My orders to Ft. Benning came as an unpleasant surprise. Not only was I loosing what felt like my entire family, the men and women with whom i served in combat, I was also loosing the love of my life. To add insult to injury, I was heading to “The Home of the Infantry”: which meant my medic skills would be tested and I would have to prove myself to soldiers I never met. It was a challenge that I wasn’t too excited about. There was nothing I could do outside of deserting my military obligation and living as an outlaw in Europe. My hands were tied.
My brothers and sisters left one after the other, week after week. I was too young to fully understand the emotions I was feeling or how to communicate with these men and women what they meant to me. None of us had those skills. Somehow we all understood on some level that we just may never see each other again. We hugged tight and i always spent time alone, isolated, as someone left. It was surreal to say the least.
Each night that someone left I felt safest with Annetta. I knew the day was coming when she too would be gone, and i was dangerously relying on a woman for emotional relief but I didn’t know what else to do nor what direction to turn. She never asked any questions of me nor did it seem that she had any expectations of our time together. At the end of each work day I would just seek her out and she would let me … Be. I had no answers and couldn’t think of any questions. I felt alone, scared and uncertain. My experience over the two and a half years of serving in the Army so far was based on the way I felt about the soldiers I served with, side by side. That’s the one thing they never taught us in boot camp, medic school or endless hours of training: what do I do now that they are gone? They stripped me down to nothing, rebuilt me in the form of a soldier, sent me to a unit, trained us as a unit, sent us to combat as a unit and told us we might die together, yet when we survived and came home… They broke us apart. I was devastated.
So she just let me be.
On February 2, 1992 I flew from Frankfurt Germany to Atlanta Georgia, U.S.A., alone, just like I arrived in Germany. I was a twenty-one year old soldier, a grown man, yet in so many ways I was like a scared child wandering through a dark basement. I had no inner personal tools to rely on and feelings I didn’t understand. I had the long distance phone number to the barracks where Annetta was and the phone number to my parents house. I had orders telling me where to report for duty and a duffle bag full of my life’s possessions. I had a couple hundred dollars in my pocket and my military I.D..
There comes a time when every soldier/marine/sailor/airman has to be alone, after it is all said and done, and face what is in the inside of him or her. I believe in this moment, standing in the airport in Atlanta, was my first time being truly alone. I was in the middle of a busy international airport however I felt like the only human being on the face of the earth. I had the overwhelming feeling to run, as fast and as far as I could. My mind was racing with rapid fire thoughts of where I could go and what I could do. The thoughts all came back to one thing: her. I wanted to see her again.
I jumped in a cab and head for Ft. Benning. The only way to see Annetta again would be to report for duty, save my money, fly back to Germany and ask her to marry me.
In times of personal crisis I come up with a plan. Good, bad or ugly having a plan makes me feel in control. Without control I feel like the scared little boy in the airport. Regardless what Uncle Sam’s plan was for me, and I knew he had one, I would be heading back to get her as soon as I could.
This new plan gave me a sense of purpose and with purpose comes courage,
I reported for duty and was assigned to the 3rd Brigade of the 24th Infantry Division. The 24th Infantry Division, based primarily at Ft. Stewart, is a rapid deployment unit attached to the 18th Airborne Corp.. One brigade, the 3rd brigade, was isolated at Ft. Benning… on “The Hill”… or Kelley Hill to be specific. As I reported for duty, my new 1st Sgt explained to me there only two ways off of the hill, ” you either quit being a soldier in my god damned Army or you motherfuckin die! Hooah?”
“Hooah?” was a blanket question. It covered every topic known to man. It’s spirit encompassed, in this scenario, “do you understand?” In any scenario, the only correct answer was a loud scream from the position of attention, “Hooah 1st. Sgt!”.
And so I did.