A story of tragedy, loss, and finding yourself in a world where it seems impossible.
Unspoken Part 1: A Place to Belong
Everyone wants to belong, whether it is with a family or friends, or a place that one can call home. We all just want something or someone to call our own. For me, that was always my dream, to find the one place I belong. That was the main reason I joined the Army. I thought I had finally found a place where I could belong, and be a part of something bigger than myself. I thought I had finally found my home. I was wrong....
When I first decided to write this story, I remember thinking that this is never going to work. No one is ever going to want to read a story about the trials and tribulations of the average soldier who has done nothing special in her whole career. There are already so many books on the military. There are so many soldiers who have already broached this subject over and over again. So, what makes my story different? What makes my story special and better than the others? The answer is...absolutely nothing. This story may not stand out among the others or win awards or become a best seller, but it is my story, and it needs to be told, because maybe there is someone out there that needs to hear it. Maybe there is a young soldier or veteran who needs to know that he/she is not alone, and that their story is important and needs to be told. Their story deserves as much attention as any celebrity or famous writer or politician, and their voices need to be heard. So, I am writing this story, not for fame or fortune, not to make a point or win an award, but to give a voice to a silent majority that have never had a chance to tell their own.
Here goes nothing! I can do this!
School's out and in a few days, I would be shipping out to basic training and taking the first step to becoming a soldier in the United States Army. I was so excited and nervous that I couldn't stop shaking. It was really happening. I was going to be a soldier!
Holy Crap! It seemed only yesterday that I was walking with my friend to the financial aid office, and accidentally bumped in this jolly guy who spoke with a deep southern accent and spoke of this great way to make $24 dollars an hour, with all benefits paid. It seemed like a dream. It had to be a scam, but it wasn't. That guy was a recruiter for the Army and with a few tests and a medical screening, I could do something great for my country and make good money too. All I had to do was take the first step.
Me joining the military...it sounded like such a crazy idea. I mean, yeah, I had thought about it. I remember after September 11th, watching all the brave soldiers marching and wanting to join them. I was only 11 years old and the image of the twin towers still burned in my head like an unwanted brand scorching hot in my delicate mind. So much death.... all the kids...the teachers why. I was too young to truly grasp what had happened, but I could see the pain that our nation was going through and I wanted so bad to do something. I would watch the news for months afterwards and see the soldiers, and the images of Iraq and think how I wish I could do something. I wanted to be a soldier, and fight like the ones on tv. I wanted to save people and do something to help my country, but I was only a kid and it was only a childish dream that eventually faded through time. It wasn't until that random fateful day that the thought would occur to me again. Could I be a soldier? Maybe that's the place where I belong, and maybe I could finally be something more.... more than just me.
So, on whim and prayer, I went with that recruiter to his office and took a pre-test to see if I even had what took to pass the ASVAB, and surprisingly I did. I don't even remember my score, or everything that happened that night, but before I knew it, I was signing a contract and setting up a date to go to MEPS to begin the process of becoming a soldier. Within a month, I was picking my MOS, signing my contract to begin my new career, and taking an oath to serve my country and protect the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. However, since I was still in college, my ship date was set for after the semester ended, which meant I would be spending my summer at Basic Training.
I would spend the months leading up to that summer just as I had before I signed my contract. I went to class, did homework, took tests and hung out with all my friends. Nothing was different, except that I was a part of the Future Soldiers program and most weekends were spent doing activities to prepare for basic training. I learned the phonetic alphabet and military time within a few days. Within a month, I could say it forwards and backwards. I learned the general orders, and the regulations, and all the other things that go along with being a soldier. I did PT every weekend with my recruiter and took practice PT tests.
By the end of May, I was ready to go. Everything was packed and settled, and within a few days, I would ship to start my new career. I was prepared and I had done everything I needed to do...except, tell my mother that I had joined the Army.
That was a conversation that I was not looking forward to. How I could I tell her? It had been months since I signed my contract and just days before I shipped out. I always planned to tell her, and every weekend that I went home I told myself that this would be the weekend that I told my family, but the words just never came out and the time just never seemed right, and now time was up. I was shipping out in a few days, and I could no longer keep this secret from my family.
My hand was shaking...just make the call. I can do this! I just have to dial the number and make the call, and tell her about everything and everything would be ok. She would be ok and it will be easy. Yeah! It would be easy. I just have to make the call.
As I dialed the number, I remember holding my breath as I listened for the phone to ring. Please go to voicemail. Just go to voicemail!
"Hello", a quiet voice answered.
"Hi, mom, it's me, I said in almost a whisper.
I could the hear the excitement in her voice when she realized who I was. She began talking about how much she missed me and asking how I was doing, and how much she could wait to see me. It had only been a few weeks, but you could swear, from the excitement in her voice, that we hadn't talked in years.
I will never forget that conversation, the sadness in her voice when I told her my big news and the disbelief as she repeated it, and handed the phone to my aunt, who also could not believe it was true. I spent next several minutes explaining everything about the last few months and my decision. There was a lot of tears, but in the end, I could hear the pride in my mother's voice when she told she loved me and that she knew I would I do great and be the best that I can be, no pun intended.
I spent my last few days before I shipped out, enjoying my family and saying my goodbyes. My mom would take care of all my dorm room things and keep them safe until I returned. She reminded me to be safe and that she loved and was so proud, and a little scared.
After a goodbye party, and even more tears, I was off on my journey to become a soldier. I didn't quite know what that meant, but I was in for quite a surprise, and a little bit of an adventure too.
Chapter : Basic Training
Basic Training...this is probably my shortest chapter. We've all heard the stories, young soldiers, mean drill sergeants who yells obscenities all the time, and a lot of exercise. Who would willingly choose to do something like that? Well, I did and it was absolutely nothing like what I was expecting. There were yelling drill sergeants, and obstacles and lots and lots of exercise. That part was true, but it was nothing like the scary images I had imagined from my years of watching military movies on tv.
It was more like going to camp with really mean counselors and gossiping teenagers who had nothing better to do than make out and spread rumors. At least, that was my point of view. I didn't get along very well with, well, anyone at training. I was the outcast for the most part, and spent a lot of time sitting alone pretending to ignore the jokes and pranks by my so-called battle buddies; hiding my things, pretending that someone likes me just to get a laugh, and all the other stupid things that teenagers do. I could go into more details, but I think you get the picture.
It also didn't help that I wasn't as fit as I thought I was. I got winded pretty easily sometimes, and fell out (or fell behind) on a lot of runs and marches in the beginning. I had a long way to go to become a soldier and steep upward climb to get up that hill, and it definitely was not without its bumpy roads and sharp rocks. I had to work extremely hard if I wanted to graduate, and push myself harder than I ever had before.
It took the entire time for me to get in shape, but eventually, I could pass a physical fitness test with a pretty high score, and ruck a twelve mile without any assistance or falling behind at all.
I, actually, remember my last march, which happened to be the twelve-mile march I was talking about above. For some reason, there was a lot of sand and my foot got caught a few times and I almost fell more times than I'd like to admit, but I never fell behind and I kept my pace the entire time. It felt so good to make it to the campsite with all my battles. It was one of my greatest victories and proudest moments. That only lasted for a second!
Before I knew it, I was once again thrown into a mix of teenage drama, name calling, and cruel jokes. It wouldn't have been so bad if I weren't dealing with a bunch of other personal problems back home.
I had just gotten off a phone call with mom. She told me the one thing I had feared my whole life, she was dying.
Her diagnosis: AIDS
Her prognosis: a few months to maybe a few years
You know, I had been dealing with my mom's sickness for my entire life. She had cancer for as long as I could remember, and it seemed like she had been on chemo since I was born. When one cancer was gone, another would pop up; ovarian, and cervix, and so on and so forth. Now she was facing almost impossible odds, and no matter what, I would lose her.
So, as you could imagine, I was not very happy or in any mood to deal with petty soldier drama. However, my battle buddies didn't care. They decided to be even more cruel, and reported me to the drill sergeant for not bathing or taking care of myself. Now, I had, literally, just gotten out of the shower when the drill sergeant walked in. He proceeded to yell at me about my hygiene and demand I re-shower and clean myself up, all based on the words of a couple of soldiers who I swear, was their mission, to make my life a living hell.
So, what did I do? I packed all my shit and I walked straight out of the door. Now, in retrospect, that was not my smartest moment, but my emotions had gotten the best of me, and I just wanted to go home. I didn't care about all the hard work or that I would graduate in two days' time, and never see almost any of them again. Nope, it did not matter. I was done!
Of course, this only lasted a few minutes, and by the time I walked about 5 blocks, I was deeply regretting my choice. Also, two of the only friends I did have at basic training had followed me and talked some sense into me. So, I turned back around and headed back.
After several lectures by multiple drill sergeants, another shower, a paper on why I shouldn't quit, some smoking, (not the kind you're thinking...smoking in this case is a series of exercises that are meant as a form of discipline for unruly soldiers like myself). Anyway, I graduated basic training, and was another step closer to becoming the soldier I wanted to be.
Now normally, there would be a chapter on AIT, or advanced training where you learn how to do your job, and everything, but my AIT was pretty uneventful and not much to tell. I learned my job, had a lot more fun than basic, and graduated with honors. That's pretty much the jist of it.
So, I'm going to skip ahead to the next chapter. It's one of the harder chapters for me to write, but if I'm going to tell my story, I have to tell it all.