Saturday, December 13, 2014

Three-Man Army Reunion

In 1999, I tracked down a couple of guys I spent two years with in the Army back in the late 1960s. One (a former New York City slicker) lived in rural Georgia and the other (originally from Columbia, Missouri) lived in Austin, Texas.

Since my place was approximately an equal distance from the two guys, I invited them to northern Arkansas for a weekend visit. They’ve been coming here on occasion ever since to participate in our impromptu Army reunion.

For them, it’s an opportunity to get away from the wife and let off some steam. For me, it’s a reason to vacuum the rug and hide breakable objects.

The past couple of years, due to scheduling problems, they've been unable to venture this way for the gala event. It’s hard to imagine that you could have a scheduling problem with just three guys but we often do.

All three of us were drafted during the Vietnam Conflict. The government preferred not to call it a war. They didn’t want it to burden the American public with the knowledge that some of our military men and women were dying in swamps halfway across the world for reasons they couldn’t easily explain, but word got out anyway.

The three of us spent our two years at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia, in the Third Army Data Processing Company at Third Army Headquarters. Compared to what most had to endure during the Vietnam Era, it was easy duty, shuffling paperwork in an air-conditioned building near the golf course.

Now we meet on occasion and swap tales about our military exploits. Being three northerners in Georgia in the 1960s wasn’t exactly a picnic. Some of the locals were still upset about losing the Civil War and didn’t care to have a bunch of Yankee carpetbaggers residing in their southern midst.

The New Yorker who now lives in Georgia has three grown sons. The oldest and youngest boys have proven to be levelheaded enough to have found suitable employment and appear to be surviving in the real world. His middle son, Jeff, who seems equally sane, had opted for a 20-year career in the military.

Jeff enlisted in the Navy many moons ago and spent 20 years in the service as a welder in the Seabees. He was in the initial assault into Iraq. He has also seen duty in Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, Kuwait, San Diego, Seattle and Biloxi, Mississippi.

Life in the military isn’t for everyone. Once you’ve joined, you’re locked in for your enlistment period that is anywhere from three to six years depending on various factors. You can’t quit and walk away. You wear what they give you, live where they tell you and do whatever task you’ve been assigned to do. Nonconformity will be severely discouraged. You’re basically a small cog expected to function smoothly within a giant machine. And if you don’t function smoothly, you’ll be engineered and re-tooled until you do.

On the positive side, there are certain advantages to military life. The pay is reasonable and the job security is unrivaled. You’ll get free housing, meals, clothing, medical treatment and so forth. You’ll also have the opportunity to travel to foreign lands. And you can retire with full benefits after 20 years.

November 11 is Veteran’s Day. Everyone should take a few minutes that day to silently praise our military people for their valiant efforts. It’s fine to criticize the leaders who put our forces in harms way, but our troops deserve our support.

Stopping evil by force is a thankless task. Let our troops know we appreciate their sacrifice.

Quote for the Day -- "Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion." Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf

Bret Burquest is the author of 10 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a couple of dogs and has a deep appreciation for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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