There was no time to question the reason for my orders. Written orders couldn’t be changed. Physically, I hadn’t fully recovered from the three day testing at Ft. Stewart. I had painful blisters on my feet, my legs ached constantly and I was looking forward to a full night of sleep in my bunk. That wasn’t going to happen. The thought of my mattress, my pillow and my clean blanket were all I could think of while I prepared for Airborne School.
I thought about Annetta. I missed seeing her everyday. There was a constant ache in my heart from missing her. Love is strange that way. I was becoming someone who chased after excitement to dull the pain in my soul and it wasn’t by my choice. I thought about the old Army recruitment advertisement, “We do more before 9 am than most people do all day.” God damned right we do.
When I was packed and ready I secured my wall locker, dressed the blisters on my feet, wrapped my ankles with tape and signed out of the C.Q. log book. I head to the parking lot. Cpl. Joe was driving me to H.H.C. 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment a.k.a Airborne School. It was a 20 minute drive from Kelley Hill.
I didn’t start the conversation with Joe. I did thank him for the ride however. I appreciated not having to lug all my equipment on the Base bus. He started to ask me “why do you think” questions. I was hoping to take a quick nap.
Joe had reenlisted before I came to Ft. Benning and was a career soldier. He had a plan for his life: the Army. I was coming to believe most soldiers found the Army to be a much better way of life than a life as a civilian. Risks of combat included. Also, there seemed to be a lot of soldiers who left the Army only to re enlist as a civilian. These were usually the most professional soldiers I met. They had a purpose. I was unsure of an Army career. Right now my thoughts were of Annetta and if she would say yes. Joe wasn’t interested in my feelings towards Annetta. Joes high school sweetheart sent him a “Dear John” letter earlier this year. He re enlisted immediately.
“Why do you think you are going to Airborne School?” “Why do you think we spent so much time training you and C.J.?” “Why do you think Lt. Bromund rides you so hard?” Why do you think this and why do you think that?. My ride to Airborne School was becoming an interrogation. I had no answers for Joe nor do I think he needed any. Rhetorical questions are made to provoke thought. He was definitely provoking something. I was becoming aggravated.
“Joe, I’m not sure why or what or who or how”, I explained. ” I just want to get through Airborne School, fly to Germany and see where I stand with this woman”.
He pulled the car over. Joe wasn’t much older than me, however, he was years ahead of me in maturity. The truth was I knew the older soldiers in my platoon took an interest in me. I didn’t feel picked on nor did I feel singled out in any way. I wanted to become a solid Infantry Combat Medic. I wanted to be called “Doc” and be treated with respect. To be more specific, I wanted to feel the way I imagined it felt to be respected. I didn’t know how to communicate that through words at twenty-one years old. So I became irritated.
I knew Joe wanted to become a Physician’s Assistant. He had the skills and the experience to become whatever he wanted I imagined. He was a good teacher and an extraordinary field Medic. He had a goal, researched how to reach that goal and was taking the action necessary to achieve that goal. He was trying to get me to set a goal for myself.
In the back of my mind I had three potential goals that sparked my interest. I couldn’t commit to preferring one more than the other. Army jobs are identified by M.O.S. (Military Occupational Specialty). I was now a 91B10, a junior enlisted Combat Medic. In three weeks I was hoping to be a 91B1P, a junior enlisted Combat Medic with an Airborne Identifier. Joe was a Corporal, a Non Commissioned Officer. N.C.O.’s were in charge of troops. He was a 91B2P. Joe was an outstanding leader who lead by example. He was obviously mentored by Sgt. Walker and Sgt. G.. Both Sergeants were 91B3P’s who outranked Cpl. Joe. Sgt. Walker was also a tabbed Ranger. Sgt Walker wished to return to one of the Ranger Battalions. He never spoke of family or his divorce. I only knew such things existed through other soldiers talking about him. Sgt. G. wanted to supervise Medics in an Infantry setting and retire after 20 years with a full pension. These men all had goals.
I had now been introduced to 91C’s, Licensed Practical Nurses, while stationed in Germany. L.P.N.’s were my direct supervisors for the two years I spent overseas. R.N.’s, Registered Nurses, were the officers who supervised 91B’s and 91C’s. Registered Nurses were officers. I had no interest in being an officer. I took pride in being an enlisted soldier. We were the workers.
Ranger School, Joe was explaining, was Sgt. Walker’s next objective for me. I knew of Ranger Battalions and the elite School itself only through Army Cadence and Sgt. Walker’s stories. I often wondered if I had was it took to graduate Ranger School. The E.F.M.B. test, and now Airborne School, would be good precursors for Ranger School. However, Ranger School was taking the U.S. Armys’ most elite soldiers and finding the most elite soldiers amongst them. It was the utmost challenge to any human beings courage, endurance and fortitude. Soldiers die during the training.
Lastly, there was the 18D qualification course or “Q course” as it was known throughout the Army. Q course was a three week torture session, as legend has it, where soldiers are hand chosen to participate in the Special Forces Medic school. Q course was just a selection. The school itself was over a year and a half long. Special Forces Medics were considered field surgeons and operated in small teams independent from the regular Army.
As I exited the car, I explained to Joe I have to jump from a plane five times before I could even think about goals. Right now, surviving Airborne School was the only goal I had.
I knew my answer didn’t satisfy him but it was all I could give him at the time. It was as honest as I could be.