Friday, February 23, 2007


If I had known then what I know now, I’d have asked many more questions. But this was my first war, and I basically just did what they told me.

My NCOIC, we’ll call him SFC Grover, was an E-7 nearing retirement. He was a good ole boy who let me know right off that my main mission would be “coffee.” He said it was because I made such good coffee. Pulleezzz. It was a freaking coffee maker with a measuring spoon.

He also had me ride shotgun with him on every turn. I can’t even remember if I was locked and loaded with the safety in place. I do remember picking up huge crates of rounds and scores of cases of MREs from Ft. Clayton, which was located across the Bridge of the Americas. I also recall dropping them off at places unknown to me. I’d just gotten there!

SFC Grover was an all-out creep with red hair and a nasty temper. I had no job during that time. I was a soldier without any real mission or purpose other than to sleep in uniform and eat MREs (we did get C-rations or something in the chow hall on Christmas Day.) In between those times I rode with SFC Grover, pulled guard duty outside the section door, wrote letters, things like that. I don’t know if it was bad timing in my arrival there or just the culture of the place at that time. No doubt, part of the ‘tude was mine. I had been used to things being a bit different. I’d worked as a civilian for fifteen years and I’d worked hard at WRAIR. Now here I was stuck in the heat with people I’d hardly met, in a very full uniform and with my face breaking out like I’d just entered puberty. The sand fleas were eating me alive and bats made their appearance regularly. It turned out I was highly sensitive to the sand fleas and I can’t bear to itch. No Benadryl, no Lipton Tea, save for the one tiny PX near the Replacement Center; the beloved building 519. Every problem or benefit that awaited the soldiers in and near Ft. Clayton was born or killed in building 519.

But their tiny PX did have my brand of tea. Everyone carried Nestea. No. It’d been Lipton for years. And my job was coffee.


Like I said, if I had known then what I know now, I’d have learned a little about all that was going on around me. But I was just self-involved enough to believe the war had nothing to do with me. I sincerely believed this was punishment of some sort to be sent to this place and I intended to treat it as such, as if I was being punished.

I enjoyed the fact that my family back home was petrified for my safety. Yes, I was in the vicinity of war, but not close at all. Anyone whose ever lived and worked on a base knows what I’m talking about. I was well protected.

It was a different day then.

My Commander in Chief was President George Bush. Had we as parents known then what we know now, what would we have done differently?

For me, not really much of anything.

Aaron was seven at the time. He lived with his dad in Memphis, TX. I missed him desperately and I lived in that real time. I had no clue Aaron and his dad would join me in a few short months. At this time, I was counting down for twelve months, not thirty-six.

So this is my story of the war. I was an unhappy selfish wench surrounded by people with even less promise.

Hence my little book that I’ll be copying from to tell the story of the invasion. After the invasion itself, we’ll go back and cover Panama’s pre-invasion history as I continue with my own little soldier stories. Hopefully, we’ll all live through it, and maybe together we can enjoy some of the beautiful country and culture that I had an eye for, but not a heart.

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