Around 1630 I was running out of things to do. I had made my bunk, organized my wall locker and put away all the clothes I had into my 3 drawer chest. I desperately didn’t want to fall asleep. Falling asleep and missing formation, according to Indiana, would mean I was A.W.O.L.. I had heard of A.W.O.L. as a civilian. Actually, that was the only time I had heard of it. A volunteer Army during peacetime, I imagined, didn’t have many soldiers who wanted to run. Outside of the condition of the barracks, I didn’t have any desire to run either.
I head downstairs to the C.Q. desk as insurance for being prompt. Indiana, still on duty, suggested that I sit at the desk with her so I could meet soldiers as they entered the barracks. She was filling out paper work, answering the phone when it rang and addressing both officers and N.C.O.s as needed. The 12th Evac., obviously, was in non stop motion. Indiana seemed weathered and polished in the way she guided the movement. As a green inexperienced soldier, I was in awe of her.
At 1645 the medics started to shuffle through the door. One after another, they had crisp starched uniforms, just like Texas and Indiana. Not one soldier had a wrinkle or blemish on their B.D.U.’s. The dark black leather boots, shined to mirror like perfection, all seemed to squeak in harmony across the shiny buffed floor as well. As soldiers approached the desk, Indiana introduced me then handed them written messages from phone calls she received during the day. West Germany and the United States were many hours apart in time zones. Most family members back home either didn’t understand the time difference or soldiers didn’t inform them properly. Either way there seemed to be a lot of messages.
I observed Indiana closely, watching her address each soldier. I was no longer in training and had questions on how off duty regular Army soldiers spoke to each other. We were all still on duty. Duty wouldn’t end until the C.O. released us for the day, lined up in formation at 1700. However I had learned some truths in those few moments. First, she addressed everyone E-4 and below by their last name only. No rank acknowledgement at all. Private and Specialist fell to the way side. N.C.O.’s, E-5 and above, were all addressed by Sergeant “So and Such”, depending on their last names. Our First Sergeant, an older grouchy looking man, she referred to as First Sergeant. No last name. The First Sergeant’s face seemed to match the weathered look of the walls in the barracks. All officers were either Sir or Ma’am.
I followed the crowd outside to the back of the barracks. Once outside, I was guided to my platoon. They appeared to be a tight group of people just by the way they interacted with each other. There were men and women of all the colors of skin you find in America. I grew up in and around the melting pot of Chicago. I had gone through Basic Training and Medic School with multiple different ethnic groups. These groups had a diversity ranging from the harmonica leaf playing Apple from Guam to guys from Oklahoma who ate bugs off the ground as snacks. Never in my life had I seen such interacting between races as there seemed to be here in formation. I was used to searching out white people to stick to my own. That’s how I knew where to be, was by color. Here, in this moment, at the 12th Evacuation Hospital in Weisbaden Germany, I had no idea where to be.
Once we were released from formation I was introduced to the whole platoon. There were too many names and ranks to remember immediately. The thing I remember most was that no one made me feel like an outsider. Everyone had just arrived, basically, over the previous few months. I was immediately issued a”battle buddy” type soldier to mentor me for the first few weeks. My battle buddy was my roommate, Dee Cee.
Dee Cee was a Puerto Rican from Washington D.C.. His best friend, in the platoon, was Tennessee, a white boy. Tennessee lived with Alabama who was also white. Across the hall from us was Kentucky, a black kid, who lived with Ohio, also a black kid. Unlike my days in college or even during training in the Army, here at the 12th Evac. we shared our barracks with females. Women lived next door to us and down the hall from us. The entire barracks was like one big, old, smelly, multi-sexed cultural Halloween bag of soldiers. We lived together, ate together, trained together, partied together and slept together. The only separation we had outside of our 2 person rooms was each sex had their own latrine/shower. All of us were roughly the same age. The year was 1989 and we were all in our late teens or early twenties. There were one or two N.C.O.s who lived in the barracks as well, but only one Medic. His name was Fred. He was Filipino.
I don’t know if any of us realized it or not but we were living in what would be a historical period of time. The wall separating Freedom from Communism in West Germany, only a few hundred miles away, was about to come down.
The next few years of my life, however, wasn’t about a history lesson. We trained vigorously, under fierce leadership that aimed for perfection, for something we were unaware lied just over the horizon of our youth. Through difficult, repetitious and strenuous labor we would learn each others strengths and weaknesses. Without any outside influences of the racial divisions that was reality in the states, we would become deeply loyal to each other. When it was all said and done, we would be ripped apart by war, separations from service, changes in duty stations, an Army wide reduction in force and Ends of Tours.
However, from October of 1989 until February of 1992 I had the honor and privilege to serve with the men and women of the 12th Evacuation Hospital.