Three years ago I went on a trip. I spent a weekend with a few dozen WWII vets, hearing their stories, watching them remember, and seeing what the honor of service really means. I came home to my own WWII vet, and an agonizing decision to make.
It turned out the decision wasn’t between do it or don’t — it was between fear and what I needed to do. I was at the recruiter’s office within the week. I was signed up and scheduled for a ship date to Basic Training within the month.
I was old enough at Basic that they called me “CID” thinking that I was a 21-Jump-Street style embedded secret investigator. I WISH. I left with notebooks full and the honor of being on the receiving end of this comment from a Drill Sergeant at our final dress uniform fashion show,
“Who are you? Have you been here the whole time? I ain’t never seen you.”
“Yeah, she’s the one who cries all the time.”
But in between tears, I learned how to call cadence (thank you musical theatre) and march a company of 200 (without ever figuring out my lefts and rights.) I was Student 1SG, Distinguished Honor Grad, Soldier of the Quarter, and promoted before my first rank was two years old.
Frank knew I had made it through and he got his final salute before I got my first duty assignment. You will never be able to convince me that the reason I got sent to Italy to be on the radio in the Army isn’t entirely because of the Colonel up there, directing the movement of his troop. I absolutely believe that because of him I was given a job where I could actually make a difference, a job where I met Ryan — a meeting that ultimately led me away from Afghanistan and now, that leads me on to a different path. Away from the Army.
A good officer knows how to best use his soldiers, and how to lead them. I followed orders. And I gave him my best.
Phrases I turned in along with my boots include, “Roger that,” “tracking,” “hooah,” “squared away,” “high speed,” and “too easy.” What I will keep with me is the motivation behind them, the people who taught me their meanings, and thoughts for everyone who still puts on the boots every day.
And I will forever keep what started as a trip, and ended as a journey.
(Though I never did find a “Humor in Uniform” anecdote to send to Reader’s Digest, I never got to see the WWE Salute to the Troops live, there was this — “Hey, did you hear about the one time I saluted a Sergeant INDOORS?” Ha. There’s some funny stuff in here.)
As a parting gift, they paid me for my unused leave. I’m sending it here.
Four people, stationed all over Europe, showed up to win a car this weekend. I’d called all of them to tell them they were in the running, telling them stories ranging from “I’m with Vehicle Registration,” to “I’m calling from Hot Hits Music Research.” I got to meet them all, put them on the air, and bring the whole event to radios all over the continent.
It was my last big mission, and it was a wonderful way to sign off. A big Saturday crowd, an exciting event, and unexpected recognition for a job I love doing. Finding people’s stories and using them to help make a big world, a big silence, feel smaller and friendlier.
And it didn’t escape my notice that hanging right next to my last assignment was a big “Frank’s Franks” sign. Because yes — I will take a sign as a sign.
Filed: Things I Am Reading For Professional Development.
It’s hard to figure out how long 180 days is, how it feels. It seems like time goes so fast, but if you try and get a fix on it and think back, last August seems like forever ago. But when you’re in charge of your destiny, living and doing where and what you want, it slips by. A day becomes a week becomes a season.
How does time alter when you’re not?
I have no idea. And so, I’m collecting things to pass 180 days. Things for my hands and my head to be occupy themselves with. I want to learn to crochet, and I’m on the hunt for…useful things to make. I have seen a lot of terrifying animalmorphic baby hats. Probably not that. Something small so I can collect tiny satisfactions, but not…”Oh, great. Now what do I do with this yarn flower?”
On further reflection, crochet might not be the sport to achieve that.
180 days is also twice through this. So that’s something. 24 weeks seems like less time than six months, somehow.
And there’s always the “come home with a book written” option. This is totally doable. 250 words a day, and I’ll come home with 45,000 words.
Plus, Italian. I figure if I want to live here for a long time, it’s probably time I know more than “restaurants” and “pleasantries.” Verbs. Verbs would be good.
Oh. And about that 25 book challenge. I think I’m about to win the whole thing.
Frank, I knew.
I know how he answered the phone, what he said for grace, how he hugged you, what he would have for lunch the days he mowed the lawn (the same sandwich on a bread board he’d have on regular days, but instead of milk, he had a beer.) I even knew the noise he made when he’d taken a break in the afternoon, and he was deciding to get up and get with the program.
And now, I wear his dog tags with mine.
But he’s not the only soldier grandfather I had.
This is my dad’s dad. Henry. He wore a different flag on his uniform, but he fought all the same.
He died when my dad was young. As well as I knew Frank, I don’t know Henry at all. Staring at this photo is intensely strange. There are all those things I feel like I should know. I don’t know what his voice sounded like or what he’d say for grace. I don’t even know if I can see myself in his face. But I want to. He’s as much of me as Frank is.
Henry and Frank, both in 1943. Their hats, both cocked the same.
I don’t know if this is where soldiers come from, but this is where I come from.
Sports! It turns out it’s way more funner when you have a home team to root for AND celebrities! The Hollywood Knights came to Camp Darby to put on a USO game in and/or around and certainly not because of my birthday. It was cutie patootie. That’s not sportsie, is it?
There’s your John Tucker Must Die, Jesse Metcalfe signing autographs. ARM. You’re welcome.
Oh, but hey! The Camp Darby team is good! And we might not have big ol’ acting resumes, but we had a girl.
Fun! Rebound that basketball, and etc!
The beach opened at our post this weekend and the European Softball Championships are here in full swing, Sultan of. And so, regional TV and radio have come to our “little slice of paradise,” to Sergeant Major a phrase.
It was without question the biggest day of the entire time I’ve been in. It was huge. And a huge lot of fun. I mean, an afternoon radio show from the beach, all MTV Spring Break whooo style? Yes.
Complete with ahem, radio gold:
Me: So! Giant Softball Player from elsewhere in Europe, what position do you play?
Slugger: I hit.
Me: I bet you do. What position do you play, defensively?
Slugger: I hit.
Grin. And our whole team pulled off a killer live TV remote. And the whole time, the whole day, I was wishing Frank was around for this. He would have gotten the BIGGEST kick out of it.
But the second our earpieces said, “And we’re clear,” ending the TV segment, the clouds broke.
And I’m pretty sure Frank was there, after all.
Oh. Right. And then suddenly it makes so much sense. Like the seemingly incongruous baseball umpire signs for “safe” and “score” — because everyone knows the thumbs up means “yer good!” instead of the “yer out” they use it for. And “safe” — that’s an international no-dice wipe if there ever was one.
It’s because the signs aren’t talking to the guy lying on the plate. The signs are talking to the defense. You’ve got your receiver all wrong.
Just like this “taking leave.” You’d think it’s referring to leaving your post, taking leave of your mission.
Nope. It’s “taking leave” because that’s the inevitable conclusion. When you start your travels not at home, where home is your destination rather than your springboard, eventually you have to…leave. To go. To return from whence you came. When home isn’t actually where you live, goodbyes will always be your final bookend.
And then, you… leave. And that, is a hard thing to take.
Wearing this outfit you’re told how to act, to a certain extent how to think, but you aren’t told how to feel.
Which is why when I flicked on the lights and fired up my studio computer and saw the morning’s news, I knew what I was supposed to do, and the method to accomplish it — but I was entirely removed from the scenes and updates of jubilation flickering across my seven thousand feeds.
I was a civilian when Saddam Hussein was captured, and I clearly remember being emotional that morning. Today wasn’t that. This morning was, “I have 15 minutes until I have to be in front of a live microphone and I’m currently armed with a handful of fluff about Wienermobiles and a playlist of pop.” I had 15 minutes to figure out how to serve the mission, get out this new information without bias, and retain some semblance of credibility. Ignoring the story was a tone-deaf nonoption.
So I reached into the archive and pulled up my civilian blogger skillz, choosing the most crucial and interesting bits to talk about, filling in the gaps describing the tweeted pics from Times Square, and was at every moment thankful that I wasn’t a civilian blogger on this day.
And I don’t have bias, or glee, or opinion. I have awe at a job well done, and I’m intensely humbled by a mission, leagues above that which I’m required to complete every day. And that job continues.
I wear this outfit everyday, but I don’t think you can put it on for the first time at 31 and not have an ever-enduring consciousness of it. Seeing my reflection always looks odd. And news like this morning’s catches me in that limbo between civilian and otherwise. When I’m in one world, I feel like I’m the other. I have perspective, it’s just usually from the other direction.
So when I was walking back to the studio from lunch and a fellow soldier rolled down his window and said, “Good show today. It was interesting.” No, it wasn’t a mission in Pakistan, but this morning I was where I was supposed to be doing the task I’ve been asked to do, and I suppose that was the extent of my response to the news today.
I gave it my own teeny tiny mission accomplished.
Skip to 1:00 exactly to watch this little guy shake those eggs and grin at you. That’s story enough for me. (Filmed at the big egg hunt on post last weekend.)
Click through for the video.