I had passed Sgt. Walker’s test: I didn’t take my duffle bag to my room. He gave me “marching orders”, a detailed set of instructions to be accomplished in a set amount of time. Going to my rack to drop my bag wasn’t in my instructions. He pointed out my ” test results” to another Squad Leader in our platoon: Sgt. Gleason. These two men, unbeknownst to me at the time, would mold me into the man I would eventually become. My time spent on Kelley Hill turned out to be a mixture of learning how to become an Infantry medic, a polished warrior and a father.
Sgt. Walker and Sgt. Gleason were the ying and yang of warriors. Two halves of the same whole. Sgt. Walker was created by the military. His mentorship was based on military doctrine and experience. Over the next two and a half years Sgt. Walker exposed us, his squad of three medics attached to Alpha Company, 1st battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment, to spontaneous mass casualty drills, hand to hand combat skills, weapons inspections/qualifications and rapid fire question and answer scenarios regarding medical treatment in combat scenarios.
Sgt. Walker would test us, almost obsessively, over and over regardless if we were on duty or off. He created high pressure scenarios that would force us to react instantly. If we panicked, or had questions, he would stop the scenario, momentarily, address our flaws calmly then return to the lesson with a maniacal fever. On one occasion in particular, our squad was off duty hanging out at an off post sports bar watching college football and drinking a few beers. Sgt. Walker went to use the latrine, or so he said, and didn’t return. Who did return were three large “anti military” angry men accusing us of hitting on their wives. They weren’t asking questions. We had to fight our way out of the bar, avoid capture by local police and find our way back to the barracks twenty miles away: Sgt. Walker was our ride and he was nowhere to be found. Turned out he paid our “enemies” to confront us, watched us from a distance and followed us home. He never left us and we were, above all else, NEVER to leave anyone behind. Ever. “You go… We go”.
Sgt. Gleason lived off post. He was married and had a few sons. On weekends, accompanied by his youngest son who he called ” Birdman”, Sgt. Gleason would bring his custom Volkswagen Bug to the barracks. He wanted us to tell him who was up to what in our platoon. He sought information not for harming anyone but out of sincere concern. He would bring pizza and beer and gather our platoon in the barracks day room. He knew we would just let us all rat on each other in front of each other. He resembled a young Paul Newman and was my first exposure to a street hustler. He could fight, play pool, build cars and sell ice to an Eskimo.
Sgt. G was from Myrtle Beach and grew up hustling tourists out of their money playing pool. He enlisted as a medic in the early 1980’s for what we all assumed to be mandatory to avoid jail time. He spent a decade at Ft. Campbell Kentucky, stationed with the 101st Airborne Division repelling from helicopters as a Infantry Medic. He fell in love with soldiering and a young beautiful woman. He got married, had some kids and was making the Army his career. I never questioned his motives for seeking information… No one ever got into trouble for things reported. Sgt. G was a soldier and wanted to know what he was dealing with in regards to his soldiers… It was also a way for us to get to know each other.
After my first full day in my new unit I was finally released to my barracks room. Sgt. Walker introduced me to one of my new roommates. We lived in a three man room. CJ was the first roommate I met. He was from Dublin Ireland. He stood six foot two and weighed a solid two hundred and twenty five pounds. He was the first guy to mention my unrecognizable combat patch. “Hey… Ummm that isn’t an Infantry patch is it?”
“No. It isnt.” I replied. He smirked and asked me, ” Are you sure you want to wear that here? Grunts don’t really acknowledge anything but their own patches. How long are you staying in the Army?”
I wasn’t sure how to take CJ. His Irish brogue was thick and he spoke faster than anyone I had ever met. I figured he was testing me on some level since we were now roommates. I noticed his uniform didn’t have a combat patch. Carefully, I replied, ” I enlisted for 5 years. I’m halfway done. My combat patch is from 2nd CosCom. I served in the 12th Evacuation Hospital. I notice your combat patch must have fallen off today soldier. You may want to fix that before morning formation. How long do you have left in the Army?”
He smiled at me. He started to laugh a little but then reeled in his composure.”Five years? Holy mother Mary did they see you coming! I enlisted for four years. I spent a year in Korea and missed the war. So you were part of the 2nd CosCom Special Forces Group?” His smile returned.
There is no such thing as the 2nd CosCom Special Forces Group. He was toying with me the way a cat toys with a mouse before killing it for food. I could tell this big Irishman lived for moments like this… A battle of wits to the edge of composure if he could get me there… And his mission in life at this very moment was to get me there by any means necessary.
I had no proud bravado regarding my combat experience. At least not standing here in THESE barracks. The young medics here on Kelley Hill all were awarded the C.M.B. for their experiences in combat. I was not awarded one because I was not attached to an Infantry unit during the war. I was also “bare chested” because I hadn’t attended any special school to award me an identifier ie: Airborne school, Air Assault school and failed my only attempt at the E.F.M.B. (Expert Field Medical Badge). The medics i had met during the course of the day all had jump wings. When Sgt Walker introduced me, one by one, to the men in my platoon, they disregarded my rank and name but referred to me as “Leg”. A “Leg” is someone who walks because they don’t know how to “Jump”.
The big Irishman, or ” Mick” as i was now thinking of him, was bare chested also. For the purpose of this discussion, I knew the shot I had to take. Sgt. Walker, still standing in the room with us, was thoroughly enjoying this conversation. His big teethy smile alerted me to such.
“So you didn’t like the elite fighting Irish Army and decided to give the United States Army four years of your life? Let me guess, you heard ‘shave my head and sleep with American men’ and answered ‘where do I sign?’ ”
The silence was so overwhelming I swore I heard crickets. Sgt Walker broke the silence with gut wrenching laughter. The big Mick joined in soon after muttering some inaudible Irish jibber jabber followed by, “ya fuckin cunt ya”. I decided not to push any farther.
Soon after this contest our third roommate entered quickly, undressed and scrambled to the shower. CJ introduced him as, “Corporal Joe from Boston: Purple Heart recipient.” Joe shrugged off CJ’s words, shook my hand and left. He had a date.
The mention of date reminded me of Annetta. I missed her terribly and wanted to check in with her.