October 13th 1990, holds a special place in my heart as one of the worst, and as I came to discover later, one of the best days of my life. This story is about a young man who just returns home from basic training with the Army, who happens upon the girl he has had a crush on since junior high school. He makes what he thinks is a last play at winning her heart before heading off to his permanent duty station in North Carolina, on August 2nd, 1990. For those of you who know me personally, this is by far, my most favorite story to tell. Most of the story is based on things that really happened while I served in Operation Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Desert Saber in Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. I chose to use the character Bobby, to portray the lead male character, also known as, me. I did this so that I could use a different perspective as the “eye in the sky”, as opposed to the “head on historical perspective.” I felt as though I could add more to the story this way, even though I know I could still add even more. So, until I have more time to dedicate to the project, I will apply rule #3 from the story tellers manual, which states – It’s my story, I’ll tell it how I want.
You may have seen Bobby in some of my other stories, and hopefully he can make the story believable enough for you. I tried other character names for Anna, but hers is the most beautiful name I can think of, and it broke my heart to use another.
Anyway, here we go!
Times were tough in Michigan in the late eighties and jobs were hard to come by without an education, AND a connection. So Bobby made the only decision that would enable him a chance at a career with a decent life. He joined the Army.
At that time, things seemed relatively stable, as far as conflict went, until the Panama invasion; and that seemed an unexpected fluke. So he joined up, said goodbye, and went on to get his life. A few months later, after all his training was completed, Bobby came home. He had a ten day pass, to meet up with family, and friends, before he had to report to his permanent duty station at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina- Home of the 82nd Airborne Division.
While he was home, Bobby ran into a girl he had a crush on since he was in junior high school. Upon seeing her, his heart melted all over again. And before long, she was the only thing that occupied his thoughts. Anna was her name, and she was a beautiful woman a year shy of twenty. She was a little wisp of a thing with blond hair, who was smart, funny, and had the most amazing blue eyes he had ever seen; and he was just smitten with her. Having last seen her at his going away party, he assumed he wouldn’t see her again until their twenty-year high school reunion. Such was life.
He tried to impress her with his new fancy hairstyle- short, and his new southern drawl. He used the drawl every opportunity he could to say things like, y’all, and… well that’s all he learned. Bobby wasn’t to good at foreign languages, but he tried to say y’all as often as he could to try to make an impact on her with his worldly ways.
Anna, for her part, was going to college to be what their high school graduating class voted her as… successful. And she took it very seriously. About halfway through the ten days off, Bobby finally got the courage to ask Anna on a date. He was going to take her to the local Fair, buy her cotton candy, win her a giant stuffed gorilla, and say y’all a bazillion times. But what really happened was that he took her to the local mini-mart to by her a pop, and while in the store she told him she had to get home and study for a math test she had coming up on Monday morning.
Bobby stood there shocked, because he had seen all the goofy movies that portrayed college life, and from the classic educational films he knew of like “Animal House”, and “Revenge of the Nerds”, he understood that college ONLY happened during fall and wintertime. Heartbroken at the lost opportunity, but still a gentleman, he took her home and waved good-bye while the sun was still high in the sky. He was just about to back out of her driveway when she turned to speak. Giving her all of his attention, as she smiled her beautiful smile, and with her blue eyes looking said,
“Thanks for the pop!”
Feeling his face turning red, he then he winked at her and said.
“Bye Y’all!” Before trying to peel out in his mothers old Chevy Malibu.
Bobby moped around the fairgrounds that night by himself, his appetite so dismal, he could barely finish the three foot-long hotdogs he purchased. With his leave winding down, he began to consider his move to Ft. Bragg, and the lifestyle he would pursue. He wandered around the carnivals midway, with engines of the demolition derby cars and the rowdy crowd competing to see who could be the loudest roared in on the other side of the picket fence that excited children, and cheap old men fought to peak through. His obsession for his sweet Anna would have to go back up on the mental shelf labeled, “Things That Could Have Been”, and enjoyed the rest of his leave.
The rest of his pass sailed by, and before he knew it, Bobby landed at Fayetteville, North Carolina Airport the evening of August 2, 1990. Walking by the newsstand he saw the headlines stamped with, “Saudi Arabia”. But because the isolation that comes with basic training left him detached from any happenings in the world, he paid little attention to what it might mean.
The taxi ride to the replacement/in-processing station was over a half hour long, Bobby’s eyes strained to see what his new surroundings contained. Since it was a weeknight, and the weekend was a couple days off, he assumed that the post would be laid back when he was dropped off after 9:00 in the evening. That, however, was the furthest thing from the truth. Pulling up to the building he saw men and women in uniform, with full packs and weapons marching to cattle truck’s with loud men with authoritative voices commanding them to march left, march right, and get on the truck. Large green camouflaged 2 ½ ton trucks, lovingly called, “deuce and halves”, full of soldiers and their gear moved slowly down the road under the light of street lamps to the sound of other soldiers dressed in civilian clothes, called civies, cheering for them.
Seeing a friend he had spent the last several months in training with standing by a picnic table of smokers, Bobby wandered over to say hello. He had just barley set his A-bag down when Johnny saw him.
After a hand shake that slipped comfortably into an “Airborne Dap”, they created in jump school. They asked, and answered, the usual questions you would expect after coming off the first leave.
Yes, they each had a good time.
Yes, all the girls loved them.
Yes, they used all the funny military jargon to confuse everyone around them, and ended nearly every sentence the catch-phrase; “AIRBORNE!”
Then they settled into the more mundane questions, that may seem obvious, but needed to be asked, because they didn’t know what else to say. Bobby found that he couldn’t say, “Y’all” because John, who was from the south, could doing it with more meaning, and he probably wouldn’t be impressed with it anyway.
“Been here long? Bobby asked.
“A few hours.” Croaked Johnny. Johnny was from Georgia, and had an incredibly deep voice that startled most folks upon introduction. It was quite a shock to hear that voice not come from a lumberjack beast of a man, but from a guy who might tip the scales at 115 pounds if he was soaking wet.
“Crazy, huh?” Johnny asked Bobby indicating all of the activity. He didn’t realize it until Johnny pointed it out, but C-130’s, and C-141’s were taking off from the neighboring Pope Air Force Base, and flying low overhead at the rate of one every couple of minutes.
“Yeah.” Bobby answered. “I didn’t think army life would be so busy! The recruiter said it would be different,” Bobby paused, and then added shaking his head in a ‘shame on him manner’. “ I guess he lied about that, too.”
Bobby was referring to the stories told by soldiers during basic training that most recruiters either exaggerated a little, or outright lied about what basic training had in store for them.
“What!” Johnny roared not believing Bobby hadn’t heard the news. Johnny’s deep voice scaring half of the smokers into a push-up position, thinking a drill sergeant snuck into the area to reprimand them for rule breaking.
Bobby got up from the ground and dusted off his hands as Johnny’s face turned as red as his hair.
“Sorry guys.” His voice boomed.
Then turning to Bobby, he said in almost a whisper.
“You haven’t heard?” He asked.
“Heard what?” Bobby replied.
“We’re moving out. Going to get our war patch!” He said with excited glee. Referring to the patch worn on the shoulder of all soldiers. You wore the patch on the right shoulder when you got assigned to the division, unless you change divisions, then you change patches, but if you go to war with that division, you get the patch put on your left shoulder as well, forever “branding” you as a war veteran from that division. Johnny’s excited tone was similar to the one the guys used when the high school football team bus slowed down to turn in to a fast food joint.
Bobby eyes pinched tight in confusion. His voice showed irritation when he asked his next question.
“What are you talking about?”
“Iraq invaded Kuwait, dude. We’re going to war! Maybe we’ll even get the mustard stain on our wings.” The “mustard stain” indicated a gold star on the jump wings meaning that the soldier who wears them made a parachute jump during combat.
More cheers went up as a couple more deuce and halves growled down the street, their diesel engines sometime drowning the roaring crowds roar.
Johnny could sense Bobby’s confusion and added.
“Be glad I’m telling you this, because the old timers are giving the cherry’s a tough time.”
Bobby shook his head smiling.
“What are talking about? Cherry’s?” He laughed awkwardly.
“You know?” Johnny urged. “Newbie’s?”
“Oh… Cherry’s. Yeah.” Bobby nodded as if he knew the whole time.
“What are the old timers doing to them?” Bobby asked.
“Well, the new line is that when the cherry’s ask the old timers what’s going on and where is everyone going. The old timers tell them that we are going on vacation, and then ask them if they like the beach. Right?” He asked to make sure he was following along. He then continued. “Then the old timers rag on them pretty hard because they say we’re headed for Saudi Arabia, and its nothing BUT beach, but they can’t find any water. Its brutal.” Johnny finished laughingly as another deuce and halve drove by to raucous cheers, as the line of aircraft droned overhead.
Bobby, and Johnny met up with a few more guys from their recent training days and relived the good times, and talked of times to come. Johnny left for Saudi within a couple of days after his arrival to Ft. Bragg, but within a couple of months they would all be at the beach.
Bobby left during a hurricane down pour on October 13th, commonly referred to as, “Sweetest day”. Sweet was not the word he would have chosen. For up to that point, that evening proved to be the worst day he ever had. He sat in the back of a deuce and halve getting poured on, as he had to endure young families being ripped apart in front of his very eyes. Husbands consoling their wives, knowing they would have to drive home alone during the down pour, the wives refusing to stay home as their men left to whatever danger awaited them. Children clinging to their father’s neck, squeezing every drop out of the time they had left together.
Bobby averted his eyes out of respect as the brave men squeezed in next to him filling the floor of the truck bed. He couldn’t help but feel a little guilt for missing his sweet Anna, when these fella’s just left a major part of their lives behind them in the parking lot. It seemed a messy way to do a thing.
When everyone was accounted for, the truck huck-a-bucked along to the end of the driveway to head out on the road to Pope AFB, to load up on the war-bird. Even the rain couldn’t keep the soldiers from other units whose time to head to the desert hadn’t come, from braving the rain to cheer them on. Cheers and applause mixed with bursts of rain served to lift their heavy spirits, even if only a little bit.