Saturday, February 03, 2007


She didn’t feel lost at all as she climbed off the plane at Dulles International. True enough, the new soldier had no clue where she was headed, not really, but surely cabdrivers were good for that sort of thing around here. She’d ask him, she decided as she helped him load her duffle bags and suitcases into his trunk.

In the cab, PV2 Austin retrieved her orders from a brown leather briefcase; a left-over from Ft. Gordon. She knew enough now to keep her orders near. They were like her skin. That close. Dog tags swung cold against her torso when she leaned over to heave the last bag; the rattle of chain against tags within her sweater reassured her somehow. She belonged to Uncle Sam and they were her wedding ring of sorts. She’d find her unit or they’d find her. She smiled at the thought and spread out her paperwork and its seemingly lack of information before the cabbie. Not one thought did she give to the possibility of him robbing, raping or murdering her. She was small town. Everyone was her friend.

There’s an old acronym in the Army. KISS. Keep it simple stupid. Instead of simply keeping things simple and driving straight up to Walter Reed Army Institute of Research like the papers said, the cabbie and Austin, many miles and forty dollars later, decided Ft. Myer would be the place for a 76 Victor Materiel and Storage Handling Specialist forced to drive a forklift of cammie-sized proportions and drop 55 gallon drums of oil all over the place should be dropped off to start work early the next morning. These are all the things she thought, and no doubt, felt the freedom to share with the driver. By the time they arrived at Ft. Myer, home of the Old Guard, the cab driver was well rehearsed in her military plights and perhaps even cared for her a bit as the staff on duty told him no, this isn’t where she should be, but it was late, and they’d get the good soldier to her duty station, one way or another.

It really makes little difference as to if someone from WRAIR came for her or another someone from Ft. Myer transported her to the first day of the rest of her life; for what matters is, is that Private Austin was of the opinion she’d at long last awakened from an unhealthy nightmare into a military dream, one which vaguely reminded her of the dreams she’d dreamt before basic training. It was if she’d been reborn into a new time, a new home. Banquets of color spilled from every tree, bush and hill. Soldiers in uniform and white lab coats passed by sharp, quick, saluted officers of every rank and size. It was a busy place. Full of mysterious old rooms and annexes, leaky ceilings, ghosts of diseases past with all their creaks and formaldehyde odors; these sensors mildewed the hurdles of the past into the present hope of the future. Full of mission. People into their own thing.

The First Sergeant, an old infantry type who made it no secret of his despair with the “culture” of WRAIR gave Austin three weeks to vacate the barracks since she was legally married and drew the additional funds of BAQ.

“But First Sergeant, I send that money to my son,” she had said.

“The Army doesn’t care what you do with it. They just care that you draw it. Three weeks,” was his reply.

It wasn’t so much that she was savvy enough to know the good deal she’d been dealt, but she too sensed the culture of this medical component of the Army, but unlike the Infantryman, she was not displeased with it, she was near ecstasy. Already, it was home.

The new search was nothing short of a thrill for her, another adventure, to find a place to live, and despite the fact she really liked her very own barracks room, complete with private bath, there in Abrams Hall right across from work, she simply got busy hunting for an apartment, a room, anything. She read the ads from Stars and Stripes and strolled down 16th Street alone. Maybe there were vacant apartments on that street, she'd thought.


As the angels of protection would have it, Austin found a peach of a place in Silver Spring, Maryland, without once being raped, murdered or in any way accosted on the subway she delighted in riding.

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