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The Making of the Twenty- First-Century Soldier

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  • The Making of the Twenty- First-Century Soldier

    The Making of the Twenty- First-Century Soldier (Part1)
    In which a dope-smoking, valet-parking skateboarder living at home makes his way into the infantry, and into Iraq

    by Colby Buzzell | Mar 01 '05

    Kids from the suburbs don't really join the military. At least not where I'm from. After high school you do one of two things, you either get your education on at some big-name university or college, or you live at your parents' and smoke pot and work a shit job, like telemarketing. Maybe even take one or two remedial classes at the JC. The only guys I knew who joined the armed forces were guys who came from families who had fathers who served in the military at some point in their lives. When you grow up with a parent who was in the military, you don't really look down on the military, you just look at it as an acceptable path to take, an option. The only guys I knew from high school who joined the military didn't join up right after the graduation ceremony either, they joined several years after, once they dropped out of school and/or realized living at their parents' house kinda sucked.

    There's this bar over by my parents' house in the Bay Area that I fucking hate going to, just because it's like a bad high school reunion every time I walk into it. You can't even enjoy a drink without bumping into somebody you went to high school with, either somebody you knew or somebody you barely knew. They'd all act super excited to see you. "Oh my God!" they'd say. "Is that you? Oh my God it is! Do you remember me? We had third-period U.S. history together? How are you?! What have you been up to?!"

    I'd always say one of two things, "Oh, same old shit," or if I had a couple drinks in me already, I'd tell them some phony-baloney story that I was working part-time programming digital orbital satellite missions for NASA down in San Jose. Either way, whether I told them I was working for NASA or that I wasn't doing jack shit with my life, it didn't really matter, they would all say the same thing in return—"Wow, that's really cool." And then, without me even asking for it, they would give me a sit rep (situation report) on what they've done since high school. They'd start talking about how college was so great (I'm sure it was), how they like love their job (yeah right), or they'd talk about all the horizon-expanding places that they've traveled to (a trip to New York does not count as traveling) and how they're only living at home right now temporarily, for whatever reason (maybe because once they graduated from college they realized that they can't find a job and that diploma that they spent the last four years of their life on was absolutely worthless and they have no idea what to do now).

    The only guys I knew from high school who weren't living at home and were actually making some kind of a decent living were guys who went off and got action-hero jobs—cops, firemen, soldiers.

    Right before I moved to San Francisco I was in that bar that I hate, over by my parents' house, and I bumped into an old friend of mine from high school whom I hadn't seen in years. We both knew each other from playing football together. Both of our fathers fought in the jungles of Nam, his in the Marines, mine in the Army. For as far as I can remember, my father never once advised me or encouraged me to join the military. He also never tried to talk me out of it whenever I flirted with the idea of it. He always suggested and strongly encouraged that I go to college instead. Which I never did, except for a couple wank community-college classes here and there, like photography and computers 101, just so my parents would get off my back and stop fucking asking me, "So when are you going back to school?" every time they called.

    My friend went off and joined the Marine Corps a couple years after high school, and now he was back living at his parents' temporarily while he was working at a local recruiting station. At the bar, we got drunk together and he told me all about the Marines and the friends he'd made there. It sounded pretty cool. I was twenty-five at the time, and I asked him if that was too old to join, and he said hell no. He told me about another guy I had graduated with who wasn't doing shit with his life either, who had just enlisted in the Corps.

    As we got more and more drunk and the night went on and the stories about the Marines got wilder and wilder, so did my enthusiasm about signing up. He made it sound like joining the Marines was like joining a party frat with weapons that gave out paychecks, which of course sounded good to me, and maybe the globe-and-eagle Marine Corps tattoo with the words SEMPER FI over it might look kinda cool on my forearm. So at the end of the night I slammed an empty Guinness glass down on the bar and told him, "Fuck it, I'll do it!" and we exchanged numbers (our parents' digits of course).

    The next morning, when I woke up and started sobering up, the idea of being a jarhead didn't seem quite so appealing. So when my friend called me the next day and told me how I got home (it was one of those nights) and asked me when I wanted to stop by the recruiting office, I told him, "Sorry dude, that was the beers talking last night."

    And I didn't hear from him again until I was in Mosul. He sent me this e-mail:

    Hey Bro
    How are things going long time no talk. Well I am glad you joined the service even if it is the wrong one. Your mom gave my mom your email adress. I hope you are having a good stay in the holy land I have already been there done that. My company led the march to Baghdad we caused a lot of hate and discontent. Anyways hopefully your time is short over there I know it gets old. Well email me back and let me know how you are doing. Take care of yourself.

    I e-mailed him back, telling him that when I'm back home someday, I'd buy him a couple beers at that bar that I hate going to by our parents' house, and we could exchange war stories and maybe even debate about which branch of the service is kicking the most ass here in Iraq (Army). He wrote back to me:

    Glad to hear back from you. Glad to see you are doing well. I will take you up on the beers when you get home. Anyways those Hajjis are pretty dam funny huh. How many kills have you had I know you must have had a few. My confirmed count was in the thirties but I know there was more than that being a gunner on a tank you tend to blow shit up to no recognition so you cant really tell. I bet it is already hot as shit over there. I know you are busy shoot me a line when you get a chance.
    Later

    I had a job interview in the Potrero Hill district of San Francisco. Data entry, $10.50 an hour. The interview was at 9:00 A.M. My job experience previous to this was: flower-delivery guy, valet-parker guy, mailroom guy, bike-messenger guy, busboy guy, carpet-cutter guy, cash-register-at-Orchard-Supply guy, car-washer guy, gift-shop-sales guy, telemarketing guy, 7-Eleven guy, record-store guy, towel-guy-at-the-gym guy, and I worked seasonally at Toys "R" Us. The longest I'd ever held on to a job was like three to six months, then I would quit, or get myself fired. I hate jobs. If it wasn't for something called "money" and/or "rent," I probably would have never worked one.

    When I lived in Los Angeles a couple years back, I took a generic computer 101 class at LACC and taught myself data entry. I figured it was time for me to get with the times and learn a computer skill, so that way I could move on up and get myself a cubicle job someday and make something more than ten bucks an hour.

    I arrived to the job interview an hour early, so I went over to this convenience store on a nearby corner to get a cup of coffee and a pack of Marlboro Lights. Potrero Hill kinda reminds me of Los Angeles, very industrial with a lot of working-class Mexicans. Outside the store they had some plastic chairs set up, so I sat down, lit up a smoke, and drank my coffee and waited for nine o'clock to come around.

    A clean-cut older guy with a flattop came out of the liquor store with a paper bag and asked if it was okay to sit next to me and I said sure. Inside the paper bag was a red-and-white twenty-four-ounce can of Budweiser, which he cracked open and started drinking like it was morning coffee.

    Anybody who starts a day off with a beer is A-OK in my book. We exchanged some small talk and I told him I had a job interview; he told me that he had an interview as well, some packing job for FedEx, where he said they were really good about hiring veterans. I was curious so I asked him what branch he served in, and very proudly he said Marines, and I told him the story about how I got drunk a couple nights ago and briefly thought about becoming a marine. He got all excited and asked why I changed my mind. I told him that I felt I was too old. He said that was a bunch of bullshit. He then asked me how old I was, so I told him, and he flipped out, "Holy shit boy, if I was your fucking age right now I'd be joining the fucking Marines, you're not too old, no way, fuck, if the Marines didn't have rules on age, I'd go back to boot camp right fucking now, even at my old age." He then went on and on about his glory days, telling me how great the Marines were, how tough they were, how much of a killer they made him, and how once a marine, always a marine. He even physically stood up one time and excitedly said, "Fuckin-A, man! I've been out of the fucking Corps for over twenty something years and I can still put a bullet in some fucker's skull at three hundred meters!"

    He then sat down and took an enormous chug of his beer.

    I then realized that even though this guy has been out of the Marines for more than twenty something years, it was like he never really left the Marines, if you know what I mean. He then went on and on about how easy it was to get a city job if you were a veteran, especially one of those city jobs that require you to wear one of those bright-orange vests. He said the city of San Francisco was always hiring military vets and they were always the first applicants picked for jobs. And they paid pretty good, like sixteen to eighteen bucks an hour, some jobs with benefits, which was a hell of a lot more than I've ever made.

    I listened to all his Marine Corps glory stories up until it got close to nine o'clock, and then we wished each other luck and went our separate ways.

    I didn't get the data-entry job, because they wanted somebody with more experience, somebody who was able to hold a job longer than a couple months, and somebody who didn't move all over the country. I spent the rest of that day looking for another job and wondering if that marine got his job.


    FOR A WHILE, I did temp assignments doing brainless data entry for financial companies down on Market Street. The problem with doing temp work is you work a job for like a week or two, and then they let you go, and you're fucking back to being jobless again. And it's always right about the time you run out of money, and you're right about to step out the door to go down to the welfare agency to register for government assistance when you receive a phone call from the temp agency for your next remedial job assignment.

    At the time, I was begging everybody for a full-time job, and the only place that would hire me to do data entry was a pre-employment screening company located in Walnut Creek, about a forty-five-minute BART ride from the city (but fifteen minutes away from my parents' house). It was like God was playing a sick joke on me. No matter how hard I tried to get the hell away from the house where I grew up, I always ended up right back, or near it.

    Nobody in San Francisco wanted to hire me, so I took the job in Walnut Creek because I was sick and tired of running around working temp assignments, and this gig in Walnut Creek was full-time. Since it was a full-time job, I was able to say "later" to the night job as a valet.

    The Math:
    Job: $12 an hour (no benefits)
    $12 an hour X 40 hours a week = $480 a week
    4 weeks in a month X $480 = $1,920 a month
    Subtract 15 percent for taxes ($288)
    Subtract round-trip BART fare—Civic Center to Walnut Creek is $8 a day (that's $160 a month)
    Subtract $45 for a monthly Muni bus pass (no car)
    Subtract $45 for phone/Internet service
    Subtract $124 for nicotine addiction ($4 a pack per day)
    Subtract $675 for rent
    Subtract $20 for utilities
    Subtract $155 for food (that's $5 a day)
    Total subtractions: $1,512 (conservative estimate)
    $1,920 – $1,512 = $408
    Grand total: $408 (that's $102 a week, or $13.16 a day extra)
    Not living at my parents' house: Priceless

    $408 is how much I had extra at the end of the month to save up for my retirement, and for my nonprescription medication that I was taking at the time in very heavy doses (booze). As you could see I was living pretty large before I joined the Army. I finally decided to join the military, after almost a year of living like this.

    I dialed the 411 and got the digits to the parents of my friend from high school who was in the Marines, to see if he was still on recruiting duty. His sister answered the phone and she told me that he was done with his recruiting assignment and back with his Marine unit, doing some training somewhere and getting ready for war in Iraq.

    There was a Marine recruiting station by this independent record store I used to work at in Pleasant Hill, so one day I took a half day from work and went over to sign up. This time, I made sure I was sober when I decided.

    The Marines always had the cool commercials with their "the few, the proud" warrior-image thing going on. The Army always had these lame-ass commercials that stressed getting money for college, as if I gave a fuck about that. It wasn't until after I joined the Army that they came up with a cool ad campaign, the "every generation has its heroes, this one is no different," where you see General Patton smoking a butt while in the background Johnny Cash plays "I Won't Back Down." The Pleasant Hill Marine recruiting office is conveniently located right next to an Army recruiting station, and as I walked from the parking lot, I looked over at the Army office and saw a wide-eyed Army recruiter staring back at me through the big plate windows. I thought nothing of him as I continued walking into the Marine recruiting station, and there was this Marine Corps sergeant in uniform sitting behind the desk, who looked like he had the attitude that he didn't want to be at work today. The office was decorated with tough red-and-gold Marine Corps recruiting posters of every kind. I walked up to the desk and my exact words were "I want to be a Marine."

    The guy didn't even get up from his seat, he just sorta looked me up and down and he said, "Really, huh? You want to be a marine?" I found this answer kinda queer and I wondered if it was because of how I looked. At the time I was going through a Social Distortion/rockabilly phase. I had on a vintage button-up T-shirt and my long hair was slicked back like a switchblade-packing greaser. I said, "Yeah, really, I came here because I want to enlist in the Marine Corps."

    He looked at me again and asked me how old I was. I said, "I'm twenty-six, but my friend who's a marine said I'm not too old to enlist." He smiled and said, "Well, to be honest with you, we like to recruit eighteen-year-olds straight out of high school, but if you're interested, I can have you fill out this little card and we'll call you."

    Jesus fucking Christ . I'm thinking to myself that I didn't take no fucking half day from work to fill out some goddamn postcard. What the shit? I could see that this was turning into one of my many "Don't call us we'll call you" job interviews.

    For years the Marines have been calling my parents' house trying to get me to join and the one time I walk in and say, "Take me, I'm all yours," they don't want me? One time, when I was in high school, the telephone rang while we were eating at the dinner table. My dad picked it up and listened for a minute and then said, "Who's your commanding officer?" and then, "I'm a retired lieutenant colonel—call my house again and I'll be calling your CO. Okay?" Click. And he slammed down the phone and he complained about people calling him at dinnertime, which he hated. I said, "Dad, who the hell was that?" He said, "That was some Marine recruiter asking for you." When I asked my father why he hung up on the man, he looked at me with this withering stare and said, "Why would you want to be a marine?"

    I looked into the Marine recruiter's eyes and was kinda confused. I said, "Look dude, you don't understand, I want to be a marine, like right now. I swear to God, I'll sign the fucking papers right now." I was serious, too; I swear to God I would have signed the dotted line if he brought the papers out.

    He then just kinda smirked and said, "Sure you do, but we're way over our quota this month, we have more people than we know what to do with right now. Just fill the card out and we'll call you in a couple." Fine. So I filled the card out, gave him a half-assed thank-you, and walked out. And no shit, waiting patiently for me right outside the Marine Corps door was the Army recruiter with a handful of green pamphlets. As soon as I stepped outside, he extended his hand and said, "Hello, I'm a recruiter with the United States Army. Have you put any thought towards joining the United States Army?" I chuckled at his boldness. But I was also kinda shocked that he had the balls to wait right outside the Marine recruiting office for me. I told him, "Sorry dude, I'm not interested in the Army, I already made up my mind that I'm joining the Marine Corps." And as I was walking away from him I heard him say, "That's cool, good luck with the Marines." And then in a lower tone just loud enough for me to hear, he said, "Just so you know, the Army offers two-year enlistments right now and up to a $4,000 signing bonus."

    Right when I heard him say that, the weirdest thing happened. I immediately envisioned myself in an Army uniform singing Airborne Ranger cadences. I felt like the Samuel L. Jackson character in Pulp Fiction when he says, "Well shit, Negro, that's all you had to say!"

    I turned around and said, "What? Did you say two-year enlistments and a signing bonus?"

    With a huge smile he said, "Sure did, and the GI Bill, medical, dental, two weeks paid leave every year, meal card...." I was back at his side by then and he guided me inside the Army recruiting office and I sat and listened to everything that he had to say, which began with a whole lot of bad-mouthing of the Corps: "Oh, their budget is nothing, they're part of the Navy, their posts suck, their equipment sucks, their training sucks, their tactics suck, their chow sucks...."

    So far nothing he was saying was news to me—it was the same shit my father had been telling me about them for years. The only thing positive about the Marines that both my recruiter and my father said was that the Marines had cooler uniforms. But other than that, they sucked.

    But the most shocking thing that my recruiter said was that the Marines don't guarantee what kind of job you'll get. A marine is a marine is a marine. He gave me an example: "Say you want to be infantry; the Army can legally guarantee that you'll get infantry. The Marines don't do that. You go to their boot camp, you're a marine, and when you're done they put you where they need you, like maybe in the supply or the finance." I said, "You mean I can join the Marines and after their boot camp they could make me, say..." me thinking to myself what would be the lowest, most degrading job for anybody with a pair of balls between their legs, "a cook?!...You mean they could make you a cook?" I said.

    I thought about that for a second and said, "Hell, if I wanted to be a cook I'd go out and be a housewife."

    There was this pause, and then my recruiter said, "I was a cook." Then me, red with embarrassment, I said, "Oh shit, I didn't mean it like that, I meant like I don't want to be a cook kind of thing...shit...sorry, man."

    I was concerned about maybe being too old to join, so I brought that up with my recruiter. He answered me like I was a retard for even asking. He said, "You're not too old, no way. You're the perfect age, we get plenty of guys way older than you." Which was an attitude that was a 180 degree turn from the Marines. The Marines wanted the eighteen-year-old virgin meat, to fuck the hell out of young recruits and build them back into killers. The Army, like a lot of the people in the Army, didn't give a flying fuck who they stuck their green dicks inside of. As long as it was warm, and a body, the Army would fuck the shit outta it. The Marines wanted virgins, and the Army wanted quantity, not quality. They didn't give a fuck how old I was, what shape, or kind of past I'd had, they'd take me.

    On his desk were a bunch of papers from guys going in and he started flipping through them for me. "This guy's twenty-eight, this guy's thirty-four, this guy's your age, this guy's thirty-one...." And then I asked him, "Why are all these older guys joining the Army?"

    My recruiter told me the Bay Area was going through a recession and a lot of guys were having a hard time finding a job, and a lot of them were also looking for some excitement and adventure, which, with all the stuff going down in the Middle East, was something the Army was guaranteed to provide. He pointed proudly to a newspaper article up on the wall of Pat Tillman, an Arizona Cardinal safety who gave up his multimillion-dollar football contract to join the Army. He pointed out to me that Tillman was the same age as me when he joined. Of course this was before Tillman was killed by friendly fire serving in Afghanistan while I was in Iraq. I bet you a million bucks that newspaper article ain't up on that recruiter's wall now.

    I liked this Army recruiter way more than the Marine Corps guy, probably because the Army guy was completely selling me the Army like it was some fucking Club Med vacation. But the big thing was that the Marines made you sign up for four years, the Army only wanted to take away two years of your life. He then went on and on, handing me brochure after brochure, and started talking again about all the perks and benefits that the Army offers. It got to where I finally had to tell him, "Look man, that's cool and all, but all I care about is signing up and joining the infantry. Just get to the part where I sign the dotted line."

    He got out the paperwork and he started asking me some questions: "Do you have a criminal record and if so in which counties?" I told him my rap sheet (a couple assault and batteries, drunk in public, open containers, that kinda crap), and he said, "No problem, I'll go to the courthouse tomorrow and take care of them. Next question, Did you graduate high school and what high school?" I told him that I had and he said, "No problem, I'll go down to the school tomorrow and get a transcript."

    "Are your tattoos gang related?"

    I told him no.

    "Cool, I can get an officer to sign a waiver for those tats you have that are exposed on your arms. Are you a U.S. citizen and do you have a social security card?"

    I told him yes, but I wasn't sure where my SS card was.

    He said, "No problem, I'll take care of that."

    I was amazed by how fast the process was going.

    He asked me if I ever did drugs.

    With me, the question's not if I've ever done any drugs, it's more like "How much drugs are you on right now?"

    I kind of hesitated with that one. And he looked over to his superior who was in the same room doing paperwork at his desk, and he gave me this look like "Don't say anything more" and motioned for me to walk with him to the back of the office.

    In the back, out of hearing range of the other guy, I started spilling my guts. "Dude, I've done like hella drugs man." He said that wasn't a problem. So long as I could pass the initial drug test, I'd be golden. He wanted to know when was the last time I got stoned. I honestly couldn't fucking remember, maybe a couple weeks ago, I don't know, I guess at the annual Haight Street Fair, me and a couple of my friends pigged out on these pot brownies, you know, the ones that these runaway tweaker hippie girls were selling out of woven baskets for three dollars a pop. That was several weeks ago, so I told him, "I don't know, I guess like a couple weeks ago."

    My recruiter then walked over to his metal desk and brought back a little drug-test kit in a small cardboard box that he'd probably bought at a Walgreens. He told me to take it into the bathroom and piss in this test-tube thing, which I did.

    When I came out of the pisser with the test tube of my own piss, my recruiter already had the rubber gloves on, and when I handed it to him he inserted a litmus-paper thing into the tube and his eyes got all big and he said, "Holy shit! Did you just get high in the parking lot before you came in here?" He held up the little strip, which was bright red. Shaking his head, he kept saying, "This ain't good."

    Shit, that's right. I completely forgot about that one party the other weekend....

    The disappointment showed on his face. Now we had to wait. Recruiters know that a lot of people change their minds, wimp out, jump ship, talk to their parents right when they're about to join, so they want to hurry up and get you to sign the dotted line as fast as possible so that there's no backing out. Once you sign that dotted line and raise yourhand and swear that you'll uphold the Constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic, you're fucked if you want to back out.

    My recruiter couldn't send me to MEPS right away with my piss turning shit all bright red. MEPS is a place that the Army sends you to get all the initial paperwork and medical bullshit needed to enlist done. The Army even pays for you to spend the night at a hotel the night before to make sure your ass doesn't flake. So he told me he could reschedule the physical and the drug test. He told me he could give me a solution for this problem—this drink, he said it was really expensive—that would make my piss come out clean.

    So we rescheduled and he told me again to stay away from the drugs and he gave me a reservation for a hotel room I could stay in the night before.

    So for two weeks I drank a lot of beer and stayed away from the illegal shit and the night before the physical I drank the miracle drink that my recruiter gave me earlier, which was concealed inside an old Powerade bottle, and a gallon of water.

    I drank everything like I was told and the next day I passed the drug test with flying colors. I scored well on the Armed Forces version of the SAT test, the ASVAB. (ASVAB: Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.) You're eligible for two-year enlistments if you score above seventy. I completely bombed on the math part of the test, like I'm at a seventh-grade dum-dum level, but my written and word comprehension was okay, so it kinda jacked my score up a lot. My recruiter told me with my GT score being 113 I could choose any job in the Army. The only job I wanted and cared for was the infantry.

    At this point, my recruiter pulled me aside and said, "Look, you could learn a skill and get out of the Army with a good job if you choose something different; there's no jobs out there for infantry guys." I didn't care about all that; my heart was dead set on being a trigger puller, and so I told him there's nothing else that interests me in the Army besides the infantry.


    AT FORT BENNING, Georgia, I had a drill sergeant who would yell the words "He lied!" every time a private would start a sentence off with, "But drill sergeant, my recruiter told me..."

    When I signed the dotted line on my contract it said something about how I was obligated to spend eight years in the inactive reserve after I got out. When I asked my recruiter about this, he was like, "Hey, don't worry, every contract says that." He explained that this would kick in only if World War Three broke out and the North Koreans were lobbing nukes at us.

    He lied.


    Copyright © 1997-2005 by the Hearst Corporation.


    Find this article at: http://www.keepmedia.com/pubs/Esquire/2005/03/01/720614
    But wait. There is something that can be done afterall. My good friend Angelo is a cop in the Tampa/Clearwater area. Since I kept all of the files from the access logs when I had the power to see them, guess what, I have everyone's IP addresses. Hmm..what can I do w/ those??
    ...

  • #2
    The Making of the Twenty- First-Century Soldier (Part 2)
    In which the infantryman comes home from Iraq post-traumatically stressed and ready to take on the world

    by Colby Buzzell | Apr 01 '05

    "Are you sure you want to plead guilty?" the judge asked. Dressed for the occasion in the same desert camouflage that I wore for most of the time I was in Iraq, a freshly sewn combat-infantryman badge over my left-breast-pocket nametape that read U.S. ARMY, I replied, "Yes, Your Honor, that is correct, I wish to plead guilty."

    The judge looked down at the paperwork in front of him. "You wrote here that you felt threatened by this individual and you used what you thought was necessary force to neutralize the situation." He paused and looked back up to me. "Now, is this true?"

    "Yes, Your Honor."

    He asked me again: "Are you sure you still want to plead guilty?"

    Again, with my best military bearing I said, "Yes, Your Honor," at which time I overheard an individual sitting somewhere behind me in the courtroom loudly whisper, "You fucking idiot!"

    From previous experience, I had a rough idea in my head about how these things sort of work. You get yourself a lawyer, you hand him some bread, you plead not guilty, you turn it into a he-said-I-said kind of case, and you string the case out for as long as you can, you pretend the glove doesn't fit you, and hopefully the judge will get sick and tired of the case and maybe give you a slap on the wrist and a lesser punishment or better yet, let you off scot-free. Badda bing.

    What happened was my unit had just got back from Iraq, and it was my first night going out and drinking with the soldiers in my platoon at a local off-post bar near Fort Lewis, Washington. It was a long night of countless gin and tonics and Long Islands, and to make a long story short, at the end of the night I fired a warning shot into some guy's face with my fist. I then dispersed from the scene to a nearby gas station with my battle buddy Sergeant Horrocks. After hanging out at the gas station for a couple minutes, we got bored and decided to find a ride back to the barracks. Upon leaving the gas-station minimart, we were surrounded by police cars and immediately told to put our hands up.

    All I remember after that was hearing a heavily intoxicated Sergeant Horrocks (my roommate and partner in crime back in Mosul) yell the words "You can't arrest us! We're combat vets, bitch! We just got back from Iraq, you motherfuckers! You can't do this to us!" as the police officers separated us and had us put our hands up on the police cars so that they could search us before they tightened the steel handcuffs around our wrists.

    With my legs spread apart and my hands placed on the roof of the car, the officer took the Jamaican Rasta hat off my head and began patting me down as he placed the contents of my pockets on the hood of the police car.

    In one of my cargo pockets was a bean-and-cheese microwave burrito still in its wrapper that I had purchased at the gas station. The police officer pulled the microwave burrito out from my cargo pocket and felt that it was still warm from me trying to heat it up in the microwave inside the gas station. Acting all puzzled, he asked, "Why do you have a burrito on you?"

    "I was hungry," I informed him.


    ON THE DAY OF MY COURT APPEARANCE I had to fill out a piece of paper that asked if I wished to plead guilty or not guilty. Under normal circumstances, I would have pleaded not guilty, but because my military service was coming to an end, I didn't want to waste it being bothered with this. I didn't have the time or patience for that. I had more important shit to worry about, like getting the hell out of the Army, and to charlie mike (continue mission) back into the civilian world and never look back.

    So I figured I'd just plead guilty to this charge, get it over with, and drive on.

    Hooah.

    After the paperwork, I exited the courthouse for a pretrial smoke. Since I don't own a car, Sergeant Horrocks had given me a lift in the brand-new Toyota Tacoma pickup truck that he bought with his combat pay almost immediately when we returned from Iraq. (The law had released Sergeant Horrocks on the night of our exuberant homecoming because he wasn't the gentleman they were after.) When I returned to my seat, I sat back down next to Sergeant Horrocks, and he pointed out to me a homeboy with a ponytail who was seated near us and told me that while I was outside smoking, homeboy had come up to him and asked, "Hey, are you guys, like, in the Army?"

    Horrocks looked down at his desert camo and said, "No." And then reversed himself and told the guy, "Yeah, we're in the Army."

    The guy then said, "Well, why the hell are both your uniforms so beat up?"

    Sergeant Horrocks then explained to homeboy that we had just come back from getting shot at in a place called Iraq and that sorry, friend, but these are the best uniforms we have, and then the guy smiled and asked the question that every vet hates but gets asked a million times: "So, did you kill anybody over there?"

    "What did you tell him?" I asked Horrocks.

    "I told him I did my job," he said.

    "You should have told him just women and children."


    WHEN I SHOWED UP TO WORK the Monday morning following the arrest, I was immediately called into my first sergeant's office, and I had to explain to him what happened. When you get arrested and have to spend the night in the box, the fuzz conveniently puts your name on a blotter report, which allows your chain of command to be aware of it. And to my surprise, I was not the only soldier who got into some mischief that weekend, as about a half dozen soldiers from my company had run-ins with the law as well, some far more serious than the one I got myself into. My first sergeant asked me when my court date was and I told him, and he said something about how the battalion commander might make me take an anger-management class (which I'd taken before and, believe it or not, passed), and all he told me after that was "Take care of it."

    Right before my unit left Iraq, my battalion commander, a man who has multiple combat deployments under his belt, held a company formation and told us all that now that we'd all "survived the war," our next step was to "survive the peace." He told us to expect a lot of things to be entirely different when we returned home, and he stressed to all of us not to do anything stupid, like drunk drive, beat the shit out of our wives, or get involved in any mindless fistfights.

    So far, I was two out of three.


    ONE OF THE LAST THINGS they had us all do before leaving the "theater" was fill out a medical questionnaire. They filed us all into this room and handed all of us a PalmPilot, and with the PalmPilot toothpick thing, we had to answer a couple dozen yes-or-no-type questions. The test results would be saved on a plastic credit-card thing with an Army of One logo on it that we had to insert into the PalmPilot.

    Basic questions, like, Has your sleep pattern changed? Have your eating habits changed? Do you have nightmares? That kinda stuff. But there were a couple questions on this test that really stuck out to me because it seemed obvious if you answered yes to any one of them, you'd come up positive for post-traumatic stress disorder:

    1) Have you been in a situation where you felt that your life was in danger? Yes or no?

    What kind of question is that? That's like asking, Did you masturbate while you were in Iraq? I clicked yes. I then looked around the room and I could tell from the smiles on a couple other soldiers' faces that they, too, were on this question.

    2) Have you been in a situation where you had to discharge your weapon? Yes or no?

    I lost track how many times I secretly jerked off in Iraq, kinda like I lost track how many times I discharged my weapon. I clicked yes.

    3) Have you seen any casualties? Yes or no?

    I clicked yes.

    Then it asked you to click on all that apply: friendly, enemy, and civilian. I clicked yes to friendly and enemy, but I couldn't think of any civilian casualties. There were some casualties that I wasn't really sure if they were enemy or civilian, and there were times when we showed up to a car-bomb site where mass civilian casualties took place, but I don't remember vividly having eyes on any civilian casualties.

    After the test, we were released, and the combat medic and I were walking back to our rooms, and I asked him what was up with that test, because if every soldier in my platoon answered that quiz truthfully, it would show that we all had PTSD.

    He explained to me that the test was just to cover the Army's 6—for example let's say that ten or twenty years from now, you're some homeless wannabe John Rambo psycho war vet and you can't find or hold a job, and you want to blame it all on the war, the Army could pull out your test results and find out if you're bullshitting or not based on how you answered the test.

    I asked the medic how he answered the casualties question, and he told me that he checked off all three. Curious, I said, "You've been on every single combat mission that I've been on, and I only checked off two out of the three. What civilians did you see get whacked?" He then refreshed my memory and reminded me of that one civilian contractor who got killed. We were driving back to the FOB (forward operating base) and we came across a white SUV covered in AK bullet holes, with a lifeless civilian contractor in the driver's seat, seat belt still on. We secured the area and placed him in a body bag.

    "Holy shit, that's right! I totally forgot about that one."

    Then there was the day in Mosul when my platoon got ambushed out on Route Tampa, and there was this one moment of absolute sheer terror when we rolled back to the ambush site, and we were receiving small-arms and RPG fire from every which direction all around us, and I had no idea where the hell any of it was coming from and from what direction, and there was this moment, maybe only a second or two long, when I blanked out and just pulled the trigger all the way back and just fired and fired and fired and fired.

    The next day, the CO told us there'd been a hundred insurgents or more. That day, at the motor pool, a member of my platoon came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and was like, Man, when you were rockin' that .50 cal, that one guy...man, you just completely tore him apart.

    I never asked him if he was a civilian.

    Nor do I ever want to know.


    SHORTLY AFTER I returned from Iraq, I flew down to my parents' house to visit them during Christmas leave. On one of the days I was home, I was watching the morning news on TV, and they were reporting that the chow hall in Mosul, the one that I used to eat at daily, had been attacked by three rockets. And there were at least a dozen dead.

    I found the report of three rockets hitting the chow hall hard to believe since the rockets that the "anti-Iraqi forces" like to shoot are about as accurate as a Fourth of July bottle rocket, and some of them didn't even explode when they hit the ground, and to get three of them to hit the chow hall would have been like three full-court basketball shots hitting nothing but net.

    So I went to my father's study and was surprised that they already had photos of the attack posted online. It didn't seem to me like rockets could have done that kind of damage. The first thing that came to mind was, Thank God I don't eat there no more.


    THE ARMY USUALLY GIVES YOU a good two weeks to clear, but since my orders got cut on a Thursday, and my final day in the Army was on a Sunday, and the following week was a four-day workweek thanks to Martin Luther King Day, I had only five days to clear.

    Once your orders get cut, you're handed an ETS out-processing checklist of things you have to do in order to get out, like turn in all your equipment, make sure you don't owe the PX any money or have any overdue books at the library, et cetera, and you have to get a signature for each one once you complete it.

    One of the last signatures I needed was something called the reserve component career counselor, aka reserve recruiter.

    Since I don't have a car, I had my friend Specialist Baygents, who was also getting out of the Army, give me a ride around post gathering up signatures for my checklist in his brand-new Chevy truck that he bought immediately when we returned from Iraq. All we talked about as we drove around post was how great it's going to be once we get out of the Army.

    So I called the reserve component up and spoke with a sergeant, and I told him I had a couple days left in the Army, and I didn't want to reenlist, and I didn't want to waste any of his time, and all I needed was to stop by real quick for a signature, and he said no problem. He then asked me how many years I signed up for, and I told him two. Usually when I tell people that I signed up for only two years, they'll say things like, "Wow, I wish I signed up for only two years!" or "Wow, that was really smart of you to sign up for only two years!" but this guy said, "Oh good, you know you have two weeks of annual training for the next two years, and I'll tell you about that when you stop by."

    Bullfuckinshit.

    I then gave a little laugh and assured him, "No, I don't have no two weeks of annual training, my contract specifically states that my enlistment is for two years only and that's it, and my recruiter even told me that once my two years was up, that's it."

    He then gave a little laugh and said, "Yeah, I don't know why that is, but it seems like all you two-year people were never told of the two weeks of annual training by your recruiters, but if you look at your contract, it says you owe the Army two weeks of annual training."

    I wasn't laughing anymore. I told the reserve guy I'd be over there, time: now, to resolve this ASAP. I told my friend to drive the car straight to the reserve component.

    Once there, I handed the sergeant a copy of my orders, which stated nothing about annual training, and he looked at it and picked up the phone and called the out-processing center to get to the bottom of this. I sat there nervously and observed his facial expression while he was on the phone. He told them my name and asked for them to check my contract and see if I owed them two years of annual training, then he smiled and said to the guy on the phone, "Yeah, he claims he was never told of two weeks of annual training."

    He smirked as he hung up the phone and said, "Yeah, you owe the Army two years of annual training, and they're going to amend your orders right now to show that."

    Gee, thanks a lot, guy.

    He then explained to me that they would have caught this error before I left post anyway, and there was no way out of it.

    I then pulled my enlistment contract out of my folder and handed it to him and asked him to show me where it says I owe the Army two weeks of annual training for the next two years.

    He didn't even look at my contract; he just handed it back to me and said that it was on there somewhere.

    I asked him again to show me where. With a smile he then told me that when he was on the phone with whomever from the out-processsing center, the guy on the phone laughed when he told him about how I was never told of this, and in fact the guy on the line said, "I'm sure there's a lot of stuff that his recruiter didn't tell him." He then told me that if I didn't want to do the two weeks for the next two years, there was a way I could get out of that, and that was to join the Reserves and switch my MOS (military occupation skill), which I would have two years to complete and would also put me on nondeployable status. Reserves? Thanks but no thanks. Pissed, I then told him, "Look, I already did my two years, in fact I've done more than two years, I've served my fucking country, honorably, I've done my part already, and I did exactly what I signed up to do. And all I want now is for the Army to do its part, which is to just let me out."

    He then told me sorry, but there was nothing I could do to get out of this.

    That's when I decided to take this shit to JAG.

    Every time I've been to JAG (kinda tells you a little bit about the military career I've had), I've found them to be absolutely worthless, and every time they basically tell you the same thing, which is, "Sorry dude, you're fucked."

    When I spoke with a JAG officer (think public defender) and told him my deal and handed him my enlistment contract, and told him that the reserve-component guy told me I owed the Army two weeks of annual training for the next two years, and my contract that I signed said absolutely nothing of the sort, the captain just sat there and looked at my contract over and over again, back and forth, squinting at the fine print, and finally he said he couldn't find anywhere on the contract that stated I owed the Army two weeks of annual training, but he also told me that it was not uncommon for this kind of thing to happen.

    Fed up, I told him that I've already served my country, I've already put my time in, I did my tour out there in Iraq, and I didn't want to do any of this two-weeks-a-year-of-training bullshit, or be put on inactive-reserve status, so I asked him if I could request a dishonorable discharge, or a less-than-honorable discharge instead. I don't need no piece of paper to tell me if I served honorably or not.

    He then told me he'd look into it and send me an e-mail. I haven't heard from him since.


    THANK GOD ALMIGHTY I'm free at last!

    I was living up on the third floor of the barracks and I finally had all my personal belongings all packed up in my Army-issue duffel bags, and I got my friend Specialist Cannon to give me a final ride to the Sea-Tac Airport, as I still didn't have a car and seemed to be the only guy in my unit who hadn't immediately bought one with his combat pay.

    The barracks rooms are designed to house two soldiers, one on each side, but with all the new replacements coming into the unit, the barracks were overflowed and we had three soldiers living in our room. Two cherry privates straight out of basic training and me.

    The first private moved into my room a little more than a week ago. I opened up the door to my room one day and to my surprise I saw him standing there in the middle of my room looking around, doing a battle-damage assessment of the huge mess I had created. I was living by myself up until this time and since I was getting out, I could care less about health and welfare and about passing any kind of room inspection. Thus my room was a disaster.

    I had dozens upon dozens of empty beer bottles littered all over the room. Most of the empty beer bottles had dozens of cigarette butts in them because I used them as ashtrays.

    Semilaughing, he asked me, "Did you have a huge party here or something last night?"

    I told him, No, that's just how I drink, and those are actually only a couple days' worth of bottles, because believe it or not I actually did clean the room up a couple days ago.

    Shocked, he looked at me and said, "You drank all these? And by yourself?"

    "Yup," I said.

    He then told me that the sergeant that assigned him the room told him to tell me to clean this shit up.

    Roger.

    The other guy moved into the room a couple days ago. I was walking to my room and I saw him standing there in front of the door with a couple duffel bags, trying to figure out the door code that allows entrance into the room. I could tell right away by how clean his uniform was and how young he looked that he was a new guy straight out of basic, and I asked him what he was doing and he said he was a new guy and that he was assigned to this room, so I let him in and told him that there were already two guys living in this room, but I was going to be out in a couple days and he could sleep on the floor in the meantime, and when I'm gone, he could have my side of the room. He said, "Cool."

    Once all my duffel bags were packed up in the back of Cannon's vehicle, I ran back up to the room one last time to grab the last of my personal belongings, like my laptop and backpack, and to double-check to make sure I didn't forget anything important.

    When I returned to my room, I grabbed my stuff, took one final look around, took it all in, and I told both the new guys that the room was all theirs now and that I'm out. I also told them that whatever I forgot to take, they could keep. As I was making my way to the door, the private who was sleeping on the floor then asked me, "Hey man, before you go, do you have any advice for us new guys?"

    I then stopped dead in my tracks, thought about that one for a second, and said, "Yeah, I have some advice for you guys."

    I took a second to think about what I was going to say, and then with my PX-bought Operation Iraqi Freedom Combat Veteran baseball hat on my head, I looked at them and said, "When I first showed up to this unit, I was just like you guys, they had no room for me in the barracks, and I had to sleep in a room that was already assigned to two other soldiers, and I had to sleep on that floor until space opened up for me, just like you right now, and when I showed up to the unit, I was all super hooah about the Army and all that shit, I loved everything about it, I'd run the airfield every single day, sometimes twice a day, I'd hit the gym hard every day, and every time they handed me an FM or a TM, I'd study it, and memorize it cover to cover, in fact I can still recite FM 23-68 to you right now, and every time they wanted me to give all, I gave all, and then some.

    "I liked the Army. In fact I loved it.

    "And there was this guy, he was from San Diego, and he was like me right now, he was getting out just as I was getting in, just like right now—I'm getting out and you guys are just getting in—he was in my squad and one day at formation he told me that I reminded him a lot of himself when he first showed up to the unit, he told me that he'd run the airfield every day, studied all the TMs and FMs, and was all super hooah and into it, and he said something to me, and I had no idea what the fuck he meant by it, until right fucking now, and that was when he told me that you just get sick and tired of all the bullshit, and all that motivation that you had just gets turned into shit, and you're just going to want to get the hell out. At the time when he told me this, I had no idea what he was talking about. I was like, the Army can't be that bad, he probably just had a bad experience or something, just like you guys are probably looking at me the same way I looked at him, thinking the same things I did, like what the fuck is he talking about?

    "You guys are new here, and people are going to give you all kinds of advice, and the best advice I can give you...from somebody who knows and is getting out is... get the fuck out! "

    This kinda startled them and both their eyes were opened wide.

    "The first chance you get to get out, take it. Don't even think twice about it, get the hell outta here. There's going to be times when you're going to be, You know what, this ain't so bad, I can see myself doing this for twenty years, and you're going to think about reenlisting—God knows I thought about it and came close to reenlisting a couple times, too—but when those times happen, I want you guys to stop what you're doing and think of me standing here right now, and remember what I'm saying to you both: Don't do it!

    "The Army will be the best job you'll ever have, and you'll make the best friends you've ever had here, but use the Army the same way the Army is going to use you, get as much out of the Army as you can, because the Army is going to use you, and when they're done with you, they're just going to spit you out and move on to the next guy, and when you think you can't give any more, they'll demand that you give more, and you will. Be the best soldier you can possibly be, learn as much as you can and go to as many schools as you can, but when it's time to get out, please, I beg you, get the fuck out."

    And I looked at their blank faces and said, "I'm out."

    I turned around, walked out of the room, and closed the door. When I went back down the stairs and got into Cannon's car, he put the car into drive, and we started to pull away from the barracks. He turned to me and asked, "What the hell took you so long?"


    "The Making of the Twenty-First Soldier (Part 1)" is available at esquire.com.


    Copyright © 1997-2005 by the Hearst Corporation.


    Find this article at: http://www.keepmedia.com/pubs/Esquire/2005/04/01/766754
    But wait. There is something that can be done afterall. My good friend Angelo is a cop in the Tampa/Clearwater area. Since I kept all of the files from the access logs when I had the power to see them, guess what, I have everyone's IP addresses. Hmm..what can I do w/ those??
    ...

    Comment


    • #3
      Damn, Fred, this is good...is there any more?

      Dat's right!

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Rdog3933@Aug 22 2005, 10:51 AM
        Damn, Fred, this is good...is there any more?
        No. I wondered the same thing. Seems like to me that he or the magazine skipped some stuff.
        I read it a few months ago and found it pretty compelling. I thought there would be a few people on here that would share my opinion.
        I didn't want to post the entire article, but it costs money to read the entire thing if you're not a suscriber.
        But wait. There is something that can be done afterall. My good friend Angelo is a cop in the Tampa/Clearwater area. Since I kept all of the files from the access logs when I had the power to see them, guess what, I have everyone's IP addresses. Hmm..what can I do w/ those??
        ...

        Comment


        • #5
          cliffs?
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          • #6
            If you do any bit of research, you'll know that any stint in active duty usually comes with a reserve aspect.

            That doesn't excuse the recruiter for not making that clear to the gentleman, but if I'm literally signing my life away, I'm going to do the homework myself.
            The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life. -TR

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            • #7
              Originally posted by BringBackZezel@Aug 22 2005, 11:27 AM
              cliffs?


              No problem.




              But wait. There is something that can be done afterall. My good friend Angelo is a cop in the Tampa/Clearwater area. Since I kept all of the files from the access logs when I had the power to see them, guess what, I have everyone's IP addresses. Hmm..what can I do w/ those??
              ...

              Comment

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