It hasn't happened yet, but I would love to celebrate Christmas with rock star and actress (from the television show Victorious
), the one, the only Victoria Justice. Ah yes, that would be fun. I know that's impossible because she's famous and I work minimum wage in fast food restaurants and assorted other stores. However, just imagine for a second that such a thing were possible. The only conclusion that anybody could draw would be that I would've been the luckiest man alive. It's nice to think about the possibilities from time to time.
The day I received the crest of the Infantryman; The Blood Rifles.
Basic Training is not easy. Any Hollywood film will tell you this. After it's all over, most of us soldiers are able to look back and say "Well, it wasn't that bad. It's really all mental." That may be true, but when you first step off the bus and that Drill Sergeant gets into your face that first time you have not yet developed the "Mental Strength" to get through it with ease. I literally spent a full year getting ready for the Army. The day I left for Basic Training was a year to the day from the first time I set foot in what would come to be my second home, the neighborhood gym. I had no problems with the workouts and pushups, and the screaming and getting in my face I was able to take for what it was, but I never factored in the homesickness. My God; I never realized how much I cared for everyone back home until I left all of them behind for 14 weeks (9 weeks of Basic Training, 5 weeks of Infantry AIT). And then of course, no soldier story is complete without "The Girl". I missed Her of all people the most; on the rare occasions we were allowed 5 minutes on our cell phones, it was Her house that I would call. It is no exaggeration to say that I wrote close to 300 pages worth of letters while at Fort Benning, and nearly 200 of them were for Her. My bunkmates and friends and fellow soldiers-in-training used to tease me and say that they felt bad for whoever it was that had to read the "novels" I wrote during every moment of free time allotted to us, especially considering how small and blocky my handwriting is. I took their jests with a smile and kept on writing, knowing that The Girl would be waiting for me after all the toils and dramas and traumas of this thing were over.
I was pretty young and naive back then.
For reasons that don't need to be explored on this site, I received the "Dear John" every man, soldier or civilian, dreads; and on the very first day of Infantry AIT no less! I was of course heartbroken. I still wrote Her letters during every moment of free time allotted to me, still chasing the possibility of finding Her at the end of all the madness, but even then I knew it was futile. I was too disheartened to go on, but too far along to simply quit. I had come this far, and it's not like I had enlisted because of Her or to make Her proud; there were other reasons on the line, nobler ideas and a tremendous sense of honor had brought me to the doorstep, The Girl had got me through the worst of the trials, now it was time to find my way out with the same tools that had brought me in. I was already thinking of myself as a soldier; it was time to actually become one.
AIT for Infantryman is essentially just an extra 5 weeks of Basic Training. Though our Drill Sergeants eased off on us and became slightly more "mentor" as opposed to "tormentor", the length of training days increased and more was demanded of us. Our workouts intensified, our live-fire drills became more complex, and there was always the final challenge, a 5 day stay out in the field that would incorporate all that we had learned and be our final test, looming just out sight but on the horizon non-the-less.
Since then, I've spent upwards of 3-4 weeks living in the field and doing much more intense training, but even after 13 weeks of training our FTX (Field Training eXercise) felt like a true hardship to me. It all culminated to our final day; an 8 mile march called The Bayonet to a place called Honor Hill, where we would receive our Blood Rifles.
Every Basic Training Infantry Company has a different Bayonet; some require soldiers to carry their comrades part of the way, others must carry logs, some have to carry 10 pound water jugs in their hands. My Drill Sergeants took a simpler approach; we donned all of the gear we would wear into battle (helmet, body armor, mags, canteens, knee & elbow pads, etc), and they just made us run.
We ran the entire way.
I won't go into detail; it would be painfully repetitive and this story is already much longer than I had hoped it would be, but needless to say that run sucked. None of us dropped out, however, knowing that once it was all said and done we would be able to call ourselves Infantrymen at last. As we came to Honor Hill we were told to slow down and finally we were called to a halt. We dropped all of our equipment save a small tin canteen cup, and then we filed up the path to the top of Honor Hill, lit tiki torches guiding the way with "Hells Bells" by AC/DC booming from a sound system somewhere in the forest. At the top of the hill we came to what I can only describe as looking like a frontiersman fort, with verticle logs for walls and honest to goodness horse troughs on either side of the entrance. Just within the entrance two massive bonfires roared roughly 40 feet apart from each other, sending flames 20 feet into the sky. Between the two bonfires and slightly to the rear of them stood a stage with 8 unlit torches. This would be the place where we would shed the title of civilian and become Soldiers: For Now and For Ever.
We marched through the gate, over which a cast-iron sign was hung reading "Here Passes Through This Entrance The Finest Warriors The World Has Ever Known; The US Infantry". As we passed through we dipped our canteen cups into the trough, which was filled with a mystery grog. As I set foot onto the hallowed ground, AC/DC slowly faded, only to be replaced with Disturbed's "Indestructible". We marched in and formed up by platoon to either side of the stage and slightly behind the bonfires, 2 platoons to each side of the stage.
As instructed by our Drill Sergeants, we said not a word. Over the roar of the bonfire and the music, we wouldn't have been able to hear one another anyway. I chose instead to take it all in, and store as much of it all to memory as I possibly could. It was well past midnight and not a single cloud obscured the stars, Orion seemed to stand just above us, bow drawn taught. The night wind was cool and brought with it the smell of Autumn; the smell of change. It kissed our sweaty cheeks and damp brows; it evened out perfectly the heat of the bonfires. More rock music played, and I thought back to all that I had accomplished in the past 13 short weeks. I couldn't believe that more than one quarter of a year had passed already, when one week before Honor Hill it had felt as though I had been stuck at Fort Benning for years. My thoughts inevitably turned to The Girl, and I wondered without malice what She was doing at that exact moment. I wondered if She was thinking of me at that moment in time or if I was just a shadow in Her memory. I wondered if She would still be proud of me. I wondered if I would share this with Her in a letter. Finally, 8 Drill Sergeants lined up behind the unlit torches on the stage. All thoughts of the Girl vanished and I focused every part of my consciousness on them.
Each Drill Sergeant gave a small speech about one part of the US Infantry's long career. From the French & Indian Wars up to the Civil War, from World War 1 up until Vietnam. From Panama to Dessert Storm to today's war on terror; all of those who had gone before us were honored and recieved mention. Finally, our Company First Sergeant, 1SG Runyon, stood before us and raised his canteen cup.
"TO THE INFANTRY!" He shouted above the roar of the flames.
"THE QUEEN OF BATTLE!" Some 240 odd voices replied. We downed what was in our cups and our heart's pumped faster. Adrenaline, anticipation and excitement coursing through us.
The flames seemed brighter; the heat felt hotter. The wind felt colder and all emotions ran higher. No words can explain that feeling; it simply was.
Finally, the Drill Sergeants walked up and down our ranks punching the crest of the Infantry into the left side of our pecs. Technically, the crest is just called the Crossed Rifles; it is a small pin, no more larger than a quarter, with a pair of crossed rifles embroidered on it. The term "Blood Rifle" comes from the tradition that this pin is actually slammed into the soldiers chest, the pin symbolically becoming a part of us. The Drill Sergeant who pinned me, DS Henry, came before me, put the pin in the palm of his hand and shoved it hard into my left pec.
I felt it hit my skin.
DS Henry pulled back and shoved much harder this time.
There was a legitimate feeling of pain.
He drew back his hand and palm struck the face of the pin with all his might.
There was the blood.
I was now an Infantryman.
He stepped back and extended his hand. "Congratulations, Private."
I choked back the emotion in my voice, but there was no way I could hide the smile that threatened to split my face in two. "Thank you Drill Sergeant."
I wish I could say that after AIT I went back home and got the Girl; you know, like a knight returning from hardship to the waiting arms of his lady? But nothing of the sort happened. She and I still keep in touch from time to time, but we aren't exactly looking for romance. Though I have since grown somewhat disgruntled and discussed with the Army and how it runs its business, I am still proud to wear my original pair of Blood Rifles on my dress uniform. Not every person can look back on their life and say "This is when I grew up" and point to an exact date or point in time. I can. And I have both the Crossed Rifles and the two small scars on my chest to prove it.
16October2010, early morning.
I joined the brotherhood.
I am the brotherhood.
I am the Infantry.
The sweetest day I ever had actually happened pretty late in life (I was 45). I had determined after my last divorce (yes there were multiples) that I would never marry again, and really was not interested in a long term relationship. M friends and my chosen biker family were enough and I was happy with my life.
Boom, that is when it happened for me. I met another biker, a chivalrous, quiet, handsome man who had a sparkle in his eye and road like the wind.
We started to date and he treated me with the utmost kindness and respect. He sent me flowers are work, something no one had ever done, and always sounded just as excited to talk and see me as I was him. But that wasn't the sweetest thing.
We had started seeing each other every day, and were sharing many nights together. Feelings were definitely building towards something we were both happy for, but having both had bad previous experiences quite nervous about as well. In any situation that first "I love you" is a terrifying abyss as you put those words out there having no idea what might happen. Some people wait until they think they are very sure for the reaction, many times it is said way too early, and sometimes it just pops out.
We were standing at the refrigerator in his kitchen after a night out, standing with only the appliance lights on our faces, side by side, looking for a tasty snack before heading to bed, chatting about what might be good. I checked my cell phone. No one had called, there were no messages. In a joking way, I said "Well I guess no one loves me" and in a quiet voice right beside me I heard "I love you".
I turned and look at him. His face was a mixture of absolute shock and a bit of panic. He clearly had not meant to say that out loud. He looked so sweet and innocent standing there, the look in his eyes silently asking me what I was going to say back. The light formed against the back of his head giving him a bit of a halo effect that made the whole moment one of those snapshots that stay in your head. Ones to take out with the good memories when you are needing some.
I didn't leave him staring into that abyss for too long. I said quietly, "I love you too" and the smile that spread across his face was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
And that was my sweetest moment. The one that began the journey between my husband and I.
My last day in Des Moines. I spent a great deal of it with my buddy Marshal. My friends and sifu took me out to dinner where i was surprised with gifts from all. Marshal hung out with me all day, Dave gave me his jade bracelet, Emily made me an awesome card and helped Leslie bake me an awesome oatmeal cookie with a yin-yang frosted in the middle. Most surprising of all was when Sifu showed up with his wife and gave me a series of authentic chinese form instructive books (no english writing, read right to left) with hand forms, spear form, bo form, broadsword form, and straightsword form. The whole day was superb. To top it off, because it was the night before our saturday class, Sifu gave me the key to the school so i could sleep on the couch and come to class the next morning (otherwise i had to drive to ottumwa with the jimmy packed full and my bed strapped to the top). I've never had a group of friends go so far for me. It really showed me that i have made some of my best friends at the Chinese Martial Arts Acadamy.
My brother treats me to a new movie and having lunch at Papa John. He he he, being treated is always be my sweetest experience cause I need not to take out my own money. He he.
Learning, listening to, reading and speaking Hebrew.
Why are we called Hebrews? Еврей? עבריים?