We were welcomed back to Weisbaden Air Base, Weisbaden Germany by a small “Welcome Home” party in an abandoned World War II airplane hanger. It was mostly some drunk folks who had already been welcomed back with the main body of the 12th Evac.. State side there was going to be a ticker tape parade in both Washington D.C. and New York City. It was billed as a Welcoming Home for returning soldiers from Operation Desert Storm and Vietnam. Regardless of being in Germany, we could feel the enthusiasm from the United States. Soldiers seemed divided on such a vast celebration of victory. I leaned more towards reluctance.
We were ordered to to take 30 days of leave to return home. All soldiers who served in the Gulf had to take leave. Soldiers earned 30 days of paid leave every year. It accumulated, through a simple math equation, to so many days of leave per month. Soldiers who didn’t have 30 days leave “banked” would take the difference in days on credit. It was the first time such an act had been performed in the history of the United States Army. 12th Evac. was split into two groups for leave. Half would take leave while the remaining half waited for their return. Due to being on rear detachment and the first half of soldiers already on leave I was in the second group.
The first night back on the Airbase I looked for familiar faces. Everyone seemed to be on leave. I ended up buying a six pack of beer and drinking alone in my old barracks room. I fell asleep with my boots on. Alcohol was banned in Saudi Arabia so a six pack really knocked me on my ass. My first night home, after drinking most of the six pack, I slept for 15 hours straight.
While waiting for my turn to go home I started to pick up on what our duties would be during the summer and fall of 1991. We would be waiting for our equipment to arrive from the Middle East. We would wake up and report for P.T., then report to a few “head count” formations during the day. It seemed that we were going to have an easy couple of months waiting for our equipment.
I called home and informed them I would be taking leave. My mama seemed extremely excited for my return. She was planning a dinner for me every night and asked what activities I would like to do while I was home. I told her I just want to sleep and see my friends. She said she would do her best to arrange that for me.
I really wasn’t interested in going home to the Chicagoland area. Growing up seemed a lifetime ago. I was only 20 years old but I felt unusually tired and old. My friends were all attending college now and living their lives. My life, or so it seemed, was now in Germany as a soldier. I hadn’t been home in two years. Outside of having some hot meals cooked by my mama, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing anyone. I didn’t know how to explain what had happened, nor how to field the inevitable questions about the deployment that would be asked of me. I just wanted my friends to come back from leave so we could start hanging out again. I wanted to see Bob, my roommate Dee Cee and the host of folks who made up the ranks of 12th Evacuation Hospital. They were all that made sense to me.
The night before I was to go home on leave was a very loud night in the barracks. Most of us had returned to Germany with five months of pay saved in our bank accounts. I had well over six thousand dollars banked which was the most I had ever saved or earned in my entire life. Soldiers were buying stereos, clothes and vehicles almost daily. Every night seemed to be a volume competition of who could play the loudest country, rap or rock n roll music. I was saving my money for leave so I stayed in my room, by myself, with a six pack.
The C.Q. knocked on my door rather loudly around 1900hrs. This aggravated me. Out of all rooms in the barracks playing music to deafening levels this guy was going to harass me? I was quietly enjoying some German beer in the safety of my room alone. I opened the door violently only to see a visually shaken L.P.N. female sergeant standing there. After bumbling through an attempt to communicate clearly I learned she wanted my help opening a locked door. My squad leader, Sgt. Rob, was playing country music so loud that the building was shaking. The door was locked and he wasn’t answering her requests to turn the volume down.
We knocked on his door repeatedly. There was no response. His roommate, Sgt. Bow, had a key to the door but he was at the E Club down the street. In order for C.Q. not to log the incident officially we would have to retrieve Sgt. Bow from the E Club so he could unlock the door.
Sgt. Bow had reluctantly came back from the club, unlocked his door only to find Sgt. Rob laying on his rack with both his wrist arteries opened and blood shooting across the room in a well choreographed rhythm with the beat of his heart. We jumped on Rob and applied makeshift tourniquets to each wrist from dirty socks we removed from his feet. There was a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey laying by his bed. Sgt Rob was mumbling something about a slut and some man he was going to shoot while on leave.
We saved his life against his wishes. Apparently, Sgt. Robs wife back home in Texas had met a man while we were deployed. According to the letter, she didn’t wish to be married any longer. The blood stained letter was laying on the floor next to his rack. Sgt. Bow was now sobbing uncontrollably while Sgt. Rob laughed at him.
I desperately wished I could cancel my leave. I was not prepared to go home and visit anyone. I projected my father turning down my requests for sharing a beer in the airport, my mamas endless questions and friends who were living their lives in a happily enjoyed freedom.