I found it odd, at first, that SSG Hunt let me call home right away. There was so much activity going on in the barracks and everyone needed help with some task or another. Normally, the menial day to day laborious tasks were completed by the lowest ranking soldiers. There was always something that needed to be done. I had no idea what everyone was doing or where they were going, however I was positive they needed a private, like me, to do something.
It dawned on me like the bell starting a boxing match. SSG Hunt was a mother. Her and her husband both were LPN’s stationed on the airbase. They were the same rank and both highly respected professional soldiers. Male SSG Hunt was assigned to one of the ambulance companies. I had seen her talk about her babies with other soldiers. The way her face lit up always reminded me of my own mama. She told me not to speak of anything other than being on alert and what that meant. Then, in typical N.C.O. fashion, she told me not to abuse the free time she was giving me.
Everyone had calling cards for calling home. Calling cards were specifically designed credit cards allowing minutes for conversations that were long distance over the telephone. Normally, we could use the phone at the C.Q. desk. An operator, on the other end of the line, would ask for the number off of the card and then enter the phone number you wished to call. It was simple. Calling cards were like cash on base. Everyone had family that had to be called regularly. If a mother called the C.Q. desk reporting she hadn’t heard from her child for too long, there was hell to pay with the Commander.
I knew I couldn’t use the C.Q. desk phone. It had been ringing off the hook since I walked into the barracks earlier in the morning. There was too much activity going on around the desk and I had been awarded some free time while on duty. EVERYONE knew once you were awarded some free time you had to disappear… and disappear quickly. Too many times I witnessed a slow moving private with free time be recalled to clean a toilet or sweep a floor. I needed to just head out of the barracks and figure out my plan once I was outside.
I would have to call my mama from the E Club pay phone down the street. Halfway out of the barracks door I realized I didn’t have my calling card on me. I was going to have to call home collect on my parents dime. I tried not to do that. Ever. For the most part I was successful, however, today I would have to walk through that shame and call. My goal was to rely completely on myself and the money I made after blowing their money at college. However, turning around to go upstairs to my room would mean suicide for my free time and I wouldn’t be able to call.
Germany was seven hours ahead of Chicago in the time zone. It was around 0300 Chicago time when I called home. I never did this. Both my parents worked and I tried to call only on weekends. Had she not have called the barracks I would have waited six days to call her on Saturday. I just never thought in terms of my mama worrying about me. Unsure of what was right I thought of SSG Hunt’s face when I asked her to call home. To her, it was something I needed to do before anything else.
I tried to gather the information I had from what I read in Stars and Stripes earlier that morning with Dan. I didn’t know what to tell my parents. My mind was beginning to race with rapid fire thoughts of topics to discuss. My phone conversations with my parents consisted of listening to my father talk about my sister and the Chicago White Sox. Mama always asked me if I wanted her to send me a care package of sausage and cheese with crackers. I didn’t know what else to say to them at 0300. I imagined I would just leave a message since it was so late and ask for a care package. “That”, my pea sized brain confirmed,”was the plan.” So I made the collect phone call.
Mama answered the phone after the first ring.
Mama sounded like she had drank two pots of coffee by herself. I couldn’t understand much of what she was saying and my advice to breath and slow down didn’t seem to work to well. After a few moments of listening to her sob, my father got on the phone. He asked me if I could discuss anything with him at that time. I answered him no. He then asked me if I was still in Germany. I answered him yes. He asked me if I need anything. Because I couldn’t think of anything else to say, I answered him, “Cheese, sausage and crackers please.”
For a young man who so desperately sought his fathers approval I sure didn’t seem to be going about it correctly. Dad always held me responsible for my mamas attention. It was something he didn’t and couldn’t understand. I didn’t understand it either as a younger person, nor did I understand it during this phone conversation. Mama got back on the phone and whispered to me, “Do you want me to come get you? Please, please let me come get you.”
I tried to calm her. I did everything I knew with the information I had at that time in my life. I explained to her that I am going where ever they tell me to go. This was my job and this is what I trained to do. I had no information for her, other than we were on alert and would be getting piece meal information slowly to prevent information leaks.
I told her I loved her and listened to her sob uncontrollably as she hung up the phone.