I continued to process new Medics into our Battalion without incident. As veteran Medics either reenlisted and moved on to new tours of service or left the Army through discharge, we would receive their replacement within a few days. Dave, now called Magwa by everyone, had settled into his new role as Vehicle Maintenance Supervisor in Alpha Company, replacing me. He seemed to be flourishing under the guidance of Sgt. Moreno. Ironically, C.J. and Magwa seemed to be tolerating each other without my direct supervision every day.
Sgt. Gleason was letting me do my job without over managing me. A daily briefing at the end of each workday, regarding our new soldiers, was all he insisted on.
Corporal Joe privately applied to the Special Forces Qualification Course and got accepted. With the same stealth and speed that defined Sgt. Walker’s reassignment to Ranger Battalion, Joe was there one day then gone the next day. No goodbyes. His departure left a vacancy in our platoon for a junior N.C.O. and an empty bed in our room. C.J. and I both knew the vacancies would be filled in a few days. Neither of us looked forward to a new and untested roommate. The anticipation compared to sticking your hand into a bag of prizes not knowing if you would get a piece of candy or a small dog turd. C.J. wanted to gamble $100.00 on the odds that we would get the turd.
By this time, C.J. was a short timer (less than a year left in his enlistment) and found humor in everything. Humor was how he was coping with his last year of “hell”. Sgt. Gleason found his humor to be an “extreme pain in the ass” requiring extra duty to remedy it on most days. It wasn’t unusual to hear C.J. singing Army cadences in the hallways of the barracks, late at night during the week, while he swept and mopped floors. His sole purpose was to be annoying. The rest of the platoon placed daily bets on whether C.J. would get extra duty or not. I always placed my money on the safe bet. C.J. just couldn’t help himself.
Officially, I was a short timer too. The difference between C.J. and I was as different as black and white. C.J. had a plan. Generally speaking, the Irish who imigrate to the United States work as a team. Congregating in small communities together, they work for the good of the whole community. C.J. had a community in the Bronx of New York City waiting for him. A woman there would house him and help him with employment while he paid a percentage of his earnings to her. Once on his feet, he could use the community for educational purposes as well. C.J. planned to goto school to become a nurse.
I was still undecided. Sgt. Gleason began to question me about P.L.D.C. (Primary Leadership Development Course), a required school for advancement in rank from Specialist to N.C.O.. Promotions were based on a point system. With the ongoing downsize of troops in the military, the points needed by Medics to make the rank of Sergeant were incredibly high. In order to reenlist in the Army as a Medic I would need to, at the very least, be on a waiting list for P.L.D.C.. Everything was voluntary, however there were other soldiers waiting to go. I had the most points of all E-4 ranked soldiers in our platoon which awarded me the first choice. My undecided future needed attention immediately after Joe left. Someone had to fill that slot.
The arrival of the newest soldier within our ranks made the decision for me. Henderson was a black soldier from the streets of Houston Texas. Having already served a few years at Ft. Hood, Texas, he came to our platoon with the same rank as me: E-4. Like me, his prior service gave him points for promotion. Unlike me however, he had additional points from his civilian life. “Hendo” had sixty college credits from a small community college before he enlisted. He out ranked me. The first question I was told to ask him by Sgt. G was if he was interested in attending P.L.D.C.. Without hesitation, Hendo gave me his answer.
Before Hendo could attend the school, he would have to be in processed and mentored by me for the thirty day period. Also, because of the vacant bed in our room, Hendo was now our new roommate. Sgt. G knew I would have a birdseye view of the future N.C.O. so my daily briefings regarding Hendo were more in depth than normal. He wanted to know as much as I could tell him everyday. He didn’t hide the questions from Hendo and spoke in front of him whenever he questioned me.
Hendo let me know, from the day he arrived on base, what he thought of me. He called me “the rat”. Conversing with him during the course of a day compared to getting blood from a turnip. He wasn’t talking. As I introduced him to the men and walked him through the issue of his equipment, he referred to me publicly by his nickname for me.
I refused to take the bait during the first thirty days. I answered Sgt. G’s questions as best I could which were limited at best. Ultimately, I knew I had nothing to prove. My test was already over. Hendos test, however, was just beginning. When he finally asked me directly, in the presence of Hendo himself, I answered Sgt. G. directly. I didn’t trust him.
As if reading from a pre written script, Hendo followed my judgement with his own judgement, “He’s just racist. This is bullshit.”
My analysis was not a requirement for entry into the Battalion nor did it hold much weight concerning his being promoted. My job was explained to me when I first started. To gauge his medical knowledge and willingness to help others was my only purpose.
The final assessment would be completed by our chain of command. My personal assessment was Hendo had to be avoided at all costs.