Friday, February 02, 2007


Though Ft. Lee took some getting used to, I eventually did and it wasn’t too bad. I was a squad leader, and my Drill Sergeant titled me Momma Smurf. I was promoted to E-2 there and I recall the feeling of pride I had in at last having something on my collar as he pinned the mosquito wings on me. He was a great man. I don’t remember his name but I’ll never forget him.

He wasn’t tall. But I remember everything about the man was full of definition. Something about him captured attention and held it. Not just his physique, his eyes were the color of coal, his complexion more like dark honey--the juxtaposition was as startling as the brilliance of his watch and wedding band, each circled an almost golden halo around his shiny dark skin--he--a newly-wed and a little cocky—but just handsome enough to get by with it. He was a Christian man who spoke openly and admiringly of our Lord; he was confident in all. Defined and illuminated.

He used to catch me in front of a crowd, a long-line somewhere and holler, “Drop Momma Smurf; show Joe how you can push.” The performing monkey would drop and do 40 or 50 pushups or go until he said stop. By this time I was doing 75 pushups in the 2 minute test, 53 sit-ups, and my 2 mile run was around 15 something, I think. 14 something was the best it ever was and 16 something the least. I loved PT.

It was there I learned to drive forklifts of all sizes. I liked the little ones (can’t remember what they’re called, but civilians use them all the time). Too, I liked driving the huge camouflaged ones, but hated picking up 55 gallon drums.

I really did not like my MOS at all, but it’s the one I had, so I dealt with it, but the real job I was supposed to land as a 76 Victor at an actual duty station promised little more than a warehouse of petroleum, tires or parts. Very outdoorsy sounding to me. Very oily, stinky and full of 55 gallon drums getting dropped by their picker-upper and dropper-downer-driver, I pictured. Me, working at a near gas station. Worse. Dropping drums at one.

There was a Satan worshiper in my squad. He carried his devil-bible-incantation book in his cargo pocket. While others read their “smart book” during breaks, he read his as well as his dark book. He smiled more than anyone else, was quiet. Once when our squad (out of the many) had to clean the dayroom, scrape up boot marks with the famous slice of green square whose name escapes me just now, mop, wax and buff the huge floor, late at night after it closed, the Satan worshiper started playing his weird music. I asked him to stop, to play anything else than that, and he obliged me without problem. He was so strange. And always alone and smiling.

Close to graduation we went on a three day FTX, a Field Training Exercise. I did well on that, I did well on the late nights as a squad leader, I did well on pretty much everything (aside from the drums, but that was just a fraction of the final test) and then we went on a short road march into the woods to test on various weapons; we were to give a class of our own.

My test was on the LAW, a relatively easy one to draw, but right in the middle, I forgot, and I started “talking” to the Drill Sergeant, asking for help and he got mad and started hollering.

Then I started hollering. Bad. Bad. Bad. I freely admit how wrong I was, but I went blind for a bit.

When he asked me where my mind was I said something about no sleep, then of course he responded and I did with the dayroom and shined boots theory of late night hours and how sick of training I was and he replied everyone else had been doing it for four months too, well, I’d been doing it for nearly eight, I said, and then after he “At eased” me three times, I got my sight back, saw his stripes once again and pictured my mosquito wings flying away at mach speed carrying my corporal squad leader band with it.

I finished the demonstration somehow and went back to some covert area I was to cover and fought tears. I really was sorry for how I acted. But I really was exhausted by that time.

For nearly eight months I’d had fire guard, night guard, dayroom, latrine duty, name it. I knew every trick on detailing everything for inspections of every kind. It makes me feel guilty for how rough I thought I had it then when I think of now.

The Drill could’ve burned me and then I was sure he was about to when he called me and another female squad leader over to him when we returned to garrison. But instead he walked us to an empty room, one with only two bunks in it, and told us it was ours. A two-man room. Wow.

As I started to apologize, he brushed me off and simply said, “Forget it Momma Smurf. “Shine this floor and you know the deal.” The deal being to burn Johnson’s paste wax into the floor even though it was against regs. We knew how to shine. We bought it on our own. It was our deal. It was understood. It was after all, about the inspection.

He somehow acknowledged my humanness and my worth all within those few words “shine and know the deal.” There’d be no changes made in our worlds that day.

‘The Third Herd’ we were called. We were the third platoon. We did shine and we did get to go to DC on our trip, and then when 80% of the company got orders to Germany, mine were to Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, DC. No one could believe it. I was elated. One of the E-7 instructors said, “Private, do you know how many years I’ve been in and have tried to get duty in a place like that?”

Where would the warehouse be? The gas station? No one could figure it out.

“What about field time?” I asked the E-7.

“Pssshh, won’t be any field time there, Private....” He shook his head a little and I thought, at last, God is smiling down on me. I couldn’t think of a place I’d rather be. I’d learn to deal with those 55 gallon drums. Who knows, maybe there weren’t any.

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