Thursday, July 1, 2010

Soldiers And A Contractor

“A soldier is anyone who ever put on a uniform and was willing to fight and die for an idea or flag. They didn’t even have to see battle or blood, but they had to wear the uniform and salute the flag. The point is, they would go to wherever they were ordered to go, even if it meant that they might never come back. But at the same time they could just be sitting in a barracks somewhere waiting for their enlistment to be over so they could go home to their civilian lives,” my passenger explained.

He told me that he spent 10 months in Iraq, stationed in the city of Bagdad, working in supply. “Supply is the best,” he continued, “you have officers that come to you begging for some item that just came in, but if their paperwork isn’t in order, you have to tell them no.”

“As long as it doesn’t come back to bite you,” I told him.

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“As long as one of those officers can’t hold up or change your orders, down the line, based on you not doing what they wanted,” I told him.

“Oh no, that could never happen,” he told me.

I then proceeded to tell him about what happened to me, when I was in the army, after I was drafted, back in the summer of 1966, when I was 19 years old, before I ever heard of war protests, in the Greater Detroit area, where I lived. I became the company armorer, for the 593rd Engineering Company, stationed at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. In the summer of 1967, while the “Summer Of Love” was taking place, and right before Detroit and Newark created the summer of “Burn Baby Burn,” I was back home on leave, and the 593rd was on its yearly war game maneuvers. A returning Viet Nam veteran, who survived 13 months in the Nam, had just checked in with me, before I left the arms room to my assistant, while I went home on leave.

While I was home on leave, the returning Viet Nam veteran was killed on the maneuvers, when live ammo was somehow mixed with the blank’s, that his convoy truck was sprayed with. He was the only fatality. At the same time there was a tear gas test, and everyone had to put on their protective mask. My company commander had donated his personal protective mask to the company compliment, in order to bring it up to full compliment for the IG inspection. One of the stipulations was that he would be issued his personal protective mask, which had special eye glass inserts, so Captain Bowman could still have 20/20 vision.

I didn’t inform my assistant to hold out Captain Bowman’s gas mask, so he gave it to someone as a spare, but failed to record their name. The mask was found, but the glasses never were. So when I returned to my unit after leave, I was first threatened with an ultimatum about the glasses being found or my ass would be grass, and then a month later I was transferred from the 593rd, where I had it made, as the company armorer, to the 9th FA Missile Gp., where they only had 5 – 45 caliber Colt pistols.

“That’s too bad,” he told me.

“Not really,” I said, “the unit that I was transferred to ended up transforming my life and changing the entire direction of my life.”

After I dropped him off at his destination, I picked up another dozen fares, until it was around 1:00 AM, when I picked up an 85 year old man at the emergency room that was going home. He had been given morphine, when he first arrived, for intense pain from a lacerated artery in his arm, but it was wearing down by the time that I picked him up and he was very talkative as I drove him home on North Lancaster, at a mobile trailer park.

“I was only 19 years old on D-Day in 1944,” my passenger said, “but I came ashore in an area that wasn’t that well guarded, so most of my unit made it on the beach. The hard part was trying to advance up the hill that led from the beach. It had pill boxes with machine guns strafing the hillside, that we had orders to take out. I was in an infantry rifle platoon, and my squad was deployed to take out a pill box. I started moving out toward the target, and hit the dirt, as I began to low crawl towards it. When I thought that I had a clear shot, I squeezed off a round and was sure that I hit my target. Before I could decide whether to duck or move in for the kill, the machine guns began firing again, as it hit me in the chest. Fortunately, it missed my lung, didn’t break any major bones and passed right through me without much damage. I fell down and laid there for 2 days until the pill box was finally taken.

I have a friend named Steve, who I used to weight lift with, when we were training for power lifting meets with Doyle Kennady, back in the 1980’s, that just shipped out to Iraq, as a contractor, driving fuel trucks. He’s in his early fifty’s and was driving fuel trucks for helicopters fighting fires, since the late 1990’s, after he did a couple of stints in the army. I just got this email from his wife the other day.
Steve in not in Baghdad as planned. He is now in Khurkuq (?) Iraq. He will
be driving a fuel truck and fueling, of all things, helicopters for the
military. KBR employees will be taking this job over from the military. He
is not too impressed with this company, but he has said some of the same
things about his past employers also. He has committed to one year and will
give KBR his all for that one year. Miss him already. At least when he was
working for Erickson-Aircrane, I would be able to visit him if he was
stationed close to home. I will try to keep everyone informed as to what he
is doing when I hear from him. Looks like that might be only on the
weekends. He called me at 10:20 AM this morning and told me it was 7:20 PM
there in Iraq.


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