2015 in review

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Medic Platoon

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October 1st, 1993. Corporol Joe had already left for Special Forces “Q course” and Sgt. Walker had already returned to 3rd Ranger Battalion… Bottom row from left: (seated) Lt. Christian (platoon leader), Lt. Bromund (Physicians Assistant). Middle Row from left: (standing) I will leave them anonymous. TwistedMedic is 3rd from the right, Sgt. Gleason is on the far right. Top row from left: (standing) Spineless Puddin is far left, Magwa is far right… The rest of the platoon (1/3) was in the field that day and missed the pictures including C.J.

The End

Once again, I spent several hours looking for Red. My pace was more hurried and my patience was worn thin, however I needed to know she was OK. It had been a few months since I had seen her last. In her way of life, I knew a few months could be a full lifetime.

As always, I searched all the familiar seedy places where I used to find her. This time, however, my investigation concluded at the strip club where she used to work. After greeting a familiar stripper and asking about Red, she pointed me in the direction of the clubs night manager. In a direct matter of fact way, lacking any emotion, the manager told me Red had been found “non responsive” in an abandoned building a few blocks away from the Drive. The paramedics were called immediately. Nonetheless, they were unable to revive her. She had died a few months back.

The air rushed out of my lungs so fast that i believed I was going to pass out. I rushed out of the door, in search of fresh air, to avoid suffocating. I leaned against the outside wall of the business and vomited onto the faded asphalt of its parking lot.

As I sat in the darkness alone, gulping in the warm spring air, I became convinced that her death was my fault. Intuitively, I knew I couldn’t prevent it. She was addicted to several different drugs by the time we had met. She had at least three full time jobs that I knew of: stripper, drug dealer and prostitute. Those jobs all served a purpose which was to feed her addiction. I could only assume that the monkey on her back became to heavy for her so she gave up. Where I was to blame in her life’s tragedy included the assistance of her death. We are either an addition to someone’s life or we are takers from it. I took from her life because I had my own demons to feed.

Again, with no solution for the uncontrollable obsession for cocaine, I spent the rest of the night numbed by its power.

The next morning, after spending all my money on the drug, I walked a dozen or so miles home to Kelley Hill. Broke, alone, scared and confused, I considered throwing myself in front of a moving car. I shook my head, violently from side to side, in an effort to combat those continued thoughts. I worried that my lack of control cocaine could easily expand into the same lack of control over suicide.

I decided to go back to the barracks and take a long hot shower, hopefully alone. Suicide would be there, patiently waiting for me, after my shower I assumed. I viewed death as an option yet I was hoping for an alternative. Maybe I could find some peace over the course of a hot shower. I needed to report for duty then disappear from sight so I could think of a plan. My brain was now hectically searching its perimeter for an after shower plan of action.

I reached the barracks early enough to take a shower by myself. 0330 was too early for soldiers to be getting ready for P.T.. As I opened the door to my room I noticed Hendo wasn’t in his rack. Assuming he met some woman who was drunk enough to like him, I went to my wall locker to retrieve my toiletries. I was shocked to see that it was open. I never left my wall locker open. I closed and locked it every time I left my room. As I frantically searched the contents of my space the only thing missing seemed to be my shampoo. My shampoo? Did I leave it in the shower? Did I run out and forget to buy more? I began questioning my structured routine when the door to my room opened.

Hendo walked inside wearing a towel and carrying his own toiletries. Oddly enough, he was also holding my shampoo. With no explanation, he walked right past me and returned it to my locker. He smirked as he walked by me again on the way to his own wall locker. I watched him dress for P.T. as the rage began to take over my body. Once fully dressed, he began to walk towards the door in an effort to exit the room.

I stopped him by saying, “if you ever go near my wall locker again I will hurt you, pal.”

I set him up. I knew he wouldn’t allow me to talk to him like that. As soon as the words began to leave my mouth I began to walk directly at him. My words stopped him in his tracks. He spun around violently as if he had some words of his own to say to me. I was in no mood to talk however.

I lead with two quick left handed jabs to his right eye just to shock him. As I watched the confusion spread across his face, I planted my right foot and dug it into the floor. Twisting my foot while I pivoted my hips, I felt all the weight of my body enter my right handed fist. With all the frustration and anger built up in my body, I connected my punch directly to his mouth. A very loud crunch echoed through the silence and bounced off the walls of our room.

As I watched him loose consciousness, I planned to continue to hit him until I could no longer use my arms. The extremely sharp pain that shot from my middle right knuckle to my elbow prevented me from throwing any more punches. Hendo dropped to the floor like a wet mop. He landed awkwardly causing his back legs to twitch in an almost convulsion. Blood was flowing from his mouth onto his combat boots that were placed under his bunk.

My own blood was now dripping down my hand and onto the floor. The adrenaline that flowed through my veins entered directly into my brain. I began to scream at Hendos unconscious body at the top of my lungs. There were no words formed by my mouth nor any rational thinking behind my war cry. I just screamed in an effort to rid my body of the pent up anger.

My screams alerted the rest of the barracks. As C.Q. came running into my room, I calmly head towards the latrine to take my shower.

One by one the men of my platoon entered the latrine while I showered. I had turned off the lights and stood under the water to hide my tears. I was sobbing uncontrollably. As they faced my nude body standing there, they were jumping around excitedly proclaiming my heroism.

“You’re the fucking man bro! He’s still knocked out on the floor!”, one of Hendos medics exclaimed.

I knew better, however.

I stayed in the shower, purposefully, until Sgt. Gleason came and retrieved me. He ordered the platoon out of the latrine and onto the parade field for P.T.. As I dried off he inspected my hand. I had ripped open a two inch gash along the shaft of my middle right finger starting at the knuckle. When he put my wound under the flowing cool water from the sink faucet, he exposed how deep the cut was. We could see the bone. Also, tucked under the loose flap of detached bloody skin was Hendos front tooth.

Sgt. G. sewed up my wound and gave me a tetanus shot for preventative measures. Once the bleeding had stopped and he finished suturing my knuckle,  he said only a few words to me.

“I can’t help you this time Doc. You know where you stand with Puddin and Killer Pete. The Commander warned you about standing in front of his desk again. I will not jeopardize my career for you. This time you are on your own.”

Just like that it was over. When Hendo gained consciousness, he filed an official complaint against me. Denying he ever went into my wall locker, his complaint read how I attacked him for no reason. He claimed I shouted racial slurs as I beat him unconscious. It was my word against his and I had already been warned.

When it was all said and done, the Commander stripped me of my rank and barred me from re enlisting into any branch of service “until the end of time”. My military career was over.

Thirty five days later I was honorably discharged from the United States Army as a private E-1.

I returned home to my parents house at the age of 23 as a veteran of combat …

I was also being tortured by demons. Those demons had a lot more damage planned for me once I got home.

Thirty Seven Days

N.T.C. came and went without incident once again. Coming home alive after training exercises was always our first mission. Once our missions were accomplished,  it was our ritual to celebrate.

For thousands of years, warriors returning from war would drink wine from the skulls of their enemies. In late 1993, during peacetime, soldiers mostly drank cheap beer from cans or bottles.

I decided to go out with C.J., instead of searching for Red, our first night back in Garrison. Convinced I had a secret girlfriend living off post, C.J. decided to probe my willingness to elaborate with questions. Realizing I didn’t want to talk about it, he backed off when I told him we broke up before N.T.C.. Watching him talk about literature and world events with the M.I.L.F.’s of Columbus distracted me for a while that night. However by nights end, I felt alone and detached from my surroundings. I wanted cocaine.

The mental obsession for cocaine is overwhelmingly powerful. Once the thought of it entered my mind it would drive my thoughts with a singleness of purpose. I had no solution to stop the thoughts. My hands would sweat and my heart would race. My stomach, twisting and turning, would loudly activate my digestive fluids. Most times i would get an erection. Regressing me to an animalistic state of being, the obsession for the drug dominated all the thoughts fighting for attention in my head. Anything that stood in the way of my lust for the drug was treated as an obstacle to overcome. The hunt for it was as alluring as the relief that came from its power.

As C.J. reported to me that he was escorting a woman home, I  surrendered to the obsession to seek cocaine. A cab ride to the Drive and a hunt for Red would be only moments away.

I spent several hours looking for Red that night. In and out of hotel parking lots looking for the signs of her presence, I couldn’t find her. I checked the strip clubs, the small smoke filled taverns and even the gas station where I first met her. There was no sign of her anywhere. I began asking anonymous women i passed walking along the Drive if they had information about her location. No one had seen her. Some had no idea who I was talking about. As the mist of frustration thickened in the air, i began to see a whole new world. An entire community of zombies, clinging to life with the desperation of drowning people in a stormy sea, lived in the darkness surrounding Victory Drive.

Prostitutes, pimps, addicts, the homeless and the people who preyed on them all resided in the musty shadows of the Drive at night. As the hours wore on and the defeat of ever finding her seemed imminent, I surrendered to my obsession for cocaine. I spent the rest of that night aimlessly wandering back and forth along the roadside viewing its inhabitants as if I were invisible. Cocaine’s numbing power had worked once again.

I returned to the barracks the next morning by taxi and faced the solitude of an empty room. The weekends in Garrison required no reporting for duty. Obviously, C.J. slept out with his new “friend” and Hendo was still at the leadership school. The silence was proof that the barracks residents were still asleep. I began to fear for Red. Also, I was terrified of my rapidly growing thirst for cocaine. I needed to make a decision soon about my career and it seemed impossible without closing this chapter of my life. I was acutely aware that I was traveling in an abysmal direction. If I continued to march along my current path, I knew i would encounter alot of problems. The depth and magnitude of those problems were literally living along the roadside in south Columbus. I decided, for the second time in a month, that I would have to let Red go.

As the following days turned into months I became more and more irritable. Afraid of even leaving the barracks, I spent my time reading C.J.’s old books and watching television in the day room.

Since graduating from P.L.D.C., Hendo had become more unbearable for me to be around. As he entered the room after duty hours I could feel the heat of my dislike for him mirror off his physical being and scorch the side of my face. I would leave the room until he left the room. My obsession for cocaine was now replaced with my obsession for Hendo.

He refused to socialize with anyone in our platoon. As he waited to be promoted to the rank of Sergeant, he was the acting Senior Medic of Corporal Joes old company. His medics didn’t trust him and the infantrymen he served with constantly complained about him. Most mornings, during P.T., we would be forced to circle around to retrieve him during our run. He couldn’t finish running without falling out of formation gasping for air.

Spineless Puddin, as always, was indifferent towards complaints about anyone from his subordinates. He couldn’t be bothered with junior enlisted men’s complaints. Hendo was his own squad leader which left no one in his chain of command. Going over Puddins head would be met with the wrath of Killer Pete.

The way I saw it: the men serving under Hendos leadership were fucked.

It wasn’t until the day we said goodbye to C.J. that I had enough of Hendo. I’m not sure if it was one “goodbye” too many or the lack of any real companionship that made me give up. Once C.J. left the barracks that day,  relocating to New York City, I decided to go look for Red one last time.

I had thirty seven days left in my enlistment.

This and That

After his thirty day in processing, Hendo left for P.L.D.C.. It was a relief for both me and my roommate. C.J. didn’t like him either. There were few within the Medic platoon who had anything nice to say about Hendo when he was amongst us. He made quite an impression on us all. We were now graced with a four week reprieve while he was learning how to lead soldiers.

During my time in the Army, I witnessed alot of soldiers, including myself, assume the role of F.N.G.. It was a humbling experience for everyone. I served in two completely different types of units during my career thus far. As far as i could tell, most soldiers entered new units the same way fundamentally: humbly. Some took notes while others asked endless amounts of questions regarding their new life. Most soldiers remained quiet until they felt comfortable in their surroundings. Once comfortable, soldiers would let their hair down, so to speak, and their true colors would shine through.

This was not the case with Hendo. Hendo argued with everyone and showed no respect outside of military etiquette. He entered our world loudly demanding to be noticed. His personality was completely foreign to me. In my opinion, he was doing it wrong.  C.J., observing my frustration with our new roommate, spent some time questioning Hendo about his medical knowledge. Usually, junior enlisted soldiers acknowledged a lack of training for the tasks they were about to be expected to do. Hendo, however, shut down the conversation immediately, “Shut the fuck up”. Being in the short timer frame of mind, C.J. quietly obliged the request.

C.J. and I were scheduled to rotate to the field, for an OPFOR exercise at N.T.C., while Hendo was at school. OPFOR was only a three week endeavor. We would have a few days without him, before and after the exercise, while he was away. C.J. spent the few nights before N.T.C. reading an entire Dean Koontz novel after work. I spent my nights with Red.

Red, by this time, was in the grips of full blown addiction. Unable to show up for her shifts at the strip club, her hotel room looked like a hand grenade blew up inside of it. Clothes, fast food wrappers and drug paraphanalia were scattered about the space indiscriminately. As a result of not sleeping for days, her face showed the wrinkles and stress lines of a woman in her fifties. She was 26. She was apparently hiding from people she owed money to and refused to go outside. The three nights before N.T.C. were the first time I sought out and bought drugs for the both of us.

My obsession for cocaine was more powerful than her obvious need for professional help. Her addiction needed to be fed while mine wanted to grow. It was the first time since I had met her that our narcotic fueled adventures together were more pathetic than fun.

On the last night before N.T.C. I informed Red that I would no longer visit VD Drive to search for her. When I left her in the hotel room, alone, she was sobbing begging me to stay with her.

Small Dog Turd

I continued to process new Medics into our Battalion without incident. As veteran Medics either reenlisted and moved on to new tours of service or left the Army through discharge, we would receive their replacement within a few days. Dave, now called Magwa by everyone, had settled into his new role as Vehicle Maintenance Supervisor in Alpha Company, replacing me. He seemed to be flourishing under the guidance of Sgt. Moreno. Ironically, C.J. and Magwa seemed to be tolerating each other without my direct supervision every day. 

Sgt. Gleason was letting me do my job without over managing me. A daily briefing at the end of each workday, regarding our new soldiers, was all he insisted on.

Corporal Joe privately applied to the Special Forces Qualification Course and got accepted. With the same stealth and speed that defined Sgt. Walker’s reassignment to Ranger Battalion, Joe was there one day then gone the next day. No goodbyes. His departure left a vacancy in our platoon for a junior N.C.O. and an empty bed in our room. C.J. and I both knew the vacancies would be filled in a few days. Neither of us looked forward to a new and untested roommate. The anticipation compared to sticking your hand into a bag of prizes not knowing if you would get a piece of candy or a small dog turd. C.J. wanted to gamble $100.00 on the odds that we would get the turd.

By this time, C.J. was a short timer (less than a year left in his enlistment) and found humor in everything. Humor was how he was coping with his last year of “hell”. Sgt. Gleason found his humor to be an “extreme pain in the ass” requiring extra duty to remedy it on most days. It wasn’t unusual to hear C.J. singing Army cadences in the hallways of the barracks, late at night during the week, while he swept and mopped floors. His sole purpose was to be annoying. The rest of the platoon placed daily bets on whether C.J. would get extra duty or not. I always placed my money on the safe bet. C.J. just couldn’t help himself.

Officially, I was a short timer too. The difference between C.J. and I was as different as black and white. C.J. had a plan. Generally speaking, the Irish who imigrate to the United States work as a team. Congregating in small communities together, they work for the good of the whole community. C.J. had a community in the Bronx of New York City waiting for him. A woman there would house him and help him with employment while he paid a percentage of his earnings to her. Once on his feet, he could use the community for educational purposes as well. C.J. planned to goto school to become a nurse.

I was still undecided. Sgt. Gleason began to question me about P.L.D.C. (Primary Leadership Development Course), a required school for advancement in rank from Specialist to N.C.O.. Promotions were based on a point system. With the ongoing downsize of troops in the military, the points needed by Medics to make the rank of Sergeant were incredibly high. In order to reenlist in the Army as a Medic I would need to, at the very least, be on a waiting list for P.L.D.C.. Everything was voluntary, however there were other soldiers waiting to go. I had the most points of all E-4 ranked soldiers in our platoon which awarded me the first choice. My undecided future needed attention immediately after Joe left. Someone had to fill that slot.

The arrival of the newest soldier within our ranks made the decision for me. Henderson was a black soldier from the streets of Houston Texas. Having already served a few years at Ft. Hood, Texas, he came to our platoon with the same rank as me: E-4. Like me, his prior service gave him points for promotion. Unlike me however, he had additional points from his civilian life. “Hendo” had sixty college credits from a small community college before he enlisted. He out ranked me. The first question I was told to ask him by Sgt. G was if he was interested in attending P.L.D.C.. Without hesitation, Hendo gave me his answer.

“Yes”.

Before Hendo could attend the school, he would have to be in processed and mentored by me for the thirty day period. Also, because of the vacant bed in our room, Hendo was now our new roommate. Sgt. G knew I would have a birdseye view of the future N.C.O. so my daily briefings regarding Hendo were more in depth than normal. He wanted to know as much as I could tell him everyday. He didn’t hide the questions from Hendo and spoke in front of him whenever he questioned me.

Hendo let me know, from the day he arrived on base, what he thought of me. He called me “the rat”. Conversing with him during the course of a day compared to getting blood from a turnip. He wasn’t talking. As I introduced him to the men and walked him through the issue of his equipment, he referred to me publicly by his nickname for me.

I refused to take the bait during the first thirty days. I answered Sgt. G’s questions as best I could which were limited at best. Ultimately, I knew I had nothing to prove. My test was already over. Hendos test, however, was just beginning. When he finally asked me directly, in the presence of Hendo himself, I answered  Sgt. G. directly. I didn’t trust him.

As if reading from a pre written script, Hendo followed my judgement with his own judgement, “He’s just racist. This is bullshit.”

My analysis was not a requirement for entry into the Battalion nor did it hold much weight concerning his being promoted. My job was explained to me when I first started. To gauge his medical knowledge and willingness to help others was my only purpose.

The final assessment would be completed by our chain of command. My personal assessment was Hendo had to be avoided at all costs.

Cocaine

Cocaine has a different affect on everyone who uses it. Since its birth of popularity in the early 1980’s, cocaine is responsible for the complete destruction of entire neighborhoods scattered across the country. Both the obsessive chase for its affects and the certain financial promise of its sale devour the lives of most who enter its realm. Its luring deception has filled American penitentiaries with people seeking its benefits without prejudice. I was fully aware of its power, in theory, since I was a teenager. However, my twenty two year old ego, fueled by Military machismo, erroneously convinced my conscious that I was stronger than the drug.

Just like novacaine had numbed my teeth and gums during the dental procedures of my youth, cocaine had numbed my painful thoughts and slowed my rapid fire thinking to the pace of a snails crawl. Plain and simple: cocaine worked for me. Red, my beautiful yet severely flawed guide into the world of numbness, was a patient teacher of street rules and expectations. As I withdrew into my newfound numbness that first night, she spoke of a potential partnership she now wished to include me in. Her proposal seemed both enticing and adventurous in my narcotic fueled state. Whenever I was off duty and not in the field training, she wanted my physical presence with her serving as her security. She offered a steady supply of cocaine as my compensation. Without hesitation I accepted her offer.

That first night we spent together ended without any negative consequences. I made it back to my barracks with enough time to shower before morning P.T. formation. Over time, I continued traveling to VD Drive in search of Red so i could report to my “second job”. Our relationship was nothing more than a business deal. I assured her safety while she fed me enough cocaine to  keep my demons locked in a cage.

She would dance naked for drunk soldiers in the the strip clubs on the Drive, enticing them for their dollars, while I sat stage side. I understood their reactions to her. I watched men fall in love immediately once they laid their eyes on her.  After club hours, she invited particular club patrons back to her hotel room while I stood in the parking lot and timed them. Aware of my presence, none of her customers ever presented a problem. In the beginning,  as our nights or weekends came to its conclusion, she made sure I caught a cab back to Ft. Benning and paid the fare.

As time went on, she became more and more hesitant of letting me leave. Offering me full time employment became a daily occurrence. I began to keep my own cab money for the ride home, in my sock, to insure being able to do so. She didn’t care about the consequences of my desertion from military service. Cocaine had her in its clutches like the bite of a shark tearing into the flesh of its prey. She believed my companionship guaranteed smooth transactions and dissolved any potential drama. I believed the cocaine and pills she abused was beginning to deteriorate her thought process.

After a few months, she began to test my loyalty by sabotaging her “dates” in the hotels. Swooping in to stop potential disasters became a frequent job hazard for me. Ignited by a physical altercation with an old black man claiming to have received no service for his money, we were beginning to get banned from hotels for the volume of our drama.

In spite of her obvious deterioration and my better judgement to stop looking for her on my days off, I continued to follow the obsession for cocaine.

What I failed to see was my own mental deterioration.