’t you? Get out of the dirt and try again.

I know all to well the fear of starting over. It is a scary thing to try again. Fear clouds our mind and we often fall prey to the fear. It takes a lot of guts to stand on your own, to attempt to move forward when your whole world has crashed to the ground around you. No one can tell you when you are ready to try, but to avoid it weakens the warrior within you. You didn’t know you had a warrior inside of you, did you? Each of us possesses an aggressive spirit that wells up from time to time, this aggression comes from being walked on too many times. It is to remind you that you are an overcomer. Warriors don’t lie in the dirt. They rise from the ground, regardless of the wounds and blood, smile through busted lips, crack their neck and beckons for more. “Come to Daddy.”

If you reach your breaking point, its okay to break. None of us were designed to take a constant beating without reaching our limit. It is okay to step back, re-evaluate, plot your point, and try again. Nothing risked, nothing gained is a simple truth of life. If you ever hope to overcome your issue, you must be willing to risk it all. Don’t worry, if you don’t get it this time, try again. Eventually, you will rise above the dark.

24 September 2019

Veteran problems….A Walk in Darkness….

Try as I may, I can’t control the veteran inside me. Regardless of my self-discipline, or my attempts at restraint, I am bound to say the wrong thing. “What do you think about this Freeman?” I open my mouth and out waltzes the wrong thing. Mind you, it is only wrong in the civilian sector, in the military I would be told to shut my mouth and assume parade rest. Then I would be allowed to speak after I took my scolding. This is only one of a few veteran problems I struggle with daily. “Oh my God, you are so crude!” Um, thank you? I don’t fit in here. Maybe my buddy is right. The powers that be should cryogenically freeze me until the next war starts.

Stating the truth should not be revolutionary.  The PC culture is out of control, a guy can’t even be funny anymore without offending someone. In the military you have your lane and I have mine, at no point should your lane intersect with my lane. I miss this aspect of the military. In civilian life, people are constantly crashing into my lane, and then get offended when I verbally escort them back to their lane. “You are so crass!”  God forbid you get silent on people. All too often I find myself going silent to maintain my temper. “Why are you quiet? Why are you mad?” Gah….

Then there is my skewered perspective of life. My sense of humor is horrible or inappropriate according to most. I talk about things which others find repulsive; their weak constitutions are unable to digest most of my conversations. The looks I receive range from terror to disgust. I don’t sugar coat my feelings. My wording is often wrong, some would say obtuse. My outlook consists of “someone is out to get me, so let me get them first.” I am often told I am paranoid. Perhaps this is true, but then again, with people committing suicide in the park by shooting themselves three times in the back of the head, maybe I am just a realist. Potato, potato.

I feel like this post is one big boohoo fest. I am not crying, just stating facts about my personality.

After fighting in Fallujah, I felt something break inside of me. No amount of time can heal it, I don’t even know what it is that broke. Perhaps, it was the illusion that most civilians live under. Maybe it was my mind breaking from seeing too much or doing things no one should have to do to come home. Who knows? God loves the broken, or so I have been told. Years after the last explosion which threw me fifty feet into the side of a Humvee, I still scan the roads, look for choke points, assess dangers which may or may not be lurking in the restaurant I am frequenting, and check vehicles for signs of a VBIED. I trust few and keep my circle small.

Maybe its just me, or maybe it’s the madness.

I knew I would never be the same guy I was prior to going to the Middle East. Many people only remember that guy, the one they got in return is foreign to them. It’s hard to understand how a person can change so much in the course of a year. My patience for stupid people and stupidity in general decreases daily. I have neither the time nor the crayons to explain to people why they irritate me. If the truth is to be told, I am sure its not even them. The problem lies within me. Years after the last bombing, explosion and death, I still want to fight. It’s in my DNA.  I’m not the guy you want to fight with, because I assure you, I will do whatever is necessary to win. There will be no quarter given, no mercy shown.

In conclusion, its just another day of veteran problems. My favorite Bible verse simply states, “It came to pass…” Thank God it didn’t come to stay.

24 September 2019