Hey Space Cadets, I wanted to take a moment to write a hard post. I was originally going to post this on Veteran’s Day but life got away from me as it often does when the demons come out to play. Ain’t PTSD grand? With that said, this is what I would’ve posted had I not been embracing the suck of life with a demon on your back trying to drag you to places so horrific I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. Not even my worst enemies, not that I have any… I’m loveable! So, without further ado, here’s my delayed post.
Anyone who has read my website or listened to my podcast knows that I proudly served my country in the U.S. Army. I enlisted into the US Army Reserves as an 88K (Watercraft Operator) in a riverine squadron when I was 17 years old. I was in a unit that was supposed to provide direct support to infantry units, so I was sent to Fort Benning, GA for Infantry OSUT and I was given infantry as a secondary MOS. Then I was off to my watery school of Navy lite training.
For those of you who don’t know, the Navy boatswain’s mates have a playful animosity with their enginemen. We call our boatswains mates “watercraft operators” and have the same competition with our 88L’s. Sure, we call them Watercraft Engineers, but it’s all the same flavor with a different name. Add to that, the typical Army-Navy rivalry… and you have a Thanksgiving with enough playful stones thrown to sink a skiff!! Imagine my Uncle’s horror when I told him I would honor his twenty years of Naval service as an Engineman by joining the Army… as a boatswain’s mate.
The joke was on me, however, because when I started college and transferred to the local unit it wasn’t there anymore. When I reported in, I was told that the unit I was assigned to had shut down in the early 80’s. Someone forgot to tell the Army MEPS Station in Richmond, Virginia. Because the Army needed drivers of the wheeled variety, I was laterally transferred into an 88M (Large Wheeled Vehicle Operator) slot and sent to a second AIT. I did okay, though I never could learn to back up the M915. That is your basic 18-wheeler, if it wasn’t painted green and riddled with Army jargon on its bumper. While trying to park that beast, I accidently knocked over a row of porta-potties. I’d listened to my ground guide, so it technically wasn’t my fault. Sadly, the Sergeant Major was in the porta-potty when it tipped over. He was covered in blue goo from the porta-potty and wasn’t in the mood to forgive or forget.
The next day was our school’s final test of our ability to shoot while driving, which was a useful skill for an Army headed to Iraq. You’re supposed to balance accurate marksmanship with speed through the course. All while hopefully not wrecking your vehicle. The course went through multiple obstacles, with enough off-roading to make your Humvee (HMMWV) bounce around like a pinball. I passed the test with the highest grade in the battalion. Actually, humble brag, it was the best score they’d seen in a few cycles of trainees. Anyway, as a reward for my skills with my rifle, I was transferred right back into the infantry. They were kind enough to award me the 88M designator as a going-away present; great for those promotion points.
When I got back to in-processing for my new assignment, they asked the formation whether we wanted light or heavy infantry. I had one of those lightbulb moments, I didn’t want to carry as much of that heavy gear! Light infantry it was! Joke was on me, they carry MORE. The “light” part means that they don’t have the heavy support of armored vehicles. I spent the rest of my career bent over at the waist with a full rucksack, loving the suck. Seriously, I have no regrets. I had the privilege of serving beside some of the best and brightest men you’ll ever meet. We’re talking salt of the earth sorta guys! Even after getting hurt in Iraq and medically discharged as unfit for continued service, I don’t regret a day of it. I’d gladly do it all over again, though maybe I would duck when the IED goes off? Nah, shit was getting real and I had a mission to accomplish.
Pictures in this slideshow are Public Domain.
I mentioned this, so you would understand where I’m coming from when I say what’s next.
To my brothers and sisters who held the line with me, I salute you. Today, as you receive the honors you so rightly deserve from a grateful nation and eat free food at [insert your local eatery], please take a moment to remember how far you’ve come from those craptastic hellholes we served in for Uncle Sam. Remember why we take this day to honor those who made it home from their service. Because we know that sometimes when you come home from hell, the ghosts follow you. So… let’s raise a glass to our friends, while praying we don’t join them in Valhalla for many years to come.
That doesn’t mean we can’t use today to honor our brethren who weren’t so fortunate. We know the truth, for veterans… EVERY day is Memorial Day because those warriors died that we might live, giving up their tomorrows for our today. I know it isn’t technically Memorial Day, but we honor them anyway. Were it not for their ultimate sacrifice, they’d be celebrating Veterans Day with us. Maybe instead of us.
To the husbands and wives of our warriors, I apologize. Too often when we talk about these touchy subjects, we don’t mention the role you played. I honor you too because those who stand and wait at home also serve. For honoring your warrior, keeping the hearth burning, I salute you. For holding him/her when the demons haunt their sleep afterward, I honor you. For raising the next generation while we were away, I thank you. And for being something worth defending for the men/women who I had the privilege of serving on the tip of the spear with, I love you. Thank you.
And most importantly, to you, Randall. Wherever you are in the afterlife that awaits, Thank You. Your sacrifice wasn’t for nothing, two beautiful boys grace this world because of the life you saved. Now that they’re old enough to understand, I’ve started telling them about you. You’ll become immortal, through the love all who lived because of what you so bravely did. Many others who were there with me would tell similar tales of blessing that couldn’t have existed without you. You’re still one of us, and you’re still loved.
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
—> As usual, the two images I used today can be found under Google’s “labeled for reuse” section.