Chasing Alpha: Chapter Seven

Chasing Alpha – Chapter SEVEN

Most of what I remembered when I  was in was very pathetic. I had to keep my nose in a book since I wanted what I was doing very badly. Part of it really did identify with what I wanted but also it was funny to think being in a group who wants to help people also keeps you away from the same people you want to help out at the same time. It’s a double edged sword or a paradox. One of those things.

For me, I really had to justify what I wanted and to enlist. I guess a lot of people think you are a little nuts or overly patriotic in order to help your country to that extent. An extreme one most may think I guess. Doesn’t bother me honestly, but it’s good to sometimes keep a strong defense.

There wasn’t a lot I really knew about the ins and outs. Guess I had about the same amount of knowledge as a private citizen as most all the other P.C.s who weren’t service families or hosts would. It’s almost like a Mafia in some ways. It’s a whole separate entity with its jargon and protocol, command chain and strictness I guess. But it can be like any job. This one is just the one job people are usually talking you out of rather than glad you got that promotion or have a decent salary. Trust me, benefits are great and a decent enough vacation days when it’s peace time that is. There are a lot of X the unknown factor in it, but any job really can when you think of it. Worry of keeping the job, upsetting the boss, getting a bum assignment, that raise all were bucking for not coming through. Things can be stuffed with drama whatever it can be. Even in a game, not just life as it’s known.

As for games, that was one thing my girlfriend was never into. Not the only thing. But one of them. I’m not a really big fan of calling names out of course, so I’d just say my girlfriend to keep things simple. Toleration was the science used with her. Compromise would be a difficult word to use. The agreement was she had her things she did and so did I, no real talk of who to change what. There would be some talks but it was more those open ended questions women give men. Either asking why you do something or why not. Best for men to leave that one alone. There is the line saying ignorance is bliss. Most guys secretly think ignoring is bliss. The only fight a soldier doesn’t want is with his girl or wife. No two bones about it.

My life was going decently as it was but when you have a girlfriend it makes your mind go more in the direction of future. Maybe it was really a whole series of events that got me where I was going to, what got me to the point I am now. The part about making the big decisions not overall I meant. Sometimes you really don’t know how you got to any certain point. Even if looking back at it all, it can make you scratch your head and wonder what was going through your mind. You’re always smarter today than yesterday. And you may be a genius by tomorrow, or a dunce. Maybe that is zen or something.

Life and relationships were conspiring against me. Maybe I was a victim of circumstance in my outlook and then I wanted to swap that around. Really I was at a point where I wanted more I guess. But then I was nagged for more. I was making some ok money but it was a lot of work in the process too. I would be able to work, come home, watch tv or not, play whatever game was holding my interest. It was starting to become simplistic internet games at that time I think, since I liked the teaming up. Helping was my big thing and I was too broke for buying new games all the time. It was always more fun to complete something with another person or get ranked on a list anyone could see. It was better than videogames sometimes only one person liked and had a score that would not hold. I was usually more of a retro gamer as they call it now. Cheapskate was the name for it then. But I had no choice being out of funds most of the time after bills totaled up. Cheaper to stick to what I had then the internet also since most of the stuff was free around then, even if lacking a bit for graphics.

It was a rut. I was doing a job I didn’t hate. It was ok.  Could have been more money then I would have kept my mundane life maybe. Or I could have been going at the same pace ten years then have the same realization that there was more. If I did the second one I might have just felt a total loser and given up on life maybe, who knows. Probably not, but I would not have probably been the happiest of people at the same time. I am glad I am where I am right now despite all the obvious. It’s a downer I cannot deny that. But it’s one of those relationships that was scientifically never meant to be. Science really isn’t my thing. But it’s like those stars or comets, they burn brighter and brighter. They are brilliant to see but whoosh and dissipate into nothing. Memories. Some girls are a fantastic week and then it’s a  few weeks of hard times and then nothing at all. Heh. Look back and smile at the good times. Chalk the rest up to knowing what was going to happen and just not making false hopes.

It’s not a secret I enlisted. I did it for a lot of reasons. It was for me more that others in some ways of thinking but also in the ‘greater good’ sort of way it was a benefit to those around me, just in a long term way of thinking. I always felt it was in my blood to help others, from either a way of a camp counselor or a volunteer program like helping to build houses for low income people or any other kind of variation. The real down side on all that is the fact most everything to help others pays nothing. Or it costs a boat load’s worth of money. Doctor, psychiatrist or even therapy related professions. All of them cost plenty to get into and even higher payments to keep sustaining it once established. Volunteering is free I know but it can also be time consuming which sometimes has costs all its own. Especially if those around you don’t understand the thought process or what a determining factor is.

The other real factor was just waking up something inside myself. I don’t want to get into the full details on it since sometimes I think it sounds a little too simplified however I try to explain it. Words don’t always go together well to express the right emotion. Plus words for emotions are really sort of black and white, it describes something but not a blend. There are not a lot of words to show a combination of emotions. I know I am not the best with sentence construction, so I also do not want to try to make up my own words. That would just look asinine or give an impression I am uneducated. I have an education even if it does not show through with my writing. I was never a writing person in the long handed way of anything beyond a few paragraphs or a few pages. In school I was horrible with essay questions. I don’t own composition books for a reason. I write what goes into my head for the sake of a personal document. It was not my idea and it was not an order but all the same it seemed like the right thing. Just as when I was putting in my active time, there were times stuff just felt right, like you couldn’t say it or put it into words, but as soon as you heard it you knew it was exactly what you were thinking.

I think when I had my big moment of decision it was when the attacks happened. Now it’s maybe pretty obvious why it’s something I don’t want to really go into. People by now talk about some of it in a redundant way so it might have lost some of the actual meaning. I had sometimes mulled over the National Guard or something like that just because it would work very well into my way of life and I could be giving back, just more giving back to my country more than community. But to me that is still giving back to the community in a long way. That day solidified it for me. It was maybe like looking at something made of glass and then suddenly the object turned to concrete right before your eyes. Seeing it and no denial of what was in front of your face.

Most people I think had the exact same feeling as I did. But it just lasted a lot longer for some rather than others, or it set off that keg of dynamite for some while others struck that match but let it burn all the way down through the length of the stick and snuff itself out. This is not me passing any judgment. It’s pretty safe to say it is truth. I lot of people came together and things just fell apart. I did not watch a lot of the coverage. All truth in, I was kind of too angry and overcome. I saw maybe stuff here and there, but not a marathon of news watching. I remember most everything seemed to be on a lockdown though. Me too kind of. I thought really intensely and I also remembered sleeping. And writing a bunch of things down. It was sort of like a notebook and legal pad. It was yellow and you could lift the pages over each other. It was not a spiral like a lot of those other books and it did not open like a book. I did feel kind of trapped. Not that I’ll be attacked but trapped in myself. I think a lot of people really do but never have a realization or thought about it until some major outside incident happens. I wrote and wrote. It was not anything like poetry or a diary. Maybe a personal inventory. Where I am at and what I would like. I took a theme. It was maybe like ‘right now’ and then ‘where next’ and ‘end game’ for example. End game is not a bad thing by the way. It’s gamer talk for getting to the next stage. An example is if you beat any game. Beating the game is not enough for a lot of people, especially if it’s a game you really love.

Here is an example I can think of the easiest. Most people know about the Mario games. Since it is the first to pop into my head since I have a thing for the retro, I am calling out Super Mario Brothers Three. The other advantage, pun kind of intended, is the fact most of a certain age have played it or watched it being played. If I talked about a brand new game it would make no sense to most people. Outside of the gaming world of who I would not need to explain it.

In the game there are basically eight worlds. Each of those worlds have different levels within them, and when you beat the last large castle thing then you get to the next level. It sounds pretty cut and dry. There is much more to the story though.

There are a lot of points in the game where you can travel one direction or another. Sometimes in a world you can try level four before level three if you want. Sometimes a level can be skipped altogether with a couple different way, an item or just the design of the world. Then there is the fast track which most people used to get through the game.

One of the greatest things in Mario Three boils down to one item. It is the warp whistle. The addition of that alone is what made the game more endearing. Much less frustration. So when so many tossed Mega Man games out the window to leave a very few who naturally played it or even beat the thing, Mario was more accessible to everyone since being able to get the whistles were not very difficult, and most people would show off to all their friends how to get it anyway. It was one of the better known tricks out there. It could be one of the reasons Mario even had such a longstanding legacy. How many Mega Man references are out there? Not many.

With a whistle you could use it whenever you were in a really losing situation- but it was best to wait to use it until it was absolutely necessary. There were three whistles in all, so it was always best to at least get the three, or at least two in order to have a good insurance policy. I am rusty in all the details but will explain it as close as possible. There were a few ways they had the warp thing work. It was in a level step system. If you blow a whistle in world one then you can go to world two three or four. If you blew it when in one of those levels- two three or four then you can travel to worlds five six or seven. If in five six or seven then you can take it all the way to eight which is the last world. Even though you have the whistles to help out to get you to eight, that last level is completely brutal. Most of the time a friend would help with it or there were other little tricks to keep in play, but once it was that last level pretty much all bets were off.

Most people who did some form of the lickety split with the warp whistles never got to see most of the mid levels. There was a tough water one most people warped past once hitting a wall of frustration. Another one is a sky level that is almost like two levels split between a lot of hard work and getting lost- once going through what seemed like a world ended up being only a halfway mark which got to a beanstalk thing to climb to the next part. Lots of people wouldn’t know where to go and warped out before even finding the midway point. Another really aggravating one was not even an entire level but a particular mini castle where you had to enter a specific door in a hall that seemed endless. Mess up and the whole castle has to be repeated over and over until the timer ran out. It was the cause of a lot of lost turns and general woe.

It really was a feat to beat the world eight monstrosity, so whoever did it naturally was always given congratulations and respect in my book. But that was the traditional end. End game would be to work as methodically through that game as possible. It could be done either from getting through every world, or even just reaching level eight but along the way a castle or two might be skipped for time sake. The other way would be to beat each and every level and small castle or fort along the way. If it is done there is not a special ending or anything, but the satisfaction and bragging rights can be well worth the effort, as long as you kept your sanity in the process.

Sometimes there would be endings that were different depending on how thoroughly the game was completed or a specific choice made at a given time. Kind of like life I guess. At least there are reset buttons in games. A quick example of another end game scenario is probably the original Resident Evil for the original Playstation system. Yeah it’s still old but it was a more modern version I think, and people usually know the name even if they did not play the game itself.

I will not go into any of the details here. The end game basically comes around right around the end as luck would have it. If you have all the members survive or if you can help someone out at a critical time, then the actual cinematic end changes. I can’t remember if I did them all but I did get at least two for sure. Very worth it, especially if the game is an enjoyable experience. Getting all of the endings is another version of an end game scenario.

Most often end game is used for stuff starting back with RPGs. That’s role playing games. Usually those were turn based games where you have yourself and then a party of others joining you. Not online but just inside the game, and those people will all have a turn attacking a target. They are not as action paced as a traditional videogame but they can be a style of game people get easily sucked into. Even me sometimes.

The thing behind the RPG games usually come down to experience, or PX for short, as traditional slang. The difference with these against a usual game is in a usual kind of game you’ll have the character you control. Usually it is just one person and whatever he’s like he stays as. You can get better weapons or upgrades to health or something but the character is about the same.

RPGs almost always have more than one person involved. You as a main character to the story, and then whoever you meet along the way can sometimes join in. Or seeking out a certain person like a mentor that joins to help the battle, or even people who volunteer to travel before you start your quest. The other major difference an maybe most defining, the RPGs go on level in almost all of them. Kill an enemy and there is experience. Usually it is shared equally amongst the party, such as a hundred points or whatever depending the toughness of the baddie. Your characters advance depending on the point system and there is usually a level cap too. Each  level of increase can often wear a better weapon or armor can be available, since those usually depend on money to get the best or also a minimum level requirement to equip. Most often there is a main story but then additional stuff to do or find also. Most of them have a slew of side quests.

The best example of an end game in a lot of them is to maximize the level as high as possible and then go exploring. Often there is a point where once you enter a certain dungeon or area towards the end of the game you cannot go back. Roaming around once fully levelled can keep you tough and let you explore a lot of the far reaches you may not have survived when a much lower level.

I did kind of want to make the differential between a game’s end and maybe irl- in real life end game. I don’t want anyone thinking I was contemplating anything drastic whether then or now, or even the future. I want to stick around as long as possible on the blue and green marble. I am at least aware of what lurks in the world I know rather than complete unknown. Even in my situation I am happier with the evil I know, but it is just an expression.

What I did in that pad of paper was basically write and rewrite about dozens of things. Mainly me. Sometimes family or friends, girlfriend too of course. Where I’d like to be or my objectives. To me end game of the gaming world was I’m already an adult, I have been in the real world and now there is something making me wonder what else there is to explore. I filled the whole thing up with things like what I wanted to be, bad habits to break. And what would be the perfect job or other pros and cons of dozens of things. It was not really as much of a diary. Not a journal. Probably  really a personal inventory. Those things are not what the average person would do because they would have to take a  good look at theirselves and then see what’s wrong and actually change it by having a written out plan, not just a resolution with each new year that is a mental not to be fast forgotten. I crossed out a lot and rewrote it again and again. It probably took at least one entire day. I forget now, but that is not such an uncommon thing nowadays. I committed to the plan once I got it all on paper. I think I condensed it all down to one piece of paper which I was satisfied with. I tore that page out and kept it- one piece written front and back with some spots on it where the ink was sort of bleeding through. I burned the rest of the whole sheet out back. Relighting it until the entire thing was chars- charred beyond any recognition of what it was. Whatever of the ash that remained I used a shovel to turn and plow over into the ground. It felt good like I was removing anything else holding me back. It was a commitment I literally put to paper which meant nobody else would stop me. Whether it was selfish or the most necessary path I can’t tell you since I can only see it from my own POV. What I really know is it was the very best choice I made granted all the factors and what I knew about myself at that point. No regret, no looks back. I didn’t consult because I was doing something for me and I think with the situation of everyone and the county nobody really could have disagreed with how I felt. It seemed like a good idea all around at first. But I ended up being the only one of all I knew who stuck with and went through with my plan. Their feelings eased up but not mine.

Enlisting came back to me time and time again. Probably because it was the right thing, and appealed to me. Sort of volunteer but also paid. I was not afraid to prove myself after the burning of the book of notes. I would not say I was scared except of the obvious. The whole loss of life part, which is only human instinct. Nobody can fault an average man for that. I had mused it long ago, when in school. Maybe around junior high and then again at some point of high school. It was not a serious discussion really. Something I said in passing. It was shot down by family as if a very serious subject. Human instinct is to protect. Whether yourself or loved ones. Sometimes I felt it was a number of times I was shot down. Held back. When my mind was made up I didn’t want any interference. This may have not been how I really did things then, but I was of a very different mind frame and emotional place. I was determined and kept the tunnel vision for my own good. Whether anyone knew it or not. They ended up not agreeing, but I didn’t care.

Really, it’s tough to remember the exact way things played out. Some stuff I have as clear as glass sight as far as telling. A lot of other things feel like looking through syrup instead, or even pond water in some cases. Murky. I think but don’t know. It gets frustrating.

My family and girlfriend, yeah. I knew from the past no time is a good time to spring it on family. Just as a bad report card, it’s all a matter of time as to when you want the abuse. I knew so I waited. It was just a couple weeks before I had to leave. Maybe putting a lot of that out of my memory so I forgot the line of time on those events. My girlfriend and family both had the same attitude on it- a bad idea. I say family in the singular way since I don’t want to name names and also the fact most really did fall in line as the reaction to it. I did not want to wuss out or look weak about it so I did not do what might be the easiest way to break bad news, no public setting. I did  hide the reason a bit by saying I wanted the whole family to come together and have a big meal. A way to celebrate we still had our lives and that whole ball of wax.

Stuff moved fast I remember and coverage was still wall to wall for the most part. The country was stagnant really. Nobody taking a commercial and nothing was new. All things which were rehash- tv shows news and even the radio. Most of the station had basically been repeating whatever else was on the news. So listening to the radio, three stations could all have the exact same feed. It was no way to build yourself up. I basically said everyone needed to unite as a family and have a big old meal to celebrate what we had in front of us. Yeah I know it was really corny but it was true and also better to catch flies with honey rather than vinegar.

It worked. I don’t want to deceive but I also felt it was important and about me. I’d rather they all heard some first hand information rather than the telephone trees or gossip mills which are usually how the words burns across phone lines like a rampaging wildfire. I remember there were a lot of catchphrases rolling around at that time. Go to things to say. I probably said them all, and told them it was on me. It was a huge meal. I tossed some serious dough on it but also I really meant what I said to get them there, even if not the original or true reason. My thought process was let’s all turn off the tv sets and stop all the doom and gloom focus. I was able to do it but a lot couldn’t. Some were just numb or scared, not knowing what to make of it all. So I hoped if I did something positive it could help get things in the right direction for everyone, not just me. Some sort of positive or hopeful vibe. I dropped a bundle on food at the store and had a barbecue roaring then broiled a bunch of food. Made a giant table setup with chairs of all sorts. It was basically spare stuff and duct tape to put the table together and then throw a bedsheet or two over it. Ironed like crazy but that worked much better than a regular tablecloth. All the things any picnic or barbecue would have really. And at least a hundred bucks of wine and beer. That was to help take the edge off as they say, if you are going to give news of a questionable reaction then it’s better when they are inebriated.

The food did go well. That was as memorable as anything. And nobody said it but rt was the brightest color when compared against all the dismal black and white television coverage which spawned so many tv dinners and cleaned out so many freezers, since so many just stayed home and didn’t leave to even shop for a while.

So when everyone was seemingly fine I said I wanted to say something. I doubt I was poetic or danced around the issue. I probably had a plan of action but decided to cut right through all the iggy and hit them with what I wanted. Probably because I was a little too nervous. It all just blurted out. Boom…  Right on the table.

All I really know for sure was all the cutlery and utensil, glasses. All of it came to a fast stop. Nobody really said much for the moment. Probably in the back of their mind they thought I might have gone off and done something like that, but maybe that was more designated to the days kids run away overnight at teens. Some of that kind of behavior.

After a lot of swallowing someone spoke up. Who I cannot remember. What I do know was I felt the look. The family look. DNA somehow just knows when there is someone staring with a look less than happiness of the same kind. Family knows how to push your buttons get your goat, and also to stare you down. But one of them asked me something. Think I remember a bib style napkin being tossed down before the speaking. There were ribs amongst all the other stuff. I also remember a lot of exhaling.

“This what you really want to do?”

I know I stared straight ahead. Whether it was right in the eye I can’t remember. Pretty sure I was trying to. I was convincing so far as I remember.

“Yeah. I made up my mind. I am. It’s what I want to do”

I was trying to fill up all of the empty space that stare was giving me. All of them really. But I decided to try to deflect the rest by ignoring. By that point it was still working. He wiped his face again like either needing a napkin or his face was getting hot. It could have been one or the other, tough to really tell. He did take a big breath though. In and out. Maybe it was a poker face or he really could have been just that speechless. Some people were taking sips and waiting to hear what would be next. Still nobody was eating.

“So long as you are sure. You’re sure now, right?”

I laughed at him and said that I was. Felt like I was about to choke except for the fact my throat was dry as a desert.

“Well then…”

He was tucking the napkin back into his collar. Everyone kept watching.

“I think that if you’re willing to defend our country in a time like this, then it’s a very mature decision to make. It’s patriotic and that’s that.”

I still didn’t really know what to think. I was kind of cold, maybe a cold sweat that you couldn’t see but just feel. Or a chill. I just kind of blanked out a bit and kept trying to watch him. He ended up reaching across and grabbing one of the wine glasses that was bigger and had just a little bit left in it. Then he grabbed heavily chewed rib off his plate and started banging the side of the glass with it. The rib wasn’t picked clean but made a weird sound. Just as if it was a bizarre toast. It broke the mood up a little since people were either laughing hard or in the nervous way.

Sometimes you have a family member who can make the rest of the group laugh just from the idea something funny was happening. At least it helped break the ice after the shock everyone seemed to have. The side of the glass was getting filmy with the grease rubbing off, rough parts and gristle. Little bits even started to fling off and cause dots on the table covering. He was talking loudly over the sound he was making, kind of like a bellow.

“Well I do believe everyone better sit up and be at attention, all. We got ourselves a soldier sitting at the table.”

Then he saluted with the rib pressing to his forehead and dropped it, making it bounce across the table once it was let go and dropping sauce and juice all over with each time it made contact with the tablecloth.

“When are you supposed to be shipping out on us?”

I forgot how long it was or how I said it. Maybe it was around a couple weeks.

“Whoah there boy, where’s the fire?”

He laughed to himself an a few others laughed along but it was mostly from nervousness or them uneasy. I still felt the same heat of stares for the most part. Then he spoke out again in a sort of way that means he is trying to let everybody hear, but it was still aimed right at me.

“You want a little advice before you end up heading out?”

His eyebrows went up slightly when he said it. I was caught once again by surprise. As to why I do not have a clue. Then he reached out with his juice and sauce soaked hand. It was almost outlines in maroon because of all the earlier antics.

“Why don’t you pull my finger to find out?”

Then he got yells from around the whole table when he said it. The men laughing like hyenas while the females were shouting at him for suggesting such a thing and also overlapping their disgust with even the mention of it. But I think his aim was to break up the mood and monotony. He was very kind to deflect like that. Soon after the tone was a bit closer to normal. The stares were not the same. It let up.

If it’s not obvious, things did not stay let up. The whole meal did and it is still one of the memories I have and will keep, just like almost everyone else. Probably more for the food I hope than the subjects discussed. Then again maybe also his flatulence will be a huge reason for that. It was only a threat though. For the sake of the record he never did anything inappropriate at the dining table.

But the casualties of it or fallout were first from my girlfriend and then from the rest of the family in pieces and parts. The one great thing about the meal was how at least people weren’t calling in that fake phone voice as if they were unaware of the gossip. They could not ask how I was and if there was some sort of word or rumor which was barely veiled as the nature of the phone call. That was a very aggravating thing. How so and so was speaking with such and such and somebody else came up and if whatever was true. I cleaved that right down the middle. Only thing people could do was say their cents’ worth. Not haw around about it.

When everyone else left it was my girlfriend to start in first about it. She was unhappy, but she’s always unhappy when something didn’t go right or in her favor. It’s a personality trait which is rarely not noticed by others either- even if she tried to hide it. She asked questions that were just typical. About her and about me too. Mostly how I can do something like that without telling her, or why I was going  to do something like that to her. It was selfish, yeah. I ignored and tried to look like I didn’t know. I did, but wanted to eventually get some sleep and send her home.

The rest of the family were not exactly trying to change my mind directly. But they were poking. Poking with guilt. Like a long needle dull at the end but with some kind of low dose poison. Trying to stab and stab to try to get me to reconsider. I did not want to, and I said it close enough so I wouldn’t have to worry about being able to change my mind. I knew I wouldn’t. But it was a failsafe practice. A measure to keep the plan rolling along. Needless to say, it worked. It may also be needless to say it, but I ended up splitting from my girlfriend too. I was not a dummy, knowing also it was for the best. I let her do it though so I was sure there would be no question of it.

For the longest part of it all I did not think about friends or even think about my experience at all . I was kind of in this tunnel vision mode. I was seeing what I wanted and then did all I could to go for it. I didn’t just take a happy go-lucky kind of a route either. It was a little bit inspired and also a little bit of decisions and paths that found itself to get me overseas where I hooked up with the men I would be fighting alongside with and then later on apart but stateside fighting too. Both had advantages and disadvantages. Both had highs and lows. Even loss. Also the obvious fact was not all of them made it back home to the states like I did. Not vertical that is.

I took a lot longer to get where I was going. If I just wanted to point and shoot and take orders, then I would have never probably have gotten with the same group, maybe even would have been all the way in the OIF rather than the OEF. I was held back a lot longer since I had a lot more on my plate. Remember, I wanted to help others as an ultimate goal.

I decided on my piece of paper I would want to benefit as many as I could. So I wanted to get into the medic line as far as when enlisted. I don’t think I would ever have enough to be a full out doctor, or even have that kind of schooling or money to effort to try medical school. But if I was adamant enough about being a medic I was told they’d have to make an effort to cater to me on that front. At least provide me with the opportunity to fail. Backhanded but a lot of truth.

They had to sit me down and give me an aptitude test. Basically to show I was capable of learning and not a complete waste to the effort and time of the service. Fair is fair of course, I saw their point. I was not a brilliant mind according to the test but I showed some promise with what role I wanted to serve. So then I was on to the next step.

That next step was combat medic class. Yeah seems natural. One of the only ways I could have made it through was the route I took actually. Of course the other part of it was me on base. It was all I occupied myself with. Nothing but free time, besides the obvious routine. It was a little bit tough at first since all of the physical stuff takes almost everyone by surprise I’d say, no complaints here though. It was pretty much part of my plan anyway. I weighed it all on the pad of paper. Be more mentally prepared or fortified, and physically healthy. Huh. Well it’s a little bit funny now but still no regrets.

I wanted to do something that equaled working out or having a gym membership. This worked out basically the same and I was the one getting paid. So that was a win / win in my book. Plus this route of signing up, I could never miss an appointment. I was not afraid of a physical commitment in any way since I was decent. Not amazing, but ok.

I remember when I was in elementary school I  actually qualified for the presidential physical fitness award. Something like that. It was a certificate a student could get when they say they want to participate in it. I only knew about it because one of the others in my P.E. class wanted to attempt it. Maybe I was absent that day when it was told. This guy Randy said he wanted to try and everyone was watching. Another guy named Kenny said  he wanted to try too actually, but only because Randy did. I was still out on one of the blacktop courts playing whatever the activity was that day. Whenever a kid sees a bunch of other kids gathering around, then you have to go see what’s going on. It’s what kids do.

So when I got there they were already in the middle of it. There were at least three things to do and I really can’t tell you what any of it was. Maybe push ups sit ups and then pull ups. Maybe. All I know was they were in front of the equipment room on the concrete. Both of them weren’t looking too well. It was also not a cool day with an easy breeze. Those guys were looking ragged.

I asked what they were doing, and the other people watching said it was the presidential fitness exam. So I watched too. It looked like they were getting a brutal punishment. Round one, one of them lost on time. I asked if I can take his place, since I didn’t know what it was really. I was told no and between rounds I was told I can try if I wanted but I had to wait. I waited as long as the next round. It was Kenny who dropped first round and then Randy kept on. Though I felt bad for Randy. He messed up on that round. Then he had to start all over again. The coach wasn’t able to let him pick up where he left off. Randy had to start all over and the clock was still running. Sadly he didn’t make it. I’m glad Randy outlasted Kenny but it was kind of a shame he didn’t get the other stuff counted. And on top of that I don’t think they were able to restart the exam. It was a wait until next week or something. But I already asked if I could try. The coach asked if I was sure, and of course I had to jump on it. Kids in a situation like that just have to go for it. I was not really popular, but they know me. Randy and Kenny were way more popular than me. They weren’t in our little after school hang out group either, but sometimes would be on the field with us if some sports activity was going on. Kenny played football, the pop warner style and Randy was in baseball or teeball. At least one of the two. I was never on Randy’s team or played against him. He was pretty noticeable even though most kids look about the same once in a sports uniform. For him, Randy had a ton of freckles. He was one of the easiest kids to spot. He wasn’t a ginger toe head, I think that’s what’s slang for red hair. His hair was black but a lot of freckles. When he was done trying to compete it was like his face  blended into the freckles. Seriously, you would have thought he ate a jar of chili peppers.

The coach said they could practice with me, but they both declined. They did both look worse for wear but I was not so worried. A little, but elementary kids think they can do anything. Natural courage which many need ‘liquid’ forms of once older, ha. All the rest was a blur for me. I remember a lot of counting and yelling. I’m not saying I was really that popular in my eyes. Kids had an excuse to yell and scream and so they took advantage of it.

In the end I scored myself a certificate for achieving the fitness exam. It was very official looking and had a gold foil kind of badge on it. I also remembered it had the presidential seal somewhere on it and also the president’s signature. I am assuming the head of the eagle was in peace time. Not that I would have though about that detail at the time. The kids thought it was cool and we all watched the coach ink all the info to me. If I remember right he was supposed to have sent a form back to Washington or something like that. I always imagined as if it would be a telegram on the president’s desk which he had to read and nod his head at. Who knows. The coach even offered to put it in a file folder so it wouldn’t get all messed up. It’s just one of those things that happens for kids, getting anything in their possession crumpled up by the time a parent sees it. That was one of the things I didn’t bend up. I might have even called home to get picked up early now that I think of it. The next week Randy ended up getting his certificate also, and so the attention stuck more to him and I had no problem with that. I don’t think Kenny ever tried again to earn it. Not that I ever saw.

I didn’t stay in amazing shape or ever claim to have been either. But I wasn’t far gone or anything. The physical part was the least of my worries. The other was the mental aspect. I was not an idiot or anything but I felt maybe whatever I was learning was not being applied at that point of my life. I tested decently in school like SATs and all that stressful stuff but I ended up trying to make a lot of cash so I could go to college. And the money for college just became money I was trying to save up in general, then it all went eventually to whatever small expenses kept piling up- running over on utilities or car repairs. Credit cards. All that kind of stuff. So I just kind of accepted where I was and languished a bit. I mean I was  happy enough but just accepted where I was and really didn’t have any issues. But I figured since I was making a plan I might as well go large, especially since a form of education was coming into play. At least learning all of that stuff on base is not the same as being in a school system. I know more from a high school way, but there are a lot of distractions in general as far as life goes. What was great for me was most everything routine in the service. Enough so it was almost something to be done with the least amount of thought involved. It could have been very bad if I was to just take whatever was assigned to me. But I had a goal of course. So the more mundane and boring the rest of the stuff was, the easier it was to keep my mind locked on those goals.

If I was going to have tried doing all of this out in the real world, it would have been spelled out in big block letters- the word disaster. There’s television and excuses. People who don’t understand. Other things pounding down like work and all else. Earning the money and then having to pay in to use the leftover time to follow a goal? Not a good combination. Especially when there are guy nights out, girls, booze and bar tabs. Not good at all. I was able to eat what they gave me, wake when they told me and sleep the same too. Some would think it would rot your brain, and yeah maybe it could. But not for me. I could have used a thirty hour day and still not felt like it was enough. Read and study. Later rinse and repeat, just like shampoo. Over and over. By the time I could remember what I needed then it was back off to trying to make enough room in my head to accommodate all the more. For a lot of the population on the base, it was the commode where they got a majority of reading done if not all of it. For me, that was the one place I didn’t allow myself read. Plus I was pretty quick anyway- so I could get back to all of the reading. The combat medic part was the beginning. I kept going anyway since I felt at the time that I could. Also because it was almost like a steep hill , where I was gaining more and more momentum when I was traveling. Then after the combat stuff was more  E.M.T. things, emergency medical. It’s a step up from combat since it’s supposed to be in a little better as far as surroundings and tools. The theory is the combat medic can make sure someone’s stable enough to make it to an E.M.T. or that sort of thing. So at least if someone bombs out after combat medic, he can still provide some of the aid needing to be rendered then stabilize enough to pass off in more favorable situations.

While getting through all the E.M.T. stuff there were also a lot of smaller little nodes which could be picked up and learned throughout that course. It was sort of like classes within the class and it would be a little tough to keep up with all of it at the same time. For me it would have been impossible if I was in a situation with as many distractions as outside life. Well so on and so forth. It’s rough enough trying to explain it all now without trying to get down to all of the nitty gritty of the matter. Needless to say, I did well and it took a while. But I am very glad I spent all the extra time to achieve it. At least my superiors all could see my goal and encourage me in their own way. It was nice not having to worry so much about negativity fro wanting to work hard for something. It really helped me a lot. Plus living basically in a vacuum, that was the biggest benefit of all.

It’s pretty obvious at this point how I didn’t have many friends or allies amongst the barracks or wherever. I was not exactly trying to be antisocial but it was my books as the blinders. It was all well and good since it allowed me to keep saving up. All the time I spent and making the conscious decision to keep those books cracked open, those were like the blinders a horse has. The left and right pages of a textbook. Basically the same thing, no complaints of any of it. It just made deploying that much easier for me. I ended up not exactly winding up with the same group when I went over anyway. Staying behind ans all the extra time kind of ensured that. It’s all for what’s best in the end as I say. Maybe I bumped into some of the guys. I’ll never know. None of them recognized me and I didn’t recognize any of them once I was overseas.

I guess for the most part I knew all of the guys in my group on some way or another. For a lot of them it wasn’t since they would not really have to cooperate. But whenever someone tried to scrounge for an aspirin or try to fake their way into getting some morphine, I was the guy to usually say no to them. Really it wasn’t that bad. But I couldn’t just hand stuff out, and they thought I could be doing some straw man stuff rather than them going through proper procedure. I was a man of commitment and had already committed to a plan, unknown to any of them. I mean we all have our own reasons but don’t think of anyone’s but our own. I don’t really know why many others were there besides myself. Besides just something to do or flat out duty. Or the few who do it as a way to get in good with the graces of a judge or probationary department, but that is a rather rare thing. It was not that I would have to deny this or that. I just was a little more worried than most about getting written up on something or whatever. When it was the heat of the moment or something out on the line I was a bit more liberal maybe, or a risk taker but usually people also aren’t trying to scam goods off you.

Sometimes I’d have to do a little bit of patching up or whatnot so someone else wouldn’t get in trouble for something stupid. Plus I did a lot of sewing on the side. Mending stuff for the group if they caught  their self on wire or got banged up. Since I learned all there was for sutures I was the one who had to do that for anyone in my group. I made a few bucks in the process and also had them scarf up the threat and whatever other materials. In all honesty it was a good thing since it  helped me practice my stitching for when I really was making sutures on one of them for being a jackass.

Really when you go through the courses on that you are sort of rushed. They want to make sure you could do it when you had to, not so much in efficiency or the proficiency though. One of the guys I remembered in class was a veterinary or at least a vet tech and already had a little bit of knowledge and skill under his belt. I’d overhear him sometimes mentioning stuff when someone was asking him. Once when we had to present our suturing jobs as basically a test to make sure we were doing it right and getting checked off, his was one that caught notice. It was a lot tighter than most. It’s how I heard he already had some training. Animals were similar anyway as I heard him say. He didn’t seem to struggle so much as the rest of the people who were new to it all as I was, so maybe there was a little truth to it. Guess since the animals were smaller than humans maybe you had to also stitch them a bit tighter. Plus animals can’t limit their movements when they are told to. So the smaller ones make sense. Him or the instructor were also saying how the tighter the stitching the less infection can set in. It made me motivated to try to keep the stitches on the sutures as tight as possible. It also helped a bit with any of the sweat or sand. A bad combination. The other side affect from it, in a good way, is the tight weave like that actually reduces the chance of scars. In a place like that, either of the zones, it’s good to have as much of a minimization of scarring as possible. Since having less to see helps reduce the ones you already feel.

Actually most of the stuff I would seal up would really be with superglue. Yeah, it’s basically the exact same stuff you saw in those commercials where the little guy was hanging off of the girder. I am sure it says it’s specialized in some way or sanitized, but it’s really the same thing. Squirt some across and hold together. Then bam, it’s done. Waterproof and all. Actually that stuff is already antibacterial really, the stuff that can be bought at the store. Just be careful how you keep the tip clean for the most part and all is well. And because the skin regenerates, that’s when the glue will flake off. If you ever get that stuff in your eye, you basically just have to wait for the skin to regenerate and then the eyelid will open back up again. Just like magic. Ha.

So what I did is used the opportunity to not only show off my domestic skills and make some cash in the process, but it was really all for me to keep my skill level up and improve upon it. Most of then couldn’t put two and two together in the sense of seeing it was my training ground, trading fiber for flesh. One or two would maybe notice when I stitched them up how it was similar to the clothing repair. Most thought I would do their clothes that way to minimize the appearance of the tears so the clothes would last longer, or to keep the eye of inspection off of any of the flaws which could have been an indicator there was some sort of an unreported incident. Never can be too careful.

Right now it’s really tough for me to remember many of the names outside my group. I was hoping the more I talked about it all then the easier it would all be to remember. But it didn’t exactly work that way. It was kind of like remembering all the wrong parts, but oh well. I was just doing my best to uphold my end of the bargain. For sure Snipey knew. Knowing about the similarity between the clothes and the cuts. Maybe Edge too but I’m not certain. He was usually the more observant one and not the type who required my services much, tailor or medic. A good guy though, always loyal. Just wasn’t always the most forthcoming at all. My excuse was being a bookworm but once I got into the land of the sandy sun I was more of a group player. Partially because I also had to come into contact with them all and be social by default. No complaints, just part of the job. My whole theme was to help others as long as trying to help myself be more than I already was- maximize my potential and minimize my faults. That was for sure a mission accomplished.

There is only one I can think of who really knew what was up to tricks. Probably Ace did come to think of it, but he always had some sort of an angle or little game he was scheming. Who I was thinking of is Ubes. That was the guy who almost blew the whole thing for me. At least the part of me having a nice side of cash and supplies. Wouldn’t have ever wanted to test the theory but I am pretty sure he wouldn’t have blown it for me. But in the long run I probably would have been needing to cut him in or something like that. He was a tricky little scammer whenever he’d have his mind latched onto something. The guy was always loyal and had your back. Nobody would ever be able to deny that. Aside from that, he was also a pretty bright guy. Loyal too. Loyal to the end in fact. You know those movie scenes where there’s a fire and everyone’s all gathered around and they think there’s one last person inside? And then you see that flaming beam fall through the floor, and you watch it hit the ground. He was the one guy who would dash in and find you somehow. That’s the kind of guy he was.

A lot of people could look intelligent in the service but it was related to the job. Knowing a hundred weapons or every bit of a service manual or a book on tactics. Not always in a general way or even something that could be universally applied. Ubes was a guy who put things together- and in more ways than one. He was also able to retain what others taught him. No ego either, none while any of us knew him at least. And that’s the time you really seem to know someone. When being stationed abroad. You have nobody but who you’re lumped in with. You bump into the same guys every day on a constant basis. If they are poor risers, you have to find out the hard way. If they are way to chipper for your own wake-up schedule that’s too bad. You’re stuck with them. It’s just like you snagged yourself a bad renter or roomie. But in that situation you are able to leave, grab a coffee or hit a bar to have a drink with a bunch of strangers. No such luck when you are in the land of the sand and dope.

But as the story goes, that is the guy who called my bluff as some might say. Or headed me off at the pass, ha. This guy got more than his fair share. I could have cracked a joke and said it took him long enough to figure it out, but maybe he was just trying to string me along. No pub intended. Ha. But he said it was kind of funny how the sewing on his gashed arm looked almost identical to spots on his pants and whatever else he had.

Of course I just tried to sluff it off and pretend maybe it was a coincidence. I hadn’t noticed or something. But he was too good. So he came out and said he thought I was getting paid to practice what I was already supposed to have known by now, being through the “patch ’em up” school and such. He didn’t say it in a mean or sarcastic way. You had to be there, but it was really very funny. When I heard it I seriously tried to hold it back to keep from busting up- since I was stitching his arm at the time and not trying to mend some pants he tore the ass out of. Of course I was able to keep that laughing to myself. But it was probably more to learning how to keep a poker face by playing so many rounds of cards with Acey. Being a guy that ended up with a lot of cash and collateral sometimes, I did feel obliged to have to let guys win back much of what I was given- minus thread of course. And I was not too lucky at cards, so it all balanced out. Be and flow of things.

So yeah he had my number on the thing with my sutures. But he shrugged it off. He said he didn’t care because he knew he could always come to me even when low on funds to give a fix on his clothes here and there. That was his way to let me know all the clothes repair from now on was on the house.

Just for the record, I did everything out of the goodness of my heart really. I would be sliding stitches on the side only to help keep the guys out of trouble and I only charged something small at best, a buck and some thread. But usually they offered something else up. Besides, at least they felt like they bought a service so it was a value in their eyes. Anything I ended up with didn’t amount to much and I mostly ended up spreading it around somehow or other. And I ended up with the thread later which was the bonus. Since it could double up for suturing in a bind. Couple times I had no choice, and once it was an accident.

Once it was dark and some guy got into some sort of sauce. I can’t even remember if it was someone in my group. Wasn’t one of the CoT. Maybe it was The Deuce. Anyway, he fell down and something split on him. I tried to check the best I could but I was having to work under cover of darkness. Kind of like that whole ‘tree on a match’ thing they say, sometimes there’s a little paranoia about too much light or just not to arouse suspicion from any wandering superior. And some just don’t like any sort of light at night at all, born out of superstition. Like not stepping on crack on a sidewalk- no clue why but they just have that little voice telling them they shouldn’t. Needless to say, I was in a hurry and had no time to triple check all my work. I know at that time I was dangerously low on the suture thread, so I had to rely on a spool of the old housewife thread. I swear it was black. I can even see it as black now.

Next morning I noticed it was not black but almost a navy blue, but it had a metallic looking finish to it, which made the thing shine in the light. And it seemed that day was direct sunlight. He was just trying to feel sober still and without any effects of a dehydrated morning after. He couldn’t even notice the stitches but I did. And I was freaking out too, since if one of the superiors wanted to make a big to do about nothing, that would be an obvious place to start. That thing was shining like a beacon from a light house when I saw it. I was afraid that would be all I needed to get drummed out of have some sort of citation against me. I was paranoid about anything counting against me since it would have put my whole plan to ruins. All it could have taken was him saluting to someone observant. Shining off that thread in the sunlight, he could have been questioned and that would have proven he was either hung over or a bit drunk which could have spelled even worse. The patch job would have easily been traced back to me, and then we both could have ended up with some possible charge if an ax was to be ground by one of the more hard-nosed brass. You never know. I was able to get something to cover it up without incident.  Really I just got my hands on a black permanent marker and then a bandage to cover it up. So if one was removed then maybe the other would help keep from too much suspicion. Double bagging it I think it was called- building in a plan B and plan C at the same time. Or plan A and B I guess, depending on how a plan was implemented.

In case it didn’t seem clear, not a blemish was ever marked onto my record. Not that I ever did anything to ever warrant such a thing. But a lot of time there are just things like proper procedure or reporting every little incident as far as the record showed. I did a little “slide on the side” as people like Overthrill would say. But I did it just like a doctor might who was trying to keep the oath. Always help and never hurt, that sort of thing. Sometimes something might not be such a big thing, but it could be an issue in sickbay just depending on the person, or even if they like or dislike someone. Politics as they say or red tape. But I didn’t want anyone getting in trouble so often I would kick in and lend a hand. It’s the whole reason why I got into that racket. It was on my piece of paper when I put the ink on my final copy. To me it was like tattooing it right on my heart. I wasn’t going to give up for anything. I put it above almost everything else. And kind of even above me in some ways.

The other idea was the more little stuff here and there I could take care of, the longer I’d have my team nearby. Our team. We were a crew that was pretty much invincible and I guess for me a lot of it was kind of on my shoulders. I put it there really though, not like I was pressured or anything like that. It was not only a duty to my country but also a commitment to all of us. Our team. You can already figure out by now not all of us made it. We were the incarnate of that whole ‘some gave all’ kind of line of thought. It sometimes is way overused, but also I can’t think of another way to say it. We kind of all left it out on the field in some ways. In a physical way. Think at least this little squad of ours all spilled blood on that sand. With all the soldiers taking some  sort of hit, you’d think that place would start looking more like Sedona- land of the red rock. I think that’s the place. I’m sure anyone else would be able to explain anyone ten times better than me, but I am the best person to explain myself.

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