Military Stories #11

We had one last night before heading home on leave, and then coming back to Ft. Lewis, only to ship out to our next post. The majority of us were leaving in the morning for the Bay Area. There were a few that were actually catching a red eye to the East Coast so they were heading to the airport this evening, right after chow.

This evening we actually were allowed to go to the PX. We couldn’t stroll over though, we still had to march over and back in groups of four or five. I’m not sure that we really needed anything for the trip, we just went because we were finally allowed. At chow we didn’t have to do the monkey bars, but we still shouted “US”, “RA”, and “NG”. We hated the NGs a little less now. They were still soldiers of a sort.

For Carl and I, and a few others, we still had to file papers for our first security clearance. It wasn’t too difficult. It was actually a series of forms, filling in blanks, and then almost automatically a Secret clearance was issued. I noticed it was some communications people like Carl and I, then there was some clerks and headquarters folk. Apparently you didn’t need a secret clearance to shoot people. 

We also had to turn in our weapons and field gear. I pity the next recruit that had to be issued the squad leaders M-16s because I believe we collectively shot more rounds than a combat soldier. Everything was so worn that the rifle rattled a bit and the bore grooves seemed a little thin. I would have liked to have kept my helmet and web gear, I had broken them in so well.

The two weeks leave coincided with Christmas so it was great to have family and friends around. One of the main discussions with my friends was how long was I going to stay in the Army. They all knew that I had planned to use “the Limp” as an excuse to get out. They were a bit shocked when I told them that I had actually signed up for another year. It did make sense that I was guaranteeing another year stateside, and that I was making a bit more than I was before. However, my pay with the raise, was about $88.00 a month, with a $125.00 stipend for housing. At this point in time a married soldier qualified for food stamps. And when we got to New Jersey, we applied and received a nice welfare bonus each month.

The first week in January I had to fly to Ft. Lewis, then pickup my travel orders for the East Coast. I thought I would be back at the airport and maybe pickup a commercial flight from United. I was a little surprised to find that the Army had chartered a private plane, that meant that we were going to fly out of McChord Air Force Base which was right next door to Ft. Lewis. Instead of a cattle-car trailer, an actual bus showed up and we road the ten miles to the airport.

Everyone was either a military person or part of a military family. It was a full plane, but not a jet. It was a prop job, a Constellation from the late fifties, very noisy and extremely slow. I think it took about twelve hours, with one quick stop in Chicago, to get to New York City. And then it was two hours in a bus to get us to Fort Monmouth Signal School in New Jersey, where we were to study basic electronics.

Carl had come early and rented an apartment in the beachside town of Long Branch. He was already set up with his wife, and he suggested that I do the same. I had to save a little more money so i thought it would take another six weeks before I had my own place off-post. My wife was four months pregnant so traveling was going to be a little difficult. Another good reason to delay the “Limp” was to use the benefits for delivering a baby. I didn’t know much it would cost, but I knew I didn’t have a job, and I certainly didn’t have medical coverage. Staying in at least until the baby was delivered made sense. All I had to do was pay attention in electronics school and not flunk out.

Basic electronics was eight weeks long, and I had the intention to stay in the barracks for six weeks. I thought I could use the extra study time. I was dead wrong. Barracks life is miserable on several counts. First, the day starts very early with details, formation, chow call, then final formation to march to the classrooms. Then it is marching back to barracks, afternoon formation and details, then chow call, then barracks details, and then two hours of free time before lights out. Free time in the barracks is noisy, raucous, and filled with high school pranks and constant hazing of someone or another. I managed to shave two weeks off my plan by selling our car. I would only have to spend four weeks in the barracks.