Sunday, January 10, 2016

To Fight A Hidden Past.

November, 1984.

As the deputy walked me around the courthouse to the jail, I knew my life was fixing to change. This was the fourth time in eleven months I had been handcuffed. Judge Case decided that I needed more guidance in my life. He was so sure of the fact that he signed as a witness when I signed up for the Army's delayed entry program. On 5 Feb, 1985, just over a month after my 17th birthday I reported to Fort Benning, Ga. for basic and advanced training in the Infantry.. There were several reasons that I chose the Infantry. I was a big fan of John Wayne and Audy Murphy... and the Army offered me a $3000 signing bonus. (recruiter lied, I didn't get the money). I was given the choice of first duty station and I chose Fort Lewis, Washington for good reason. Not only was the Pacific Northwest a beautiful area, Ft. Lewis was also home of  The 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and 1st Special Forces Group. I wanted to be the best. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I had joined a COHORT Unit.   (cohesion, operational readiness, training), I would be in the same unit with the same guys I went to basic with. The whole company was going to Ft. Lewis, Together. No chance of Ranger school for me, or any of us for that matter.. Basic and Advanced training took 16 weeks and as the youngest Soldier in the unit, I was Special. Some of that was good. Some of that was bad. Attention is not something that you want in that environment. I was pushed to excel. Pushed to set the standard. "What is the matter with you Private.? Even Wood can do it and he ain't even out of high school yet". I wasn't the Best, but I wanted to be.

Graduation then a couple of days leave to see family and on 2 May,1985 we reported to Ft, Lewis, Wash. 4th Battalion/ 23d Infantry Regiment. 9th Infantry Division. I Corps. Under the command of General Norman Schwarzkopf. A Unit of Distinction. Within 6 months of being on Ft. Lewis, Our Battalion became the 9th Infantry's Quick Reaction Force and I Corps Parade Battalion. The Best "Straight Leg" Infantry Unit in the history of the World. Or so we were told.

 Our unit training was of the intense variety. There was no such thing as "Training Speed". "We don't train like the girls down the road." still rings in my ears. That saying was meant for the 3d/60th just south of us on Libby Ave. To our north was The 2d/75th Ranger Battalion. We shared the same P.T. field and on more than a few occasions we trained with them as their opposing force. I wanted that Ranger Tab so bad I could taste it but it was out of my reach. No individual schools for my unit. "Soldier On" 1st. Sargent Liggett told me that he would guarantee me a slot after I reenlisted... 20yrs old, E-5 with three yrs service would have put me at the top. The only thing left for me to do was to earn the coveted Expert Infantryman Badge, or EIB, is a special skills badge of the United States Army. Although similar in name and appearance to the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB), it is a completely different award: while the CIB is awarded to infantrymen for participation in ground combat, the EIB is presented for completion of a course of testing designed to demonstrate proficiency in infantry skills.
The EIB was first created in October 1943. Currently, it is awarded to U.S. Army personnel who hold infantry or special forces military occupational specialties. To be awarded the EIB, the soldier must complete a number of prerequisites and pass a battery of graded tests on Infantry skills.
Our unit, the entire Battalion, was training for the task. We worked. We studied. We trained. Our goal was a 100% pass for the Battalion. Our day had come. As we marched to Watkins Field there was little doubt that We would complete our mission.

We stood in formation before entering the field. "The Bear", General Schwarzkopf, stood before us. With a motivational speech he prepared us to "Achieve Greatness". Then my World changed. A medic approached my company 1st. Sargent. Then the medic approached me. I was to report to Madigan Army medical center. I was crushed. Truth be told, I teared up..I was ready to earn my Award..
 I had been having some problems with my feet from all the training and I'd had some tests done at the Med Center the week before.. Feet problems were common in our unit so i didn't think it was a big deal. I was just gonna push through the P.T test, forced road march and land navigation coarse like I always had. In 48hrs, I would have my EIB. I had no idea that my life and dream was about to change. I sat before the desk of a Lieutenant Colonel, looking at x-rays and MRI film I was informed that my military career was over. He pointed out that my arches had collapsed and there were stress fractures in both of my achilles tendons.. I was being put on a permanent profile. No running, no marching. That is a death sentence to an Infantryman. I went to a medical review board a few days later to plead my case. Luckily my Command Sargent Major was on the review board. He had my back but it was no use. The boards findings were By The Book. Because of the permanent medical profile I was barred from reenlistment, Because it was my first enlistment, I couldn't be reclassified into another MOS. I was granted 10% disability and told to have a nice day... My Sargent Major told me to meet him at his office. We talked as Men and he asked me, "What do you want to do?" "Top, my career in your Army is over. Its time for me to go to the house". He agreed and called my Company Commander. It took me two days to turn in my gear and clear post. From parade field to civilian in 5 days.5 May, 1988. I was devastated.. After my Honorable discharge I was placed on "inactive Reserve status". for 4 more years.. That time would expire in 1990. Then I got a letter in the mail. Certified. Department of the Army. I was to report to my closest military installation for inprossessing. I was being called up for the Gulf War under the command of "Stormin Norman". When I reported to Fort Lewis I was told that I would not be needed because of my Medical condition. Only those who have prepared for battle understand.the gravity. I was no longer needed. I would watch My war on CNN.

Part of being with a unit for 3 yrs is the bond that men build. That was the Army's plan. To say w knew each other would be an understatement. We knew Everything about each other,, including their sisters names. Private Applegate invited me to join his family for Thanksgiving 85 but I had chosen to take Christmas leave instead. How was I to know that my decision would bar me from having dinner with the future Miss. Kelly Bundy, his cousin, Christina Applegate. I could have ate a grenade when he showed me the pictures on his return from leave..One of the men I served with was a guy from north Georgia named Edward Simms. He would get red faced every time I saw him. As a true Southerner, he took a playful offence to me calling him a Damn Yankee..Being Born in Jeff Davis County, Ga. gave me that right. Everybody knows that anybody north of I-16 is a Damn Yank.We pushed on together, peeled a truck load of taters in a desert and did enough pushups to move Georgia half way to Hell. He was the Best man at my first wedding..


Back before cell phones and the internet, it was difficult to keep in touch or find lost friends. All I had to go on was his name, years of service and that his folks lived in north Georgia. Every time I would ride through North Ga. I would stop and call all the Simms's listed in the local phonebook, to no avail. Then one day, 17yrs later, I made another call. "Hello." "Crusty, What are you doin?" "Woody, I was just sitting here thinking about you." Three days later he's sitting on my couch in Tennessee. Some bonds can never be broken. We reminisced about the Him's and Her's of our time. The horrible food. The 25mile forced road marches and the painting of rocks. Our times in the Yakama desert and Fort Ord, California. We talked about Klahn and Mabry, Dean and Pratt, Sgt,.Mefford, and his wife. we hashed it all. His memory was far better than mine. We had spent three years together becoming The Razors Edge. We had plenty to talk about. "Why did you beat that guy up that one night when you were on CQ?". (Charge of Quarters) I hadn't thought about that fight in 17years but the memory came back as clear as if it was happening now.

"Smith" (not his real name) was a big guy from out in Kansas. He was a good Soldier. As good as anyone of us.. It was a weekend in the Barracks and I was riding the desk all night. The boys were hooping it up in the day room with a couple of gals from town and a bunch of beer. I had told them for the last time to keep the beers off the snooker table. I was the asshole. It was snowing which was odd for Ft. Lewis. The snow falling down in the barracks quad had a peaceful tone to it.. As the snow and empty beer cans accumulated the night took a drastic change... In a rush, around ten guys came rushing past my desk. The mood was jovial as there was now enough snow for them to play in. "Smith" was drunk. Not falling down drunk but he was slurring his words a bit.. He was hollering about "Let's have a snowball fight". He was excited about it, jumping up and down with excitement.. Then he grabbed me by the arm and pulled me from my desk chair. Pulling me out the door.. I snapped. I beat that man severely. I might well have done permanent damage had I not been pulled off of him by the rest of the guys.. He was taken to the Barracks aide station and the event was covered up. It was never spoken of again.. I felt remorse. I grieved about it. That behavior was not me. I had never lost my cool in such a way. I couldn't reconcile my behavior. That singular event began to haunt my thoughts. 17 years after the fact. I needed to know the why's of what I had done. Primal instinct kicks in when you are confronted with a threat. This was not a threat. It was a snowball fight. Why had I gone straight to "Battle frenzy" with this guy.? Bezerk was my mindset and vengeance was my goal. But I had no understanding of why. I had blocked the past from my mind.. It took me eight long years to get back to that moment that shaped me..

It was March, 1986. I remember because something I believed as odd happened.. sitting in a foxhole in the Yakima desert, My sergeant approaches from our rear and chews my ass because "His only mission in this shithole was to bring me my mail". (in 1983 when Mt. St. Helens erupted the state of Washington had spread all the volcanic ash that they had collected from the roadways in the Yakima Desert, It was truly a shithole). I had received a letter from my High-school guidance consular, Mrs. Pat Porter.. In the envelope was an invitation  to me High-school class graduation. I had been in the Army for 13 months and a lifetime from my classmates.. When our training cycle was complete, Our unit headed back to Ft. Lewis. The time in garrison was used to clean and inspect equipment, re-enter society and get some much needed R&R. It had always been that way but this time was different. There was a buzz about the Fort.. Tensions were high as a developing situation was evolving in Libya. After a couple of days in Garrison we were put on alert and 24hrs later our Battalion was activated to respond. As the Quick Reaction Force for the 9th Infantry Division, we had trained to be Unit mobile in 36hrs..  We had trained for all scenario's, Plane, Train or Ship. What we had not trained for was the quick turn around. Our Unit was in pieces for cleaning and inspections. We had tents in the quad that were still air drying. Trucks in the Motor pool were torn apart for service and men were scattered everywhere spending some downtime with family and friends. Plus 30hrs we were at McCord AFB loading onto C-5A galaxies in route to Libya. Tensions were high but we had trained hard for this scenario.

Our first stop en route was Tinker AFB, Okla. We found it odd that we had to remove all of our equipment from the planes. The C-5A's could have easily taken us all the way to Libya. We spent the next three days in an empty airplane hanger with the only information that the weather had us grounded.. Understand that in 1986 nobody had a cell phone or any way to check the news. No radio. No television. We played cards and did pushups. We ate MRE's and 20yr old C-Rations. We cleaned what gear we could and waited for news and direction... That direction finally came... GET ON THE BUS..

What the fuck.? Are we going into combat on a big yellow bus.? Thats when we realized that we were not going to Libya. We would not see combat.. Someone with a Star on his shoulder had lied to our whole Battalion.. This was a Readiness Training Exercise. We were taken by school bus to Ft. Chaffee, Ark. for a two week field training exercise. Unit moral was as low as it could go.. Too many mind games had been played out. Some guys had spent less than a day off in over a month of training and were now looking at two more weeks without Glory.. We, E-4 and below who had spent the last 14 months together, collectively decided that we would push this exercise to the limit. Each man would give it 100%. We were tired of The Testing. We were going to prove our worth..

Foxholes. Fields of Fire. Overhead cover, Probing Patrols. We had a mission. We were to seek out, engage and destroy the enemy. Part of our unit had been split off to act as our opposing force. It didn't take leadership long to realize that the unit was operating well above the level of Training Speed. Captives were hogtied and gagged. Some of the men took the training too far. The level of intensity was beyond extreme..

Dark of night. Two men to a foxhole. A runner comes behind us to let us know that the enemy is approaching.. Our trip wires send up parachute flares. The land and sky in front of us is illuminated and we can see the enemy coming.. my hole has 4 claymores set and we are banging the clackers to detonate.. flashbangs are going off all around us... Our enemy has removed all of their "Miles gear" (think laser tag on steroids) we can't kill them.. We are being over run. The guy in the hole with me bugs out the back and is running towards our Command Post in the rear.. I see the fire in his eyes as "Smith" dives into my foxhole on top of me.. He is crazy. punching and kicking. I see the butt of his AK-47, then the lights go out...

The next thing I remembered was the explosion in my head. It was quiet now but at first, i thought i was deaf. The pain in my head had me completely disoriented.. What happened.? Where is everybody.? Did that really just fuckin happen..? I felt the crease and dent in my steel pot helmet with my hands. I had been knocked out with a rifle butt to the head.. It was still dark and i was disoriented. I made my way back to the CP where an after-action review was in progress.. I had been killed in battle. I felt shame. There was only one man who knew what had happened. It was never spoken of again. That memory was repressed for 17yrs and then another 8yrs to dig deep enough to remember.. for the last 4 years I've carried that memory without understanding its meaning. Until two weeks ago when I spoke, openly to my therapist.

I have known men who have experienced worse and those who have done worse. Men who have seen the truth of battle. My story does in no way compare to what those men have been through. I hold them with the highest esteem. I write my story as therapy for myself and anyone who can gather some knowledge or understanding.. Through the process of remembering and spending time with my therapist, I've come to understand some of how this has effected my life. An event that happened when I was 18yrs old has had a lasting impression. 
Abandonment. Fear, Vigilance, self worth, trust, hopelessness, depression. Using drugs and alcohol to cope. These are just some of the stones that I have carried without any understanding of why..  

I do not seek your sympathy, but, I would ask you for a measure of understanding. Not just for me, but for all that fight a hidden past. 


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