Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why I joined the U.S. Army... ...

First, because the foreign legion did not take Americans anymore. Being that the U.S.A. was the only country in question, that country's army I joined. Second, for the G.I. Bill. This is, truly, the primary reason I joined the U.S. Army.

I went to Philadelphia public schools. At various times, I was assigned higher education classes. Which meant that at times when everyone else was napping, or writing some awful task, I was escorted from the class room and sat with a tutor in a separate room.

Now, this may sound nice but all it did was target me for childhood angst felt by others. They wouldn't believe me that I had school work to do also. They wouldn't accept that I didn't have it easier than them. Added to one of my initial complications, this just got me attacked more regularly.

Initial complication: A white boy growing up in the Ghetto. Black kids didn't like me because I was white, White kids didn't like me because my dad was black.

The worst fights I dealt with were, in fact, from the white kids. I am not small, in fact I am just a tad shy of HUGE. My chest measurement is 52" around and I am no longer fat. I hit 6 feet at 16 yrs old. My size almost disqualified me from Airborne service since the door you jump out of is only so damn tall.

My father, the man who raised me, was a Minister. He wanted me to always turn the other cheek and I tried. Oh god did I try however when I was 14 I had had enough. I started fighting back... it was during an attack by two guys who had gotten used to slapping me around since they thought they could. Irony being  what it is, my father (and his side of the family) were childhood boxers and tried to pass on discipline. (They were also all Marines!) So when I had enough I open not with a Jab (my jab is weak) but with one of my strong suits. An Uppercut the likes of which only Tyson was better with.

So after one brutal encounter my parents took me out of public school and sent me to the Jesu Catholic school. The school accepted me because I was so baptized as such however I had been raised a protestant. The one year of catholic school I had was just before High School. Even though I had to catch up in G.P.A. for a passing grade... I so excelled that I not only graduated 2nd highest from the top of my class but I was offered a 4 year scholarship to Roman Catholic High School. I'm sure the gym teachers  were salivating at the idea of me as a freshman linebacker.

However, I was given a rare opportunity. Apparently my test scores, my school records, and my i.q. tests identified me, to the Philadelphia School System, as someone to invest into... ... so they did. I was offered a place in the High School of Engineering & Science without any kind of entrance exam or orientation.

My first year there was a personal disaster. I was not prepared for how High School is run, at all. The classes I had previously were handled just like elementary was even through the Junior High School years. Added to which, my freshman year I was one John of twenty two (22) Johns. The teachers did solve that problem. We sat down in a classroom, all of us John's, and the teachers went through by desk order. "You are John A, You are John B, You are John C," on and on until I got my letter. My letter has been such a part of my life that it is my real primary name. If you go to any old Job of mine and ask for my name, they'll be like "who?" but if you ask for my letter... "Oh he used to work here but he's moved elsewhere to move upward".

So it was when High School was done, me without WOWzers GPA, that I started looking at college and vocational schools. Many offered scholarships but you had to have not just the right GPA but come from "other than" public schools. Sadly, any scholarships for inner-city youths required me to be black. (???) So I found the only vo-tech program I could afford (free!) and that was the Keystone Job Corps Center. I got there and completed their "prove your scholastic potential" 1 year program in 3 months. I even got a G.E.D. in that time, yes I dropped out of High School because that diploma was getting me nowhere fast. While doing there scholastic program I also excelled at learning to be a filing & accounting clerk.

After the G.E.D. test I started looking at where to go next. Filing and accounting clerks don't get many opportunities to excel, at anything, so I looked at the military. So I took the asvab entrance exam and waited to see my opportunities. BTW I should add, that my GED score was so high that the State issued me a High School Diploma, not a GED. It also identified me and qualified my entrance to Mensa. My asvab scores so shocked my recruiter that there was almost nothing not offered to me.

However I would only agree to 2 years. Two years, if they don't like me - I'm not there to long. If I don't like them, again I'm not there too long. Long story short, I didn't like them because they did not like me. In fact, my first discharge papers have the code "Served Honorably, don't want him back". My second papers say the exact same thing, "Served Honorably, don't want him back."

My enlistment was complicated by scoring to high on the entrance exam. See I scored so high that I got tagged as "worth investing" in. >sigh< So during Basic Training I was required to take the SATs. No practice of any kind, in fact the day of the testing was a field day. Field day meaning we slept in tents and were messed with by the Drills to simulate possible field conditions. So during the breaks between SAT sections I napped. In fact, I was so sleepy I drove myself to complete sections at least a half an hour before they ended so I could nap. I scored around 1200.

So, here is the Army with a Ghetto Kid of zero scholastic background banging out High Fives in scholastic areas... what to do? Ah, Fort Monmouth New Jersey is a good answer. So I was being prepped to go to the United States Military Academy Preparatory School... with West Point being the end goal of that track. I was excited about the possibility, going to college at a price I could afford (free!!!).

I called back to talk with a friend at the Job Corp, sharing my successes, and I found out something wondrous. A sexual te'te' that I had with a troubled young lady resulted in conception. So being, I reported such to my Senior Drill Sgt. Later the next day the boom dropped - West Point Cadets are not allowed to have any dependents. >BOOM!<

So, back to being a grunt. Made it through trainings, made it through airborne school, and got to permanent party. All the while I noticed that I was being treated "oddly". It wasn't until I befriended an NCO, in G-2, that I found out the horrible truth. In my records it listed me as being a disqualified West Point candidate. No reason given, of any kind. My friend asked me, "What pooch did you screw?" I can only imagine the ongoing speculations from the way I was hostily treated during my 1st enlistment. And, truthfully, I was disqualified for having integrity enough to put forward my issues.

So, eventually I got out. Was glad to get out. I went home to Philadelphia, got a job as a night time Security Guard at the ARA towers, and was enrolling in Community College. CCP was happy to get me after my entrance exam, there were a couple of avant garde course they want accredited so having me enroll, and succeed, would go far for them. While that was going on I realized that I still had service in my heart. So I joined the 324th Medical Reserve Unit in West Chester, PA. I did a couple of the monthly duties and then one day I was called by the clerk.

"Would you volunteer for active combat duty?" She asked. At that moment my brain flashed through issues and I immediately answered, "Yes." I was activated to serve with a Medical Inspection unit, that was brass heavy!! I was one of 4 enlisted men in the unit! And I would be acting jack sargeant for the occasion, which I knew would be confirmed during service. Hoorah! Another good day thanks to the Army.... >errrrr< wait. I got activated for that unit and then the very next day I was cut from that unit and assigned to the 300th Field Hospital out of Wilkes Barre, PA. Apparently their motor-pool guy was still in A.I.T. and they needed one. Add to that I was combat trained for desert warfare, someone liberally threw me at the 300th. I was to arrive there the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (???).

Let me say now, that did not happen. Yes, I went a.w.o.l. after a fashion. My telephone suffered a remarkable flaw in transmission and the Army did NOT have my parent's address. So I got to spend that Thanksgiving with my Mother and Father before being shipped off to war.

Of course that ingratiated me to command like you would not believe. They sent a sergeant down in a vehicle to my apartment and I answered when he knocked. He then drove me up to Wilkes Barre and deposited me into a motel. A motel, irony, that I had stayed in almost 3 years prior. The Keystone Job Corps is in Drums, P.A. Next door to Wilkes Barre, the military entrance point I used for my first enlistment was in... yup.... Wilkes Barres, PA.

So here I am already well liked my my command structure when a couple of irritations arose. First one, the guy who was in A.I.T. - wasn't. He was home on leave. I asked if I could return to my unit. I was asked, "What don't like us?" They told the young man, whose parents they knew, to go home and finish his leave. I got shang-haid to Ft Indiantown Gap. While there, we were all instructed pount limits of our duffels. I instructed my men, and widely advised the 300th, that sweaters and field jackets were of the order. First Sergeant pulled me into his office and asked me if I was f-ing nuts. I explained to him that with the 101st Airborne I had spent many months in NTC (Ft Irwin, CA. "The Mojave Desert") and that this equipment would be vital. I was ordered to stfu with my nuttiness and proceed to getting gear ready for deployment.

Let's be clear here, my 2nd enlistment turned out as much fun as my first one. That was the problem for me. It was essentially a peace time army filled with people who got ahead by who they knew and what they could explain instead of ... doing it.

Am I a Gulf War Veteran, yes. Am I proud of it, hell yeah. However I almost always say, "I did not serve with honorable distinction however I had the distinct honor of serving." That is all this purple heart soldier will say about this.