The last combat training was during the worst snow storm of the season. We were dressed in full weather gear, including insulated boots. Over our layered quilted clothing we had an overall of pure white. We were extra large snowmen in a snow field, firing live rounds just over the heads of our men as we advanced up the hill. We would move forward until we had cover, then the next behind us would pass us to the next cover.
It would have been impressive if it wasn’t snowing, and if we didn’t look like Pillsbury Dough Boys, or the Michlin Man. At times when we were advancing our legs moved like wind up toys but we remained in place. The slippery ice and gravity worked against us. Several times it took a drill sergeant to shove us off the spot, to keep us moving.
The last week was spent taking photos of each other, telling stories of our survival, and several quick walks with our boots on, down the sacred center aisle of the barracks. People at home were wondering why so many photos were taken while their soldier was standing all by himself in the middle of the barracks.
Orders were coming from the orderly room, clumps of soldiers pouring over th lists to find out information. There was some relief, and some fist pumping. No one was directly to Viet Nam, but there were a few that felt the next set of orders would send them into combat. Not for me though, I was going to still be in school fir the next year. I was grinning the grin of a winner. Then somebody mentioned that I would still be a boot for another year, a full forty-eight weeks longer than the average soldier. Then my smile disappeared.
Carl, my platoon guide, and I were told that we would be going to Fort Monmouth, a Signal School in New Jersey. We were headed to the shore, on the East Coast. Things can’t be all bad, how difficult is it to learn basic electronics? And what the heck, if it’s bad I could still lie about my leg, and still get Veterans Benefits.
Looking around, all of us could see that we would not likely be together after graduating. We had a weeks leave to go home, then we were to report to our next post. missing a movement was one of the major No-Nos, it could be punished by a fine or brig time. Or both!
The military provide airplane tickets, or bus tickets from Ft. Lewis to where ever we were headed. If we chose to go home, then fine, but we had to return to get our free tickets. Some of us went to the Bay Area only to have to return to get a bus ticket to send them back down to Fort Ord in Monterey. It seemed crazy, but it was the Army way.
I don’t remember who received advanced combat training. Maybe I didn’t want to know because then it was very possible that they would end up in Vietnam. I was too tied up in my own plans, none of which actually included completing my service. I was getting out early but exactly how early was dependent upon unknown factors. It was good to learn something new. Learning electronics could be a very good thing for my future, maybe even a better part-time job while working my way through college. Helpful even if I was getting Veterans Benefits.
I had actually experienced what it meant to be sacrificial. I had found the value of leadership and teamwork, but it hadn’t stuck. I was still committed to finding a way out of the Army, and doing it anyway possible, even if it was unethical. I had made the decision to not leave my men, because they couldn’t leave with me, but that was temporary, or specific to the example. If the situation was right I was convinced that I could lie and not feel any guilt. The Army was wrong, the Army shouldn’t have drafted me and forced me to enlist. My oath meant nothing, and the war was wrong and illegal. Just ask all of my friends back home!
Something else I noticed. The photographs that were taken were often in the latrine. It was better light there. In most albums they were several photos of smiling men, some standing near the sinks, and some smiling and waving from the commodes. We no longer understood social norms. We were soldiers.