Previously, in Part I of “War and What it’s Good for.” Bobby just experienced what he considered his worst day ever, which was compounded by the notion that the girl of his dreams may not be interested in him afterall. Combine that with the fact that Bobby’s deployment date fell on October 13th 1990; which was “Sweetest Day” for that year, and what you have is a sad soldier.
Anyway, let’s see why October, 13th was also the best day of Bobby’s life, because this negative talk is bumming me out. I added some pictures to add some color, if you can consider tan a color.
Bobby made it to Saudi Arabia, to be part of Desert Shield, which protected America’s interests in Saudi Arabia. It didn’t matter to Bobby what the interests were. Once the decision was made to go, Bobby would serve to the best of his ability. In some ways he felt that this was the best-case scenario. Reports said that if this thing came to shooting, there was the possibility that 80% of those there wouldn’t come home alive. Bobby wasn’t any good at math, but he understood the pie chart that came along with the article showing 8 out of 10 slices of pie shaded darker than the rest.
In time, it began to make sense to him that if he was killed in a war, his mother would get the flag, and he would be buried with honors. Then hopefully one of those fathers he had seen when they left Fort Bragg would be able to go home to their family. Growing up without a father in his life, Bobby understood the pain involved. Eventually it got to a point that he didn’t just think he would be killed, he knew he would. All that was missing was the time and the date. This is not to say that Bobby was a huge fan of this concept… not in the least. One could chalk this idea up to, “Too much time performing deep thinking excercises.”
Once in country, Bobby was sent to Camp White in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia to be part of the “speed bump”, should Saddam decide to send his forces further south. The early months were ticklish, because most of the people and equipment were in the States, and if the Iraqi forces decided to go south, there was little to stop them, hence the term, “speed bump”. Eventually the newness of being in a hostile environment wore off. It wore off pretty fast, actually; mostly because there was nothing to do, nowhere to go, and there wasn’t even any food anywhere to distract them with, except for what the chow hall cooked. Which was great! Bobby was ready to re-enlist for another plate of biscuits and gravy, but the availability of junk food was non-existent. None! One of the few things that came near any kind of snack food was the cheese packet that came with some of the Meal’s Ready to Eat (M.R.E.); and with nothing and nowhere to spend his money on, cheese packets became the hundred dollar bills of the soldiers new currency system. Cocoa packet, hot sauce, and brownies were the fives, tens, and twenties; while the right mixture of cocoa, saltine crackers, and water; called “Ranger Pudding” were the fifties.
Bobby had the wherewithal before their departure date to buy a Game-Boy system with a game or two to occupy his time in country. In the entire warehouse of people that he shared lodging with, which was 2000-5000 guys and 1 or two ladies, his was the only Game-Boy for the first two months in country. He loaned it out freely, only asking for the batteries to be replaced upon return. Sometimes people would give him some cheese packets, to show their gratitude, but other times they only replaced the batteries, he didn’t care either way. He was the newbie, and while he understood that people were historically wary of the new guy, he still wanted to be part of the group, and knew the labor needed to make friends was up to him.
“Boy wait until we get back to post.” Some of the guys would taunt, we’re gonna have us a cherry party!” Indicating a hazing ritual meant to intimidate the new guys who hadn’t a friend in the world, and who had already experienced similar head games in basic training. But to a group who had to constantly prove their manhood to a society that continually added new barriers to what it meant to be a man, they somewhat eagerly submitted themselves to the ritual. It was either that, or ostracism, which was a lonely road. Still unable to resist tormenting his tormentors, Bobby added.
“Did you enjoy playing my Game-Boy the other day?” Bobby would ask while rolling his eyes.
It took mail about a month to get from home to the soldiers, and the same the other way. So about the time the middle of November rolled around, Bobby became a bit antsy when the mail Sergeant rolled by throwing letters around, like millionaires with thousand dollar bills. No doubt the reaction was the same. The mail carriers were like rock stars.
One-day Bobby’s name was called, and he got a letter. His knees got weak, and he swore he could smell perfume on the envelope, and he had to look at the return address a dozen times to see if he was imagining things. IT WAS FROM ANNA! For whatever reason, an orchestra played a beautiful arrangement in his head every time he sang out those words. Returning to his cot, he opened the envelope, to find a card. It was a Sweetest Day card with the most colorful picture of a rose on the front of it. Even after only a couple of weeks in the desert, the drabness, or better yet the tan-ness of the desert left his eyes feeling dreary and blah. The card was like a festival of color. The red of the rose positively blazed a path across his retinas. While the “Smitten band” played love songs on his heartstrings. It touched his heart to know that on his worst day ever, October 13th, Anna was thinking of him enough to send this card. That card was the salve that took most of the pain from the sting of that day. There were words in the card, and he was sure that he read them… a thousand times at least. But they were all translated to, “Now was the time!” He didn’t know how, or what, but he knew the time to act was now. It was a shame that he had little means to act upon, being in the desert and all.
Within a few weeks opportunity knocked on the door, when it was announced that the USO was using new technology, a camcorder, to give the troops a chance to send a videotape of themselves home to the folks. The soldiers would get 15 minutes of time in front of the camera to give their message, and it would be sent home so the folks could watch it on TV. AWESOME!
A rumor was floating around that some of the guys either couldn’t or wouldn’t make a video to send home, and that the videocassette could be purchased, for a price. One day Bobby found one of those fella’s, a soldier named Charles, and asked what it would take to buy his videocassette tape.
“It’s gonna take a lot of cheese.” Charles said.
Thinking he could low-ball his way to the tape, Bobby tested the water.
“I got five cheeses, if you are interested.”
“Don’t give me that five cheeses line, Bobby. I see you with that fancy game of yours, I want ALL your cheeses!” Chas exclaimed loudly.
“What are you talking about?” Bobby tried to lie, hoping to smooth the situation over by playing dumb.
“What are you talking about,” Bobby tried again. “I only have a few…” Bobby couldn’t even finish the sentence before Charles cut him off yelling at the top of his lungs.
“DON’T GIVE ME THAT LINE!” Then turning to the warehouse of soldiers. I GOT A VIDEOTAPE FOR SALE! WHO WANTS IT?”
“Hey! Hey! Bobby yelled through a whisper, trying to calm the situation. I got your cheeses; just keep your pants on. I’ll be right back.” Bobby said as he walked off to his bunk area where all of his worldly possession lay under his cot. Which blended in with all of the other cots spread out a foot apart from one another.
“Bring me ALL of those cheeses you got there, Bobby!” Charles yelled, while Bobby waved for him to quiet down.
The exchange made, Bobby began mentally writing a script while Charles set up a poker game with his buddies to see if he could expand on his new gotten loot.
With the holiday mail drop deadline looming, Bobby became inspired to put the finishing touches on his script and get the job done. After waiting in the camera line for a few hours, it was show time!
To this very day, Bobby finds leaving messages on voice mail to be quite difficult, but it was nowhere near the feeling he had making the video for someone he was crazy over. The video made, addressed and ready to go, Bobby only had to drop it in the mailbag to be sent off with the other holiday mail items. Bobby just stood in front of the mailbag motionless, until the mail Sergeant had to slap it out of his hand in to the bag so he could be on his way.
To think it was possible for time to go slower than it already was, was unthinkable. But knowing that Anna was going to be watching this video of him baring his soul, asking for only one opportunity at a relationship if this whole war thing worked out, was having an effect. Days that had become weeks in length, now became months, and the rock solid boredom, mixed with pure fear of what could happen, not only to Bobby, but, what Bobby might have to do with the skills learned in training left his mind a confusing waste land of hope and worry. Death on the battlefield seemed the easiest path to take. Because if he had read Anna’s feelings wrong, then how could he face going home again.
“She was the prettiest girl in school,” he argued to himself. “Why would she say yes to you?”
It seemed a relief when those in charge said that the war was scheduled, a deadline set, the use of force lecture was given, and movement began. For a brief amount of time, Bobby’s thoughts were focused on what was in front of him, until they were embedded into their start points around the border separating Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Then they had to wait until the Air Force bombing campaign was complete before the ground war was to begin.
So, what had taken a month to move a letter one way, stretched to six weeks, unbeknownst to Bobby. Because not only was the Christmas rush slowing things down, but the deadline rush added more mail, as well as the confusion of troops not being where they were for the last few months slowed things down even more.
Days were now becoming whole decades as Bobby found himself alone monitoring a radio for the day while his platoon leader was off to meetings a couple of dunes over. Depression wasn’t a word low enough to express the hollowness he felt. Lying in his cot late one night about a week from D-day, Bobby heard gunfire a few dunes away.
“You hear that, Sir?” Bobby asked his platoon leader.
“Yup.” The platoon leader said lying up in the back of the truck.
“Should we do anything?” Bobby asked, concern beginning to creep into his voice.
“Nope, our guys set up an ambush on the enemy, go back to sleep.”
“!” Bobby thought to himself.
The next morning, Bobby thought he had reached his lowest point. It was all very real, now; at least in a surreal way. Somehow it made sense. What started out as;
“I am going to die here.”
Became. “I AM dying here.”
The mail Sergeant pulled up in his hummer. Handed over a few letter. And said.
“Cheer up! Were almost home!”
Bobby nodded his recognition of the mail sergeants attempt to lift his spirits, but with this being the last mail stop until well after D-day, it became clear that Anna was not interested.
He watched the hummer move through the sand for a few yards when it suddenly stopped. Seeing that the Mail Sergeant’s arm was extended out the windscreen holding a letter, Bobby knew he was going to live. The feeling was like nothing he had ever felt before, but would experience again, whenever he looked into his sweet Anna’s eyes.
What was soon becoming just another story in Bobby’s book of tales, became his favorite of his list. Some guys came home with stories of boldness, and others of buddy’s lost in battle. Bobby had those, but winning the love of his life; clearing the shelf of, “Things That Could Have Been,” and filling it with “Things that ARE”, made him bulletproof through the 100-hours to come.
As for Anna, she did become a success as predicted; not only in her own right, but also by ensuring her husband and father of their future child finished college so they could live, joyfully…