Tonight I find myself reflecting. Usually I do this in one of countless notebooks I have stacked up or stuffed in one of my numerous bookshelves. But tonight is different. In order to give this some scope I have to go into some personal detail. I was raised by Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was not particularly easy, I never really fit in anywhere because the religion didn’t allow us to fit in anywhere. When I was 15 or 16 I got baptized. Making that decision put the full weight of the religion on my shoulders. To this day I can’t think of why I decided to make the decision. At 19 I got married to a JW girl. I was trying to benefit myself in a way that would be widely accepted by the people I was trying to stay in favor of. At that time it was primarily my parents. two months before my 20th birthday I got disfellowshipped from the religion. It’s like getting excommunicated from the catholic church. Members of the religion are expected to shun anyone who is disfellowshipped. The people I had grown up with, anyone I had ever respected that wasn’t a school teacher, gone from my life. On my 20th birthday I got laid off from my job. over the course of the next 58 days my young wife and I found our relationship under one of many strains it went through before we finally got a divorce. I was told if I didn’t find a job she would leave me. Because apparently the expectation that I make enough money to support her well enough that she never had to work was both reasonable and acceptable as grounds for divorce. Keep in mind, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not look favorably on divorce. Now, getting back to that 58 days I mentioned. I looked for work and, admittedly, spent a lot of time just generally fucking off. On July 4th 2005 I sat on the hood of my beat to shit 1990 Ford Ranger outside the local airport and watched the fireworks. It was beautiful. It was my first 4th of July that I could be proud to be an American because I didn’t have my religious beliefs telling me that patriotism was evil. That was day 56. Day 58 I was on the phone with a friend on my way out to look for work. I had no high school diploma because I felt there was no reason to try if my religion didn’t look favorably on college and my family was too poor for that anyway. I was on the phone with a friend looking for ideas or support or anything helpful when it hit me. I told my friend I would call her back, hung up the phone, and hit the gas.
Walking into the recruiter’s office was strange. I’d always like the idea of being a Marine. The recruiter sat behind his desk in civilian clothes, shorts and a t-shirt, ball cap and flip flops. “Do you have a high school diploma?” I told him I didn’t. “Go get one, come back and we can talk.” With that interchange I decided that the Air Force and Navy, who shared the office space with the Marines, would be a fruitless endeavor. So I got back in my beat up old truck and drove to the Army recruiting office 4 blocks away. I walked in, took off my cowboy hat, and let my eyes adjust to the dimly lit room. There were two men inside wearing BDUs. I looked around for a minute while one finished his phone call. When he hung up he turned his attention to the shaggy-haired redneck that was standing in front of him. “Can I help you?” he asked me. I told him I wanted to sign up. He ran through the relatively short laundry list of things that could potentially keep me from joining. The only one that was an issue was the last one on the list. In the 4 blocks I traveled to get there, I had not managed to get a high school diploma. Rather than turn me away though, Sergeant First Class Bishop pulled out a card and handed it to me. “Go here, take the test for your GED. It’s 80 bucks but you get results as soon as you finish. When you get your results come back and see me.” That was July 6th. July 21st I was on a plane from DIA to Louisville Kentucky with orders to learn how to be a Cavalry Scout.
I had no idea what I was doing. I had no military training, I didn’t know how to shoot a gun, how to stand properly, how to salute, WHEN to salute. That changed very fast. I was molded into the man I needed to be. All of the training was good, but today I can only remember the very very basics. The memorable part came after basic training. I flew home and spent two weeks in my wife’s parent’s house. The only reason she hadn’t divorced me is because she figured out that the government actually pays people who serve in the military and it would be enough that she could sit at home on her ass and drink bottle after bottle of wine and let me work to death for it. December 12th 2005 we drove from Firestone Colorado to El Paso Texas. We spent the night in a hotel and moved what little we had packed into the car into our apartment the next day. When I set eyes on El Paso in daylight for the first time, it felt like the trip south along I-25 had been a trip to another planet. December 14th I reported to my unit. 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry, 4th Brigade 1st Cavalry Division. I got my dream. I was in the 1st Cavalry.
Over the next five years I met some of the best people I have ever had in my life. This is the point where tonight’s reflection comes into play. Five years, two units, one posting. Every man I served with was closer to me than anyone else ever had been before. We lived, ate, slept, trained, and played together. I cut my whiskey teeth drinking bourbon with them. I became a top notch driver and an expert marksman because of the guidance and training I received from the NCOs that were above me. I learned more in the 5 years I served my country than I did in the 12 years I was in school. Not a day goes by I don’t think about at least one of the men I had the privilege of serving with. I love them all and there isn’t a single one I would turn down the opportunity to stand beside again if I could. They became the family that I needed. I don’t think I will ever have the opportunity to thank them all for everything they did for me.
I don’t know if any of you will ever read this, but thank you all. Every one of you, in one way or another, made me better. Made me stronger. If you ever find yourselves in northern Colorado, drop a line. I’ll buy you a drink.