Saying Goodbye to the Army

[I will probably add things to this as I think of them…names of people I miss, things I loved to do while in the Army, etc.]

I out-processed my unit and the Army a month ago in order to return to civilian life. I have three years of inactive ready reserve, so it is possible that I could be called back to active duty in order to deploy. This would be bad in some ways, because I’d have to probably pull out of school and be sent to a unit that might have a dangerous mission with little support and limited resources unlike what I was used to in the special operations community. Despite this, I have nothing against returning to Iraq — I don’t agree with our being there but there’s a lot of good I can accomplish when put into difficult situations. There are always soldiers to be led and developed, and always ways to improve my skills, especially in-country.

But them’s the breaks. I never planned to re-enlist and if I get called back, then c’est la vie.

I will miss being in the Army. I won’t miss waking up to a chilly morning and standing outside in formation at zero-dark-thirty, but I will miss that exhilarating feeling when I get done with a long morning run with hundreds of other joes and do some pull-ups and sit-ups and flutter kicks before getting some breakfast, before most people wake up. I will miss being around people who have a common goal — knowing that most everyone around you is ready to go complete a mission no matter what it is is a good feeling. You can’t really ask people to do something and expect them to do it in the civilian world. They’d be like, “Who the fuck are you to boss me around?”

I will miss the Army community, where I am pretty much completely safe and can find someone who can help if needed.

I will miss putting the uniform on every day and wearing the flag on my shoulder as a representative of my country.

I will miss being around Green Berets and Special Forces folks. They’re older, intelligent, and accomplished. Most have deployed multiple times to multiple theaters. They know a lot about a lot. The Green Berets have trained Americans and they’ve trained Iraqis and Afghanis and others. They know lots of little tricks to help with convoys, ruck marches, pulling a slicky on the system. They don’t buy into the usual Army bullshit that ends up chewing soldiers and spitting them out — they are professional and lethal. They are inspiring to serve with and bring honor to our country.

I will miss the free Army gyms which are huge open rooms with the best workout equipment. Considering you have to pay out your ass to go to a smaller gym in the civilian world, this is a perk I will miss in many ways. The same can be said about free medical care — military standard isn’t bad as long as you don’t really fuck yourself up somehow.

I won’t miss my commander, who said fuck you to chain of command and put me on probation for bullshit reasons before passing me off to a distant sergeant major. I won’t miss the urban sprawl that exists outside Army bases: check-cashing, pawn shops, slobby residents, titty bars, etc.

I will miss being around people who can whine and joke with the best but who will also attempt the impossible without fear.

I will miss the excellent training available to me. The breadth of courses and training you can get is unparalleled save for the most privileged of people — and the Army offers it for free. I got language training and could have gone to advanced counter-terrorism, computer skills, and advanced equipment training if I were staying in longer.

I will miss meeting random people and instantly having camaraderie with them, even in foreign countries passing by in an airport terminal. I will miss all the friends and acquaintances I’ve met since being in Group.

I met crazy Chris, who cocks his head around spastically and chain smokes religiously. He squints at you and says, “You don’t need to worry about coming back, because you’re going to die.” He doesn’t always shower but there’s few more knowledgeable than him, and fewer harder-working. He offered me lots of guidance and encouragement, which for him is a lot to offer anyone. I like to think he respected me a little.

I met Terry, who is old-school but has a lot of experience. He was my team sergeant and I defended him until long past the end. He was one of my first influences and he set me on the right track towards volunteering to help others without being asked, making sure everything got squared away, and taking care of business. He was arbitrary but the old-timers usually are. When I got in trouble I was told by friends that he wasn’t really in my corner and it took me a while but I did eventually feel as though he dropped me as politely as he could.

I met Shawn, who was short but tough as hell and had the training, experience, and personality to prove it. No one was more willing to teach new soldiers than him, and he made sure to give me many blocks of instruction before he left for greener pastures. People asked me about him well after he left, knowing that I was under his wing and obviously respecting his legacy.

I went to basic training with Eli who was kind of spacey and crazy and really talkative. We went to language school and job training concurrently and gradually drifted apart. He would do a Scooby impression and I’d do Shaggy. He threw me a big birthday party at Benihana’s where a lot of people showed up which I totally wasn’t expecting!

Boyd opened my eyes to many things. He was a northeastern New York liberal. He told me about how voice interceptors could be assigned to special forces units, which inspired me to improve my PT score, volunteer for airborne, and eventually end up at 5th Group. He was really the first Army person I met who I could talk to about progressive viewpoints. He was hilarious to talk to, a real bundle of angst, and I think the first time I saw him was when we left basic training and were waiting in the airport. He was reading The Economist. He would also try to open the door and shout out the window of my moving car when he got really drunk.

Rayzor was my basic training battle buddy. He by example showed me that it was normal to be seventeen, newly-married, and already expecting, a life that before the Army I would have thought was impossible except for crackheads and trailer trash. Oh the Army culture.

Hawke was my platoon guide in basic. Somehow he never got fired, even when he called the drill sergeant’s hat cute for matching his gym bag. He kept us quiet while everyone else got smoked, by asking us basic knowledge questions.

The myths, the legends, the Monkey Pope and the Dane. I met them fairly late into language school when we started talking movies and had similar interests. Eventually the Dane gave up his womanizing ways and got married. He would become really fat and would become a WoW addict. I moved in with Monkey Pope after I caught my Urdu roommate masturbating while I was trying to sleep (somehow he failed Arabic the first time). Monkey Pope and I became best bros. The Prodigy, a young Irish Texan who was talented at everything, forged H3O with us, and we went surfing, played Virtua Tennis, and shaved our heads together, which is probably one of the worst decisions I ever could have made! When the Dane and the Prodigy fought over a pewter bowl, the friendships got complicated and the Prodigy couldn’t come over to the Dane’s house anymore. We still played no-limit hold ’em for most of language school at a friend’s house.

We had two shadow sergeants who were notorious. One called a female soldier up and said he wanted to fuck her, after he got drunk at a wine testing event. The other could not seem to stop screaming and yelling at privates. He would become a fellow soldier here and boy, does he micro-manage.

One drill sergeant got fired for sleeping with a soldier. My senior drill in basic had his wife leave him during our cycle, so he would be apologetic to us sometimes, and completely ballistic other times. My senior drill in job training looked just like Vin Diesel. He liked my tattoos and said I should get a bar code on my neck, and after that he was always pretty cool with me. Just like the drill in basic who said, “Roman legion huh? What about SUPERMAN?” before flexing his tattooed bicep to me while I was trying to do push-ups at 5:30AM.

I met Holly, who was super hot AND super cute. She did the splits during stretches. She and I would walk around language school on details and talk about everything and she used to wink when talking to me. Turns out she winked at a lot of people. And flirted. So I chose this short ex-gymnast girl from North Dakota who ended up being crazy, afraid of boys, and had slits on her wrists. Also turns out Holly really was into me and probably would have married me, had lots of babies, and given me some crazy sex. Oops. She ended up marrying one of the other few Asians (Asian sensation fetish!) and they are very happy with kids — and I am happy for them.

Stephen was as white Republican as they come. Naive and mildly slow of mind. He named his dog Abercrombie and his son Alexander. Wow, man, that was an unlimited well of comedy.

Will defended me when I got in trouble. He put his neck on the line and I don’t know why. I think he knew I was not trying to hurt anyone, and I want to think he thought I had a ton of potential. He ended up writing a letter of recommendation for me for graduate school. He has hilarious Army stories. He’s well-respected throughout the Army and MI communities. I felt proud to work for him.

My first sergeant is crazy. Crazy like a fox. He’s a medic but if he’s patching you up, it could be because he just roughed you up. He keeps a bloody crossbow and gun in his car. He still has deer fat on the carving knives in his kit. He used to do lots of raids and shoot people in the face, as he says. He visited Iraq and came back, saying, “I’m still a little pissed I didn’t kill anyone but I’m getting over it.” He’s a font of knowledge and you absorb a lot of information just hanging around him. There’s really no one else I’d want to be stuck in a firefight with than him. He’s a killer. What was surprising was that he took the time to come to Hooters for my farewell lunch. Maybe he just came to get off-base for a bit, or to flirt with much younger ladies (which he did), but I think he probably liked me enough to not dismiss it out of hand. I’ll take that as a compliment!

There were good and bad leaders. Some leaders had no contact with their subordinates. Others were intertwined with our operations and encouraged us to be bolder and smarter. I met Derek and Rocky, supposedly two of our best Arabic linguists. I met Vic who is known everywhere as an expert in my field.

My buddy Ryan. Unlimited potential. The guy could be president if he wanted, or the most badass soldier, or just a laid-back college student. No one hates him. He’s well-liked everywhere. He, as an MI guy, got the leadership award at Ranger School, which he easily passed. He was Distinguished Honor Grad at the Warrior Leadership Course, the leader course for new sergeants. He’s an easy-going drinking buddy, works out religiously, and is funny as hell to talk to. He is born to be a Green Beret.

Brendan was my teammate in Iraq. He and I hung out a lot since we were the Arabic linguists. But we also were great friends, despite a huge gap in political opinions, which we vigorously argued about. This guy is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He’s super-quirky. Been to Iraq for over three years now. He often says things that he shouldn’t say out loud, and he doesn’t realize it either. He’s an ice-breaker. He danced in Florida and cracked everyone up the whole time. He cares about the mission and wants to do something good but I still don’t understand what motivates him exactly. His sisters are awesome and to watch them all bicker with each other was at the same time both hilarious and endearing. You’ll never meet anyone like Brendan.

Kevin is part French and can cook like his father. He earned a bunch of awards before even leaving job training, because he was a super-soldier. He’s super creative. He and his roommate made a camel costume for Halloween and when we went on a battalion run, their camel had its rear in the port-a-john as we ran by. It waved and made a camel noise at us.

Vickianna, Brianne, and Mary were three fun female friends who complemented H3O’s activities and mixed up the action a bit. Vickianna helped us a lot when she went to the strip club with us — the strippers were all over her, and by extension, us.

I will miss all of these people very much. These people were very formative in my development and the person who I have become. They are the aspects of the Army that I will remember the most.

I did meet Julie during this time. And before she knew it, she was going through my deployment which she did not ask for at all. She made it through quite well and even had prepared a massive Iraq lessons learned journal for me when I returned. It’s a credit to her character and I love her all the more for it. We’ve now been together for a couple years!

I will miss serving my country. I know it sounds cliche and I don’t support Bush or the Iraq “war” but I am proud to have dedicated some time to the country — I do believe that I served the Army’s interests more than I took away from it in the form of money and training and whatnot. I will miss wearing the uniform and being right in the thick of a war and having access to what was really going on, from multiple angles. I am grateful for the development and maturity that I believe the Army provided for me.

I will miss having soldiers to lead; that you can have such an effect on a soldier by raising them the right way and inspiring them to be better than they thought possible is a great feeling. I feel that good leaders are hard to come by and we need them now more than in the past, what with all these allegations of sexual abuse, murder, corruption, shoddy military strategy, and so on.

I will not miss the national guard recruiters who I was required to talk to in order to out-process post. These guys gave me the run-around, stone-walled, shook their heads when I told them I didn’t want to go guard. They said as an Arabic linguist I’d be certain to be called up during this time. They shook their heads some more and told me they wouldn’t leave it to chance if I were them. They passed me around to each other so another guy could give me some scare tactic. They left a sour taste in my mouth. They were assholes and they were liars. They said, “Oh hey look! We have one open slot for you in Dallas! Join up and we’ll cut your inactive time in half!” WOW, WHAT ARE THE CHANCES??? Then they said that unit is non-deployable. Riiiiiiight. A military intel national guard unit that isn’t deployable? What does it do at home? Just train? What fucking liars.

I remember talking about movies with my team while standing outside in the desert waiting to enter an Anbar town. I remember freezing to death in a shipping container that was our office at JRTC in Ft. Polk. I remember asking Julie via satellite phone to remove military photos from Flickr because my commander got pissed — and then finding out that my ex went ballistic because I didn’t answer her e-mails timely while I was out in the middle of nowhere!

I already feel bad not going to Iraq again. I know that had I gone, I never would have been able to organize my grad school applications, hard as it was even not deploying, but my friends were over there and I wasn’t. 140,000 soldiers are there right now without me, and more and more keep rotating in. I wish I had more opportunity to train new soldiers with what I know, which I can tell is now quite a bit. The soldiers I had went through airborne school and (I feel) got off to a good start with a good example and are now doing good things.

I still want to go to these fucked up places in the world and try to do some good but right now the missions are pretty pointless with our current foreign policy. I am inspired by the CIA Jawbreaker teams and the first ODAs to hit the ground in Afghanistan. That’s the stuff I wanted to do. What I can do now until things improve is learn how to analyze and execute foreign policy.