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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.
“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.
“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