Monday, January 29, 2007

FEMALE ON THE FLOOR! For Real

Fort Gordon was a great place to be. I don’t think the MOS I had was really considered signal, and I think 35 Romeo has changed at least once or twice since then, but located near Augusta, Georgia, it was breathtaking.

With some bit of prior electronics experience or even a minute amount of conceptual knowledge of the basics of the basics, I might have made it through the sixteen-week course for Avionic Special Equipment Repairer, but I didn’t and things usually have a way of working out for the best.

I lasted eight weeks, but I’d been struggling all along. While others partied and ridded themselves of stress on the weekends, I always checked myself into a motel room alone and studied. I didn’t just study for the upcoming week, no, I went to some library and checked out huge manuals (and I despise technical reading) and tried to develop some understanding of something I still don’t get. I know enough to stay away from it if at all possible, and that’s about the base and most of my knowledge in electrical exploits.

The reason I’d ended up with this particular MOS is because I wanted to jump out of planes. After I told the job-giver(?) at the MEPS station in Amarillo this, he told me he’d put me in as a Parachute Rigger, that one of those jobs was available. By the time he got me into the computer and was about to enter my information into the Rigger job, it was gone.

Anyone who knows me very well also knows I’d be the last person anyone would want sewing and packing their chute into jumpable and still livable afterwards order. I believe Virgie Bell has shared with us my talents as a seamstress. But with 35 Romeo, I’d still have a jump school option. Once I completed the sixteen-week course, I’d spend three weeks at Ft. Bragg and then go from there to my first duty station.

Great plan. But my talents at basic electronics were no better than they’d proved themselves to be thus far. I'd gotten a GT of 114 on my ASVAB, so I looked strong in math. Of course, I'd just finished an Algebra final. Had I given it another few weeks, I'd probably not have done as well in the math/electricity area.


I guess if I could have just ran and pushed my way through training of any army sort, I’d have been okay, but my shaky hands were of no benefit when it came to testing transistors. Once during a test, I popped the spider-looking component right out of the circuit card as I tried placing the two leads on either side of it. I had to get the instructor to come over and put it back in so I could finish my test! He was good natured and everyone there knew and accepted the busyness of my hands.

The staff was great there; the soldiers were perhaps some I’ve enjoyed most, or maybe second most during my almost five years in. I wasn’t particularly fond of the civilian instructors, but the NCOs were great. I knew one was only kidding when he hollered out, “Austin, are you on drugs?!?” after I’d asked some particularly brilliant question. Henceforth, I didn’t have to end up sweating the schematics that were as long as the barracks hallway and I didn’t have to wait until I got to soldering class where I could really humiliate myself. No, Logic took care of all that for me.

Natch.

I had to wait on orders to leave school which took about a week, so I had to sit in Logic class until then. I learned Logic that week.

Natch.

Then I had to wait on orders to leave Gordon after the Army awarded me the third job I’d checked on my second wish list of three.

Natch.

I’ve heard it said that being on 'Post Detail' was the worst place a soldier could be, but I rather enjoyed it. Everybody I worked for was laid back and I enjoyed the almost goal-less physical work as a change. One day we went to the general’s house and that was pretty neat. There was a pond with ducks and we were just out there with our pine-needle-blowers, feeding the ducks and loving the view. Another time I worked at SSSC (the army’s supply store) and did well there, so the clerk gave me a dictionary, which I still have. The words PV1 Austin are big and bold in black magic marker. The letters in gold on the hard red cover mention something about government property, which I understand a little better now. But still, I have it and will hardly use it, so that the government’s investment will be a lasting one.

My orders for 76 Victor training arrived in about three weeks. By then I was ready. Our air conditioning unit went out in the barracks. At least that’s what we thought. Rumor had it later that the air conditioning had been turned off after one of the female soldiers came down with an illness like asbestos poisoning or something. I don’t know if that was true or what became of the rumor. I just remember sleeping on the tiled floor in our eight-man barracks room in Georgia. In July. The cool tile floor provided a little relief at night, but it was still miserable.

When my orders came for Ft. Lee, I packed and spent my last night in the Post Guest House. I ran the air conditioner all night as high as it would go, no matter how many layers of covers I had to get under. I didn’t dare turn it off.

That was a good night.

And it’s good I enjoyed it, because less than twenty-four hours later, I was once again, on a hot and humid night, in a different state, with different soldiers, but once again, stuck in an old barn-barracks. But it was just for the one night, until we cleared the replacement center at Ft. Lee, so I didn't let it get me down.


Sometime during the night, I’d gone out to smoke and returned to an empty bunk that I thought had a better shot at some spit of air from one of the industrial sized fans they'd provided. I’d just gotten into what must have been a REM sleep pattern when I awoke with what I first thought was a dream. No, a nightmare.

A female voice splintered the air and everyone was ordered outside and put into the front-leaning-rest. We pushed and counted for quite a while, I was confused by it all, but just kept pushing. I had no clue as to who they thought was AWOL until finally someone said, “It’s her, Sergeant!” She pulled up one hand from her front-leaning-rest position and pointed. “It’s her!” After the pointer-protester repeated her disclosure, I could see that she was clearly pointing at me.

It took awhile for me to understand that they thought I had taken off and left. No one really knew my name since I’d shown up so late in the evening. They just knew I was “her.” And that “her” head was not in “her” bunk.

No head, no headcount, no questions. Just sound the alarms, drag everyone out and scream until somebody gives some explanation.

It’s been the expedient way for years.

3 comments:

steve ramos said...

I remember during my first year in the Air Force thinking we wasted a lot of time playing mind games. I was a kid and about as sophisticated as Jethro, but some of the behavior didn't make sense to me. Of course, I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut and not let anyone know I entertained mutinous ideas.

I remember thinking that the walls between us and the officers should be lowered a bit. The chasm that separated us socially was formidable. There was one time when I was "talked to" because an 03 and I had become friends. He was counseled, too. Enlisted and officers weren't allowed to be friends. We shared a passion for hiking, and we met while hiking in the nearby Hill Country. I remember thinking that it was like a black kid and a white kid being told they couldn't be friends.

Also, I couldn't understand why I had to swing a mop during a GI party when the BOQ had maids! But, like I said, I was smart to keep those thoughts to myself.

De'on, reading about your experiences in the Army makes me realize how easy we had it in the Air Force! I dig reading your posts. But you know what? We might have had an easier time of it, but we still had to wear those uniforms that made us look like bell hops!

Hey, soldier, you missed a cigarette butt over there!

De'on Miller said...

:). I guess the shock of it all eventually goes away, though it took years and many other shocks. For years after, I always wondered if someone was watching me, if I might be doing something wrong. When I flew in an airplane somewhere, I wore civvies if at all possible, so that if a more seasoned member of the military happened to be aboard, they might not know that I was a Private who needed to be watched and caught. I truly became a little paranoid, I think!!!

Course, now, I'm totally mentally healthy! :) lol.

no cigarette butts here, Sergeant!

steve ramos said...

Yes, dear. Today you are, indeed, the soul of mental health! Me, too!