C.J. was an avid reader. He read book after book. The choice of books we got on base was limited so we would venture off post on quests for worthy literature. I told him how I tried to read Steven King’s “It” during the war but couldn’t finish. Somehow, I explained, immersing myself into a story about a homicidal clown while waiting for radical Muslims in the desert at night didn’t prove to be wise. He found that amusing. He introduced me to authors and stories I would never have explored by myself. We were getting close.
“Corporal Joe”, our roommate, was a Medic who earned the title Doc. He was awarded the Purple Heart during the war and wore a huge scar across the side of his head where shrapnel hit him. C.J. would constantly refer to him as ” Corporal Joe: Purple Heart recipient ” whenever speaking about him. Apparently, before I arrived at Kelley Hill, Joe signed a soldiers broken leg cast as such. C.J. would never live him that momentary lapse of judgement down. Joe would push back, sometimes, however he was no match for the Irishman’s wit. It was a welcomed distraction most days on and off duty.
C.J. was a warrior, unrecognized at this point by the infantrymen we served. While stationed in Korea, he came across a car accident off post and pulled two people from the burning wreckage and saved their lives. His post commander awarded him the Army Commendation Medal with an Oak Leaf cluster for “Valor above and beyond the call of duty during peace time”. I know that only because he wore it on his dress uniform during inspections and ceremony’s. I asked him about it away from the crowd. It was only then he was comfortable talking about it. Medals and ribbons were an odd thing to behold personally for soldiers. As a soldier serving with soldiers medals had no real depth or weight. Most were awarded for being somewere at the right time and taking action; while others were given for political reasons. Most acts of Valor or integrity went unrecognized. They didn’t mean much to us yet had to be on our uniforms per regulations.
To Medics however there are two awards that command respect: the Combat Medic Badge and the Expert Field Medic Badge. Both awards, although not at the same time, were to be worn over your heart for the duration of your career. The C.M.B. out ranked the E.F.M.B.. Combat experience outranked everything.
Without combat, C.J. and I could not be awarded the C.M.B.. Neither of us were excited or compelled to return to combat. I had seen my share of it in Saudi Arabia. C.J., without saying it, had seen his share of it in Ireland during the 70’s and 80’s. I can only assume what he experienced. The subject was off limits. What I did know is he had to leave Ireland, by way of Australia, for “unknown reasons”. As an Irish born citizen he won a lottery based “green card” to work in the United States. He enlisted in the Army as soon as he got here.
Joe had been awarded both the C.M.B. and the E.F.M.B.. Joe too was a warrior. He stood only 5’4 tall and weighed, maybe, 150lbs soaking wet but I witnessed Joe fight numerous times off post in the bars we would frequent. He could fight like a champ. He was the best practical Combat Medic I had ever met. The infantrymen recognized his skills too. Joe was a “Doc”.
As time went by I was saving my money, consciously, for the first time in my life. I planned to buy an engagement ring, buy a round trip plane ticket to Germany and propose to Annetta. We were corresponding regularly by mail and keeping each other informed about our lives. We had decided to wait for each other and not reenlist after our contracts had ended. We had a plan.
Sgt. Walker and Sgt. G. also had plans. These two men, along with Cpl. Joe, had decided to speed up the intense training for C.J. and I. The whole platoon was slotted for an E.F.M.B. test during the summer at Ft. Stewart, Ga..These three men made it their personal missions to prepare C.J. and I for the test. All three had earned the badge. Every day, while in Garrison or the field, off duty or not, we were thrown into high pressure scenarios regarding mass casualty triage and treatment, land navigation using pace counts and asmuths (military grade compass), weapons, communication over a radio skills, Evacuation procedures and general medical knowledge.
C.J. and I trained as a team. Neither of us had to say it out loud or acknowledge the facts regarding the three day test coming up over the summer. We both wanted to earn that Badge. Our training attitudes reflected our motivation.
The three warriors who trained us, mercilessly, over and over each day wanted us to earn the Badge too. Failure wasn’t an option.