The summer of 1991 brought a lot of change to the scenery of the 12th Evacuation Hospital. The U.S. Army was in the middle of a post war downsize, the unit itself was changing from an evacuation hospital to a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and we were moving into newly rehabbed barracks. On a personal level I was starting to have feelings for the woman who repeatedly broke into my barrack room to share my bed with me: Annetta.
Annetta was a free spirited beautiful blonde who was the grown woman version of a tomboy. She stood about 5’2 and had the body of a well polished bikini model. She listened to loud country music, drank American beer from a can and chewed tobacco. Not just any tobacco, mind you, but the strongest brand of fine cut chewing tobacco to come out of the United States: Copenhagen. It was really quite something to watch when she would dress up in Levi’s jeans, a t shirt and running shoes to go with us out into the German night life. She, unlike the majority of us who had been living in Germany for years, was unapologetically American in her fashion style and the way she carried herself. She had the attention of every man on the Air Base, yet for some reason, she chose to break into my room every night and fall asleep next to me on my rack. I had no idea why she chose to spend time with me however the better I got to know her the more grateful I became for her attention.
What I didn’t really comprehend at the time was that she was a distraction from my reality. My friends were either leaving the service, getting orders to change duty stations or being reassigned to different units in Europe. One by one as each one of my brethren left I felt myself draw closer and closer to Annetta. She was becoming my solace.
Each year in Nijmegen, Netherlands there is a N.A.T.O. sponsored 100 mile road march to celebrate the liberation of Nazi occupied Holland after World War II. Our commander, in an effort to keep our medical skills sharp, volunteered the 12th Evacuation Hospital to medically support the road march. It was small potatoes, really, considering all we had experienced during the war, however, we all knew that marijuana was legal in Holland. Regardless of the threat of being “piss tested” after the road march and a strong C.I.D. (Criminal Investigative Division) presence in Nijmegen we were all very excited about the one week field exercise.
Our duties would include pre-march instruction to participants in the road march followed by duty in “aid stations” along the route of the road march itself. We would treat sprains, blisters, heat casualties and minor fractures during the day. At night, however, the city of Nijmegen became a party. The Dutch treated Americans like heroes for liberating their country almost 40 years prior. American soldiers were treated as royalty. In the week I was there I never bought one drink, one meal or one joint. Everything was bought for me by trading pieces of Americana or any part of my uniform. Annetta never left my side nor did I want her too. It was the closest I had ever felt to a woman in my entire life.
Sometime in late November my buddy Bob was complaining about how much time I spent hanging out with “my new love”. I countered him with pointing out how his time was mostly spent with his bisexual girlfriends, whom I never met. I understood he just wanted to hang out sometimes but he never really gave me much notice. He would show up at the mailroom, my barrack room, whenever he had no commitment to hang with his girls.
The truth was we both knew, along with the majority of soldiers who were deployed to the Gulf War, that our tour in Europe would be ending soon. We were both already well over our “two year” tour timeline. Tours to Europe were for only two years. Somehow, mostly due to our Supply clerks being overwhelmed with downsizing and extended tours, P.C.S.’s (Permanent Change of duty Station’s) were behind schedule. My two year date came up a month ago in October while his came up in September. We were living on borrowed time.
Bob had explained to me that he researched trying to extend his tour and was told he had until the first of the year to extend. After the first of the year the Army would start PCSing soldiers again. He was going to talk to his girlfriends to see how they felt about his extending. He suggested I talk to Annetta as well.
All of a sudden there was an urgency to my service in Germany. I had never enjoyed spending time with a woman as much as I did with Annetta. Also, I never had a friend quite like Bob. Without having to speak to anyone I already knew what I wanted to do. I was going to extend my tour in Germany so I could be by both of them. All I had to do was make sure Annetta was as excited about my decision as I felt. This worried me. I was twenty-one years old and outside of the Army I felt I had nothing. I had ruined my life back home during a brief thirty day leave after the war and my father was suggesting I look at making the Army my career. This was the first time I started to examine my experience during combat.
The reality, for me, was that I felt expendable. We were fortunate by the way the war had gone. Regardless of the fact that the President stopped the war with the liberation of Kuwait, most of us knew that Iraq would be a recurring deployment. The fall of the Soviet Union seemed imminent which would bring plenty more dangers to the world. In spite of the dangers of military service I just wanted to stay with Annetta and be close to Bob.
Before either Bob or I could extend our tours in Germany, the United States Army disrupted our plans. In early December, on the same day, Spc Dan “Bob” Manion had orders to report to Ft. Lewis, Washington and I had orders to report to Ft. Benning, Georgia.