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3. Late To Formation: Fort Gordon, Georgia

Chapter XI

“Rear Detachment”

It was May of 2007 when I left Fort Lee with a win. I was back on track, thankfully. When I got to Fort Gordon, I was assigned to the Headquarters Company, 63rd Signal Battalion, 35th Signal Brigade. I got put on rear detachment, which I didn't mind too much because it was a laid-back environment, compared to training. PT formation at 0630. After breakfast formation at 0900. End of day formation at 1630. In between all of that, I just had to nap in the barracks and not bother anyone.

For a few months, it looked like we would late deploy out to Iraq and catch up with the battalion. We were scheduled to sit on a FOB for a few months and work on the base. I got my head right. I did the pre-deployment training, and then I went home to visit my family. The thing I remember the most was before I left Indianapolis, my mother went through airport security to sit with me as long as she could before I flew away. Then she hugged me, and called me, “honey bear,” one more time before my flight was called.

It was a scene that young men repeated throughout the ages, and that was my turn. I was saying goodbye to my mother before heading off to a combat zone. Few know the moment they become a man, but that was my mine. I wiped the tears from my eyes, told my mother I loved her, and boarded my flight. I looked back and saw her, red eyed and face covered in tears, waving at me as I left. 2007 was a different time. It wasn’t if you deployed, but when, and how many times. Would you be yourself when you came home? What would you leave behind in the desert?

Then i got back to Fort Gordon, and Rear Det. told us we were staying. I wouldn't deploy in 2007. I’d sit out the whole deployment in Augusta, Georigia. Emotional jet-lag is fun. After I settled back into the 9-5 schedule, I worked in the 63rd Signal Battalion Rear Detachment Supply Office. I oversaw myself in the beginning as an E2, which meant I showed up to formations, walked into my office, and didn’t do a whole lot. A wall of lockers lined around the supply cage, and my desk was stationed behind them. So, no one could see me nap for most of the day, and I just did my own thing until someone banged on the door and needed something. But it was Rear D, so not a whole lot was going on anyway.

Chapter XII

“Tent City”

The phrase, “Going out to the field,” means different things to different units. When I was in an infantry unit later in my career, it meant we went camping for weeks at a time. We slept in individual tents, and sometimes woke up to bee stings. We only evacuated the field site when the rain turned into flash floods. Several medics in that infantry unit nearly got washed away when a dirt road flooded, and the ambulance got stuck. Luckily, they managed to find traction and get to safer hard top roads.

At Fort Gordon, going to the field meant sleeping in Tent City. There were rows of static tents that held thirty soldiers at a time. We would get our combat gear on and live in tent city for a week or two at a time. There was a mess tent, and we did PT out there. It was a designated camping spot for the support units to log in field time. No one expected us to Save Private Ryan. But maybe if we practiced, we’d remember which end of the rifle a bullet came out of.

At the beginning of one camping trip, we had just put all of our gear in piles outside our tents. We were tying our tents down onto the stakes with knots, and a female E4 came up to me and asked me to help her tie her knot on a tent. She was rubbing my arm in a real flirty sweet way, and I scoffed and said, “Specialist, you’ve been in the army for at least two years. You know how to tie a knot.” I just assumed she was trying to get me to carry her books to class. Later on that day, a storm came in, and the command and staff tent picked up and blew away. We left the field and slept in the barracks that night. I guess she never found someone to tie the knots for her.

I didn’t get my civilian driver's license till much later, but I got my military driver's license at Fort Gordon. They put me in a big truck in the motor pool and showed me which three buttons to hit and in what order, then had me practice driving around. Eventually I was allowed to drive military vehicles on post. One time I was driving and had my left turn signal on from one end of post to another. This attracted the attention of a warrant officer, who decided to follow us across the whole way to ensure we knew to not leave a left turn signal on. Nearly ten years later, I was driving a Humvee at 5am. My A-Driver and I were busy discussing what to eat for breakfast, and I got about far enough down the road to smell something bad coming from the vehicle. Turns out if you leave the parking break on, it causes friction and wears out the Humvee. It went into the motor pool for repairs shortly after that.

The motor pool, much like the chow hall, is a commonality across the United States Army. On active duty, we’d have something called motor pool Mondays, pulling maintenance on trucks. The level of maintenance given was correspondent with the unit budget. On active duty, we’d go truck by truck and check for oil leaks and make sure the damned thing turned on. If there was a problem anywhere, we’d send it to the maintenance bay for a dedicated team to start repairs. On Read D, we would spend whole days going through shipping containers, or what we called, “CON-EXES.” We’d pull endless boxes out of CON-EX A, put them onto TRUCK B, then transport them to CON-EX C. Only to move them back to CON-EX A the next week. Sometimes, I would just grab a clip board and walk along the rows of trucks, looking at the bumpers. It LOOKED like I was in search of something important, but honestly, I had a blank clip board and wanted to be left alone for a minute.

Chapter XIII

"Home Base"

There was this idea of having a ‘Home Base.’ It’s your first duty station, where you see how the Army works. I was in “BIG ARMY.” The world had changed yet again, but this time it was a lot more relaxed. In training, especially in medic school, the NCO's were seen as like angry, vengeful gods that went out of their way to make you miserable. At Fort Gordon, when the system worked the best, they were your calm, confident mentor. A big brother.

There was this Staff Sergeant named Tony. Tony grew up in Georgia, and was just a solid, dependable guy. He had a wife, and four daughters at the time. There were a lot of ladies running that house, so he would hang out on his back porch with his dog Rocky and drink bud light limes. When I was at Fort Gordon, Tony would always check up on me. He knew how easy it was to get lost in a black hole called a barracks room, so he would invite me over to have dinner with his family. I always felt like I belonged, and he treated me like a little brother.

That gave me a fitting example of how to act when I became a Non-Commissioned Officer. I would text my soldiers in-between drills and kept up with their personal lives. I knew who was married, who had kids, and who was struggling. I remembered how much it meant for him to check up on me. To know that someone cared. I made sure my soldiers cared. I passed that along his mentorship to the next generation as best I could.

Fifteen years later, I was visiting Fort Gordon. Tony had retired and was living in the area. I had long since left my home base and had gone out adventuring into the world. All that time, Tony stood a giant in my memories, but I never thought I’d get to see him again. But the stars aligned at the Waffle House in Georgia. I got to tell him how I made something of myself, introduce him to my wife, listen to his stories, and for an afternoon, I went back in time to 2007. For a moment, I was twenty years old again, and my big brother was meeting up with me for lunch. For a second, I was home. Thank you for everything, Tony.

Chapter XIV

“Living in a Frat House”

I've never been in a fraternity, but it's probably like an Army barracks. We were in our early twenties and go off post in groups of four or five to the bar. I'd spend my whole paycheck buying drinks for people like a dummy. One night, I went to find our designated driver. He was passed out face first on the floor, so I called one of the NCO’s that lived in the barracks with us. The E5 picked us up, checked us in through security, and drove us to the barracks. After the group stumbled to our rooms, I saw the E5 grab a marijuana bong out of the trunk of his car and throw it into the dumpster. After that, I just called a taxi, and partied in the barracks.

That was where I learned about beer pong. A triangle of red solo cups were placed on either side of the table, each filled with the cheapest beer sold at the Class Six. The goal was to throw a ping pong ball into the opposing triangle. Should you get the ball in an opponent's cup, they had to drink its contents. A game of champions, if ever there was one. A soldier in the barracks had a BB gun shaped like an AR-15 and would run into the beer pong game and start firing BB’s. Then we’d all stop our game and drunkenly chase him through barracks rooms on different floors. Other people had BB guns and would return fire. It was glorious.

At the time, this would have been 2007 going into 2008. Something like 1/4 of the base was continuously deployed in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of the facilities on post were empty and sparse. There was a club on the base that we’d go to and see a lot of pretty ladies. But you had to be on you’re A-Game. There was a fair bit of translating that needed to happen before you took a lady back to the barracks. If you heard:

I just got a divorce= I’m married, but he knows I’m here and is on his way.

I’m going through a divorce= I’m married, but he doesn’t know I’m here.

I’m in an open relationship= I’m married, but he’s deployed.

But I didn't worry about that too much, since I was barely capable of speaking to a woman at the time. My only goal at the time was to drunkenly stumble back to the barracks and not pass out on the side of the road. To my knowledge, I made it to the barracks every time.

Chapter XV