The ballad of the Green Berets… and graduation

home-of-the-combat-medic-corpsman-and-pararescue_mousepad_LOGO-MPAD-1_larger_1378527981_largeThe day the Apple and I met Rudy was an excruciatingly long day. We were late to our first formation…so we got “smoked” (verbal abuse and push ups). We were having trouble staying in formation during runs throughout the day… we got smoked several times. At one point, Drill Sergeants surrounded him and demanded he answer them about why he did something. I can’t, for the life of me, remember what the question was. The Apple never spoke to anyone in English. He would mutter, “aww fuck man”, when we were getting smoked by the Drill Sergeants which, every single time, caused more smoke. However, our whole platoon knew that was the extent of his knowledge of the language. The only other word he used was when he was calling for me. He called me Angie. I didn’t understand why he called me this at first, however, if you say my last name real fast and pretend you are from Guam… its a pretty close resemblance. Soon the entire platoon referred to me as Angie. Also, as soon as they started to call me this name, they started to approach me about the behavior of the Apple.

As basic training progressed day to day and week to week the Apple started to bring heat, not just on me, on the entire platoon. There was a platoon level competition for best D & C (drill and ceremony), marksmanship, P.T. (physical training/testing) and the obstacle course. Our Drill Sergeants wanted the D & C banner to hang on our platoon guide on (our platoon flag). There were four platoons, including ours, and if you win the competition the banner goes on the guide on. Each platoon had their own flag. It was treated like something that God Himself made for us. We took our guide on everywhere. It stayed at the front of our formations while marching and running. The guide on was carried by a “potato” that was hand picked by the Drill Sergeants. He was usually the best physical representation of the platoon.. our guide on was carried by an ex Division I football player, a linebacker, who was kicked out of college for smoking weed. He looked like a black version of Superman.  As it turned out, the Apple hated doing D & C. He had no interest in hiding the hate and we, the entire platoon, were getting “smoked” on a regular basis now because of his hatred. The platoon wanted him to fall in line and conform. The first step in forced conformity is approaching the other half of the battle buddy. That other half was none other than yours truly… Angie.

The Apple and I had a unique kind of relationship in reflection. After we met Rudy, we worked as a team. I shined his boots and saved my apples, he taught me different ways to fight at the end of the day. We spoke through hand gestures and eye contact. I tried speaking to him slowly in English.. but he showed no interest. Our squad leader approached me about his behavior, “Ang, you gotta tell him if he don’t start following orders we are gonna have to deal with him”. I knew what that meant. I didn’t want any extra drama and I really liked the Apple. I didn’t want him to get hurt. I approached the Apple and spoke to him slowly, in English, telling him what the platoon said. I elaborated how we just need to get through the inspection so we could move on to better things.. like fucking graduating basic training. I had no idea if he understood. He seemed more interested in showing me how to stretch my leg muscles so I could perfect the snap kick he was teaching me. The next day, during D & C, he didn’t act out. It was so obvious that when we all fucked up on the “left face” command, everyone got smoked but the Apple. He listened. We went on to win the D & C banner for our guide on.

The rest of basic training was un problematic. We didn’t win any other banners, however, I did witness something that was so baffling to me I don’t believe I will ever forget it. One night, during boot spit shining, I noticed no one else was spit shining. The platoon usually did this together, outside in the fresh air, every night, sharing techniques and admiring each others work. This night it was just me. I went inside the barracks and saw the entire platoon around my bunk. I figured the Apple beat the shit out of the loud mouthed Jewish kid from Brooklyn. We all knew he wanted to, we had to constantly remove him from the Apples “line of fire”. When I got to the bunk I saw the Apple, sitting Indian style on the top rack, holding a leaf in his mouth like a harmonica, and playing the ballad to the John Wayne movie “The Green Berets”. I knew the song, mostly, because the entire platoon was singing the lyrics while he played the melody.. on a fucking leaf. This made me smile so big I couldn’t even sing. The Apple was now part of the platoon.

The day we graduated Basic Training we each received the platoon pictures, that we took during Phase I, from our Drill Sergeants. We were packing up our uniforms and getting our tickets ready for wherever we were going next. I was going to medic school, but had no idea where anyone else was going. I never even thought to ask anyone… nobody asked that question… we were all just focused on getting through Basic. I remember feeling anxiety, a lot of it, thinking about where my Battle Buddy was going. Who is gonna look out for him? How is he going to survive the next level of training not speaking English? Just then he came up and grabbed my platoon picture. He took it inside the barracks. We were all waiting on cabs to take us to the airport. While we were waiting we were signing the backs of each others pictures, like year books in H.S.. Everyone laughed because the Apple just took mine. One kid said, “shit Angie… looks like he wants two pictures. Good luck getting that back”, then his named was called and he jumped in a cab. The Army doesn’t teach you how to say good bye. We all just left, one by one. They called for Frank Lifang. His cab was here. He came out of the barracks, handed me my picture, gave me a hug and said in perfect English, “I will meet you in San Antonio, Angie. I still want your apples”, then jumped in his cab. I looked at the back where he signed my picture.

That motherfucker spoke better English then me… and his hand writing was impeccable…. he was going to medic school.

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