After basic training, soldiers go on to attend advanced individual training. There, they learn the skills necessary for their chosen jobs. Mechanics go learn to be mechanics, infantry learn infantry stuff…that sort of thing.
Lo’ and behold, I was attending my AIT, trying to become the least embarrassing writer I could in the span of three months. One of our little rituals was walking to and from class in formation—that is, all orderly, neat and with called cadence and marching. Since clutching an armful of books, pens and binders didn’t exactly contribute to the ‘orderly’ part, most of us went to the local base exchange (store) and purchased an all-black backpack. All black being the only real approved color of bag to carry while in uniform.
The base exchange of course carried the no-logo, no-show stitching, completely boring backpacks. I think they all ran about $10.
I still have mine, and it is a complete badass.
I’ve carried this thing all over the world. Not only did it assist me during AIT in becoming the prose-flinging orangoutang you see before you, but it has been through more life and hard living in the last 10 years than some people experience in their entire lives.
It went on vacations to see the folks on the West Coast, friends up in the Midwest, New England, the south; spending time in the cold confines of airline luggage bays. It was lashed to military pallets, carried by Chinooks and Blackhawks to war-torn corners of the world. I would stretch out the straps and toss it on top of my ruck while deployed—as a little secondary pack. It was tied to the outside of humvees, sat with me in the gun turrets of trucks on mission. It has endured smoke, dust, paint, CS gas—even got some blood on it from unarmed combatives training and a not-so-fun time while deployed.
The thing was shot at, shoved, crammed, yanked, attacked by animals (feral dogs in Iraq are no joke). It was dropped off boats, left in the blistering sun on tarmacs and bored to death under my cots during unending field problems.
And after returning to civilian life, it was with me as I traveled to Europe, enjoying the sun on leisurely drives up and down mountains. It stuck with me on my quest for Incan ruins as I huffed it in the Andes during not-so-leisurely climbs up and down washed out paths and harrowing drop-offs.
Scuba diving? Yup. Its black fabric was encrusted with salt from the spray and splashing of both the Atlantic and Pacific. The thing tagged along when I learned to surf in Nicaragua and almost made a trip to Japan for snowboarding, but its owner had to be a jerk and cancel. Whoops.
And it still works like a boss—zippers zip and all that. I joke about how attached I am to the thing, and in writing this all down, it is sort of crazy.
But, be that as it may, that was the best damned $10 I ever spent on a bag. Keep on keepin’ on, little buddy.
War is delightful to those with no experience of it. — Erasmus
I was at a get together the other day for a church I go to. It was at someone’s house and was a chance to meet up with other social circles—connect with new people. I had some great conversations and a lot of fun.
While the lot of us were in the backyard, waiting for the grilling to finish up, I ran across a group of guys, all with close-cropped hair and faces clean shaven. Being somewhat of a military town, I assumed they were in the service and started chatting.
Turns out they were. They were Air Force (…damn Zoomies!). I asked if they were in the medical field. One was, but the few around me were IT guys. I joked about how I had made their lives harder by being one of the dudes who advocated for DoD social media use during my time around the Pentagon. They rolled their eyes and we had a laugh at the shenanigans troops still get into while using DoD computers in inappropriate ways.
These kids were young…geez…like “two or three years out of high school” young. I know that’s only going to get worse as I get older, but I hadn’t pegged them to be that fresh.
Anyway, they started asking me about my time in service, how I was a journalist, joined up after 9/11, all that stuff.
One of them asked, “So did you…like…deploy?”
The others stopped their chatting and looked to me to answer. I felt like Old Man Salmons about to tell his grandkids a war story. It caught me off guard.
“Um…yeah,” I said.
“Wow. That’s crazy, man. You went to war. Crazy.”
Wait, what? It took me a few minutes to process.
Normally I get that from civilians. The idea that someone might have to go to a part of the world where men are actively trying to kill you every day through various effective and laughably ineffective ways is alien to most sane people—as it should be.
But I wasn’t ready for this from these active-duty guys. In my day, everybody deployed. Constantly. All the time. Marriages fell apart. Suicide rates were through the roof. Men and women broke down. This year marks TWELVE YEARS of perpetual war. World War II was four, by comparison.
Hell, a big reason I got out of uniform because I didn’t want to be in Iraq or Afghanistan every other year for the next 14, then retire a burnt out husk.
But then I got to thinking. You know…things had changed. We had withdrawn from Iraq and abandoned them to their fate. We were about to yank ourselves out of Afghanistan in the same way. The military isn’t deploying as much! Which means fresh guys like the ones I was talking to might very well NOT deploy in the foreseeable future. Not that the entire posture of the DoD can be discerned by one guy’s conversation with four dudes, but still…
Blows my mind.
And I got to thinking how different things might start being for the rest of the services. Maybe easing off on the training schedules, not having to be in the field constantly practicing war stuff, not having to go to Fort Irwin is hot-as-hell-desert California for training every year, not having every moment peppered with the idea that deployment is coming deployment is coming deployment is coming. Secure your sh*t, troop, deployment is coming!
When this drawdown mindset finally does reach all corners of the services, it will be a big shift, but not unprecedented.
Dad talks about the cycles of build ups and drawdowns that the military goes through. He saw several purges and build ups during his 27 years. This one will be no different.
People will be asked to leave because the military won’t need the numbers. Like always, more good people will be expelled than bad, gutting the NCO and officer corps. It happens every time. Budgets will be slashed to the great consternation of those wanting more shiny toys.
It makes sense that it will happen or perhaps is happening, according to some of the activity around Washington. I just wasn’t ready to see the dawn of it, honestly. Part of me thought we’d go 1984 on things and just keep the war machine marching forward forever, swapping out names and places as we involved ourself in occupation after occupation.
Now we still and will continue to spend mind-boggling amounts on defense, but that’s another blog.
For now, yes, young airmen, Old Man Salmons went to war during his seven years in uniform. Many of us old timers did. So heed our joyless words and see the weight of our hearts.