Cpt. Lombardo symbolically placed me on the mantle for everyone to see. As a highly respected officer by his peers and subordinates, his endorsement of me was resolute. He brought me in front of H.H.C. during end of business formation that day and referred to me as a “bad ass motherfucker”. As he playfully grabbed me in a headlock while addressing the Company, I noticed the look of shock on the men’s faces. None of us had ever seen the Commander so animated. Like a trophy, he placed me on the mantle for everyone to see.
From that day forward, the men of 1/18 Infantry Regiment no longer addressed me by my rank. Both officers and enlisted men addressed me the same way. I was recognized everywhere I went on Kelley Hill and was shown the type of respect normally awarded to the warrior elite. The story of my fight, attempt to escape and inevitable capture had snowballed into a fable of legend highlighted by the Commanders’ endorsement. They now addressed me as Doc.
Cloaked in the armor of anonymity, I had been able to fade into the background of my surroundings throughout the course of my life until now. In contrast, my outside reality had changed so dramatically that I felt like Dorothy after she landed in the Technicolor Land of Oz. However, unlike Dorothys’ tornado that had delivered her to a place then disappeared, my tornado was just beginning to form. Internally, I couldn’t have felt more alone and afraid.
I responded to my changed reality with a duality of purpose. Professionally, I accepted the responsibility of being looked up to with grace and dignity. No longer the Alpha Company vehicle maintenance supervisor, Sgt. Gleason requested my reattachment to H.H.C. under his supervision. Sgt. Moreno couldn’t have signed off on the request any faster. I was now responsible for mentoring new Medics for the entire Battalion. When we received a new Medic to our platoon, regardless of his rank, I was responsible for him for 30 days. He would not be assigned to a Company until I thought he was ready. I took my new role serious and treated the mentorship of new Combat Medics appropriately. I viewed my new job as an honor.
Personally, however, I suffered from an internal void that was beginning to eat away at my insides like a cancer. Once my restriction was over and I was off duty, I wanted to be left alone. Isolation with two roommates in an over crowded and rowdy barracks was proving to be a challenge. I was beginning to feel like I would suffocate. In an attempt to remedy the claustrophobia, I began to leave post alone every night. I would stop at the P.X. to get a 40oz of Colt 45 to enhance my adventure.
I was 22 years old.