One day as we were watching TV, a commercial came on telling of how great an opportunity it was to join the Army National Guard. Serve one weekend a month, and two weeks in the summer. The rest of the time is yours to use as you wish.
Well, it sounded good, or at least an option that I could look into, so I loaded up and walked into my local recruiter’s office. He greeted me with a smile, a firm handshake, and offered me a chair. We talked about golf, the mountains, the Gulf War, and finally, the Army Reserves. He quickly pointed out that with my skills and background that I could make a great living in the Regular Army, and have incredible education benefits. Then he showed me a list of the bonus money that comes with certain jobs.
I went home to talk about it with Sarah. For two weeks, we hem hawed around trying to make heads or tails out of all this. We sat on our deck one cold evening drinking coffee and decided to join the Army, together. That’s right! Both of us! She would be a nurse; I would be a chaplain, or… a satellite guru, a weatherman, an MP, a foot soldier, heck, whatever paid the best bonus! Well, the military quickly rejected Sarah because of her asthma, and I was having trouble finding a job I liked. My recruiter wanted me to be a chaplain, but I had been burned pretty hard on the last few ministry jobs I had taken and really didn’t want to try that again so quickly. (Youth ministry has that effect on people.) “Well,” he said, “Why don’t you go take the test (ASVAB) to see what your scores are. Then we will have a better idea where you might fit in.” Seemed like a marvelous idea, so they escorted me down to El Paso, Texas, where I received last minute instructions and took the test. The plan was that if I did well enough, then I would stay over for the night and endure the entrance physical screening exam.
My results came back very strong on the test. In fact, I scored one of the highest scores they’d seen in a while. That meant that I could get a real high tech job, something that would set me up for a great future in the real world when my military service was complete. I sat down with my recruiter and we talked about jobs. He had openings for communications, intelligence, and a whole lot of other great options with great skills and useful knowledge. Therefore, I picked the Infantry. After all, it had a bonus of 12,000 dollars and a lot of time in the outdoors. My wife nearly clobbered me when I told her what I choose. She said hopefully, “Well, you still have to pass the physical.”
For a test I never had to study for, it was a tough exam. For some reason, my blood pressure was high, and every time they took it, it went higher. I told them that I was awfully nervous, and that I needed to relax. Therefore, they sent me down to the blood lab so they could poke me with needles. Now, I have never been good with needles. In fact, I am not good with giving up blood. Now if I am in a fight and loose blood it’s no big deal. Or if a herd of stampeding cattle runs over me and I loose blood, hey, it will be a great story, but no big deal. Or if I get in a knife fight and loose a finger, well… okay, that would be a big deal, but the blood wouldn’t bother me. However, if you deliberately take blood out of my arm for any purpose what so ever, it is a BIG deal. You can even inject liquid Drano into my arms, but don’t take blood out of my veins. Okay, there aren’t many more ways to beat this dead horse so I will get to the point. I passed out when they jammed that garden hose into my arm. They ruptured a vein, I had a huge bruise, and a lump on my head where it slammed into the wall when I had the seizure. Other than that, everything was okay once I woke up on a gurney. In any event, they took my blood pressure shortly thereafter. I guess the rest I received while passed out did me good, ‘cause my pressure was way down and I passed the physical.
The doctor asked me why I was joining up. After all, I had been out of high school for 10 years, I had some 90 hours of college behind me, I had traveled all over North and South America, I had lived in Mexico for a year doing mission work, and I had been in a partnership for a business. Heck, I had done more stuff than most people ever do in their entire lives. I told him, “I need the money.” To which he responded, “I have never seen anyone join the Army for the money.”
Well, I held up my right hand, swore an oath, and went home. The next step was to tell everyone that I would be leaving for a while, specifically, four years. My parents had a difficult time with it.
“What about Sarah?”
“I will be gone to Ft. Benning, Georgia for 13 weeks of boot camp, and then she will join me at Fort Lewis, Washington.”
Well, they didn’t like it, but I had already sworn in, and we were committed. Sarah would stay in Cloudcroft for the 13 weeks, and then I would send for her to join me in Seattle. After only a few weeks by herself, she called home and had her parents come and get her. I liked that idea; after all, the mountains can be tough in the winter.
I began counting down the 13 weeks. There would be eight weeks of basic training, then five weeks of AIT (advanced training). After I arrived in Georgia, they told me that I would be there an additional two weeks for specialized training in mortars. Okay, that’s not what my recruiter told me, but I had no choice, and besides, what is another two weeks? Fifteen total? Okay, I guess I can handle that, but I never told Sarah. Even though we both prayed and believed that this was the right move, it was the hardest thing we ever attempted. We had never been apart for more than a few days at a time, much less 13 weeks. Oh well, it was only a few months, and I was assured that I would get to make a few phone calls periodically.
The day I left for basic training was the toughest day of my life. Sarah and I drove around in the mountains for almost two hours, talking. There was a knot in my stomach the size of Austin, and I was not excited. I dearly loved my wife and didn’t want to say goodbye. I believed in my heart that I was doing the right thing; I knew we had to walk down the path that the Lord laid in front of us. We could only trust Him. Whoever has said, “As long as I have the Lord it will be easy” has never stepped out in faith. Is this journey possible? Of course. Is it easy? Not by a long shot.
So, that afternoon, we drove out of the cool mountains and into the heat of the desert, anxious for our future. I turned on the radio and heard the Glenn Miller classic, Moonlight Serenade, which left me feeling wanton and troubled. The journey was about to begin…
Taken from a portion of my boot camp letters, which I wrote to my wife:
Thursday, 6 November, 1997, 5:50 PM, American Airlines flight 1166
Hello! I haven't been gone for long, but I already miss you and everyone else. As usual, I woke up around 4:00, at least 30 minutes early. I had breakfast around 5:00 AM, but that was the last mail I have eaten. It’s around 6:00 Eastern Time, but I have had two packs of pretzels and two Cokes. But, I do have meal tickets worth $16 at Atlanta waiting for me at the USO. At DFW, I had 35 minutes to make the connection, I made it just as they were boarding. There were three or four guys already waiting. They were headed for Ft. Benning. They referred to me as Sir! :-) Anyway, I will pick up this letter once I get to Ft. Benning. I do admit though, I am not as nervous as I should be. I am not sure about whether or not to be concerned about my condition.
For the complete experience, see the following: