Monday, August 29, 2011

Moonlight & Grenades

The bright, yellow moon speckles the ground as it pings through the leaves of massive oak and maple trees.  Crickets sing and the mild wind swirls around, encouraging the song of those leaves.  I hear the crunch underfoot of heavy boots; the heavy weight of my pack is barely noticeable as I walk behind the tall pace counter.  Behind me is the continual "oomph" of Addie House, a very young 16-year-old Freshman in the ROTC class whose whole desire in life is to prove to her older brother that she belongs exactly where she is right now.

It is beyond me, however, how with moon as bold and bright as it is, that she can't see where she is going.  I know the M-16A1 that rests in her two hands is cumbersome and the pack is awkward but for the life of the poor girl, she can not take two steps without tripping over something.

The day before, we sat in the woods of Standing Stone State Park in Tennessee; all 12 of us in a long line.  John Stone paced in front of us with a grenade in his hand.  This Ranger Week class was teaching us the fundamentals of throwing grenades and running from them when thrown.  Although I am absolutely positive that skill didn't need to be learned.

Addie and I sat beside each other, smack in the center of that line.  When Ranger Stone stopped pacing between two enormous oak trees - bearing down with a growl to emphasize the importance of handling live weapons - he yanked the pin out.  Squeezing the safety lever to the body of the round, green mini-bomb, he placed the grenade into the hand of the first person in line.  Scot Marcin, a future roommate of mine, looked up in horror and beared down on the safety lever in exactly the same way. Stone had just finished explaining how the grenade will not go off as long as the safety lever is held down.  This was his way of proving it.

Among the green and brown of the mountainous terrain, we passed the fat little thing up and down a couple of times, each of us ensuring to keep the parts that were supposed to be touching, touching.  After a bit, Stone took it back and kept barking at us about safety.  Then he placed the grenade in Addie's hand.  I do not remember a single word he said after that.  Her hand shaking uncontrollably, Addie squeezed the thing with both hands as she stared at it with terror.  I gulped and could not stop watching her.  I'm pretty sure even the birds stopped singing.

All of a sudden, Stone rips the grenade from her hand and throws it to the underbrush behind him.  All of us, 10 boys and 2 girls, spring to life and sprint in the opposite direction.  At one point, we all hit the deck with our legs crossed and mouths open but Stone was laughing so hard, the panic didn't last long.  The "ping" that sounded from the grenade clued us to his little joke.  Sim rounds aren't dangerous, even in the hands of a scared, little teenager two years too young for college.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

War Blog

I wasn't going to write during this deployment but I've decided that I should. After reading memoirs written by true warriors at Operation Anaconda, I feel it's important for posterity, patriotism or just so these type of stories continue for the sake of our country.

While it sounds very Jack Bauer to write that I can't tell what unit I'm with or where I'm stationed, I actually can't and it is much cooler said than what the reality of my mission is.

When I was 14 years old, I read an ad in Cookeville, Tennessee's Herald-Citizen daily newspaper. Anyone interested in aviation, map reading, land navigation, and airpower between the ages of 13 and 21 should meet at the Putnam County airport -- Thursdays at 7 pm. Each week for nearly 5 weeks, I read this ad before I got the nerve up to ask my sister and our close friend, Misty, to go with me. It pulled to me unlike anything else I had read or seen in all my young years.

That first night at the Civil Air Patrol meeting, I was hooked. I loved the pale, blue Air Force uniforms, the marching, the history, all of it. Over the next six years, I would attend meetings, participate in camp outs, compete in drill competitions and study aviation history and current issues. While I did get distracted with normal teenage-ness and wasn't as regular the older I got, that initial feeling of belonging never left me.

As a freshman college student at Tennessee Tech University, I enrolled in Army ROTC. The Air Force did not have a detachment on campus. But this was even better. We learned to rappel, rock climb, fire weapons, low crawl toward an enemy without him knowing it. The camaraderie was intoxicating. Life stepped in again as I also embraced college. Parties, cheerleading, sorority life. They were all a distraction for a path I had known I wanted since I read that first newspaper ad.

After eventually blowing out my knee and worrying too much about boys, my military path seemingly ended. It would take five years before I would find my way back.