Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Dog Goes And Gets His Own Damn Bone

Myth: you cannot begin the ACAP (Army Career and Alumni Program) process until you are six months away from your ETS date (the day that you supposedly are a free man once again).

Fact: You can start the briefings as much as a year out.

I sat in an office, spilling my guts about Iraq, my sleep habits and everything else that was even potentially fucked up about me as a result of my epic and heroic service. In a babbling vomit, I spewed up everything I could get out while he nodded before steering the session to ensure that he got to lunch on time. We had a few laughs about everything I had to report. He certainly did, and at that point all you can do is follow along.

Answer all the questions honestly, they tell you, but really I don't think it matters, because they're just going to return you to normal duty. Most blokes aren't going to find the Morgan Freeman poetic passphrases that land you a Get Out Of Service Free Card.

Before he even finished asking what I was going to do when I got out, I was punching him with the word "school". That's when he mentioned ACAP and clarified exactly when one can begin.

Hit the Next Chapter button on your remote a couple times, and there I am, ordering food from a drive-thru puke vendor with a friend, body ravaged and sore from extended PT sessions, usually two per day, when I decided that we needed a morale booster.

I found my first line supervisor and told him that we had to go make an appointment and away we went. When we finally found the office we were looking for, civilians eyed us suspiciously, demanding to know what in the name of all things demonic was it that we wanted. When we told them that we were working on getting out, their defenses dropped and they mystically transformed into the warmest, kindest people you'll ever find on a military installation. Overly gushy daycare ladies aren't this kind.

We were led to another cushy office and given lots of printouts, gave our basic information, and were handed appointment slips. Hell, we even marveled at the lady's electric stapler. You laugh, but that thing was pretty fucking impressive. It's a Swingline.

Anyway, I thought it was time I threw myself a bone, so I did. I did my own thing, AND I LIKED IT. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got menial tasks to half-ass my way through, then I've got an appointment in the afternoon, guaranteed to eat up a healthy portion of the workday.

I can't get out until next spring, but good God, I just took the first step towards redemption. It's like blindly grabbing a low-hanging branch after you've become fully submerged in quicksand: there's still a chance!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fresh Meat

There's something about new guys that I like. I don't call them FNGs or cherries or any of that shit. I think it's that they aren't yet corrupted or jaded. They're like toddlers, innocent and impressionable and all that Hallmark happy horseshit.

The only serious thing I said to our new guy was, "Don't model yourself after us. We're getting out. We did our thing and now we're counting down months. They tell you to be in the right place at the right time, in the right uniform. Believe it." I couldn't think of much to elaborate on after that, and we had enough busywork to do that it didn't matter anyway.

I don't want to be responsible for someone else coming to hate the Army. Already seen one new guy go from total motivation, wanted to do it all, get that Ranger tab, and slowly become a reflection of the rest of us til the day I heard him say, "Fuck the Army man, I'm getting out."

"Dude you have like four or five years left."

I really thought that I would love the Army for the most part, but every step of the way, something was there to stomp all the hope out of it for me. Crushed it to death and left it to the point where I've had to come to terms with the Army without outright hating it. And I don't.

Someone asked this new guy, "Why'd you join the Army?"

He said, "To be an Airborne Ranger."

Congrats, dude. You're in a Stryker Brigade. You won't go to a Ranger unit, not in this life cycle. All you can do is hang on to that New Private Smell for as long as you can. Stay hungry. Don't model yourself after us.

Maybe I just want to believe that there really are people that love being in the Army, that don't just get stuck and end up as lifers. Maybe that's what I need to see for myself.

"How long did you sign up for?"

"Three years."

"Smart man. Thinking about staying in?"

"Not sure yet. I might make it a career."

Rewind the clock a few years and that was us. And thus begins the battle for this kid's soul.

Don't be like us.

Suspect Gets His Ass Thoroughly Kicked

The coffin on the front made me wonder if it was a premonition, proof that this was indeed the end of something once great. But I had to know. I tore the clear plastic away and jammed the disc into the CD player and hit the road while it started spinning.

A fist shot out of the speaker closest to me and busted me right in the chops. I saw stars and I couldn't even hear the ringing in my ears because the wall of asskickery stampeding into my ears was too determined. Four instruments being thrashed and attacked so hard that my candyass was feeling the punishment. Metallica was back.

It brought me all the way back to when I bought my first CD with my own money, ...And Justice For all, and I learned first hand that music could indeed melt your face off.

Trees ripped themselves out of the ground and hurled themselves over cliffs because they just weren't worthy. I wanted to throw bottles of baby formula to everyone else on the road who wasn't feeling the storm that these dudes were unleashing. Strap a diaper to their heads and change lanes and be on my way.

In fact, I have to stand to type this, because my ass was kicked so much that there is significant bruising. That album was so manly that it has to be shaved before playing. After I heal up, I'll listen to Dragonforce's new album too, but for now I can only eat Jello.

Death Magnetic. Get.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Eye To Eye

Once in a while, cosmic forces will bring polar opposites crashing violently into each other. I found myself battling for my very soul in one of the debates I knew was imminent the closer and closer I got to getting out.

"So you re-enlisting?" he asks, leaning back on a swivel chair. I give him my typical response to this question: a contorted face that says Are you serious? You gotta be kidding man. You know better.

He laughs. "You might be, just wait."

Already a little offended, I told him, "I can guarantee you with absolute certainty that I won't voluntarily extend my service."

"You say that n--" he began, at which point I sat up and interrupted.

"Since day ONE it's been a four year enlistment. The plans have never changed. Not even for a second. I've always been short. Always."

He's already got the inevitable question ready and fires away. "Why did you enlist?"

"To go to Iraq," my response is as basic as possible.

"Huh...well looks like you got that out of the way."

"Yeah, and now it's just killing time. Listen, I don't hate the Army, not by any means. In a lot of ways, yeah, it's been really cool, but you know how they always half-assed say that the Army isn't for everyone? Well it's true. And I knew it from the beginning. I fucking KNEW that I'd be out of place here and I went and did it anyway. Full knowing it was only four years."

He blinks, so I continue.

"I did it, did all I signed up to do, and now it's just a matter of fulfilling the contract, a technicality, you know? And then I can get out, and start doing what I should have been doing when I was nineteen."

"That's cool man," he offers, keeping the peace. "What are you planning on doing?"

Now it's my turn to slouch in my seat. "Depends on what day of the week it is, how I'll answer that question. Y'know, when the re-enlistment NCO comes around. I'll tell them, 'I'm going to call you while you're eating dinner and try to get you to subscribe to Parade and Vibe and US Weekly.'"

He looks at me like I'm fucking crazy and laughs. Mind you, I'm easily encouraged.

"Yeah, or you know, when I was three, I thought being a garbage man would be a good gig. Or who knows, I'll just tell them something elaborate, something they don't want to hear. I'll tell them my family owns a chain of hotels and they're giving me one to own to teach me about business and all that, get my feet wet. Or.....or I'll tell them that I already have a house lined up, got some roommates who haven't seen me in a while. Then I'll just tell it straight and say that I've decided to move back in with my parents, watch cartoons and eat cereal all night. Maybe flip burgers."

We keep this game going for a good twenty minutes, making up ridiculous answers to life after the Army. Have a few laughs, and then it hits me, and all I do is verbalize it.

"I miss the freedom. Not that Toby Keith flag-waving freedom, but I mean like personal freedom. To be able to do anything you want within reason, live anywhere, be anything. Stop being anything that isn't working. Know what I mean?"

I study him for a second to gauge his reaction. Then I prattle on some more.

"Maybe we just really get used to the way the Army does things. Hell, I noticed something the other day that I've seen a million times, but it never clicked like it first did when I was a new soldier. You know how when an NCO is smoking (forcing an enlistee to do pushups and other exercises as punishment -Ed) someone, they tend to stand there with their arms crossed, watching them? Well I was watching someone get smoked the other day, and I was like, "What the none of my other jobs would I ever have to physically degrade myself because the boss was pissed." You know what I mean? I have NEVER had to crawl through dirt and mud at any other job before. I've never given a boss so much power before."

We laughed about it for a second, because good God, it made SENSE. WEIRD!

"But yeah, it's the freedoms. Be able to do anything you want. Flip burgers and wash cars or sit in a cubicle or scan groceries or manage franchises, become a suit and set fire to Wall Street, write graffiti on the moon (someone has to have done it by now). Go to college, don't go to college. Be a bum or climb the corporate ladder, anything in between. How does that NOT sound appealing? There's endless possibilities, and at any point, you can switch gears or go in a total different direction. You don't like where you live? You can pick up roots and move somewhere new that's better suited to you. You just have to have the drive and courage to do these things, that's what I think. You can't tell yourself that you can't do it."

I stopped and thought about everything I'd just said.

"Fuck, that's what the re-enlistment guys are for. Let THEM tell you you can't."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I was driving when it hit me, full force, a thousand heavy fists hammering a point into my skull. Never in my life had I wanted anything to be over so bad. Never been so homesick and fed up and tired, just TIRED.

I changed lanes and thought and thought some more. I don't even have a battle to fight, wouldn't want to if I did. Stuck. Not sure what to do. Re-enlistment NCOs love that too. Next time he comes around though, I'll lie. Cook up a whole elaborate plan, leading all the way up to my retirement and binges on a yacht. Whatever he doesn't want to hear. Whatever sounds solid and foolproof. Whatever saves me from the "you're going nowhere, getting out without a plan and you'll be back, why not re-up and get a bonus?" lecture. A total siege on your sense of self-reliance.

Sorry chief, I can't. Not this guy. I want to have rights again. I hear stories about the barracks that other units have and I get pissed. Apparently ours are astonishingly bad. Pitiful. Prison cells. Two guys crammed into a small room and goddamn you if you can't keep that shit clean.

When you aren't at war, you're supposed to be miserable. I see dudes getting their asses chewed during PT. You aren't supposed to exercise to the point where you're in pain. It's an individual thing, but God help you if you don't keep up with flutterkicks. The Iron Fist mentality is everywhere, unnecessarily so. There's no fucking reason for it.

My friends joked the other day that I'd be the one short-timer of the group to re-enlist. Yuks and laughs. I joked right along with them, "Fuck you, die in a fire." If half of these people even knew what I've been thinking lately.

I'm in my twenties. I should be done with college already. I should be well on my way to getting my life together. I should have had atleast one apartment of my own by now. I should have credit, good or bad. I should have some sort of foundation. But I don't. I'm still in an Army that treats the single lower enlisted soldiers like fucking children.

I can't have my girlfriend in my room. I have no place to call my own. The barracks are not mine. That's just where the Army keeps me. I have no sense of identity in this fucking uniform. I have no sense of accomplishment, I still feel that I was fucked out of my war and that's probably a good thing.

I pissed away four years. Life experience be damned. It didn't make me better. It made me bitter. It made me uncomfortable around the normal world, twice over now than before we deployed. I suspect everyone of harboring violent intentions and sadistic plans. I drive with a sense of impending doom. At any moment, I'll be fucked.

I'll be late to work.
I'll say or do the wrong thing.
Murphy's Law is going to get me.
I'm going to get pulled over.
I'm going to merge the same time someone else does and get shoved under an eighteen wheeler.
Gonna get shot hanging out off post in some freak occurance at the mall.

It's all going to go downhill, and fast, and I won't even see it coming. Rock bottom is staring up at me with a shit eating grin.

So now ask again if I'm thinking about re-enlisting. Nope. My gut tells me that everything here is wrong wrong wrong and I need to get out.

But I can't. Not yet. Trapped. Serving my time. I don't even speak my mind anymore. That's how convinced I am that they're going to get me somehow.

On my own, I do fine. Better than fine. Everything is great when I'm home, feeling like a normal person again. Start the countdown. I'm going to get my life back eventually. This little relationship I have with the Army, it just isn't healthy, and I tried, I really did. It's gotta end. Got too many other things to do. It's not you, it's me. Really.

Leave the GI Bill on the dresser.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Short Timers

Yesterday, I was struck with childlike glee, full-on and without warning. Whatever the opposite of getting kicked in the balls is, that's what it was. It was a nonkick in the nonballs, one might say.

What is it, you ask? Short Timers.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

But Most Of The Time...

I don't. At all.

That's right.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Once In A While

It's true what you might have heard. We do sometimes miss being deployed. It doesn't make much sense and we know it. The truth, though, is that things were usually pretty simple "downrange".

Anytime we were forced to assemble together, it was for a reason. Not formation just for the sake of formation. If there was information to put out, a huddle was good enough.

Not drinking was easy. Some dudes handle it just fine, I ended up cutting mine down to a bare minimum--drink or two. Some dudes just need to not drink. Ever.

Our safety briefings are continuously lengthier because we're all supposed to be harboring sinister, self-destructive thoughts or subconscious desires. Buying up sports cars and crotch rockets. Deliriously wasting money.

My friend and I took an ass beating a month or two ago in Seattle. I was logic-defyingly drunk and I'm pretty sure he was too. I came out of a blackout just in time to see him turn to face me and say, "Yep. We're about to get our asses kicked."

Then five or six dudes proceeded to do just that. All I could think was, "This shouldn't be happening. Wouldn't happen if I had a gun." That's about when it hit me.

We aren't worth dick if we aren't armed. Myself especially. No eye contact in public, don't cut anyone off in traffic, don't turn onto the wrong street, hope no one smashes your windows out when you go to see a movie, neurotic social terror. But put me in full kit and give me my rifle again, and I'm God.

One day you're detaining some asshole who rigged a house to explode on you and your guys, negotiating with the train tunnel sized shotgun barrel. The next, you're John Q Whogivesashit, capable of not much.

Oh yeah, I thought long and hard about spending my last year in Iraq. It sounded like a really good idea too. More money, actually doing my job. Sounded wonderful. But there's more people to consider than just me. So it's John Q Whatsit.

You get back, and everyone goes back to focusing on their own little things. Their upcoming marriage and/or divorce. Their suped Volkswagon. It isn't Us vs The World anymore. And it's a law of nature that everything eventually goes downhill. When that happens, you can either pout and live in the past, in the good ol' days, or you can move on and find something new and good, and enjoy it while it lasts. Then move on again when it's drained of awesome.

See, I don't know if I ever made this clear enough. I didn't enlist for "freedom", and I didn't enlist for college. Fuck, I didn't even THINK I'd go to college back then. Thought it "wasn't for me". [Vomit blood here]. I didn't give two shits who the President was, I didn't care who the enemy was. I've said this a million fucking times, but I did it for the dudes of my generation that were going. We could have been storming London and I still would have signed up. I signed up for dudes that I didn't even know. Some that I came to hate, some that I never knew all too well, some that were just too fucking weird not to love, and some that are the best friends I'll ever have.

That Band Of Brothers feeling is few and far between though. Only in rare moments that you don't talk about in the first place. But I've done some really STUPID things to help or bail a friend out.

The Army is where you go if you're afraid to grow up. If you have that Peter Pan Syndrome. But it isn't always the party you thought it would be. For some reason, I really thought it would be a life of excess and all things awesome. Sometimes, it is. But no one advertises the gray moments in between. I'm not against recruiting for the Army. It's actually a really good thing for most people. I just think there should be more honesty in the advertisements. But wait, that defeats the purpose.

The thing though, is that you almost have no choice but to try to plow forward. If not, all you can do is look back. And I can't do that. So I have to stay busy. Bring the new guys in, I promise not to ruin their attitudes and I'll do everything I can to teach them and look out for them, and not ruin their mindset. The Army really could use more high speed, low drag, motivated types.

My heart is just never going to be in this unless I'm in a warzone again. So it's time to move on.

Now observe while Kid Rock and Dale Earnhardt Jr take a nice long piss on my face.

"If you ain't gonna fight, get outta my way," he says. Practice what you preach, faggot. How stupid do they think we are? Dale drives circles around a fucking track for exhorbitant amounts of money, and no one has given a shit about Kid Rock since 1998. But he breathes red white and blue apparently. That's one hell of a way to support the troops, with endorsements. Shut the fuck up and enlist. Pull the weight. Prima Donna fuck. They go home to mansions. But they call him "warrior". That's interesting, cuz I sure don't feel like some kind of warrior. I just feel like I was in some strange place in some weird circumstances with random loud noises and things you can't quite explain, and now I'm not so sure that I was ever there, or that it was ever REALLY real, or if I just made it up. Hell, I could have been lying to all of you from the very beginning. I could have been a desk jockey, or I could have never even taken the oath, and just be some sick fiction writer, fucking with the minds of strangers.

I don't think the "war" fucked me up. Most of the time. Other times I wonder, but no. I won't accept that. I haven't seen half the shit that some of our vets have. And still I want more and I want none of it at the same time.

So yeah. I'm getting out. And no, I was never ever in the Army.